Thursday, July 10, 2014

My Western States Experience Report

I did everything in my power to not only train and prepare for Western States, but also to earn the privilege of running in this iconic race. I hired Ann Trason as my coach and I ran my heart out for over 6 solid months. Sadly, I was unable to finish my Western States race. I have no regrets. I may not have gotten the finish I wanted, but by chasing my dreams with all my heart, I got an amazing journey and lots of new and wonderful friends out of the deal. I'll be back to Western States someday to finish what I started. Until then, the amazing journey and dream will continue. 

My mantra for the race was to "float like a butterfly". The first 30 miles are run at high altitude (Average of 7000 feet), and can be very rocky. By floating like a butterfly, I hoped to navigate the rocky terrain lightly and gently, without disastrously spraining an ankle. I also wanted to keep my heart light, and to soak in the experience. This is probably the most beautiful section of the race and I wanted to be fully present in the moment. It was a blissful 30 miles. 

The first 3.5 miles climbs 2500 feet to the highest point in the race. It's the only section that I did not run in training. I hiked up the climb, like everyone else, and it felt great! The silence was deafening though. Everyone was probably conserving their air. Maybe I should have too! I was just so happy to be out there! I reached the aid station at the top in about 1 hour and 6 minutes. The sun was rising on a glorious morning. I felt so alive. 

Imagine your feet are carried on the wings of a butterfly
Light and soft, gentle and kind
Flit and flutter over rocks and earth
Dance between earth and sky
Keep the heart light and embrace the beauty all around
And see the world through a butterfly's eyes

I arrived at the Duncan Canyon aid station (mile 24) in great spirits after about 6 hours and 15 minutes. This aid station is run by the Quicksilver Club, which I had joined this year. The cheering was simply amazing! I was surrounded by teammates and good friends. I drank some coconut water and got a fresh bandana, filled with ice, to combat the mild heat that would creep up on us in the next section.

The next six miles included a tough climb, but I planned to take it easy and to take breaks anytime the exertion felt too strained. We had three things going against us in this section: the heat, the altitude, and the climb. I slowed down, but got through this section in great shape. I came into Robinson Flat (mile 30) feeling great! And Ann Trason was here crewing for me! She sat me down and sponged me down with cold ice water. She stuffed gels in my pocket, handed me a cold Pediasure, and told me I was doing great! I felt great!

Unfortunately, my bubble was soon to be burst. After a couple miles, I learned from some safety runners that I was only 40 minutes ahead of the cutoff time. How was this possible? It scared the hell out of me! I panicked. I began to run scared. I no longer floated like a butterfly. I ran harder and faster to make up some time. And still, I felt really slow. By the time I got to the Last Chance aid station (mile 43), my quads were hurting and I was in a bad state of mind. I was right at the 30-hour pace and now one hour ahead of cutoff times. Eric was there to calm me down. He told me to focus on getting to the next aid station and to take one aid station at a time. And just like that, my fears were abated, and I was back in the game.

At mile 46, after a soothing river crossing, I had to climb one of the toughest climbs of the race. My quads were shot. I trudged up the climb slowly. I was not feeling good. I stopped to drink from my handheld bottle and just started to throw up. The rest of the climb took what seemed like forever. At the top of the climb (mile 48), the Devil's Thumb aid station took care of me. The wonderful volunteers checked my weight, fed me soup and ginger ale. They convinced me to get going again. On my way out of the aid station, I threw up again. It broke my heart and my spirit. I cried, as I stood, hunched over, as waves of nausea overtook me. I was a mess. And still, the volunteers pushed and prodded me to get going. Time was running out. I needed to eat. I needed to keep moving. But my stomach was not happy and my spirit was broken. I did keep moving though. I wanted to believe that a second wind would come and that I could chase the cutoffs to the finish line. The next 5 miles were miserable. I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes, and I could barely muster a 30 minute pace - walking, downhill. Sips of water only made me feel more nauseous. By the time I got to the next aid station at mile 52.9, I was done. My race and dream was over. I felt like a failure. I had let down my coach and everyone that believed in me. I wanted to crawl into a deep, dark hole, and die. But those feelings quickly passed. And I realized that I was lucky to have gotten the chance to shoot for such a crazy dream. I am still sad, disappointed, and heartbroken, but my hopes and dreams are still very much alive and strong. I will be back.

Thank you, to everyone that helped me during this journey and on the day of the race. Matt and Ann, my crew - you were awesome out there! My pacers, Jeremy and Eric - who cheered me on and waited patiently to pace me through the night, thank you! I really wished I could have shared the trails with you! And to my loving and supportive wife, who made plenty of sacrifices to help me realize my dream, thank you from the bottom of my heart.  There is so much more I could say about this epic journey. I could probably write a book about the whole experience. But maybe I'll save that for the day when I have a happier ending!

I believe we learn more from our defeats and losses than we do from our victories and wins. Life is too short and fleeting to worry about winning or losing. Play the game, enjoy the journey, and whatever you do, don't stop dreaming or believing in yourself.