I am happy. Though my race at Western States included many hours of absolute misery, the main emotion I feel in retrospect is one of love. I love my family. I love my fellow competitors. I love the feeling of suffering for a purpose. I love the contentment of crossing the damn finish line and achieving a goal. I love the grind of training that brings out the best in me everyday. Without question, Western States 2013 was the most difficult and uncomfortable race of my life. Ironically, more than ever, I love this sport and the people that make it so special.
My race was playing out perfectly. The early morning miles were appropriately subdued and I had the pleasure of sharing time with many men whom I idolize and consider to be good friends. Shortly after Red Star Ridge, Rob Krar and I fell into a similar pace and remained together for virtually all of the ensuing 45 miles. In my mind, we were executing things perfectly – sitting behind the lead pack early before methodically and intentionally moving through the field in the middle third of the race.
We came into Foresthill together in third and fourth place, and still very much in contention. Noting how much better I felt than last year at this point, and in much worse conditions, I was quietly confident that Rob and I would both have a chance at doing something special that day. Mike Morton ended up coming through the aid station just behind us and we all left virtually in unison, with me bringing up the rear. Travis’s company was welcomed and helpful. I told him that we were going to ease our way into a downhill groove on Cal Street, where I was confident my long legs would cover the gap to Rob and Mike in short order.
Up to this point in my racing career, “stomach problems” were things I only knew about vicariously. Sure, I’d had a few episodes of pukiness in races, but never to the point of total stomach shut down. A few minutes out of Foresthill though, I became very nauseous. Without giving too much gory detail, the entire contents of my stomach exited my mouth in a series of violent heaves. Knowing that this can be a symptom of heat stress, and feeling somewhat refreshed post-wretch, I soldiered on relatively unconcerned. I felt that I’d gotten out whatever ugliness was inside me, and had reset my stomach for a strong final push. Shortly thereafter though – as I tried to replace all that I had lost – I realized my issues were only just beginning. Neither water, nor gel would stay inside and my energy levels were spiraling downward in a hurry.
By the time we reached Cal 2, I was in really rough shape. Ian Sharman caught me at the aid and left in front, looking great and behaving like the consummate gentleman that he is. I ate a ginger chew and a bite of potato while sipping on water. Literally ten steps out of the aid station, the vomiting commenced anew. Again, the volume was shocking. With thirty miles still in front of me, 105 degree heat, and an inability to digest anything, I realized I was in serious trouble.
Cal 3 was rock bottom. Though I was trying to keep my mind in the game, for the first time in my career, I was haunted by thoughts that I wasn’t going to make it. I was already picturing the coming exchange with James Bonnett where I’d excuse him of his pacing duties and commence the death march from Green Gate in solitude – sparing him the misery. Then, all of the sudden, I began to rally. It came out of absolutely nowhere. Maybe it was a deep rooted rejection of failure. Maybe it was a fear of disappointing all the people I knew were cheering for me. Whatever it was, it was absolutely magical. I hadn’t kept down food or water in a couple hours and was operating on a major calorie deficit. Still, somehow, I was running every step again – obsessed with the thought of laying in the river.
Once I’d gotten there and enjoyed my baptism, I was told that everyone in front of me looked like shit. The carnage would spare no one this day. James was on the far side and together he, Travis and I ran every step to Green Gate. It was so freaking hot. At Green Gate, I ate a potato, had some coconut water, and, for the first time during a race, put in my iPod. Shortly thereafter I began vomiting again. Still, we were moving well and the music in my ears was a welcomed distraction from the fact that I hadn’t eaten anything for 20 miles and 3.5 hours.
We ran hard and got to a point where we saw Ian Sharman and his pacer, Gary Gellin, just up ahead. Unfortunately, the imminent bonk hit me right at that moment. Things got wobbly in a hurry and my vision started playing tricks on me. Shortly thereafter I realized that, if I squeezed gel into my water, I could keep it down in very small sips. Slowly but surely I dug my way out of my hypoglycemic haze using this strategy, which allowed me to finish strong and feeling good. A welcomed contrast from how I felt during the same stretch in 2012.
I was absolutely shocked to learn the next morning that 72% of people finished the race. This might be the most incredible statistic to come out of raceday and is an amazing accomplishment for Craig Thornley and his battalion of volunteers. The race remains in great position as it moves into it’s next genration. I’m so happy to have another ticket to participate.
All things considered, I’m very happy with my race. I confronted failure on Cal Street, stared it in the face, and emerged victorious. Not victorious over the competition, but rather over my own weaknesses. How one reacts to rock bottom is what makes the difference. We are so much stronger than we realize. We can do anything. I love this shit.