Part 3: The Grand Slam, Leg One:
The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run
June 29, 2002
by Ian Torrence
Before Race Day
The drive to Squaw Valley and the start of Western States from Utah was a hot one. I wanted to take the opportunity to see a part of Nevada that I had never seen before. I had lived in the state for four years (from 1996 until 2000) and had never seen its northern reaches. I now believe that Nevada can keep most of its Interstate-80 corridor; I saw nothing of interest to me there. The drive from Reno up and into the Tahoe Lake basin was beautiful as usual. The temperatures cooled and the trees grew to the great heights.
I felt good in the week preceding the race. My attitude was good and the kinks that always seem to pop up before big races were non-existent. I traveled to the race with my girlfriend, Anne Raney. We arrived Thursday night and were set up in a house in Alpine Meadows, one valley removed from Squaw Valley proper and the start of the race. We shared the house with a number of other runners, courtesy of Montrail.
On Friday morning I rose early and headed over to Squaw Valley to meet Scott Jurek for a four-mile “shake-out” run before weigh-in. It was good to see my friend from Seattle, catch up on life and to discuss race strategies. We had very different ideas on how we’d approach the next day’s race. I planned to play it conservatively hoping to put in a good surge late in the race, while Scott was planning, like in years past, to take it out hard and to punish those who went with him (It worked, as he would go on to win in 16:19).
It was excellent to see the many friendly faces at the pre-race meeting on Friday afternoon. I talked with many people who I had not seen in a long time. There was a lot to catch up on, but a limited amount of time to do it. I also touched base with Nate McDowell, from Corvallis, Oregon, my pacer for the race. We discussed my running plan and I did my best to predict my needs during the part of the race in which he would join me. My sister, Jessica, came over from Placerville, California to visit with me as well. Anne, Jessica, two of Anne’s college friends and I went to dinner in Tahoe City that evening. We finished the last rays of the day on a sandy beach staring at the lake. It was meditative and soothing.
Race Day Fever
What a way to start off the Slam! I had my best performance at Western States this year. In 1998, I finished in 22:40. In 2000, I finished in 20:03. This year’s 18:27 was a huge improvement. I enjoyed myself so much more this year as well.
I was able to stick with my pre-race game plan for most of the race. I took it easy, walked often, and ate and drank all along the way. I was more than comfortable to let others by and wasn’t too concerned with my place early in the race. It was a beautiful climb up and out of the valley to Emigrant Pass.
Early on I focused on enjoying the company of those who were around me. I ran several miles with eventual woman winner Ann Trason. We talked and shared stories, but then she left me as she continued to run the long climb up to Dusty Corners (mile 38). I decided walking that section would be more appropriate at the time. I also spent a good chunk of the early stages of the race running with Jim Kerby (from Carnation, Washington) and Dave Terry (from Portland, Oregon). From the first climb up Emigrant Pass (mile five) to roughly around Michigan Bluff (mile 55) we ran on and off as a group. We exchanged leads, talked and passed the long miles together. It was awesome!
I survived the canyons this year. In my previous two runs at Western this tough section proved to be my undoing. I was able to run into Foresthill (mile 62) this year feeling strong and confident. I picked up Nate and was off, spending very little time there.
It would be here that I would begin to make several errors that I would pay for later in the race. I departed from my pre-race plan and became too focused on my place and who was ahead of me and behind me. I took in less water and downed way too few calories on the way to the river crossing (mile 78). Nate was with me and had me totally psyched. We were moving fast and gaining on many of the lead runners. I had simply lost sight of the fact that I still had 38 miles to go after Foresthill. At Green Gate (mile 80) I dropped a water bottle and picked up a flashlight. It was 7:00 p.m. and I was still sweating—a lot. This move contributed to issues that would plague me later in the race. I was clearly not hydrating as much as I needed to. I began to have trouble with food intake and then started shunning it altogether.
At Brown’s Bar (Mile 90) darkness settled in on Nate and I. I was tired, my quads were shot and I had several blisters that had developed since the river crossing, that were making every downhill a serious challenge. Low blood sugar, dehydration, blisters and sore quads had slowed me to a shuffle. Within a three-mile stretch I had totally fallen apart. Nate did an excellent job of pushing me onward. He would tell me when to run and when to walk. I just shut everything out except for his voice, coming to me through the dark. Two runners passed me during the final ten miles, far less than I would have guessed should have, considering my state of “disrepair.” I passed Rich Hanna on the climb to Highway 49 (mile 93). He was in far worse shape than myself but was able to pass on a “heart-felt congratulations and job well done.”
The last 1.1 miles (from Robie Point to the finish line on the Placer High School track in Auburn, CA) took me nearly 18 minutes. I was hurting. I finished eighth overall in 18:27. I was proud of that accomplishment and was so glad that I was finally done with the race.
Post Race Clean Up
Little did I know, I was far from finished with the race once I crossed the white line. After talking to a few other runners and thanking my crew and pacer my head began to feel very “odd”. I took a seat and felt it best to take in some water. Nothing settled and soon I lost my stomach. I was dehydrated and would end up taking two liters of IV fluid under the medic’s advice. This was a very new and scary experience for me. By the time I finally discovered that I would need the IV’s and then have them administered the wee hours of the morning had arrived. Anne and I tried to crash in the car for one or two hours of restless sleep, but I just couldn’t sleep.
The awards ceremony on Sunday afternoon was special to me. After several attempts, I was finally able to walk to the front of the gym as a top-ten finisher at Western States. I was honored and thrilled to be among the runners that surrounded me.
I must take a moment to say thanks to the race management of Western States, the thousands of volunteers that put the race together, as well as Anne and Nate. Without any one of their help my run would have been so much harder and much less memorable. Congratulations to all the runners at Western States and to all those Slamers who gave the run a try.
Anne and I returned to Squaw Valley with several other runners to spend the night before making the long drive back to Utah on Monday. We choose to change our return route and take Highway 50, dubbed “The Loneliest Highway,” through Nevada. This afforded us cooler temperatures due to its higher elevation and much nicer scenery. The 14-hour trip didn’t take the toll on me that I thought it would. While passing through Delta, Utah we passed by the “Race Across America” RV. Those runners were done for the day, but I was glad I didn’t have to wake the next morning and trudge for another 40 miles.
It was tough to return to work on Tuesday morning and march into the Arches National Park backcountry with 25 pounds of equipment in 108-degree temperatures. But I felt the sooner I got back to routine the better. The day’s work certainly loosened me up.
In two weeks I travel east to the Vermont 100 Mile Run for Part 2 of my Slam adventure. I am looking forward to it. I feel good. My recovery is coming along nicely and my head is still “in the game.” Until then…
Results and more information about the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run can be found at www.ws100.com.