How to make 100 miles seem a bit more manageable
Breaking down the Western States Endurance Run
The best way to make an insurmountable task (such as running 100 miles) seem more achievable? Break it down into more manageable pieces. In the case of a 100 mile race, a natural way to segment this ridiculous distance is using the aid stations located every 5–10 miles along the course. At Western States there are 21 well-stocked aid stations manned by some of the most amazing volunteers who work long shifts into the night to keep us needy runners fueled and happy (FUN FACT: there are more than 1,500 volunteers to assist less than 400 runners!). Instead of counting down each mile or all 21 aid stations, I will track ten key checkpoints where I can look forward to seeing my crew, fueling up, taking down plenty of Oreos, and jamming ice into as many orifices on my body/in my clothes as possible. I’ve also set realistic time goals for each milestone— I’d like to work ahead of this pace if things are going well, but adhering strictly to this plan would guarantee a successful outing. Without further ado, let’s start nerding out!
5:00AM - THE GUN GOES OFF (MILE 0.0)
Course Record Split: 5:00AM My 2016 Split: 5:00AM Every runner is on course record pace at 5:00am! Most important thing I can do is arrive at the start line relaxed. That means parking the car at Squaw Valley at least one hour before the gun goes off to give myself ample time to grab my bib, *briefly* warm up, stretch, talk to adoring fans, take care of business in the facilities, down a GU, stretch some more, etc.
7:30AM - RED STAR RIDGE (MILE 15.8)
CR Split: 7:28AM (-2') ’16 Split: 7:37AM (+7') I don’t really care about my splits between Squaw Valley and Robinson Flat. First of all, it’s early in the race and the more comfortably I can reach mile 30, the better. Second, I have no idea what to expect with snow/collapsing snow/melted run-off and whether the fluffy white stuff will have an impact on the course (I’m guessing it will). I expect to be a bit faster than last year as I (hopefully) won’t require a Mile 5 pitstop to clear out some pesky carrots from last night’s dinner. The time goal here serves as a check to see if I need to pump the brakes a bit.
Nobody has ever won a 100 miler in the first 15 miles.
9:42AM — ROBINSON FLAT (MILE 30.3)
CR Split: 9:30AM (-12') ’16 Split: 9:56AM (+14')
I get to see my crew! Will grab a fully-loaded hydration pack (bladder in back, soft flasks in front). Again, this is too early to worry about splits but having a rough idea will help keep me under control. I was a bit tentative on the climbs leading into Robinson Flat — turning my fast hike into a steady jog should shave a couple minutes per mile. This aid station is a tunnel of cheering for a good 1/4 mile and it’ll be all-too-easy to gas it out of the aid station from the adrenaline boost. Don’t do it!
11:37AM — LAST CHANCE (MILE 43.3)
CR Split: 11:17AM (-20') ’16 Split: 11:52AM (+15’)
The next half marathon is extremely runnable and I felt great on this section during the States training camp just a couple weeks ago, giving me confidence that I could open it up a bit and shave off A LOT of time here. But why risk it? I’m going to take it nice ‘n’ easy and relax through this section. When I reached Last Chance in 2016, my quads were already shot — I don’t want any tingling sensations this early on, especially with some big climbs and descents in the next 20 miles.
12:35PM — DEVIL’S THUMB (MILE 47.8)
CR Split: 12:06PM (-29') ’16 Split: 12:55PM (+20')
The toughest climb on the course! I lost 14 mins off CR pace in this 4.5 mile section last year (that’s a lot of time!), mostly before the climb— my quads could NOT handle the steep descent heading into Devil’s Thumb. Hoping to feel a bit fresher this time around!
1:55PM — MICHIGAN BLUFF (MILE 55.7)
CR Split: 1:23PM (-32') ’16 Split: 2:18PM (+23')
Long, gradual descent to El Dorado Creek followed by a nice climb to Michigan Bluff (remember that it’s 3 miles up and not just 2!). The heat will be in full effect by now and any over-aggressive runners are going to start feeling it — I expect to catch some of these in this section. I’ll pick up a fresh hydration pack with a full bladder, one soft flask and a handheld to cool off my legs/head. Don’t forget to get a butt slap from Amelia, then start hustling to Foresthill!
2:55PM — FORESTHILL (MILE 62)
CR Split: 2:18PM (-37') ’16 Split: 3:26PM (+31') Halfway point (mentally, not mileage-wise)! The big climbs of the race are all behind me (woohoo!), I get to pick up a pacer (I hope his jokes are better than what he delivered on last week’s run), receive a nice boost from the biggest crowds of the race, and get (another) fresh pack with a bladder and one handheld. I really slowed down a lot during the hot, exposed sections exiting Michigan Bluff (a section appropriately named “Volcano”), so I expect to make up quite a bit of time here. Let the downhill running begin!
5:20PM — RUCKY CHUCKY (MILE 78)
CR Split: 4:32PM (-48’) ’16 Split: 6:07PM (+47’) I REALLY suffered during this section last year. Braking on the descents, slow-hiking the hills, and halting to a near stand-still on the fire road along the river (I was hot, dehydrated and NOT mentally prepared to run another marathon!). I expect to make up a minute per mile on this section if I still have my legs leaving Foresthill. Hydration will be key here—in 2016 I was running out of fluids miles before the next fill-up (not good!). I’ll be greeted by some of my crew once I cross (excuse me, take a raft across) the river.
5:44PM — GREEN GATE (MILE 79.8)
CR Split: 4:49PM (-55') ’16 Split: 6:36PM (+52') The 2-mile climb from the river to Green Gate was B-R-U-T-A-L last year and I have set low expectations for myself this time around — it will be totally acceptable to hike this entire segment to re-group before the final 20-mile push. Not taking a squat break in front of Bob Shebest (and I believe his wife — sorry, Bob!) should save a couple of minutes. And I’ll be welcomed by a new pacer and my final hydration pack at the top!
“The real racing begins after Green Gate!” — Famous Race Historian
7:53PM —POINTED ROCKS (MILE 94.3)
CR Split: no split available ’16 Split: 8:53PM (+60') Exiting Green Gate, I’m finally ready for ALL of the race details from my pacer — my current place and the time gaps to the next couple of runners. The chase is on! I plan to gain time on my 2016 pace thanks to better hydration, confidence knowing that I can close in the last 20 miles and spending less time splashing around in the slow-moving creeks along the trail (it didn’t cool me off as much as I would’ve liked last year and the risk of giardia is a bit too high!). Final pacer swap at Pointed Rocks and 10k to go!
8:22PM —NO HANDS BRIDGE (MILE 96.8)
CR Split: 7:14PM (-68') ’16 Split: no split available
The 2.5 miles to this aid station are going to seem END-LESS. Just over 5k to go once I hit the bridge — enough time to gain another 5+ minutes on any struggling runners up ahead. Let’s go!!!
8:45PM — ROBIE POINT (MILE 98.9)
CR Split: 7:35PM (-70') ’16 Split: 9:50PM (+65') We’ve got a BRUTAL climb ahead of us and then a mile to the finish — it’s time to empty whatever’s left in the tank! Heart rate should be maxed out, quads should be SEARING like a steak on the barbie and my power hike will graduate to a POWER, ney, DOUBLE POWER hike. Biggest time advantage will come from (ideally) running this section in daylight sans headlamp.
8:57PM —PLACER HIGH SCHOOL (MILE 100.2)
CR Split: 7:46PM (-71') ’16 Split: 10:01PM (+64') 1 mile to the track + 3/4 lap on the Placer High track and IT’S ALL OVER! There’s just a touch more climbing before a flat mile to the finish and if there’s anyone in my sights, we’re really going to be getting after it! This section can’t be covered much faster than 10 minutes, so I better make sure the minute hand of the clock is ahead of the :50 mark to make sure I sneak under the next major hour barrier (no 17:01 nonsense this time!). Regardless of what the clock reads, it’s going to be a balls-out effort to the finish once we hit the track — gotta look good for the crowd! I can relish the experience after I cross the finish line. Done and done.
PROJECTED FINISH TIME = 15:57
But, Mocko, is sub-16 good enough?
WHO KNOWS. Last year, 15:57 would’ve been good enough for 2nd. 6th in 2015, 9th in 2014, and 1st (by nearly 30 mins!) in 2009. There are too many variables to predict how I (and the rest of the field) will handle the 100 miles from Squaw to Auburn on this particular Saturday in late June, including:
- The snow melt
- The temperature
- The additional sand along the river before Rucky Chucky
- Rafting across the river (it is possible to get held up here…)
- The chafing (I’m hoping Squirrel’s Nut Butter is up to the challenge!)
But there are also a number of factors that could play to my advantage:
- Experience on the course: I had run less than 30 miles of the course before toeing the start line last year — the other 70% was a complete mystery. Just knowing what’s ahead of me will make a big difference.
- Experience at the distance: I cannot underestimate the significance of having a 100 miler under my belt. The knowledge of what to expect and the confidence to know that I can finish will be hugely important, especially in the middle stages of the race when I’m suffering the most.
- More experience trail racing: Leading into 2016, I had run five trail races. Since then, I’ve added nearly a dozen additional finishes. The additional experience has helped me dial-in my nutrition and hydration plans and conditioned me to better handle ultradistances.
- More miles: In the 3.5 months leading up to States last year, I ran 1,227 miles and maxed out at 125 miles in a week. In the same time period this year, I have run 1,856 miles (629 more!) and have eclipsed my max weekly volume from last year on 6 separate weeks (including two 150 mile weeks). That’s a lot of running.
- More climbing: This time around, I have climbed an additional 100,000 vertical feet (232k ft in 2017 v. 132k ft in 2016). That’s a 75% increase!
- More descending: Since I start and end my runs from the same spot, my legs have seen a similar increase in descending. Given that descending was my first point of failure last year, this is even more significant.
- Running in the daylight: I ran the final 5+ miles of 2016 guided by a headlamp and I can guarantee that I was more hesitant running in the dark. If I can finish before the sun leaves Auburn, I stand to shave several minutes off my final time.
- Hunger: Not hungry for food, but hungry to legitimize my career as a runner. Performing at an exceptional level on the biggest stages our sport has to offer is the best way to validate my decision (at least on a personal level). And I am still lacking something that has my friends and family increasingly worried as I get older and continue to show few signs of making progress — a Costco sponsorship. A podium finish could be just what I need to get executives in Issaquah, WA to take notice.
- The Mocko Show: The final unknown! I’ve seen a huge outpouring of support from fans around the world who have tuned into my YouTube channel and read this blog. Receiving their words of encouragement this week and having a few more cheers along the course will provide an immeasurable psychological boost. Thank you, ALL OF YOU!
All of these positive factors should translate to minutes (if not hours!) off my time, but I won’t know just how much of a difference until that gun goes off!
HERE’S WHAT I DO KNOW.
I DO KNOW that setting my sights on too aggressive of a target can be catastrophic. I DO KNOW that there will be PLENTY of time to make up in the latter stages of the race if I’ve run an intelligent first half. I DO KNOW that I have a year more of experience. I DO KNOW what it’s like to finish a 100 mile race. And I DO KNOW that I have thousands more miles and feet of climbing under my legs. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be disappointed if I missed the podium this year, but I would be more devastated if I ruined my day by forgetting to run my own race. After all, it’s you against you.
FOUR DAYS AND COUNTING! #SeeYouInAuburn