Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Western States - The Finish

Sunday morning at the finish... 7:30 a.m.
A new day dawns...Mark and I are up early and after getting lost a few times, we've found the stadium at Auburn.  Yes, I'm a confirmed Western States junkie sitting at the finish watching 26 hours and above. I can't hold back the eye watering as every runner finishes.  At these finish times you know that the runners have struggled and walked a lot (and probably puked a lot!) but every single one has run/shuffled the track - no one is walking it in.
So many families and crews surrounding their runners... Many runners stopping on the track to hoist their children onto their shoulders to run them in for the finish. Heartfelt hugs and tears of thanks from runners to their pacers as the pacers peel off to let the runner finish alone.  Some runners won't let go of their pacers hand and pulled them along for the finish.  Some runners doubled over in pain all the way around the track (and probably for much longer) but continue to shuffle - huge smiles spreading across their faces as they turned the corner and see the finish clock.
The announcer is reading the bios of the runners.  Does he have prior experience at the Olympics?  Because he's making me cry with all the backstory...
A man in his 60's carries his wife across the finish line for the 102nd time he's run 100 miles.  Yes, the 102nd time.  I'm bawling...
A German Shepard K9 named Bodie that was shot three times in the line of duty a few months ago in Sacramento belongs to a WS runner. They allow the dog to run the final track lap as his the runner's "pacer" with his leg in a full cast.  Runner and dog both hobbling together to the finish line.  You have to be kidding me, right? Sobbing.
Bodie, the injured K9 
The number of runners in their 40s and 50's completing their first 100 mile run is amazing and inspiring on a very personal level.  Mark is taking video of the finishers that we thought would be inspiring but then he just stops because everyone is inspiring and the iPad can only take so much. It started smoking back at hour 28!
And last but not least... As the clock ticked down within two minutes, the final runner that would be allowed to finish entered the stadium.  The crowd went CRAZY as the announcer called our the name "Jerry Bloom".  At age 61, Jerry was going for his 10th Western States finish. Everyone was on their feet, screaming for him to hurry.  Half way around the track, the clock ran out and the air horn blew.  A big group of various crew members ran down onto the track to create a tunnel of arms for him to run through and there wasn't a dry eye in the stadium.  He crossed the finish line at 30:01.00. It doesnt count as a finish.  Heartbreaker. (Video of Jerry's finish - grab some Kleenex)


After we left the stadium I was an emotional mess.  So much inspiration and human triumph had left me with a serious case of swollen mole-people-eyes and I was feeling so disappointed that I hadn't gotten the chance to test myself and come through for Wayne.  It's not like I can just come back next year.   My husband suggested we go run part of the WS trail on our way home.  It turned out to be the perfect suggestion.

We parked at No Hands Bridge and ran back to the Hwy 49 Crossing aid station (which was already torn down) and then back to No Hands.  The WS signs were still up along the trail and there were hundreds of footprints in the dry red dirt below my feet.  At least I was running in their footsteps!  I felt better and better with each kilometer.

On the way back to No Hands I was enjoying a long lovely downhill stretch and had put some distance between me and Mark.  My height and his bad knee both give me an advantage on the downhills.  Happy to note that my short stature is good for something!  As I was looking down the trail to pick my path, a huge brown bear came flying up from the gully below, jumped onto the trail right in front of me and then leapt up to the ridge above.  I could've touched him.  Two more steps faster and he would've plowed right into me.  I freaked.  I started sprinting back up the hill to get to Mark.  When I reached him and told him about the bear he started laughing so hard.  In his words, all he saw coming up the hill was "eyes, teeth and knees screaming bear! bear! bear!"    Very funny.  For some.

The rest of the run was beautiful and uneventful - except that I felt happy and satisfied that I had claimed a tiny part of the trail for myself.  I rode home dirty, dusty, exhausted from the release of emotions and so grateful that I allowed running into my life.  I see now that I would be a different person without it.

The takeaway...
Western States is simply insane on every level and at every turn.  If you ever have the chance to go, even just to watch it all go down - DO IT!  It will leave you with the doors wide open in terms of what is possible.  Watching so many people accomplish something so inconceivable for the hell of it is just amazing.  

No, I didn't run.  But I did say "yes" when asked - even though I was scared.  I completed the training.  And I leant support to my friend in every possible way I could think of.  To include an impromptu nine day RV adventure up the California and Oregon coast that began the day after the race - but that's a story for another day :)
I am absolutely richer for the experience.  THANK YOU Wayne and Angie Miles!  
Somewhere on the Oregon Coast...


  1. I am also so glad you let running into your life. :).

    I know this didn't go as planned, but it was right. Even in watching the videos and hearing about your experience, I've learned from YOUR experience. I respect and admire Wayne and hope to hear more about his running experiences.
    Thank you for sharing this experience Lauren! I know it was a HUGE event in your life.

  2. I often say that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who run and those who don't, and I'm squarely on the side of those who don't. Reading this 3-part entry, and your statement about being grateful for allowing running into your life is the first time I am pausing to contemplate what I am missing by not allowing running into my life. What kind of person would I be if I were to open myself to that possibility? Thank you, Lauren, for sharing your experiences.

    1. NSB - I fought running tooth and nail my whole life. I "hated it"... and that was just a couple of years ago! I didn't start until just before my 40th birthday - hello panic! I started slowly and did a lot of kicking and screaming along the way. But mile by mile, race by race, goal by goal, it came together. It took me a full year of consistent running to speak the words "I am a runner" - and even then, it was coaxed out of me by my dear friend Angie (comment above). I no longer fight it :)

      If I can offer one little nugget that helped me immensely, it's this... the first mile or two SUCK for EVERYONE. No matter what the people around you look like, they're working through their own kinks, battling their own thoughts, wishing they were still in bed, etc. If you never get past those first couple of miles, you'll never experience the zen, joy, peace, excitement - whatever you can get from running.

      Thanks for the nice comment - you've inspired me to write about 'getting started'. THANK YOU!

      All good things, L