Monday, July 16, 2012

Western States - Game Day

Saturday, June 23, 2012  Runner Check-In Squaw Valley

Awake at 3:00 a.m. and ready to rumble.  After a quiet breakfast we headed over to the Olympic Center at Squaw to get Wayne's bib and timing chip.  Runners, crews, family members - loads of people everywhere.  I stood in the breakfast area just watching people.  The runners wear white bibs so it's easy to spot them.  I saw I tall bald guy wearing a pink leotard, pink tutu and pink leopard gators over his shoes.  I saw some girls with tiaras.  I saw Nick through the crowd and gave him a big good luck squeeze. I saw Cowman (pic below).  I saw a wild assortment of footwear.  Some runners were wearing nothing more than racing flats, some wore traditional running/light trail shoes and then some had on more of a hiking boot. I saw a lot of nerves and a lot of smiles.  Again, great people watching. 

*Must give a big huge shout out to Molly Knox - she knows why :)  Great to meet you Molly!

The start. 4:45 a.m.

The fire pit in front of the iconic Western States time clock was blazing and surrounded by people. Bruce Springsteen was blaring ‘Born to Run’ followed by The Plimsouls 'Million Miles Away'.  Both excellent choices.  The energy was a very strange blend of subdued excitement. The task at hand is absolutely no joke. 
All of the runners and their crews were standing together as one huge group in the small starting area. So different than any other kind of race. I realized it's true that Western States is a shared experience by everyone who participates. I kept tearing up as people came one after the other to wish Wayne good luck.  I was thankful for the cover of darkness.  
A runner next to me was a little panicky.  She was talking to her girlfriend and just kept saying  " I am so nervous, I am so scared, I am so nervous."  Her girlfriend took her by the shoulders and said all the things you're supposed to say... “You are going to be amazing. You've done all the training.  ENJOY every step.”  That's when the runner started laughing and said "Yeah... where is that bitch Joy that everyone keeps talking about?!  I haven't seen her on any of my runs!"  The laughter cleared the air and she was literally glowing after that. All the hours. All the training. The impossibility of even getting into the race... I could see the start clock behind her head ticking down under 50 seconds. Amazing.
As the clock wound down, spectators started climbing the hill to get a good view of the start and to cheer on the runners. It was so surreal in the darkness and I was blown away by how many times I had watched the start online... And there I was, standing in the midst of the runners. 
The gun went off and the crowd went nuts. Wayne's green wind breaker passed by us and the 30 hour miracle began. 369 runners. 1600 volunteers. 50 doctors. 75 nurses and hundreds of crew members and pacers all converging for the "Boston marathon" of ultras. Bang!

Video of the start taken by my husband... 
Saturday morning - 6:00 a.m.
I came back to the room with a few hours to kill and used it to take a long hot shower, drink a huge mug of my greens (as I've easily gained 7 pounds in anticipation of this trip, I have to watch the crap food from here on out) and settled in front of the massive hotel room window looking out at the beauty of Squaw Valley to peck out my thoughts. 
There are black clouds moving fast over the mountain tops. Angie seems worried about the rain but I’m hoping that the lower temps will benefit the runners.  Its traditionally in the upper 90's to low 100's for a good part of the run.  I know from experience that when you train in hot weather, cold temps can make you feel bionic. 
We’ll leave in about 90 minutes to start our crewing adventure. My run doesn't start for another 14 to 15 hours IF everything goes well for Wayne.  I could be in for a 20 mile walk if things go bad.   He's warned me numerous times to rest today - don't hike into difficult aid stations, sleep in the car when possible and eat and drink water all day long... I shall obey.
12:30 p.m. Robinson Flat aid station. Mile 30.6  (written after the fact - once I was warm!)
There were only two shuttle busses running up to Robinson flat so we waited with hundreds of other crew members in a long line of anxiety and anticipation.  We were finally going to see our runners for the first time.  It was a long six miles up a logging road that rocked my motion sickness but once we got to the top the weather was so awful, the motion sickness was replaced by fear sickness for the runners.  Mid 30's and cold rain falling somewhere between a drizzle and spit. The runners had trained and dressed for soaring temps and here they came into the aid station freezing, soaked and calling out to aid officials to get back down the trail to help injured runners.  We heard that one of the top women had just been taken out with hypothermia.
Wayne and Angie's daughters were watching on line and texting us when to expect him. 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 10 minutes. Runners struggling as they came up the trail. Crews all looked worried. 
When a runner drops from WS, the arm bracelet that's placed around their wrist at medical check-in is cut off their wrist by a race official and then radioed in to race headquarters.  While we waited at Robinson Flat, a race official walked by us with several cut bands in his hands.  More worry.
As Wayne's green windbreaker made its way up the trail, I could see that he wasn't smiling.  We rushed forward to the barricade and called him to the side to collect his aid bag. When we asked how he was doing and if he was cold, he didn't respond.  Immediately, a doctor came up to walk alongside him and started moving him away from us and over to the med tent.  The three of us completely forgot it was freezing rain as we stood there trying to catch a glimpse of what was happening.
After his weigh in he made his way to us but the doctor was right along side.  The only thing I heard the doctor say was "It has to be your choice Wayne.  If you want to go on, we'll send an aid official to run with you to the next station".  The doctor left to attend to other runners and there we all were, facing each other.  Wayne took a big breath and said "I can't do this anymore. Not today and not ever again."  My heart just sank. His hips were a mess from all of the rubble on the trail and his "non-existent quad" could not handle the pressure on the down hills. (Oh, did I mention that Wayne had cancer in his quadricep and had it removed last year? Technically speaking, the hamstring wrapped around his thigh bone is currently filling the role of a quasi-quad. Just FYI.  He's amazing.)
After making that statement, the second guessing and negotiating began... How much further did he think might be possible? The next crew station with transportation was 25 miles away at Michigan Bluff so if he needed to drop in the middle, it would require assistance and resources from race officials. Guys he used to run with came by and offered up various scenarios.  They would do anything to help him continue - it was amazing to see the support of the ultra community in action.  
But Wayne had spoken his truth with the first sentence.  It was over. Not just the 2012 Western States, but the end of his 100 mile race career. Everyone was tearing up.  Watching him walk back to the med tent to have his bracelet cut was the final straw for me. Bawling.  My husband took me by the shoulders and told me that even though I wouldn't be running, my job was not over.  Now was the time to pull it together and be supportive of the decision.  Set the pace sister!  He was right.  Wayne didn't need a sobbing girl on his hands.

We hitched a ride down the six miles to the parking area with some aid officials.  Total silence.  Everything started to sink in. We rode the two hours back to their home in El Dorado pretty much in silence.   

Fireside at the start  
Wayne and beautiful Angie
Wayne and Molly



  1. A classic example of "its not the destination but the journey...." It sounds like so much was gained by you all it what you described here. Good on you sister for being there, and sharing with us. X

  2. I tear up every time I think about how hard it must have been for Wayne to decide it was time to stop. For so many people, running isn't just tying your shoes and heading out the door. IT'S IN YOU. Wayne is amazing for starting this race, and for making a very difficult choice to know in his heart it was time to stop.