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Why I Keep Running This Damn 100-Mile Race

Western States Endurance Run Recap

I don’t like being hot. If I had to choose between being too cold or too hot, I’d freeze every time. I find nothing pleasurable about exercising when the mercury is over 90F, unless it’s water aerobics and there are margaritas. I’d go so far as to say I hate the heat.

And, besides some innate tendencies towards procrastination and selfishness, I generally like myself. Yet I spent my last Saturday in June wrecking my body (and spirit? Remains to be seen…) running through 100 miles of rugged terrain in 103+ degree, blazingly hot weather. No wind. Dead, searing air. What possessed me (and 400 other loony people) to do such a thing? (Cue the drum roll or other cinematic anticipatory music. Reader’s choice.)

The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run is a trail running race from Squaw Valley to Auburn, CA with a 18,00ft-ish ascent, 21,000ft decent. (OK, so lets stop here. This is the part where those unfamiliar with the niche, albeit growing, sport of ultra running say something to the effect of “It’s not possible to run that far” and “You’re crazy.” To which I say, yes it is, and yes I am. Running 100 miles does sound awful on its surface, but it’s really not. Some people, myself included, actually like it. Well, usually.)

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Not the hardest race, not the easiest, but definitely iconic. This year was notable for one thing. I’ll give the reader one guess. Come on, think about the first paragraph. Yes. Chalk one up, we have a winner. The heat! It was the second hottest year in it’s 40-year history. Did I mention I abhor running in hot climates? From the high Sierras, to the steep American River Canyon, to the mad dash along rolling singletrack to the finish, this race has a good mix of terrain. I’ve done it for the past 3 years, each time a unique mix of highs and lows creating memorable experiences that made me want to come back again for more. Western States 2013 will go down for me as the most physically and mentally challenging race I’ve ever finished.

 

The day started out great. Classic summer time, early-morning running. Everything just has an ease to it. Tahoe is home for me, so the first part of the race feels very familiar and comfortable. I chugged along at a nice clip for the first 5 hours, feeling pretty good. As the heat started to rise, my tempo started to drop. My running pace and the temperature unfortunately had an inverse relationship all day. By 4 p.m. it was 105. I won’t even mention what I looked like. I was on pavement at this point. Not fun. I spent the better part of the race dreaming about ice because my organs felt like they were boiling. Luckily the sun eventually did go down.

From mile 35 to mile 80, it was pretty much a suffer-fest for me. I’ll spare the reader the more gruesome details, but to summarize it involved a lot of blisters, vomiting, mental anguish, cursing, incontinence (bet you didn’t see that one coming), and a Clydesdale running form. Eventually everything became about self preservation and making it to the next aid station. I got into a weird mental space. Tunnel vision. And at the end of the tunnel was coldness. All I focused on was what I would feel like when I was cold.

I finally made it to the finish. Actually, once the sun went down, I found my happy place, and the last 20 miles were pretty great. Unfortunately it took 80 miles to get there. A quick recap of my internal monologue from the start to the finish: I love running, this trail is beautiful, huh, it’s getting warm, yeah, I’m pretty hot and not in the good way, running sucks, I’m puking more than a hungover tappa-kegga sorority girl, I paid to do this?, isn’t psychotherapy cheaper in the long run and more productive than literally running from my inner demons?, running is stupid, hey, the sun disappeared, hey, I like running, hooray, it’s over! … do I get to come back next year? The answer is yes. But do I really want to? (I was going to insert a “you betcha” because it seemed like an appropriate place; however, I think this phrase has been co-opted by someone else, so instead I’ll leave it open-ended.)

The stats (because that’s what everyone really scrolls down for):

  • 19hr 52min
  • 5th female
  • 22nd overall
  • Winner female 20-29 age division

Overall score on the happiness scale: meh. (Though there were a few “boo ya” moments interspersed with the more predominating moments of “I hate the sun and all the fury it wrought.”)

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