Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Little Bit (or A Lot) of Most Everything - Pacer/Crew Report Westerns States 2012

For the middling amateur athlete such as yours truly, being a part of a world-class sporting event usually requires buying a ticket and watching while others do the "heavy lifting".  In the case of the Western States Endurance Run, though, the only ticket I had to buy was a plane ticket, and the "seats" I'd reserved would involve being part of Kami Semick's crew and then pacing her for the final 20 miles of what is arguably the most prestigious race in ultrarunning, a race where last year Kami finished second to Ellie Greenwood, thanks in part to a grumpy grizzly bear blocking Kami's way in the final miles.

After a long day of traveling - loaded with beer and gear, marred by travel, traffic and construction delay - my friends Jay (who was celebrating his birthday) and Holly and I finally made it to Squaw Valley late Thursday night.  We went out for a drink with Jay's runner, Ryan, and finally turned in at about 1:00 am (aka, 4:00 am EDT).

Friday would bring seeing and meeting more friends, as well as the complimentary Montrail 6K Uphill Challenge and Fun Run, taking participants up the steep climb out of Squaw Valley along the first few miles of the WS trail.  It was humbling to "race" at altitude, so I ran/hiked it, and then added some mileage, topping out somewhere around 9000 feet.  It was exhaustingly exhilarating to cover nearly 10 miles at that elevation, but it was a worthwhile experience.

  • Kami is one of the nicest, most-down-to-earth people I've met, though her gentle nature does not mask a burning intensity to compete at the highest levels of a very demanding sport
  • Co-ed sleeping arrangements involving leaky air mattresses are not that fun, a sure sign that I'm pretty far along in metamorphosing into a cranky old man
  • I have some friends who are amazing runners, some who are talented drinkers, and at least one who is both
  • Asthma and cold rain are a rough combination, as Kami had to drop out at Mile 30 because of the niggling inconvenience of BEING UNABLE TO BREATHE.  She ended up in the hospital, but was discharged the same day
  • A 100-mile point-to-point course which traverses mountains and crosses rivers appears to be considerably longer than a 100-mile loop course
  • A great way to make and cement friendships at this more "advanced" stage of life is to crew an ultrarunner, or just hang out at a 100-mile race
  • I'm addicted to pacing, apparently, as I seemed to suffer withdrawal symptoms when it appeared that I would not have a runner.  I was so sure that I would not be pacing, that I started drinking a tasty Colorado brew hand-delivered by a friend.  I had about 10 minutes' notice to change out of street clothes and get ready to run.  I climbed, descended and crossed a very cold river.  I had a blast.
  • Ultrarunners are a little bit crazy; I like ultrarunners
  • Despite some notable negatives, California is a remarkable place in many ways
  • Lack of oxygen and sleep, coupled with supranormal alcohol consumption, leads to repeated and extended bouts of giddy silliness, punctuated by short periods of hungry, tired crankiness
  • 100 miles is a long way to run, but the 100-mile running community is small . . . and some people seem to have been around and around it
  • That a person is toting the distinctive WS winner's trophy should be a dead giveaway that that person won the race (oops!)
  • After having no interest in doing a 100-mile race myself (really, truly, sincerely), WS has made my mind wander; though, as I've said to some friends, "I just can't imagine sucking at something for so long, with the more I suck, the longer it'll take" [insert clever word play here]
Looking back, Western States 2012 was like a time-defying dream sequence, where I slept in a different place with a different combination of people for 5 nights in a row, and during which I encountered countless folks who were all drawn to the same place for the same reason.  I also got to bear distant witness to some remarkable athletic feats, as the Men's and Women's Course Records fell, and the Men's Masters' Record was also re-written.  In a world where many of us may doubt our inborn capacity for doing extreme and extraordinary things, 100-mile races show that with hard work, persistence and commitment, virtually anything is possigble . . . and that when we (as a species) reach a seemingly unassailable benchmark, it's just a matter of time before someone comes along to assail it. :-)

Happy running, or whatever it is that you do which challenges and motivates you.


1 comment:

Dan said...

"I just can't imagine sucking at something for so long, with the more I suck, the longer it'll take"

I love that comment because I feel the same way.