Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Hundred I Never Imagined - Kevin

4 miles into the race. On top of Squaw Valley.
I know I’m making this a big deal. This IS after all, my first 100. Before I sugarcoat it and fabricate this blog even more, I need to stop. So please bear with me!

First, I would like to thank my crew - Team Chandalous:
George Gleason post AC100 (Photo: Larry Gassan)


The time I’ve spent running with you before, during and after Western States is invaluable. I have learned a ton from you about running, about having the right attitude and also about you. You’re truly genuine and have one of the biggest hearts. You are sincere, thankful and caring unconditionally. Your support have greatly contributed to my completion of Western States and I can’t thank you enough. I certainly hope that it doesn't end here, White Lightning. I would love to crew you and train with you further down our ultra journeys.
Crispin Lazarit at Harding Hustle (Photographer: Unknown)
It’s been awesome having you around to train with. You are probably the one of the most passionate runners I've ever known judging by how goal oriented you are with races and training. Once you were on board as part of my crew, you’ve been encouraging me endlessly. So thank you for hanging around and for helping me run stronger even though you could’ve accelerated faster and further if you train with even stronger runners. I can't wait to see you run your first 100. Let’s continue our progress / process!

Pedro Martinez at Mt. Disappointment battling high mountain as well as high fever
You’ve been awesome to train with post Bull Dog 50K. If it wasn’t for you, this would’ve happened. You were the one that pulled the string and brought a few of us together to run the crazy 50 milers after Bulldog. The tough training runs we've been through that you set up has been very beneficial. I still remember that day when we were training out on the Backbone trail out near Kanan Dume Rd., you waited for me and offered me running food when I bonked. Nonetheless, you were encouraging and caring while I was out running my first hundred.
Nicole St. Jean at Leona Divide 50 Miler (Photographer: Unknown)
It was awesome to have you to be a part of my crew. Your support and encouragements were invaluable to me. Though I looked like a zombie at Michigan Bluff, seeing you and the rest of the crew was uplifting. As always, you are very caring, gentle and give tons of love to all of your friends. You are amazing.

Adam Bowman with his daughter, Maggie @ 2010 LA Marathon
Adam, thank you for joining me and the crew very last minute. If it wasn’t for you, my crew wouldn’t have made it up, or wouldn’t have made it up with all the fun! It was also awesome to have you on the crew because you are always fun to be around! I remember that you were that fast guy I think of from Tuesday night practice that I can never catch (pre and post Crispin). It was always tough trying to catch you and White Lightning. Thank you for capturing my finish at states and for being there for me at Foresthill, bringing out food, clothes and drinks for me along with the rest of the crew.

Without all of you, my run would not have been as great of an experience. To my team, thank you and I’m forever grateful for your support. I love you all!

Jimmy Dean Freeman receiving his plaque and sub 24 buckle at AC 100 in front of fellow runners and Coyotes
Jimmy Dean and the SoCal Coyotes:
I had no idea what I was getting into when Louis brought me to that New Years Eve run back in 09-10 NYE. Some vivid memories include running with champagne, double fisted. Hiking up the steep Los Liones. Talking about accomplishments, mishaps and new goals. Then you and Dom mentioned Badwater, (whatever the hell that was at that time). Few days later, I signed up and ran my first trail race at Xterra Boney Mountain. I was hooked. But it wasn’t until 7 months later when I signed up for Bulldog 50K, I started training with you. I never realize, until then, how incredible of a trail running group you’ve created. Since then, I have learned so much from you and the rest of the Coyotes about running, about trails and most important, about life. I’ve learned how to appreciate nature and what it means to support and to encourage. You and your Coyotes have opened my eyes to see things I could not have even imagined doing or breathing. I’m forever grateful for what you have gathered, created, or even attracted this amazing group of people that somehow led me to this Western States adventure. I also truly appreciate what you have done at Michigan Bluff, helping me get off my knees and continue on with my journey I never gave up on but struggled with. I’m thankful for all your help that you’ve done leading all the way up to the starting line, where I balled out my eyes after hearing some final words of encouragements from you. Thank you Jimmy, my idol, my friend, my hero. Thank you Coyotes for all the help, all of the encouragements. Without you all, this wouldn’t have happened!

June heading up Escarpment @ Western States 2011
The time between Firetrails and after Western States has been crazy! A huge roller coaster! It's been awesome training with you and doing all those races with you in between. I just want to thank you for toughing it out with me, especially through Miwok and through Western States and the training for all that! You're super unselfish, super tough and very caring. I love you and I hope to be able to run more epic races with you. 3 words. Best. Lottery. Partner.

Vita Panda Louis being uncle Sam somewhere (Photographer: Unknown)
Vita Panda Louis:
Dude. 5x Ironman. How did we get here? From being in an Impreza car club to here? What did you do to me? Louis. I love you. You’re a life long friend and a true brother to me. Bringing me to run with the Coyotes that NYE was the greatest gift I have gotten from you and I mean it. No, not the stainless steel soup pot, nor the George Foreman grill you got me for the i-Club xmas gift exchange, but handing me off to the Coyotes, introducing me to them. Neither of us knew where that would lead to and now we learn and we know. So I want to thank you for all of that. It was indeed special when you had to run your Ironman Coeur d’ Alene and I’m glad you started after I finished!! Let’s continue our journey to be stronger and meet more incredible people!

Thank you for all your thoughts and your encouragements. Your greeting cards that were filled with kind words have helped me go through the months of training, leading to Miwok and then to Western States. I greatly appreciate your love and your thoughts.

And so it begins...

Western States 100 Plaque @ Squaw Valley
It was 3AM in the morning. My mind was well alerted without the assistance of the alarm I’ve set on my phone. "This is it. The day is finally here", I thought to myself. The day I will make my attempt to run a hundred miles. I took my time to get ready and tried to think of anything else I need to take care of. I was nervous about not preparing my crew enough since I had never crewed anyone before.

Crispin and I drove out to Squaw Valley within the next 30 minutes and we tried to get out there by 4 in the morning. There were still a few things to get done before I could start the race for the mandatory check-in. A final weigh in and a final check on my blood pressure. The drive there was rather short but relaxing. The sky was clear and the stars were still shining. That usually indicates that it’s a chilly and crisp morning.

It was certainly tough to try and relax during the check-in. I felt so much energy from all over the room. All the runners and crews were in there hanging out. Some familiar faces, some unknowns that I’ll be chatting with or if fun is to be allowed, runners to duel with. There were also the famous faces, the elites like Dave Mackey, Geoff Roes, Pam Smith, Kami Semick (check out her story on how she encountered some bears just one mile before finishing Western States!! eek!) and Kilian Jornet, whom I’ve met two days prior at the Fleet Feet panel in Sacramento. By the time I got there, Stan and June, the other Coyotes that was selected to run Western States, were already checked in.
Crispin, Kilian and I at Fleet Feet Sacramento
Once everything was done, I was greeted by Jimmy, the pack of Coyotes and my crew. A few hugs here and there, a few pictures snapped and a few mini muffins devoured. Yet, none of that help bring my anxiety down. In no time, we have only 10 minutes before the race starts.

“This is fucking unreal”, I told George as I was looking towards the starting line area packed with runners, their crew members and their families. As we walked toward the starting area, my nervousness began to unravel. Everything that had happened since December 4th comes down to this. This is and will be the race and run of the year for me. The event that will forever change my life one way or another.

With a minute left on the clock for the countdown, Jimmy came over, gave me a hug and told me how proud he was of me.  I got uncontrollably emotional with tears flowing down my face. You know how when a child fall, the child doesn’t cry until he/she got the attention and love from the parent? Or how they react to the actual reaction? Well, I felt just like those children that moment. I feel ever so connected to my coach, friend, idol, mentor and so forth.. for the past 6 months. After all, he was the one that broke the news to me on December 4th, when I was half way through The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler at Bootjack. He is indeed the running father I never had until the trail and mother nature got a grasp of me. I covered up my face with my hands as I needed a moment to myself.

I couldn’t believe this was happening with everything that had happened, with all the support that I’ve gotten from everyone from the Coyotes. I was more nervous than ever. June came up right beside me with a huge smile, more ready than ever. I told her that I was more nervous than she was. 3...2...1...

Crispin and I right 5 minutes before start. (Photo: George Gleason)
“Shit I forgot to turn on my watch and start after the countdown!” Luckily I started my watch in time, barely. I might have missed a mile or two off from the starting area since it takes time for the watch to pick up its location via GPS signal. Once the countdown was over, I felt an instant relief. I didn’t know how that happened but I knew it was time to get going, move forward and put in the work that I’ve prepared for during the past six and a half months. Even though I felt relieved, I knew that I need to be calm. I must enjoy the high country views and soak up the trails, the scenery, the experience. That was the only way to go without blowing up early, enjoying every step of my way, the journey to out to Auburn.

Squaw Valley to Talbot Creek
Start (0) To Talbot Creek (13):
I tried to go on a slow and relatively comfortable pace going up Escarpment so I pulled out my camera, eavesdropped others’ conversations, listened to my calves and made sure that I didn’t burn them out. On the way up, I was with June for a little bit. I reminded her to turn around and enjoy the view. I also leapfrogged with Stan and checked up on him and see how he was feeling without really asking him about it. There were interesting conversations here and there on the way up. I remember hearing an elder man said, “Running a 100 ain’t easy, not everyone can do it.” I turned around and told him, “No, everyone can do it, but not everyone believes in it.”

Beautiful dead tree. More stunning
in person than in this picture.
The Escarpment aid station was closer than I thought it was. Shortly after passing by this beautiful dead tree, I saw the Escarpment aid station crew and table with water. My hydration pack was filled with Nuun so I figured two cups of water would be sufficient as I’ve been advised to drink often and to drink early! I caught back to Stan and we continued to march towards the Olympic Ski Lift area up near the top.

Before reaching Talbot Creek, there is still some way to go through the snow. I remember how beautiful it was on the way up on Thursday morning with Crispin to attend the flag raising ceremony. With the Sun rising, it was ten times more beautiful. The orange rays of Sun spread across the peaks of mountains and the bright white snow.

At some point, we really had to take our time to trek across the snow plain towards the climb to the peak. Much of the snow on our way had hardened overnight and runners would have to tip toe on snow areas that have not been stepped on to avoid tripping over previously created deep foot prints. At least that was an easier technique for me to trek pass this section.

Climbing up to 8900ft (Photographer: Katie DeSplinter)
After few steep snow climbs, we finally got on top of Emigrant Pass. As I trek up top, I heard a howl and my name screamed aloud. Katie DeSplinter had gotten up there already, all prepared to snap pictures of us Coyotes, fellow runners and of course the beautiful sun rise. At the top of the hill, I turned around and snapped up a few pictures. It was breathtaking. Though I wanted to take it easy in the beginning, I didn’t have time to waste. The first of many downhill trails starts right there at the top of Emigrant.

From this point on and shortly after the wet muddy downhill, we entered the longest section of rolling snow trails. That was probably my first experience traversing across this type of icy snow terrain. I’m not going to lie. It was tough, fun, but tweaky. Most of us non-elite runners had to really take our time and make use of the steps that had been created previously. We would march forward in a single file line, stepping up slowly. One misstep can lead you to slide down the icy hill. At some point, the guy in front of me slid down reverse superman style. Everybody fell there. I fell at least 8 times, sled on skin a few times. I even stepped through thin ice (not very apparent) once (luckily I didn’t hyper extend my knee). As terrible as it sounds, it wasn’t that bad. If anything, it makes the run more interesting. I did, however, thought about how June was doing, especially in this section. Coming into the race with an injured ankle, June can easily re-tweak her foot and ankle on the uneven icy patches and off balanced snow trails.

Single file trekking out to Talbot Creek. (Photo: Mike Ong)
Not exactly the entire section was icy. Some parts were packed with soft snow. The downhill paths packed with snow can be slid down by runners. The soft snow patches were relatively more forgiving on skin or buttocks. At some point near the end of the section, a bunch of runners ahead of me took a wrong turn, having to turn around. That allowed me to pass most of them. It took me nearly 3.5 hours to get out to Talbot Creek at mile 13.

Talbot Creek (13) To Poppy Trailhead (19.6):
I was at the Talbot Creek aid station for a good few minutes. After a few hours of aggressive hydration, I needed a refill and I took my time to fill up, eat and have plenty of water. My nutrition game was still on par at the time. I knew that I had to down water since I was carrying plenty of Nuun electrolyte liquid. Gels, PB&J, potatoes and pretzels were all welcomed by my stomach. A few minutes had gone by and I took off after thanking the aid station volunteers.

All this time, I thought that Stan was behind me until this first full aid station. I felt like I was there long enough for him to have passed me, but that didn’t matter. From this point to Poppy Trailhead, lies a long stretch of flat, slightly rolling runnable fireroad. I ran most of this section with easy effort. Since we didn’t get to run from mile 30 to mile 55 during the training run, I had no idea what to expect. For me, a description of the course is not enough for me to know the course. In order for me to understand, I need to be able to visualize it and to have ran the course. With that said, I remained conservative on the flats but still pushing it a tad bit, going at about a 9:30 pace.

This section was probably one of my least favorite section of the course, mainly because some of it was on roads, rolling roads. After a few miles into this, I met up with Jen Evans again. Jen passed me right before mile 3 while going through Escarpment. She seems to be fresh and strong here, still focused and running while there were a few runners that were walking the flats already.

My body at this time was still fully functional. Water was passing through, food was being digested, gas was being passed. Check, check and check. Sporadic, but happy.

Poppy Trailhead (19.6) To Duncan Canyon (23.8):

The section between Poppy Trailhead and Duncan Canyon was probably one of my favorite routes and also the last time I feel 100% great. I had a lot of fun out there. The course was gorgeous and it brought me smiles as I ran through it. The fast rolling woodsy singletrack was fun and exciting. The scene to the left of the trail, for most part, was a view of the French Meadow Reservoir. The water in the lake / reservoir was glistening, sparkly and blue like the ocean. It was too bad that this section only lasted for 4 miles. By the time I got to Duncan Canyon, the temperature have risen quite a bit and started to get hot.

Duncan Canyon (23.8) To Mosquito Ridge (31):

Things started to get sour from Duncan Canyon To Mosquito Ridge. This “long” stretch of 7 miles seemed to be never ending. It also gave me a lot of time to think as we, runners, travel west. Maybe it was the first sign of fatigue that was settling in. Maybe it was the first time I was starting to feel the heat, despite of how content I was with the way I kept myself cool. There was never a moment that I thought about quitting, dropping or stopping. Not then, not before, not later. I was determined to get that done, finish the run, get to the circuit track at Placer High. “No matter what,” I told my ex few months back. This was the section that I thought about her and my late father amongst many thoughts throughout the course. Maybe I was dwelling. Maybe my mind went back to live the past. I got emotional as I wondered if they’d be proud of me. I wondered whether or not this feat that I was about to accomplish would be something worth to be proud of. To this day, I don’t know my father very well, yet I would wonder if he’d be proud of me for finishing this race.

I also thought a lot about my ex, someone that I truly love to this day. It was a struggle last year, to have parted ways with her and trying to win her back. During my course of healing, I took trail running as my remedy, my ways to relax, to clear my head. Long story short, I won her back but only to lose her again in early March. It was a devastating blow, but I or life must go on. I, then imagined my ex telling me how proud she is. The self-inflicted thoughts of the past I went through made that section tough mentally.

I wiped my eyes and face, told myself to snap out of it and focus on the positive and on the bright side so that I won’t slow down. Finishing Western States is important to me because there are many things I’m not very good at. One of the things that I remind myself is that if I could finish running a 100 miles, I can probably do many things in life. In some way, it’d be a confidence booster. There, I lowered my visor which covered my vision from 10 ft and beyond. I looked down and marched forward relentlessly.

Mosquito Ridge (31) To Miller’s Defeat (34.4):
Once I got to Mosquito Ridge, I was helped by the volunteers there. They were all very friendly. I even briefly spoke to a medic regarding on how to deal with plantar issue or if there is a way to tape it up since I was feeling a tad bit of tension beneath my feet. I didn’t want the tension to agitate me to the point in which I could not run. So, as a precaution, I wanted to ask and see what they can do if I need to relieve the pain.

This 3.4 mile section consists of small segments of singletracks and rolling fire roads with slight climb and drops. Heaps of snow, which we had to run on, were on a few sections of these fire roads. I probably spent the majority of this time just focusing on moving forward. There were only a few moments in which I looked up and see what’s far ahead of me.

On the way out at this out-and-back section, I caught up with this guy I met during the training camp. A few of us called him Negative Nelly because of a few things he had said to a few of my running friends. This guy has character though and you know he’s experienced and super strong physically and mentally. I remember checking out his buckle during States’ memorial weekend training camp. Apparently, he had ran Tahoe 100 two weeks after he did Western States 100. I greeted him as I was about to pass him on the way out.

“Hey, you look familiar!” “What are you talking about?”, he responded while playing dumb. “Where is your GoPro cam?” “That camera wasn’t mine. It belongs to the other guy I ran with during the training camp. He’s actually pacing me today... err.. tomorrow”, I said to him. “You’re looking good and strong!” “I’m too old for this shit”, he responded. I have no doubt that Nelly was gonna finish. He was steady and strong and well reserved. This guy is a champ. I was encouraged to continue on by his presence.

Shortly after I ran into Nelly, I lowered my visor again and continue to march forward. After a few minutes have passed, I smelled something foul. I looked up, around and I found myself remains of a deer. The head is perfectly untouched. However, the body it is attached to is all skeletal. White ribs with flies all over it. I didn’t get freaked out by it but rather, I was wondering if the sighting of this was significant to anything what so ever.

After another few minutes, I ran into Rick Gaston. I remember him from Miwok 100K a few months back. He was out snapping pictures like the pros. This man was strong and he's a bad ass ultra runner. I don’t recall saying much to him. We might have chatted a little, but I remember using his strides to set my pace and to march forward. It was steady, relentless, stable and strong.

Miller’s Defeat (34.4) To Dusty Corner (38):
This 3.6 mile section seems pretty long also. I remember that I didn’t stop at the Miller’s Defeat aid station at all because this section was all rolling and mostly downhill. I ran most of this part alone or rather ran most of this without any other runners around me besides the two elder gentlemen that were kicking major ass. I used them as my pacers in this section, even though they weren’t really my pacers. At first, I thought they were competing, but it turned out that they were medic volunteers that were doing their aid station to aid station / point to point routine run. They were very helpful and they allowed me to pass them at some point. They even told me how strong I looked, even though I know they know that I was feeling the fatigue settling in me.

Dusty Corner (38) To Last Chance (43.8):
This section from Dusty Corner to Last Chance was a relatively easy section to run on. For most part, it was runnable rolling downhills. They say that runners should be able to see historical landmarks. I remember seeing a few things historical but couldn’t quite remember what it was. What I know at this point was that I’m closing into one of the most talked about sections of Western States, the Devil’s Thumb. I’ve heard a handful of stories on that section with 36 switchbacks and how steep it was.

Last Chance (43.8) To Devil’s Thumb (47.8):
From Last Chance to the bottom near the creek before the climb towards Devil’s Thumb was probably one of the funnest drop I’ve ran throughout the race. Maybe second to dropping down to El Dorado Creek minus the bloated-ness I started to feel then. Anyhow, this section has countless of switchback technical singletracks. It’s fun, it’s fast and it hurted when I didn’t play it right. I tried my best to be conservative and not burn out my quads before “the climb” but running downhill was one of the ways for me to pass people especially when some of the participants were going slower in the technical sections. There I passed quite a few runners. While speeding down towards the creek, I was also looking forward to get a dip and soak up my desert hat. While I was still carrying ice in my hat, I know a dip in the water would feel awesome before the climb. Thanks to the many tips I got regarding on the race, I knew that I didn’t have to go all the way down to the creek because there is a mini creek crossing located shortly after the swinging bridge. Once I got to the bottom, I was happy to see the swinging bridge. However, I must say that the bridge doesn’t quite live up to its name. It doesn’t swing much, but if I can recall correctly, it does mention that it’s limited to 5 people on it at a time. So maybe the bridge would swing if more than 5 people hop on. After crossing the bridge, I found my mini creek just before the climb. There I dipped my hat and finally attempted to submerge myself into the mini pond. I felt like an over grown my trying to play and keep cool in one of those children plastic pool. The runner behind me, Mark Warren, caught up to me and looked at me strangely. Then I got out and he took over the cooling oasis.

That was it, the beginning of the treacherous, countless switchbacks of going up Devil’s Thumb.  How bad could that be? It probably isn’t that bad, if I didn’t have 45 miles under the belt. There, I got passed by quite a few people, including Mark who waited for me for his turn to take over the cooling creek. I tried to stay positive and move forward relentlessly. To me, it was worse than Upper Winters Creek. There were several occasions which I had to stop and catch a few breaths. It also demonstrates how weak of a hiker I was. To be positive though, I thought about how much worst it could’ve been, such as the year that my coach ran States. I still have that horrific story he had told me about doing this climb in hot hot heat. Him and another runner got so hot, tired and delirious that they started laughing.

Don’t laugh at me, but it took me 50 minutes from the bottom at the swinging bridge to the top of Devil’s Thumb. That was about 1.72 miles with about 1600 ft climb. It really wasn’t that bad. On a good day, I can be much faster climb up that section, but on that day, it felt like that was the toughest climb I had ever done. At some point, one of the runners going up the Thumb told me to flick off Devil’s Thumb. While he did so, I didn’t. I have much respect for it and it was there for a good reason.

Devil’s Thumb (47.8) To El Dorado Creek (52.6):
By the time I have reached atop Devil’s Thumb at its aid station, it was already past noon. My feeling of bloatedness have hinted to me that my nutrition game had been thrown off and I was conscious and well aware of that. I tried to speak with the aid station crew after weighing in and one of them suggested that I should avoid eating too much but try and sip on water every so often. Physically, I was not totally beat, but I do feel fatigue settling in. My hip and my glute were somewhat tired from the climb up. While it was hot up there, it wasn’t hot enough for me to take their offer of Popsicles. The worst of all was probably the fact that I didn’t feel like eating anything at all and that’s exactly what I had done.

The descent down to El Dorado Creek was once again technical but fun. There I ran into fellow runners and I think I might have seen Catra Corbett. I don’t know her very well but I still remember her from one of the Western States documentary movies. Though I was running down fairly quickly, my stomach didn’t really allow me to run down as fast as I wanted to. The good thing with that is that I wouldn’t have to burn out my quadriceps. However, this stretch of technical switch backs lasted much longer than dropping down the descent right before the climb up Devil’s Thumb. I managed to pass a few runners here since most of them were much more cautious than I was. Just when we got near the bottom, we, the runners, were told to stop because there was a huge rattle snake crossing on the singletrack. Shortly after, they clarified that it was not a rattle snake and that it wasn’t a poisonous snake.

At the bottom in El Dorado Creek aid station, I felt pretty fatigued and somewhat trashed. What I have at that point however was my awareness. I was still feeling bloated and I was aware of that problem. Again, I tried to speak with the volunteers at the aid station, but it seems like the weren’t really keen on figuring out my problem. One offered me chicken soup but she sounded like she wasn’t sure if that was the right thing to do. I was also offered ‘the chair’ because I feel slight nauseousness, but not enough to stop me from moving forward. I stood around and rest up for a minute or two but it seems like I’m not going to feel any better even if I was to hang around there. While the volunteers there were nice and generally helpful, they don’t seem to have an answer for my problem and so I proceed forward to my last big climb.

El Dorado Creek (52.6) To Michigan Bluff (55.7):
Going up Devil’s Thumb might have been the toughest climb at that point, it would all change when I finish this ascent up to Michigan Bluff. This climb is slightly less steep but a lengthier march upward. About three weigh-ins ago, I weighed 177. The weigh-in after that, I got down to 171. Knowing that I had dropped 6 pounds was a bit concerning to me, but I was nowhere near panic mode. Then at the most recent weigh-in, I was back up to 177. By then, I feel bloated and I may have mismanaged my electrolyte intake. I also felt bloated and couldn’t take in much food. As suggested, I continue to sip on my water in my camelbak bladder that replaced Nuun electrolyte liquid.

This 5K march seemed to have lasted forever. Even though I was able to tell that it wasn’t as steep as the ascent up Devil’s Thumb, it was much tougher. The endless switchbacks were gruesome and they did not help keep me strong mentally. I knew that I wasn’t going to quit, but the flame of relentless motion forward had turned into a pilot light. My hike was definitely no longer strong as before. By the time I had reached mid way of this climb, I felt overly exhausted and it was tough seeing so many participants hiking pass me and not being able to keep up with them.

At some point near the end of the climb, I saw Michael Feifer, who interviewed Crispin and I Friday morning for his Western States documentary project. Thereafter, I found myself bending over, holding myself up with my hands on my locked knee. My vision was clear but I started to have trouble focusing. Passersby would check up on me and ask if I needed anything, which I’m grateful for. This kind of gesture would not happen outside of most ultra distance race.

Strolling into Mich. Bluff Aid Station (Photo: Erin Maruoka)
With about an eight of a mile left before I get to the top, I saw Jimmy running down. He gave me a boost of energy, but still, I was only able to move a few steps up and slowly. My eyes were wandering all over the place and I felt very nauseous. I found myself a few more times standing there, holding myself up with my hands on my knee. It was kind of frustrating, but I know I needed to get up there quick and figure out what my bloating issue was because I need to finish this race. I slowly jogged to the top and I saw Erin jumping with joy and bursts of energy. I had no energy to respond but maybe an apologetic wave to her. Then I saw the rest of the crews and heard continuous howls :).

Jimmy pulled me into the medical check point and quickly ask for what I was feeling. I elaborated my symptoms to them and then he and Kevin Sawchuk, who he introduced me to, quickly deciphered my body and figured out what exactly I need to get back into the game. Kevin said right across from me. I can’t quite remember what he had said to me, but with him being on the medical staff while wearing the 10 times under 24 hr finisher buckle made my eyes glow. Clearly, he knew what he was doing and I know that I was in good hands.

Pedro witnessing my hellish feeling.
(Photo: Kate Freeman)

In no time, they suggested salt pills, (yes, more than one tab) cups of chicken broth and a few pretzels. There I sat for a good 20+ minutes letting my body relax and intake the necessary nutrients. While it feels good to sit down, it also doesn’t feel that good at the same time. In any given running race, too much of ‘the chair’ is never a good thing. So I knew I needed to get up and out even though I wasn’t feeling that great. I tried not to look so bad because I know that my energy will reflect on my crew. Maybe it’s a good thing maybe it’s not and we all can learn from each others’ experiences from the POV of crew members to POV of the participants. On the way out, I bitched to my crew and the coyotes about Devil’s Thumb and Michigan Bluff.

Michigan Bluff (55.7) To Bath Road (60.6):
I was still feeling a tad bit shaky while leaving Michigan Bluff. After being debugged by Jimmy and Kevin Sawchuk, if you may, I felt a tad more conscious and focus. I remember looking back one last time to see if I could remember the Michigan Bluff that I saw during my training run back in Memorial weekend. Finally, I regained my determination and I gave one last weak howl. I was also being followed by this lady that I don’t really know of, but it seems like she was there to look out for me and to give me encouragement. She told she will see me near Bath Road as I trek out on the left fork.

Erin, Jimmy and Team Chandalous, pit crewing me. (Photo: Kate Freeman)
The rolling section of the fireroad was supposedly fairly easy to stroll through. However, after sitting down for a good 15 to 20 minutes back at the aid station, I felt like I needed to slowly warm up again. A few downhills, a few up hills, the two forks and then a bit of strong hiking. I was looking forward for the fun, that is to go down fast but light towards the creek crossing at Volcanoville. It was fun and it was the first familiar section where I remember I had fun. I also remembered that I encountered Tim (Twietmeyer) here during our training run, in which we had to run out to Michigan Bluff and back to Foresthill School as the final stretch.

Another reason why this was an exciting section is because I know I only a tad bit of a hike after dropping to the creek before I get to see my crew and my pacer George Gleason, a.k.a. White Lightning. On the way down to the creek, I passed 2 to 3 fellow runners. One of them was Maggie Beach. Suited in A Runner’s Circle attire, Maggie was looking strong, though I wasn’t sure if any of them were having as much fun as I was going down towards Volcano creek.

Bath Road (60.6) To Foresthill School (62):
On the final stretch of slightly technical, lightly graded uphill trail climb before hitting the pavement, I saw George on Bath Road and a bunch of A Runner’s Circle group on even high ground. I felt so good by then I hollered a howl. On the way up, I saw the lady that was talking to me back at Michigan Bluff. I remember she told me how much better I looked than when I was back at Michigan Bluff. It was a great feeling to see her and to know that I’m so close to getting to Foresthill School. They say that it is where the race begins.

George & Pedro, my bread & butter, walking up Bath Rd. (Photo: Crispin)
Seeing George there was incredible. I was felt very happy and excited about rolling the next 19 miles with him. Shortly after, Pedro strolled in and then Crispin rolled in also. Pedro, George and I hiked up the pavement while Crispin was snapping pix of us. That guy always have so much energy. He then sprinted back to Foresthill to let the rest of the crew know that I was on my way to the school.

We chit chatted a little while hiking up the hill. He told me how he got down to Bath road early and just in time while everyone else (volunteers of states?) thought that it would take me longer. Once we got to the top, we ran down the trail parallel to the road.

Chatting w/ crew at Foresthill (Photo: Katie DeSplinter)
The Foresthill School aid station was probably one of the most exciting one. Everyone’s crew was there and there were tons of volunteers. I quickly weighed in and I was down a few healthy pounds. My spirits on the other hand, was higher than any other points during my race. Yes, it was that exciting.

At the aid station, I told one of the volunteer how the scale from a few aid stations back messed my nutrition up just so that they can be more aware of the scale’s accuracy. I ran down to the food area and I saw Brian, from June’s crew, with his camera filming videos and Lucy, from Stan’s crew, snapping up pictures.

George waited for a minute or two, then we ran down to meet up with the crew where I’ll change and hang with the for a tad bit. :) Nicole, Adam, Pedro, Crispin and even Panda Katie was there. Sure I wanted to sit down, hang with them and call it the day, but we have some unfinished business to do. A little chit chat here and there, a few raspberries to show, then George and I took off to our shenanigans.

Foresthill School (62) To Dardanelles (65.7):
The segment out to Dardanelles was a fun section. Some single tracks, some technical steep downhills. I was tired but excited. As George and I ran toward our first aid station, I told him that I’d show him a section that was super fun but steep and technical. At least that was what I remembered when I ran it with Crispin during the WS training weekend. There is this short section where George and I sped down while most would really take their time going down. After that little section, I knew I need to calm down and reserve before my quad burn out.

It was beautiful out there once we got to the single track coming off of the road. The sunset, the narrow downward rolling trails. Once George and I got down to business, we started to pass runners almost immediately. Picking them off like petals on flowers. One by one. From father and son to best friends to German running buddies to cute trail chicks.

For the most part though, I kept myself vocally minimal, I told George. He’d try to entertain me by singing disco songs and tell me how into that he was. We would also talk about random things when we get a chance to, whether it was about chasing the cute girls that I saw on trail or AC100 or hiking up Upper Winter Creek in the San Gabes. Besides the randomness, George would show much brotherly love to me, telling me how great I look and how proud he was of me. He was super supportive and I truly can’t ask for anything more. He was perfect and he was so good I got scared because I know that at AC, I’d have to give him what he was providing me at ‘States. The level of care was just invaluable.

We got to Dardanelles in a reasonable amount of time. Since I surrendered my watch, handing my life to George, George was solely responsible for my well-being on the course time wise amongst other things. At aid station, he would pitch suggestions to me on what to have, often chicken broth, coca cola and Gu. George was also quite protective of me from ‘the chair’ especially since the sub 24 is well within reach, at least he believes.

Dardanelles (65.7) To Peachstone (70.7) To Ford’s Bar (73) To Rucky Chucky Near (78.0):
The leg from Dardanelles to Peachstone wasn’t all that memorable mainly because it was really dark by that time. This section consists of a series of climbs but mainly descents. I did, however, know that we were approaching American River. We were able to hear the water flowing down below. It was rather soothing and reminded much of the time during the training weekend I ran with June, Crispin, Erin right next to the river. In broad day light, the river is stunning and the singletrack along side is beautiful, lined with mums.

Going into Peachstone, if I remember correctly, there were decorations of aliens and UFOs. George went berserk, attempting to make it fun for us to run away, being chased after by creatures of all sorts. At Peachstone aid station, George gifted me the privilege to sit on a chair because I made up so much time. By that time, it felt like it was way past midnight already. I was back to the state of exhaustion, but nowhere nearly as bad as the time when I got to Michigan Bluff.

Rolling single track along side American River (Photo: Crispin)
The route from Peachstone to Ford’s Bar is especially fun. It’s a mild grade downhill single track that’s long, rolling but very runnable. After all that fun, it spits you back out onto the fire road, going up the steep hill. There after the climb, George and I would past a few more pairs. His compliments remain endless and they keep me moving forward constantly, relentlessly in a consistent manner. He was also way on top of my nutrition. Sometimes, he would ask me to have a sip. Other times, he would hint to me that it’s time to drink. “Mmm, this water taste soo good.” It sounds so good and positive. The following stretch from Ford’s Bar to Rucky Chucky felt especially long. It was dusty. It was warm but the environment was beautiful. Again, we were able to listen to the flow of American River from below. The sky was also really clear in which one can see countless numbers of stars, light-years away from us. “You see the lights over there Kev? We’re almost at the river crossing!” His pacing duty was almost over by that time and he had done an amazing job pulling me through.

Rucky Chucky Near (78.0) To RuckyChucky Far (78.1):
Once we got to Rucky Chucky Near, I told George that we would not need to eat there since there should be food on the other side. George helped me confirm by asking the volunteers there. This was another check point where I had to weigh in. I may have dropped a few pounds here but it was given an OK to go.

George and I took an awesome shot together by a professional photographer right in front of the river crossing. It was rather refreshing to do that since it was something other than eating or drinking at an aid station. Afterwards, George yelled out, “Where is Craig Slagel?? We want Craig Slagel to raft us across the river!” It was obnoxious, yet funny and rejuvenating! We were told that there were two more seats open on the raft that’s about to take off. Freaking perfect timing. On the way down to the raft, there were some technical deep steps to drop before we hop on to the raft. The volunteers there were extremely helpful. Lined up on both sides of the step, they each locked their elbows, stuck their arms out to help runners climb down like a mansion’s stair case. With all the assist I got, I still slipped but right on to my seat in the raft. The puzzles were falling into the right places as they say. George got in and here we are crossing the stream.

I realize we had caught up to Rick Gaston, who was in the same raft. He told me that I didn’t response when he called me earlier by a few different names and finally there, he learn that my name was Kevin. The raft rower joked that he can raft or a 100 miles as we drift across American River. The feeling on the raft was surreal. I remember feeling as if I was in one of EA’s Medal of Honor games in which in the beginning, the game sets the soldier (player) in the ocean. The soldiers would drift toward the beach together before they have to invade the enemy’s turf. Basically, I felt like a navy seal, especially since we drifted across the river in the dark.

Once we reached the other side of the American River, we were welcomed by friendly volunteer with red carpet treatment, literally. I can’t recall eating much there but I am pretty sure that we had sufficient amount of food and electrolyte since I remember feeling that I needed to slow down to ingest all the food.

Rucky Chucky Far (78.1) To Green Gate (79.8):
This section from Rucky Chucky Far to Green Gate would normally be an easy slight grade, runnable uphill. It may feel like an easy version of Westridge, except, it’s much flatter and much wider. With 78 miles under the belt, this uphill stretch seems to be quite the distance. I ran / walked most of this with George. Here George got to socialize with other runners. He even told a few how easy it was to pace me. In turn, I would tell him to shut up as I jokingly assumed that he was indicating how slow and sluggish I really was.

Green Gate (79.8) To Auburn Lake Trails (85.2):
Once we got to Green Gate, I ate a little more yet I’m starting to feel bloated again, only this time, not as bad. Here, we were trying to figure out how to pick up our pacer and the volunteer told us that we have to walk up a tad bit to see our pacers. We left Green Gate and we saw a bunch of people we don’t know. Further up, we saw Pedro. He was kinda prepped up to run and he had my stuff with him. Pedro told us there that Crispin and the gang got lost. It was a minor blow, but I remained calm because I have learned to expect the unexpected.

“Let’s just go”, George said to me. Since it was only 5 more miles and that we assumed that there would be crew access at the next aid station, George decided to hang on to one more section before Crispin picks me up.

Crispin, Erin & Mandy. Auburn Lake Trail @ Training Run
(Photo: Crispin)
This section of rolling single track seems to have lasted forever. Here we may have been passed by one or two pairs of runner pacer, but we have also passed quite a few pairs ourselves. George’s technique and encouragements remain flawless. Every so often, he would tell me how strong I was. Every so often, he would tell me to eat, that we were going at a good pace and that if I catch him, I’d get to hike whenever I wanted to hike. Even though his ankle was bothering him, he was able to continue and execute this routine flawlessly. At some point, he had to loosen his shoelaces because his tendinitis was causing so much pain on the pinched spot. It was somewhat relieving for him after loosening up, but not enough to continue for long. After a few mini baby creek crossing, we finally arrived. What we learned there was that there were no crew access.

Then George put his watch onto wrist as he told me that he could no longer continue. With AC coming up for him, I wouldn’t want him to sacrifice anything as he had already done enough. It was a smart move for him. That was the moment of truth. Going back out in the dark alone. What’s another 5 miles to the next aid station? At the aid station, I fueled up with turkey wrap and some water. It was mild and good. At that point, I’m absolutely disgusted by GUs or any variation of them. They gave me heartburn and it was just not that pleasant to burp.

As I was leaving, George told me to tell the crew to wait at the next aid station.

Auburn Lake Trails (85.2) To Brown’s Bar (89.9):
“It’s only 5 miles”, I thought to myself. Running here at night was definitely not as awesome as during the day time in which this rolling single track can be enjoyed with scenic views of mother nature. All I could do is to look for glow sticks, one after another. With my fatigue building up, it certainly was tempting to stop but I can’t afford to do that if I want to give that sub 24 a chance. Most importantly, George’s time, help and effort would be put to waste. As a pacer, he had worked so hard to help me make up much of the time lost since he started pacing me back at Foresthill Elementary. That was the truth. That was when the real test begins.

At some point after about half a mile or so, George had caught up to me in which he couldn’t believe himself. I thought to myself, “Dude, I’m probably going 15 mile pace.” :) I might have told him to take care of himself there and that it’s not worth the effort to push himself since his big race, Angeles Crest 100, is coming up within a few weeks. So I continued on and ran stronger. I couldn’t let George down. I was determined. I even heard George screaming “Go Chan!” after another 15 minutes or so. I couldn’t respond because I needed to focus. Greatly appreciate that George!

At some point, the Auburn Lake Trails start to get to me. The quietness, the darkness was soaking up. I felt as if I was running in a big loop... to infinity... I knew that I would get to the next aid station soon, but this section just wouldn’t end. Maybe it was a spiral into the black hole of Auburn Lake. I’ll never forget that feeling. What seems to have felt like forever finally come to an end as I heard music fading in slowly. A coupt of ditches, a few leaps, I finally got to Brown's Bar.

Brown’s Bar (89.9) To Highway 49 (93.5):
“137 coming in!”, said the volunteer. The music was loud and the lights were colorful. I was feeling quite nauseous here. “You want to get silver, you better get out of here now”, one of the aid station volunteer told the runners there. I was not feeling so hot there. Nauseous, fatigued, things that were bound to happen, but I really needed the moment to gather myself. “I’m just going to sit for a few minutes here”, I told them. “Well, you’re five minutes behind the silver. You’re not going to make it if you don’t go now. I am just telling you”, said the volunteer. At that point, I wasn’t sure what to think of what he’s trying to do, but I know I need to go. I chose for that to be a motivation rather than a discouragement.

The exit for this aid station was rather sad, I thought to myself. There were lights that led runners out, but back into the quietness and darkness. The music faded out as I ran out further and further. Even though, there was only less than 4 miles until the next aid station, I still need to make my short term goals. Let’s run strong to the next glow stick. As I look far into the dark, I couldn’t find any hanging glow stick visible. I strode left. I strode right and bam! I caught a tree root and plummeted onto the ground. “Fuck!” It was painful. I had kicked my lower right shin / upper ankle right into the tree root I had missed. It felt as if I had fractured the damn thing. I gave it a gentle squeeze and it just blows. So I sat there, I looked around and that was it. What am I going to do? Was that tree root going to stop me? I got back up and continue on. I felt a tiny bit of swelling but I was feeling more determined than ever. Another few sections of rolling single track and I heard cars and firetrucks. That was a good sign! It’s freaking highway 49!

Highway 49 (93.5) To No Hands Bridge (96.8):
Before I got to the bottom of the hill, I was already hearing howls. :) That was awesome. “I’m so close”, I thought to myself. Once I cross the street, I saw my crew. Crispin, a.k.a. Quepi, was all ready to roll out with his gears all in place. “How is everyone else (Coyote States runners) doing?”, I asked them. One of them said that they are still on course and going strong. It was a relieve to know.

I didn’t eat much at this aid station because I was still feeling a tad bit bloated. With 5K left to go before No Hands Bridge, I felt like I could push through it without too much complication as long as I continue to drink my electrolyte liquid. I popped a salt pill, downed a cup of soda and maybe even a cup of broth and I was ready to head out.

As we were heading out, George smacked me on my right ass. “Ouch!”, I responded. It was the spot where I had burned myself when I slid down the ice early on in the race. :) That was a good wake up call. George had also told me there that I did great and that I was then 10 minutes ahead of the 24 hour pace. It was somewhat of a relieve but I can lose that 10 minutes fairly quick since we still have another 7 ish miles to go.

Meadows section before No Hands Bridge
(Photo: Crispin Lazarit)
Quepi and I strolled out to the meadow and up the technical single track climb. I still remember how fun that section was back in memorial weekend. It was so pretty and so peaceful. As I was shoveling my feet, fighting to follow Crispin, I thought to myself how close I was to the end of that journey. It was kinda sad in many ways. I thought how all the excitement was within all the anticipation building up to race day and there I was, 7 miles away from the end.

At this point, my headlamp was gradually dying. It was getting dimmer by the hour. I would kick a few rocks here and there. As clumsy as I sounded with all the “ouch” and “ooo”, I was getting used to all that. Crispin did an amazing up here leading me toward No Hands Bridge. His technique was identical to George’s. It was simple to comprehend. He would take off slowly and have me catch up to him. He would occasionally check up on me with my nutrition and have me sip on what’s left in my hydration pack. 

This section leading out to No Hands Bridge was seemingly long. It was probably because I was really looking forward to making that climb that takes hikers and runners to this spot where one can get a good view of Auburn Bridge up above and the American River way below. I was pretty much envisioning that point during our run toward No Hands Bridge.

A couple more climbs we passed and finally we were at the top, in the rolling meadows. “I remember this spot!”, I told Crispin. That was where we started leapfrogging each other during the training run and snapped various pictures. This time around, I barely have enough energy to stroll through. It was definitely not as pretty in the dark.

Once we got to that point, we caught up to a several runners but only to let them slip away with the energy I had left in me. That didn’t matter because I was still putting one foot after another and I have a handy friend to rely on, to pull me through, to bring me home. Shortly after the meadows, we could hear the river again and then some lights down below. My dimming headlamp wouldn’t allow me to run down this section as fast as I would like. I would continue to kick roots and rocks here and there but there is no stopping here! Another sharp right and No Hands Bridge was right in front of us! “137 coming in!”, yelled Crispin.

No Hands Bridge (96.8) To Robie Point (98.9):
Once we got to No Hands Bridge, I knew I was cutting it close. “We’re 5 minutes behind the 24 hour pace,” said Crispin. “Let’s get going then. I don’t have time to waste,” I told him. I downed a cup of coke and it was time to head out.

On our way to Robie Pt. during training run (Definitely not during the race).
No Hands Bridge wasn’t as pretty or as magical as I expected it to be. There were lights. There was a big screen displaying some sort of film in which I never bothered to check out. Rather than beautiful, the No Hands Bridge was lacking the energy. The cheering was minimal, but I’m sure those volunteers had already been sitting around for a long night. A runner coming in can only be a wake up call at this point. The low energy level there also gave me a bittersweet feeling from a combination of events. That location reminded me of how exciting it was to be there on Memorial weekend. It was just so excited then mainly because of the anticipation, the build up. Then there was the fact that I only have a 5K left before my journey is completely over. Like Brown’s Bar, I begin to head out of the aid station of light and back into the darkness.

“If you follow me, we will make it,” yelled Crispin. He continued on with that same leapfrog pacing technique. This sub 2:50 marathon runner was doing a fantastic job leading me up the hills and the final stretch of the Western States Trail. I tried my best shovelling my feet and I might still have some juice left to power through and run all the way up to Robie Point, but in reality, that’s not happening.

Robie Point (98.9) To Auburn Finish Line (100.2):
“Alright, we’re good! Let’s chill here for a little bit,” said Crispin. We finally got to Robie Point after a little more than 30 minutes since we had left No Hands Bridge. This was it, the final final stretch. I’m 1.3 miles away from the finish line. I can’t wait to get going. “You’re a good 20 minutes ahead of the 24 hour pace,” said Crispin. I thought to myself, “You mofo!” However, I really appreciated it. That was something that I wanted and that I asked for, especially after Jimmy told us that was what he did when pacing Chris Price at San Diego 100 few weeks back. I downed another coke in this final bittersweet aid station, decorated with Christmas lights, surrounded by a handful of runners including one that was puking her guts off. It was a beautiful feeling, leaving there with my half of my crew, Nicole, Pedro and Crispin.

“He’s just got here,” said Nicole on the phone as we march up that climb through the residential area. Shortly after that climb, my crew begun to set the pace again for that final stretch from Robie to the finishing lap. My photographic memories from the training run emerged into my mind. Although it was bittersweet, this final stretch was indeed tiring. I was sooo looking forward to that left turn on the white fence because from that point on it was all down hill.

(Footage: Adam Bowman)
“I can see the lights! We’re almost there,” my crew yelled. Just like the time when I was at the starting line the morning of the day before, it was unreal to have reached the final lap. My body and legs were exhausted and my mind felt numb as I ran into the track. There were cheers, but at the same time, it was kind of quiet. My entire crew joined me for that last victory lap. “From Culver, City, California, Hei Chan. Finishing at 23:40:48,” announced through the speakers. Sub 24!

Relieved that it's done! (Photo: George Gleason)
I couldn't have done this without my crew. I received huge hugs from my crew members at the finish. From Adam, Crispin, Pedro, George and the teary Nicole. I couldn’t imagine what it’s like to witness through my crew’s point of view. The feeling didn’t settle in right away and I only felt glimpse of it from Nicole. Things really started to settle in and  felt quite emotional when I saw Stan and June finish and especially when I saw Jimmy. Western States has forever changed my life.

My first buckle.
Some stats of mine throughout the course:

Garmin: First 62 Miles
Garmin: Bath Rd. To HWY 49
Garmin: HWY 49 To Placer High School (Finish)

Squaw Valley (Start)
Talbot Creek
Poppy Trailhead
Duncan Canyon
Mosquito Ridge
Miller's Defeat
Dusty Corners
Last Chance
Devils Thumb
El Dorado Creek
Michigan Bluff
Bath Road
Foresthill School
Dardanelles (Cal 1)
Peachstone (Cal 2)
Ford's Bar (Cal 3)
Rucky Chucky (near)
Rucky Chucky (far)
Green Gate
Auburn Lake Trails
Brown's Bar
Highway 49
No Hands Bridge
Robie Point
Auburn Finish Line

Silver Buckle! (Photo: Bert Whitsson)
Final Thought & What's next:
A year prior, I did not know what an ultra marathon is, let alone dreaming of completing one. It wasn't even until 2010 that I learn about trail running when Louis brought me to a gathering on 2010 New Year's Eve. Since then I have experience a great deal of trail running. It's been therapeutic and it has widen my eyes, allowing me to love nature more than ever. I definitely would not have been able to complete this without the help of the SoCal Coyotes. I must say that I'm super fortunate for that. There are numerous ultra runners within the group (Jimmy, Dom, Katie and Kate, just to name a few) that had ran quite a few ultras and were able to provide tips, suggestions and necessary guidance. Without their pointers, I would not even know how to train for an ultra. To some degree, they allowed and assisted some of us (that have completed a 100 or will compete in 100 miler run in the near future) to accelerate from having no ultra running experience to having the ability to complete a hundred. Sure it takes a lot of guts and mental strength to make it happen, but there are many things in the world that are much tougher than that. Would I do this again? In a heartbeat. Will I run a 100 miler again? Without a doubt. The experience of running a 100 is mind boggling. Western States have change my life and many perspectives of it. I'm definitely planning on running more mountainous 100s in the future. Which one? I'm not sure, but I have a bucket list of 100s I want to run. Finishing 'States is just the beginning. I can't wait to run my next 100, help crew another 100 and pay the pacing duty forward.


1 comment:

  1. Hi Kevin,

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