Thursday, July 4, 2013

2013 Western States 100 race report

I still feel overexcited, and looks like everyone around just add more and more into this feeling. It's better than Christmas, Birthday or anything else :)

Since lots of people are asking me not only about the race day, but about everything else I will start from the most beginning.

Historical Intro

I think it all began in 2010 when I finished my first road marathon, one year after moving to Seattle from Russia (I work in software industry, and my company moved me here to help local folks selling and implementing our software products on US market). I trained really hard for that marathon, and surprised everyone and myself by running it in 3:40:something.

Finish line of 2010 Amica Insurance Seattle Marathon, Nov 2010
After the marathon I immediately found something new - rock climbing. I started going to climbing gym, got completely hooked and forgot about running, limiting it to maybe few miles 1-2 times a week. In spring 2011 I started going out to local mountains, bagging peaks and doing lots of climbing and mountaineering stuff (including climbing Mount Rainier with the guy I met two weeks before on another climb!). Really I met lots of amazing people during this period of my life! Including the one who would eventually become my husband.

Climbing in Joshua Tree, February 2012 

Somewhere in between Maxim Kazitov (then complete stranger) contacted me over the facebook and asked me if I ever wanted to try a trail race. I said I will think about it, was not really going to. He, however, was persistent and few weeks later contacted me again asking if I ever wanted to participate in orienteering event. Apparently he and his friend were a team in rogaining events (I had never even heard the word rogaine before), but due to his daughter's birthday Maxim had to skip the one in few weeks, and his partner was really upset. At this moment I was already comfortable going out to mountains with people I don't know, so running for 12 hours with someone who will do all the map-and-compass-stuff sounded pretty fun for me. It was my first experience running on trails in WA state and in the US (well, there were actually no trails as orienteering allows to run between points directly, you don't have to use any trails or roads). I ended up with 8 blisters and several fortunately unsuccessful attempts to sprain both of my ankles. The most surprising thing was that I liked it. 

When Maxim again (did I say he was very persistent?) asked me about a trail race and said that today was the last day to sign up for $X, and tomorrow the price was going up, I decided "what the heck, I will give it a try" and signed up for Capitol Peak 55k in Olympia, WA. I injured my knee while rock climbing 3 weeks before the race and was barely able to walk, so I spent that time planning and buying trail running stuff, not really running. On the starting line of 2011 Capitol Peak 55k I was wearing trail shoes and trail running backpack. I was ready :) That race was pretty interesting experience in regards of the following things:

1. You don't just have to run all the way, it is even good thing to walk sometimes.
2. There are lots of muscles in my legs and each of them can cramp separately or at the same time with all others.
3. You can place 4th women on your first 50k ever and practically off the couch, just because there is a very small number of women running.

Finish of 2011 Capitol Peak 55k, got the cup for being 1st woman in 20-29 age group

Rock climbing was still a huge part of my life, and I became the off the couch trail runner. I signed up for events, promised that I will train, but never actually did, ran in the middle of the pack, promised that I will definitely train next time, signed up for the race, never trained,.. you've got the idea. If you didn't, here is an example. Last time I ran before Orcas Island 50k in February 2012 was Seattle Marathon at the end of November 2011, with one 3 mile run few days before Orcas. Last time I ran before Chuckanut 50k in March 2012, was Orcas Island 50k in February 2012, with one 3 mile run few days before Chuckanut.

Meanwhile Maxim became a true ultra runner by completing Pine to Palm 100 in September 2011. I paced him for the last 36 or 38 miles and was totally impressed by all the runners (it was also the first time I've seen Tim Olson running, amazing uphiller!).

Finishing 2011 Pine to Palm 100 mile endurance run

When Maxim won the 2012 Western States lottery I immediately offered to pace him myself. He couldn't resist, and I don't think he had any other choice anyways. So he trained hard, and I was rock climbing. Few weeks before the race I studied the website, learned about raffle and purchased 10 raffle tickets online. Just because I like lotteries and spending money to different useless shit, not because I was hoping to win or wanted to run Western States (at this point I had never even run a 50 miler, and only completed four trail 50ks and three road marathons).

Winning the WS Raffle and Qualifying

Basically we were enjoying the sun and nice weather at the 2012 pre-race meeting, when they announced that I am one of the lucky seven 2013 raffle winners! Of course it was a shock. I was planning on running my first 50 miler in one month (and the plan was to start training for it, but you know...), and now I not only had one year till my first hundred AND my first Western States, I also only had 3 months to QUALIFY for it. Even raffle winners have to qualify. If you don't or just don't want to run, you can give your ticket to any pre-qualified runner. Fortunately the 50 miler I was planning on (the White River in WA) is a WS qualifier. "Fortunately" because I quickly figured that almost all others are already sold out. The White River looked really hard, lots of elevation gain and new distance for me. I wasn't confident I can finish in 11 hours. I found another 50m that was not yet sold out (Dick Collins Firetrails 50m in California) and looked easier and signed up the same day. 

Next morning we woke up and Maxim had a great day at Western States finishing in 24 hours and getting that beautiful silver buckle. Such an inspiration! Also I had a chance to preview the last 38 miles of the Western States course. And to see what is possible on these last 38 miles (Maxim was 8 minutes behind 24hr pace around Auburn Lake Trails Aid Station, but was able to build about 5 minutes buffer before the finish!).

Maxim at the finish of 2012 Western States Endurance Run

I started training for the fist time since 2010 (when I trained for my first road marathon), but my training consisted of one short 6 mile road run in the middle of the week and one long ~20 miles run on a weekend. Anyways much more than before any of my other ultra! 2012 White River was a blast and I finished in 10:33, qualifying for Western States on that first attempt.

Me and Maxim on the course of 2012 White River 50m trail run

It became real now. I didn't really train and was not sure till the last moment if I wanted to run Dick Collins Firetrails, but I decided to go for it and though the terrain and profile were definitely much easier than the White River, I felt awful, probably because it became really warm (for Washingtonian, I think it was high 70ties at most) and I kinda suck in heat.

2012 Dick Collins Firetrails 50m trail run

That was another big thing about Western States. It is a hot race. The temperatures in canyons can reach 110F (43C). I have not good relations with heat. As I mentioned before I ran 4 road marathons. 3 of them were Seattle marathon in November. It has a big hill (well, "big" for the road race, it is all runable) at the end and usually it is in low 40ties during the race. All 3 Seattle marathons I ran in around 3:40 time (last two off the couch of course). The fourth one is Chicago marathon, known as the flattest marathon in the Universe. I ran it in 4:04. Because it was high 70ties during the race! Now you see what my relations with the heat look like. As Glen Mangiantini said when I explained him my relations with the heat - You will love Western States! I knew I will. And it was the scary part.


2013 quickly approached and I decided that I will start my Western States training on January 1, 2013. One of the decisions was to hire an online coach. I wasn't thinking a lot about it, I read an interview with Karl Meltzer on and decided that he was funny and it would be great to work with someone like him. He also likes beer. I contacted him just before 2013 and we decided to start on his training plan from the most beginning of the January 2013.

With Karl Meltzer on the day before 2013 Western States Endurance Run start

He was the first person ever (including myself) who said I can do 24 hours at Western States.

Maybe it was a promotion he starts his email to every newcomer with, but I was hooked :)  I never myself before that considered that I can do 24. I knew I can finish for sure. But 24 looked like something only front packers can do. Maxim is a much stronger runner than me, and it took a huge effort from him to finish just few minutes before 24 hour cut off in a cold year. Promotion or not, but it made a big difference for me motivation wide. My goal now was not just to finish, but to try to finish in 24 hours. 

Karl built a training plan for me around the trail races that I wanted to participate in this year - Orcas Island 50k in February, Chuckanut 50k and Gorge Waterfalls 50k in March, and Miwok 100k in May. I was also planning a Grand Canyon double crossing (Rim2Rim2Rim) in April that is 40+ miles distance. I liked that my weekly mileage wasn't high (40+ miles/week), and even my weekend long run was never longer than 20 miles. Of course I had races to be used as long runs. Orcas Island was a first sign of how well my training was going, I finished 11th women in 6:29, that is the whole 30 minutes improvement of my last year's off the couch time on a harder course. I also started feeling well on a mountainous terrain. My uphills were getting better (though still pretty slow), but my downhills became really strong. Nobody has passed me on a technical downhill at Orcas or any other race since then.

Finishing 2013 Orcas Island 50k trail run

 It was a good sign, Western States is all downhill, isn't it. Chuckanut was too flat for me, and since running fast on flats wasn't really required for the Western, I decided not to care about it. Definitely if I want to improve on a flatter courses in future, I need to do some speed work.. some day. Also Chuckanut first uncovered how bad my GI problems were. If I wanted to do well at 100, I needed to find a different way to eat during and before the races. Gorge Waterfalls was a total disaster, and it was completely my fault. Try to imagine the most stupid way to run a 50k race? What about about having 5 pints of beer the night before? I was hangover, I wanted to sleep and my stomach felt really bad. The day after Gorge Waterfalls I decided to quit alcohol till Western States finish.

In April we went to Grand Canyon to run ultra classic Rim2Rim2Rim (going from South Rim down to the Grand Canyon, going up the North Rim, and then going back down and up the South Rim in one day). It was a great 46 miles 10,000 feet adventure, we went in a relaxed pace and I felt good. I liked that even though it was hot at the bottom it wasn't too bad.

North Rim of the Grand Canyon, April 2013

My last race before Western States was Miwok 100k, and I planned to use it as a training to run in the heat. I had a lot of stuff to test, like crew with the ice box giving me ice water baths, ice bandannas, and other various ways to cool down. The course was shortened to 60k due to fire danger, and though I was disappointed I didn't get a chance to run any race longer than 60k this year, at least my heat management training went well. Though it was only high 70ties during Miwok, it was a huge improvement since Chicago Marathon 2011 and Dick Collins Firetrails 2012.

After a week of rest after Miwok, Western States training finally started. It meant starting course specific preparation. Western States is 100.2 miles, with 18,000 feet (5.5km) of elevation gain and 23,000 feet (7km) of elevation loss. When people say "it is all downhill" there is actually a sarcasm in their voice (that is hard to recognize when it's written). There's still a lot of ups. More than I've ever climbed in one day.

Western States 100 elevation profile (right to left)

Though Karl Meltzer said:

1. Run as many downhill miles per week as you can. You must be able to get to the Foresthill with your quads not trashed.
2. Western States is a hot race. Deal with it. (That's exactly what he said - "deal with it").

And I started the plan execution. After a long search for local downhills I decided to go for mt Si (4 miles up, 4 miles down, 3150 feet of gain, 3150 feet of loss). Few months ago I read Scott Jurek's "Eat and Run" where he described how he trained for his 7 Western States wins doing mt Si repeats, and I decided that if it worked for Scott Jurek, it will work for me. I headed to mt Si few times a week, doing a 1 or 2 hikes up during the work days, and double hikes on weekends. On the downhill I ran as hard as I could trying to trash my quads. On the last week before tapering I did double Mt Si on Saturday and a triple on Sunday. Last two weeks before tapering I was gaining and loosing more than 20,000 feet per week with about 60 miles of distance (still pretty low distance comparing to most people training for 100s, but a lot of climbing and descending). I was already a really good downhiller (and my quads are huge!), and I think my uphills improved a lot. If I didn't become faster, I  definitely gained lots of endurance being able to go up and down for long time without getting tired.

With the second point of the plan,  I started learning heat training materials from Badwater Ultramarathon website. People run for 135 miles in 130F (57C) in the Death Valley, if I follow what they do, I can survive 100-110F in the heat of Western States canyons easily. I got a 2 months membership at 24 hour fitness in Bellevue, close to the climbing gym. I spent 5-6 days a week sitting in the sauna at 160-180F for one hour. First I was not able to stay in the hot room for more than 25 minutes in a row. Slowly I improved to 30, 35, 40 and finally 45 minutes. 45 minutes was according to the Badwater website the sign that you are ready to beat the heat. Basically my body learned to process the liquids fast (I drank two full 0.7l bottles during these 45 minutes - that's a lot of water for untrained body!) and to sweat a lot (the body cools down while sweating). I also started running overdressed, using long sleeve warm shirts and long black pants when it was sunny and hot (though we don't get a lot of that in Seattle..). If it was raining and cold (and we do get a lot of that in Seattle!) I was wearing additional layers on the top. I never used air conditioning in my car even when it seemed really hot. And if you ask - no, we don't have air conditioners at home here in Seattle! As a test, during my first week of tapering I went to Yakima (the hottest place you can find in Washington state, just two hours of driving from Seattle!) and run 15 miles on the road at high 80ties. I felt good, though it was windy there and I wasn't sure if it can be a good test of my readiness.

Tapering and Getting Injured

I started tapering 3 weeks before the race. I know lots of people do stupid stuff during tapering. Apparently I am one of them. Though I didn't run much, but I decided that tapering is a great chance to come back to climbing. Have you ever seen that sign in every climbing gym and on every climbing gear that says "Climbing is dangerous"? Yes, it is. It started with some guy falling on me from the bouldering wall and landing on my ankle. It hurt so bad that I was thinking that everything is permanently damaged and I will not be recovered by the race in three weeks. Of course I made a huge scene out of it, pretty sure everyone in the climbing gym thought I broke both of my legs in seven places (it's an old Russian joke about 7 places), hands and probably every other bone in my body. Next day I ran 15 miles painless, though the ankle was swollen and colored fancy. So I went to the climbing gym again, and this time I did it myself, while trying to make a tricky right leg mantel, I felt a pain in my right buttock.  I took 3 days off running hoping that it will go away, and though it has never gone away (I still feel it), when I ran on the 4th day, it felt good - because finally I was rested. The pain spread from my buttock to the knee all over the back side of the leg. I decided to spend the rest of the tapering sitting on the pack of ice. By the start of the race day the pain was only in my buttock, and it was now so familiar to me that it felt pretty much normal and didn't bother me. And guess what - I didn't go climbing since that accident! I got smarter, too bad it happened too late :)

Pre-race week

On the weekend before the race we packed two huge bags with racing food and gear and headed to the airport to catch the flight to Reno. The plan was to spend 5 days camping in South Lake Tahoe and exploring local boulders, and then move to Squaw Valley where I booked a room at the Village hotel. My second pacer and my crew would join us on Thursday and Friday. On Thursday before our flight I check the SLT weather forecast and it was not nice - it was going to rain Sunday to Tuesday around lake Tahoe, and pretty much everywhere in Northern California. For Nikolay it meant no bouldering and for me it meant screwed heat training. Sitting in the tent for two days wasn't a nice opportunity, so Monday morning we packed and headed to Bishop where the weather forecast looked pretty awesome, not in regards of bouldering opportunities, more heat training wise.. Fortunately for Nikolay the camping we stayed at in Bishop was on the shore of the river, where (in the river) he literally spent the heat of the day, bouldering in the mornings. As for me - I waited for the hottest time of the day, put my race cloths on, and went for 5-8 miles run on the exposed dirt roads of Buttermilks and the Pleasant Valley. Finally I was satisfied with my heat training and knew that I can deal with the heat. Just like Karl Meltzer said.

On Wednesday we moved to the Squaw Valley. It got much hotter on Thursday and the weather forecast for the weekend was scary. They promised 100F on Saturday and even hotter on Sunday in Auburn, CA (the finish line of the WS). Usually the canyons are hotter than Auburn, that meant 105-110F in the canyons?

We went bouldering, and I stupidly forgot to apply the sunscreen, getting the sunburn all over my back, hands, shoulders, and legs. Awesome, just in time for the the 6th (they predicted the 6th first, then it turned to be the 2nd..) hottest race in 40 years of WS history!

That evening I attended a clinic about WS trail, and two good advises I heard there were:

1. "Some guys go away with the singlets, but I prefer my shoulders covered". Good advise considering my recent sun burn. I returned to the hotel room and counted the number of my white tech shirts. Three. Good enough. I also spontaneously bought white Mountain Hardwear arm sleeves for hot weather. They were good addition and were easy to remove during the race if I don't like them.
2. "Before going up the Devil's Thumb take a left turn on the trail before the swinging bridge and take a good refreshing swim in American River. After passing the bridge, there is a spring with potable water, good idea is to top your bottles there."

Oleg and Natasha arrived on Thursday, Friday morning Nikolay headed to Reno to meet Kate, while three of us went for race registration and medical check. They measured my weight (with running shoes) and I was 131.1 lbs (59.5 kg). With my shoes and cloths on it was an okay weight. Now I just needed to make sure I stay within 3-5% of this weight during the race.

Medical the day before 2013 Western States Endurance Run

Kate and Nikolay were back and we took a tram to the top of the Squaw Peak, the one we were going to climb tomorrow morning to start the race. It was beautiful but too freaking hot day. My crew of course didn't loose their time off the office :)

My crew having drinks on the top of Squaw Peak

During the pre-race meeting they told it is going to be one of the hottest years in WS history. Even the pre-race meeting was awfully hot. And here was the third advise:

- AJW, what do you do with your splits table when it gets really hot?
- Throw it to the window!

It was all said. I decided that I was not going to push for 24hr finish. I decided to take good care of myself, "deal with the heat" and see how I'm doing at the Foresthill. If I am close to 24hr pace I will go for it (section after Foresthill is a very easy terrain, I read a report of some girl who built 1 hour above her pace at Foresthill on that section! I mean she was 1hr behind 24hr pace, but was able to finish just few seconds to spare before 24. Fantastic effort!). If not - finishing in such conditions is good too. I knew that Western States fits my running style well - it is a lot of downhill, and I am a pretty darn good downhiller. It is also a lot of ups and very small amount of flats. Just a perfect race for me on a perfect day. The day though was not supposed to be perfect and I just wanted to finish my first 100 and I wanted to finish strong. My crew was in Squaw Valley and I wanted to make them proud. I also wanted to experience the oldest and the most prestigious 100 mile race in the world and to have fun while doing it. With growing number of lottery applicants it might have been my only chance to ever run it. I was not lucky with the weather, but you know what? Western States is supposed to be hot! "Deal with it".

After the pre-race meeting, we went to sishi place for the pre-race dinner (well, it was about 3pm at this point, but my plan was to go to bed at 8pm, I can call it a dinner). Sushi place for pre-race meal? Yep. I monitored how my GI was doing over the last year experimenting with food (at this point I'd been vegetarian for one year already) and found that my stomach get stressed during running if I eat wheat the same day or the day before. I found that the best pre-rum meal my body accepts with happiness is either baked potatoes, or vegetarian, preferably avocado rolls (white rice with veggies not formed as a roll would work too, I guess). So, no pasta and pizza parties for me before Western States! The fancy sushi restaurant in Squaw Valley didn't have avocado rolls, but they had 3 other vegetarian/vegan options and though they tasted weird they definitely looked harmless for my GI. And to feed not only my body but also my soul I had a small coffee gelato, that was amazing (considering high 80ties in Squaw Valley). I specifically avoided all caffeine containing drinks and food during the last few weeks before Western so if I feel sleepy at night I can start taking some and it has a stronger effect on me. That gelato was an exception, because there's nothing better than gelato with coffee flavor!

Carboloading with coffee ice cream

After the dinner all my crew (except for Maxim who was still on his way to Reno) met in our hotel room for the crew training.

Crew meeting

My crew consisted of my husband Nikolay (ultra runner since this year - finished his first 50k and then few more and his first 50m by that time), who was also pacing me from Green Gate to finish, Maxim, the one to blame for all this (see the beginning of this report), who was pacing me from Foresthill to Green Gate, also my friends Oleg, Natasha and Kate - people who were going to experience all the behind the scenes of the big ultra marathon event for the first time in their lives.

Nikolay was the most experienced in crewing and pacing, Maxim though in ultra running for the most of us all had never apparently crewed or paced anyone before. The other three did a great job learning the theory :) Since some aid stations are really hard to access the people were split into two crews:

Crew #1: Nikolay, Maxim, Kate
Crew #2: Oleg, Natasha

And in the beginning they were going to split aid stations with Crew #2 going to Duncan Canyon (mile 23.8) and Dusty Corners (mile 38), and Crew #1 going to Robinson Flat (mile 29.7). Then, they should have met at the Foresthill (mile 62), and go to Michigan Bluff (mile 55.7) all together in one car. At Foresthill Maxim will join me till the Green Gate (mile 79.8), though everyone will hike down to the river crossing and meet me at the Rucky Chucky Far aid station (mile 78.1). The plan was then to hike all together to the Green Gate, where Nikolay will keep going with me, and all others will pack and head to Highway 49 aid station (mile 93.5). Next meeting point will be the finish line in Auburn (mile 100.2).

My crew was instructed on what to do, what to ask me at the aid stations, how to cool me down with ice and water, what to help me with and so on. Just in case I also prepared them that 100 mile trail race is not a glamorous walk in the forest and included phrases like "pop up the bloody blister", "throw up all over your shoes", first they looked concerned and even scared, but after few glasses of wine they were brave again and ready to roll. The gear was split between the teams, they got the final instructions and left to spend at least few more hours in the beautiful area of the lake Tahoe.

It was about 7pm, I prepared my race cloths and gear, showered, had my last meal (the "Muscle Milk" strawberry shake, milkless) and went to bed a little before 8pm.

It didn't feel like I was sleeping, because I had lots of thoughts in my head but I definitely was not awake, probably somewhere in between. I heard how Maxim arrived and woke up to greet him, I woke up to check when race registration starts (they don't give your the bib and chip the day before, you have to get it in the morning, where they also take the weight for the last time). It all went pretty well, because I knew even though I don't feel like I am resting and sleeping I actually am. Until around 9:30pm when some fuckers one floor above started to watch football and drink beer with their windows opened. They were VERY LOUD, and some bitch was screaming like both of the football teams tried to hug her after the touch down. We had a kind of a backyard door going just under their window, and I tried to make them notice me yelling "excuse me!", but they couldn't hear me. Nikolay went out, picked up a rock from the floor and threw it to their window. One of the men sitting on the sill finally noticed us, and went out on the balcony. I explain him that I have a race tomorrow and have to wake up at 3am, and asked them to be quite and close the window. He said - "Okay, we can close the window", and they did, but it was not very helpful. I waited for 10pm+, when I thought the quite hours started at the hotel and went down to the lobby. I explained that to the hotel personnel, they were very polite, apologized a lot and said that actually the security is already on their way to that room, as other guests complained too. They said good luck tomorrow, I went back to the room and it was QUITE. I fell asleep immediately.

The Race Day

I woke up at 3am, showered, dressed, drank about half bottle of Gatorade, and at a half of Hummer energy bar. I didn't really want to eat.

Morning before the race

Oleg called, they were ready. We all met outside and went to pick up my bib. I weighted 130 lbs, 1 lbs less than yesterday. It was cool outside, and we stayed inside the building. Glen Mangiantini came by to say hello and good luck. He was going for his third WS finish. He looked confident, he always does.

Not sure how I looked, but I felt fine. Focused. I had a plan and I was going to execute it well. And the plan was to survive the heat and to finish strong.

At 4:50 we left the building and headed to the starting area. There were lots of people. 408 were initially registered for the race, 385 have started. Only 277 will make it to Auburn within the 30 hour cut-off time.

Now all 385 with their crews, pacers, families and friends gathered at the start line.

Last good lucks, last see you at Duncan Canyon or Robinson Flat, I moved closer to the starting line, still staying behind, 5-4-3-2-1-the horn, and we were running. I crossed the starting line at 5:00:15, not as bad as Chicago Marathon, but still. Lots of people!

When people speak about Western States course they usually divide it into 4 parts:

1. The High Country - Start to Robinson Flat (mile 29.7)
2. The Canyons - Robinson Flat to Foresthill (mile 62)
3. California Street - Foresthill to the River (mile 78)
4. Home stretch - River to the Finish

The last two parts are considered to be the easiest on the course. Also for people going with 22-27 hr pace the sun goes away when they get to the California Street and till the finish, some amazing running can be done on these last two sections. All right, I just needed to save my legs on the 62 miles of a rugged mountainous terrain at 100-110F, sounds like a plan, doesn't it.

The High Country

The course starts with the big climb to the Escarpment gaining 2,550 feet in the first 4.5 miles. I read for many times that only sub-18 hr finishers and people who like to drop off at the River run up that climb. I didn't feel like running anyways, I was not warmed up yet. I tried to make a steady hiking pace, looking around, enjoying the last cool hours of the day. I met Oleg with his camera and waved.

Beautiful morning in Squaw Valley

Opened the pack of Honey Stinger chews, and started eating and drinking (I started with the handheld filled with water, and another empty water bottle in my waist pack). Passed Gordy Ainsleigh who completed the Tevis cup within 24 hours horseless in 1974 and this way started the whole 100 mile foot races tradition. Closer to the top passed Glen Mangiantini who was talking to someone (he always does). Spoke to the girl from Calgary, she was excited for me to run my first 100 at the Western States. We were at the first water only aid station just in time for 24 hour pace (as you can see I didn't throw away my splits table, just decided not to think about it much). This time I filled both bottles - one with water, another with GU. The last uphill (almost scrambling) started and I saw Maxim with his camera on the top. He complained about mosquitoes, made some pictures and headed down when I passed him. It was a beautiful morning.

Hiking up the Escarpment, first miles of WSER

We were on the top soon, and a 7 mile long descent was waiting for me. I was looking forward to it, ready to shake my legs. Soon I realized that it will not be easy. There was a very thin single track without abilities to pass people. And there were HUNDREDS of people on that single track going down with ridiculously slow pace. Believe me I know the difference between taking it easy and going uncomfortably slow. To make sure you understand how slow it was, when I compared my splits after the race my pace on this section was the same as during climb up to the Devil's Thumb, and Devil's Thumb is considered to be the steepest climb at the Western States! I was mad. But there was nothing I could do. When I saw a place reasonable for passing, I passed. But immediately there was another group of slowly going people ahead of me. There also was a lot of water on the trail. Literally the springs were going through the trail using it as the water flowing channel. My shoes got wet for the first time and never dried out till the Foresthill (even though I changed them twice before Foresthill). The trail was very rocky and very technical, that would never slow me down as I love rocky and technical, but I was behind a long line of people who definitely were not that excited with huge rocks on the trail. I was only 5 miles on this section and already 15 minutes behind 24 hour pace. Fuck it, I thought. Never again signing up for the event big like that one.

Just about a mile or two before the Lyon Ridge aid station (mile 10.5) the trail widened to a dirt road, and usually not a big fan of dirt roads I was happy to finally start passing people. I approached the aid station, filled both water bottles (water + GU), and they offered a shower. There was an volunteer spraying water on the runners from the hose attached to the car. It was not hot yet, but I asked him to spray my head. And it was awesome! I thanked him generously, and he said "Nice smile, young lady!" That completely changed my mood and I was happy again!

Next two sections were probably the most beautiful on the whole course, we were passing the high country with exposed ridges. The sun was up, it was not hot yet, and it was great. I was fast hiking uphills, flying the downhills and felt good. The Red Star Ridge was the first aid station where I had a drop bag, I applied the sunscreen and took off one shoes because I seemed like I had a rock in it. That was also the first aid station where I asked to put the ice in the both of my bottles as it started to heat up.

I headed to the Duncan Canyon aid station in a great mood, I was going to see my crew (Crew #2) for the first time! The views were amazing. Lots of burned trees reminded me of Leavenworth. Lots of spring crossings, flowers, not too many people now (even though we were on the single track again, everyone was moving with a comfortable pace and it was easy to pass when needed). I was surrounded by men and seemed like they liked to run behind me better (at least nobody passed me when I asked them to). Probably there's something inspiring for the men to run behind a girl in a skirt :)

I arrived to Duncan Canyon (mile 23.8) at 10am (10 minutes behind 24 hour pace) and my crew was there, they washed me with the ice water, Natasha made me the first ice bandanna of the day (I would get one at every aid station before Bath Road,as it dried out really fast), I picked more Honey Stinger chomps from them, and leaved.

Talking to volunteer at the Duncan Canyon AS

It was a long gradual descent to the Canyon now, I was flying. Very soon we reached a creek that was pretty deep, I guess that was the Duncan Creek, and I saw people just bathing in it. I said, what the heck, it looks fun and my shoes are wet anyways, so I did the same (though I was not hot at all). Few seconds later I was running again, at some point I didn't notice the big rock, stumbled on it and fell. I was all wet, so the dust immediately turned to mud on my cloths, little bit of blood on knees and left hand, but nothing too bad. The next spring was close, I stopped for a moment to clean the wounds and kept going.
The uphill to the Robinson Flat was gradual and felt easy. I wasn't tired at all at this point.

The Canyons

I arrived to the Robinson Flat (mile 29.7), and was weighted for the first time since the race start. 132 lbs, two pound up from my starting weight today, but still ok. I hadn't peed so far since I started. I was gaining weight, it was not significant at this point, medics were not worried, but I was a little bit. I picked up my drop bag with dry shoes, saw my crew and they took good care of me, cleaning my feet, helping with shoes and cooling me down with ice.

Nikolay gives me a sponge bath at Robinson Flat

Kate made me new ice bandanna, my feet were finally dry (not for long..), I picked up my water bottles (I stopped drinking GU as soon as it got hot, as that sweet stuff was not tasting well in the heat) and headed to the Miller's Defeat aid station. It was a little bit up first, and then long exposed downhill. I was still doing really good "dealing with heat", everyone around was running strong too. I arrived to Miller's Defeat (mile 35.3) at 12:28, just 3 minutes behind 24 hour pace. They apparently were almost out of ice, but the volunteer put the ice into both of my bottles, though he initially said he can only fill one. No ice bandanna for sure, but I took a sponge bath there with the cold water. Good enough!

There was a long dirt road section to the Dusty Corners aid station, and I just kept going. I had to make a pit stop in the forest. I arrived to the Dusty Corners (mile 38) at 1:10pm, 15 minutes behind 24hr pace.

Applying sunscreen and cooling down with ice under my armpits at Dusty Corners AS

Crew #2 was there, the procedure repeated, this time I also filled my bra with the ice, make it at least size C. It was not really necessary as the next section was very easy terrain and very shady. I arrived to the Last Chance, got weighted again (132lbs), and headed to the famous Western States canyons. Man, that descent to the swinging bridge was steep! That was the first time I realized I am going to loose my toenails. I was running and passing people, but my toenails hurt! My quads were in a great shape btw. Soon I was at the swinging bridge, as advised I took the left turn before it and jumped into the river! It felt good! Not loosing a minute, I was out, crossed the bridge, topped my water bottle in the spring, and started the Devil's Thumb climb. It was long and steep. Steeper than mount Si for sure. I made a pit stop and peed for the first and for the last time today. At least I knew now that my kidneys were working. The climb up Devil's Thumb is 1.8 miles and it gains 1,800 feet. I started passing people. I was not tired. Mt Si repeats paid off!

On the top of Devil's Thumb they weighted me again, and finally I was loosing weight (I think I was about 130 lbs at this point)! It was 3:22pm and I was 7 minutes behind. They had ice cold wet towels there and it was nice to sit in the chair with that towel on me while I was checking my foot. There were a lot of people struggling with heat at this aid station, but I was just fine.They gave me a Popsicle, I took of the shoe and what seemed to be a rock in the show was actually some kind of skin fold. Like because of being wet for so long, the skin on my feet became bigger and it folded somewhere between my big toe and others. The medic guy asked me if I had a dry socks coming, and I said - Michigan Bluff. It was the next aid station, good enough. I put my wet sock back on, thanked the volunteers and headed down to the El Dorado Creek. That descent was not that bad as the one before the Devil's Thumb, but it still was very steep and my toenails were screaming and hating me. The river came soon, and there was a small aid station, where I got a sponge bath, ice in my bra, topped the water bottles and soon was off to the climb to Michigan Bluff, where my crew was waiting for me.

I was now past mile 53, and it was a new territory for me. I read a lot of articles for 100 mile virgins like me, and they said that miles 60 to 85 are going to be the hardest. That's why probably they were not hard for me ;) My back and my left shoulder (that I injured few months ago while running hard downhills with two handhelds, that's why I was going with one in my right hand and with a waist pack) started to hurt. My buttock was hurting all the time since the race start, but since I was for the first time in a miserable situation I started feeling bad about it. Actually that pain was NOT worse than the pain I experienced during my previous 50k or 50m races. And I was already far past that. And that pain did not slow me down for sure. It was just overall tiredness in the body. But my legs were SUPER STRONG and there was no heat factor!
I was happy to see my crew at the Michigan Bluff, they now were experienced and knew what to do.

Entering Michigan Bluff

My shoes were changed to the dry ones again.

Crew at work

I asked them for Ibuprofen, but apparently they've forgotten it in the car. Oleg brought the medic guy and he started asking about what hurts and stuff, I immediately felt better and nothing was hurting anymore ;) I said see you in Foresthill and headed out of Michigan Bluff with lots of people cheering and asking me to smile, so I faked some smiling and running for a while, and Oleg was taking pictures.

Leaving Michigan Bluff AS

Last canyon was waiting for me on my way to the Foresthill. I read that many people underestimate Volcano Canyon, but it can actually be the hottest one. I didn't underestimate it as anything on that course, I had my ice bandanna, bra full of ice, two bottles with the ice water and I didn't feel hot. The descent was very nice and gradual and I ran it easily, the ascent was probably easy too, as I don't really remember it. I didn't notice how the time and miles passed and I was at the Bath road aid station (mile 60.6), just two miles before the Foresthill. Unlimited number of people can join the runner on that 1.4 mile stretch between the Bath Road and the Foresthill. I saw Maxim who was ready to run, with his pacers bib on, and his camera ready. We started ascending the Bath Road together, chatting, and I was feeling better. Soon the uphill ended and I saw Nikolay, Kate and Oleg running with his huge camera. They joined me and we made a great pink, blue, orange and white team arriving to the Foresthill at 6:52pm, 7 minutes behind 24 hour pace.

Entering Foresthill with Maxim, Kate and Nikolay

I needed to see a foot guy to take care of my skin fold. I headed to the medic tent after I was weighted (I think at this point my weight was still about 130lbs), the guy looked at my foot and said that there was nothing to pop up. I said that it was painful and we can try at least to separate the parts of the skin in that fold it should make it better.

Fixing my foot at Foresthill

He applied the tape I changed the sock to the clean one (I didn't change the other one), thanked him and headed to my crew. I asked for my baked potatoes, but was rejected, I was told that only after the river. I was told that at this point I was the 20th woman, and I said that it will be just too funny to place top 20 at Western States.

California Street

We quickly packed and headed out. Second year in a row we were running with Maxim on the California Street, this time I was wearing the white bib and he was wearing the yellow one. It felt good to recognize the trails and we picked up the pace and were flying passing the people, the heat of the day was completely gone.

Climbing up the California Street

 Before Cal-2 aid station I turned on the headlamp and the flashlight. California Street is a very easy running and I felt awesome. My legs were strong, I wasn't hurting and Maxim kept me entertained.

Dark hours

We passed aid station after aid station, and finally reached the river. I was weighted at 128 lbs, loosing 3lbs since yesterday, time to keep up on drinking.

Last year I was super excited to cross American River. I asked lots of stupid questions, like how cold it is, how high it is, and so on. This year it wasn't that fun, but it was very refreshing. My crew apparently has just descended from the Green Gate few minutes ago and they did not expect us that soon. I was at Rucky Chucky Near (mile 78) at 10:26pm, with 14 minutes buffer for 24 hour pace! I changed the shoes, helped by my crew to apply the anti chafing cream. They told me to head up the road while they are packing the stuff.

Crew at work after American River crossing

Home Stretch

Three of us (myself, Maxim and Nikolay) started hiking up.

Climbing up from the river to the Green Gate AS

 Maxim left us at the Green Gate and we headed to the Auburn Lake Trails aid station. While running Nikolay told me about all the warm posts on my facebook timeline, about lots of people cheering on me and monitoring my progress. I was happy that finally I was on time for the silver buckle and all the people believing in me will not be disappointed.

Amazing cheers from Hawaii

We reached Auburn Lake Trails aid station (mile 85.2) at 00:20am (30 minutes buffer). There was a medical check and they asked me what is my name, where I am from and such to make sure I was not delusional. They asked how I feel, and I said "Tired!". They said it is normal for the person who just ran 85 miles, and wished me good luck saying that now I am definitely going to make it to Auburn.

Remember about miles 60 to 85 as the hardest for the 100 mile virgin? In theory after mile 85 you start smelling the barn and lots of people speed up here. Well. Mile 85 is where I actually started feeling tired. Like for real now. And I saw all the people who started smelling the barn, because they started passing me. I think I was low on calories at this point, so I took some time of easy pace to eat the whole pack of Honey Stinger Chews. Nikolay did a great job to not let me stop or walk even on flats, we kept running all downs and flats, and fast hiking all uphills. I was tired so I was kicking the rocks all the time trying to fall, but I never did. I made sure Nikolay felt the tragedy of the moment producing plaintive moans. We arrived at the Brown's Bar aid station (mile 89.9), there was loud music and lots of people, I refilled the bottles and we left soon. I now had 40 minutes buffer, though these 5 miles between ALT and Brown's Bar were very hard on me.

Then there was a long uphill to the Highway 49 where I would see my crew for the last time.

Crew trying to get some rest at Highway 49 AS

It was long and painful. I stepped on rocks a lot, tried to fall, moaned, but kept hiking. We arrived at the Highway 49 (mile 93.5) with 50 minutes buffer and again surprised my crew who were expecting us much later. I dropped my waist pack here, as did not need the second bottle anymore, and I didn't think I would need more than two packs of the chews. Without wasting any time we left. See how much fun it is for the crew to spend the sleepless night driving for 2-3 hours between aid stations and hiking long miles with lots of heavy stuff just to see your runner for 30 seconds? ;)

I smelled the barn now. We quickly hiked up the short hill, passed a runner with the pacer, and flied down to the No Hands Bridge. Somewhere at this point the skin fold now on both of my feet started hurting really bad. My nose started bleeding just before No Hands Bridge and I was so worried that medics at the aid station will delay me or pull me off the race, so I used the whole roll of toilet paper to stop the bleeding. Fortunately it stopped soon. Of course I moaned  a lot to make sure my pacer knows how bad I feel. But if it did bother Nikolay, he did not show that at all. No Hands Bridge (mile 96.8) passed by.

I remembered that last section too well from the last year. It was a freaking uphill all the way to Auburn! Actually there was a mile of a very slight uphill, almost flat first, and Nikolay forced me to run it. Then we started hiking up. And that uphill was endless! Fortunately there were no rocks on the trail to kick with my poor toes.

Finally we reached the last Robie Point aid station (mile 98.9) and saw Maxim. Robie Point to the Finish is when any number of people can pace runner. A volunteer at the aid station said:

- It is 3:40am. Just in case you care.

I didn't. But my Gestapo pacers did.

Maxim: You know what, you have a good chances to finish under 23 hours!
Nikolay: Yes, that's what she is doing.
I: Fuck off.

The asphalt started.

I: Why the fuck are we running uphill??!
Nikolay: Because you can!

Few seconds later:

I: Oh crap. Let's fucking do it!

And I started running. With the road marathon pace. Uphills, flats and downhills. We passed the runner and his pacer. We passed people cheering on us. Last downhill, turn to the left.

Entering Auburn, CA

Placer High School track. They announce my name and some stupid "about myself" stuff I wrote long time ago. Oleg, Kate and Natasha, yelling.

Finish. 22:55:26. 61 overall, 12 woman. 12 woman at the most competitive 100 miler in the country and probably in the world, in the second hottest year in 40 years of this race history on my first 100 miler ever!!! How does that sound?!

Finishing 2013 Western States Endurance Run

After Race

I was immediately weighted and I was at 131 lbs again. My starting weight exactly. I sat in the chair for some time cooling off my feet in the ice water, while everyone was running around, making pictures, facebooking and such. My head was empty, I was just sitting there with the stupid smile on my face. This road to Auburn, only 100.2 miles long, it took me and my family the whole year.

Ice bath for my tired feet

I almost puked in the shower, but washed, and dressed into the WS shirt and skirt (it is my tradition to wear the race swag after the race and never even try it on before I finished). We decided to sleep on the grass in the stadium. It didn't take long before the sun went up and started burning my face. I woke up and I felt fresh. No symptoms that I felt in the shower. I still didn't pee since that climb up the Devil's Thumb. I was suspecting kidney failure, but I was feeling good. It didn't take long before I started feeling like using the bathroom. No blood in the pee. I was dehydrated, but my body was healthy.

I ate the breakfast and it went down well. I wasn't hungry, but I could eat and drink. I had a big blister on my left heel, and two of my toenails were black. I went to medics tent and they popped the blister. The foot guy said that my feet look perfect.

It started to heat up really quickly and people were still finishing. Running for 23 hours is hard. I can't imagine what it means to run for 30 hours.

Everyone gathered under the tent for the award ceremony. Tim Olson did it again, Pam Smith became the first women. She is a familiar face too, she regularly wins local races in OR and WA.

Pam Smith and Tim Olson, 2013 Western States champions

Karl Meltzer placed 10th, it means he can return the next year. Good job, coach!

Karl Meltzer, M10

I've got my silver buckle and I was proud.

Receiving my silver buckle award

We headed back to Reno and slept all the flight missing free drinks after sleeping on the floor at the airport. Home, sweet home.

Bed feels good.

With my award


100.2 miles, 18,000 feet of elevation gain, 23,000 feet of elevation loss.
108F in Auburn on Saturday, the second hottest year in 40 years of Western States history.

385 started
277 finished
95 finished within 24 hours
108 dropped off with various issues or didn't make the cut offs
52 women finished total
18 women finished within 24 hours

Gear and Food

White Headsweats cap (got it at Miwok in swag bag)
Tifosi shades (never used them, but they were with me all the way from Squaw Valley to Foresthill)
White cotton neck bandanna
White SCOTT short sleeve shirt (got it at White River, never changed during the race)
Mountain Hardwear Way2Cool arm sleeves
White Under Armour HeatGear sport bra
Salomon EXO S-Lab Twinskin skort
Lots of Asics running socks
3 pairs of Pearl Izumi Trail N2 shoes
Dirty Girl Gaiters

Two Ultimate Direction bottles
One UltraSpire handheld (I do not like UltraSpire bottles, but I do like their handhelds, so I used US handheld with UD bottle)
UltraSpire MBS Waistbelt consisting of Cell connector and Synapse core
Suunto Ambit GPS watch, first generation (died around Bath Road AS)
Black Diamond Storm headlamp
Fenix LD20 180 lumen LED flashlight

About 24 packs of Honey Stinger Energy Chews, various flavors
One VESPA every two hours
Two pieces of boiled potatoes at the Robinson Flat aid station (I had nothing else from any of the aid stations)
One S-Cap between each aid station during hot time of the day and 1 or 2 total at night
One GU Roctane gel in the beginning of the race
3 or 4 bottles of GU Roctane drink
Lots of ice water (I was caring two water bottles during hot time of the day and usually emptied one completely and just started another one before I got to the next aid station. The rest of the water went on my head).


It was a text book run for me. I've done everything perfect (except for maybe getting into that long line in the beginning, but I am not sure if this is avoidable at all). My heat acclimation and heat management was great, I had never felt hot! My fueling was perfect, I had zero GI issues. My pacing was good - my quads were in perfect shape till the finish line in Auburn. My mind was bright all the way, I didn't sit (except for shoe changing), or spent too much time anywhere. I took care of the issues as soon as they appeared - the skin fold in my foot was fixed pretty much immediately and didn't bother me much since then (though it got painful at some point, but not for long).

My crew and pacers did a great job taking care of me and making sure I make it to Auburn in a good shape.  Though I've never got my baked potatoes!

Thank you, guys, I couldn't have done it without you.


  1. so killed it! Congrats Olga, my first 100 wasn't nearly as pleasant as that. Super impressive!

    1. Thank you Karl! This half a year of training hard built good running shape, now I just need to keep running to not screw it again (like I did after my first marathon).

      And congratulations on your performance too!

  2. This was an awesome post... I have won a raffle entry into 2014... I too have to qualify this fall and am nervous.... I am going to use this post as one of my inspirations.... I doubt I will make it to sub 24 but that's okay.


    1. Congratulations! You can do it! Train hard and it will pay off. Don't forget to start heat training in May.

  3. Это мегакруто! Оля, ты молодец!
    Хаха, капча предложила ввести - 1123 distan
    Система намекает?

    1. Спасибо! 1123 это чото много :)