Monday, May 26, 2014

Western States training weekend : Day 2 - The best $35 ever spent on training

On my bucket list is to do all three days of the Western States Memorial Training Weekend but this year I did just Saturday which was enough of an introduction into the craziness called WS.

If you live in the area you can get a supported run complete with fully stocked aid stations and burgers/water melon at the 'finish' for $35 per day or all three days for ~90 via ultra signup. If you are local to the greater 'Auburn' area and a trail runner you'd be crazy to miss this.  You don't have to have won the WS lottery nor even qualified at one of their races to do the training weekend.  Just have an interest in running 70 of the 100 trail miles of the WS100 with other crazy like minded trail runners.

The three days are broken down like this:

Day 1 - Saturday : 32 miles from Robinson Flats to Foresthill Elementary School. This is by far the hardest and most popular days.  Why?  You scale one of the hardest peaks in the shortest amount of distance. Elevation change? Don't want to know.

Day 2 - Sunday : ~16 miles from Foresthill Elementary School down to Ruck-a-Chuky aka the 'river crossing'.  You start at an elevation of ~3200ft and run down hill.  There are 2-3 rather nasty climbs including '5 min hill'.

   Elevation Gain:2,955 ft
   Elevation Loss:5,512 ft
   Min Elevation:717 ft
   Max Elevation:3,285 ft

Day 3 - Monday  : ~20 miles from Ruck-a-Chucky (Green Gate) to the finish at Placer High School. This is normally done at night on the WS100 race. Elevation change is kinda like day two with rolling hills.

This is Not a race.  The 'start' is in the very quant town of Foresthill which is 17 miles east of Highway 80 (towards Reno).  Departure time is 8:30AM but don't be surprised if you see folks starting out at 8 or oven 7:30AM with the pink wrist bands in place whilst you are looking for parking near the schools.  The atmosphere is relaxed yet there the anticipation is palatable; since, this is the WS course after all.

Expect a mixture of folks actually training for WS100 that not only qualified at one of the qualification races but made the lottery.  You can spot these folks either because they looks like bad-ass runners or are doing it for the very first time and have that 'oh God what have I gotten myself into' look.

The Day-2 course starts out from the elementary school running downtown then takes a left on California then a right and you pop right on to the trail.  The first eight miles to the first aid station are truly a delight to run with switch backs, shaded single track and well marked course. 

Remember "Yellow ribbon GOOD, orange ribbon BAD'.

Here is one of  many easy switch backs.  Note the green wooded area.  [Our parks in and around Pleasanton are already golden brown hills so the lush green woods were a pleasant sight]

There were at least three small streams with pools of crisp, probably clean, very cool water.  Given it was 90 deg F the pools of water were a very welcome sight to splash ones face in, and dip your hat to let cool water attempt to bring your core temp down.  Again there was no direct sunlight (yet) so your speed through this early section could be as fast as you wanted it.  Very fun section.

As you are coming down from ~3000 feet slowly towards the American River you gets visa peaks like below that momentarily take your breadth away.  Just beautiful.

At roughly 8 point something miles you reach one of two aid stations stocked with ICE, watermelon, coka cola, boiled potatoes and all the normal trail food you can expect at a well stocked AS.  It is also a very good spot to gather you strength because the next eight miles are more exposed (at least 5 miles exposed to the sun) and several hills to conquer.

Another of many vista points along the second half.  There is the infamous '5 min hill' which took me at least 10 minutes to walk/climb.  Plus there are at least two other climbs that might be runnable if you had fresh legs and it wasn't 90 deg out.

Here is the elevation profile from my Garmin watch which clearly shows the fun descents and three climbs.  Aid states are every ~8 miles so make sure you are packing at least a 22 oz bottle (if not more) and what ever you need to make it from AS to AS.

There was one surprise.  After you make the Ruck-A-Chucky falls gate you mentally think you are there as you can not only read the gate but you can feel the cool air coming off the river.  But no, you are NOT there.  There is yet another climb from the gate to the final AS which is at the river crossing.  That was one of the longest 'non hills' I've experienced on the entire course.  After a bit of iced coke cola and water mellon my running bud and I hit the 'river crossing' complete with shoes and everything.  The water was a very refreshing ~50 deg and a 10 second 'Good morning Monterrey' for those who have SCUBA dived Monterrey Breakers Beach and everything was good again. [Note, the rocks in the river crossing are covered in slippery algae so if you were actually crossing this in a race be very careful.

I was told that last years bus pickup was tough to get to and that this year was much better.   That being said you still need to hike 2.5 miles up an incline to the flat where more food and refreshments await.  This was definitely another highlight which was to grab a soft rock, sit down and get to know your fellow runners more.

We meet many people each with their own unique stories. A young woman from Costa Rica who had just completed the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim and after WS was going to an ultra in South Africa. Couple from Montreal vacationing and running the WS. A young woman from Vermont out here on her own who qualified at the Vermont 100 running WS100 for the first time. And a local couple from Mountain View who were one of the last to qualify at Marin Ultra Challenge 50 miler and she got in the lottery and was also racing WS for the first time. Most did the Saturday hard run and clearly by day two were rethinking the effort to run all 100 miles of WS. Was intoxicating to be around so many really talented hard core and driven group of athletes!

Finally we caught the bus and headed back to the Elementary school to start our return trip back to our respective 'big' cities.  We made one important stop and that was as Auburn Alehouse for some of their signature IPAs.  Worth the trip and important part of recovery!

My plan is to do Sunday and Monday next year (2015) with the ultimate goal of a three-day weekend there after.  Again if you live within driving distance of this beautiful area, for $35 dollars a day you get a very well supported training run and get to run and chat with some very talented ultra runners.

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