I write this with a very heavy and broken heart. On a day that was the culmination of months of dedication, training, and dreaming of one thing …anything that could go wrong, in fact did. After racing all year without so much as a slight glitch, bonk, funk, or upset stomach… Western States managed to compile all of that and more. I toe’d the line with a drive I’ve never felt, ready to put the final touch on this amazing journey. Yet at mile 10, something felt off. This would continue for 45 miles. After trying to hit the “reset” button multiple times, I finally started throwing up. I say finally as I hoped it would make me feel better. And for a matter of minutes, it did. Still unable to get down much food, off I went, feeling a little better, but more depleted of energy than ever. I continued on, a walking zombie. I made it to the next aid station. I tried to eat. Threw up some more. And off I went. This went on and on and on. Despite my misery, there was no question I’d keep moving forward. My legs ached to be used. Even 40 miles in, they felt fresher than ever. But I was depleted of any fuel or strength to feed them. I tried to triage the situation over and over again. I asked each aid station to bring me back to life. Something. ANYTHING. I felt like I was sitting on a Harley, with no keys to drive it. I started moving a little better on my way down towards Devil’s Thumb. Before the climb, I found myself kneeling in a stream with two older gentleman to try and cool off before yet another beat down. I had less than hour to make the 1.8 mile straight up climb to Devil’s Thumb Aid Station. It was going to be tight. Somehow we managed to get in with 7 mins to spare. It took all I had. There was a bigger problem. The cut offs weren’t for when you got into the aid station. They were for when you had to be out of there by. So sitting down and eating wasn’t even an option. After scraping the bottom of the barrel just to get up there, I had to stumble through, grab food and be ushered out to ensure I made it. I needed to crawl up in the fetal position. Not be running through the mountains. But I kept on. I was reminded of an article I read about The Barkleys. A first time ultra-marathoner came in from one of his laps to a family who had never been or seen an event such as this. Looking like absolute death, the volunteers asked the runner what he needed in order to get back out on his next loop. The family asked in astonishment, “What do you mean get back out there?! He needs an ambulance!” Our idea of what is acceptable to keep moving forward is far from what most would consider healthy or normal.
I’ll admit I felt a sense of hope here. The day wasn’t done. I had time to get to Michigan Bluff. I actually ran here and made what I thought was good time down to El Dorado Canyon. But I knew the climb out. 1,800 feet in 2.9 miles. It was long, steep and it was getting dark. To keep putting one foot in front of the other took everything I had. I had four guys behind me. Every five minutes I’d ask if they wanted to pass, but it was all they could do to just say no. I hadn’t felt this much pain since Nine Trails last year, and even then, I would stop and take rest breaks. But I couldn’t here. I had no idea how I was even moving forward let alone climbing out of El Dorado Canyon. Everyone around me looked in dire shape. Nearing the top, crews were making their way down to retrieve their runner and get them to the aid station in time. When I came up on them, crews were calling down to see if I was their runner. Sadly, I was not. I secretly prayed my parents and John had seen my times and were worried. I was in desperate need of someone I knew to help me get back on track. I had been WAY off pace all day. Michigan Bluff allowed pacers past 8pm. But I had expected to be in Foresthill around that time, so we planned on my pacer John meeting me at Foresthill. It was now almost 9:30pm and I wasn’t even at Michigan Bluff. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t planned for this scenario, especially when Michigan Bluff was a 15 minute drive to Foresthill. I was seriously resenting my no crew decision, especially seeing other runners with theirs. It was clear I needed help. And after an all day battle, my mind was anything but clear. I’d fought as hard as I could. I’d already had three aid stations where I thought I was going to miss the cut off. Went through the emotional battle of what I would tell my parents when I saw them, how sorry I was to everyone. And then by some miracle, I’d barely make it. Then the emotional roller coaster would start all over. I made it into Michigan Bluff with minutes to spare, completely drained from the climb. I needed to lay down. I felt like I wanted to die. But I had to leave the aid station or else I’d miss the cutoff. They filled my pack, put food in a bag and out I went. Going out into the dark on my own after a day in hell was unimaginable. But I wandered down the road for a bit. By mile 40 in most races, I was turning it up. And yet all day, it was all I could do not to slump over. But I had nothing left. My dream was over. I’d been beaten down.
In my honest opinion, I dont even know how I made it to Michigan Bluff. I should have been out much sooner. Despite pushing myself far past my own sanity and running 55 miles through the toughest section of this course and still having fresh legs I couldn’t even utilize, I feel like a complete failure. My only saving grace is the fact that I will never be able to put into words what this journey has meant to me. It’s awoken something inside of me even I didn’t know was there. I received so many messages after my race ended, and while it makes me sad, especially given the outcome, to realize how many people were along on this ride with me, I’m beyond grateful for their support. In talking with my sister and business partner recently, I told her how even though we don’t realize it.. everyday we have a choice. To be overwhelmed by the amount of responsibility and challenges we are dealt day-in and day-out for our business, or to face the day with faith and the will to keep pushing to where we need to go. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we always choose the latter. Much like Dan’s words in my previous post. I told her how proud I was of that. Western States has been the biggest dream of mine. For seven months I have been living for one thing… that finish line. So to not be able to bring that to fruition, is excruciating. My heart hurts. But despite how heartbreaking and beyond disappointing this is, I can allow it to bury me, or use it to build on from here. While I’m sure this will sting for some time.. I’m just going to do what I always do when I hit a low; put one foot in front of the other. Eventually, I’ll get to where I want to go.