Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Scenes from the Western States Training Weekend

I ran day #1 of the Western States Training Weekend on Saturday (32 miles from Robinson Flat to Foresthill), and was sure glad I did. Not only did I get to meet some really neat people, but I got some first hand experience in the canyons. It was eye-opening, to say the least. Let's just say I'm going to be pulling back a bit on that 20-hour finish goal. ;-)

(Over 250 runners...load 'em up!)

(Gretchen and Catherine at the start)

Greg Soderlund gave us a quick overview of the day, and we loaded onto the buses at 8am. I had the fortune to sit next to Gordy Ainsleigh (the original Western States pioneer), his co-pilot Michelle Barton (one of the fastest women on the ultra circuit), and Mark Matyazic (adventure racer extraordinaire). We shared stories of the Bay to Breakers, and I mentioned how I was contemplating going "near nude" next year. Gordy let me know a properly placed gym sock is both fashionable and functional, as he found out when posing nude at a local art school and needing "minimal coverage". I get the impression Gordy has endless stories like this!

(Gordy Ainsleigh and Michelle Barton)

The buses arrived, and we charged out into the snow. Just a few patches this year, and we quickly found our way to the Western States trail. There were a couple hundred of us, so we weren't hard to spot! I caught up with Brian and Sophia Robinson, Whit Rambach, and a whole host of characters from Vancouver, BC, to Houston, TX. For some this was a training run, but for many this was a trail running vacation!

(Michelle and Gordy gear up for the race while Mark stretches out)

(A little bit of snow to start us off)

(A great day for running!)

Paul Charteris was my guide for much of the first section, sharing his incredible knowledge of this trail and pointing out all the great views. It was really helpful to get the lay of the land and some history.

(Looking down into the canyons)

At the aptly named Dusty Corners, we fueled up for our first canyon descent. The large fire roads were quite runnable, but you had to pay attention to catch the turns to the single track. I was glad to see this now rather than on race day!

(Paul and I join the food rush at Dusty Corners)

(Descending into the first canyon)

The descents were deceivingly runnable, meaning you could keep a great pace but your quads would take a beating. The heat (probably in the 80's) became oppressive the more you descended, until the oasis of the river rushed up to greet us. I was more than happy to take a quick dip, imaging how 20 more degrees would make this really tough.

(Chilling at the river)

(Crossing the swinging bridge)

(Michelle and Mark cross the swinging bridge)

(Devil's Thumb eats hamstrings for breakfast, lunch, and dinner)

Devil's Thumb (or Middle Finger as many were suggesting) was STEEP, and I don't think the elevation map does it justice. I was beginning to see why the canyons are so well-revered. I got up it in about 33 minutes, counting the 41 switchbacks to the top. Gretchen and Luis were there to take care of us at the aid station, where iced water and watermelon hit the spot.

(Feel the burn...)

I caught up to Jon Kroll (he is my trail soulmate, I swear) and we descended down to El Dorado Canyon, where I went for the full plunge into the creek. Very refreshing! Just like Gordy said, "it's like living water".


(Grant Carboni leaves the creek refreshed and ready for the march to Michigan Bluff)

We ran a good chunk of the next climb, refueling at Michigan Bluff before heading into the final stretch. Jon pulled me up Bath Road, much like he had at Miwok, and we jogged into the party at the finish.

(Heading towards Volcano)

We had some Jamba Juice, some Zico coconut juice (more potassium than a banana...thanks, Paul!), and chilled in the shade. What a day!

This was a tough 32 miles all by itself, let alone as part of a 100-mile run. It took me over six hours to finish, and my quads are still burning. I'm so glad I had a chance to come out here and check it out a month before the big day. Time for more hills, some heat training, and some tapered finish time expectations. ;-)

Great to see everyone out there!



  1. Scott,

    I'm a relatively new trail runner out east (NJ), and have always been impressed that you bring your camera on all your trail runs and races. What kind of camera do you have that takes such great pictures and stays relatively safe? I'd love to see a blog on the type of gear you use.
    Matt from NJ

  2. Awesome and beautiful training run with friends on a prestigious course - what could be more fun?

    Be sure you take that camera with you in 5 weeks - and have a great time!

  3. It was great seeing you out there Scott, along with a myriad of other smiling faces. What a fun day! Great pictures. I think the full dip in the river is the wise move, especially if it's 15-20 degrees hotter on race day!
    Good luck with the rest of your training. See you at Squaw!

  4. Scott - I've been wanting to ask the same question as msiegel. Camera info?

    Many thanks.

    PS - this blog has really inspired me - thanks

  5. Scott - It was great to see you out there. You looked very smooth, and I'll bet you're closer to 20 hours than you think. Stay healthy, taper well, and I'll look for you again in 5 weeks - probably from much farther back this time!

  6. Scott,
    Yeah, its great to get on the trail. I always think the most deceiving part of the course is the first 25 miles. They are always tougher than I remember them being. Much more rugged than the rest of the trail. And, Duncan is a real canyon. Just be nice and fresh at Robinson. I always say I will be but I'm always a bit wobbly by the time I'm there. I would (hopefully) do that different in the future.

  7. Glad to see you felt the same way about Devil's Thumb as I did. I passed on the full dip but it sure looked good. Had to keep moving one foot in front of the other.....

    Thanks for the fun picture.

    I was a bit surprised to see your vehicle still in the parking lot since I didn't get in until so much later. Glad you were able to relax a bit after the run.

  8. Great to have you out there Scott. Of all the times we have run together, this is the first time we have run together. I am glad you enjoyed the Zico coconut water, it seemed to be a big hit at training camp.

    I am completely wiped out from training camp, not sore, just crazy-tired. See you in few weeks at Squaw

    Cheers, Paul

  9. Cupertino Running Again5/27/2009 10:31:00 AM


    I'm a frequent reader, first time poster here on your blog. I always enjoy your posts on your training, racing, and interviews. You have a wonderful blog.

    I would also like to learn more about your camera and how you manage to take such great pic's on the run and racing. If you take requests for your blog topics, I think your experience with taking pictures while trail racing would be very interesting to your readers.

    I've done this on a few training runs and 1 race with a newly purchased camera. I am running with an Olympus 1050SW, which is nice in that it is shock proof and water proof, but on the other hand it is a bit of a slow performer, and image quality is about average (so I've read). I've seen pics from a couple of other trail runners with Olympus SW series cameras, so wonder if it is becoming a popular choice for trail runners. I carry it in either a zippered or velcro closure pouch on my hydration belt on my runs.

  10. Thanks for the comments, everyone! It sure was a great day.

    Msiegel/David - In regards to the camera, I'll be honest that I haven't quite found the perfect camera yet so I trade off between a few. I seem to always have to make the choice of "lightweight, but not so expensive I freak out if it breaks" vs "can survive a fall/moisture/elements, but is heavier".

    Currently I'm using the Olympus FE-340 or Panasonic Lumix for the lightweight camera option. They fit in my Nathan water bottle pocket (or vest), and have a sport setting that works well for action shots. The Olympus is my default, since it's cheap enough I don't stress if it breaks. I break a camera about once a year, mostly due to moisture, dirt, or having it fly out of my hands and bounce down the rocky trail. The sand at the AR50 ate one this year.

    For rainy days, I have the Olympus Stylus 1030 10mp which my wife bought for me. It's a tank, weighing twice as much as the others, but it can take a beating and get through rainy days with ease. I took this on Miwok, since it rained all day. The weight is enough you notice it - it will bounce in a pocket, or make a water bottle feel 2x as heavy - so I don't take it all the time, and tend to shy from it for longer runs. If I do use it, I just carry it in my hand.

    Lastly, I have a Flip video player for capturing video. I mostly use this for interviews at the end of a race. Rumor has it that Flip will release some frame-grabbing on their next software release, so I might consider using it more often since it's only 5 oz.

    The real secret of my pictures is (a) Adobe Lightroom, which helps alter the light and color, and (b) taking about 100 photos on each trip to get the 10-20 that work best. For the really good pics, my wife Christi does the post-editing. She's awesome at that stuff.

    I will jot this subject down for a bigger write up. Thanks for the suggestion!


  11. Scott -- It was so fun to read your writeup! My husband and I were hiking on Monday from Cool down to the river, and we came across the day 3 WS training run people. As we were on an ascent, we walked and chatted for a while -- what great people, and what am amazing race you'll be doing!

  12. Great pics and report! I always hear such great things about the WS Training Camp. Just talked to Chris McDougall (Born to Run) who was there and had some good stories too

  13. Great report! This year's WS is going to be totally awesome! Wish I was there and thanks for sharing!

  14. OK Scott,

    I admit it, having my picture in one of your blogs has now hooked me on your site. Great overview and one I hope to put to good use someday (lottery willing).

    By the way, how have you convinced your better half to allow so many runs. I currently have a six race a year limit, any more and the numbers might regard visitation rights :D.

    Keep up the good running.

  15. Michelle Barton5/28/2009 03:40:00 PM

    Gordy, Mark and I had the best time blasting the trails with you!!!!
    You are an incredible, super fast and amazing ultrarunner!!
    You really know how to capture the best moments. Thank you for the awesome photos!!
    I look forward to seeing you in Squaw!!!


  16. That was a great start to a long weekend of running and it was great to run along with you for a short while. You should pursue the idea of a running skirt for men!!

  17. Scott,

    I've never been to the WS100 race, but am curious about the prospects of spectating this year since it's going to be so epic. Is this just wishful thinking?



  18. I was listening to talk radio last night, which brought me to search for utra running. They were talking about the Tarahumara, which was just an unbelievable story, however I realize that there is a whole world of ultra runners out there.

    I am a novice runner that has completed 2 marathons (with my times not to be mentioned:)

    What amazed me is the difference in mentality of running that it seems you guys have and I have.... I look at it as a chore, which means my mindset isn't right from the get go. I stilll quite a bit to learn...

    Amazing post, and truly inspiring..


I LIVE for comments! Please add your thoughts, let me know you stopped by, etc., and be thoughtful of others. Always best if you sign your name, of course.