It could have been a slow year with all the snow up top but the temperatures never reached the boiling point and the course record was shattered by over 30 minutes. A record 123 runners finished under 24 hours and the race had its first amputee finisher: Amy Palmiero-Winters who finished in 27 hours and 43 minutes, not even teasing the 30 hour time limit.
We drove up to Tahoe late Friday night and Nicole dropped me off at the starting line in Squaw Valley around 4:45 AM. I wanted to try to catch some pictures of the early miles up and over Squaw Valley and along some of the back country. So I strapped on my backpack, loaded up a couple of water bottles and charged the cameras and was off just after the runners crossed the starting line. I spotted Lee McKinley a few minutes later. The first few miles were a climb up the ski slopes of Squaw Valley and most powerwalk this part of the course. A mile or two later, large snow patches started appearing on the trail and this was a sign of what the runners would endure for the next eight or so miles.
It takes almost 1 hour to reach the top of Emigrant Pass, only 4 miles into the race, but here the runners reach the highest point on the course and can look out to see below them all the mountains and valleys they will be running through the next 90 miles. It might seem like it’s all downhill from this point but that is far from the truth. There will be a lot of ups and downs, both physically and mentally for many of the runners. At the top of Emigrant Pass, I ran into Lee McKinley again and he asked if I had any food since there were no more aid stations for another 10 miles. Reluctantly and grumbling, I gave him everything I had except for one bar I hid from view since I needed to trek 30 miles with no aid stations. After another few miles, I started keeping my eyes open for fallen GU packets along the side of the trail.
During this section I watched Amy Palmiero-Winters, one of two amputees competing in the race, run through the snow and struggle to keep her balance. These were moments few ever see and it was amazing to watch her as she tried to become the first amputee ever to finish this race.
You would suspect that most of these runners have little experience running in these types of conditions. Here it is June and most are probably used to training in 90 degrees. Instead they are dealing with almost 8 miles of snow-covered rocks and streams. You might slide. You might put your foot through the snow and find yourself stuck, knee-deep in a snow drift.
At one point, I came across Amy stopped on the side of the trail. She had her prosthetic leg off and was working on it. I asked if she needed any help but she declined. I’m not sure I can accurately describe the scene but there she was in the middle of the woods, balancing on one leg and working on her other. She had some stuff laid out in front of her and runners were passing by, all with their own stories and reasons for trying to run 100 miles. But her story must be incredible. Later on that day in Foresthill, I met John Schumacher from The Bee and he told me a little about her.
This year was called a snow year and around mile 10, they altered the course and took the runners down to French Meadows Reservoir. This part of the course seemed to be really fast for many as the snow and mud turned into a nice dirt/gravel and then a paved road until the French Meadows Aid Station. But after that aid station, it’s back on the single track trail as you meander along the edge of the reservoir until the trail climbs to Duncan Canyon. From French Meadows to Duncan Canyon, the trail dissects the remains of a forest fire. The runners are exposed. It’s dusty. And the mosquitos are everywhere.
It took me 5 hours to trek to Duncan Canyon. I was stopping often for pictures and videos. I had planned to meet Nicole and Dylan at Robinsons Flat around 10 AM and I was still 6 miles away and down to half a water bottle. So I started rationing only a squirt of fluids every 1/2 mile. The stream crossings felt refreshing and about an hour later I arrived at Robinsons Flat. The timing was perfect since Nicole and Dylan showed up about 20 minutes after I did. Sometimes, I don’t know how Nicole puts up with me! We took the next shuttle back to the Jeep and were about to head back to Auburn when someone asked us if we had a wire hanger. The group next to us was locked out of their car. We offered to give them a ride down to Michigan Bluff or Foresthill and they said they had another car in Foresthill so two friendly women climbed in the back with Dylan for the ride down to Foresthill. We soon learned that one of them was Bjorg Austrheim-Smith, former Western States 3-time champion. We had a great time chatting and hearing their stories and Dylan kept them company with his endless conversation.
After dropping off Nicole and Dylan so Dylan could get some rest, I drove back to Foresthill to see some of the leaders. I arrived back at Foresthill at 2:15 PM and already the top 3 men had been through! Normally, 1st place comes through around 2:45 PM so three of them were well ahead of schedule and the top 2, Anton Krupicka and Kilian Journet Burgada, were within a minute of each other with Geoff Roes in 3rd and about 12 minutes behind. Last year’s winner, Hal Koerner, was just arriving and he looked a little tired. (Perspective: he’s already run 62 miles and he’s 20 minutes off the lead.) Obviously he knows what it takes to win the race and a lot can change the last 38 miles but you wonder what he’s having to process in his head as he chases and tries to stay in the hunt.
A few years ago, temperatures were well into the 100’s during the day but this year the heat showed mercy to the runners. Mid 90 degrees would shut down some marathons so don’t think that it was cool.
After hanging out in Foresthill, it was family time and we went to Roseville for Celebrate America where Dylan enjoyed the bounce houses and attempted his first obstacle course. We kept an eye on www.ultralive.net and kept trying to time when the leaders would be at No Hands Bridge so we could drive back for the final miles. The plan was to catch the leader(s) at No Hands Bridge and then drive up to Robie Drive and ride my bicycle and video the final mile. So around 6:15 PM, we drove back to Auburn and to No Hands Bridge and were surprised to see Carrie Hyatt and her daughter, who also had the same idea of watching the race at No Hands. One guy on the bridge had internet access, so most of us kept crowding around him to get the latest updates. Finally, around 7:30 PM, Geoff Roes appeared coming down the trail from Cool and sprinted across the bridge. No pacer and he was moving very well. Actually he dropped his pacer after the Rucky Chucky and his pacer wasn’t some friend to walk and chat with those last 38 miles, it was ultra runner Dave Mackey. To drop Dave Mackey after having run about 80 miles should tell you something about how hard Geoff was pushing. About 3 minutes later, Anton arrived and crossed with his pacer. Anton was also looking fresh and moving well. Could he make up the 3 minutes in the next 4 miles?
After that, we jumped in the car and raced up to Robie Drive knowing we had about 20 minutes before Geoff emerged from the canyon. Nicole dropped me and the bike off and I went left, following the red footprints, while they went right and to the finish line at the high school. I waited at the top of Robie Drive and who goes running down to meet Geoff? Dave Mackey, the pacer he dropped earlier. Some of the locals were out and waiting to catch a glimpse of the leader. A few minutes later, Geoff didn’t disappoint and he emerged from the canyon and came around the corner with only 1 final mile to go.
Geoff Roes broke the record by over 30 minutes. Even the last mile he was running at a remarkable clip. After crossing the finish, he said he finally warmed up around mile 75. Just like a marathon is a 20 mile warm up and then a 6.2 mile race, the 100 mile distance must be a 75 mile warm up followed by a 25 mile race. A few minutes later, Anton and his pacer entered the stadium and crossed the finish. Anton’s time was also faster than any other previous winners and would have been a record had Geoff not just set the new record a few minutes earlier.
Congrats to all the runners out there, especially buddy Lee McKinley who finished in 20 hours and 40 minutes. No man his age or older was faster! And again Amy Palmiero-Winters who became the 1st amputee ever to finish the race. And to all the other friends and runners and volunteers our there, each with their own incredible story. Click here for more of my pictures of the day.