Western States 100

Cake Dreams
Two days before the race, Mone’ told me that Cortney, the famous pastry chef for Squaw, was super excited about all things Western States. When she heard I was doing it, she asked for my autograph. I said, tell her yes, in exchange for a piece of her red velvet cake, and Cortney replied:

tell her if she finishes Western States I’ll bake her a whole f#$%ing cake.”

I had a dream team of friends lined up to help me through the race. Naomi planned to bring Avian along the course to see me (Stephen was at a ski camp). The rest of my team included pacers Kathy D and Audrey, and crew of Steve (my boyfriend/crew chief), Jamie and her husband Steve, Spike, Kathy M, JJ, and Jon E; plus Mia at home taking care of Beverly.

Western States was special – and it had meant a great deal to Julia. My team was counting on me, and I wanted to make them proud. And I wanted that cake.

 

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Avian and I at runner check-in

Race Day
Comparisons have been drawn between an ultrarunner’s excitement leading up to Western States and a child’s excitement leading up to Christmas. This is 100% accurate. Wise words of advice from Mike and Jill helped keep me grounded, both in the lead up, and during the race itself:

Stay Present. Run the Mile You are In.

Race morning, I woke up and felt at peace with what might lie ahead. Smiling wouldn’t be hard today. Steve brought Avian and I to Squaw.

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Race morning in Squaw. Photo: Steve

John Trent gave us a beautiful speech at the start and we were off at 5:00am.

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train of runners climbing up towards the pass

At the top of the first climb, I saw a bunch of friends and fellow DPMRs who’d hiked up the mountain before dawn.  The thrill of cresting that peak as I began my journey to Auburn was powerful – and I could feel Julia’s spirit, where she’d loved to be at that point in the race, screaming for her friends.

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The Escarpment. Photo: Diane

The high country was more technical and less runnable than I’d remembered from 2013. But whenever I worried about pace or finishing times, I’d hear Mike in his stern voice “Stay PRESENT“. and Jill: “Run the Mile You Are In“. Each time I released that anxiety, it felt good. My friends didn’t care how fast or slow I was. And that cake would be baked if I finished in 24 hours or 29 hours.

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Paul Berquam (my roommate for 3 weeks before the race) in the high country.

The first aid station was full of friends and I appreciated that this was going to be a stark contrast to 2013, when I was still fairly new to the scene. Knowing people at every aid station made me feel like a celebrity.

At Duncan Canyon, 5.5 hours elapsed, I was elated to see Avian and Naomi had made the long drive. It meant so much to have them there.

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Naomi and Avian at Duncan
Duncan Canyon Aid Station, 2018 Western States 100 - Photo by Tonya Perme
Sponge Bath at every aid station. Photo: Tonya Perme
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Popsicle in the high country. Photo: Naomi

Robinson Flat Aid Station (mile 30.3) was electrifying – I couldn’t contain myself as I ran through the spectators, into the aid station filled with friends, and on to my crew, where I got a kiss from Steve. I collected ice and lube and hugs to prepare me for the hottest part of the day: the canyons.

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Jill, Chaz, Jamie, and I at Robinson

On the trail, an Aussie runner thought I was struggling, and offered me her ice. I declined, but was impressed that she offered me her most precious resource. This camaraderie among runners is a big reason why I love hundreds (or “milers” as my new Aussie friend calls them).

Although I was trying to “stay present”, I couldn’t help get excited at the thought of seeing my crew and friends. Especially Avian. Dusty Corners (mile 38) was another highlight.

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“Your freezing!!” Ice cold hug at Dusty. Photo: Naomi

Running in triple digit heat through canyons might not sound appealing to some, but with ice in my bra at every aid station and following Pam Smith’s crew instructions from her 2013 victory, “give me the porn star treatment: keep me wet and lubed and excited“, it was manageable. And fun! I fully submerged in every creek or river along the course. Jamie and Gretchen say ultrarunning is like spending the day at a spa – you get to take mud baths, soak in the mineral water, and enjoy salt scrubs. Good times!

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Devil’s Thumb climb

Elke met me with a hug at Devil’s Thumb, mile 48. I heard that Sean Flanagan and Dean Karnazes, two of my heroes, were just ahead. When I reached Sean, he was having a tough time on the downhills with a sprained ankle. I later learned he’d been out of water, but didn’t tell me, because it was the hottest part of the day and he didn’t want to jeopardize my race. I would have gladly shared, but that’s just the kind of person he is – always putting others first.

On the climb up to Michigan Bluff (mile 55.7), as we crested the hill, I realized I was running with Dean. I introduced myself and told him my son and I were big fans. He was very kind and said it was serendipitous to be running into Michigan Bluff together.  Western States is pure magic.

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Dean, me, and Jamie (my crew), heading into Michigan Bluff. Photo: Kane Cullimore

My Michigan Bluff crew, Jamie and her husband Steve, fed me dinner and sent me on to Volcano canyon.

When I reached Bath Road, my boyfriend Steve was waiting to run me into Foresthill, mile 62. Although I’d known him casually through DPMR, we didn’t spend much time together until a 7-hour run from Foresthill in January turned into a first date. His love and support got me through five months of training and now we were together in Foresthill again, running into the most exciting aid station of the race – hosted by our friends, the Silver State Striders.

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Hug from Stacie. Photo: Kane Cullimore
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Me, Michelle, Kaycee, and Jill. Photo: Kane
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Hug from Julia’s mom, Kathy. Photo: Naomi

Spike took care of my feet, and I added to my hug collection. It was 8:11pm, just over 15 hours in.

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Waterlogged. Photo: Naomi
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Spike has saved my feet so many times. Photo: Naomi
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Steve refilling my bra with ice. Photo: Naomi
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Sean still going strong, despite the ankle. Photo: Naomi

My good friend Kathy D joined me as pacer in Foresthill. Kathy has immense experience at Western States (with 2 wins and 11 finishes), and it was an honor to have her guidance out there, sharing the trails she knows so well.

We ran down the poison-oak lined trail into the night towards my friends at Peachstone aid: JoAnne, Andy, Marisa, and Mike. We’d become good friends after I spent way too much time at their aid station last summer during my character-building experience at TRT100. I was hoping to show them that I could actually run during a 100 miler this time around.

We arrived and the hug-fest resumed (Kathy said I should get an award for giving the most hugs during a race). Until I saw Mike… in a cast… he was supposed to thru-hike the JMT after the race. He’d broken his leg while setting up the aid station, then came back after the hospital to volunteer all night. Again, the spirit of this community is incredible – Mike didn’t let a BROKEN LEG deter him from supporting his friends.

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Three of my favorites: Marisa, JoAnne, and Kathy. Photo: Andy

Kathy and I headed off towards the river, with a new level of grit after seeing what Mike had gone through. How could I complain about anything after that!

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Mile 78 – Avian, me and Kathy. Photo: Naomi

Avian and Naomi surprised me at mile 78, along with Lesley and Kane. I was thrilled to have them there to share in the magic of the river crossing.

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Kathy and I just before the river. Photo: Lesley

Volunteers lined the rope across the river to guide us with foot placement.

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Hard not to smile during such a moment! Photo: Kane

Once across the river, we had to climb up the steep bank using another rope.

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This was kind of hard. Photo: Kane
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Kathy and I almost done. Photo: Kane

Steve met us on the climb up to Green Gate, where Jon and Audrey were waiting.

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Kathy and I. Photo: Steve

Audrey took over as my pacer from mile 80 and we continued on to the blissful, runnable single-track, that wound around the canyon walls.

Around mile 93, my legs were feeling fried, and I was losing steam. Audrey assured me I would “feel renewed when the sun came up” or something. I kept telling myself that, and sure enough, as the sun came up, I felt better. And I wondered, was Cortney serious about the cake?

When we reached Robie Point, mile 99, I found Steve, his son Kevin, Avian, Naomi, Michelle, Jeff, Jon, and Linn waiting for me and Audrey to bring us into the finish. My heart was exploding with love and appreciation.

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Absolute bliss. Photo: Naomi

We ran down Robie, following the red-painted “WS100” footprints, across the beloved white bridge, through the quiet neighborhood streets, and out onto [what’s been accurately called] the best place in the world… the track at Placer High School, on the last weekend in June.

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This moment… with these friends… Photo: Jon Emis
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High Five and photo from Billy Yang
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Photo: Allen Amy Taylor

When I saw the clock, I couldn’t believe it. 25:28. Same as 2013.

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2013 – top photo. 2018 – bottom photo.

Coincidence, maybe. But I like to think it was a wink or a nod from a dear friend, looking down on us.

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Western States 2018. Photo: Helen Pelster
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Julia’s mom, Kathy, and I at the finish line. Pretty sure I will always tear up when I see this picture, or think back to that moment. Photo: Helen Pelster

The track was a heavenly dream of good friends, bacon, joy and camaraderie as we stayed until the final finisher crossed the line.

We were fortunate to have new friends in Auburn provide us with a place for showers and sleep (thanks, Dan and Anne!). That 20 minute nap quickly turned into 4 hours instead.

Gratitude
I am eternally grateful to everyone that helped me get to the start, the finish, and beyond. I’ve never felt this loved. Thank you all.

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My Team at Foresthill. Photo: Helen Pelster
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Sean and I Monday morning – matching shirts and matching buckles!

 

And guess what?

Cortney baked me a whole f#$%ing red velvet cake, and
IT WAS AMAZING!

Photo 7-11-18, 9 16 55 AM

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Victory cake at our campsite at Donner Lake. Celebration with my parents, kids, Steve, Gretchen, and Andrew. Thanks, Cortney!

 

 

4 responses to Western States 100

  1. You are such a strong woman and such an inspiration! You were so strong and prepared going into this race! I’m so happy for you! Cake is the best motivation! 😉

    Like

  2. Marilyn Oberhardt says:

    So happy for you! Congratulations on having a magical States!

    Like

  3. Marcel says:

    We’re so proud of you Nelly. Thanks Avian and Steve and the rest of the team that helped my sister through this ridiculous test of human endurance. But mostly thanks to Cortney for the cake!

    Like

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