For the past two years, Rebecca Watters and I have each thrown our names into the Western States Lottery. Having one ticket each the first year and two each the second. Not good odds for either of us for either year’s drawing. The first year we texted back and forth as we watched the live lottery drawing. Rebecca was hoping not to be drawn, but I was desperately hoping to hear my name called. Neither of us were drawn.
For this year’s drawing in December, we planned to go for a run together that morning then sit in a coffee shop and watch the lottery drawing live. She ended up being sick that morning and we didn’t do either. But again, we watched it live and texted back and forth. Rebecca didn’t want in the race again this year. She had a lot going on in the spring, wanted to buy a home, and was getting married in the summer. It just wasn’t the best timing for her. So we watched again with her hoping not to be drawn and me wanting to get in. I could almost hear them call my name and imagine going. With only 30 or so names left Rebecca texted me saying, “thank goodness I haven’t been drawn.” Sad face for me, I wanted to hear my name called out. Within 5 minutes of her text to me, her name was drawn. “OMG you got in” I texted her. Her reply was “Holy Shit.”
Rebecca soon asked me to help crew and pace her, and I could not have been more thrilled than if my name had been drawn. I wasn’t sure if she asked me because she knew how badly I wanted in, or if she knew I would help her out because she had paced me several times and knew I’d return the favor. She knew I was organized and had crewed others before. Honestly, Rebecca is the best pacer, and the times we’ve spent on the trails with her pushing me through my race have been some very happy moments for me. So for me to go and help her was a win, win! They didn’t draw my name but I felt like I was a lucky lottery winner!
I’m not sure if Rebecca knew or realized just what a WS junkie I had become over the last couple of years. I followed the elite athletes on social media, listened to tons of podcasts, knew the runners, followed the races, and pretty much become a WS stalker. Maybe not the creepy kind of stalker (ok, sometimes my friends think it’s creepy), but I’m awestruck and inspired by so many of them. For me, it’s not just about the elites, either. Many times its the stories from the back of the pack or just average runners like me that inspire. The older folks still out there getting it done – those are the stories that give me the chills.
My stalking report wouldn’t be complete without at least a couple of pictures! The Pixie Ninja, Kaci Lickteig had a very inspiring and hard fought finish this year!
But this was Rebecca’s race, not mine! She made the travel plans, arranged the lodging, and rented the car. Myself, her fiancé Michael, and his sister Katie were there for support. When she and I met a few weeks prior to the race to go over details, I had put together a notebook and felt comfortable with how the crewing would go. On paper, crewing can look easy, and compared to running the race, it is easy. On the other hand, if it were that easy, the elite runners and others wouldn’t have 5 to 10 and sometimes more people on their support teams. Most of us know that CREW stands for Cranky Runner Endless Waiting, so we were well prepared for what we thought was to come. It would involve miles of driving, hours of waiting in the hot sun, long hikes or shuttle rides, carrying chairs, coolers and gear into each aid station where they allow crew access to the runners.
We saw our runners off at the 5:00 a.m. start in Squaw Valley, California. The excitement of the start of the race was off the charts! We watched the elites gather, dared to speak to a few, and even got a quick selfie with a couple of them. We stood at the start to watch, knowing that what was ahead of them wouldn’t be easy. The day would be long and hard, but exciting for us to watch it all unfold. With the gun shot they were off and we headed to our cars.
We had to drive 3 1/2 hours to get to the first aid station, Duncan Canyon. We stopped along the way to get ice for the long day ahead of us, knowing we wouldn’t be anywhere near a store for many hours. We knew being at the first aid station might be our only chance to watch the top runners come through. Of course, we are there to support “our” runner, but this was our one time to take in the front of the race while we waited for Rebecca. After a long drive to get there, followed by a long hike from where we parked the car, we just missed seeing the lead runner. We heard the crowds ahead cheering him on, but we missed by just a few seconds getting to see Jim Walmsley pass through the AS. We had time to get there and settle in before seeing the next group of top males following each other through, some 30 minutes later. They came through one after the other, so fast we could hardly see who they were, but we recognized some of the names and saw the bibs with an “M” in front of their number, marking them as one of last year’s top 10 finishers. This year’s field of men, as well as the women, was probably one of the most competitive in the race’s history. The race always attracts many top athletes, but this year’s field seemed to be especially strong. We chatted with other crew teams, including several of the elite female’s crew teams. In ultra running, not only are the runners some of the friendliest people, but their crews are equally as nice and happy to chat with you. I spoke with one guy from Magda Boulet’s crew, and he offered to introduce me to Ann Trason at the Dusty Corners Aid Station. Sadly, we wouldn’t get there before her team was gone. Ok, so I’m name-dropping a little bit here, but I told you I had become a stalker, and I need to add a few more. Andy Jones-Wilkins (AJW) is a ten-time top 10 finisher at WS who I met for the first time at the Georgia Death Race a few months earlier. Along with other notables like Tim Tweitmeyer, AJW is a fixture of volunteering at WS. These past heroes inspire me as much with their volunteerism as they ever could as an elite runner. Many claim it’s a selfish sport, but to see the elites spend their later years giving back to the sport they love is a huge testimony to their spirit and the rich history of the race. To me, it’s much like the elite runner that’s having a bad day, yet refuses to quit or drop out of the race and seeing it through to the finish. We would end up seeing a lot of those stories before this year’s race was over.
Of course I had to stalk the Coconino Cowboy himself, Jim Walmsley! Super nice guy and I hope to see him have his day and win WS!
The state of Georgia had several runners at WS this year, all getting into the race from the lottery except for Jackie Merritt, who won her entry through a Golden Ticket 2nd place win at GDR this year. Even though she is a new resident to the state and we love to claim her as a Georgia home girl, we know her heart is probably still up north where she moved from. Most of the Georgia crew teams spent the entire day and night together, taking care of our runners one by one, and helping each other with their runners at times, too. We also checked on a couple of runners that didn’t have crew at certain aid stations or had no crew at all, and helped when we could. We know it’s nice to see a familiar face when you’re racing far from home. One secret gem in our crew teams was Janice Anderson. She probably wouldn’t want me to say anything, so keep this quiet. I may have overwhelmed her with my WS excitement and elite and famous ultra-stalking. Janice is quiet, but her experience at WS gave us a wealth of information even though it had been 13 years since she had been back. She was a top 10 finisher several times and raced against the likes of Ann Trason and Nikki Kimball! I felt like I was sitting amongst secret ultrarunning royalty all day, because no one else knew who she was. Janice was there crewing and later pacing for her brother who was running WS for the first time after years of entering the lottery himself.
At the first aid station, I started chatting with a guy who was crewing another runner. He possessed a wealth of information about the race we didn’t have. By the second aid station, I learned that he had not only crewed and paced at this race for some 16 years or more, he also used to be married to a previous F6 women’s finisher back when Janice Anderson and Ann Trason were running the race! I was quite impressed. He shared some tips, but mostly just chatted as we waited for our runners. Each time I saw him, he asked how my runner was doing with a sincere and genuine care. At the track in Auburn, he would find me again to give me a big hug and bid me farewell.
Katie, Michael, and I took care of Rebecca every time she came in to an aid station we could access. We would give her cold cokes, put ice in her pack, change her socks, patch up blisters, and tend to her needs. Her day was typical of many runners in these tough conditions – slower than they expected but steady and relentless. Watching each runner from Georgia work their way through the course, overcoming each struggle or obstacle, was an inspiration to all of us on the sidelines. They didn’t complain and they didn’t give up! We knew it was tough. We saw many of the elite runners struggling, as well. All we could do was offer words of encouragement and tend to their needs. We tried to keep their focus on the finish line.
After nearly 29 hours of crewing, Katie and I met Rebecca and Michael (who had paced her from Rucky Chucky) just past Robie Point for the final mile into the stadium at Placer High School. She had done it! The long journey to Auburn would be over in just a few minutes when she crossed the finish line. Within minutes of her finish, the final Georgia runners would also cross the line and we would celebrate with each of them! We had watched their journey and knew how tough it was. We knew they did not take it for granted. They had worked hard and kept moving.
My trip to Western States 100 would not be complete without watching the final WS finishers cross the finish line in the final hour before the 30 hour time limit had expired. This was called the Golden Hour. It was two years ago when 70 year-old Gunhild Swanson crossed as the final finisher with just seconds to spare, creating a video finish watched by more people than any other finisher. Then last year we saw the heartbreaking scene of 72 year-old Wally Hesseltine missing the 30 hour cutoff by just under 2 minutes. Both had come back to finish this year, but the Fire and Ice of the day got the best of them before they made it to Auburn.
I was sure there would be no finish to top Gunhild’s. I also knew that the last hour of the race was just one more reason why WS is so special. Those finishers were cheered on as if they were first place runners. In our hearts and minds, we knew how tough it was for them to get there and celebrated what they had accomplished. It’s the very spirit of the race that’s in the hearts of these final runners. Never giving up, never losing hope that they could finish. As I saw one last runner hit the track with around two minutes left on the clock and surrounded by a large support group, my heart started to race. Hurry, hurry, HURRY! We started screaming. When we knew he was going to make it, another runner hit the track! It seemed as if she had less than a minute to get around the track. My heart could not take it! Screaming for her like I had never cheered for any other athlete before, and seeing her cross the line and all but collapse was not just the icing on the cake but the cherry on top! This was what WS was all about!
I had seen it, been a small part of the 2017 WS100 experience and would take home unforgettable memories! I was also leaving my heart in Squaw and hope to be back for it when my lottery ticket is drawn and I’m there to run it myself! #seeyouinsquaw #Ileftmyheartthere
One of my favorite times was going up the escarpment the day before the race, being in the snow and taking in the views! I never told Rebecca before the race just how tough it was to even walk through that snow. Soon every runner found out for themselves!