Monday, July 4, 2011

2011 Western States 100 Endurance Run

What an experience!!!  What else can I say?

I have been a runner for the past 5 years.  In those years I have never volunteered at a race.  So, for my first volunteer experience I thought I'd help out at a little known race - the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run.   I spent the day at the Forest Hill Aid Station at mile-62 of the Run.

My day actually began earlier in the morning at the Run 4 Independence in Elk Grove, CA.  I had trained several staff and parents from the school I work at to run their first 10K.  So, the first part of my day began with me cheering on my runners.  I also bumped into fellow barefoot runner, Running Romeo, and his son who were racing in the 5K.  Romeo (aka Rob), running barefoot, and his son, in Vibrams, had an exciting sprint to the finish with Rob edging out his son at the line.  Congratulations to Janice, Jeannie, Jessica and Kathy for completing their first 10K!  Additional note, Jeannie ran the race in water shoes.

Running Romeo & Son at Run 4 Independence
My 10K Runners and I at Run 4 Independence

After the 10K race was done and congratulations and water were passed around.  I headed up the hill toward the little town of Forest Hill.  I made a quick call to my wife to check the latest information coming from the race.  The leaders were about a third of the way along the course.  "Amazing," I thought.

When I arrived at Forest Hill, the town was buzzing with spectators, volunteers, and crews all over the tiny town.  Cars were lined up and down the street.  I walked up to the volunteer booth and checked in and got my "Race Official" T-shirt. 

My job - "Greeter".  Now, when I first found out this is what I was going to be doing, I thought, "Oh great, I'm going to be directing spectators and answering questions all day."  My wife joked (in a very jovial, sarcastic voice), "Did you stand around all day saying to the runners, 'Hi, my name is Terry.  How are you today?'"

My actual experience that day was as far from those scenarios as you could get.  I got to run alongside runners as they arrived at mile-62 and guide them through the aid station.  I made sure they made it to the weigh-in station with the doctors, took their bottles and packs and got them filled with whatever they needed, made sure they had an opportunity to eat, guided them to their crew or dropbag and made sure they got checked-out of the aid station.

I was standing by the entrance to the aid station when the front-runners, including winner WS100 Killian Jornet, came racing through the aid station about 2:30 in the afternoon.  I was fortunate enough to run fellow barefoot/minimalist runner "Last Place Jason" Robillard through the station and hang out with his crew for a short time.  I was even standing by when THE MAN, Gordy Ainsley, passed through the aid station that night (unfortunately Gordy dropped there at Foresthill).

Switching out shoes and clearing blisters

Jason and his pacer leaving Forest Hill
When Jason was coming through the aid station, he asked about the 24-hour cut off.  I had to break the news to him that he was 45 minutes behind the cutoff.  However, he was safely inside the 30-hour cutoff time.  Jason took some time with his crew to change out his shoes and lance and clear a few blisters.  Then, Jason and his pacer headed back out onto the course with hopes of clinching a silver Western States buckle.

One of the most amazing things I noticed that day was how strong so many of the runners appeared as they arrived at the aid station.  I mean, really now, you just ran 62 miles over snow, through canyons and over mountains and you look like that?   Many of the runners were in high-spirits.  They were smiling and waving at the crowds.  They were grateful and courteous to the many volunteers at the station.  Several runners entered the station holding up digital cameras to record video of the scene at Forest Hill.  One video, made by James Elson from London, England shows the approach to the Forest Hill aid station (you can see me at about 50 seconds on the right side of the screen escort him into the station).  Others had their children running alongside as they approached the station.  It was quite an eventful day.

I am truly impressed by the dedication and organization of the aid-station captain Lon Monroe.  That man knows how to run a ship.  Watching Lon work was amazing.  Everything had a clear plan.  Though Lon had extremely high expectations for everyone and everything at the aid station, he ran the crew with humility and a sense of humor.  At our pre-opening meeting, Lon would sometimes answer a question with a humorous comment as if he had no idea what we were all doing there.  You could often find him checking on individual runners (he seemed to know many of them) to see how they were doing.

Most of the runners I saw were strong through mile-62, a few were badly beaten.  I saw one runner who had so many blisters on his feet they ended up removing the skin on the bottom and replacing it with tape, powdered his feet, put on dry socks and shoes and sent him on his way - AMAZING!

At about 30 minutes to closing, an official blew an airhorn 3 times.  Minutes later a crowd of bobbing headlamps could be seen charging up the hill toward us.  This happened two more times at 20 minutes and 10 minutes - each time a small crowd rushing toward the aid station to beat the cutoff.  The last runner I escorted through the aid station was a Swede who wanted to call it quits.  He entered the station with less than 5 minutes to the cutoff.  Many of us volunteers encouraged him to pick up a pacer and get out of the aid station gate (he had less than 2 minutes before the last cutoff).  He managed to continue onto the next aid station 3+ miles down the trail before ultimately dropping.

After the final horn, the volunteers broke down the aid station and packed away all of the gear.  It was pretty quick work - about 45 minutes or so.  I headed down the road to Placer High School to see what was going on at the finish line.  Cars lined the streets surrounding the school.  The football field was covered with tents.  I found a parking spot and wandered over to the field.  When I asked an official at the runner info tent, I was surprised and delighted to hear that Jason had picked up about an hour of time and was likely to finish under the 24 hour cutoff.  With that I called it a day and hopped in my truck for the long drive home. 
The Finish Line for the Western States 100

View from above the stadium

As it turned out, barefoot/minimalist runner, Jason Robillard did manage to pick up just over an hour of time and finished at 23:39 to receive the coveted Silver Western States buckle!  Congratulations, "Last Place Jason".  It was truly a privilege to be present at such an awesome race - what an amazing experience!


  1. I can't imagine a 50 mile race! What a massive accomplishment! I've volunteered once and love it.

  2. It is truly amazing to watch these runners. Volunteering was a blast. You get to see so much more and interact with the runners.

    I've got my sights on a 50K this August. Next spring, I'm hoping to do a 50 miler, but I think that's my limit.