I’m back! For those of you who have been following along, you know that I took some time away from my regular blog and freelance writing last month to finish up a draft of novel two and take a five-day trip to Lake Tahoe to do some research for novel three. It was a very busy month and I’m excited to say it was a success.
I will have plenty to say about novel two in the coming months, but right now it’s sitting in a drawer, resting. Whenever I finish a draft I try my best to step away and think about something else for a month. Sometimes that’s difficult, but this time I had an excellent distraction: the Western States Endurance Race.
Western States is a 100 mile race (one of the oldest ultra-running races in the world), starting in Olympic Village and tracing through the trails of the mountains to Auburn, California near Sacramento. I drove up on Wednesday and set up camp at the Silver Creek Truckee Campsite which was way too close to the highway (I could hardly sleep at night for all the noise) and smelled like poo (which was probably just my bad luck to be camped too close to the bathrooms). Thankfully, I didn’t spend much time there.
On Thursday I joined a group hike up the first four miles of the course. The key word here is “up.” Guys – I’m no slouch. I walk the dogs a few miles, a few times a week, and I like the big hills, but this trail kicked my ass. It was STRAIGHT UP, for four miles, at altitude. I started at the front of the pack, picking the brains of people who had been to the race before and one women who was running it this year. I was getting all kinds of juicy details, but within half a mile I started struggling. I couldn’t breath. We weren’t even at mile one when I had to wave off the woman I was talking to and catch my breath. By mile three I was at the back of the pack, huffing and puffing.
Most of the group stopped at the end of mile three for a little ceremony the Western States race organizers host wherein they acknowledge the history of the land, from the native Washoe and Nisenan people who live there still to the coming of the miners in the 1850s to the start of the race (as a horse and rider competition) to its evolution into a foot race in 1977. I was grateful for the rest, then tried to push on to the ridge at mile four, but a ranger turned me back at the very end because there were lightning strikes in the area and being up on a bare mountain ridge in a lightning storm is stupid. It’s also kind of stupid to camp in a summer storm, but there were no hotel rooms to be had at that point, so camp in the rain I did. It wasn’t so bad, actually. My tent stayed dry and the rain quelled the poop smell. I just laid around reading by headlamp until I fell asleep, which was pretty early, given how tired I was from my 8-mile hike. Did I mention the blisters? There were blisters. Big ones.
Friday was more race prep. I hung out at the registration building and took notes about the runners, their crews, their families. A key scene in my book takes place the day before the race, so it was good to get some critical details of how things happen and where. I also had a long conversation with a photographer who used to run the race. He was a wealth of information.
Western States Race Day
I slept in my car that night (picture me, at 5’10”, sleeping in the back of a Mini) so that I could be up at 3:30, get dressed, and get to the race starting line by 4 to watch the racers gather. The starting gun went off at 5 and they were on their way.
For the rest of the day I drove along with the crews of the racers from aid station to aid station (the ones where crew and press were allowed), to watch the runners come through. They would ditch handfuls of emptied gel packets while their crews pushed more into their pockets and doused them with sponges from buckets of ice water. But most of them hardly stopped. In fact, you could tell a runner was having trouble if they sat down.
The heat of the day was a real challenge for a lot of the runners. About a third of the runners didn’t finish (in runner jargon – they DNFed). Of those who did make it across the finish line, even some of the highest level runners had to stop for a few hours to deal with heat and GI issues.
I was at the finish line at Placer High School when the first male runner came in. This guy, Jim Walmsley, has won it three times now. He was almost an hour and a half in front of the second place runner. He’s so fast.
Nine of the top 20 Western States finishers were women, and there was a lot of talk on the sidelines about how the women close the gap between finishing times a little bit every year. Not that anyone is poised to beat Jim Walmsley.
Instead of driving three hours back up to my stinky campsite, I got a cheap motel room in Sacramento and crashed out in the wonderful chill of air conditioning. I had thought I might drive back to the finish line for what they call Golden Hour, the last hour of the race from 10am to 11am Sunday morning, when the very last finishers come it, but frankly, I had what I needed and I was ready to head home.
I drove all day and made it in time to attend my daughter’s soccer game. Her team made it to the finals of the tournament they were playing and I was so happy to get to cheer her on for the last round. They took second and my girl was TIRED.
So that’s the tale of my big research adventure.
Now I just have to write the book…