I just finished the Memorial Day Training Runs and can’t recommend them enough for anyone running Western States for the first time.
The three runs over the Memorial Day weekend cover the last 70+ miles of the course. With well-supported aid stations, these runs give runners a true taste of the incredibly difficult terrain of the Western States trail and its oppressive heat during this time of the year. The food and hydration available at the aid stations are fairly similar to race day, providing an excellent opportunity to fine tune race-day hydration and nutrition.
The first run goes from Robison Flat (about mile 30 in the course) to Forrest Hill (about mile 62), taking runners down the two most difficult canyons and climbs of the run (Devil’s Thumb and El Dorado Canyon). I was totally wiped out after the climb from the first canyon, but after taking some cold Coke at the aid station, I managed to recover and finish the run in a respectable 7 hours.
The second day takes runners from Forrest Hill (at California Street) to Rucky Chucky (where runners cross the river on race day) and tacks-on another 3.6 mile tough climb (not part of the race course) to a parking area where buses are waiting to return the runners to Forrest Hill. While this section is considered somewhat gentler than the first 60 miles of the course, it is nonetheless still very challenging. Long downhills will trash your quads, technical terrain can lead to falls and twisted ankles, and four or five steep hills are anything but gentle. Somehow, I had an awesome second day, finishing the 20 miles in about 3 ½ hours.
On the third day, the buses take the runners to the far side of the river (other side of Rucky Chucky) so they can run from Greengate to the finish line at Placer High School. This is perhaps the mildest section of the course, but it still contains a few tough climbs and quite a bit of technical terrain. I had severe stomach issues an hour into the run (I guess my Dairy Queen Blizzard and the Cheese Pizza I had for dinner the night before didn’t agree with the run), which took me about two hours to resolve (running slowly with a few ‘detours’ from the trail to take care of business). I finished the 21 miles in 4:45, severely dehydrated (about five pounds lighter). Even though it was painful and frustrating, it’s all part of the training, teaching me how to deal with what will be inevitable at some point during race day.
These three days have given me the opportunity to simulate race day conditions and figure out what works and what doesn’t. From discovering that my neoprene ankle strap helps prevent blisters (by keeping the foot from sliding within the shoe), to the benefits of cold Coke, to course reconnaissance and more, these runs are a difficult but necessary part of the training.
For the week, I ran about 21 hours or about 100 miles. Two more weeks of tough training and then on to a most welcome 2 weeks of tapering.
I’ll post some pictures soon.