I had the opportunity to volunteer at Western States in 2017 at the Peachstone (Cal-2) aid station which sits at mile 70.7 along the Western States trail in the Foresthill Divide, east of Auburn, deep in the canyon near the American River. I’m told this year had the highest number of DNFs and the slowest female winning time largely due to the oppressive heat and humidity throughout the race, and the snow and mud conditions in the first miles of the race. This is my story from this years race.
Quick recap of Western States from an aid station volunteer.
I’ve been up for 30+ hours since leaving SLC on Saturday morning as I write this. 369 brave souls toed the starting line in Squaw Valley, 248 of them finished the race, and 120 DNFd (not sure where that missing person went!).
I arrived at our aid station around 1pm Pacific time, where it was a blistering 100+ degrees deep in the canyon with very high humidity. We finished our setup and had our requisite team meeting, and then waited. The first runner showed up around 3:28pm.
The expected winners, Jim Walmsley and Kaci Lickteig did not win. Jim pushed too hard up to mile 70 (my aid station) and blew a 45 min lead between Peachstone and Ruck-a-chucky (7.2 miles away), ultimately choosing to drop from the race at that point. Kaci arrived at mile 70 in 6th place, in pain, trying to keep her emotions in check. I made it to the finish to watch her gut-wrenching finish in 24:02… just 2 minutes shy of the Silver Buckle cutoff time, ultimately putting her in 16th place.
I got to fill about 600 water bottles with ice, water, and electrolyte drinks and witness the highest highs, and the lowest lows at mile 70. Elite athletes in top form, dark horses coming out of nowhere to win and place, and local favorites like Mark Hammond, Dominick Layfield, Matt Zabriskie, and Dana Anderson putting on an impressive show. Other elites like Mike Wardian, Chris Mocko, and Maggie Guterl digging deep just to get up out of the chair and leave our aid station. I saw regular (non-elite?) runners, probably with full time jobs, spouses, and kids battling the conditions, their emotions, and their minds to 24 and 30 hour finishes despite the lack of sponsors, or time to train for such a demanding race. Yiou Wang, one of the female contenders dropped to the ground around mile 67 after leading the women for much of the race, requiring us to send our resident doctor up to help. She eventually walked down to our aid station under her own power and dropped from the race.
By 2:30am, every runner still on course was past our aid station with the exception of 4 unfortunate runners that we had to pull from the course for missing the cutoff (although they were happy they got to drive to the finish instead of running 30 more miles). For the second year in a row, the last runner arrived on horseback courtesy of the sweeper who knew it would be faster to dismount and walk and let the runner sit in the saddle.
By 4am, or aid station was packed up and hauled up the 1.5 mile long dirt access road deep in the canyon and I was off to Placer High to catch the last of the 24 hour finishers, and wait for the remaining Utahns in the race.
I got to see Kaci Lickteig finish in 24:02 and my friend Dana finish in 25:56 with her husband and pacers Steve Frogley (chiropractor to the WMW stars), Aubrey, and Ben Light crewing for her. After sitting on the Placer High football field soaking in the sun while Dana regaled us with tales of her triumphant journey, I left to have some breakfast and catch up with Canice Harte and Dominick Layfield (I was really just using them for their shower, but sssshhhhh!).
Now I sit at Sacramento airport, some 31 hours since the last time I’ve slept hopped up on coffee waiting for my flight home physically, mentally, and emotionally spent and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s something special and magical about Western States, for everyone that is a part of it, not just the runners. If you haven’t experienced it, you should. It’s worth the flight, the rental car, and your time. That being said, I think I’ll run it next time since I’ll be done quicker and it’s probably less work thanks to the 1,500 volunteers that support the 369 runners. Now it’s time to sleep, enjoy your day and thanks for reading. 😴