20 Years Ago This Weekend


Enzo finishing the 1992 Western States 100-miler

June 27-28, 1992 - finishing the Western States 100-miler in 25:33:26, 83rd of 230 finishers

The 39th running of the Western States Endurance Run is only hours away (5:00 am PT start on Saturday June 23). This granddaddy of North American 100 mile trail races takes runners from Squaw Valley, California, to Auburn, California. Along the way, the route climbs a total of 15,540 feet and descends 22,970 feet.

20 years ago, I had the privilege of participating in and completing this event on the weekend of June 27-28, 1992. Amongst the 230 finishers were 3 friends from the Lower Mainland – Ean Jackson, Greg Crompton and Bev Brezik. Little did we know that for all 4 of us, this would be our first and only finish at WS100 – at least as of this writing 🙂

Western States was not my first 100-miler, but it was definitely the one that inspired me back in the mid-80’s when I learned that that people actually ran distances longer than the marathon! The race was featured a couple of times during that period on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. I knew I had to give it a try someday when I saw the glorious mountain trails and vistas that runners got to “enjoy” for anywhere from 16 to 30 hours 😉

So cutting to the chase, I entered the lottery for the 1992 race and got in on my first try! After the event, I wrote up a race report for Ultrarunning magazine. Remember this was 1992 and most folks did not have this Internet-thingy. What follows is that written report from almost 20 years ago.

 

No Crew, No Pacer at Western States? – No Problem

By Enzo Federico

 

This is the story of a naive, young foreigner who arrived at this year’s Western States 100 without a crew or pacer.  To be perfectly honest, I’m not really all that young, more ignorant than naive, and my qualification as a foreigner is that I reside north of the 49th parallel  – but all that is beside the point.

 

So what is my point, you say?  This was my first attempt at WS 100, after successfully completing the Leadville Trail 100 last summer.  For the LT 100, two of my closest friends flew down from opposite ends of the continent to help me out as crew and pacers.  I graciously accepted their tremendous support and encouragement and feel that it was a major contribution to the success I enjoyed that day (and night).  I will always have fond memories of losing my 100-miIe trail “virginity” in the presence of Nick and George.

 

Well, this year was another story.  I didn’t really want to impose on these guys again.  Another friend who offered to pace me suffered an injury a few weeks before the race, so I decided to head down south on a solo mission.  No problems, I thought, since I was now an “experienced” 100-mile trail runner.

 

Now, I’m sure I’m not the first one who’s shown up at a race without a crew or pacer, right?  What I didn’t fully realize was that this was the Western States 100 and not just any race.  As most of you already know, the race is put on by Norm and Helen Klein and an army of 1,300 volunteers spread along the spectacular 100-mile course from Squaw Valley in the Sierra Nevada to Auburn in central California.  What you may not know is what will happen to you if you try to do this race on your own, as I recently attempted.  Right from the start through to the finish, you will find that each of these 1,300 kind-hearted and generous souls becomes a part of your own personal crew, even if for just a brief pause at an aid station en route.  I was truly overwhelmed as I was adopted at many points along the course, and just wanted to share with you my story of a few of the many individuals who made the weekend of June 27, 1992, a very special one for me.

 

The first hint of things to come was at the Duncan Canyon checkpoint.  Although there were many aid stations in the first 24 miles, this was the first to which crews had access.  I had met Gene a few days prior to the race as he was out flagging the course, and we chatted for about five minutes.  On race day, I became known as “Mr. Vancouver” to him, as he offered me a friendly smile and words of encouragement at many points from Duncan Canyon onwards.  There were others like Ed, Baz, Barbara, and Laura, many of whom I’d met in the week leading up to race day.  These people really go out of their way to remember you, and ensure there are plenty of friendly faces to greet you throughout the race.

 

Of course, some of the friendliest faces on race day belong to the enthusiastic volunteers manning the aid stations.  The 30-mile checkpoint at Robinson Flat exposes the runner to a major flurry of activity.  Not only is this the first medical checkpoint, but almost every runner has crew and/or drop bag awaiting them.  Seeing that I had no crew, one of the volunteers decided this was unacceptable, and proceeded to take care of my every need from the moment I entered the aid station until my departure.  This pattern would be repeated many times throughout the rest of the day and night, at any aid station where I would spend more than a minute or two.  While I do not remember all their names, the faces and generous support they offered me will not soon be forgotten.

 

The last major checkpoint buzzing with human activity lies in the town of Foresthill at the 62-mile mark.  It is at this point that most runners pick up their pacers for the remainder of their journey on the WS trail.  Race management even goes to the trouble of providing one for you if you arrive in need.  Of course, I hadn’t planned on needing a pacer, but at this point most of my plans were going down the toilet which is precisely where I headed to take care of one of my problems.  Now, the four-foot-high stall doors of the elementary school restroom do not offer much privacy, so next thing you know, some stranger looking for an empty stall asks me if I have a pacer.  When I answered in the negative, he told me I sure looked like I needed one, and offered his services as such.  Determined to “go it alone,” I turned him down at first.  Fortunately, Will persisted and we shared a wonderful 38-mile walk/jog/run through the night and into the next morning, as we made our way to the finish line on the track in Auburn.  While I may still have finished the race without him, Will’s companionship and expert knowledge of the trail made for a much more pleasurable ride along the way.

 

Throughout the race, but particularly in the latter half, one also gains an appreciation for the outstanding work done by the medical staff to keep you in the race.  The doctor at the California Street #2 aid station (70 mi) already had her hands full when I arrived shortly after sunset.  My nausea had returned, and I threw up for what seemed like hours on the side of the trail.  For the next 20 minutes or so, she provided me with all the compassion and TLC I needed, as well as some antacid and hot soup, after which point I was feeling much better, but still wanting to get taken care of (who doesn’t?).  When I asked her if I should stay a bit longer, she sensed what I was trying to do, and gave me what I really needed – a stem reply telling me to get off my fat butt and get moving on down the trail.  We both smiled knowingly as I got back in the race, and she turned her attention to other runners in need of compassion and TLC.

 

Another big part of the medical team is the podiatrists. These folks are incredible – how would you like to spend your whole day looking at, handling, and smelling 300 or so pairs of the ugliest, dirtiest feet in the world?  My first visit with a podiatrist was at Devil’s Thumb, but my greatest need was after the Rucky Chucky River crossing at 78 miles, as big blisters on both heels needed attention. I was placed in a chair, and the podiatrist proceeded to take off my shoes and socks, remove the old dressings, dry off my feet. pop the blisters, apply new dressings and Vaseline, and put some clean socks and shoes from my drop bag back onto my feet.  If this wasn’t enough, another volunteer kept going back and forth to the goodies table to take care of my nutritional requirements.  Talk about being waited on hand-and-foot!  Now the fact that both these wonderful volunteers were female was not lost on the three of us, and this led to some great kibitzing among us about the roles of men and women in today’s society.  Besides taking care of my feet and my tummy, these ladies really lifted my spirits as I continued my journey through the night.

 

I could go on and on telling you about people like C. J. with his boundless enthusiasm at Green Gate, or the Devil at Brown’s Bar, and many others.  I’ll leave it up to you to experience it for yourself when you do Western States.  I just want to say many thanks to my whole “crew” of 1,300-plus down in California, from number 126.  Sorry I can’t buy you all a T-shirt.

 

Comments are closed.