Tuesday, August 4, 2015

From the outside, looking in

I first heard about Western States 3 years ago from the "crazy" ultra runners in my running group back in Oregon. I was even fortunate enough to have met a man who had the 24-hour buckle (I even got to touch it, ooooh). Finding out that people run more than a marathon was a shock to me; to find out that people run 100 MILES was pure batshit craziness.

Now, I don't have the crazy, lofty goal of running 100 miles... ever. It is just so beyond me and I am truly scared of the dark places it would take me in my head if I were to spend that much time on the trail. But, I do spend time with people who have such amazing goals in mind. Not only do they have these goals, but they have achieved said goals. One-hundred plus miles. On foot. On purpose. I am in awe of these people and more than a little inspired by them.

One of these people, Jason, is a friend that Todd (my fiance, have I introduced you yet?.. Yeah, I'm engaged now to the most amazing man!) made a little over a year ago when he joined the local trail group. Jason is inspiring without trying to be. The kind of guy I can't help but look up to, even if he does constantly flick me shit :)

So, back in December, while I was messaging with Jason's wife, Julie, they found out that Jason's number was drawn to run in Western States. Now, it's not exactly easy to get into WS; it is a lottery system and you have to get "tickets" by running qualifying races. If I understand correctly (and it's entirely possible that I'm screwing this up), every race you run that qualifies gives you one ticket for WS and these tickets accrue as time goes on. IF you have one of your tickets drawn, all of them are gone and you have to start from scratch. Well... Jason got in on ONE ticket! This is a rare thing, I hear. Anyway... Julie messaged me, all excited, that Jason got in. I told Todd and he did what any crazy ultra runner would do... he messaged Jason and asked if he had a pacer yet. And that begins the story of how I got to have one of the most incredible experiences I will ever have as a runner.

Richland, Washington to Squaw Valley, California: roughly 860 miles, 13 hours of driving. We stopped for one night at Todd's parents' house in Oregon, breaking the drive into two days, rather than straight through. Thank god for that.

The drive down was rather uneventful. Long, but uneventful. We went into Nevada for a section of the drive, so that was my first time ever being in that state. We didn't get out or anything, though.

Pulling into Olympic Village was when I really started getting excited for the whole trip. There were people everywhere, but it wasn't super crowded or busy. And... standing on the corner, just chatting with two people, was somebody I was hoping I'd get to see: Sally Mcrae. I just about lost my cool. Okay, I did. I flipped out a little bit. After we parked, with a bit of a push from Jason (I had called him to see where he and Julie were), I chased her down to get a picture taken. Not like creepy chase her down, but, still... I had to work to get that picture.

I was SO excited to be able to meet her!

We met up with Julie and Jason, did some looking around, had dinner and then went back to their room for some strategy planning for race day.

Checkin' out the start line.

How could we NOT sit in this giant chair?

Figuring out the game plan.

The next day, Friday, we all met up so that Todd, Julie and I could run up to the escarpment, only to find out that they weren't letting people run up the way that the racers would be running, due to repairs being done to one of the ski lifts. A helicopter was moving huge pieces of machinery around and I guess they were worried about safety or something...

This was why we couldn't run up to the escarpment.

After a quick explanation of where we could run, we found a trail that led up. Not straight up at first, but it eventually turned into that. What we thought was going to be a quick 3-mile run turned into a long 3-mile run/hike. It was challenging and beautiful. Just the way we like it.

So much beauty!

"We're up here!"

I love the view from the top... it's always worth the effort.

Us at High Camp, waiting for the trolley down.

After our run, we had breakfast and kind of just hung around and checked the place out until it was time for the pre-race meeting. That was pretty cool to sit in on; all of the elites were there, so it was kind of like being around famous people. While it was cool, it was also intimidating... something about being around that caliber of runner - people who run 100 miles and do it WELL - made me feel a bit inferior at times. I mean, they didn't, I just felt that way. I think I'm a pretty tough chick for the most part, but at the time, I felt like any running I do, any working out, is small taters compared to those people.

The evening before race morning was pretty chill; we went and picked up some groceries and had dinner then headed back to Jason and Julie's room for a little bit before going to ours for some sleep.

The next morning came fast. The race started at 5am and there was a breakfast for the runners that started at 3:30. The plan was that Todd would get up and go with Jason to the breakfast and then Julie and I would get up and join them shortly after. The morning did not go as I thought it would. I woke up enough to say goodbye to Todd before he left. And then I grabbed my phone to see what time it was and I saw that there was an email. The email was from Todd and it was a bunch of sweet stuff. After reading it, there was no way I could go back to sleep, so I dragged my sleepy self out of bed, messaged Julie that I was up and then got in the shower for a quick rinse to snap myself into reality.

The breakfast was certainly not what I was expecting; I thought there would be plates and actual food. Instead, it was a bunch of granola bars and fruit... basically aid station food. Anyway, Julie and I met the boys there and waited as the start time approached. The room was filled with lots of excitement, as well as nerves. It wasn't hard to see that some people were pretty nervous about what they would be doing in a short time. Jason looked nervous himself, but I could be wrong. I think if it were me waiting for that gun, I would have been a damn wreck. I still get the jitters for 5Ks sometimes.
He may have been a touch nervous.

This couple... I love them. 

We took some pictures and then said our good lucks to Jason before he got in with the crowd of starters and we went to find a good vantage point. This is when tears started for me. I mean, we were at WESTERN FREAKIN' STATES!! We were about to see the beginning of the big dance. I realize there are plenty of bigger 100-milers out there, but this is like... big! WS was something, after I learned of it, I never imagined I would have been around to witness. And here I was, getting ready to crew for a runner taking part in it. So, yeah, I was excited and very emotional.

The gun went off (an actual shotgun is still used for this race) and so did the runners. The front-runners took off at a pace that's hard to believe to they can maintain, the mid-packers and back-of-the-packers started off slow. Once the runners had cleared the start line and were making their way up to the Escarpment, we headed back to our rooms to pack up, check out and move on.

Here starts our time spent in the car, moving from aid station to aid station, with some breaks in between. I will try to refrain from going into nitty-gritty detail about everything that happened during this time; I do like to talk... a lot.

We stopped for what we thought would be a quick breakfast and coffee (25-minute wait for a damn breakfast burrito... seriously??) and then headed to Robinson Flat, the first aid station that Jason said he wanted us at. We had a bit of a wait before he was expected to come in, and I had a damn lot of energy to burn, so I went out for a little run. Todd gave me 20 minutes, so I used every second of it.

This aid station is at 29.7 miles into the race. It's a really busy aid station, with lots of crew waiting for their runner to come through. We found us a spot to set up at the very end of the chute; right before the runners take off back into the woods. Since we didn't want Jason blasting past the actual station without getting his water, ice, food, or whatever else he needed, Todd ran up to the top to bring him through. He finally came through and he wasn't looking awesome (sorry Jason, if you end up reading this). He looked hot and kinda miserable. He gagged any time food was mentioned, or if he tried to take anything in. Julie helped him get his shoes and socks off so he could put a fresh pair of socks on. I felt pretty damn useless as I stood there snapping pictures and video. I asked Jason what he needed and he replied he needed ice to put in his sleeves. I was more than happy to actually be able to help, so I took off to the aid station to fill my shirt with ice for him.
Looking a little defeated here.

Julie fixing up her man's feet.

After a few minutes of rest and trying to eat, he got up to take off down the path again. We then took off to make our way to the next aid station where we would get to see him.

I get carsick. Like, super carsick, very easily. So, I asked if I could drive, as we were on twisty mountain roads that went up, up, up, for miles. The combo of elevation change and windy roads is a perfect one for a very sick Alli. Luckily, Julie was more than happy to oblige this request of mine and I was able to keep from becoming ill. Unfortunately, we found out that day that Todd will also get carsick if we are on super twisty mountain roads.

The roads to the next aid station, Dusty Corners, were bad. Tight corners, scary ledge, and sooooo long. It took well over an hour to get to the station and we nearly missed Jason. Actually, he had come in by the time we got there, but he wasn't done, so we were able to take care of him real quick before he took off again. This Jason was a completely different Jason than the one we had seen 8 miles before. He was in great spirits, very smiley and seemed to be feeling a ton better. He was able to eat without gagging (or no gagging that I heard, anyway) and was in and out of the station pretty quickly, no sitting down.

We left to head to town. Back down that awful road; we had to pull off a let Todd walk around to get some fresh air so he wouldn't actually get sick. When we got into the town, Foresthill, we parked and got out. This was when the elite women were coming through the aid station. After checking the online live results, I was able to see that my current ultra-running woman idol, Sally Mcrae, was about to come through! Todd and I went to find a good watching spot so I could see her run by. During that time, we saw several elites who I only know names of if I look them up. I really need to work on learning who these people are.

After Sally and a few others ran through, we went to have dinner before taking off to the next aid station. The next one was Michigan Bluffs, at mile 55.7. This is where Todd would jump in to pace Jason. The original plan was that he would jump in at Foresthill, which is mile 62 and where pacers are allowed to come in, but because of the time that Jason would be reaching MB, he was allowed his pacer there.

Now, here's where I get to talk about a little ugly part of me. I was jealous of Todd. There are times when I feel like he gets all the running praise. We go out for a race weekend, I run the 25k, he runs the 50k, or even 50-miler. My runs feel small and unimportant at times when I compare them with his. And now here I was "just" crewing for Jason, while Todd gets to run 45 miles with him. He gets to actually BE there. I was feeling mopey and whiny about it. And Todd could tell. So, he, being the great man he is, made me fess up what was bothering me. I didn't want to, because, well, it's stupid and ugly. But, he didn't look at it that way. He saw that something was bothering me and he wanted it out before he left so he wouldn't be wondering about it while he was out running. Enough about that...

Jason came into the aid station shortly after 9 o'clock. Julie had started getting worried by that time because we expected him in a little earlier. She went to wait and watch at the beginning of the chute so she would be able to see him as he rounded the corner coming in. Todd and I stayed with our chairs. After about 15 minutes of her waiting there, I saw her jumping up and down and knew that he was on his way in.

I don't remember a lot about this aid station and how Jason was feeling. I think he was, again, having a hard time consuming anything without gagging and I do remember that his feet needed tending to. Todd and I put our feet out so he could rest his naked feet on ours while Julie took care of them. He was surprised, and happy, that Todd was ready to jump in with him; he was still thinking Todd wasn't going to pace until the next aid station which was another 7 miles down the trail. So, after 20 minutes at the aid station, Jason was ready to head out, with Todd in tow.

The night starts to become a blur here. Not necessarily because of exhaustion (although, let's not rule that out, I had been up since 3:30 in the morning and I am NOT an early-riser on normal days... this was a LONG day for me), but mainly because it had become dark and now it was a matter of get to the next aid station and wait. The next aid station, Foresthill, was easy... we had driven past it so many times throughout the day that we would have had a hard time missing it. It was in the little town there, so it was not only very accessible to anybody, it was very crowded. It turned out that Jason was, for a long time, at the end of a large group of runners. We would get to an aid station that would be packed with crews waiting for their runners and by the time Jason came through, the crowd (and cars) had dwindled to just a few).

The aid station had a bit of a party vibe; there was music and an announcer was calling out bib numbers/names as the runners came in. I don't know how long we were there waiting, but at 11:13, the boys came in. After hitting the aid station and being flagged down by us, Jason came over and I lifted the flag barrier so he could come into the crew area and sit down. I had no idea this was a no-no until a race official came over and told Jason that he had to check out of the station before he could come through. So, on paper, Jason was in and out of that aid station in four minutes, but in reality, he was there probably closer to 10. Maybe. I do remember that this station was one of the quicker ones; he was starting to get closer to the cutoff times by then. I gave Todd the things that he needed out of his bag that he had had me organize for him so we could quickly pull things out as he needed them. He and Jason were good on fuel and water, so they were out of there.

The boys took off and then it was time for Julie and me to head out and find the next station without getting lost. The map we had been using, put out on the WS website, had crappy scale. It was, at times, challenging to figure out exactly where we needed to go, and our GPS was not entirely useful as it had no idea where "Greengate" aid station was. But, we are smart girls and able to find such things out.

The drive to Auburn was LONG. It didn't look that long on the map, and Julie and I had been just chatting away for miles before one of us thought "are we on the right road?" Julie pulled over and we took a look at the very confusing map, pulled up Google maps and figured out that, yes, even though the road on the WS map looks very straight, it is actually long and twisty and we were on the correct one. I had been talking so much and for so long that it would have been very easy for us to miss a turn and get completely turned around.

At midnight, we came to the town of Auburn. Gas, coffee and bathrooms were needed, so we hit a gas station right off the highway. Julie fueled up while I went inside to get the biggest cup of nasty gas station coffee I could find. The clerk decided to chat me up at this time, telling me where the coffee was (uh, yeah... as I was pouring myself some) and then he said to me, "are you with that 100 mile thing that's going on?" "Yep, we have a runner out there. Gonna be a long night" was my reply. "Hey, can you do something for me?.. find the guy who invented it and beat him up"...to which I replied with my "heh" laugh, my laugh that suggests that we are done with this part of the conversation and it's time for you to be quiet now. He proceeded "seriously... find him and beat him up". I just said, "yeah, these are my people. That's not going to happen." He went on... "then bring him to me and I'll do it. All these people keep coming in and I can't do my work in the back when I have to come up to the front to deal with people." Wow, kid... you're gonna go far with that "can-do" attitude of yours {insert eye roll here}. I, of course, said nothing more to him, paid for my coffee and gum and got out of there.

I took over driving again because I was pretty sure the roads were about to get nasty again and I knew that if I was in the driver seat, I was sure to stay awake. Not that I was really tired, I had this energy level that was unlike me for it being so late at night/early in the morning. Julie knew she wasn't going to be able to sleep at all, so I figured I may as well drive to keep myself up.

We drove for a bit, trying like hell to follow that damn map, and after a bit, I had several other cars behind me. Because of that, I figured I had to be going the right way. OR, they were just as lost as I was beginning to think I was. I pulled onto a road and made a u-turn so I could pull off to the side and we could try to figure out where we were. Everybody that was following behind me also turned onto the road, but kept going. Luckily, Julie recognized the name of the road that we had turned onto, pulled out the manual and was able to find incredibly vague directions that mentioned the road. Because of that, we pulled back onto the road and made our way down it. Sure enough, we came to a long line of cars parked along the side. We made our way to the end of it, finding no empty spaces as we drove. Naturally, everybody in front of us was turning around and heading back up the road to park. So, we did the same. I found the BEST parking spot; it was a head-in spot not too far from where we would have to hike. I pulled in, put the car in park and then realized what our headlights were shining on... a graveyard. An old one. It looked like it was right out of a creepy movie. I thought it was cool and was ready to jump out of the car and take some pictures. Julie, on the other hand, was not as impressed with it. She simply said, "No." I asked her if she wanted me to find somewhere else to park and she said, "I can't do this. I can't get out here." I backed out and drove up the road a little bit to a pull-off. I sat there for a minute, trying to figure out how I was going to do this; I couldn't park further back because we would have to walk past the graveyard and I didn't want her to get spooked. But, I was pretty sure that there were no cars the other way. I finally decided to head the other way and see if I could get lucky. I did. There was an open spot that big enough for me to parallel park in (I SUCK at parallel parking in normal-sized spaces, but if you give me a space that can fit two or three cars, I'm good). We got out, grabbed what we thought we needed - luckily a couple of guys came by and suggested that we not carry the two chairs we were getting ready to lug with us, there were chairs at the aid station - and took off.
Just a little bit creepy in the middle of the night.

It was a 1.3 mile hike to the Green Gate aid station. In the dark. At like 2 or 2:30 in the morning. Julie and I chatted quite a bit, I remember talking about how kids these days (uh huh... like we're a couple of old grumps) feel so entitled and think everything is just going to be handed to them without having to work for it - this was obviously brought on by that turd of a gas station employee I dealt with a few hours prior. I don't actually know how long the walk took, but it felt like a long time. At one point, I caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye. I looked over and there was this big teddy bear, just sitting on the edge of the road. I think I was more creeped out by that than I was the graveyard. Of course, I had to take a picture of it.

I found this guy much creepier!

We made it to Green Gate and it's a gate... covered in green Christmas lights. That's not where the actual aid station is; there are some porta-potties and a volunteer who the runners check out with before the hit the trail out. We walked the little bit up to the actual aid station, which was so quiet. That early in the morning, there weren't a lot of runners coming in. In fact, there were many people sacked out on the ground, I assume crews waiting for their runners to make it up from the river. We found a suitable place to park ourselves and I sat down on the ground. And that's when I felt like I could fall asleep. Julie didn't sit, she was anxious. She asked the aid volunteer if she could tell us where Jason was. He hadn't yet come through the previous aid station. I continued to sit there, fighting sleep, and after a little bit, Julie asked again and Jason still hadn't made it through. At that point, she asked if I wanted to walk down the hill for a bit. I jumped at the chance; if I sat there any longer, I was going to be out and then it would be a battle to keep myself awake for the duration of the race. I got up and we started down the hill.

Now, we didn't think we were going to walk all the way down to the next aid station. At least, not that I was aware of. If it was Julie's intention to do so, she never said anything. We just kept walking. And the runners started coming up in droves. We passed so many on our way down, groups of them without faces. All I remember seeing was headlamps in my eyes. Us telling runners "good job" "keep it up" and such. The walk was almost two miles. It felt like so much longer. By this time, my light had become pretty dim; it was a weak yellow circle of depression on the ground in front of me. And Julie's wasn't much brighter.

We came around the final corner to Rucky Chucky aid station and could hear the water and other people. It was comforting. After the last wave of runners went past us in the opposite direction, I felt like we were the only people out there and it was kind of lonely... I can't even imagine what runners feel like while they're out there for hours at time, just them and a pacer, or by themselves.

Julie found a rock to sit down on and I poked around looking for one to park my butt on. As soon as I lowered myself down, Julie shouted, "there they are!", and sure enough, Jason and Todd were on the other side of the river getting ready to get in. Our timing for this aid station was uncanny; we couldn't have planned it any better. We got to watch them make their way across the river and climb out. We surprised them by being there, and both were happy we were. We went up to the part of the aid station that had chairs set up and we helped them get into dry sock and shoes (Jason didn't change shoes, just socks) all while an aid worker was impatiently trying to rush us through. I get that their job is to move people through before the cut-off, but we had plenty of time and he simply added stress to the situation. After a few (rushed) minutes, we were off again, ready to make our way back up the service road Julie and I had just come down.

The guys getting out of the water at Rucky Chucky.

The first hint of daylight was showing itself as we headed up, and the oppressive feeling of night started to lift. I've seen my share of sunrises, and while this one was by no means spectacular, it was one I won't soon forget. Simply being up all night, and being where we were when daylight finally came, was something almost magical. I stopped for a minute to enjoy the view; the valley to our right that I had no idea was there in the dark, and the mountains off in the distance. It was a very welcome sight.

Todd and I walked ahead while Julie stayed with Jason. The trek back up was slow going; 1.8 miles uphill after Jason had already been on his feet for 78 miles made for a long walk. I have no idea where Jason was mentally here (or physically for that matter, he just looked exhausted). I assumed that Julie was doing some pep-talking back there and I do know that he was falling asleep while walking at this point.
I looked back to find these two holding hands. This is one of my favorite pictures taken during the whole trip.

We made it up to Green Gate and the volunteers were pushing Jason through; he was getting closer and closer to the cut-off times with each station stop. He sat down for a few seconds and was then back up and on his way. Julie and I walked with him and Todd until they made their turn that took them down a trail away from us. From there, we headed back to the car. The return trip was much different during the day; we were able to see what kind of houses were in the area that we had parked in and walked past the night before and let's just say, it was a tad bit red-necky there. We crossed paths with the teddy bear again and it was just as creepy in daylight as it was at night. After a long walk, we finally reached the car, I used the porta-potty (the one right in front of the cemetery, of course) and then we were on our way back into town.

We headed into Auburn to park and take a shuttle to the next aid station that we would be able to see the guys at - Highway 49. Between Green Gate and this station, there were two that were not accessible to crew. We parked at a little shopping center and waited for the tiny school bus to come and pick us and other crews up. The ride was short and on the way there, we noticed a pretty decent place to park just up the road that would require a short run to make it to the aid station.

If I were asked what was the most stressful part of crewing for Jason during this race, I would have to say this aid station. It was a LONG wait and one that made Julie and I worry. Until this point, I hadn't been worried about Jason hitting the cut-offs; he was close, but I didn't doubt he'd pull through. I don't think Julie ever fully doubted that he would come through, but I know at times she was worried about him not making it. But, and this is a big but... I was watching the live site to see if Jason had come through the aid stations. On this site, there is a check-in time and a check-out time for each station, along with a predicted time of entering the next one. Well, he had checked into the one after Green Gate, Auburn Lake Trails, at 6:54 am and right around 7:45 was when I really started to worry. He hadn't been marked as checked out and he hadn't checked into the next one, Brown's Bar. The distance between the two aid stations is just under 5 miles and even as slow as Jason had been going, I was pretty sure he should have checked in to Brown's by then. I didn't want to worry Julie, but I had to say something... I was worried that maybe he had dropped and we needed to go get him. I, of course, did not word it like that, I just told her that he hadn't checked out of Autumn and hadn't checked into Brown's and I was slightly concerned. I told her that if nothing changed on the site by 8, I was going to go move the car to that spot we saw on the way down and then run back to her; that way the car would be closer and I wouldn't have to wait for the shuttle if we needed to move fast.

Well, 8 o'clock rolled around and the information hadn't changed. So, I got on the shuttle. A woman in line asked if my runner had come through yet and I told her no and that we were worried. She then told me that her husband came through 20 minutes before the site was updated, so there was still a good chance that my runner had gone through but it was showing that he hadn't. It was nice to have a little piece of hope, but, I didn't want to get too excited just yet. While we were on our way back to the shopping center, I decided to check the site again and... he had gone through! Just like the lady said, there was about a 20-minute lapse in his checking in and it being updated; he went through at 8:06 and it finally updated around 8:25. I tried to text Julie, but service was incredibly spotty and I didn't really expect her to get the message.

I hopped out of the shuttle, ran to the car, and drove it down to the perfect parking spot... which had totally cleaned out of other cars and there was now a course marshal standing there. I parked, got out, and waited for him to come and tell me exactly what I knew he was going to say, "you can't park here". They were worried about having people out on the road (I get that, it was a curvy country road and they didn't want any accidents). So, I had to turn around and go park back at the shopping center and wait for the shuttle. This was an instance of time moving WAY too slow... I really wanted to get back to Julie and tell her that Jason was on his way.

After God knows how long, I finally made it back to the aid station. I told Julie the guys were coming and she perked right up. The aid station started clearing out - this had become typical as Jason got closer and closer to the cut-offs, Julie and I found ourselves being the last people out of an aid station, or the last car to move. A little after 9, I headed to the volunteers to see if I could get any information on where our runners were. The aid station captain told me that they were on their way and that I should head up the trail to meet them and encourage them/move them through and that's exactly what I did. I don't know how long I was up there, but it felt like a very long time. Other runners and pacers came through, and I was getting so worried. I didn't want to head out too far and every step I took away from the aid station made me just a little more worried. Finally, I saw them. I saw Todd first and Jason was shuffling right behind him. I waved them on and took off. I kept turning around to see where they were and ask Todd what I needed to do when we got to the aid station. He told me to help Jason out of his pack and that was it. So, we got down to the aid station, I helped Jason get his pack off, Todd filled water bottles, and Julie tried to hand Jason food (I found out later that she tried to give him a donut and he threw it like an angry toddler would). After hours of waiting, the guys were through the last second-to-last aid station we would see them at and it was time to move on to the final one.

Julie and I headed back to the shuttle along with the last group of crew/family for the runners that had just gone through. While waiting for the shuttle, we heard the final horn blast... our guys were THAT close to the cut-off. Julie took the back seat of the bus by herself and I sat up one row and across from her. I was joking with the other runners, and looked back to see that Julie had broken down a bit. The emotions got to her and she was crying. She had, before we got on the bus, asked me why Jason does this to himself and I simply told her that like all runners, he's stupid. No knock on Jason... many runners I know (especially of the ultra variety) will attest to the stupidity of our sport and what we do to ourselves. So, I let Julie have her moment of emotions, as I felt there was no way I could really comfort her and I'm pretty sure that's not what she needed at the time; she just needed to cry and get it out. That shuttle ride was an interesting one; the other people on the bus were just as high-strung and exhausted as we were. I found out later that their runner didn't make the cut-off at one of the last aid stations and therefor did not finish the race.

We got back in the car and it was time to head to the final stop, Placer High School. We found a place to park, had a little adventure finding a place to pee, and then ran to Robie Point... the final aid station before the finish. Robie Point is to Western States what "right on Hereford, left on Boylston" is to the Boston Marathon... the end. The final stretch.

I was all emotions on the way up to Robie. I didn't start crying just yet, but the lump in my throat was huge; I was so excited to see Jason finally finish that race. There were so many spectators cheering everybody on. Even us, as we ran up to meet our guys. Seeing the painted footsteps on the road leading to the finish made me tear up, hearing the cowbells and the announcer at Placer added to that. This moment, just Julie and me, on our way to run the final stretch with our guys, is unforgettable.

This sign means the runners are close to the end of this journey.

We got to the top of Robie and were greeted by the friendliest aid volunteers. We were there maybe two minutes before the guys came up the trail. The aid station captain ran sponges drenched in cold water down to them and dumped water on Jason. Sponges were given to Todd and Julie and they took turns cooling Jason down. I was bouncing all over the place, running backwards to take pictures and video of this incredible moment. The aid station workers were running with us and another runner who had come up right after Jason. The support and camaraderie was unlike anything I had ever seen before. And, when we got to the top of Robie Point, Rob freakin' Krar, the WINNER of Western States two years in a row, was standing there cheering the final finishers on. A celebrity in our sport and he's just standing there cheering them on, using their names like he knows them. So awesome!

Todd sponging Jason off.

This is the only picture I got of myself with everybody in it.

Looking strong!!

*Please don't mind the heavy breathing and emotionally distraught way my voice sounds in the above video.

For a little over a mile, we ran with Jason. At one point, I ran over to Julie and grabbed her hand and ran hand-in-hand with her for a little bit. I was an emotional wreck, the good kind. Tears of happiness were streaming down my face and I couldn't quit smiling. And then we hit the high school... Todd and Jason hit the track to run the last 0.2 miles to the finish line. The crowd was going INSANE. I took to the field so I could run with them and record the last bit. People were high-fiving Jason as he went by, yelling his name. As I write this, I find myself choked up... it was so incredible.
Todd peeled away from Jason just meters away from the finish. Jason hit the finish line and dropped down to give it a kiss. His time: 29:55:54. Less than five minutes from the cut-off!!

Jason leaning down to give the finish line a kiss!

I was standing there, looking for Todd and Julie, when the crowd LOST it, just went absolutely nuts. It took me about five seconds to realize just what was happening: the OLDEST woman to EVER finish Western States had hit the track. I was watching history happen!!! It was surreal. She finished in 29:29:54... six seconds from cut-off!! SIX SECONDS!

I had already been crying, but by this time, I was bawling. For a moment, I almost panicked because I couldn't find Todd or Julie in the huge crowd, but it lasted not even a second; I was part of something I'll never get to experience again. I was so happy and surrounded by people who were strangers, but shared a similar love and were just as thrilled to be there as I was. Finding my people could wait a minute.

Then I saw Todd. I ran up to him and he put his arms around me and I just melted. I became a blubbering mess. We hugged for a little bit, and then he took my phone (camera) away from me and told me to get my ass over to Jason. I went to the gate separating the finishers from the crowd and Jason came over to me, asked why I was crying and then pulled me into him for a hug.

This was such an emotional moment for me. I'm glad Todd caught it.

Thirty-some hours spent with this woman and this was the only time we had our picture taken together.
My home, no matter where I am.
After things settled down, Jason and Todd sat down and soaked their feet in disgusting pools of what was one ice water. We were waiting for the award ceremony so Jason could get his buckle. Julie ran up to the car to get something and the guys decided to move during that time, so I wanted to find her and tell her where we would be. I went to the car, she wasn't there, so I headed around a different way into the field to find her and I come across her standing there talking to a man who was coolly leaning up against his truck. This man... Gordon Ansleigh, the man who started this race. Naturally, I had to have mine and Julie's pictures taken with him. I mean... how often do you get to meet the godfather of Western States as we know it??

Nasty, cold water.

The man who started it all... Gordon Ansleigh.

We stuck around for the whole ceremony, each of us (except Julie, I think) taking a turn falling asleep. We had been up for about 32 hours by that time, we all stunk and needed sleep badly. Jason got his buckle and we all headed to the car to go back to the hotel. We took showers and then met up to head to dinner at an awesome sushi place. After dinner we walked next door to have a beer. During the short time that we were there, Todd fell asleep at the bar. You know it's bed time when Todd is falling asleep with a beer in front of him. So, we headed back to the hotel for bed. Todd and I were asleep by 7:30.
The next morning, we met up for hotel breakfast and spent some time together before hitting the road home.

Falling asleep during awards ceremony.

Western State belt buckle... something to covet, for sure! Awesome job, Jason!

I started this journey out with the mindset that I was "just crewing" for Jason. I was excited for the whole thing, but I truly had NO idea how incredible it was going to be. I found out that crewing is never a "just"... it's a lot of work, lost sleep and hours of driving. But, it was also... getting to know Julie and becoming even better friends, seeing what a runner whom I already look up to and admire is capable of, seeing that person in their lows and seeing them crawl back up from that. It's knowing that I was needed and a little bit of finding out just what I'm capable of at 3 o'clock in the morning when I normally would have nothing left. I may have felt at first that I was "on the outside, looking in", but I was very much a part of this and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

This experience was something I will never forget. It made me curious to know just what I am capable of. I'm not sure if it's made me curious enough to find out! We shall see.