Tuesday, March 13, 2012


    As you know my race preparation for the WTC was far from perfect but  personal tragedies, injuries, lack of training and more are all part of life but when my flight got delayed 5 hours I began thinking I wasn't supposed to get here and when I arrived at the hotel at 10 pm (which was 7 am to me), and they had no record of my booking even though I had all the confirmations, I thought this is getting ridiculous. I then had two of the noiseist nights I've ever experienced in a hotel resulting in me getting up on the morning of the race at 4:30 am!.............And now that I have all my excuses out of the way, I shall begin.
      I got to the race an hour before the start thinking I was a bit early, only to discover that it was packed. I had to park about a mile away and then overheard two runners talking. ' Hey Dave don't just hate these late starts'.... Crikey! with this kind of attitude watch out China, the US ain't gonna lie down that easily. Ten minutes before the start I spotted quite a few famous ultra runners including Tim Twietemeyer who has run the Western States 100 mile race 25 times in under 24 hours and won it outright 5 times. Its a bit like going for a tennis match tournament at your local club only to find that Roger Federer is playing in the Doubles.
       It seemed like a long time ago that I'd won a place in the lottery to be here today and soon enough the gun went off......at least I'd made it to the start and unusually for me I got all emotional here, instead of at the end. I was constantly checking my calves and wondering all the time if would they hold out. I had taped them earlier as Helen the Super Physio had showed me but now we would see.
       The pace was fast, as I knew it would be and then after a mile we hit a small river which normally you have to wade through at waist height but thankfully it had been a very dry winter and there was a sort of man made bridge which most of us took. No point getting your feet wet this early if you can avoid it as wet feet means blisters. There were over 700 of us, which makes it  by far the biggest 50 k race in the world, and every single person was positive, motivated and up for it. For me this was a bizarre experience as every time I passed someone or vice versa they'd shout  'great job, you're looking good !' Yanks, you gotta love them. If you said that in a race in England they'd think you were being sarcastic and having a laugh, still, you can't fault their enthusiasm........and it works because I started doing it.....'Great, go for it', I shouted. If Steve, God rest his soul, had heard me do this he would have had me shot at dawn for being a complete dickhead.
    We bombed along and I made the first aid station which was at 12 k, in 1 hour -12 minutes, which is 10 k per hour and much too quick for  a race of 50 k......well, it is for me. I was greeted by a very enthusiastic man dressed as a banana who directed me to......... the banana's! I have never experienced so much encouragement by so many people. 'Looking good , you're going great, looking strong.......'
    We then began the long descent into the American River valley.... and all I could think was; if its this steep and long going down, then it must be the same coming back up.......sounds fun, as the Californians would say. I was quite worried about my calves because it was this kind of descent that could 'pull' the muscle but I survived and as we crossed a road down to the banks of the river we were met by a cacophony of encouragement with whistles, cow bells and horns. I filled up my bottles at the next aid stop and kept moving. It was a beautiful day and the scenery was just awsome (I know, he's only been there 48 hours and he's forgotten how to speak English), I felt good and suspected this would be the best part of the race because I was running well with no pain. We followed the river on an undulating track and I heard some one say 'Hey at this pace we'll do it in under 6 hours' to which his friend sagely replied ' Nope, the first half is easy, the second half isn't'..........wise words, if not a little disconcerting.
      I reached the 27 k aid stop in 2 hours and 50 minutes, again fast for me........unfortunately the wheels were about to fall off, I just didn't know it yet. Soon we began the climb out of the valley and joined up with part of the actual Western States course. This gave me a lump in my throat as to even run part of this famous 100 mile course was a big thrill as I imagined all the elite athletes who had trod these steps ( Of course they would have trod them a little quicker than me). A climb of 1500 feet would not usually be big deal  but suddenly things began to hurt, imperceptive at first but after 10 minutes my quads started aching. I came up to a flat bit which I should have run easily but my legs didn't want to. I'd gone from 27 k feeling good to 30 k feeling not so good, this happens and you push on and eat your gels and drink your fluids and hope it passes.........it doesn't, it just gets slowly worse and as I climbed the pain increased. I kept being passed by people saying I was 'looking good'. I thought if I was looking so bloody marvellous then why are you able to pass me ?.....as you can see this well intentioned phrase was beginning to get a little irritating.
      I was annoyed at myself as I knew the problem. I had built up the strength in my calves and quads and was in great shape physically but I hadn't done the miles on the hills in training due to my 6 calf strains.........and this was the price I had to pay. It took me 1 hour -10 minutes to travel 7 kilometres and climb 1500 feet. My pace had dropped from nearly 10 k per hour to nearer 6 k per hour.....and it was hurting. By the time I arrived at the next aid station I was very grateful for the encouragement and support. It was like arriving at an oasis with music, food and wine.....(sorry Steve, I meant soup). We all shared a brief chat and a smile and the asked how far to the next station. '4.8 miles, okay'. Thats about 8 k and it was as if we were all venturing out into the wilderness alone before reaching the next  sanctuary. Its weird because I felt 'lifted' and able to carry on.....and thats how the phsycology of aid stations work, its not just about the food and water.
       However after 20 minutes I was alone again and negative thoughts  and questions arose, 'How was I going to make it at this speed and in this much pain?' I then passed the spot where runner, Barbara Schoener, was attacked and sadly killed by a mountain lion in 1994. Now thats what I call motivation, excuse the pun...... but I shot off like a mountain lion. Its amazing how you can find energy when you think you've nothing left. It now became quite warm and the views across the valley were spectacular and though I appreciated how lucky I was to be here it was still very hard.
     As this is Ultra running Californian style they have another unique addition. Just before a major climb they have little inspirational quotes to keep you going like.... 'You must do the thing you cannot do'. Its all terribly West Coast.........I love it. Luckily I knew about the negative thoughts having done this a few times and so this positive motivation really helps.
    Although I was suffering some people merrily skipped past me chatting away to each other about such mundane things like getting a new bathroom fitted or the next school parents  meeting. Bizarre.
    After another hour we reached the ridiculously steep Goat Hill. This is more of a climb than a run, though a young guy next to me said he saw Killian Jornet run up these hills in last years WS100 and he wasn't even sweating!  This kid asked if was doing this race as a training run for an even bigger event. I was flattered that he should even think such a thing (considering the state I was in), but vanity can be quite helpful sometimes, as I proceeded to lead us all  the way up the hill. At the top was another aid station serving the most delicious soup along with sandwiches, energy gels, ready mixed hydration drinks,fruit, savouries, S-caps; a veritable Ultra cafe. You have to hand it to the Yanks they sure know how to organise an endurance event.
      By now I  had already run well over a full marathon distance so it was just a question of keeping moving or as runners say, relentless forward progress, and still the comments kept coming, 'You're gonna make this..... you got this......Wow, looking good....lets do this'. I have never heard a runner in France or Enland ever speak like this to another runner; they'd think you were a nutter.
     Another 10 k's and then finally one more climb to go and I knew I would make it because the going down was harder than the going up (its an aching quad thing).
    As we crested the hill I couldn't see the finish line......but I could hear it. Its a great feeling as you run along and the crowd are 'high fiveing' you all the way in and, in the midst of all this wooping and 'great job' comments I heard a womans voice shout, 'great socks', I have no idea why but it rather amused me.
     3 months had passed since I began my quest to find the Way to Cool.  6000 miles in the air and a hard 50 kilometres on the ground.......and 7 hours and 5minutes later, I'd found it.


  1. Well done Phil
    I was thinking of you and sending you good thoughts.

  2. Absolutely brilliant. No one can take that achievement away from you. Well Done. Hope to see you soon.

  3. Brilliant stuff, Phil,

    As I told you, it is all in the head.If you can see it there, you'll cross the finish line whatever the state of exhaustion, calves,etc. Life is like that.

    Many congratulations and keep progressing.

    Loved the race report. Fun and inspiring.

    See you out on the trail.


  4. Congrats, although I think instead of saying thanks when theybsaid looking great, you should have slowly turned, done your model smile and said "I know". Every time.