Saturday, February 19, 2011

Snow, Mud, and Water on the Western States Trail

In 2009 I was lucky enough to run the Western States 100 Mile Endurance run as my first 100 mile race.  With ultrarunning and trail running in general exploding in popularity in recent years, and Western States being the oldest and arguably the most prestigious hundred mile event in the country, it's become harder and harder to get picked to run it.  I have friends who have dutifully, but often thus far unsuccessfully, entered the lottery every year hoping to get picked for their shot at running this race.  In most years 6-7 times more many runners apply than there are slots available, and while the number allowed to run is held constant by the forest service, the number of applicants keeps growing every year.

Although actually running the race is out of reach for most runners, either because of the distance or because of the low odds of being selected in the lottery, there's still plenty of opportunity to trail on and experience the trail itself.  The Western States  trail is a point-to-point course running through the California Sierra from Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe to Auburn, just East of Sacramento.  Every spring the race organization offers two formal opportunities to train on the course -- a one-day running of the final 20 miles of the route, and a three-day training camp over Memorial day weekend in which participants get to run on approximately 70% of the course.  These training runs are casual and informal, yet still offer transportation and a limited amount of aid stations along the way.

As we've done in previous years, Clare, Scott, Shane and I headed up to Auburn for the February training run, along with a couple hundred other enthusiasts.  A strong winter storm combined with an unusual cold snap had just passed through Northern California.  (There had even been talk that San Francisco might receive it's first measurable snowfall at sea level in 35 years, although that didn't seem to actually happen.)  What it did mean though, was epic conditions for our trail run.  When the bus dropped us off we got snowed on for the first two miles, then met with several miles of mud and knee-high stream crossings, and finished at the Auburn High School track in the rain.  I kept the run pretty mellow, just hoping to get a decent amount of miles in as I started my taper for the upcoming Napa Marathon.

GPS track here

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