Sunday, April 02, 2017

Training run on the Western States 100 Endurance Trail

Last month my wife and I traveled down the west coast of America on the I-5 to visit relatives near San Diego. Along the way we stopped for a couple of days in Auburn where the finish line of the famous Western States 100 Endurance Trail is located. This involved taking a slight detour north/east on highway 80 in Sacramento. A local working in at a cafe in Old Historic Auburn was able to give us directions on Google Maps to the high school football stadium track on Stadium Way, the precise location of the Western States 100. My wife and I soon found Robie Drive and drove down the winding steep road to Robie Point park to scout out the trail head. Since it was already late in the day we decided to find a hotel. The plan was that the next day I would run an out and back of three hours from the Auburn finish in the morning. This route included some good hill climbs and would give me a 12 mile taste of what the Western States 100 competitors had to face. Because I was alone we decided it was best for me to take a small two-way radio with a 20 mile reception radius. The temperature was to reach near 80 degrees in the canyon the next day so I took along 1.5 litres of water with 2 dissolved Nuun tablets.

After enjoying an evening visit to the Auburn Running Company store (featuring WS100 memorabilia in its front window) and the Pub across the street on Lincoln Way, we spent the night in Motel 6 off Auburn Ravine Road.

While there was still coolness in the morning air I set off from the stadium gate at Stadium Way and headed up Finley Street. Following Marvin Way and Robie Drive I descended to the Robie Point trail-head. With clear skies, and the early morning sun rising over the hilltops to the east I continued on running the wide Western States Terrace trails that switched back and forth into the canyon. The trail narrowed, and became much steeper after leaving the terrace. A rainy winter had the creeks and rivers filled. I ran on tree shrouded, muddy trails, pock marked with horse hooves, for the next 1/2 mile, descending into the canyon. Before long, I was back into the sun. I could see the North Fork American River below. I knew that No Hands bridge crossed this somewhere ahead, so I ran along with confidence, passing a waterfall on narrow wooden bridge. It was so beautiful, I had to stop and take a photo.

After crossing No Hands Bridge I took a sharp right turn onto a trail that ascended up into the forest. I was starting to feel the heat so the shade was welcomed relief. Switchbacks led up the hillside until I came into a clearing that gave me a great view of the Highway 49 bridge over the North Fork American River.

On the far side of the clearing I met up with some runners headed in the opposite direction. We exchanged greetings. I noticed one of them had a two way radio strapped onto their camel pack. I had to be careful on the switchbacks beyond this as I crossed over several creeks balancing on rocks so I wouldn't get a my shoes soaked.

Before I knew it, it was time to turn around. I was one hour and forty five minutes into the run when I arrived at an open plateau where the trail branched off in two different directions. That's where I decided to turn back. The descent back toward No Hands Bridge was fast. I felt the the midday heat near eighty degrees. I tried to imagine what the WS100 racers would feel like when they reached this point in the endurance run with one more ascent to endure, up out of the canyon, to Robie Drive. It must be a great sense of relief. I felt a taste of it as I came down Finley Street after following the small spray painted WS100 foot steps that marked the trail as it wound through the city streets to the finish. I was fifteen minutes later than I had planned getting back to the Stadium Gate. My 12 mile/three hour taste of the Western States Endurance Trail had left my legs burning. My wife treated me to a bacon cheese burger at Local Heroes in Auburn so I could get a good boost of carbs. I had booked another night at our motel knowing that I would need it to rest and recover. My foresight was true.

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