Just another Day in Paradise: Western States 2006

By Al Barker

On June 24th, Scott Ludwig and I decided to return for a second attempt at the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run in Squaw Valley California (we both DNF’ed—Did Not Finish—in 2004). We were accompanied by our crew, Danielle Goodgion and her husband Bill and Susan Lance. For Scott it was a much deserved victory. I was not so lucky.

It’s a good thing I don’t get depressed over DNF’s. They seem to be in the cards for me, at least in the 100-milers. First there was WS100 in 2004, then Rocky Raccoon 100 (I lasted 73 miles) and Olander Park 100 in 2005, and finally WS100 in 2006. I actually survived 100 miles at the San Diego One Day Run, but my real goal is to do it on a trail. Maybe I’ll try Umstead next April.

My training went well. In addition to running two days a week on single track trails in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I did the following long runs:

  • San Diego One Day (100 miles), Nov.12, 2005
  • Atlanta Marathon, Nov. 23, 2005
  • Gulf Winds Track Club 50K, Dec.10, 2005
  • Museum of Aviation Marathon, Jan. 14
  • Fat Ass 50K, Jan. 15. (Yep–the next day!)
  • Hog Pen Hill Climb, (10.5 miles uphill!), Jan. 21.
  • Mountain Mist 50K, Jan. 28 (Trail)
  • Tybee Marathon, Feb. 4
  • Five Points of Light Marathon, Feb.19.
  • Bartram Trail Endurance Run (21 mile trail run), March 18
  • Oak Mountain 50K (Trail), March 25
  • Darkside 8 Hr. Run, April 1
  • Strolling Jim 41 Mile Run, May 6

This may seem like too many races, but it wasn’t. They were all run at a slow and easy pace. Even so, they were all confidence builders.

On May 16, 2005 I had the good fortune to meet Sarah Lowell, an accomplished ultra runner with years of experience. I was walking downhill on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina and she was running uphill (that figures!). It turns out she had applied to WS 100 too, so when we found out in Dec. that we were both accepted in the lottery, we decided to do some training together. Sarah is always more than kind to me on those brutal hills and I always reward her with my entertaining falls, including face plants and butt slides!….Whatever it takes to get a laugh! She also loves pizza and beer so those runs always turned out to be perfect days.

And so on race day I felt like I had done all I could to prepare. The only thing I would have done differently would have been not to start. About 40 runners did just that! The high temperature in Auburn, CA that day was 105 degrees. The Auburn Journal reported the following:

Twenty- four runners were plucked from the race, after failing to make the cut-off times of 11:30 a.m. at Duncan Canyon. Another twenty-one runners were dropped from the race after reaching Robinson Flat. A worker at the Duncan Canyon checkpoint, where he said he said temperatures were in the 90’s in the late morning, commented ‘A lot of runners were surprised they missed the cut-off. They expected the heat in the canyon, but NOT in the first 24 miles! Even experienced runners! They’re in shock!’

As much as I wanted to finish that run, missing the cut off after only 24 miles was almost a relief in a way…a mercy killing! I was lucky to be in good company there. Some were crying. Some were urinating blood. Some, like me, accepted a beer from a kind volunteer and toasted the day! I sat under a shade tree and spoke with a former acquaintance, Debbie from Dallas (really). She had run the Leanhorse 50 Miler with me last year in South Dakota. Her name is hard to forget. Debbie is never at a loss for words. When the group started talking about their ultra hallucination experiences, she out did us all. “A little mouse walked on to the trail if front of me and began to talk.” What did it say” I asked.” “I can’t remember…does it really matter?” she said. Does it really matter? No! I was too beat to talk…

After waiting there about an hour to get our ride back, we all loaded into cars and bid farewell to the Western States Trail.

After a much needed rest, I made my way back to Robie Point (the 99 mile point) to run to the finish with Scott, Danielle, Bill, and Susan. I had often thought of how that last few yards on the track would feel to me. It went over and over it in my mind during the months and months of training, and I have to say that running with my friends was the next best thing to actually finishing it myself. It was a moment I’ll never forget as long as I live!

After his instant TV interview at the finish, we managed to find a chair for Scott. We sat and ate and reminisced. Our emotions ran high!

I’ve never seen Scott so trashed!…OR SO HAPPY!!