Sure it's 6 months, 23 days, 15 hours, and 19 minutes away, but in my small world, each day feels like the Western States 100 is here (the WS lottery almost is!). The butterflies and adrenaline refuse to subside and each time I touch that trail, my mind can't help but create dramatic scenarios of what *might be*. Cranking up Robie Pt with a 15min lead and 15:xx on my watch.....Riding the waves of each mini-roller from Cal-1 to Cal-2 in 100+ degree heat and the field decimated by the elements.....Or *free-falling* down El Dorado Canyon with a group of likeminded hopefuls, wondering who will be the first one to break off the pack.
As much as I have wanted to run this race and as much as I anticipate to come June 29th, I can't help but think of those that have planted those necessary seeds that have fueled my passion for this event and running in general. In chronological order, I thank:
-- My Grandpa: For introducing me to running at age 12 and bringing me up to Camp Fleet Feet as a wee lad in order to get my first taste of mountain running, a glimpse into a community of older ultra runners, and hearing about WS for the first time.
-- Jim King: Even though I couldn't comprehend this sport at that time, Jim's account of his 1983 WS journey gave me a glimpse into the mindset of what it takes to win this event (even though he didn't that particular year). But more than that, what it takes to persevere no matter what happens. Jim - even today - models a faith and joy that is genuine and contagious.
-- Nick Vogt: My former WJU cross-country coach whose high-altitude Summer running camp made a significant impact on my life (it's where I first met and heard JK speak, also). Those five-day long Summer camps undoubtedly planted seeds that continue to grow and blossom to this day as it relates to mountain running and my faith in Christ. The highlight of that camp and the highlight for me when it comes to running is the community of like-minded people you get to share your passion for the sport with. Mountain running/ultra's, for me, continues to be a communal-based activity where passion is fueled and limits are tested....and I thank Nick for providing an environment for high school and collegiate athletes alike to experience that.
-- Jim Howard: Like JK, his tough-as-nails mindset continues to inspire me. I first met JH at Nick's camp as he and JK gave a blow-by-blow, play-by-play of their 1983 WS account. And one of the things that struck me at that hearing, is how you can *beat each other up* out on the course, yet come away with a deep respect and friendship for one another (as they both still have to this day). That is something I hope to experience at WS come June and beyond.
-- Connor Curley and Austin Violette: They introduced me to various trails in Placer Co. and various sections of the WS trail I'd never seen or run before. Such time invested in me and with me played a significant role in me moving toward this sport in '09 and '10. Awesome guys and Mountain Tigers.
-- WS 2010: Many-a-world did this event completely *rock*. This definitely includes mine. As a curious spectator, this was the first ultra I ever witnessed. And watching what Geoff, Tony, and Kilian did out there was mind-blowing. After Geoff gave his victory speech at the finish line, I knew without a doubt I wanted to run this race....and not only that, but win it and give glory to God.
-- Sara Rydman: I'll never forget that conversation: "Sweety, should I pursue this sport and go for it?"....And like the amazingly supportive woman she constantly is, she told me to go for it. And not only that, but paced me to a win and CR in my first ultra (Sierra Nevada Double-Marathon) in spite of me wanting to quit at mi45-ish. I couldn't do any of this without her. I look forward to her bringing me home the last 20 this June. With my wife pacing me, look out:)
-- Brian Priddin: I'll never forget Brian taking me to Devil's Thumb to run those canyons for the first time, two days after WS '10 (I'd been there once before, a few years prior, but only hiked from Deadwood Cemetery down to El Dorado bridge and back). It was a simple DT to Michigan Bluff and back and I suffered HARD. But Brian's sacrificial actions in taking me up there poured more gas on an already raging fire in my heart.
-- Craig Thornley and AJW: It wouldn't be right if you didn't mention these two together. Consuming their passion for the sport and WS would be the equivalent of putting your mouth to a fire hose. You just can't consume enough or get it fast enough! I first met these guys during their annual Michigan Bluff Training Camp in 2011 where I showed up unannounced and unaware that we were running a Cal St. Time Trial. I hooked up with Craig, Meghan, and Todd Braje's group and asked Craig question after question about WS. And he, gracefully and enthusiastically, answered each question with passion and thoroughness (and even dubbing me "Anton Jr" after I ran up "6min Hill" in 3:30).
-- Nick Clark: After my first and only DNF (AR50 '11), I was shocked when Nick e-mailed me and asked if I wanted to help pace him at WS '11. I had never paced or crewed anyone before and he made it clear to me that he was running for the win that year (*gulp*). Throughout, Nick modeled to me a lazer-focus in the later stages of an ultra - no matter what the circumstance - in order to get it done. He battled blisters, an *invincible Kilian Jornet of 2011*, definite pain, but hung on for a much-deserved 3rd place finish. I don't say it enough, but I have a ton of respect for Nick as a husband, father, ultra runner, and Race Director. He sets a high-bar for himself and others to emulate and it shows.
-- Joe Uhan: Talking about our friendship and the ongoing development thereof, deserves a blog post of its own. I first *met* Joe during '11's AR50 when he caught me at ~mi29 and shouted "running sucks!" as we were both in a state of pain. Joe offered me water in that moment (of the ton of people who passed me, I think he and Erik Skaden were the only ones to *check on me*). Fast-forward to WS '12 (interspersed with a ton of runs together on the WS trail, beer drinking, pop tunes, adventure runs, life talks, etc....) and I had the privilege of pacing Joe at last years event. Joe modeled to me a perseverance, similar, but different than Nick's. One that stayed patient, battled through *issues*, and broke through mental and physical barriers as only a few people in the field had a faster *last 38mi's* than Joe. Joe showed me that it is entirely possible to run the last 20 at an alarming speed and catch whoever is within reach of you and, to run Top-10 (and how to do it in this deep and competitive age of ultrarunning).
Honorable Mention "Thank You's": My family, Erik Skaden, Mark Lantz, Jason Carwile, Tyler Curley, Jorge Maravilla, Tim Olson, Thomas Reiss, Anthony Brantley, Jesse Barragan, Meghan Arbogast, William Jessup XC guys and girls, Bentley Nunes, Tucker Hoffman, Parker Daniells, Tom Harrer, Tim Steele, The Kaufman's, The Snooks, The Breitbarts, Stephen Wassather, Anthony Molina, Carey Williams, Bruce Labelle, Colorado Ultrarunning contingent, Scot Jurek (who told me "You have potential" WOW!), Anton Krupicka, Joe Grant, Geoff Roes, Uli Steidl, Jason Schlarb, Chris Ross, New Balance, Injinji, and so many more.