By Cody Reed
It started at 2:00am Saturday morning. I heeded the advice I got from a couple of people and decided to eat a meal 3 hours before the race start. I had a pizza (large, but still considered ‘personal’ size), and went back to sleep. My other alarm was set for 3:00am – or so I thought. I woke up in a panic after actually dreaming of missing my race. I checked my phone and it was 4:30am – race start was at 5:00am. “WE GOTTA GO!” I said to Tessa, waking her up. I threw on my race uniform, put on sunscreen, and grabbed a banana to eat on my drive to Squaw. I was staying in Truckee and Google maps says that it takes 20 minutes to get to Squaw. Let’s just say that there wasn’t anyone on the road when we left at 4:35 and I made decent time getting to the Olympic Valley. I jogged to the check-in tables and got my number at around 4:45am, I might have been the last one to pick it up. I pinned it on and made my way to the start with a few minutes to take everything in. Not the start to my morning that I was planning on having, but it worked out, I was there and ready. It wasn’t like I needed to warm up for this race, it started with a 3-mile-long climb that most people walk anyways. I was surrounded by Tim, Jim, and Eric on the start line. We hugged and shook our heads a little. Finally, the moment we’ve been thinking about for the last 365 days, and then the gun went off.
Hike/jog up and out of Squaw Valley with Tim and Eric.
The first 24 miles of the race (to Duncan Canyon) went by quickly, but since I had not had my normal pre-race morning routine because of lack of time, I had to stop twice for a bathroom break off-trail in just the first hour. Good thing this race was going to take all day and a few minutes’ worth of bathroom break now wouldn’t matter in the long run (more on that later). The temperature was still cool and I was feeling good, I was just out for another training run! The only thing I was thinking was “run to the next aid station”, and “I’m just on another training run in the Grand Canyon or Flagstaff with my boys!” I was NOT thinking that I was going to be running all day in temperatures that would exceed 100 degrees. One step at a time.
Tim and I sharing miles in the first hours of the race
I came into the first crewed aid station at mile 24, Duncan Canyon, with Tim Freriks and Mario Mendoza. My crew had everything ready to go for me, including my ice bandana. I wasn’t planning on taking it there, but they said it was heating up already so I tied it on. I got fresh bottles with more Electroride, a few more Spring gels, and I was out again, and way before everyone else, I came in with. In fact, all day I was moving quickly through aid stations. I wasn’t rushing, I just came into each one with a plan, and everything went smoothly. Having an incredible crew made this easy as well.
Coming into Robinson Flat with Tim.
It was on to Robinson Flat at mile 30. I had crewed Jim the year before and was familiar with this area, although last year there was still feet of snow in this spot. Tim and I were running together and about a mile out, we saw Jamil with his camera. He started chasing us up the gradual climb to the Station and then let us go after a few minutes. I located my crew and ran to them. I got a new ice bandana, new bottles, more gels, and was out quickly. I was alone for about the next mile, but I was joined by Tim and then Eric. They decided to pick up the pace, and I didn’t (this is also around where they saw a bear and bear cubs! The bear even charged at them, I’m glad I wasn’t there for that). This section of the course was a long and gradual downhill which was not feeling good on my quads, and it wasn’t until this point that I started feeling the rising temperatures. I went through Dusty Corners quickly and everyone was telling me that the river was getting close, I was very excited to be able to fully submerge in the water. I have been looking forward to this since my training runs in the Grand Canyon this summer where it reached over 100 degrees.
The long gradual downhills, they seemed to keep coming and coming. I remember thinking “yep, this is definitely a downhill course. But how can it feel downhill when there’s still 18k feet of climbing in it?” Right after Last Chance aid station at mile 43, my watch died. It's a new Garmin Fenix 5, and has plenty of power for an event like this, but I had left everything on like Bluetooth, running metrics, and whatever else it has, which sucked away the battery life. I had been using my watch to time when I should eat, and now I had nothing to go off. I ate when I thought I needed to, which was probably too much, but that is better than not enough. My lack of mental time keeping was alarming. It was around this area that I started realizing just how much Poison Oak there was on the course. Another reason to finish as soon as possible, I needed some Tecnu and a shower ASAP!
Reaching a Breaking Point:
My quads were sore, stiff, and tired. I’m at mile 45 and descending into the first canyon and Mark Hammond, Jeff Browning (I think), and Ian Sharman pass me all within a mile or two going down to the river. There they go, doing their thing. Probably the most consistent guys in ultra running. I didn’t even feel mad, I was pretty sure it would come eventually. I didn’t try matching their pace, I was hurting going down this descent, so I let them go. It was still early, I had to save my legs. I ran down the switchbacks and instead of running across the Swinging Bridge, I hiked down to the water, swam across, and started the hike up Devils Thumb. I jogged some, I hiked some, I thought I saw people right behind me on the switchbacks, and it’s when things got real. The heat was definitely there, but luckily this climb is well covered by trees, and my ice bandana was really working incredibly. I very slowly jogged into the aid station at the top of the climb, grabbed some snacks, refilled my bottles there, got some encouragement from Kim and Topher Gaylord, and was out again. I was in No-Man’s-Land, no one in sight in front of me or behind me, this is where I always find myself and rarely ever want to be, especially during a difficult part of the course like here. Just five miles to the next aid and river. My thoughts had been getting fuzzy around here, and with no GPS or time to go off, I failed to realize that there was actually another canyon just like the one we ran down and back out of. I was also running low on drinking water and was out of ice in the bandana. There was a small little puddle on the trail, just big enough to sit my butt in, so I did. I’m pretty sure that Kyle Petari ran past me here and asked “are you ok?” as I was soaking. “Yep” I replied without really looking up. The puddle was warm, and not helping at all so I got back up and hoped El Dorado Creek aid station at mile 53 was close. I started going down again in a few miles and remembered that this was now Michigan Bluff coming up. It was like de-ja-vu going down the canyon and back out the other side, but this one felt much harder than Devil’s Thumb. I skipped swimming across the river this time because it seemed too far off course and time consuming to hike down to the water from the bridge.
After the last ten miles of dipping into the canyons and coming up the other side, I was in bad shape. I felt terrible, and, as my crew loved to point out after the race, I looked terrible. The first thing I did when I came into the aid station was I swapped watches with my girlfriend so I could keep track of time and make sure I was eating enough. This is the spot where I started eating my Nutella sandwiches as well. I needed some feel-good food and that shit hit the spot. I have developed an intense craving for Nutella pastries (croissants, sandwiches, etc.) during races after first trying it last summer in Italy during the World Championships. These were slices of bread folded in half with a generous portion of the chocolatyness inside, and here I probably grabbed 3-4. Someone said not to take too many and I nearly killed them with my stare. Now is not the time to mess with me and my food. I stuffed them in my mouth, chugged some water and was on my way to Foresthill.
Running out of Michigan Bluff with Tessa and the Cappuccino Cowboy.
Tim left Michigan Bluff right as I was arriving, but he had really hit a rough patch and I caught him a few miles before Foresthill. We shared some words about how much pain we’re in and how we’re only about half way and there’s a long way to go. I left him behind, but I knew we would see each other again. Tim is probably the toughest guy I knew and he wasn’t dropping out any time soon.
There is an annoying little climb up to Foresthill before you start running parallel to the highway, and I was met there by Tommy Rivers Puzey who was waiting there to start pacing Tim. He always seems to know the right thing to say at any given time. “Yeah Codrrreed! You’re looking way better than everyone else up this road!” “Really?”, “OK, here we go!” Coming into the race I wanted to be feeling reasonably good coming into Foresthill, and now I’m here, and I am definitely hurting, but I’ve felt worse! And the hardest part in those canyons was over! I can do this!
“The race starts at Foresthill”
Tessa, me, and my pacer Caleb Schiff running into Foresthill Aid Station.
I was running parallel to the Foresthill highway, cars were driving by and honking at me, I just looked at the first one, but then more were going by and honking and I started giving a small wave, then as they kept cheering me on I started waving both arms through the air! I was having fun. My girlfriend Tessa and my friend and pacer for the day Caleb Schiff met me about a mile up the road from where they had set up all my stuff, so the three of us were running into town. There were tons of people here, including some of my high school friends who drove up from my hometown of Danville to watch me run! I took about 5 minutes at this aid, my longest by far. I took my shoes off to get rid of all the dirt and rocks in them, I got more ice in the bandana, more gels, and fresh, cold bottles, ice water poured on me, more Nutella sandwiches, and I washed it down with a Red Bull. Time for the caffeine! Caleb and I were headed off together and I was feeling like a new person. Someone else was feeling like a new person as well, Tim Freriks was back from the dead! As Caleb and I were descending on Cal Street, Tim and Tommy Rivers caught us. The few minutes that we were able to run together on that single track trail was one of the highlights of my day. I just wish it lasted longer, Tim was on a mission now and he and Rivers left us behind. Seconds later I see Eric Senseman. I had heard he was still crushing at Foresthill and was in third place! Yet here he was stumbling around on the trail, his pacer helping him walk. I thought he had hurt himself, but when I got closer I could see he was still smiling. He had been having trouble eating and had a major bonk. He was walking, but slowly. I could tell he was going to have a hard time finishing the rest of the race. Caleb and I made our way down to Cal-1 aid. The downhills were really wreaking havoc on my quads, and my left ankle was not letting me extend my foot out, I don’t know if I sprained it somewhere or it was just pissed off that I was making it run 100 miles. Caleb kept telling me to open my gait and keep the pace up, but it was hard. It hurt so much. I was so excited when we got to the flat and even uphill parts of the trail because it didn’t hurt and it felt like I could run faster on those sections than the downhill parts! The uphill strength I felt was uncharacteristic of me up until this point in my running. The climbing I have been putting in during training has been paying off! But at the expense of not doing hard downhill segments. There’s always something to work on. We went through the Cal aid stations quickly and smoothly, replenishing ice in my bandana, getting more water, and chugging more Red Bull. I was eating my Spring gels every 30 minutes when Caleb told me to, things were going well, and I was getting more and more anxious.
2017 photo of Tim, Eric, Jim, and me walking into Rucky Chucky.
During the 2017 Western States run Eric, Tim, and I all ran from the river crossing to meet Jim about a mile from the aid station. His legs were completely wrecked, he was physically and mentally drained, he had already called it a day. There was a photo from this moment last year of us walking together, spread out on the trail, that captured the feeling and emotion of the moment perfectly. When I was running up the trail, getting tired and hot and really wanting to be at the river crossing already, I looked up and recognized the exact spot where the picture was taken. I almost stopped running just to look at it and take it in. I thought about where we were exactly one year ago. But I kept running, and the scene passed, but, as some of you runners may have experienced, it left me feeling a huge emotional feeling. This usually happens to me during extremely difficult times when running, like the final few miles of the Miwok 100k, my first trail race, the last half mile of the Way Too Cool 50k, and occasionally during training. It isn’t a specific emotion, it’s just emotion – all of it – coming out at once. Once I recognized this spot I knew I was close to the river crossing, and my crew was going to be on the other side up the big climb to Green Gate. I felt reinvigorated, focused. When I got to Rucky Chucky, I could see Tim and Mario Mendoza getting out of the water on the other side. There are big rock steps that you need to walk down to get to the water and I could barely make it down them. I had to hold onto Caleb’s shoulder just to get to the water without falling. I’m sure that whoever saw me thought there was no way I was going to make it to the finish! The lifejacket went on and I staggered into the water. I pulled my way across, leaving my feet hanging behind me, letting the water again, finally, wash away the heat and soreness. I took a few extra moments in the water and pulled myself up the shore with a rope they had tied to a tree. “OK, we’re going uphill again, I got this.” Basically, the whole race up to this point, I thought there was no way I was going to be able to run up this huge climb after already running nearly 80 miles. It was further than I had ever run before. I had run up it the year before while waiting at the river crossing for Jim so I knew exactly what it looked like. But how wrong I was. I started running up it, and running HARD! And feeling GOOD! I was grunting, but a primal grunt, not a painful one. I was in the zone. Maybe halfway up, I passed Mario. I kept charging, and I see Tessa. She had run down about a half mile to run up with me. Green Gate aid station was like a race car pit stop, as I was chugging Red Bull, all my crew was filling my belt with food and giving me new bottles, other crews were jealous, and it was awesome. The next few miles were spectacular, smooth, rolling, lightly winding trail. I couldn’t see anyone, but at the pace, I was going, I knew I was catching people.
Green Gate aid station. Nutella sandwich, Red Bull, and Rafal of Spring Energy cooling me off.
Between Auburn Lake Trails at mile 85 and Quarry Road at mile 91, I came up on Tim. He got out of the way to let me pass, but I pulled him back on and said “no, no, you’re coming with me.” He was alone because he had dropped his pacer Tommy Rivers just after the climb to Green Gate. He was also having trouble eating. Caleb and I pulled him along to Quarry Road. I was surprised and excited to see Chris “The pacer to the stars” Renneker and Hal Koerner there. I refilled my bottles and as I was leaving Hal said, “make sure you make that left turn in a mile and a half.” I looked back smiling, thinking how could I, or anyone else running this race for that matter, possibly forget that damn left turn at mile 92. I thought Caleb would be catching up and running with me soon, but after a minute, he wasn’t with me. I heard him yelling “I’m going to run with Tim!” “OK” I said. I understood, Tim was struggling, and I was not. Tim needed someone to go with. I was on a mission now, Chris said that there were people less than 5 minutes in front of me, and I was going to get them.
My friends Simon Graves – left, and Troy Ellis – right, Troy’s big boom box - top.
I had asked my friend Troy to be ready to run with me at Pointed Rocks, he is my friend from high school and we ran cross country and track together. I was with a pacer again after a few solo miles. I picked up my headlamp and Troy at mile 94 and was off. Each time I would have to stop for any amount of time at aid stations, getting going again was one of the hardest parts of the race. In those short seconds or minutes that I was refilling at aid stations, it felt like my legs would tighten up and stop wanting to go. Leaving Pointed Rocks was probably my slowest and one of the hardest parts of the race. It hurt. I told Troy “there are people right ahead of us, and I’m going to catch them, and you’re going to help me.” The sun had gone down now and I was trying to keep looking ahead for runners’ lights. The scene at No Hands Bridge was just as exciting as I was expecting, but I wasn’t sticking around, I skipped that aid station. Tommy Rivers, Jared, and Myke were all there cheering.
The Final Battle:
Next up was a gradual climb up a fire road, then a steeper single track up to Robie Point. I was just about to get on the steeper single track when I finally saw it, there were two headlamps right there, about 100 meters in front of me. I said some psych-up expletives to my friend Troy and started laying the hammer down. I’m 97 miles into a race, and I felt nothing. I shut my mind off to everything but catching these people in front of me. There was no pain and no fatigue. I was focused, the small beam of light in front of me tightening my focus even more. Troy was running in front of me, he starts putting his hands on his knees, I say “I swear to God, I’ve run 98 miles…” He knew the rest and started running again, but only for a few steps. He couldn’t make it up the hill with me, so I passed him. A few seconds later, I passed the first runner who turned out to be fellow Arizonan Charlie Ware. Now it was on to the next runner Kyle Petari. He increased his pace and went with me. We were going all-out up this hill. After a few seconds, his pacer dropped off and it was just him and I, trying to calculate how much more we could handle and how much further this hill went on. We got to the pavement, the Robie Point aid station, at mile 99, but I don’t even remember seeing an aid station, it wasn’t like I was going to stop there anyway. Up the paved road, we sprinted, in the dark, on each other’s shoulders. I’d get a step on him, then he’d get a step on me, we went back and forth a few times until we got to the top of the hill and it leveled out and started dropping a bit. He got a step on me, then he had two steps on me, then three, and he kept pulling away. I could see my tachometer redlining, bouncing up and down at the top of the range, wanting another gear to go into, but there was none for me. I had spent it in the previous 6 miles just trying to catch him and Charlie. He kept pulling away, I was following behind, going as hard as I could, following those little red footprints painted on the road that say “WS100” and lead you to the track at Placer High. Now I was really in pain. My chest was cramping up and I wouldn’t be surprised if Kyle could hear me breathing and grunting from 150 meters ahead of me. I felt like my abdominal muscles were going to fall out. I entered the track, I had tunnel-vision, it was so close. Finishing on a track was a familiar place to end a very unfamiliar race, but all the feelings I’ve ever felt running track races can only scratch the surface of how it felt to finish the Western States. And to not only run 100 miles but after nearly 17 hours of running, have it come down to a kick in the last mile, it was a beautiful thing.
The final stretch.
Finishing one place higher would have been great, and I would have been very happy with that. But to battle the way we did, to the very finish, and thoroughly test ourselves against one another, showing pure grit – because that’s all that is left after 99 miles of running, brought much more pleasure than if it had been an easy or normal jog to finish.
Me telling Kyle that our finish was epic.
I’ll be back.
Hydration: Electroride x 15-20, Red Bull Summer Flavor
Shoes: Under Armour Prototype (coming next year)
Clothes: Under Armour race uniform
Socks: Drymax Hyperthin
Arm Sleeves: Drymax
Storage: Camelbak belt (coming soon), 500ml soft flasks
Ice Bandana: Zombie Runner (zombierunner.com)