Western States 100

The Western States 100 has always been an appealing race to me because of its history but mostly because of its competitiveness. I knew that for a race with the mystique of Western States, I wanted to qualify in a Golden Ticket race and not via the lottery. Therefore, I never threw my name in the hat and instead banked on the idea that one day I might be good enough to qualify on my own volition. With the combination of a solid race at Lake Sonoma and little bit of luck (declined tickets), I made the official start list.

Zach Szablewski pre-race 2017 Western States 100 UltramarathonTraining for Western States began shortly after Lake Sonoma, but I often like to think that it started twelve years ago on south township road 151 back in Seneca County. The previous thirty seven thousand miles were my foundation; I simply needed to fine-tune my racing skills in the ten weeks preceding the big dance. My training goal was to build up slowly to about 100 miles per week, then slope back downward starting in June.

I typically aimed for 8 to 16 miles during the week days and then a long run double ranging from 22 to 31 miles on the weekends. I had very few concrete goals, and ran mostly on feel. If I felt strong I pushed myself and ran hard and if felt off my game, I took the pace easier. Vertical feet are never difficult to come by living in the Issaquah Alps so I did not pay much attention to vertical through the training block.

I spent a lot of time on the trail and that would not have been possible without my coach, nutritionist, training partner and amazing wife Apryle. We shared many miles together and she put up with hours of Western States discussions. In regards to training partners I must also recognize the East Side Crew consisting of Ghislain Devouthon and Christophe Fiessinger. We had a staple mid week loop around Cougar Mountain and we knocked out a Tiger Mountain Six Summit Loop. Pacific Northwest trail expert Michael Havrda; we shared many long miles in both Cougar and Tiger Mountain. Ballard trail runner Dave Huss for the Western States beta and many Cougar/Squawk Long runs. My friend to the north Adam Braddock, who has accompanied me on many long run adventures and runs in Snohomish County.

Western States Training Block

Week

4/16-4/22

#

16

Miles

41.23

Time

7:22:23

Vertical

8241

Feet/Mile

199.8787291

Pace

0:10:44

4/23-4/29 17 79.75 11:47:02 12708 159.3479624 0:08:52
4/30-5/6 18 81.94 12:19:49 19565 238.7722724 0:09:02
5/7-5/13 19 74.18 14:09:03 16434 221.5421947 0:11:27
5/14-5/20 20 98.02 15:17:21 18244 186.1252806 0:09:22
5/21-5/27 21 100.27 16:00:15 16251 162.0724045 0:09:35
5/28-6/3 22 100.75 18:04:40 26769 265.6972705 0:10:46
6/4-6/10 23 74.35 14:25:23 18052 242.797579 0:11:38
6/11-6/17 24 61.34 10:58:33 14163 230.8933812 0:10:44
6/18-6/24 25 138.55 26:46:09 25137 181.429087 0:11:36

 

Zach Szablewski picking up bib number at 2017 Western States 100 Ultramarathon

I worked Thursday and Apryle and I departed SeaTac early Friday morning and arrived in Squaw Valley shortly before noon. We wandered around the village and I went through the registration process and tried to stay hydrated. In Newcastle the daily temperatures were still cool, ranging from upper 50s to mid 60s; needless to say the heat in central California was stifling for Apryle and me. However, my heat acclimatization process – driving with the heat cranked and windows up throughout the day seemed to work out well. Apryle and I went for a short shake out run, and fretted about how tough it was in the heat. Then we went out for pizza with my former college teammate and soon to be WS pacer Kenny and his dad Dave Janosko. We made our final race preparations, measuring Tailwind into bottles for Kenny and Apryle to take to the aid stations. We headed to sleep with about seven hours until race start.

I felt well prepared when I toed the line about the third row back. The start was lined with spectators as the pack ascended the gradual switchbacks to Emigrant Pass. I looked back to see Lake Tahoe in a shroud of mist illuminated below me and then pressed forward into the snow covered trail. I loved the snow section; the Peregrines gripped well and the running felt pretty effortless. I found myself in the middle of a select group of runners, which made for an interesting first few hours. Because we were running on a snowy slope it seemed like when one runner would slip sideways the rest of us would soon succumb to the same fate. This would have been a very entertaining point in the race to have a camera…

Because I wore the UD vest with the hydration bladder, I knew I could afford to blow through the first aid station at Lyon Ridge, which positioned me around eighth. Then as the snow dissipated and the trail gave way to runnable bare earth single track I began to be rolled up by two separate three person chase groups. I was not really concerned, I wanted to run a pace that was comfortable to me. Looking back, I do not feel that I started with a pace that was too ambitious.

Zach Szablewski at 2017 Western States 100 UltramarathonI recall the heat beginning to set in around 8AM after I departed from the Red Star Ridge Aid Station. There was no longer snow to scoop up and put in my hat, and I began to drink more frequently. I reached Duncan Canyon Aid Station after what seemed like an eternity of switch backs that weaved through a sparse Ponderosa Pine forest. Here I was able to see Apryle after over 24 miles on the trail, we refilled the camelback and I donned my ice sleeves to stay cool.

I sluggishly crossed the creek after departing the aid station and began a series on rolling climbs through tree filtered countryside. I hit my first low point in the race fairly early on compared with previous hundred milers, and by the time I reached Robinson Flat Aid Station I was feeling quite tired and needed to sit and rest a while with my crew. Kenny and his dad helped me get back on trail and luckily the next four miles to Miller’s Defeat were quite easy and mainly downhill on forest service road. At this point I realized that my back was getting quite sticky and it was somewhat annoying. I noticed that my camelback was not screwed on properly and it was leaking for the past forty minutes. Additionally, we put 1200 calories worth of Tailwind in the bladder instead of the planned 600, which made for an overpowering flavor. I remedied this with the help of aid station volunteers and was on my way to Apryle at Dusty Corners.

Again the next four miles were quite easy, on road grade, and as the aid station name implies, quite dusty. When I arrived I ate quite a bit, refilled with pure water to dilute the concoction in my hydration pack and my inventive crew chief Apryle handed me this strange hat/ice du rag contraption. I was apprehensive; it was a modification to the Polar products cooling pack and she filled it with ice. However, it was held to the hat with safety pins and I thought the thing would be awkward and swing around during the run hitting me in the face. As it turns out, I believe that this, along with the arm sleeves, made an enormous difference in my ability to run efficiently through the sweltering temperatures.

Last Chance Aid Station was next, not sure what it was the last chance for, but the aid station crew certainly knew how to cool you down before the hot descent to the creek and climb to Devil’s Thumb. I used about 10 of my 60 pounds of ice allotted to me throughout the race and was subsequently sprayed with ice water and doused with a bucket of ice water. I was actually chilled as I made my way down to the creek.

The hike to Devil’s Thumb was miserable, I was moving so slowly that I actually forgot that I was in a race… When I reached the top, my second low point in the race began. I was overheated and feeling a little dizzy. I grabbed a popsicle and made my way toward El Dorado Creek Aid Station. On my way, I actually caught one of the lead pack runners that was unhinged. This gave me some confidence and I began to run with urgency. I cooled off at the creek and began the ascent to Michigan Bluff; 55.7 miles into the race. I hiked/jogged this section, passed one more runner, and ran into the Michigan Bluff aid station at a full gallop.

Here I met up with Kenny and Dave and they said that I was looking strong. I topped off my hydration pack, downed some food and hit the trail, road. Fortunately I was given some more smooth forest service road to cruise. Here, I passed a few more runners before hitting a tighter single track which descended to a creek crossing complete with a slack line. I decided to simply hold onto it as opposed to crossing atop the line. The trail gave way to an upward-sloped paved road which led to Foresthill. Unfortunately, I did not quite have the legs to jog the road until it flattened out, but as soon as it did I opened up the stride. I reached Foresthill Aid Station at 4:26PM and was welcomed by Apryle, Dave and Kenny.

I felt rejuvenated and was riding a high point when Kenny joined me for the Cal Street stretch. We rolled along at a solid pace, chatting about college running, about how the race was unfolding in front of me, and whether I could reach Green Gate before dark. The aid station crews through this stretch were very positive and said that with a solid effort that running into the top ten was possible. Midway through, I caught the last runner I would catch in the race and we pushed to keep the spot.

When I reached Rucky Chucky Aid Station, AJW said that I ran a solid Cal Street, which was quite a compliment from such an accomplished Western States runner. I cooled off in the American River and then Kenny and I boarded the raft that would take us across. We hiked/jogged up to Green Gate where Apryle was waiting to pace. The next stretch of running reminded me a lot of Lake Sonoma trails, as we raced the setting sun. I thought we were keeping a solid pace, but we were passed prior to the Auburn Lake Trails Aid Station.

Zach Szablewski at 2017 Western States 100 Ultramarathon

At ALT Aid Station I choked down as much food as possible and we ran much of the next 5 miles of trail to Quarry Road. The trail was not too difficult to navigate with minimal light and I tried to remain fixed on catching back the headlamp in front of me, but I began to experience low point number three. I grew angry that the distance between aid stations was not matching my watch and when I reached the aid station the blaring music was almost overpowering. After leaving the aid station we began to ascend to Highway 49. I was passed by two more people and sunk further and further into my negative state. When we reached Pointed Rocks, I am sure Apryle was glad to get a break from my depressing mood.

At mile 94.3, Pointed Rocks Aid Station, Kenny took back the pacing reigns and we meandered our way through an open grassy area to some forested switchbacks that gave way to the much anticipated No Hands Bridge. I ran straight through the aid station for fear that the runner behind me was closing. I did not want to concede another spot and I wanted to catch 18th place, so I pushed. Kenny was confident that we would break twenty hours but he told me it was a decent little climb to Robie Point.

Kenny was right, I thought the ascent to Robie Point would never end. Even the paved road seemed to climb indefinitely. I still maintain that the most difficult part of Western States for me was the last ten miles. When we reached the road we tried our best to dodge traffic and pick up the pace. Reaching the track was an incredible feeling and I reveled in the moment. I was ecstatic, my fourth hundred mile race, bettering my PR by 4 hours, and a top twenty finish at one of the most competitive hundreds in the world.

Overall, the entire trip went perfectly, from the pre air port parking, to the Air B&B rental, to the in race nutrition plan. I must credit my wife for her dedication and planning for this race which made it all possible, thank you so much! I must also express my gratitude to Dave Janosko (29x JFK 50 finisher!) an ultrarunning legend and excellent crew member, and my pacer Kenny Janosko, one of the best runners and human beings that I know (Academic All American and 6:12 JFK 50). As always thank you to the race organizers, all of the amazing volunteers, and trail workers that made it possible for me to compete in this great event!

Race Results and Splits

19:55:14; 19th place overall, 17th place male, 3rd place male 18-29 age group

Station Distance Place Time In Time Out Elapsed Pace Section Pace
Start 0 0 –:– –:– –:– –:– –:–
Lyon Ridge 10.3 9 06:53am –:– 1:53:39 11:02 11:02
Red Star Ridge 15.8 15 07:54am –:– 2:54:00 11:00 10:58
Duncan Canyon 24.4 0 –:– –:– –:– –:– –:–
Robinson Flat 30.3 22 10:34am 10:36am 5:34:00 11:01 11:02
Miller’s Defeat 34.4 22 11:14am –:– 6:14:00 10:52 9:45
Dusty Corners 38 22 11:47am –:– 6:47:00 10:42 9:09
Last Chance 43.3 22 12:31pm –:– 7:31:00 10:24 8:18
Devil’s Thumb 47.8 23 01:41pm –:– 8:41:00 10:53 15:33
El Dorado Creek 52.9 22 02:36pm –:– 9:36:00 10:53 10:47
Michigan Bluff 55.7 21 03:21pm 03:25pm 10:21:00 11:08 16:04
Foresthill 62 19 04:26pm 04:28pm 11:26:41 11:04 10:25
Dardanelles (Cal-1) 65.7 0 –:– –:– –:– –:– –:–
Peachstone (Cal-2) 70.7 19 06:11pm –:– 13:11:00 11:11 11:59
Ford’s Bar (Cal-3) 73 0 –:– –:– –:– –:– –:–
Rucky Chucky 78 17 07:39pm –:– 14:39:00 11:16 12:03
Green Gate 79.8 12 08:10pm –:– 15:10:00 11:24 17:13
Auburn Lake Trails 85.2 18 09:24pm 09:28pm 16:24:00 11:32 13:42
Quarry Road 90.7 17 10:39pm –:– 17:39:00 11:40 13:38
Pointed Rocks 94.3 19 11:38pm 11:40pm 18:38:00 11:51 16:23
No Hands Bridge 96.8 0 –:– –:– –:– –:– –:–
Robie Point 98.9 18 00:40am –:– 19:40:00 11:55 13:28
Finish 100.2 19 00:55am –:– 19:55:14 11:55 11:43

 



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