Liza Howard. Ultrarunning Mom.

Ultrarunning Mom

Western States 2012: No Heat Training Required

I just couldn’t bring myself to believe it was going to rain at this year’s Western States.  Sure, I’d heard the pre-race weather reports.  Unseasonably cold.  Lows in the 30s.  Highs in the 50s.  With a 30% chance of rain.  In my mind, that meant clouds and a few brief showers.  Surely it didn’t mean 4 hours of rain and wind — with a little hail mixed in for good measure.  This was Western States.  People heat train for this.  Ice scarves.  Wet sponges squeezed over people’s steaming heads.  Canyons named “Volcano.” AND I’d already done my rain running for the year at Rocky.  So I lined up at the race start (where it was not raining) nice and prepared for cold weather — appropriate layers, windbreaker, hat & gloves etc.  Good stuff until it was all soaked through.  And by the time I made it to the aid station 10.5 miles in, I was nice and hypothermic.  The volunteers there asked what I needed and all I could think to say was, “It’s very cold.” I fumbled for a packet of Chomps and whispered, “Can you open this?”  I’d been tearing at it ineffectively for over an hour.  The packet looked like it’d been attacked by a squirrel — but the Chomps were still nice and safe inside.  I was so muddle-headed at that point I thought the aid station was Robinson Flat and spent some time looking for my crew.  I decided something must have happened to their minivan and headed back onto the trail hoping they were okay.  I figured I’d be able to make do with aid station fare until I finally linked up with them in a few hours.  So  I was pretty surprised to see them later at the real Robinson Flat.  They were yelling and cheering and being grand and I tried to walk right by them in my cold stupor.  Dave stopped me and I gave him and Amanda a pathetic, “I’m very cold.” Then I convinced them I didn’t need anymore layers.  Impressive, eh? In my defense  my thoughts were honey slow and all I heard them offering was more  clothing.  Clothing that would also get soaked — and keep me cold.  I wanted a rain jacket or a trash bag.  I did not tell them this, of course.  That would have required actual thought processing. They did manage to put dry gloves on my swollen, non-functioning hands.
So all this is to say, I dug myself into a nice hole early on and I didn’t really dig myself out until I picked up Dave at Forest Hill, 60 miles in.  So, lesson learned, I’ll carry the tiny, lightweight rain jacket THAT I OWN if there’s a whisper of rain in the future.  Also, two 100 milers in a row with soaking rain?  I’ll be making offerings to the trail gods regularly before Leadville in August.  (You might want to do the same if you’re coming.)
It’s easy to understand why people fall in love with running Western States.  The landscapes are lovely and there is some fun steep downhill terrain and wonderfully challenging  climbs.  More than that though, you’re on an actual journey during the race.  Sure, you’re on a personal journey on all 100 mile runs, but it was unexpectedly impactful to be on an actual journey on this course.  No 20×5 loops or 25×4 or Out 50 and Back 50.  We ended up 100 miles from where we started.  Very cool.
I certainly didn’t have the race I’d liked to have had out there, but I definitely had the run I needed to have.  Nice and gut wrenching and soul baring.  And I had the company of two great friends crewing and pacing me.  I am full to bursting with gratitude for their friendship.  Dave can motivate a rock to excel.  And nothing can stop you if you have Amanda’s support.  I was a little worried for the doctor’s life in the medical tent after the race when he told Amanda my lungs sounded clear.  The trail dust had me wheezing, popping, and crackling the last 20 miles of the run and I was coughing like a pack a day smoker.  Maybe the stethoscope dulled the doc’s hearing — and protected him from Amanda’s death glare.  (PS.  Apparently the inhalers are at the aid stations along the course — not at the end.)
Thank you to the hundreds of Western States volunteers.  WOW!!
Thanks to Team New Balance for the support.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciated those hugs Monica and Dominic.  And congratulations to Katie!!!
Thank you to GU.  Those watermelon Chomps are gold.  Next time I will open them before the race — or race in Hawaii.
80 some miles in wet and wettish feet.  No blisters.  Get yourself some Drymax socks!

Thank you to the Rockhoppers in San Antonio for following along all day and to Lalo for manning command central.

And finally, thanks to Team RWB for helping me keep the day  in perspective.  When things got bad I’d think, “Well at least nobody’s shooting at me.”  Let me know when the Team comes out with rain gear.
PPS. I got also got stung by a bee on the course.  What the heck?!?

25 thoughts on “Western States 2012: No Heat Training Required

  1. Sarah says:

    Yay and congratulations! We have plenty of heat at home just now. Hugs!

  2. Caweber2001 says:

    I always love reading your reports! Congratulations on keep on keepin on in those conditions!!!

    • Liza Howard says:

      Thanks! I really enjoyed the running. I’ll be ready for anything at Leadville.  Can’t wait.  Looks like a fairly deep women’s field, which will be fun.

  3. Steph says:

    Great race report :)
    Congrats once again! Is it weird that I’m wishing for rain, hail and wind this weekend? haha 

  4. Olga King says:

    I’d have taken it on my little stomp on Sat, but I hear ya, nobody was prepared…I never heard of it at WS. Heat-training my a$$, and they threw some hail! Good job holding your own, girl. Keep on keeping on. Good clothes for Leadville. It rains there every year:)

    • Liza Howard says:

      I know! I carried a great rain jacket the whole way at Leadville — and had rain pants on standby.  Well, live and learn.  If I can’t run fast, at least I can be a cautionary tale.  :) 

  5. Erin says:

    thanks for sharing your race story — what amazing guts and strength you have!! it hurts to be that cold. :(  
    you inspire me tons!
    glad you’re nice & warm now.:)

  6. Kellyagnew says:

    If it rains at Leadville, I’m blaming you! I was there with you at RR100, and that was pretty nasty for the first several hours. But a little rain in Leadville would be nice right now. Maybe it’ll put out some of the local wildfires up there!

    Congrats on another great race. 

    • Liza Howard says:

      I almost want a downpour at Leadville because I’d be so prepared for it.  Well, no, not really.  Don’t worry, I’m going to be picking up trash on the trails for the next two months to appease the trail gods.  

  7. Pommers says:

    Great write up Liza – sounds like this one was a bit different to past experiences, but hope you enjoyed it all the same …. what you remember of the final 40 miles that is :-)
    Interesting to hear you talking about it being dusty, even though it was wet. Well done again and take some time to recover and good luck with the training for Leadville!

    • Liza Howard says:

      It did dry out and was a beautiful day once we dropped down into the canyons.  I only noticed the dust once it got dark and I was using a flashlight.  Sounds like it gave a number of folks trouble.  I’m looking forward to the Leadville training.  It’s so nice to be familiar with the course and know exactly what I need to do to train.  I’m still pretty puffy, but I’m not injured and it’s tempting to think about adding Burning River in at the end of July.  Foolishness.  Still it’s so relatively flat and hot …

  8. Robertvogler says:

    Ok, can we just get all this rain talk over with before we really piss off the Leadville rain gods.  Because if you thought the escarpment was bad, Hope pass is 3,00 feet higher and it can really suck.  Plus, if you remember Liza, two years ago when we both ran it, it was the only time in Leadville history with no percipitation on the entire course for the entire race.  I’m really scared the karma gods are reading your blog. :)  By the way, nice to see you again and way to hang on out there.  I’ve decided that all finishes are good.  Either you have a great run, or you suck it up and tough it out.  I’m not sure which I admire more.


    • Liza Howard says:

      The weather wasn’t bad at all — unless you weren’t wearing the right clothes — which for me would have been anything water resistant. It was a rookie mistake — but I was in denial about the rain.  I’ll be very respectful of the mountain weather in Leadville as always.  I had a rain jacket lashed to my back the entire way in 2010. :)  So good to see you out there.  Looking forward to getting out to Pb-ville.  Agreed about all finishes.  Gonna aim for less of a “tough it out” race out there, but will take what the day brings.    

  9. 21 hours on a day like that is super legit in my book. You’re my hero!  Congratulations on putting your head down and getting it done!  It’s definitely going to make you even stronger for Leadville:)

    • Liza Howard says:

      Thanks Katie!  Wish I could come out to HR to help out.  Let’s sign up for  some warm weather race together soon.  :)  I think the Team need to go to Hawaii in January, no?

  10. Domingo says:


  11. Sharmanian says:

    I got stung by a bee too. Never happened before. Hopefully see you at another race as it was a shame to miss you at WS and sorry your race didn’t go well.

    • Liza says:

      Thanks Ian! I had a brief moment of wondering whether I was going to have some crazy anaphylactic reaction — and then I continued on up the hill — muttering mean things about bees with every step.
      And sorry to miss seeing you too. Was busy hacking up a lung in the medical tent. Onto Leadville!

  12. ok, i’m WAY BEHIND on replying here because i first read this post from my rss feeder on my phone and can’t figure out how to type comments from there with my man hands. all that to say, it was such an honor to have that hug waiting for you. i was just blown away at your tenacity in those conditions!! you dug DEEP!!! so along with ordering your gear for your next race, i’m gonna put in an order for NO MORE RAIN!!! seriously between Rocky and WS, you are done and done with the wet stuff. now onto the real fun at Leadville!! hoping i get to be there to give you another on course hug, although i suspect conditions will not allow for you to slow down that long. i’ll have my fierce high five ready to go!! hope you’re having an awesome canoe trip!!!

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