Jasper Halekas December 28, 2011 TWEET COMMENTS 0

The Longest Day - Page 3

The Western States course is renowned for its canyons, which are always steep and hot. Duncan is the first and easiest of these canyons, though I have been warned that it is surprisingly difficult. But Leigh and I roll through the climb out of Duncan with ease, passing Bay Area speedster Chikara Omine, who looks to be struggling already on this climb, and I'm thinking, "This is a canyon?"

As we get within a mile or so of Robinson Flat, the first major aid station of the race at mile 30, the paparazzi come out in force. Cameras line the trail—one photographer is even using a big reflector to light the "perfect shot." Leigh and I learn that we are in fifth and sixth position. This was not my plan, and I worry that I may have taken it out a bit too hard. My doubts, though, are quickly washed away by the sights and sounds of the cheering throngs. So many spectators line the trail near the aid station that it feels like we are running through a tunnel of noise. It is totally bewildering, but also inspiring. I roll out of there ready to take on the world.

We catch up to Gary Robbins, a new force on the ultrarunning scene hailing from Canada, on the way out of the aid station, and run together for a few miles. We joke about the Robinson Flat curse—of the first 10 through Robinson, seldom do more than three or four of them finish in the top 10—and the fact that we are three WS rookies, with no one but Hal Koerner (defending champion), Dave Mackey (arguably the best 50K/50-mile runner in the country) and Scott Jurek (seven-time WS champion) ahead of us, and hordes of experienced WS runners behind us waiting to gobble us up. Leigh seems comfortable with this position, but Gary and I are clearly nervous that this will all go horribly wrong.

The Canyons

About halfway down to Miller's Defeat, Gary pulls off to answer nature's call, and as we hit a hot, dusty fire road, it is clear that we have left the high country. The next part of the course descends gradually from Robinson Flat, before dropping into Deadwood, El Dorado and Volcano canyons, all infamous for their quad-jarring descents, long steep climbs and searing heat.

The heat is not terrible yet, but is ramping up and nagging at a corner of my brain. My pace slows immediately. My quads never ever get blown, but here I am at mile 33 and they feel like putty, not a good situation facing almost 15 miles of pulverizing downhill to the Swinging Bridge at the bottom of Deadwood.

Leigh and I leapfrog along a relatively boring fire road, passing through the Miller's Defeat and Dusty Corners aid stations, and then head out on the spectacular Pucker Point trail, which dances along the edge of a precipice, with beautiful views of creeks and waterfalls far below. I feel like I'm going a little too fast, and try to hang back. But I'm strong on the steep downhills and quick through the aid stations, so I keep catching up to Leigh.

A few miles out of Dusty Corners, we see a flash of yellow ahead. "Is that Scott Jurek?" says Leigh. We are aghast and bewildered. Do we pass Scott Jurek? Though it is left unspoken, we clearly both think not. We run as a threesome into Last Chance, with Scott and Leigh pulling ahead of me and chatting.


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