By Therese Iknoian, No. 213
It was only 7 a.m. and we were still in the Sierra high country making our way over snow banks when the first warm gust of wind brushed my eyelashes. "Well, that's a harbinger of things to come," I mumbled aloud to no one in particular although the comment elicited grunts from the Western States 100 competitors who happened to be near me only two hours after the pre-dawn start.
Per Murphy's Law, the temperatures just days before the 33rd running of the granddaddy of 100 milers on June 24, 2006, suddenly spiked to about 106 degrees with humidity sinking to single digits and the thermometer's mercury barely missing records by 1 degree. That meant temperatures in the canyons that racers cross during the heat of the first day were forecast to reach up to 120 degrees faster than you could say fried-eggs-on-granite.
The weather gods were conspiring to make my first attempt at a 100-mile race far more challenging than I had imagined when my name was selected from a lottery of qualifiers in December 2005. There are those who question why so many people want to do this wacko thing that threads its way from Squaw Valley, up Squaw Peak (may I please speak to whomever planned the first 4 miles that gain 2,500 feet?), up and down through the canyons and peaks of the Tahoe National Forest and back down the western slope of the Sierra to the small gold country town of Auburn.
"Why am I doing this?" I asked one day on a group training run, again aloud to no one in particular. Guess you start talking aloud to yourself when you log long miles, subsequently losing large numbers of brain cells. "Because you paid for it," came a smartie response from behind me. So, on June 24, there I was, getting my money's worth. And oooooooh boy did I get my full money's worth since it took me just 11 minutes shy of the cutoff to make my way to the finish line. Pre-conceived notions of split times were quickly tossed aside. This Western States turned into the trail runners' version of Apocalypse Now with runners practically dropping beside you – one minute they were there and then, poof, the next minute they were gone. A few aid stations looked like makeshift MASH units with all the bodies lying around.