Top Ten Things I Learned
About the Western States 100

Unofficially presented by The North Face: Never Stop Exploring in Our Stuff.

By Rob Saraniero

[Photos by Rob Saraniero, Keith Knipling, and Bunny Runyan.]

Robi at Michigan Bluff. Photo: Bunny Runyan1. Never enter a lottery with Scott Mills. Scott's bad luck at the lottery for Western States is ultra running lore and I got to witness it in person. The day before the race at the pre-race briefing they have a raffle for assorted prizes. The grand prize is one free admission in next year's race. I was sitting next to Scotty at the meeting and I could see him pensively examining and organizing numerically each of the gazillion tickets he had purchased, in what would be another futile attempt to increase his odds at entering the race outside of the "random" lottery that has treated him so poorly. Seated on the ground below me, I good see the slump in his shoulders and the look of sadness spread across his face when he wasn't called for the grand prize. It was the saddest thing I have ever seen in my ultra career. Damn you Western are so very cruel.

2. The first 24 miles of the WS100 course is worth the price of admission. The views are outstanding and simply awe inspiring especially at dawn from the Escarpment.

From Top of the Escarpment looking back to the east toward Lake Tahoe. Photo: Rob Saraneiro

3. The whole weigh in and scales thing at Western States is ridiculous. I want the 19 minutes subtracted from my time that I wasted on scales arguing with medics over the fact that I am simply fat and gained 6 lbs from eating too many cookies instead of retaining life threatening fluids.

4. No matter what people try tell you, Western States is NOT harder than MMT. It is true that they are completely different races but to be honest folks if I compare them in my head it is not even close. If WS100 was a high school diploma than MMT feels like a postgraduate degree in geology. Western States is tough and it sacks you like any 100 Miler will. But, MMT sacks you while spearing you with it's helmet for a 15 yard loss and than steps on you before running into the stands to punch your mother in the face and take your little sister's lunch money. I can only imagine what Hardrock feels like....I will tell you next year if I get in.

5. Despite having more aide workers than any other 100 miler in the free world, I do not feel their care or aide was any better than what you would receive right here in sunny VA. I would take an aide station at Gap Creek manned by the likes of Michelle Harmon and Mike Priddy or any VHTRC runner any day of the week. Having a 100 random eager faces is not necessarily as good as having 10 experienced ultra runners taking care of you. Plus, we have Anstr and Brenda's Potato soup at mile 78 and I didn't see anything like that at the fancy pants W$100 when I got to Rucky Chucky and froze my huevos off crossing the river.

Robi (left) with Jeff Read and Gary Knipling in Squaw Valley.  Photo: Bunny Runyan6. At the start of the race I got to run about 5 miles with Gordy Ainsleigh, the father of Western States, and it made my Western States experience really special. He has to be one of the nicest and most unique runners I have ever met. Sadly, I have a feeling the orange juice and V8 concoction he mixed at Dusty Corners is the reason I didn't get to see him again. Yuck.

7. I know there are always going to be tough stretches at 100 but for me the worst section of my life so far is still Short Mountain. There isn't anything at Western States remotely as ugly. The devil has his summer home in VA on Short Mountain; his hateful mocking smile is the gnarly teeth that make up those rocks at night for us slow heavy-footed back of the packers.

8. There is so much to learn from the people we share the trail with and I can tell you that Greg Power is an amazing running partner on the trails at Western. I am very grateful for the experience of running with him and his generosity in finding me the best Drill Sergeant pacer a guy could ask for. G-Power simply knows so much about the trail and woods after being a fire fighter for the Forest Service for so many years in California. The way he teaches you when you are running along in our outdoor schoolroom kind of feels like he is cut from the same unique cloth as Dr. Knipling. [The absence of Knob Creek and "Gifts of Nature" are the only notable exceptions.]

Rob (left) with Tom Corris. Photo: Keith Knipling9. Regardless of not finishing, after months of tireless training and being in the running shape of his life, Tom Nielsen is still my hero. When Tom came up on Greg and I trudging along toward Dusty Corners, he gracefully, despite his obvious disappointment, treated his "accidental" off-course experience with the best attitude an elite runner could exhibit given the situation. I couldn't have been more honored to share a bit of the course with him as he stuck around to run a stretch with us and encourage us along. You are the man Tom and we all still know it.

10. Western States taught me again that I am never going to be good at this thing but it will never stops me from loving it and being inspired. I love sharing the miles, the scenery, the dark hours and the laughs with the people that gravitate to it. I do it for me and for what it teaches about myself. all of you I have shared miles with so far. It has truly been a happy trail experience that I won't soon forget.

Happy Trails to You

"Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads."

Rob's Photos on Ofoto

Robi Finishes. Photo: Bunny Runyan
Robi Finishes the Western States 100 Miler

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