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Rod Bien of Pandora's Backpack runs the Western States 100!

Is running the Western States 100 a part of "traditional mountaineering"?

Yes, indeed!  Traditional Mountaineering is an aerobic sport. It includes jogging, running, hiking the hills, backpacking, climbing, mountain biking, back country skiing, snowshoeing, telemark skiing and similar sports all acting together to improve aerobic capacity, strength, balance and athleticism. Long distance mountain trail running can involve several of the six classes of mountaineering: walking on the trail, walking off the trail, scrambling using hands and feet, dangerous scrambling, rock climbing and hanging from ropes as in rappelling. It all depends on what happens.

A friend of ours in Bend is a very experienced long distance trail runner. Here is Rod Bien's report of his under 24 hour completion of the classic Western States 100. (Have you run 100 miles in one day? How about 26.2 miles?)
 --Bob Speik


Rod Bien—Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, 2004
Here is my report for running Western States 2004. I am writing this mostly because I received so much help by reading the other race reports on Stan Jensen’s website, However, I did note that none of the other posts had anyone breaking the 24 hour mark. So, I thought if I broke the 24 hour barrier, I would write a report for others who are interested in trying to break into “silver buckle land”. So much for the drama in this report, eh? This was my second Western States 100. I ran my first one hundred miler (WS) in 2002 in 26:05. Since then, I have also run the very difficult Angeles Crest 100 in 2003.

I went into training both mentally and physically having the 100% goal of breaking 24 hours at Western. I had already completed the course and now looked to better my time. For those who are reading this wanting to break 24, the most important advice I can give you for breaking 24 is believing that you can break 24 (if this is within your ability) and not being afraid to actually say to others that this is your goal. I found it very interesting as I read the other posts, that at least half of the posts expressed the desire to break 24 hours, if it happened. In every one of these write ups, the person did not make it. I think a big part of this is that of course you are going to hit some extreme lows in a 100 miler and if you don’t have the overwhelming desire to break 24, you will succumb to your bodies’ complaints, slow down, and eventually fall off track in the race. This is exactly what happened to me in 2002 and why a friend who I was running with, Jeff Browning, broke 24. He really wanted it and I wanted it, “if it happened”.

The second most important advice that I can give is to get on the course. Knowledge of the course is such an enormous advantage. If you live anywhere near the course, get on it constantly and learn your splits on different sections. If you cannot (like me, I live in Bend, Oregon), the training camp is the most important 3 days of training you will have. Barring a divorce, make it there :). Also, don’t just run the training runs blindly. Write down your splits, landmarks, etc. These are the things that will help you on race day. Lastly, have a plan and try and stick to it. This is something I need to get better at. Literally every person I saw (who I knew had broken 24), I would ask what their strategy is/was. However, there is no magic formula. You have to learn to run to your strengths, keep to your game plan, and stay mentally strong. Anyway, I really thought those were the keys to me for this race. My basic strategy was to go out at a good, slightly aggressive pace while it was cool. Try and build a one hour cushion by Robinson Flat. Once I hit this point, I wanted to just “keep par” and protect my cushion during the heat of the day. Once I hit Foresthill, I hoped to pick it up a bit after the sun was less intense, and hopefully put another hour in the bank heading to the river. I then hoped to coast on in at about 22 hours. Well, some of this worked and some didn’t.

I headed down to the race on Thursday the 24th with my pacer, Jeff Borne and another good friend who was pacing someone else, Sean Meissner. We got down there and Sean met his runner Ashley (they were camping) and Jeff and I stayed at Squaw Valley Resort. I thought this was another big benefit. I have great respect for those who can camp and then run a great 100. However, for me, no way. I figure I have invested so much money ( shoes, supplies, time off work, etc) and the months and months of working my butt off to save a couple hundred bucks on a hotel room. I like being able to chill out at night, watch TV., relax, etc. I know I have enough work ahead of me in the race. I want my accommodations to be easy. I know I just would not be able to relax as well.

For the next day and a half (it felt like a month), we burned time waiting for the race. Lots of eating, walking around, checking drop bags, checking them again(!), etc. Finally after all the meetings and hoopla, Saturday morning came and I was pumped!! I had waited so long for the race, I couldn’t believe it was actually starting. The gun went off at 5 a.m. and we started the first 2,500 foot climb up to Escarpment. As much as I wanted to just tear it up, I walked basically the entire thing. I chuckled to myself watching some people running, breathing super hard, after about 3 minutes and they weren’t running much faster than I was power walking. I had told myself not to breathe heavy at all going into Robinson Flat. I felt great, scenery was amazing, killer sunrise. Running in the mountains is the best. Had some good conversations and just settled on into the day.

I met up with Dan Montoya, also from Bend, OR, who was on safety patrol from the start to Foresthill! What a great training run. Dan is running Angeles Crest later in the summer. I’m sorry, Dan.... We stuck together until Red Star Ridge at which point I left him at the aid station. Running was going great. The first 25 miles were a bit more technical than I had remembered. When I do the race again, I will try and get down and run that portion of the run before the race. However, no complaints, running the flats and down, hiking the ups. I decided to listen to my body about food and drink. I started by taking two Endurolytes an hour and I took one GU early on in the race. It turns out, I would have only one GU the entire race. They always mess with my stomach once I have too many and after a while I always have to “psyche” myself up just to have one. So, screw it, I was going old school, no GU’s. Not sure if this helped or hurt. I also sweat about as little as anyone I know. I have pretty dry skin and salt is always a weird game for me. I always feel like I am taking too much even though everyone around me takes way more. So, I tried to keep on my 2 pills per hour and to try and eat salty foods at the table. Getting sick really messed with me in my 1st Western States and I hoped to keep my stomach square in this race.

Finally, after a few miles of dirt roads, I met up with friend Ric Hatch and we ran together for several miles and commented on how the initial “buzz” of the race had worn off and it was now work time. We ran into Robinson Flat (24.6 miles) together where I was to meet my pacer for the first time. It was great seeing a few friends, Jeff scolded me for running too fast, gave me a turkey sandwich and gave me my waist belt and my MP3. I train with an MP3 on all my alone runs and love it. I was very excited to get it and looked forward to using it until mile 62. Jeff then told me he would be at the next aid station, 4 miles away, and that I needed to slow down. Well, I did slow down but it had nothing to do with him (sorry, Jeff). I hated running with my MP3. I was in a huge pack of people, I was worried people were asking to pass me, I couldn’t get my breathing etc. I was really surprised. The belt also was messing with my stomach a bit. The whole thing sucked. So, when I saw him at the next aid station, I gave him the belt and MP3 and went back to basics. 2 bottles and some pills and supplies in my Race Ready shorts.

The next ten miles are not my favorite. They are mostly dirt roads that weave up and down. It is also beginning to get very hot and this part of the course is very exposed. There isn’t great scenery to fixate on and basically this where you just have to focus and get from aid station to aid station. My main concern was keeping my one hour cushion that I had achieved at Robinson Flat. Sometimes I would lose a few minutes, sometimes I would gain a few but the first thing I always looked at each aid station was the 24 hour sign and how I was doing compared to it. So far so good.

The wheels began to get a little bit wobblier at about Dusty Corners (Mile 38). I was hot, food did not look good at all and I wasn’t really taking much salt. I kept taking in water but that was about it. The stomach was getting queasy (my Achilles heel) and I knew it was going to be a long day. However, nothing to do but keep going. I told myself I was not going to sit at an aid station until Foresthill (wishful thinking). I hit Last Chance (mile 43.3), still didn’t feel great and knew that I had the canyons coming. Ran into an old friend I had not seen since college (Galina Barford) volunteering medical help which tripped me out a bit but not much time for chit chat and off I headed down towards the canyons. I perked up a little running down hill and started feeling strong running down the steep hills. The nausea seemed to fade and it was good times again!

Passing people, legs feeling strong, no worries. I hit the bottom of the canyon crossed the bridge and was actually very excited to start the long haul up one of the cruxes of the course, Devil’s Thumb, which is a 1,600 foot climb. I was very confident in that I had trained very hard on both ups and downs before the race. So, here we go! And then, nothing. I felt like I had weights on my legs. Some really perky guy running his first WS told me how much he loved hills, etc. I just needed him to be quiet. I was bummed because usually I love climbing up and I like to be the one showing off but he was just kicking my butt and I felt like crap. The climb seemed to go forever and when I hit the top of Devil’s Thumb, I thought I was in “Deep Kim Chee” as my dad used to say. The guys at the aid station asked how I was doing and I think I said, “not good”. They sat me down (so much for no sitting) and I started nursing a coke. I then ate a cup of chicken noodle soup which really helped me out later and I think maybe I tried a Pay Day Bar. I stayed there for a while. Finally they kicked me out and said that I would get it together on the long, long descent down to El Dorado Creek. They were right. I perked right up and felt great again. Chicken noodle soup kicked in and I was on the Good Times Express. Passing people again, legs felt strong, and life was good. I hit the creek and saw a acquaintance of mine, Aaron Summerhays looking pretty thrashed and talking a little gibberish. I felt bad for him because he had a great race last year and I think redlined it a bit this year. He later dropped at Michigan Bluff. So, I ate a piece of pay day bar and headed up the next 1,800 foot climb to Michigan Bluff.

I was confident that I would feel much better on this climb up as my stomach seemed to be coming around and I had gained a little more time. I told myself not to pressure myself and just have a good hike. Well, it hit the fan again. Lead legs were back. I was hating. It is a long climb and it just killed me. About half way up I started feeling really sick. I thought maybe I was going to puke. Then I did, twice. Big pukes too. And, they didn’t make me feel much better. This was probably my low point of the race or close to it. I knew I was only slightly over half way and the remaining 47 miles were going to be long now that the puking had begun. Bummer. I hit Michigan and my pacer was there asking how I felt. I couldn’t really lie though I might have tried....?... Anyway, he walked me over to the scale and said that we were going to take some time out, eat, regroup, and get me back out there. Stepped on the scale, 140. I was down 8 pounds. Shit. They told me I had to go into the “recovery” area to eat and drink and to get my weight up. I was really bummed but I felt bad enough that I thought it might help. I sat down with the other thrashed participants, ate some soup, drank some coke and then wanted to go. I had already been there for at least 10 minutes and my cushion for 24 hours was probably now at about 50 minutes. I knew I was supposed to weigh in again but I didn’t want to because I was worried they would just make me stay longer so I just took off. I walked up the road about 3 minutes to the “exit station” and said “92 out!” They said they had received a radio that I need to be reweighed. So, I lied and told them that I already had. Unfortunately, he radioed back over and said that I had not and I had to go back. I pleaded but they would not let me go. So, frustrated, I walked back, worried they were going to make me stay for another half hour or something. They wanted me to get on the same scale I had done before. I refused and said I wanted to use the other one. I hopped on. 148! You’ve got to be kidding me! I was so bummed. The other scale was wrong and I had burned A LOT of time. My friend Sean slightly spazzed at the aid station personnel but it is hard to get upset when people are just trying to keep you safe and they are volunteering. But, I got caught up in the moment and was upset too. I said a smart ass remark which I very much regret now and headed out. It was a horrible stop. I had lost my confidence because I really thought I was in trouble when I wasn’t really. But, I just had to regain focus and start running and making up time. I think this was the smallest that my cushion ever was.

But, once again, the downhill’s saved me. While I saw others cramping up in volcano, I felt great. I hit the down hills hard as my legs felt great. The pattern continued of good feelings on the down hills and nausea on the uphill. I walked the long asphalt uphill towards Foresthill. I walked a couple little sections of it but I’m sure it looked quite pathetic. I cruised into Foresthill and felt average at best. I did not want to spend too much time here as I had already been burning too much time at aid stations. I picked up my pacer and we started down the road. Jeff immediately asked me how long it had been since I had taken salt. I said it had been a few hours. He told me to pop one. So I put one into my mouth and then puked everything I had refueled with at Michigan Bluff and Foresthill. I puked one more time. I was worried he was going to be stressed about these circumstances so I said, “don’t freak out. I’m fine.” He has fine with it and we just got on our way. He commented on how well my turnover was on my legs and that pumped me up and get me motivated.

My plan was to pick up some time going to the river crossing. That didn’t really happen but I did stay steady and instead really just kept trying to protect my 24 hour cushion. I think going to the river, the lowest I got was about a 45 minute cushion and I think it got about as big as about an hour and five minutes. All in all, this section went really well. Of course there were some lows and highs but we just chipped away at it and before we knew it, we were seeing the lights that surround the river. The river scene was great. Lots of people who were buzzing with the anticipation of breaking 24 hours. I kept bumping into old friend and very good runner, Topher Gaylord from Italy. He has run Western very fast but was having a bit of a tough day. I kept asking him, “are you sure we have 24 in the bag?” and he was kind but continually telling me we were golden, it was just weather we wanted 22 or not. River crossing was great and as fun and exhilarating as I had remembered. I decided no shoe change this year as I knew it was really easy to burn time on the other side wiping off legs, putting, on socks, etc. Its easy to make a 10 minute stop there so we just crossed and headed up to Green Gate. Nausea was back again and I puked a few times during this section. But, the hill is actually pretty easy and since I wasn’t hiking it too hard, it went by quick and we got to the part of the course that I despise the most.

The next ten miles always kill me. Weather it is on a training run or during the race. You are just weaving in and out of those darn canyons. They are not particularly hilly at all but my motivation is pretty low so I end up walking a lot of the little ups. It is also tough because it is dark so you can’t really tell how long the ups and downs are. My concentration here was just to stay steady and put one foot in front of the other and run. It was great having my pacer Jeff here because he would let me know how far he thought we had left and didn’t let me get into a funk when I saw all the lights in front of us. This is still a section I would like to get stronger on. My motivation is just hard to keep up here. When we hit Brown’s Bar (89.9), I felt really dumpy. I had just puked and I just felt generally tired which I hadn’t really felt in my other 100’s. I spent too long at the aid station here and then headed out.

By the time we hit HWY 49, I was definitely smelling the barn. We did not really spend any time at the aid station and from here to the end, I would guess we passed about 10-12 people and only got passed by one. I was really motivated here and all my sickness seemed to disappear. We were running the moderate hills and hiking hard up the big ones. It was a little hillier in this area than I had remembered.

Hitting “No Hand’s Bridge” was definitely a highlight for me. Two years ago, I arrived here in the new daylight. This time, as we ran down the hill, we could see all the Christmas lights lining the bridge and a huge television screen suspended above the bridge. It was awesome and it felt great to be there in the middle of the night. My pacer Jeff wanted to fill up water bottles but I wanted none of it. I kept going across the bridge hooting and hollering knowing that I could walk to the finish and break the 24 hour mark. We really hammered this section. Caught quite a few people and felt great. We ran the majority of the hills at the end. The hill to Auburn was longer than I remembered but I didn’t care, we were done. As we approached the road, there was a runway landing of glow sticks which were cool to see. We walked the first hill on the asphalt and ran in from there. I knew I was right on the brink of breaking 23 hours but wasn’t really concerned. It felt good to enjoy the moment. Who knows how many of these any of us will have?? We hit the stadium, did the loop and were done. 23:00:46. Done.

What a great race. I’m applying next year and already thinking of ways to shave that time down to break 22:00.
--Cheers, Rod Bien




For more information on the Western States 100 mile race go to Stan Jensen's Run100s Website


Note: Here are my old personal vanity plates from the 1980s How about that?  Webmeister Speik





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