|Avg Temps f.
20 to 110
|Gain/Loss in ft
2400ft over 3.8 miles
Summary: One of the original ultra marathons, and originally a horse race, the Western States Endurance Run is on almost every ultra runner’s bucket list. If you get a chance it’s a must do!
Detailed course description (as seen through Matt’s memory from running in 2015!):
- The race begins with the longest climb of the day for 3.8 miles up the Escarpment. The route begins with a wide jeep path up the mountain and continues with a steady grade. With high snow years, there could one of two alternative routes utilized for this early section of the race. The views and the sunrise make it worth a brief stop once atop the Escarpment.
- The trail moves to single track and drops down to Lyons Ridge aid station. This section is more technical, not gnarly, but for this course, this section has more rocks and roots to trip over than other parts. This section also tends to be where racers forget their “patience” mantra and let it go a little bit down the hill, often to their own peril. Throughout this section all the way to Duncan Canyon, with good weather and cooler temps, this section can be very pleasant and beautiful. Runners are spreading out more and there is a good deal of beauty to soak in. But remember to watch your feet. You also reach your first crew access at Duncan Canyon.
- The race is likely to be getting hot now as you make your way toward the Canyons. The section from Dusty Corners (38) until Michigan Bluff (55.7), where you won’t see your crew at all, can be a real ass-kicker. It can get really hot as you go up and down through the canyons, plus, there is some really steep stuff, both ups and downs to contend with. Word to the wise – be careful and be patient through this section. I view it as a big risk to push hard through this section b/c the time you may make up here relative to the time you could lose later by frying your legs is a high stakes gamble. Between Last Chance and Michigan Bluff, you’ll deal with the two longest, steepest descents and two really steep climbs. Lots of switchbacks. You will also likely have wet feet, be it from stream crossings, or from getting yourself soaked at aid stations to contend with the heat. This makes this section ripe for foot issues. Last bit of advice for this section: cool off in any water you can during this section. The time lost doing this on a hot day could save tons of time later if you’re able to keep your core temperature down just a tad.
- You haven’t reached the promised land yet after Michigan Bluff. There are still some good climbs to do before Foresthill as well as another long descent. However, the grade is generally better, and if you were able to manage your effort well through the previous section, you will be in a good spot heading into Foresthill.
- Foresthill is where it’s at! The crowds are awesome, all your crew should be there, and you can pick up a pacer here. After climbing some uphill pavement, you turn left onto the road leading into Foresthill. You will feel the energy drawing you in. Have your shit together here and you will begin to feel the race truly beginning.
- Leaving Foresthill, you’re greeted with a smooth and steady descent that, if you were patient early and still have your legs, you can zoom down. Of course, there is still 38 miles at this point so exercise some caution. 🙂
- As you work your way to Rucky Chucky, through Cal-1, Cal-2, and Cal-3, you will encounter some steep climbs. However, nothing in comparison to the Canyons as far as length is concerned. Don’t lose heart, keep powering on, because the hills, while tough, are no longer so big. Plus, depending on how you’re running, the weather is likely to be improving with temps dropping as the day is finishing up.
- The river crossing can be invigorating! If it’s a boat year and you’re hot, find some way to submerge in this river. It’s like a free, ready-made energizer that can reset your body and mind.
- The climb up to Green Gate is steady and smooth. While still being a sizable elevation gain, it’s possible to run it, or at least walk it without paying too high of a price.
- From here to the finish, it’s game on! There are some rollers, with some short sections that may be better to walk. Terrain isn’t overly technical and if you have legs, you can run the majority if not all of the remaining trail. There are two noteworthy climbs remaining as you make your way to the Hwy 49 crossing, and finally to Robie Point at 98.9. I honestly don’t remember a ton about this section other than feeling 1) the joy of nearing home. 2) the pain of having gone so long. 3) continued energy surges as I continued to reel in runners ahead of me.
- From Robie Pt to the finish, it’s all pavement. The uphill continues until nearly the point when you enter the track for the finish. It doesn’t matter at this point though because you’re finishing the Western States 100!
Lessons Learned from Race Reports
- Be ready for the heat.
- Prepare your quads for all the punishing descents.
- The first climb from the start is no joke
- People go out hard in the first 30 miles, often stopping at Robinson Flat because it’s starting to get warm, and because of the excitement around Western States
- It is very possible to go off course (elites have done it in the past!), so pay attention
- Have crew bring ice, neck coolers, sponges, anything to help with the heat
- Make sure crew are ready with their own supplies to be out all day, most likely in the sun and the heat. Have plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, umbrellas for shade, chairs to sit in. And have gas in the car!
- If possible, stay near Squaw the night before the race, then stay near Auburn beginning Saturday night, because it’s a fairly long drive between the two, and book early!!!
Total gain/loss: 18,090/22,970
Longest climb: 2400ft over 3.8 miles, Watson’s Monument at the very start of the race is the longest with the most elevation gain, but the climbs to Robinson flat (at ~25 miles), Devil’s thumb (at ~45), and Michigan Bluff (at ~50) are all significant.
Steepest climb: 1,640ft over 1.4 miles (Devil’s thumb climb at about 45 miles into the race)
Total aid stations: 21
Furthest distance apart: 10.3
|Checkpoint||Distance||Drop Bags||Crew Access||Pacer|
|Squaw Valley||0||Yes (multiple)|
|Red Star Ridge||15.8||Yes||No|
|Duncan Canyon||24.4||Yes (1 vehicle)|
|Robinson Flat||30.3||Yes||Yes (shuttle)|
|Dusty Corners||38||Yes (1 vehicle)|
|El Dorado Creek||52.9||No|
|Michigan Bluff||55.7||Yes||Yes (1 vehicle)||After 8pm|
|Ford’s Bar (Cal-3)||73||No|
|Rucky Chucky||78||Yes (Far Side)||Yes (Near Side shuttle)||OK|
|Green Gate||79.8||Yes (on foot)||OK|
|Auburn Lake Trails||85.2||Yes||No|
|Pointed Rocks||94.3||Yes||Yes (on foot)||OK|
|No Hands Bridge||96.8||Yes (on foot)||OK|
|Robie Point||98.9||Yes (on foot)||OK|
|Placer High School||100.2||Yes||Yes (multiple)|
Water, Clif Shot Hydration Drink, Clif Shot Recovery Drink, Sprite® or 7Up® and Coke®. The night aid stations will also have soup, hot coffee and hot chocolate.
Salt replacement foods (saltines, pretzels, chips), Clif Bars, Clif Mojo Bars, Clif Shot Energy Gels, Clif Shot Bloks, fruits (oranges, bananas, melons), potatoes, cookies, candies, sandwiches, etc.
This is the race you want to qualify for!
The race was worth 6 UTMB points in 2015 and 2016, but isn’t listed for 2017 or 2018.