by Doug Ryan
Squaw Valley to Auburn, CA
June 24, 2006
I trained hard for my first WS. I was on pace for 3,500 miles this year and peaked at 120/week. I did 515 pound leg press repeats and 240 pound extensions and curls. Since mid-January, I ran 22 long runs between 20 and 50 miles and lost 13 pounds. However, I was woefully unprepared to handle things when they went totally wrong. I began the race with my friend, Drew Meyer. We had fun hiking up to Escarpment in the cool morning air and reached the aid station in 46 minutes and the top in 63. We had hopes for sub 24-hour times, but the forecast was for temperatures over 100. The technical nature of the high country trail surprised me and took a lot out of my legs. Drew and I ran at a comfortable pace, but found ourselves 13 minutes over the 24-hour pace at Lyon Ridge. Most of the morning was spent running on the back of the mountain in the shade; however, that was about to end. At the Red Star aid station, I made my first mistake. I drank 3 cups of Coke and filled my two 20-ounce water bottles and left. What I should have done was grab a third bottle from my drop bag. The next aid station was 8 miles away and the course passed through a burned out ridge with several difficult climbs. It was very exposed to the sun. As the temperature climbed, I drank my bottles dry two miles short of Duncan Canyon aid station. I had no choice but to gut it out and run it in. By the time I arrived my legs were beginning to cramp. I sat in a chair and drank 30 ounces of replacement drink, swallowed a Gu pack, and took another Succeed capsule (salt tablets), had a volunteer fill my bottles and took off. To this point I had taken 3 Succeed caps and took a fourth a mile down the trail. We were scheduled to get weighed at the next aid station, Robinson Flat, and I knew I was getting dehydrated, so I drank regularly. This was an easier section of trail that had lots of down hills through the forest; however, I was cramping too much to run. Eventually, I reached the bottom, doused my in the creek and started the hike up through a burned out forest. What was once a beautiful forest looked like a surreal collection of telephone poles. I lead a group of 4 other runners up the climb, hiking briskly. The guy behind me was a local and said I would do well since I was taking it easy. The climb to Robinson Flat went on for what seemed forever. I emptied both my bottles, refilled one in a stream, and downed it before the top. When I stepped on the scales at aid station, my legs shook so much the needle wouldn’t stop hopping around. The lady pronounced me 185, down 5 pounds. As I was eating some water melon, Mike, the aid station caption, told me I needed to sit down and eat/drink and to get his permission before I left. I took a few feet towards my crew and threw up three times. My brother, Don, led me to a tree trunk to sit down. Mentally, I was prepared to follow him, but he stopped at a dividing tape strung near the ground and motioned for me to step over it. All I could do was look at it. He put his foot over the tape to push it down and tried to get me to step over it. I wasn’t able to make that hurdle until someone gave me a gentle push. Once on the stump, my wife, Sherry, and Char Thompson, my crew member, gave me a bottle of cold Yogurt to drink. While I wasn’t able to answer a direct question, I do remember thinking, “Why did I buy low fat Yogurt?” Sherry told me later my color was pasty white and they were pretty concerned about me. I thought it was odd that Mike came back over to check on me, but was no longer talking directly to me. He again told my brother I needed to sit and eat and get permission to leave. I drank another cold Yogurt drink. I was handed a water bottled someone bought at the store, but immediately spit it out because it was hot. Char then put some ice from her cooler in a cup and gave me some cold water. The aid station volunteers filled my bottles; however, we didn’t know they had run out of ice and I eventually left with hot water, despite the fact we had plenty of ice in a cooler. I took it easy for a half a mile and then tried to run, but soon got hit by another wave of cramps. I had another downhill section, but all I was able to do was walk. About 2 miles out from Robinson, both legs cramped severely and I sat down on a tree trunk. My left calf distorted out of shape and I grabbed it with my hand squeezed in back into shape. I then promptly threw up another 7 times. I must have looked pretty pitiful since 7-8 runners all stopped to pat me on the back and offer encouragement as they ran by. I was disappointed to lose fluids and calories and the 2 Succeed caps I had just taken, but I felt better and was able to run for a mile or so. Three medics were running the course and caught up with me and gave me some water and tied a cold bandana around my neck. I started running again and they followed me closely to Miller’s Defeat aid station and the next 5 miles to Dusty Corners. At times I could hear them right behind me. When I ran they ran, when I stopped to walk, they stopped. While I appreciated their concern and care, it felt like I had vultures hanging around waiting for me to fall. I took three more Succeed caps along the trail in an effort to get my electrolytes in balance. One of the medics said I was running with more heart than he had, which made me feel better about all the walking I had been doing. Last Chance was the first aid station to offer chicken noodle soup. Up to that point I had been feeding on Gu packs, brownies, peanut butter sandwiches, etc. I drank three cups of soup and ate part of a peanut butter sandwich. I glanced at the time/pace sign, which I had long since ignored and was shocked to see I was only 4 minutes ahead of the 30-hour cutoff. I turned and started running. I remembered the next section from the Memorial Day training camp and knew it was pretty easy running for a while and didn’t want to be pulled from the course. I ran hard down the river and passed 5 runners along the way. I climbed into a spring fed pool and doused myself at the bottom, which felt wonderful, but I forgot to take off my bottle belt and dissolved my remaining salt tablets, Tylenol and No-Doze into a toxic glob. The hike up Devil’s Thumb is a steep 2 mile climb with 36 switchbacks and is considered the very demanding. I passed 9 runners along the way, but felt desperate at the top. I weighed in at 185.5 and told the volunteer I was in trouble and that I threw up 10 times and hadn’t been able to pee in over 9 hours. They sat me down and took my blood pressure and did several other tests. They iced me down and fed me Ginger Ale and soup. The doctor pronounced me fit, but my legs were cramping badly. I laid down with my feet up on a stretcher. After a few minutes the doctor came over and said he could see my calf muscles firing from 30 feet away. He had someone come over and massage my calf muscles, but they kept twitching and the cramps moved to my quads and hip abductors. I wanted to quit the race, but could not get taken out of Devil’s Thumb for hours, so I decided to make it the next 8 miles to the top of Michigan Bluff where Sherry and my brother were waiting for me. The volunteer strapped my water bottle belt around my waist and I ran out. Unfortunately, my brain was on screen saver mode and I got more than a mile down the road before I realized that no one had filled my bottles. I was dehydrated and cramping badly and left without any water. The next five miles were hard and I began to feel very sorry for myself. I got passed by 17 runners before I reached the river again and was able to fill my bottles at the aid station. I got some calories and started the 2.8 mile hike up to Michigan Bluff. I must have had a lot left because I passed 5 runners up the mountain, including Gordy Ainsleigh, who was the first guy to ever run a 100. As I passed him, he said, “You are doing well.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was climbing up just to quit. At the top I told Sherry and Don I was through and didn’t want to suffer any more. The aid station captain then cut off my wrist band. I had a bad day and was concerned about my health; however, I could have and should have gone on. Gordy eventually finished with an hour to spare. I got dehydrated and fell into electrolyte imbalance, which I couldn’t fix. I made mistakes by rushing in and out of aid stations. I then decided to quit rather than allowing my body time to recover in the cooler night air. Things went badly and I didn’t take care of them.
It was a tough day for everyone. The guy who was in 1st place fell several times during the final 300 yards on the track and finally collapsed 5 feet short of the finish line. He was dragged across by his crew and taken to the hospital. He recovered, but was disqualified for receiving assistance. Drew battled illness and crossed the line in 29 hours 33 minutes.