Other Notes from a First-Time Western States Finisher

With the Western States 100 still fresh in my mind, I wanted to leave a few additional pieces of advice, both as reminders for myself and as tips for anyone else who could benefit from my lessons learned.

1. Carry an extra bottle of water from Robinson Flat through Michigan Bluff

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Before I got there,  my crew poured half a root beer into a small, plastic water bottle for me to drink at Robinson Flat. As I finished it, my coach told me to hold onto the empty bottle, advising me that when I reached any creek crossing, I should fill the bottle and use it to douse myself on the climbs. He did made sure to mention not to drink the creek water — if I did, I would regret it in the following weeks.

I carried that little bottle for 14 miles before I finally put it to use — at one of the aid stations I was really tempted to throw it away, but I didn’t — and during the climb up Devil’s Thumb and up into Michigan Bluff, I was sure happy I hadn’t tossed it.

Both of these climbs are long, steep, exposed and HOT. I would make a point of pouring water over my head and trickling it down my arm sleeves every half mile or so. I passed some people who looked like they were melting while I — because I could stay wet — felt pretty good up both.

2. Arm sleeves and a desert dork hat

I usually don’t wear arm sleeves, not when it’s cold and especially not when it’s hot. But in the heat of the day — my crew reported 102 degrees at Michigan Bluff — my floppy desert hat and sleeves provided some much-needed protection from the sun and heat.

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Coach Adam pours ice into Sara’s sleeves at Robinson Flat (Mile 30.3).

If you have watched any of the Western States 100 videos on YouTube, you’ve undoubtedly seen aid station volunteers shoving ice into the arm sleeves, under hats, and into neck scarves of runners. This ritual is key to successfully making it through the mid-day heat at States. This race really knows how to support its runners in these oven-like conditions; this year they procured 65 pounds of ice per runner.

Do yourself a favor and find ways to carry all that ice with you out of the aid stations. Having my sleeves and bottles full of ice all day kept me significantly cooler than without.

Additionally, when the sun goes down, you get the mental benefit of losing the sleeves and hat. I looked forward to this milestone all afternoon, and when I got to Rucky Chucky, it was an absolute pleasure to be free of the sleeves.

3. Toothpaste in your running kit

Eating sugary aid station food all day, downing Coke/Mountain Dew/Tailwind, and eating so so much sweet runner food is hard on your teeth. Mine started to feel like they were each wearing tiny sweaters and my tongue started to feel foreign.

In the past, I have positioned my toothbrush and toothpaste in a drop bag as a way to help me hit reset late in a race. It always feels refreshing, and it is an excellent secret weapon. During Western States, I ate so many runner gummies that my teeth didn’t just feel gross, they were actually hurting. Every bite I took on the left side of my mouth was excruciating. I was limited to only using my front two teeth to chew, attempting to bite the gummies in half and swallow them without having to chew more. It is hard enough to eat during a 100 without this type of pain to deal with.

At Rucky Chucky, I was lucky to snag a tube of Sensodyne from my crew. About once an hour after that I’d smear a good amount on my fingers and work it onto my teeth. Eating was much more comfortable after that, and I’ll be starting the race with a tube in my pack from now on.

4. Chairs and an umbrella for the post-race

Pack a chair and an umbrella for the post-race festivities. The award ceremony at Western States isn’t until close to 1 p.m., so even if you finish in the Golden Hour, you still have 90 minutes to kill. Trust me, you’ll want a place to sit and some shade. The ceremony lasts about an hour, and while there is a giant canopy tent for everyone to gather under, it gets pretty hot. If you can position yourself on the perimeter and bring a little shade of your own, you’ll be a lot more comfortable. Besides, if you ran, you’ve had your fill of sun and heat by this point.

5. Embrace the entire event

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On the tram up to Thursday’s flag-raising ceremony.

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The most important advice I have would be to take in the entire event, not just the hours you’re wearing a bib. We went to the flag raising ceremony on Thursday near the top of Emigrant Pass, spent a full day at the check-in, made sure we watched runners coming during the Golden Hour and then stayed through the awards ceremony.

This race is special, and there is a significant amount of tradition and ritual surrounding it. Take it all in and appreciate being apart of the spectacle. Whether you are are a runner, crew, or a spectator at Western States you are taking part in a unique piece of the ultrarunning community.

Questions or anything else I can answer? Leave me a note in the comments.

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