Happy Statesmas!! This weekend would have marked the 47th edition of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, one of the world’s most prestigious trail ultramarathons. Unfortunately race organizers had to postpone the race until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The race runs along the Western States trail which is recognized as one of the most historic and challenging routes in trail running. It follows a 100.2-mile point-to-point path through wilderness, high alpine ridges, deep canyons and a swift water river crossing en-route to a night-time finish on an illuminated all-weather track at Auburn High School.
To pay homage to this historic trail running race, I’ve written a four-part article series covering each quarter of the Western States course. Yesterday I wrote about 2009 champion Antia Ortiz’s experiences during the first 25 miles of her race.
In this article, I speak with 2016 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run champion, Kaci Lickteig, about her experiences from miles 25 to 50. Stay tuned tomorrow and Friday for articles featuring Matt Daniels (miles 51 to 75) and Brittany Peterson (miles 76 to 100). Right now, let’s pick up Kaci’s story from mile 25.
[TAYTE] What did you like about this section of the course and what were the challenges?
[KACI] My favorite part about miles 25 to 50 is transitioning from the high sierra country to lower elevations. As a flatlander from the Midwest, I feel the elevation until I get to Robinson Flat Aid Station at mile 30.3. I know that because of the altitude I feel like I’m working just a little harder than I should be and I make a conscious decision to dial back my effort.
I want to conserve my effort for later in the race. This section is also when the temperature starts to rise. I leave Duncan Canyon Checkpoint at mile 24.4 with ice and take two handheld water bottles. There are sections that are open and exposed to the sun when you are making your way to Robinson Flat, so it’s easy to get overheated. This section is quite beautiful too. You run through single track trail that is lined with magnificent evergreens and if you’re lucky you may see a roaming black bear! As you make your way out of Robinson Flat you will run on a service road for a while. This makes the miles go by quickly if you are running well.
Always make a constant effort to save your quads. It is so easy to get running fast down to Miller’s Defeat Checkpoint (mile 34.4). Be careful! You will get to see your crew at Dusty Corners Aid Station at mile 38, so take advantage of it because you won’t see them again until Michigan Bluff (mile 55.7). When you leave your crew I highly advise getting as wet as you can, cooling off, taking ice, and making sure you have full water bottles. The next sections are going to be tough. You will be making your way to the notorious climb up to Devil’s Thumb (mile 47.8).
At Last Chance checkpoint (mile 43.3) you have a screaming fast downhill going to the bottom of Devil’s Thumb. The trail switchbacks, zipping you down to the swinging bridge (Google Street-view below). Beware of the rocks when turning the corners, you can easily slip and fall. Once you hit the swinging bridge you will have one last chance to cool off. I highly recommend going down to the water and taking a soak.
Once you leave all wet you will start to climb up to Devil’s Thumb. It is steep and hot. I always hike this section and try to make conversation with anyone around me. It will help pass the time and take away the misery of the tough climb. You may feel like you will never reach the top. I promise you will!
When you reach an open section of the trail you are almost there. If you look to your right you will see a magnificent view of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is breathtaking. You will keep climbing and once you see the turn to the left up a rocky steep climb you will have about half a kilometer to make it to the top of Devil’s Thumb.
Here you find a wonderful aid station full of all the cold things you could ask for. There are also extremely knowledgeable volunteers and medics here in case the climb up beat you up. Take full advantage of getting ice and cooling down because the next climb won’t be easy either. Don’t be tempted to quit your race here. You have gone through the thick of things and it is easy to want to call it a day. This is a place to remember the reasons why you wanted to run Western States. Don’t let the fatigue, heat, and climbs overcome your thoughts. Dig deep for that passion and keep moving forward!
[TAYTE] What are your memories from the aid stations, spectators, your crew and did you have any complications?
[KACI] I have great memories from Robinson Flat Aid Station (mile 30.3). This aid station is huge and has so many people cheering everyone on. You will meet up with your crew here and you can assess how you are doing after going through the high country. Word of caution: this aid station can get your adrenaline pumping so be careful not to run too fast once you depart.
The next aid station next is at Miller’s Defeat (mile 34.4) and there’s always people here cheering and having a great time. This energy will help you through to Dusty Corners (mile 38). At Dusty Corners you will reunite with your crew and you can have them give you a pep talk going into Devil’s Thumb. It’s extremely important here to get cooled down, ice, and increase your nutrition intake. You won’t see your crew again until Michigan Bluff (mile 55.7).
As you make your way to Last Chance (it’s named this for a reason!), don’t forget to refill everything. You are about to experience Devil’s Thumb, which can be hot, hot, hot! Cool off and make sure to have your mind focused on conquering Devil’s Thumb. You can do this! The aid station at Devil’s Thumb is such an oasis. It has water, ice, ice-pops, more ice and people there to take care of your every need. Once you feel ready you need to keep moving. Try to not hang out at this aid station for too long. Otherwise you will start to see other people suffering as they make their way up and you don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking it’s too far and that you can’t go on any farther. Even if you have to walk out of that aid station, do it! You will regret it if you don’t.
[TAYTE] Overall, how did you feel from miles 25 to 50 and is this how you thought you’d feel beforehand?
[KACI] How I’ve felt during this section has varied each year I’ve run the race. In hot hot years, I’ve felt like it was hard because of all the sun-exposed areas and climbing. In cooler years, I’ve felt decent. I can honestly say I’ve never felt like a million bucks climbing to the Devil’s Thumb Aid Station, but I know from the past that it will get better. They key has been for me to not get stressed or in a race mode during this section. It is too easy to blow up if you run too fast during this section.
[TAYTE] Did you do anything special to prepare for this section of the course? If so, what did you do and did you feel like it helped?
[KACI] The best preparation for miles 25 to 50 of Western States is figuring out what works best to keep you cool. I like to use ice bandanas and wear a light-weight top that is good at keeping me wet, but doesn’t get too heavy. I also teach myself how to eat and drink in the heat. Keeping hydrated and having calories is extremely important. There are many places in this section where you will be hiking, and these are good times to eat. I also use the mantra: “Just chill.” This helps keep my adrenaline down. It has paid off in the past and I will continue to use it every time I run Western States.
[TAYTE] Where did you stand in the rankings from miles 25 to 50 and was it where you thought you’d be? What was your experience of the competition and did it affect your race strategy? Did you have to make adjustments because of other competitors?
[KACI] During this section of the Western States course I try to stay within the top 20 women. I’m not trying to “race” yet. I want to be able to have confidence going out of Foresthill (mile 62) with my pacer that we can run to the American River (mile 78). The race doesn’t start until after you cross the American River! You don’t want to be stressing too early, otherwise it will be a very long day(s). I don’t worry at this time if women are passing me or if I am passing other women. I run by how I feel and always tell myself to “run my race” versus someone else’s race pace.
[TAYTE] What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone racing from miles 25 to 50 of Western States?
[KACI] Be patient. Don’t get greedy and try to push too hard here. This is where people can “blow up” their quads and have difficulty finishing the race. Run at an effort that is slightly too easy because it will pay off once you get to Foresthill (mile 62). I have learned this by experience. Don’t blow the quads! Start getting ice and keeping cool from Duncan Canyon (mile 24.4) on. You can’t start too soon trying to avoid overheating. Listen to your crew and aid station volunteers. They will be very helpful.
Are you ready for a deep dive into the Western States trail? See our Western States Trekker page with Google Street-view shortcuts to sections of the course like horse riders near mile 32 shown below.
Shortcuts to course information on the Western States 100 mile website:
Tayte Pollmann’s articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you liked this article, read even more of Tayte’s articles on our website.