Sunday, July 7, 2019

Western States Endurance Run 100 ~ Guest post by Chuck Radford

The pinnacle of 100 mile races (The Western States Endurance Run) has a story for everyone …this is MY story.

Western States Endurance Run (WSER) History

The Western States ® 100-Mile Endurance Run is the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race. Starting in Squaw Valley, California near the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics and ending 100.2 miles later in Auburn, California, Western States, in the decades since its inception in 1974, has come to represent one of the ultimate endurance tests in the world. The race was born from the Tevis Cup "100 Miles - One Day" horse ride. In 1974, Gordy Ainsleigh joined the horses of the Western States Trail Ride to see if he could complete the course on foot and here we are today with the oldest and most well known 100 mile race in the ultra community.


After years of trying to get into the coveted WSER, I finally got my name pulled in the 2019 Lottery with only 24% odds. I worked hard year after year signing up for and completing a qualifying 100 mile race to stay in the hunt for WSER. That included: 2014 ~ Leadville Trail 100; 2015 ~ Leadville Trail 100; 2015 ~ Javelina 100; 2016 ~ Run Rabbit Run 100; 2017 ~ Run Rabbit Run 100; 2018 ~ The Bear 100  

Each of those years brought their own set of challenges and each required a different approach and modifications to get it done.  But the one thing that was clear in every race .... get to WSER. All that to say, this was MY YEAR and I had to take full advantage of it.

After finishing The Bear 100 in Sept, I threw my name in the WSER Lottery hat, as was typical every November. WSER Lottery happens the first weekend in December and based on prior disappointments, I went along with my day (chores around the house) while the lottery happened expecting someone to let me know "if" I got it.  All of a sudden my phone blew up with texts from friends letting me know I WAS IN!! I was elated, in disbelief and a bit nervous.  100’s bring with them a lot of planning and a lot of commitment, but I was in and I was going to do everything I could to make this the best experience of my life. Sadly something always kicks you in the nuts and never makes your “plan” smooth or perfect.


Due to this being an early summer race, spring training in the Rockies is tough. You can’t hit trails until May leaving you on the roads for the majority of your training. As such, I decided to train for the Colorado Marathon to give some focus and some fitness to training until I could hit the trails. I started out training very well, but started having issues very early with my toes, that eventually moved into my metatarsals and presented itself as a Morton’s Neuroma on my right foot. As is typical, I worked through it and made it to the marathon and ran a strong and controlled race (2:54). I took a couple days off and immediately switched over to WSER focused training right after the marathon. After only a couple runs, I found a deep pain in my right quad/hip flexor. I tried for a few days to run through it and make the most of it, but after a 10 mile run, I was hobbling around at work and knew it wasn’t good.

Having had experience with injuries, I shut it down immediately and assumed rest would make this particular injury better. After a week of no progress, I continued with no running and moved over to the elliptical machine to keep some fitness. Fast forward four more weeks (a total of 5 weeks) and I was still making ZERO progress. I finally called my “go to guy” physical therapist Brad Schoenthaler (this guy works magic) and was able to get in to see him three times before the race. He worked on my foot to open up the capsules around the neuroma diagnosing that as the main culprit in my hip pain (over compensation). He also needled my stomach, ribs, back, foot …pretty much everything to release tension and re-balance my mechanics.

All in all, I saw my PT, a chiropractor and a hip doctor in the last week leading up to the race. Having pulled the trigger on PT so late in final training leading up to the race, I was in serious doubt my race would happen. I had not touched a trail once this whole training season, I had not trained more than 4 miles in a run for almost two months, I had not worked on my climbing or descending legs all season confidence was rocked and even lining up felt irresponsible and like a plan for guaranteed disappointment and potentially my first DNF (did not finish) ever. I worked through a lot of anxiety, frustration, worry and doubt each day leading up to the race. My head was NOT in a good place.

Having talked to my "unofficial coach" AJ Wellman (who kindly lets me hijack his Blog site after every race) and receiving clearance from all medical professionals to race, I had no other choice but to get my mind right. I warned AJ and Mike/Heidi (my additional pacer/crew and good friends) that this could be a hot mess and there was a strong chance we could all go out to Cali only to be heading home with nothing to show for it. To my pleasant surprise, everyone was still on board and came out to support me on my day.


AJ and I arrived in Squaw Valley on Thursday afternoon, ate, relaxed, hot tubbed and shot the breeze until Mike and Heidi arrived the following day. I checked in on Friday for the race while AJ completed the "Vertical Challenge" race. We watched some soccer, I attended the race briefing and then we all came together back at the condo for a fun night full of talk, food and drinks (not me on the drinks).

The next morning we were laid back about the race start and that showed when I was the last person in the whole race to pick up my bib (they literally tore down the tent after I grabbed mine).  GO TIME!!


Happy Now, Sad Later

AJ and Mike with Heidi behind the lens

Squaw Valley (0) to Robinson Flats (31) ~ The High Country:

The count down started from 10 to 0 in the dark, the gun goes off and everyone heads out for a long day ahead. The weather was chilly at the start (35 degrees), but knowing I'd be working hard up the mountain, I ditched my jacket immediately. The race starts at the base of the old Olympic center and climbs 2500 feet up to the top of the escarpment (4 miles), which is not only the biggest climb of the day, but the highest elevation. I let go of pride right away and didn't care if I was passed or passed others ...I was just happy to be in the race and moving. We made it to the top and immediately were hit with the anticipated "snow" (which was ICE to a Coloradoan) putting everyone on their game as the traction was difficult. It was hard on the feet, had lots of undulations and there was a tad bit of skiing down on ice in some spots. I didn't move as well in this section as I wanted, but pushed through it and did my best.  About 2 miles further we started seeing less stretches of snow and I was able to patch together some solid running. Let me state early that the views on this whole course were amazing, but none so stunning as the high country.  Simply breathtaking.

Coming off the peak elevation and on to Emigrant Pass.

The gift that kept on giving - gorgeous high country.

After passing through both the Lyon Ridge (10) and Red Star Ridge (16) aid stations, I worked my way into and out of the Duncan Canyon (25) aid station. My goal was to quickly get in and out of all aid stations where I didn't see my crew and was successful with that plan. In all my research and talks with others, I've heard this race gives you "thrashed quads". I realized that later in the race BIG TIME, but that part of the story is coming up in a bit. I immediately noticed that my quads and glutes were already getting tight, which caused immediate concern since we had so much more downhill ahead of us. But that's one of those "Happy now, Sad later" deals and I just pressed on.
Crossing slick rocks is difficult on
legs that just completed a marathon.
With one of the next biggest climbs ahead before seeing my crew, I just put my head down and worked up the 1200 foot climb from Duncan Canyon to Robinson Flats where I would see my crew. This was a good check point for how I was feeling overall and it wasn't bad. My foot was in bad shape due to the neuroma, which I dealt with the entire 21+ hours, but at least the quad injury wasn't presenting itself. Also of note, I fell early in the race (around mile 14) and popped my knee on the ground, which was also painful, but definitely manageable.

Robinson Flats (31) to Michigan Bluff (55) ~ The Canyons

After 6+ hours of not seeing my crew, I was ready for some friendly faces. They welcomed me with open arms, had a chair ready and started helping me with all my needs. I changed shoes and socks (Mike is a God-send for taking off my wet socks and helping me into my dry ones) and got more nutrition, while my crew gave me the layout ahead and the plan to the next crew station (a long 24 miles away). Some last minute departing words and I was off into "The Canyons" where the day typically gets the hottest. On top of this being a cooler year, I did over a months worth of sauna work giving me confidence that the heat wouldn't affect me all day and it didn't.

The next 13 miles are known as the "Downhill Half Marathon", which for me was good and bad. It was some of the most runnable section of the day and even when you didn't want to run, you felt compelled to knowing it was a chance to make up any lost time earlier in the race. At the same time, if you go too hard, you'll have nothing left in your legs later in the race. Feeling the downhill, I tried to stay in control and keep my feet under me. Having had ZERO trail training for this race (and amazed I was even still in it after 30+ miles) I was REALLY feeling my quads now, so I tried not to brake too much on the downhills which invokes your quads a lot.

I moved through the next 2 aid stations (Miller's Defeat - 34 and Dusty Corners - 38) quickly and incurred one more hard fall that again popped my knee, which was now starting to hurt with so much downhill. Having run 6 of these races prior, I knew it was tolerable and manageable so all I could do is put it out of my head and continue on. I was already on wobbly legs from the lack of trail training, so it was important to maintain focus and pick up my legs.

I finally hit the Last Chance (43) aid station where I met my favorite volunteer of the day. It is also important to say now since I neglected it earlier, that the volunteers of this race make it a top notch experience like I've never seen before. I had a bit of chaffing going on and when the volunteer asked what he could get me, I asked for a bandaid. When he got back with it already un-packaged, he asked where he could put it. A little embarrassed, I said "I think we should be on a first name basis for that" and then told him it was for my nipple, which I put on myself. We all had a good laugh and he gave me the harsh reality ahead (a steep descent and steep ascent) that was going to be one of my lowest lows of the race for me.

After leaving Last Chance, you descend a hair raising 1000 feet down to the river in less than 3 miles. My quads were so shot already that I really struggled to get down and let a couple stronger runners go by me as I just couldn't move well. Once I begrudgingly made it down, I immediately turned right around and went back UP 1500 feet to the Devil's Thumb (48) aid station.  Two of the most contrasting parts of the day. Once I pushed hard to the aid station I commented to all the volunteers waiting "you MUST be the most anticipated aid station of the day?". They all laughed and welcomed me like no other aid station (I think I had two personal valets by my side the whole time) and got me through quickly dousing me with water which was now my every aid station strategy to fight the warmth.

After Devil's Thumb, you have a repeat downhill to uphill section heading into Michigan Bluff. I made it down the 2000 ft descent to the El Dorado (53) aid station, which I actually found more runnable. I found this to be the most pretty aid station of the day as it sits right on the creek and is surrounded by lush vegetation. Another quick stop and then it was back up the 1300 foot climb to Michigan Bluff (55) where I would see my crew again after a tough 24 miles.

Cooling strategy for the day ...get soaked with ice water.
Picture by
Michigan Bluff (55) to Foresthill (62) - Volcano Canyon

I checked in once again with crew and they once again had a camp chair for me to sit in while I took care of my needs. Another quick chat about the upcoming climb and I was gone.

This would be the shortest distance/time between seeing crew, so I was motivated to get through the last of the canyon climbs. This section had it all with rollers and a couple steep climbs up to Bath Road where Mike waited for me. We chatted about status and laughed along the way into the station. We geared up, waved to a TON of cheering crews and headed on down the road to hit "Cal Street" with spirits high. I even mentioned to Mike that we only had 38 miles left, which in most cases sounds daunting, but it's really how you spin it in your own head.  I had just run almost 2/3 of the course and was now hitting runnable terrain again and that was enough for me to spin it positively in my mind least for now.

Bring in a fist bump for AJ.

Now that's service!!

Hard to leave unhappy after that support!
Foresthill (62) to Rucky Chucky (78) - The Divide

Cal street is known for being where the race really begins. However, for a non-elite runner like me, that only means that the worst of the climbing is done and where runners can make up good time on very runnable trail. There are still plenty of counter-climbs all the way to the finish, but they are shorter and more manageable ...or so I thought. Mike and I moved well up and down (mostly down) through the next three aid stations (Dardanelles - 65; Peachstone - 71; Ford's Bar - 73) and just chatted away while we cruised along. This sections runs along the American River and IT ...IS ...AMAZING. The river flows along with a rushing sound equally as calming as the site of the moving water. The weather was still warm, but nice and was about to cool off as the sun was setting. Mike asked me if I was ready for the night and I said "No", as the night is always a tough time in a race for me (and most). I got a good perspective from Mike on the topic when he said he is usually ready for a nice change, so I decided I'd try and accept and appreciate it for what it was.

I haven't mentioned it yet, but my stomach was a bit of a mess and it was making it less and less appealing to eat. I eventually gave up on eating somewhere around mile 65, which would eventually hurt me. I've done 6 other races and know this was a bad strategy, but I thought I could push through without calories and complete this race on sheer will. I made numerous stops along the race to take care of business and I was frustrated by it, but it was what it was and I just worked through it. I think not sticking to a good pre-race diet was the culprit and something I need to learn from in future races. Speaking of future races, I told Mike that I may make this my "retirement race" at the 100 mile distance. That's a topic you should NEVER discuss mid-race, but it was fodder for some good conversation. As we headed down towards Rucky Chucky, I was moving well, but SICK of my foot hurting and was starting to feel a bit tired (more so than earlier). We made it to the aid station just as the last of the daylight hit.
Mike and me hitting the Foresthill AS

The Boyz before departure! Gets hard to smile at mile 62.
We should've hooked arms and skipped away.

Rucky Chucky (78) to Pointed Rock (94) - The Far Side

We approached a dark, but lit up Rucky Chucky aid station where AJ and Heidi were waiting. Always lifted to see my crew, I came in happy. This was my favorite aid station when I paced AJ years ago and is the point of the race where you cross the American River. In the year I paced, we crossed by foot and followed glow sticks in the water which was magical. This year because of the moisture, the river was running too high to cross by foot, so we were taken across by raft, which was equally as exciting. AJ and I geared up, headlamps on and we moved down to the river where we were greeted by volunteers. They fitted us with life jackets, we loaded into the raft and chatted with the staff who got us across the river. With the last of the daylight hitting the river and the cool feel coming off the river, I made sure to take a mental picture and was somewhat disappointed the trip across didn't last longer. On the other side we were out and we were off and up one of the last long climbs of the day to Green Gate. I worked hard up the climb all the while chatting and laughing with AJ. AJ and I have been a part of EVERY 100 mile race for each other and we have a TON of history and memories together. It's mid-race where we typically talk about old memories, which is one of my favorite things to do late in a race. It's motivating, a walk down memory lane and a good chance to remember how grateful you should be for these amazing opportunities to make more memories.
Mid-race rafting adventure ...crossing the American River

Out the other side and straight back up the mountain.

"The Clydesdale" - AJ Wellman

I ran while I could and was still passing a person here and there and was happy with my progress. Unfortunately, with close to ZERO calories in the last 5 hours, my body was waning and waning HARD in an instant. My blown quads were DONE and I was starting to have trouble picking up my feet. I went down on my side again somewhere in these miles and AJ grabbed me before I slide down and off the trail. I was getting sloppier and sloppier and was losing my balance due to some dizziness. It was getting REAL and I was quickly moving into that "dead man zone". The only good news at this point was that I was still progressing with a strong hike and just made the commitment to move forward at all cost. We pushed through the next three aid stations (Green Gate - 80; Auburn Lake Trails - 85; Quarry Rock - 91) working slow, but working hard.

Somewhere on this last section, as AJ and I were chatting along, I saw some glowing eyes ahead in my peripheral view. I said out loud "what the hell is that" and when I pointed my headlamp up, I saw a mountain lion!!! I told AJ what is was and he looked up to see it's backside before it quickly disappeared into the brush. That left us a little nervous for the next half mile listening for sounds, which never did come, but it sure did wake us up for a bit.

Pointed Rock (94) to Auburn Finish (100) - The Fight

We expected to see Mike and Heidi again after the Highway, but found out when we got there that the aid station was different from prior years and was hard to get to. When we didn't see them, we just moved through quickly as we were in the final few miles of this race. I was still hurting BAD and was still not able to run at all, but gave everything I had. We worked our way down to No Hands Bridge (97) where we were greeted by Mike and Heidi. Mike asked me how I was doing and I don't even think I answered, but rather gave a big sigh, which was enough for him to know how bad I was feeling. A quick chat and we were out of there to try and get to the finish as quickly as possible.

The final climb to Robie Point is brutally steep considering it's point in the race (mile 98 and 700 feet of climbing), but I knew what was ahead so I mustered enough energy to power hike up it so that I could run down into Placer High School (the finish). After much struggle to get up it, we started running down the final mile (much to my quads displeasure) and found Mike waiting for us. We all three ran down the road and entered the track at the high school, which is the famous finish of the race. As I entered, I was in disbelief of what just transpired as I moved around the corner to the final 100m. I soaked it all in (i.e. hearing my name announced, the clock, the finish arches, the few fans in the crowd) as I threw out my arms and crossed the line. I DID IT ...I just outlasted the distance!!

Official stats: 18,090 feet of climbing, 22,970 feet of descending, 100.2 miles, only one lost toenail, 21 hours and 37 minutes, top 14% of finishers and my 7th~100 mile race.
Soaking it in.

A sweet finish to a sweet day.


After a very messy motel setup and a short sleep, we headed back to the finish line award ceremony to get our buckles. I was lucky to have finished high enough in the order that I could get my buckle and we could get to the airport in time for our departure. I gave big hugs to Mike and Heidi for everything they did for me and we were off to the airport. After a delay and late arrival home, it was all over in the blink of an eye. One final hug to AJ for being with me every step of my ultra journey culminating in the "coup de gras" Western States and my lucky #7 100 mile finish.
Getting my buckle award.

This from my bad side.

The coveted Silver Buckle (under 24 hours).


My story will differ from each and every runner who ran this race and that's what makes these races a true journey. Racing 100 miles will test your will, your spirit, your gut and mostly your resolve.Your adversary is the distance ...the distance of the race and the distance between your ears. The race distance will run out ...will you? Your mind will work with you and against you ...can you control it? Does this race give you purpose and motivation and thus a reason to finish at all cost? Better yet, does it give you reason to even line up on the start line and suffer for hours and hours? It did for me and while the set up was never good for me for this race and while I was never going to have the best race of my life, I was GOING to finish if I lined up or at least give it hell as long as I could. I was fortunate to have the former happen using my stubbornness, ability to fight and a resolve to not quit. I was blessed with this finish and am not taking that for granted as this was an experience of a lifetime and a story I will never forget.


I can't be successful in life or in these adventures without the support, love and faith of my family who are my biggest fans and my biggest motivation to never quit and I can only hope I made them proud. I can never thank my crew AJ, Mike and Heidi enough for all the sacrifices they made for me to make my day as great as it was and for believing in me the whole day. This race should be shared together and if I could split up my buckle, you'd each get a piece. A big thank you to Andrea and Michelle at Fuel 100 - Electro bites for your sponsorship and support in all of my races.  I can only hope I represent the company well. And a final thank you to all of the readers most of which will be family and friends who believe in me enough to follow along in all of these crazy journeys.


Race Shwagg


Fuel100 Electro-Bites (you gotta try them)
Sports Rehab Consulting (Brad is your BEST bet)

My Ultra Race Results (those darn elites KILLED my score on this race ...ehhhh)
My Race Data (watch data sucked ...damn ...100.2mi and 18K+ vert official distance)


  1. Hey Chuck - This is Great !! :)