The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, or more simply, Western States, claims to be the oldest 100 mile race in the world. Started in 1974, the race begins in Squaw Valley, CA and ends in Auburn. With more than 18,000 feet of ascent and 23,000 feet of descent, it is also recognized as a brutally tough technical race. As the official race website boasts, "Entry into this event should not be taken lightly!"
Tulsa area local, David Theriot, certainly didn't take his 2019 entry into Western States lightly. "There were two big physical challenges," he informed us. "One, getting the vert (vertical) I needed to tackle States." Since David resides in Owasso, it was tough for him to travel the thirty-plus minutes to Turkey Mountain, Tulsa's only real option for trail-based elevation gains. David specifically sites doing Lipbuster/Powerline repeats to increase his vertical endurance training. (Don't know what Lipbuster/Powerline are? Ask a TOTS member to show you!) David also used out-of-state races, weight training, and even the dreaded indoor stair climber to work through the physical challenges.
The second physical challenge David faced was heat training, especially for the potential 100+ degree in the canyon portions of the trail. To prepare for this, David used his last two weeks of training to sit in a sauna for thirty minutes after training runs. He called this experience, "Fun stuff!"
Of course, any ultra race presents mental blocks as well as the physical ones. For David, his biggest mental hurdle was, "questioning my preparation. I know I'm strong and usually step up to the challenge, but the questions lingered...I had a few injuries to train through, and that weighed on my mind more than my body."
Eventually, training ended and the true test was upon David. He describes the atmosphere at the start line as, "pretty exciting! I remember a woman next to me was giddy with laughter." David also recalls the camaraderie at the cusp of the race. "There were lots of high fives and fist bumps with strangers before the countdown....lots of smiles, introductions, and everyone sharing the experience."
David got a firsthand taste of the varying terrains and biodiversity that makes Western States famous, within the first ten miles. "We started with running through about ten miles of snow. I had never run in snow, so I was using weird leg muscles that were not accustomed to being used!" David also tackled the infamous elevation changes, especially around Devil's Thumb. "The climbs out of the canyons were brutal....long, steep, grinding vert." But David recalled the support and fellowship of other runners in such challenging segments, saying, " The good thing is that there was usually company, so you didn't have to suffer alone."
The grueling climbs and harsh terrain were balanced out by kinder segments of the course. "There were some really fun, runnable sections with fantastic views. I had to remind myself to look up....from time to time and take it all in."
David decided to bring only one crew member with him to experience Western States 2019- his wife, Jennifer Theriot. Jen was kind enough to share her experiences as the sole crew member with us, as well, starting with, "It was easier to crew than the Tahoe 200!" She noted that Western States was well organized and efficient, with "good instructions on how to get to each location." As for her being the David's sole support, she said, "I enjoy being the only crew member because I got to see him at all the rest stops, and I know how he is doing/feeling." She noted that the race did take a toll on him; "It was very obvious that this race was much harder than most he had run in the past."
While Jen was his only crew member, David wasn't alone or amongst strangers while out on the course. He ran into a few familiar faces pre-race, including Oklahoma running legend Camille Herron, and encountered even more acquaintances and friends on the trail. " It was definitely fun to get to run with Dave Mackey and other people I knew from social media." At one point in the race, David shared a few miles with another runner, and they came to realize that they had also shared a few miles at a previous race, the Tahoe 200. "Since it was dark, we had run a few miles together before we realized we knew each other. We got to reminisce and pass the time while running through the woods in the dark."
David not only successfully finished the Western States 100, but also managed to do so in a sub-24 hour period, earning him a well-deserved Silver buckle. David had kept track of his timing throughout the race, but was hesitant to celebrate before the finish line. "I was calculating through the race, but knew that anything could happen....that things could blow up at any time. The closer I got to the finish line, the more real it became." David finished Western States 2019 in 22 hours and 29 minutes. "The realization that I had accomplished the Silver Buckle gave me a surge of energy...I was exhausted, but so full of joy and excitement! The doubts have been obliterated and I had accomplished what I was there to do!"
David's joy is infectious, and will undoubtedly inspire other runners to tackle Western States 2020. For those runners, David suggests, "Get some vert training in....as much as you can without killing yourself!" He also points to his crew of one as a key to his success. "A good crew is great... I'm pretty self-motivated, but seeing my wife for a few minutes definitely helped lift my spirits."
An additional congratulations is in order, because David accomplished all of this as a newly-crowned grandfather! David's first grandchild, Josephine, was born just a few short days before the start line. Congratulations to Grandpa David and his family!
If you'd like to read a more in-depth reflection on David's Western States experience, you can find his article here.