In the past few days I have found myself reminiscing to when I first crewed at Western States in 2012 for Jez Bragg. At the time, I had never even run an ultra but had my first one scheduled for two months later.
I had first read about Western States 10 months beforehand, well after the 2011 edition of the race had been held, when I came across Dean Karnazes’ second book ‘Run’ purely by chance.
During those ten months I had become obsessed by the race. I devoured race reports, I got to know of the lead runners, I watched YouTube videos of the event and I ordered ‘Unbreakable’ by JB Benna, which stoked my obsession further.
I knew I had to be there in 2012, not as a runner, but in some capacity. I got to know Greg Soderlund, the former Race Director, via email and was offered a slot to volunteer at the finish. Whilst this would have been an incredible experience, I wanted to be out on the course, seeing, hearing and smelling the sites I had become so focussed on.
On a whim, I emailed Jez Bragg who I knew was an elite British runner who had come fourth the year before in a sub 16 hour time. He was slightly slower two years before that, but was one place higher, finishing in third- still the highest British placing to this day.
Being sponsored by The North Face, I presumed Jez would have a crew or at least friends lined up to crew him, but I thought it was worth a shot to say I was going anyway and could I possibly help in any way?
I was astonished to get a reply a few days later from him where he took me up on the offer to crew. It seems he was going alone in 2012 and would be grateful of any help he could get. This email has struck up a strong friendship and I am truly excited to be returning to crew for him in a few days’ time.
2012 was not Jez’s year, but to put it in context, his time would have won pretty much any Western States from 1974 to 2004, even on an off day. Whilst it wasn’t the run he had hoped for (particularly with the record cool conditions) I loved every second of the experience and 2013 was tough following the race online back in England. If I can afford to, I will be there every year until the day my name gets pulled in the lottery to run it myself.
As I reminisce currently, I am remembering parts of 2012 that I had forgotten. The aching sunburn after I ran to the top of Escarpment the day before the race, the incredible smell of the pine trees baking in the California sun, the views of valleys and mountains as far as the eye can see, the dust being kicked up by Timothy Olson as he entered the 55 mile aid station of Michigan Bluff in record time, the friendly Californians who couldn’t do enough to help a lost Brit trying to get to Highway 49, the camera flashes in Placer Stadium as Ellie Greenwood smashed the women’s course record and the view from our chalet in Squaw Valley, dwarfed by huge mountain peaks all around.
Now, returning in 2014 I have run six ultras myself and can appreciate so much more what Jez will need and when he will need it. Western States really does feel like going home for me, as daft as it may sound. I genuinely feel I am destined to run this race and even if I never do, just being there and even the thought of being there in a few days, makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.