Thursday, June 28, 2012

Western States 100!

I'll start this with an email that I sent out to my running group yesterday morning:

"I don't know what it is about this race. I've never had a good race here (2x) but my all time best race experiences have been here pacing people (2x). This weekend's event won't be topped for a long time however, if ever.... I've paced many times at 100 milers, probably more than I've run (13) but this was the first time I was actually scared for the health and well being of my runner. It's done now, blessed it was a good ending and if next year there is a Philippine flag at the finish line for the first time in WS history, it will be because of the hard work, perseverance and no small amount of trust my runner placed on me to carve the safest path through the trails as his eyesight continued to deteriorate to the point of near blindness."

I've run WS100 twice and twice I've suffered and fell short of my goals. It remains in my experience as the hardest most painful finish I've ever experienced (2006) yet it is also the one race where I've had the most memorable event running as a pacer for my friend Carrie Sisk in 2009. Our story is the only thing I think of when folks talk about their best races, that was until this year's edition…

Jon and I met through the ultramarathon list several years ago. He joined and his introduction email came through around midnight San Francisco time. Feeling particularly friendly after having had a few beers I reached out to say hello seeing he was from the Philippines. I had been following the growth of the sport in the country since the first running of the BDM102. I had also been reaching out to the Filipino running community in general, following blogs such as Baldrunner and The Bullrunner. We stayed in touch through emails and the occasional blog responses to each others articles. Finally we met for the first time last October when I visited the Philippines for my Grandmother's 94th birthday. When I found out during the holidays that he got in through the lottery I contacted him right away and offered my congratulations and support. I was disappointed that I didn't get in but that was nothing compared to how psyched I was I for him getting his chance. He had a shot at becoming the first runner from the Phiippines to finish Western States.

Western States is difficult to get into because the spots are limited. Top 10 men and women are guaranteed a spot for the following year, spots are given out at select races for the first and second place finishers, more spots are given out to clubs and organizations who support the race and the remaining spots are made available via a lottery process. Runners have to run a qualifying race before they can enter the lottery. I've entered the lottery six times and never got in. I got my two finishes due to a now defunct "two-time loser" rule which provided that runners who have entered two consecutive times and failed to get in are guaranteed a spot on the third year. If it wasn't for that rule I would still be on the sidelines looking in.

Why Western States? 
There are many reasons and everyone has their own, for myself it's because of the history of the race, the privilege to participate in the country's most prestigious 100 miler, the hype, the talent who show up, the friends who attend and the opportunity to run in Tahoe - my mother's favorite place and one of my own.

We leave San Francisco early Friday morning but not before running into Wayne who is a local runner and member of the Filipino ultra-marathon group on Facebook. They get to meet for the first time but are familiar with each other because of the Facebook group. We are accompanied by Neal Gorman and his wife Abby who were from Virginia, we were giving them a ride to Tahoe. It was a pleasure as Neal is also an amazing runner and both he and his wife filled us in on the running scene in Virginia.

Race registration itself was relatively painless and we ran into Jose San Gabriel, we didn't know then how much time we would actually spend around each other all weekend. The pre-race briefing is still as long as I remembered it to be After the pre-race brief Jon got to meet some of the runners he looked up to and we hung out for a bit before heading to our hotel.

Friday evening we were jolted by a 4.2 earthquake, fitting considering both our worlds would get rocked on this race, something that would take us beyond our experience and comfort level.

IMG_2123 With Jon and Jose at race registration

With Stan Jensen at race registration

Going through medical

Pre-race briefing

Meeting Dave Mackey after the race briefing

Fortuitos Coincidence or Divine Providence?
I'm a praying man so I would say the latter. Race morning was the usual zoo of runners getting ready being attended to by crew and pacers. Jon was nervous but ready. I told him that I would see him only once on the course, at Robinson Flat - mile 29.7, before finally meeting him at the 100k/62-mile mark at Foresthill. Being his one man crew and pacer I knew I was going to have my hands full and I still needed to set up a ride from the finish back to Foresthill. The plan was to have the car at the finish so we could drive to the hotel immediately after he came in, clean up and get some zzz's before the awards ceremony. After they took off I went back to our hotel, packed and checked out since I couldn't go back to sleep from all the excitement. With a bit of time before having to meet him at Robinson Flat, I stopped off at Tahoe City to meet up with friends who were at an Xterra event (Off-road triathlons; swim, mountain bike and trail run). It was on the way and what better way to enjoy my morning coffee than to see a bunch of triathletes freeze their butt off in the cold water :)

With friends at the Big Blue Xterra triathlon in Tahoe City.

Brrr it was unseasonably cold in Tahoe. Jesse contemplating getting in.

By 8:30 am I left Tahoe City for Robinson Flat with plenty of time to reach the aid station before Jon was scheduled to come through. On the way however I started to get sleepy and when I started to lose my focus on the road I exited to the next rest area and slept. When I woke up I was surprised I had napped for over an hour and that it was raining heavily. Traditionally a warm to hot race, Western States was cool this year but I didn't know rain was in the forecast too. On the freeway it was just heavy rain but Jon and the other runners got hit with wind and hail in addition to the rain. I worried about Jon freezing on the trails since he was used to warmer weather. It was a good thing we decided that he take with him my lightweight hooded Marmot shell, great protection for the weight and it has seen me through several hundreds. Because of my nap and the fact that I got lost in Auburn I knew I was going to miss my chance to see him at Robinson Flat so I opted for Dusty Corners instead. On foot, the two aid stations are only 9 miles apart but a runner moving at a decent clip will beat their crew trying to get from Robinson Flat to Dusty Corners because these aid stations are remote and only accessible through tight, narrow, winding roads. Unless a runner has two crews it's best to only choose one of these aid stations.

Jon came through Robinson Flat just fine but his problem started on route to Dusty Corners. Had I seen him at Robinson Flat, I would have judged incorrectly that everything was fine and would have been clueless to his condition. Worse I would not have been able to give him a critical piece of equipment that he would need to keep progressing through the later aid stations before I could join him to pace, his headlamp. The front and middle pack clear the canyons before sunset but the back of the pack needs their lights. After Dusty Corners not only does the course get harder, two canyons side by side that need to be traversed, there is no crew access until they come out of the canyons and into Michigan Bluff at mile 55.7.
Ana Levaggi, Peter Defty and Miwok 100k RD Tia Bodington at Dusty Corners

Walter Edwards with his crew and pacer Georgia Young and Ultra Signup's Mark Giligan 

Todd Shipman, never too busy or worn out for Mbelle 

Grand Slammer Chihping Fu

Jose San Gabriel taking a short breather at Dusty Corners

What the ?!?!?!
I got to Dusty Corners just before 1PM and waited and waited and waited. I started to think that I might have misjudged his pace and missed him but the last update on the webcast assured me this wasn't the case. Unfortunately the area was remote enough that no one had cell reception. The only thing working was ham radio and they reserved it for emergencies, not to provide runner updates - I asked. Eventually, 1.5 hours before the cut-off for the aid station, Jon makes his way downhill to the aid station with the aid of another runner. The runner informs us that Jon had gone blind and had also twisted his ankle because he couldn't see the obstacles on the trail. Jon came in looking dazed but I think it was because he couldn't see well enough to focus his eyes on someone. I went to his side right away and led him to the station, asking him questions and ascertaining his condition. Nothing in my experience prepared me to deal with this but more experienced people available at the aid station were also stumped. The nurse came over but she too did not have any definitive answers for us. We gave him food and made sure he was hydrated but he told us he never fell behind his nutrition, hydration and electrolyte replacement and frankly he looked it. He looked great except for the vision thing. He wasn't even cold but we bundled him up just the same.

IMG_2148Volunteers looking over Jon 

He's looking at the camera but he doesn't know it was me 

Being looked over by the doc

Eventually the doctor from the Last Chance aid station was called in. Last Chance was only the next aid station down the trail and it was a mere 5.3 miles away. It was while the doc was en-route that I realized Jon, being at Dusty Corners so late in the day, was going to need his headlamp if he was going to make it to the next crewed aid station at Michigan Bluff - provided he could recover his eyesight before the cut-off and was allowed to continue. The sun was going to set before he came out of the canyons and being already partially blind, getting caught by darkness without lights could end his race.
By the time I got back to the station the doctor was already there with the nurse. I took the chair opposite the doctor and Jon looked at me blankly so I told him it was me and that I had his lights. He acted like it was the first time he talked to me since the start at Squaw Valley, apparently he had thought I was another volunteer when I attended to him earlier. That sent a small chill down my back, is he confused as well as being blind? I didn't realize his eyesight was so bad he couldn't discern facial features but surely he should have known my voice. He complained that his eyes felt like they had dust on them and wanted to wash them so the doctor agreed to take another look. While the doctor was examining his eyes he tells the doc he has glasses on, we all look at each other because the doc didn't have glasses on. The doc's face was only a foot away from Jon's! Crazy! Jon insists on washing his eyes with cold water, all three of us insist that any dust thick enough to obscure his vision will also be painful but the doc figured it couldn't hurt so they helped him. Needing a break from the tension I moseyed over to the aid station food table and took some food while relaying the situation to the volunteers who would listen. It was during this time that Jose San Gabriel came in and left. Meanwhile the clock kept on ticking but whatever Jon did his eyes recovered. Was that holy water? Could the cold water have washed away something or have an effect on the eye and it's blood vessels? Who knows but he made a remarkable recovery within the next 20 minutes. Ten minutes before the cut-off the doctor gave him a final vision test and he passed. He correctly stated the number of fingers the doctor held up, even the tricky ones he flashed quickly. He was even able to read the numbers on his watch. Despite the doctor's reservations about Jon continuing, especially to the canyons with less than perfect eyesight, he let him go. We figured that since the doc was going back to Last Chance, the next aid station, he could check up on Jon one more time before letting him continue to the canyons. I gave Jon his lights and he took off.

Trail sweeps!

Back on the winding narrow roads I started to get sleepy again and promptly pulled off at the first opportunity and took a second nap. By the time I made it back down an hour has passed and I was alarmed to find out that the wrong information was being relayed on Facebook about Jon's progress. I sent my update while idling at a gas station then promptly went looking for a real meal. I'm no use to Jon if I didn't take care of myself. I also checked the website for runner updates and was gratified to see he had progressed beyond Last Chance. Through Facebook, I found out what had happened at Last Chance. A volunteer named Allen Lucas posted some additional info:  

Allen Lucas I remember him! One of our Last Chance doctors left to see him at Dusty Corners. When he came into our aid station and got on the scales, the doctor asked him what the scale said. We all thought that was odd but didn't know that this was the runner he had just been working with. He must have made up some serious time to beat the 30 hour cutoff! I'm so thrilled he managed to finish after such a scare! Very cool!  


Allen Lucas What was odd was that he was very normal when he came in - you never would have guessed that just a bit before he couldn't see anything! He laughed about the scale reading thing - he made a joke about it. The only real concern we had was that it was late and he needed to pick up some time (which he did).

Thanks for the info Allan!

Foresthill was the usual hub of activity for the event. The streets were lined with cars, people everywhere and volunteers running around taking care of things. Got myself a sandwich meal at the local Subway and ate it while I walked around and caught up with friends. I also shared Jon's story to try and figure out what may have happened. I got several answers, each one a plausible cause. At this point there was no need to check in to our second hotel as we were going to finish close to the time we have to check out on Sunday. Thankfully they do have shower facilities at the finish so I packed a shoe bag full of fresh clothes, toiletries and slippers for Jon and passed it on to a volunteer who was gracious enough to drop it off for us at the finish line bag area. It was also too late to figure out the whole car-drop-off-at-the-finish-line thing. Later in the evening I found out that it's possible to pick up your runner at Michigan Bluff when it's after 8 PM but since I found this out late I opted to keep the car at Foresthill and back track along the course. There was a shuttle bus from Foresthill to Michigan Bluff but I was worried that I would be on the bus making my way there while he was on the trails making his way to Foresthill. Back tracking was my best option and the going was slow since it was dark and I made sure to check every runner not wanting to inadvertently miss Jon. When I found him he looked good but the first thing he disclosed was that his vision was not so good. It was going to be a long night...

Jon coming into Foresthill

We left Foresthill at 11:20 PM, 18 hours and 20 minutes into the race which meant we had 11 hours and 39 minutes to cover 38 miles in under 30 hours. No problem, I wasn't worried at first. I figured if we could somehow manage 15 minute miles for 38 we would be good, the extra time left over would go to the time spent at aid stations, gear changes, bathroom stops and whatever else and we would still have enough of a time cushion to go under 30 hours.

In my pack was four cans of Starbucks Double Shots and gave him one at Foresthill. The caffeine woke him up but after the first two aid stations after Foresthill it became apparent that we wouldn't be able to hit 15 minute miles consistently and by mile 75 I was convinced that it was going to be a close thing. Jon was moving well but not fast enough, his degraded vision really hampered him. Joining my lights with his only made matters worse it seems so I had to keep my distance not let my lights overlap with his. Too much bright light especially over the fine sandy texture of the trail really messed with his vision. What could we do? We just pushed as hard as we could hoping to make up time. He assured me that when the sun came up he could do better and I told him that the smoothest trail he would ever find on the last 38 were the ones we were running now to the river crossing at Rucky Chucky. We had to push while the trails were good. Now one of the theories about his blindness was the hypoglycemia/hyperglycemia theory proposed by Peter Defty and Marty Hoffman at Foresthill. Being low on sugar and then having too much could cause blindness, having a reaction like some diabetics do. Jon has been on the Paleo diet and he latched on quickly to this theory since he has cut out sugar in his diet but was using energy gels for the race. So as an experiment we switched to solid food and ditched the gels; bananas, grilled cheese sandwiches, fruit, etc. We had a ziplock bag which we filled with food from aid stations and he would eat through this stash as we ran and hiked.

Eventually we made it to the river crossing, ahead of the cut-off but 8 minutes over the 30 hour mark according to a volunteer. The volunteer wasn't very encouraging. Maybe he was trying to scare us into moving faster. I told him we made up time from Foresthill and we planned on continuing to do so all the way to the finish, he just shrugged his shoulders and gave me the attitude that it was improbable. Thanks guy, we made it by the way. Numbers can't measure a runner's heart, his determination and perseverance.

The river was damn cold but clear even in the dark, it was around 4 AM I believe. Peter "Bear" Rabover was joking that I may have to swim for it being so short. He was joking but it wasn't far from the truth. One slip on the rocks and I would have been up to my neck in water. The last time I paced Western I killed a camera this way. The cold was great for our legs but Jon wasn't convinced. On the other side of the river he had his only drop bag which contained a backup pair of shoes, first aid items, food, socks and extra long sleeved Patagonia Capiline base layers in case it was colder than we anticipated. He wanted to keep his shoes but change socks. I gave him 5 minutes to take care of things, I even helped and it still took 10 minutes. I was a bit pissed when we finally got going so I was quiet on the climb out of Rucky Chucky. I wasn't in a talking mood anyway because after the dunking in the river and being at the aid station for 10 minutes I WAS FREEZING. It took half a mile to warm up again but once we were warmed up I pushed him to the Green Gate aid station at mile 79.8. The left ankle he twisted was starting to really bother him and we took it easy on the rocky trails after Green Gate, on all the rocky trails.

We made such great time coming out of the river and on the trails after Green Gate that we felt better about our chances of finishing under 30. The sun had come up and Jon was re-energized. We continued to make good time and we chatted and joked around about miscellaneous things, the tension from earlier completely gone. We were on a climb with him leading when he took a left when we should have gone right at a T intersection. It wasn't a hard mistake to make, our heads were down and were talking while hiking up the climb. Our conversation distracted us. Jon had the excuse of being partially blind but there was nothing wrong with me. I should have caught it! I had run and paced the event before and I had the fresh set of eyes and a clear head. Sometime during the climb I did realize we had not seen a ribbon in awhile but I was distracted before I did something about it. Finally I popped out into a road with no markings and a car stopped and confirmed what I dreaded. We promptly turned around and came back down the hill. By the time we made our way to the point we got lost we burned 15 minutes. It was quite a blow. Our positive momentum was halted and in it's place a quiet awkward silence. I felt pretty bad about it, in the back of my mind I was thinking, "If we miss this by 15 minutes or less it's going to suck real bad". Jon was moving slower now, the run back down the hill wore him out and he too was frustrated about getting lost, burning time we desperately needed. We made up time and we lost it but it's wasn't an equal exchange as it ended up with Jon being more tired and both of us in a funk. I tried to play it off as not being a big deal but he was having none of it. It crushed us mentally because we had made progress against the cut-offs only to lose it by a stupid mistake. Our mood went positive and hopeful to negative and more stressed, especially when we fell in behind runners we had already passed. Finally after about a mile I proposed we act like it never happened and get back into the business finishing this race under 30 hours. It took a few more miles but we finally came out of our funk and was able to refocus. Besides it was hard to dwell on one thing when we had other more pressing things to think about.

One of these issues was Jon's ankles, the left one he had twisted earlier in the day and was already swollen but the right which had been taking more of the load, working harder than the left, was also showing signs of wear. The second issue was that his vision was progressively getting worse again. I helped out by running ahead and calling out roots and rocks, small obstacles that even non-runners could probably navigate without much thought. Worse than the roots and rocks were the ones we called "butas" - holes. There were gouges on the trail, it looked as if there had been large rocks embedded on the trail which were then rooted out leaving a hole on the ground but they were shallow and easy to miss. The trails were narrow too so they were hard to avoid and Jon couldn't see them because the subtle change in color on the trail, the darker shadowed areas where the holes were, was too subtle a visual clue for his eyes. On one of these he planted his right ankle, twisted it and went down. My breath caught as I heard him cry out and go down. Was he down for good? Badly strained ligament or a minor strain he can keep running on? In our pouch was a product called "Omega Pro", it's a topical pain reliving salve like Ben Gay or Salonpass. I was introduced to it last year on my first and only ultra in the Philippines and I've been a user of the product ever since. I brought a bottle back with me but my girlfriend absconded with it so I had Jon bring me more. We packed one in his drop bag at Rucky Chucky and boy did it come through for us repeatedly.

We also tried having him run in front while I called out the obstacles ahead. Yeah that didn't really work out. I had to run while peeking around him to warn him of what was ahead, had we continued that configuration I would have twisted my ankles. We went back to me leading and calling out obstacles as we went along, I would also call out if the trail was clear. We eventually passed a friend of his who had a busted ankle. He was sitting on the side of the trail taking in the sun. We exhanged a few words with him and it was only later I found out that Jon had no idea it was his friend - his eyes were going from bad to worse.

Lowest Point 
Real food was taking too long to eat and he was getting sick of the bananas and grilled cheese sandwich squares. Finally we had to switch back to energy gels because he needed the calories. We'd get into the aid stations, grab a refill of his water, grab a gel and go. No more grazing at the food tables. We just couldn't afford the luxury anymore. We had our routine and we were moving right along, passing people and making up time. With the sun up in the sky now, Jon complained that in the sunny areas, where the sun hit the ground, he could barely see anything. Anything in the shadows was still okay but the sun obliterated his vision. @#&%!!! That was all we needed, enough degradation in his vision to slow us dramatically. A mile out of the Highway 49 aid station at mile 93.5, he had problems seeing even in the shadows. We came in to the aid station with Jon doing his best to keep cool, I think he feared being pulled from the race. I feared leading a blind runner the next 6.7 miles while trying to make the cut-off. Western States trails are not that technical but if you're going blind, well yeah they would be quite a challenge. The volunteers knew we were close and did their best to get us out of there as fast as possible. The trails out of Highway 49 were rocky in some parts and it really slowed us down. I would tell Jon to pick up his feet through the rough sections and he would, if it was particularly rocky he would put his hands on my shoulders and we would slowly and gingerly walk through the rough sections together.These sections sank our morale, I started to lose hope and I could tell Jon did too. We knew we had to go faster but we just couldn't do it through these sections. With 4 miles to go he asked me if we would finish and I gave him the most honest answer I could give - "Jon you will finish but I can't guarantee you a finish under 30 hours. Dude you're blind and I don't know how to get around that fact".
Never Giving Up 
Thankfully with the rough patches there were also relatively clear trails. Again I would just call out for him to pick up his feet and follow my blurry outline. I told him to run to my voice if I inadvertently got too far from him and I asked him to stay right behind me as I picked my way through the roots and rocks. That must have taken a whole lot of trust. If I was told to close my eyes and run to someones voice I don't think I could have done it. I declared loudly, as much for myself as it was for Jon that we wouldn't give up. I told him that if we missed 30 we would miss it fighting not walking in dejectedly. "No Giving Up" was our motto those last 4 miles.We pass Jose for the last time. We had traded places with him since mile 75 or so.

Eventually we momentarily left the trees and crossed a small dry field. The light brown grass in the sunlight must have been a whiteout to Jon. I just told him to keep doing what he had been doing, running to my voice and picking up his feet when I told him to do it. The field was blessedly flat and clear, we picked up speed and our morale rose as our per minute mile pace dropped.

Digging Deep
I think we had an hour and five minutes or so for those last 4 miles, I don't remember the exact figures now but I remember we were doing everything to make up time at this point. I knew that No Hands Bridge was obstacle free, I also knew that before the final climb up to Robie Point the trails was also clear and obstacle free and then there was the final mile to the high school, asphalt is definitely root and rock free. The only thing that really worried me was the final climb to Robie Point, I remembered it being tough with steps. I shared all this with Jon and told him we had roughly 4 miles to cover with an hour but that there were opportunities to make up time. I told him there were many smooth parts but the climb to Robie Point would take longer than a 15 minute mile so any time we could make up leading to the climb would be critical if he was going to make it under 30. I also told him that he still had a chance and that our goal was within grasp. We flew through No Hands Bridge, only stopping long enough for a water refill for him and a gel which he ate as we ran across the bridge. After the bridge we continued to run the gentle uphill fire road which lead to the final climb at Robie Point. Despite it being a slight uphill we were clocking 10 minute miles, at one point 9.5. We were killing it on the fire road. By the time the trail got progressively steeper with more obstacles we made up so much time we had 39 minutes to cover 2.2 miles. This allowed us to walk the steeper sections of the Robie Point climb. I wanted him to walk to save his strength for the final push and I myself needed to recover. Having been preoccupied with his well being I forgot to take care of my nutrition needs and started to feel dizzy. I took a gel but it needed time to hit my system, quick as it was.

When we finally made it on the road there was still three blocks of uphill to go before the final stretch to the high school. We had to do some walking here as well, he was exhausted and winded from all the running we just did and that was okay - we were going to make it! When we finally turned the corner and the road sloped downhill towards the school we hauled. He kept asking me about the time and the distance to the high school and eventually I had to tell him to just shut up and keep on running. Persistent as he was, even on the final lap on the track he asked me about the time to which I yelled, "IT DOESN'T MATTER NOW, YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE IT!!!" and then he was off to the finishers chute. I had to leave his side so he could finish, kept the video running though. How I didn't collide with a spectator or nail a step in the bleachers I've no idea. In the video you will see that he drops my sunglasses on the way to the finish, he turns around, stares right at them and doesn't even see them. Everyone yells for him to keep going which he does. Later he would tell me that he was only able to run on the track because he could discern the white lines, there was enough contrast between the lines and track itself.

Jon finishing!

After I turned the camera off I tried to get to Jon but the finish line is fenced off and he had to go through a post race medical evaluation. They took some of his blood and I believe they also take your blood pressure. Not sure about the latter but they definitely did the former. I crossed the field back to my pack and water bottles which I had ditched on the side on our final sprint to the finish. While walking I just started laughing. It was either cry or laugh. I laughed at the ridiculousness of it all, still couldn't believe we made it.

With Jon at the finish line. How much you wanna bet he can't tell it's Darshan taking the picture?:)

The pacing job doesn't stop at the finish line however. I collected Jon after I found him wandering the field, mingling with runners, pacers and spectators. I doubt he could see me from 10 feet away:) Then I rushed him to the showers so he could be clean and in fresh clothes for the award ceremony. The bag I packed for the finish line was right with our drop bag from Rucky Chuck - Thank you Brittany, you are an awesome volunteer! He complained about being sore but I rushed him anyway, "just follow me Jon and pick up your feet when I say so". The award ceremony was it's usual long and extended program, thankfully it the weather was cool because we were in the grass. I tried to stay awake but after a meal I passed out. We finally got a ride back to Foresthill and it was a long trip home from there as I had to make two rest stops. The last stop, under the shade of a tree was probably the same spot one of my pacers from last year, Peter, stopped at to nap before we continued on our way home to San Francisco.

Jon receiving his buckle

Jose receiving his buckle

With Rajeev Patel

Conclusion Jon has been inundated with support and congratulatory remarks from the running communities here in the US and in the Philippines. Already there has been news articles written and posted on Facebook. I've been feeding it myself posting pictures and such. He deserves it, it was a gutsy performance and he gave it what he had all the way to the finish line. Had things gone according the plan he might have achieved that sub-24 hour buckle like he originally planned but thankfully things turned out this way - it's a far richer and interesting story. He also probably learned new things about himself despite having completed other races of similar distance. As I write this a part of me still can't believe we finished, I keep thinking back when we were 4 miles out and I had to guide him gingerly through the rocks. The days that followed he would get emotional reading all the comments on Facebook and every time he watched his finishing video. The beer didn't help either:) Damn that cry baby! I kid Jon. Thank you for keeping that private:)

Jon with Tim Twietmeyer after the awards ceremonies

Like all epic runs, memories keep coming in. We talked about the run over and over again. One funny thing I'm remembering right now is something that happened around mile 95 or so. On our way to No Hands Bridge, we were on a fire road going uphill when around the corner 5 college aged girls came running down the hill. They were dressed in sports bras, short tight shorts with hair flowing backwards from the speed of their descent. I smile and said "Jon you should see this", he couldn't of course. Now he thinks I may have just hallucinated the whole thing. Hallucinations don't say hello or do they?

We still don't know what caused his blindness but I can give you these details:

- First time it happened he was between miles 30 to 38
- At mile 29 they were hit with hard rain, wind and hail
- He was no longer at high altitude
- He doesn't wear contacts
- No glasses either
- Second time it happened was Sunday morning
- Definitely not in the cold this time
- Much lower altitude than the first time it happened
- He kept up with his hydration, nutrition and electrolytes
- He had a mixture of solid food and gels
- We were very stressed to make the cut-off

Pacing is a bonding experience, I remember all my pacers. A race like this will be unforgettable for the both of us. I have never experienced something like this. This was beyond my experience level and so was he, we just made it up as we went along. We did our best to stay calm, think things through and run as hard as possible. People say I did a great thing, yeah sure but there is no pacer if there is no runner. What I mean is that it all started with Jon. He had the drive and perseverance to keep going despite his problems. Had he given up there was nothing I could have done. It was a privilege to have been there and lend my support. My own race finishes ride partly on the work of others, even the 100 milers where I ran without a pacer or crew - it is never a solo effort! It takes a village to support a runner. RD's, volunteers, crew, pacers and even spectators work for the benefit of the runners.

Someone on Facebook pointed out that the Philippine flag isn't one of the flags at the finish line. Maybe it's because no Filipino has finished the race until this past weekend. Maybe the Philippine flag will be among the other flags displayed next year at the WS finish because of Jon's gutsy performance. More Filipino runners will come, some them will run very fast times but Jon will always be the first and his story will be remembered by many because of the way he fought until he got to the finish line. Mabuhay (long live) Jon! Mabuhay to the fast growing ultra community in the Philippines! Mabuhay ang Filipino!

More photos here.

Strava data here (hopefully it's visible to non-members)


  1. You told me briefly, and last night I read it from him on ultralist. Rick, this story is freakin' unreal. What a trooper he is!!! Never give up, that's for sure! Anybody who ever finds ways to drop with problem will have to stand looking this guy into the eyes. Awesome job, man! Both of you!

    1. Thanks Olga! You would know, you are a runner with a big heart yourself, mentally and physically tough. I can't believe how close he got to being pulled at Dusty Corners, how he recovered just in time is beyond me, then to chase cut-offs all the way to the finish without quitting is for the books.

  2. Anonymous9:45 AM

    wow what a story to tell! a pacer duty to remember Rick:)... best guy to tell all the drama that happen ...& a history for our flag on WS100.

    "Numbers can't measure a runner's heart, his determination and perseverance."- I'll like this Rick ... I hate that volunteer at Rucky chucky! didn't help at all!.

    Then got lost.. seeing no ribbon on the trail...

    & that amazing 4miles ! Wow ! what a determination & strong finish!

    WS100 has a lot of history & story to tell ... This will be on the book. & History on our country! MABUHAY !

    Is there a blog contest on WS100? you should send this one Rick.


    1. Marky Mark, it took a long time to write:) Long run, long report but it's a great story to tell. I was reliving the race as I wrote. This is a report for Jon so he can relive all the details too and a report for all of you so you can get the details of what happened. No blog contest on WS100 but that's okay.

  3. rick, thanks for sharing us this story. very inspiring. i think this is a good book material to include jon's recollection of the event. good job!

    1. Thanks BR, it was good to write the details down, I got to relive the race again.

  4. Anonymous10:37 AM

    indeed remarkable pacer duty and a writer too...Mabuhay kayong dalawa ni Atty. Jon

  5. Anonymous10:48 AM

    thanks for all the details Rick! yah! atty.Jon will surely love this blog he'll remember all the moments.


    1. Yeah Mark, truly, he read it twice already, reliving the run.

  6. This is an epic story! Miracle after miracle, never surrender attitude and patience against all odds - a very deserving finish for atty. No wonder he would get emotional every time he saw that video, there is a deep reason behind it

    Thank you for sharing this sir rick! Mabuhay kayo!


    1. Thank kampuger, I think he will get emotional about it for awhile and he will remember the good times and the lessons learned.

  7. Anonymous12:50 PM

    Some story!! you are forever "bonded" with your runner Jon and your famouse quote"numbers can't measure a runners heart..." will be repeated and written in a runner's history....such a powerful inspiration of faith and so very proud of you and Jonathan Lacanlale...


    1. Thanks Ma, it truly is a bonding experience especially for something like this. A run to remember.

  8. Anonymous5:09 PM

    Rick, one amazing story! There are so many stories in the 2012 Western States 100 but this one IS the most amazing! Congratulations to you guys. Both of you have a lot of heart and determination and am grateful to know both of you. Because of Jonnifer's completion of WS100, not only ultrarunning will be more popular in the Philippines, but hopefully, more Filipino-based runners will run in this legendary event. Runners such as Jovie, Jonel, Jael, Alfred, Junrox and others deserve to be there.

    Hopefully next year, you'll run it again. This ultra was definitely one for the ages with two course records (men and women) and four runners breaking 16 hours!

    All the best and am sure I'll see you soon!

    Wayne Plymale

    1. Thanks Wayne. Hopefully I get to run it again. We even thought about what would happen if we both get in - unlikely given the lottery odds these days but you never know. Jon beat the odds against him.

  9. wow! i'm stoked! u 2 guys are crazzzzyyyy! tis better than eat and run book :)

    1. Thanks Rose! We are pretty stoked too.

  10. Simon9:37 PM

    Great job - super both Jon and Rick!

    1. Thanks Simon, wish you could have joined us!

  11. Anonymous9:39 PM


    I guess atty jon's perseverance and never give-up attitude + your perseverance and never give-up attitude also....was the answer in finishing under 30hours... I salute you sir Rick for being UNBREAKABLE in pacing and not letting go of the situation....there are not so many person like you anymore....I guess atty jon is blessed to have you as his pacer in his journey to 2012 WS100...


    1. Thanks Jj, it felt pretty UNBELIEVABLE at the finish. We never gave up but I was surprised all the same. It just seemed the issues that came up would be enough to put the sub-30 out of reach. I still shake my head thinking about it.

  12. Anonymous11:00 PM

    Thank you for guiding him, Rick! This is truly inspiring! Congratulations to both of you!


  13. Anonymous11:30 PM

    mabuhay ka idol Rick Gaston!!!!!! mabuhay c atty jon!! mabuhay ang pinoy ultrarunners!!!!


  14. Anonymous11:34 PM

    This is a great article, Rick. Well written. Lots of quotes here that one can take as mantra in running and in life.

    My wife and I kept checking the webcast of WS and looking at the map layout with the icon positioning of Jon versus the cut-off. Nerve-wracking!

    Hope to someday meet you - maybe when you run BDM? =P


    1. Hey Jael, thanks for all the support. BDM? Isn't that a road run for a 100 miles, ouch, haha. Wala ba trail run? Yun na lang sa akin. Jael it was nerve wracking for us too man, a couple of times we could hear the cut-off horn being sounded soon after we left and it reminded us how close we were.

  15. Anonymous4:55 AM

    Brilliant account Rick - we were here in Manila tracking Jon all the way...on the edge of our seats!! - what an epic! - it is great reading...when will the movie come out? Who will play Jon?!?!? hee hee! - thanks for posting all of this - its great to fill the gaps and see the pics too!
    Julie and Paul Green

    1. Hi Julie and Paul, I told Jon a couple of times he was keeping people up with his progress:) If there is a movie I would like to request that the actor who plays me be taller and more handsome, maybe Piolo since he is also a runner, haha.

  16. Anonymous8:54 AM

    Amazing! Thank you for giving so much of yourself, for sharing the experience, and for taking care of our friend.:)- Josaw

    1. You are welcome Josaw! It was my pleasure. Best run I've ever experienced and I won't forget it.

  17. Thank you for sharing an amazing story of perseverance. I am reading as many 100 mile blogs as I can as I prepare for my first 100 in September. Your account is one of the best I have read and I learned a lot from it.

    1. Hi Laura, you are welcome. What 100 mile will you be running? Good luck to your training.

  18. Just incredible! Both of you are amazing. Thanks for writing such a detailed report.

    1. Thanks Sarah, it was quite an adventure and more than we bargained for. I'm still savoring the memories a week later.

  19. Rick! Thank you for sharing your incredible epic WS.. I'm so proud of you and Jon. You never gave up. If it were me, the blind scare would have been enough to call the race off. I am in awe of your pacing abilities and Jon's gutsy never fail attitude. I hope that Phillippine Flag will fly proudly next year in WS. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it. Talagang magaling kang tumakbo. Mabuhay!

    1. Thanks Aileen! I hope the flag makes an appearance next year, that would be grand. I hope to run WS again one day too, maybe next year is the year, keeping my fingers crossed.

  20. Rick! Thank you for posting such an inspiring, incredible story of pure guts and determination, on your part as a pacer and Jon as my new hero. The blind scare alone would have been enough for me to quit, but to find it deep in your hearts to finish is simply amazing. What an incredible journey it must have been for you and Jon. Congratulations on yet another successful pacing! It gives me goose bumps just thinking about that Phillippine flag waving in the sky next year at WS. Mabuhay! Talaga kang magaling!

  21. Wow, Rick, thanks for sharing this! What Jon and you accomplished is phenomenal! (I paced Eric Ellisen in 2009 when you paced Carrie Sisk - you are a pacer extraordinaire!)

    Best regards,

    1. MRO, I remember Eric and one of his pacers. There was two of you right? The pacer I remember was the one that was with him, at least to the river. She cracked us up because she had total control of the situation at the aid stations and we would listen as she worked.

      The run with Carrie, that was special too and will always be. What is it about Western States? Not that I'm complaining, it has given me two once-in-a-lifetime finishes.

    2. Rick - I am the pacer that you remember! ;) As an aside, I just finished my first 100, VT 100, with Eric as my crew chief!


    3. That is so great! Congratulations on your first 100. VT100 is a race I've always wanted to run. Maybe next year!

  22. Amazing! I am awestruck by the strength and spirit that both of you endured during the race. What a remarkable feat which probably only a few would dare pursue. Congratulations!

    1. :), thank you for the kind words. It was a very special run, thankful that I was able to come through for Jon. He most especially displayed a lot of strength and spirit.

  23. So I am sitting here trying to finish my overdue WS100 race report. I needed to refresh my memories so I had to read your blog again for facts.

    Reading it for the nth time just made me emotional again. I just couldn't figure out until now where our strength, perseverance and determination came from to finish under those hellish circumstances when all others would have probably resigned. It was absolutely incredible man!

    1. Waiting...waiting... I'm kidding man, take your time. I'm glad the blog can help you relive the day. It was definitely one of the best finishes I've ever experienced.

  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

  25. Anonymous9:56 AM

    Wished I had come upon your posting sooner. WOW, what a read! This has got to be one of the most courageous race accounts I've read! And I read a lot of these. Anyway, I am training for the 2013 WS, with much trepidation, I might add. I live in the flatlands of Greater Toronto Area, in Canada, though I originally hail from southern Philippines, which is why your posting was so inspirational. You seem to know a whole lot of folks in the ultra running community, wondering if you could hook me up with a pacer(s), preferably female, for WS? My email - Salamat. Best wishes in your running!