Graeagle resident Scott Brand crosses the finish line. To race in the Western States 100, runners have to qualify, serve as volunteers, and win an entry by lottery.
Shannon MorrowSports Editor8/5/2010
The Western States 100, a premier ultra-running race from Squaw Valley to Auburn, tests the boundaries of human endurance.
The 100-mile course across the Sierra Nevada range takes runners through snowfields and swollen creeks before dropping them down into sweltering hot canyons. The route totals 18,000 feet of elevation gain and 23,000 feet of elevation loss.
It takes most runners more than a full day to complete the course, if they complete it at all. The cutoff time is 30 hours, after which all remaining runners are pulled.
This year's Western States 100, which took place June 26 - 27, had a record number of 426 individuals participate. Of those, 328 finished.
A major goal of the race is to finish in under 24 hours, and a silver belt buckle is awarded to runners who achieve this additional accomplishment. This year, 123 participants made the 24-hour mark.
Scott Brand, a 44-year-old resident of Graeagle who was running in his first 100-mile race, was among the 29 percent to earn a silver buckle. His finishing time was 23 hours, 28 minutes and 26 seconds.
"I really wanted to make 24 hours," said Brand. "That's what I was training for."
The race started at 5 a.m. and Brand was on pace during the first 30 miles, but then temperatures rose to more than 90 degrees as runners had to climb in and out of two steep canyons.
By the time Brand reached the checkpoint at the 62-mile mark, he was 15 minutes behind pace to finish within 24 hours.
"I had slowed down and was bummed out," said Brand. "But when it cooled down, I sped up. During the last half, I was passing people."
After being as far back as the 164th position, Brand was the 100th runner to cross the finish line at 4:28 a.m.
Upon finishing, Brand felt faint and somewhat nauseous, and he briefly passed out while waiting for medical personnel.
"I was laying on the grass, not sure how I got there," said Brand. "Things were kind-of vague."
Eventually, Brand was taken to the medical tent and put on a cot, where he was given two IV bags over the course of two hours.
"There were a lot of people in there with IVs," said Brand, who recovered enough to shower and eat before the 12:30 p.m. awards ceremony, when he received his silver buckle.
Brand got home that evening and spent the next day recovering. He ate Ben and Jerry's ice cream in the morning and at night, along with a lot of other food throughout the day. He also slept most of the day. The next day was also slow, and then the following day he went back to work.
Brand never really considered himself a runner, but he enjoyed spending time on trails out in the woods. He and his wife, Dianna, backpacked the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Sierra City.
Around eight or nine years ago, Brand began running three to four miles at a time for his health, because he was having a hard time dealing with his father's cancer.
Then he met Brandon Rose, who lives in Calpine, and the two started running together. "We started getting crazy with it," said Brand.
In summer 2007, Rose proposed that they run from Johnsville to La Porte on back roads. The 30-mile route was the first major distance run for Brand.
Then he found an article about the Miwok 100K, a 62-mile run through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and decided to give it a try.
"It was a big jump in mileage," said Brand. "It was too much. It was quite an experience."
Despite fatigue and knee issues, Brand completed the 2008 Miwok 100K in 13 hours and 33 minutes.
The following year, Brand returned to race in the Miwok 100K, after slowly working up his mileage during training. This time, Brand finished in 11 hours and 2 minutes, shaving an hour-and-a-half off his previous time. In doing so, Brand qualified for the Western States 100.
Not only do runners have to qualify for the Western States 100, but they must also give eight hours of volunteer work to the event to participate.
In 2009, Brand worked an aid station at the Western States 100. Being a volunteer there got him fired up to race in it the following year.
Brand essentially spent a year training. Saturdays were reserved for his long runs, which began at 20 miles and ramped up to 30 or more miles as he progressed.
Before winter set in, Brand ran a lot in the Lakes Basin area, but once the snow arrived, Brand had to drive to Chico or Auburn each weekend to get his long runs in.
"My wife was really supportive," said Brand. "She's been amazing."
In the three months leading up to the Western States 100, Brand competed in two 50K races out of Auburn and Red Bluff and a 50-mile race out of Reno, Nev.
During the Western States 100, Brand had two different crews supporting him throughout the race.
His wife, Dianna, and step dad, Gary Cornwall, were one crew, and his other crew was an old friend named Jon Bauer who flew in from Louisiana.
"Jon is in the special forces of the Navy, so he's really good at sleep depravation," said Brand. "He had to be awake for over 30 hours."
Because of the remoteness of the course, crews had to drive up to five hours at a time to reach the next checkpoint, where they would see Brand for less than two minutes to re-supply him with Gu energy gel and sometimes a change of shoes.
Brand needed four pairs of shoes and socks throughout the race. The first pair he used got all wet after running through snow and water, so after he changed them, his crew put them out in the sun to dry, because Brand would need them again for the last part of the course.
Someone took the shoes as they were drying, so Brand's crew contacted friends who hurried to the REI in Roseville, bought a new pair, and got them up to the course in time for Brand to run the last 20 miles in new shoes. The original pair of shoes that went missing ended up in lost-and-found.
"I was getting some painful blisters, so it was nice to change into new shoes," said Brand. "It was humorous that someone would steal a pair of old, wet running shoes, but we were really stressed at the time."
In the Western States 100, competitors are allowed a pacer to run with them for the last 20 miles of the race. Brandon Rose served as Brand's pacer and helped him through the last five and-a-half hours of the race.
Brand expressed thanks to those who helped him during the event. "They were amazing," he said. "You can't do this type of thing without them."
In addition to Brand's personal support crew, there were also medical staff located along the course to monitor participants' vital signs and weight.
If a racer becomes three percent lighter or heavier than their start weight, they are required to make appropriate adjustments at the aid stations. Racers who gain or lose more than seven percent of their start weight are pulled.
A gain of weight indicates too much water and not enough electrolytes, while a decrease in weight means not enough water or too many electrolytes. Brand's weight was high at the first aid station, so he made sure he wasn't drinking too much water, and it slowly went down.
Shortly after completing the Western States 100, Brand wasn't sure he wanted to do it again, but more recently he's been thinking about ways he could do it faster. However, he wouldn't try it again until he could go away somewhere warmer to train during the winter.
Regardless of whether Brand competes in the Western States 100 again, he plans to continue ultra running.
"The territory is gorgeous," said Brand. "It's like backpacking; you're in areas you can't get to on a day hike."
The Western States 100 evolved from the Tevis Cup Trail Ride for horses in the mid-70s. A rider named Gordy Ainsleigh had a lame horse, so ran the entire course on foot, finishing in 23 hours and 47 minutes, just under the 24 hour time limit set for horses.
Ainsleigh, now 63 years old, has since then finished the Western States 100 a total of 22 times. Ansleigh raced again this year and completed the course, although he didn't officially finish because the 30-hour time limit expired when he was a mile from the finish line.
Because of its history and its route, the Western States 100 is considered the premier 100-mile ultra running race. The remote course reaches an elevation of 8,750 feet over Emigrant Pass, and less than 30 percent of its runners finish within the 24-hour mark.
"It's a pretty brutal course, but it's a blast," said Brand. "You definitely know you're alive."