Pon Somnhot Western States Story
Photos: Marnie westcoastrunner.com (IG: koolgurl69)
Each Western States runner has a story of how they got to the start line and it was not an overnight process for anyone. Western States has several avenues on how you can gain entry into the race, but the most common method is via lottery. The berth of my story began in 2011 after completing my first 50 mile race. However, with one lottery ticket I failed to get picked for the 2013 Western States. This pattern would continue in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and believe it or not, 2018. During that time, I ran multiple 100ks and 100 milers to requalify for the lottery each year.
In 2019, with 8 consecutive years and 128 lottery tickets I was finally selected from the lottery. I attended the lottery drawing in person that year, and the walk up to the Placer high school auditorium stage was surreal. Finally, the work for the 2020 race began! …or so I thought. As it turns out, 2020 had other plans. The world shut down due to Covid-19. Races all over the world were cancelled, including Western States. Luckily, all entrants were rolled over to 2021.
I took 2020 as an opportunity to get in solid training, but coupled with a move and a job transfer, that proved to be a challenge. During the height of the pandemic, my wife and I relocated from the San Francisco Bay Area to the little Southern Oregon town of Ashland, Oregon. I quickly got to know my new home trails and hit the ground running. I’m by no means a high mileage runner, averaging only about 45-50 miles per week, but I was climbing 10-11,000 feet per week thanks to the Ashland hills. The bulk of my training consisted of easy road miles to work on aerobic capacity. My long runs included trail runs with long descents to build race specific strength for the downhill demands of Western States, which consisted of 18,000 feet of ascent, and a grueling 23,000 feet of descent. In addition, I worked with a sports nutritionist to dial down hydration and race nutrition needs. I also dedicated time to heat training by subjecting myself to time in the sauna. This would all prove to pay dividends in the end.
When race day finally arrived, I went into Western States with a celebratory mindset. The goal I had set a decade ago was finally here and I reminded myself to stay grounded while celebrating each mile to Auburn. The Canyons lived up to their reputation – it was a hot day and the weather had its way with all of us. The marquee climbs of Devil’s Thumb and MIchigan Bluff were equally as difficult as the downhills. The constant descents brought on fatigue to my legs. The aid stations were the true gems of Western States and each runner received top notch care from the volunteers. I was also fortunate enough to receive care from fellow RADrabbits @mcjacks_lee at El Dorado Creek and @jendg39 Ford’s Bar (Cal 3). Thank you ladies! I also had my share of troubles as my IT band became aggravated by the downhill running and I had to fight back nausea that would periodically rear its head at the most inconvenient times during the race. Luckily, in a previous life I was a competitive eater. Those skills came in handy and I was able to force feed myself to prevent any bonking.
The most memorable part of the race was sharing the last 22 miles with my wife Angela, who lived through the entire qualification process with me. Ange, as I call her, helped me run where I could and together we started chipping away at the time deficit that I created during the hottest parts of the race. On day 2, the morning sunrise and heat slowly became more intense as the hours passed by. My mood began to change as I realized I was getting closer to Auburn. When we arrived at the second to last aid station Pointed Rocks at mile 94 an aid station volunteer smiled and said “You’re going to finish Western States!” This was when reality really started to sink in. It wouldn’t be long until this decades long journey would come to an end.
As we passed No Hands Bridge, Ange could hear the cheers from a couple miles away. Together we made the climb up Robie Point to be greeted at the top by the aid station and my crew. We all ran the final mile together to Placer High School onto the track, and finally, to the finish line of Western States. By far one of the toughest 100 milers I have done, I was able to run a PR for the distance and slip under the golden hour at 28 hours 52 minutes and 9 seconds.
It takes a village to complete this journey, and I want to thank my wife Angela for pulling me along for the last 22 miles, my crew, The Pon Stars, and my pacers Chris and Jojo. Also, a special thanks to the RADrabbit family for the support and motivation throughout the pandemic!
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