Local ultra-distance runners Peggy Davidson and Jack Emery competed in last weekend’s 31st Annual Western States 100-mile event.
Neither Davidson or Emery had thoughts of actually winning the race, which Scott Jurek did in 15 hours, 36 minutes and 27 seconds.
They were focused on finishing the grueling event – which they did, although not without having to fight their way past significant obstacles. What is really astounding is to consider what finishing this event actually entails.
Each year, those standing at the Squaw Valley starting line at 5 a.m. Saturday cover the 26.2 miles of a marathon, followed by another 26.2 and then another.
Finally, after traversing the equivalent of three marathons, Western States runners have just 21.4 miles to go before finally reaching the finish line in Auburn on Sunday.
And, as if the sheer distance and sleep depravation of the trek isn’t enough, the terrain takes its toll, too. The run, which follows the original trails used by the gold and silver miners of the 1850s, includes climbing more than 15,500 feet and descending nearly 23,000 feet by the end.
Peggy Davidson, who turned 48 in May, competed in and finished her fifth consecutive Western States 100 this year, and then seemed almost nonchalant in her assessment of her performance.
Extremely confident from start to finish, knowing she could do it because she had done so before, she completed the 100 miles in 27:46:07, more than 40 minutes faster than her 2003 time (which she attributes to cooler temperatures) and only about 20 minutes off her fastest time among her previous four runs.
Her performance seems only more impressive considering both her trouble stomaching anything after eating half a sandwich at the 55-mile mark, as well as the few falls she suffered, tripping on rocks, in the first half.
“From there on, every time I ate, and I tried about every two miles, I got sick. It stayed that way all night and I really felt bad for Bill Hunter – who was my pacer for the last 38 miles – for having to put up with me,” she laughed while adding, tongue firmly in cheek, “He had to see me at my best.
“That was scary for me, getting sick early on and wondering, when you can’t keep anything in, where the energy is going to come from to keep going.”
Peggy, despite her eating problems, still finished the 100 miles weighing three pounds more than she did at the start, which is hard to fathom. The next day, she said, she was seven pounds below her starting weight.
Giving much credit to her Hunter, her pacer, Davidson also said what a huge help her husband, Greg, was.
“My husband was my only crew,” she said. “He took such good care of me the whole time, all day and all night. He worried constantly. I was pretty lucky to have him supporting me.”
And it’s not an easy task just staying awake so long.
“After 80 miles I was very sleepy,” she recalls. “I was running and my eyes were closing.”
Peggy has recovered extremely quick, feeling “good” three days after the 100-mile run, seriously considering going out for a run already.
“It was more exciting for Jack (Emery) because it was his first time,” she said. “And he did a great job. It’s just such a great accomplishment.”
Emery, 57, was attempting this supreme challenge for the first time, and understandably didn’t start the event as confident as the Western States veteran Davidson.
He did have plenty of support from family and friends, though, and also a very solid training plan, which hit a bump in the road a month before Western States.
“About a month before the race I got some Achilles tendonitis and had to back off on my training a bit,” he said. “That was a negative in regards to my conditioning for the hills, because you have 23,000 feet of downhill. Subsequently, my quads got really hammered during the race.”
Emery rested the week before the event, not running at all, which left him feeling good going into the race.
As stated in the pre-race story in The Union (June 25), Emery had a goal of finishing in 27 hours.
The downhills took their toll on his quad muscles, causing him to have to slow down significantly when headed downhill, resulting in his 28:14:08 final time.
Still, Emery, other than his quads, said he was feeling good and was on pace for his time goal through the first 62 miles.
“When I felt as good as I did at the 55 mile mark, I knew I was going to make it,” he said. “I had gone through the canyons and finished the hardest parts. I had never run farther than 62 miles before that.”
He glowingly spoke of the support he had throughout the event.
“I had a wonderful crew of eight people,” he said. “Plus, my pacer, Stephan Davidson, who has run Western States before, ran with me for the last 38 miles of the race, talking most of the way.
“During the night, I tripped and fell down three times as my coordination was a little bit off from being tired. It’s dark with very rough trails at that point. It would have been hard for me to get off the ground without his pulling me up because my quads were so hammered.
“Without his help and support, including helping me take care of a blister during the middle of the night on the side of the trail, it would have been very difficult for me to have completed that race.”
In the later stages of the event, when fatigue and exhaustion were being battled, Emery remembers seeing his wife, Dare, daughters (Blythe, Ciara and Ashley) and other support crew members at the aid stations and then finish.
“When I saw them, I was ready to cry because I was so appreciative of their help,” he said. “At the finish, I had wonderful feelings of success, along with feeling very emotional.”
Despite covering 100 miles, Emery, like Peggy Davidson, gained weight from the start to the finish (when it’s not uncommon that some runners are required to drop out if they have lost too much weight), going from 162 to 169 pounds, proving he remained well-hydrated. He guessed that he drank five gallons of water during the event.
Emery said he was feeling his best at 20 miles into the race (when marathoners often hit “the wall”), but then had some problems with altitude sickness during miles 25 through 32, but knew he’d feel better when he got to a lower altitude, which is what happened.
He was running with Peggy Davidson about 40 miles into the race, before they headed down into the canyons and she opened up a half-hour lead, which was roughly the difference between them at the finish line.
Recalling his experience nearing the finish, Emery recalled, “A mile before the finish, they allow your family to run with you and my 7-year-old grandson (Hunter White) ran with me the rest of the way. I thought I was moving pretty quickly, when he turned to me and said, ‘Grandpa, you’re slow.'”
Laughing, Emery remembered his grandson turning and running backwards for a few steps every so often, acknowledging he must not have been running as fast as he thought. They crossed the finish line together, and Emery put the medal around his grandson’s neck.
Asked how he felt physically after finishing the race, Emery replied, “I could hardly keep my eyes open. I was awake since 3 a.m. Saturday morning until after noon at the event on Sunday. The next day, Monday, I couldn’t walk down stairs. I had to go down backwards, one stair at a time, holding on to the railing.”
On top of completing his first Western States 100 mile event, Emery found out that his 54-year-old brother, Robert, who had been hospitalized for two weeks after being diagnosed with lung cancer in January, had died during the race.
Robert, though, had communicated he wanted his big brother to run the race and Emery’s wife kept the news to herself until after his finish.
Asked if he will run Western States again, Emery replied, “I’m seriously considering it and will make a decision by the end of July. It’s not only a sacrifice for the runner, but for the whole family and everyone around you.
“It was a major goal accomplished. It was a really positive experience for me to be able to do this and I’m grateful I did it.”
Western States100 fast facts
The distance in miles remaining to the finish line for Western States 100 competitors after having already traversed the equivalent of three-straight marathons.
The record-setting time it took 30-year-old Western States 100 winner Scott Jurek of Seattle to complete the 100-mile course from Squaw Valley to Auburn. Jurek, who has won the event six straight times, beat the previous record of 15:40.41, set by Mike Morton in 1997.
The approximate number of volunteers that helped organize and conduct the 31st running of the Western States Endurance Run 100.
The total number of women’s titles won by Kensington’s Ann Trason, who owns the women’s course record (17:37.51). Trason won 10 straight titles (1989-98) and then four in a row between 2000-03.
The total number of endurance runners who finished the 100 mile course in the 31st year of the Western States 100.
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Hank Sowell’s introduction to the game of golf came early as a set of clubs was among the gifts he received on his very first birthday.