At the crack of dawn on June 23, 369 runners lined up in Squaw Valley, CA to tackle the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race. Among them were five Austin runners: Ted Davison, Kyle Rodemacher, Joe Cooper, Billy Satterwhite, and Rick Russell. While most of us were out running say, 25-30 minutes, these fellows were running through some of our country’s most mountainous trails for 25-30 hours…
Considered “One of the most arduous organized running events in the U.S.,” the Western States 100 starts in Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games, and from there the trail ascends from the valley floor (elevation 6,200 feet) to Emigrant Pass (elevation 8,750 feet), climbing of 2,550 vertical feet in the first four miles. The runners then follow the original trails used by the gold and silver miners of the 1850’s, climbing another 15,540 feet and descending 22,970 feet before reaching Auburn, a small town in the heart of California’s historic gold country.
The race starts at 5:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and the course is so tough, there’s a 30-hour cut-off at 11:00 a.m. the next day. Runners who post a sub-30-hour time collect a finisher’s bronze belt buckle, while sub-24-hour finisher’s get a silver belt buckle. And while those provide great bragging rights, it’s the journey that makes the race special.
For Satterwhite, a 31- year old bass player and music director, it was a chance to tackle a big-time 100-miler.
“This was my second 100-miler,” he said. “I did the Rocky Racoon 100-miler in Huntsville State Park this past winter. I made a look of mistakes there, clothing-wise and nutrition-wise. I learned a lot of lessons from that. And I had done my research on Western States in terms of the course and what strategies to use.”
He needed all of his lessons as this year’s Western States was the ninth hottest since its inception in 1974.
“It was hot. In some places it hit 106 degrees,” said Satterwhite. “But being from Austin helped me, and the heat didn’t bother me that much. I took a lot of time at the aid stations, putting ice in my bandana and arm-sleeves and down the back of the vest, dousing myself, so as to cool myself ahead of the canyons. Anytime I crossed a creek, I’d sit or lay down in it for at least 10 seconds.”
For fuel, Satterwhite used V-Fuel gels, which are mainly sugar and caffeine. For hydration, he drank two bottles of water – a total of about a quart – every five miles between each aid station.
Despite having caught a cold going into the race, Satterwhite was still hoping to break 24 -hours for the coveted silver belt buckle. He ran a smart race, and never encountered any serious trouble, though he did go off course at one point.
Despite the cold, which Satterwhite attributes to having a newborn in the family, he decided to focus on the positive aspects of the race.
“I waited for four years to get in to Western States,” said Satterwhite, who has a marathon best of 3:28. “Each year you have to run a qualifying race, and then your name goes into a lottery. They only accept 369 runners.
“I tried to be really conservative. From mile 31 to 45, it’s almost entirely downhill. That is tough on your quads. I realized that it was going to be really difficult to break 24 hours. As I went through the race, I stopped worrying about the pace”
Western States does a good job with course markings, so you can see where you are going even in the dark. But around mile 52 near Michigan Bluff, Satterwhite went off course for a few miles, missing a left-hand turn into Volcano Canyon.
But he bounced back.
“The wrong turn added close to 30 minutes to his time.,” he said. “I started getting really sleepy around 1:00 a.m. I had a pacer running with me after mile 62, and he helped keep me focused. Fortunately, my energy stayed pretty high the whole time. I’m a coffee lover, so I started getting coffee at aid stations.”
Back on track, Satterwhite cruised to the finish in 28:45:34, breaking 30 hours and earning the bronze belt buckle. The experience was worth every step.
“Three are places along this course that are so iconic—the escarpments, the river-crossings…crossing the finish line was amazing,” said Satterwhite. “You finish on a high school track, and your friends and family are there, and you just lose it. It was pretty emotional. I was really proud of how I handled the race and how it turned out. It’s life-changing in how you appreciate running. For me, I run 100-mile races to see what I can achieve. And I love the act of running, especially in beautiful places like the Western States course. In the end, I just want to see how I can handle the challenge.”
See Western States 100 full results here.