I went to Western States (as crew and pacer) for the first time two weeks back. I was supposed to pace the last 20 for Hwa Ja Andrade, an outstanding senior runner from Orange County. Hwa Ja was the oldest woman in the race and was just ahead of the cutoffs all day long. Then at 70 miles, she did a hard face plant, coming away with a black eye and scraped up arms and shins and that was it.
Western States is pretty different from all other ultras I've seen. The level of organization is just unbelievable. For instance they have 1500 volunteers. When runners get into aid stations, they try to provide them with their own volunteer in a way which I thought was a good way to organize the volunteers - the volunteers are in a line waiting for runners, like taxis at a taxi stand. The incredible logistics and planning employed for the race overwhelms me but I think I will try to incorporate the taxi stand approach to organizing the volunteers.
Western States uses horses (with riders) for course sweeps after dark. The riders have radios in their helmets. I was talking to one rider and she said that the horses see about 20% better than humans in the dark. She said that one time she came to a pitch black section where she couldn't see and the horse just took over. So she trusted her horse. I think her horse had run the Tevis Cup which is the 100 mile trail race which inspired the Western States race. These horses are on the small side which makes sense for an endurance racer.
We were at one aid station (I can't remember the names) when darkness fell. The mosquitos came out and so did the bats. I love to watch bats fly around so that provided some amusement for a while.
This race attracts the cream of the crop of US ultra runners with a strong international contingent as well. There was a substantial group from Australia. I was hanging around the finish on the second day of the race and heard them announce Paul Everly finishing. Paul was one of the finishers of the Trans-Australia race a few years back. So I introduced myself and talked to him for a bit. We also got to meet outstanding South Korean trail runner Sim Jae Duk by virtue of being on the crew of a Korean-American runner. We introduced him to Southern California's top ultra runner Jorge Pacheco whose name Jae recognized immediately.