CREW LOVE: The Team Behind Stephen Kersh’s Western States Run

Our Dodge Caravan pulled as much as Squaw blasting Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” just after four o’clock in the morning. Everyone in the van was in good spirits and able to help Stephen Kersh in his 100-mile journey from Squaw Valley to Auburn, California.

Kersh had the more durable job of truly operating. In April, he earned a Golden Ticket into the race by finishing fourth at the Lake Sonoma 50 Miler. That was his debut at that distance, and up till the beginning gun sounded, it was his longest completed run ever. To help him make it to the finish, a crack workforce had been assembled: Tim Jeffreys, Jeanne Mack, Paul Snyder, Ryan Sterner and me in a single van and then Stephen’s mom, father, brother and brother’s girlfriend in another van – all of us have been additionally rookies to Western States.

For those of you unfamiliar with the race, Western States is the oldest 100-mile footrace on the planet, having first been run by a person within the 1970s. It was originally a horseback path journey, but when Gordy Ainsleigh’s horse pulled up lame in 1973, he needed to finish the remainder of the race on foot. A yr later, he decided to cowl the complete 100-mile distance sans horse, and accomplished it in 23 hours and 42 minutes.

It’s emblematic of what I’ve gathered about trail operating tradition: ridiculously challenging and steeped in mythology.  I feel it was previously referred to as the “Super Bowl of U.S. ultrarunning” in a earlier episode of the CITIUS MAG Podcast. And I’ve been interested by ultras since being captivated from a YouTube rabbit hole that included watching documentaries of past Western States. In April, I  taped a podcast with Eric Senseman that served as my own Ultrarunning for Dummies course. So after Kersh certified, I volunteered to assist him on his quest and to get my own first-hand take a look at a 100-mile race.

I’ve recognized Kersh for about four years now. Once I got here up with the thought to start out CITIUS MAG in late 2016, he was one of many first individuals to return onboard and contributed immensely. He’s hilarious, artistic, hard-working and brings all those self same qualities to operating as a member of the Coconino Cowboys in Flagstaff, Arizona. The Cowboys are comprised of a few of the greatest American extremely runners and are headlined by 2018 Western States champion and course-record holder Jim Walmsley (14:31). Kersh was in one of the best firm for his foray into the ultra and trail scene so these close to him knew that when he’d finally end up on a stage like Western States, he’d be able to put on a particular performance.

Photograph by Ryan Sterner

Kersh stayed with us as we mulled across the beginning space in Squaw Valley till about seven minutes before the gun. He was proper up in front on the beginning line, amongst stars like Camille Herron (who famously ran a 24-hour world report in December) and Walmsley. There was a number of “content” occurring. Photographers and videographers captured each pre-race stretch, camelback sip and fistbump. Some followers and crew members with ‘Mocko Show’ hats captured their very own photographs with their cellphones out. It was before 5 a.m. I tried to not yawn. This was going to be an extended day. With two minutes to go, these smiles shortly turned to everyone’s respective recreation faces.

“Run with a little personal vulnerability today, if you don’t mind,” the announcer stated. “Open your hearts. Look beyond those splits and numbers..Remember that there are people out there – your crews, your family, our volunteers – who want nothing more than one smile from you out there today or at least one hug from you today.”

We already had a headstart on the grins and laughter. Tim, a filmmaker and advertising director for Fohr in New York, has loads of self-described “sartorial proclivities.” Stephen has made notice of it from Instagram and then dared Tim to crew at Western States whereas sporting a go well with. When the weather forecast referred to as for a high of 85 levels (a cooler Western States than in recent times, Tim determined to interrupt out a navy blue go well with for the event.

“My big thing was that if I can make Steve giggle a bit at each aid station and get his mind off the race because I’m jumping up and down or looking goofy with a suit on, then it’s worth it,” Tim later stated.

Everyone was relaxed. The shotgun went off and we noticed our boy off to struggle among the greatest ultrarunners within the nation. Team Kersh hustled again to the minivan to start out our drive to Robinson Flats (at roughly the 31-mile mark) for our first official on-course duties. “Sirius” by The Alan Parsons Challenge, recognized to many because the Chicago Bulls intro track, was blasting to get us amped for our duties once we obtained the first update from the iRunFar Twitter account, “Stephen Kersh is third to Mile 3.5 30 seconds back of the leader.”

“What an idiot,” Ryan exclaimed.

Before the race, Stephen didn’t reveal too many specifics about his race plan. A spreadsheet gave us estimated arrivals at checkpoints based mostly on his “Great Day’ and “OK Day” prognostications. To listen to he was in third place was admittedly slightly regarding.

Walmsley and Jared Hazen (a fellow Coconino Cowboy) have been the primary two guys into Robinson Flat. The crowd of crew members and die-hard ultramarathoning fans fell silent as Walmsley modified out of his singlet, took a fast learn of a tiny scroll (assuming these have been splits) after which took off. The efficiency and velocity of those pit stops have been astounding and a reminder that this was a race.

Jeanne laid out Stephen’s requirements including power gels, chews, salt tablets, chips, gingersnaps and two recent handheld bottles of water and drink combine. The presentation was every thing for Jeanne as her potential OCD kicked in and she or he tried to make it seem like the last word runner’s buffet. I took to Twitter earlier than the race to joke about my duties but was all business. Cleaning out Stephen’s pockets, spraying him down with sunscreen, asking if he’s taken sufficient salt and maintaining him calm have been just a number of the things that Jeanne, Paul, Tim and I attempted to help with. Inside two minutes of his arrival, he was off and we wouldn’t see him once more for an additional 24 miles—any updates would have to come by way of Stephen’s family or Twitter, however cell reception was typically spotty

“Our boy is in third!” Tim yelled and repeated all the best way to the automotive.

A volunteer complimented Tim as the best-dressed man that she’d seen in 34 years of working the race after which we have been back in our automotive, off to Michigan Bluff. We arrived early. One of many key things that I read before the race was that parking could be worrying however because of Stephen’s athletic capacity and Paul’s wonderful driving, we have been capable of beat most crowds.

With three hours to spare in Michigan Bluff, Jeanne, Ryan and I decided to go for a brief run on the course. After about 15 minutes, they dropped me. I turned back and tried to make my approach back. After about 10 minutes of being alone on the path, I was satisfied I was misplaced. All I had was a Garmin with 5% battery life and no sign of humanity. I cried out Jeanne’s identify like a toddler lost in a grocery retailer. This was the top. Either Stephen’s race gets derailed as a result of his crew turned a search social gathering for me or they go on with out me and I’m left to roast in the midst of nowhere. Neither choice was nice and I used to be about to start out crying until a fellow jogger appeared. I pretended that I wasn’t calling out for help simply five seconds before spotting him. Turned out, I used to be just a quarter of a mile from where I began.

This metropolis boy isn’t minimize out for the paths.

Nevertheless, in these four miles of terrain I used to be capable of cover, I seemed down at my watch to examine on my pace at several occasions. To comprehend how briskly Walmsley, Hazen and different stars cover that same terrain actually put their fitness into perspective for me.

I made it back in time to assist arrange for Stephen. Jeanne and I walked a quarter mile into the path before the runners arrived on the assist station. Walmsley continued crushing and managed to provide Jeanne and I a tiny wave when he noticed us. (It’s value mentioning that Jim has this “being the best at his sport” factor down pat—he did numerous waving to fans as he blazed out and in of help stations. He’s very gracious about acknowledging his supporters.)

About 25 minutes later, Stephen sat down in our folding chair, took his gasoline, modified out of his singlet and swapped out footwear earlier than trying to sustain with Tom Evans of Adidas, who he raced and finished behind at Lake Sonoma. Matt Daniels, a sub-four minute miler and fellow debutant at the 100-mile distance, was additionally inside reach. A top-five end can be an A+ day.

stephen kersh 2019 western states endurance run

Photograph by Ryan Sterner

We made our method to Forest Hill (Mile 62) the place Paul was tasked with stepping in as Stephen’s pacer for the subsequent 16ish miles. Tim and I ran into Mario Fraioli of the Morning Shakeout and chatted briefly. We briefly discovered that this was the place the racing really starts. It was slightly alarming since Stephen had already blown past his longest race and was starting to lose a bit of shade in his face.

We missed Walmsley and Hazen zip past Forest Hill however caught the chase pack that included Daniels, Evans and Stephen. Stephen sat down, obtained sponged down with chilly water, re-filled his arm sleeves with ice, took a number of sips of Coca Cola and packed his pockets with extra gels. When Stephen stood up, he appeared over his proper shoulder and spotted one of the fellow rivals (identify escapes me proper now) additionally getting as much as depart Forest Hill. I noticed that I had by no means seen Stephen race earlier than and this staredown was intense. Paul and Stephen departed on a mission to hold onto a prime 5 spot for as long as potential.

To be a great crew member, you must be okay with ready round. Anything can happen in the 16 miles between assist stations and no matter when your charge arrives, you must be there with vitamin, and a nasty joke or two to carry their spirits. At the front finish of the race, Walmsley and Hazen have been each beneath course document tempo in what might turn into a duel at any second. Our good friend Kevin Cave (a 39-year-old highschool athletic director in Oregon and Jacuzzi Boys Athletic club member) was operating along the course as Stephen’s No. 1 fan. He overheard a rumor that Walmsley and Hazen have been operating collectively approaching the Rucky Chucky river crossing. We laughed as Walmsley arrived nonetheless several minutes ahead of Hazen. In a race with spots that will not have a lot cellphone service, a humorous recreation of phone can typically be performed with race intel.

Stephen was in sixth place when he arrived. Nevertheless, he was alone.

“Where’s Paul?” Jeanne requested as we modified his bottles, doused him in water and fueled him up once more.

“He dropped back about 14 miles in,” Stephen stated. “How are you guys doing?”

Who cares how we have been doing?! We have been there for him. We didn’t care about any fatigue we have been feeling. Jeanne and I made it some extent not to say we have been “tired” and I dubbed it the “t-word.”

“I care about Paul,” Stephen stated.

We’d get to Paul ultimately. For now, we just needed to get him ready to cross the river in a boat after which up a two-mile climb before his brother, Andrew, would take over the pacing duties. A quick dip into the river and Stephen stored going. Jeanne ran in the other way with concern for her fiance’s disappearance.

Moments later, Paul walked it into the help station to a sluggish clap from the crew that he inherited. iRunFar’s Bryon Powell jokingly chided him for making the “walk of shame” and snapped a fast photograph of the worn out pacer. It turned out that Paul was so involved for Stephen’s well-being that he forgot to fill his personal water bottles at assist stations and paid the worth.

I sponged Paul’s bald dome. Tim tossed a few cold towels on him and we recycled Stephen’s leftover provides to deliver Paul back to life. Our crewing duties have been achieved so we took our time getting to the finish.

paul snyder western states 2019 stephen kersh

Photograph by Ryan Sterner

We had a choice to make. Can we head over to the finish to see Walmsley break his own document in epic trend or attempt to catch Stephen another time at No Arms Bridge, with just three grueling, uphill miles to go? We determined to be there to offer any kind of pick-me-up for the ultimate stretch. We arrived on the bridge round 6:30 and soaked within the views. We have been capable of see Walmsley move, change his shirt on the run (probably for a better end line photograph) and put the ultimate touches on his 14:09:28 win. Hazen shortly followed go well with.

Different runners began coming by and the ending order started to take shape. Tom Evans had pulled away from Stephen. Matt Daniels moved from third to fourth. When Mark Hammond and Gediminas Grinius passed, Jeanne began her watch to see if Stephen might shut the hole on them.

Unfortunately, the Stephen that got here out of the woods and into the aid station at eight:15 a.m. was a battered version of himself. There was a hitch in his step. Andrew, who works as a nurse, caught in to tempo him until the top and instructed his brother to take some acetaminophen from the help station—something to alleviate the severe ache in Stephen’s knee. After a couple of bites of watermelon, Stephen shortly advised Paul and Jeanne he was hurting but then turned to cross the bridge. It was clear that it could possibly be a run-walk shuffle to the finish.

Stephen Kersh Mile 97 Western States

Photograph by Ryan Sterner

There were combined feelings within the automotive experience to the end at Placer Excessive Faculty. On one hand, Stephen appeared like he would miss his objective of getting underneath 16 hours. Then again, there was no question that he was going to complete. We might be pleased with him regardless.

Ryan and I made our method to the end line since our credentials had access. The Kersh family awaited on one aspect of the monitor whereas Paul, Jeanne, Tim, Kevin and dozens of fans stood by on the runner’s left. After Hammond locked up fifth place, Ryan and I have been capable of get a couple of updates from a good friend within the stands that Stephen was approaching the finish…the only drawback was that 4 or 5 other guys have been on his tail. This could have been the distinction between sixth place and 11th place (which would not guarantee his place in subsequent yr’s race). Given Stephen’s condition, we thought there was no probability for him to overcome a sprint end on the monitor – if these even exist in ultrarunning.

At Robie Point (Mile 98.9), Stephen and Andrew noticed the bobbing of headlamps approaching them in the dead of night. Andrew informed Stephen that it was time to run and there wouldn’t be any everlasting injury from operating one last arduous mile. Stephen later described that last mile by saying that he felt like he was operating four-minute tempo but in actuality was it was somewhere in a still impressive seven-minute range.

Kevin managed to seek out Stephen before he hit the monitor and tossed him a black and white Jacuzzi Boys Athletic Membership singlet in order that if it crossed the end line, it might be a membership report. (The report continues to be pending ratification from membership founder Scott Olberding).

Someway, Stephen discovered another gear and sprinted down the ultimate 100 meters. Tim estimates the final 200 meters have been coated in about 24 seconds. That can’t be true but we’ll tell our youngsters that.

In his first Western States and first 100-miler, Stephen crossed the finish line after 15 hours, 54 minutes and 15 seconds for seventh place.

Stephen Kersh celebrates 2019 Western States

Photograph by Ryan Sterner

Stephen bent over as a medal was placed around his neck. He walked over to hug these friends and family members who made stops along the best way and helped all through the race. He clutched a Glacier Freeze Gatorade (to remain on model) and raised his arms towards the gang. He did the damn factor.

I’d love to say that we followed this up with celebratory beers and plenty of food but that wasn’t the case. We adopted Stephen to the medical tent, the place he needed to get checked out by a physician after which get drug tested. Beers must wait till Stephen was capable of pee in a cup, one thing he’d final been able to undertaking 70 miles earlier in the day. Someway, Stephen still found the power to crack jokes while he laid down coated in blankets in a cot. His lips turned blue (undoubtedly not from the Gatorade) and the colour was shortly leaving his face. It’s superb to see what 100 miles can do to the human body once they stop operating. We knew it might get ugly nevertheless it was still a gorgeous day.

western states stephen kersh aftermath

Photograph by Ryan Sterner

I discovered the truth behind the widespread expression that operating 100 miles is “life in a day” because of the totally different variations of Stephen we witnessed over the course of these 16+ hours. We saw Stephen as a freak athlete from the start, bounding up a still-snowy mountain peak as the sun rose. We saw Stephen as a competitor at Forest Hill, one in every of his darker moments but one of the brightest, so far as solar protection was concerned. We noticed Stephen as a nervous pal after dropping Paul. We saw Stephen as an embodiment of instincts and can power—all medulla, prepared his physique ahead, upright, and to the end simply before nightfall. We noticed Stephen as the uniting pressure between a crew of buddies searching for one another. It was a very big day and one which I can’t overlook for a very long time.

See you in  Squaw next yr.