I had the pleasure of crewing my friend Shane Kroth at the Western States last month. Like many runners, he had ambitions of running under 24 hours to get the coveted silver buckle prize for running 100 miles under one day. Unfortunately, the hot race day conditions made this difficult as most participants were baked in the 106° Canyons section between miles 30 and 55.
Shane was right on pace the first time we saw him at the Robinson Flat aid station just before the Canyons. Shane’s pacers Gary, Lisa, and I ended up watching the top runners at Foresthill (mile 62) while furiously reloading the Western States app and ultralive.net to see when he would arrive at Michigan Bluff. We could tell he was beginning to slow down, but that might be a good thing because it was so hot! At the Michigan Bluff aid station, we anticipated Shane to arrive any minute. Instead, runners stumbled in, looking like death warmed over. Shane was no different. He was cramping, unable to eat, and vomiting. He was going to need our help to continue to the finish.
I flashed back to my Miwok 100k race in 2018. I had severe cramps that race and wanted to drop out. Shane was my crew, and when I met him at mile 49, he could see that I was in trouble. He rallied me and offered to pace me to the finish, even though he was hurt and didn’t bring his running clothes. As I recovered, my legs came back, and I was able to finish fairly strong. I didn’t have the race I wanted, but I cherish that finish more than any race I’ve ever done. I learned a lot about myself to dig deep and get myself out of a dark hole. Shane had a big part in that, and now it was my turn to return the favor (with Lisa and Gary.)
Shane sat down in the chair, unable to sit still while his quadriceps and calves seized from cramps. His toes were black and blue, dotted by blisters from the steep descents of the Canyons section. We carefully changed his socks and shoes and iced his neck. Shane was able to drink Coke for calories and seltzer water to help his stomach. Next, he started to eat the prepared wraps Lisa made for the occasion. Finally, 30 minutes later, Shane was able to get out of the chair and stumble along to the Foresthill Aid Station.
Shane made it to Foresthill just as the sun disappeared from the horizon. He looked better but still has barely able to run. He could eat a little more but didn’t take too long to continue with Lisa, who was now pacing him. Gary and I waited for Shane and Lisa to arrive at Rucky Chucky, the famous crossing of the American River at mile 78.
While at Rucky Chucky, I noticed the familiar face of Camille Herron, the 2017 Comrades champion and world record holder for 50 miles, 12 hr, 100 miles, and 24 hr. distances. What was she doing in the middle of the pack? She left the aid station with a big smile on her face. This was her third attempt at the Western States, and she was determined to finish, even if she was having another Western States race. I believe everyone at the aid station gained even more respect for her.
At Rucky Chucky, Shane was still struggling, but he was moving. Aid Station volunteer extraordinaire gave Shane a cinnamon roll full of needed calories and extra yummy goodness. Gary left with Shane to pace him to the finish.
Lisa and I waited for Shane and Gary at Robie Point, one mile from the finish. The Robie neighborhood seemed like this was their annual block party. Every runner was called out by their name, as well as thunderous applause. Watery eyes were common among runners, pacers, and crews, knowing how much effort was spent to make it to this point.
Shane had a new vigor as he rounded the corner and came into view. Most participants walked this slight uphill before reaching the descent onto the track. The grin on Shane’s determined face as he approached us was all we needed to start running. The energy from the street powered a nine-minute mile to the Placer High School track. We rounded the track to the crowds cheering Shane to the finish.
Did Shane have the race he wanted? No. Probably just a handful of the 315 starters did. This was one of the toughest Western States to date. The 66% finishing rate and only 57 finishers under 24 hours were both the lowest totals in several years. Several top-ranked ultrarunners never saw the finish line. Is Shane happy with his finish? You’d have to ask him, but I think he is. There’s something about being knocked down over and over again, only to get up each time knowing and conquer the mission.