MEMORIES — Shown is the buckle Bucklin won in the Western States 100 and other memorabilia including one of the two pair of worn out running shoes, his identification number and his medallion. Photo courtesy of Tyler Bucklin
By Adam Jerome, I-O Reporter
Tyler Bucklin of Conrad recently took part in the Western States Endurance Run. He was able to complete the ominous 100 mile course in 25 hours and 37 minutes and placed 143 out of the 420 competitors.
The Western States Endurance Run, known commonly as the Western States 100, is a 100 mile long ultra-marathon that takes place on the trails in California’s Sierra Nevada annually on the last weekend of June.
The race starts at the base of the Squaw Valley ski resort and finishes at the Placer High School track in Auburn, Calif. Runners climb a cumulative total of 18,000 feet and descend a total of 23,000 feet on mountain trails before reaching the finish.
Because of the length of the course, the race begins at 5 a.m. and continues through the day and into the night. Runners finishing before the 30 hour overall time limit for the race receive a bronze belt buckle, while runners finishing in less than 24 hours receive a silver belt buckle.
The Western 100 began as a horse race in 1955 when the late Wendell T. Robie with a party of five horsemen rode the course to prove that a horse could still cover 100 miles in one day.
Then in 1974, the race began to take its present day form. Gordy Ainsleigh joined the horses to see if he could complete the course on foot. Twenty-three hours and forty-two minutes later Ainsleigh arrived in Auburn, proving that a runner could indeed complete the the rugged 100 mile course in one day.
Since then the race has grown every year and in 1978, the run broke away from the ride and became a separate entity.
In the 35 years since its inception, less than 7,000 people have been able to complete the race. Every year, between 40 to 50 percent of the contestants are not able to finish the trek.
It is important to note that the racer cannot do it alone. A contestant must have an entire crew that consists of people to meet them at checkpoints with reserves of water and food. The racer also uses pacers during the competition. A pacer is a person who runs with the contestant for parts of the last 40 miles, keeping the runner focused and pointing out obstacles on the trail.
There are also some serious medical complications that can occur if a runner is not in tip top shape including, kidney failure, heat stroke, hypothermia, mountain sickness, muscle cell death and innumerable overuse debilitating syndromes with some resulting in death if not properly identified or treated at the seven medical checkpoints throughout the course.
Just as important as the training leading up to the race is what a person puts into their body during the trek. A competitor must ingest a precise mix of quick and slow carbohydrates along with plenty of fluids to keep the body in prime form.
Bucklin’s journey to the Western 100 began only two short years ago. While he ran track in college, May of 2008 was his first experience with endurance running when he completed his first marathon.
Aside from his training, he has completed three marathons, two 50Ks and one 50 mile race in the last two years.
The idea of running in the Western 100 came to him when he was given a book by Dean Karnazes on Ultra-marathon running.
Bucklin recalls reading the book and immediately thinking that was something he could do.
In order to make the field for the 100 mile race, he would first have to qualify by running a 50 mile race in under 11 hours.
He chose to compete in the Le Grizz, where he finished in less than 10 hours.
After qualifying, the next step was throwing his name in the lottery for the Western 100. Due to the increasing popularity of the race, a lottery was designed to limit the number of competitors.
With only a 16 percent chance of being chosen, Bucklin was selected on his first try in December of 2009.
After being selected, it meant he would have only six months to train.
What makes the feat all the more impressive is that he was able to find the time to train while working a full-time job as a teacher at UMS, coaching girls basketball at the high school and Legion baseball, all while still living up to the responsibilities of a man with a young family.
Bucklin commented on the process, “I did most of my training at night, which included running around town, running a 15 mile route past the golf course and a lot of work on the treadmill.”
He continues, “I would also try to make a trip to Missoula every month and run on the mountain trails to get used to the incline.”
He recounts running by himself at distances of 40, 54 and 60 miles.
Aside from running, he lifted weights three to four times a week for the first few months and began heat training the last month to get used to the high temperatures he would encounter during the race.
His heat training included sitting in a 140 degree sauna as long as he could, running in three layers of clothing and having the heat turned up as high as it would go in his vehicle.
Bucklin estimates he ran a total of 1,400 miles during his six month training session.
With his training completed, all that was left was the race itself. Bucklin and his crew, which consisted of his wife Vanessa, his two brothers, Matt and Andrew and Molly Gemar made the trip to California on June 23.
With the race beginning on June 26 at 5 a.m., Bucklin got a good night’s sleep and woke up at 2:45 a.m. on race day ready to go.
The first 30 miles of the trail were covered with mud, snow and water. After keeping a 24 hour pace for the first 40 miles he began to slow a little in the canyons where he encountered sweltering 93 degree temperatures.
With 24 checkpoints throughout the course, Bucklin only sat down twice during the entire race, once at Michigan’s Bluff on mile 54 to collect his thoughts and then again at mile 80 to change his shoes.
He picked up his first pacer (Matt) at mile 62, then switched off to his brother Andrew at mile 80 and finished with his wife Vanessa at the 94th mile.
He commented on the effort of his crew, “They did a great job of pushing me and spotting any obstacles along the way.”
As a racer gets closer and closer to the finish the medical personnel at the checkpoints begin to pay close attention to the runner’s state of mind.
Bucklin adds, “By mile 93 I started to get a little foggy, but surprisingly for the most part I never felt poorly and was pretty comfortable through most of the trail.”
With his wife by his side on the way to the finish line at Placer High School he recalls, “It was very emotional and personally fulfilling to get to the finish line.”
After accepting his medal during the festivities he and his crew headed back home. He estimates that it took roughly a week to recuperate.
While he isn’t planning any other big events as of now, he will compete in the local marathons and is thinking of competing in Le Grizz again in October.
A story like this is just one inspiring example of average people doing extraordinary things. All it takes is the will to push yourself to being the best you can possibly be.