Tahoma resident achieves dream run
Special to the Sun
The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run started in Squaw Valley early in the morning on June 27. Thirty hours later the oldest and last finisher, 70-year-old Gunhild Swanson, crossed the line.
The Western States is considered the world’s oldest and most prestigious 100-mile race, with over 18,000 feet of climbing and 23,000 feet of descending. For most racers, it requires over eight hours of running in the pitch dark.
All of this misery and suffering was a dream come true for 57-year-old longtime Tahoma resident Jackie Clark. She not only got to compete in the race, but 28 hours and 50 minutes after she began, came across the finish line as a Western States finisher.
Clark has been actively trying to enter the race for three years, but it has been on her bucket list for decades.
Selection to the race is by lottery, and is very competitive. This year there was only a one in 10 chance of having your ticket pulled. And to even get that 10 percent chance, athletes must have qualified with an under 16-hour time in a 100-kilometer race within the past year.
“It is not an easy feat to get into the race. People feel pretty fortunate,” said Clark.
The race doesn’t fool around. It starts with a grueling before-sunrise climb from the base of Squaw to the top. But Clark’s family and friends were waiting at the top to greet her with the rising of the sun.
One of the cheerleaders was her son Carson Clark. He climbed to the top at 4 a.m. Then while Jackie kept running, he hiked back to the base of Squaw, went to work all day, then made the two-hour drive to Foresthill and ran the last 16 miles with his mom to the finish line.
It is that kind of family and friends devotion that keeps these super athletes going, even though every muscle in their mind and body is screaming to stop the madness.
Clark’s daughter Carly came up from Los Angeles to help crew the run. Her friend Annie Rutledge paced her for a whole marathon’s work of distance. And Clark was full of praise for the race’s support staff.
“The volunteers were great. They pamper you and help you, but then get you on your way,” she said.
While it is the training before the race that really makes it happen for the runners, in Clark’s case she had a stress fracture over the last few months and didn’t run the entire month before the race. She wasn’t even sure that it would happen until the week before.
But she came to the starting line and give it a go, and then afterwards felt that perhaps that time off might have actually helped her.
Even with the support of others it takes a lot of inner reserve to successfully complete an event like the Western States. For Jackie, part of it comes from her appreciation of how beautiful it was to be out all day in the wilderness.
“The wildflowers were so incredible, you forgot how much it hurt,” she said. “We are so fortunate to live in a place like this. This is our backyard.”
But she had horrible blisters, and was throwing up for 30 miles, and then there were the hallucinations, like when she was asking her son Carson if he saw that puppet in the trees that she just saw.
Perhaps the hardest were those terrible hours of darkness when the dust was so thick it was hard to see through it with her headlamp. Oh yeah, and then there was blazing heat. But eventually, after putting one foot in front of the other for nearly 29 hours, she was there. Crossing the finish line.
The next day, except for having to keep her feet elevated to relieve the pain of her monstrous blisters, Clark said her body felt OK. And she was proud.
“It was a dream I’d had for so long. I never thought I would be able to accomplish it. To put your body through so much pain and suffering. Go for a challenging goal and complete it,” said Clark.
While 388 amazing athletes all went through challenges to even get to the starting gun, she was one of just 254 who successfully crossed the finish line before the cutoff 30-hour limit.