Fred Shufflebarger was antsy. Never mind that it was his 42nd birthday, that he hadn’t worked in days, or that he still had a considerable amount of packing to do. Shufflebarger could think only one thought Tuesday morning:
Western States, Western States, Western States . . .
The Western States Endurance Run--a 100-mile run from Squaw Valley to Auburn, Calif.--can drive anyone bonkers. Especially Shufflebarger, one of Orange County’s top ultra-distance racers.
Shufflebarger will be among 369 runners who will attempt the mountainous journey, which starts at 5 a.m. Saturday in Squaw Valley, about 10 miles northwest of Lake Tahoe. The race--in its 14th year--takes runners along steep, rocky trails through the Sierra Nevada. From start to finish, the Western States climbs a total of 17,000 vertical feet and descends 22,000.
As if the distance and climbs aren’t enough--the race starts with a steep 4.7-mile climb up Emigrant Gap (elevation 8,700 feet)--there are other concerns.
Temperatures along the way can range from 100 degrees or higher in the canyons to freezing at some of the mountain summits. Bears, rattlesnakes and poison oak are among the less-friendly inhabitants.
The 1988 Western States race program states: “The runner may be subject to extreme temperatures of heat and cold, hypothermia, dehydration, hypoglycemia, disorientation and total mental and physical exhaustion . . . If you have not been able to prepare adequately, do not run! “
“I can’t wait,” said Shufflebarger, a Laguna Beach resident. “It’s a combination of fear of the thing and anticipation of the challenge. I just can’t wait to start this thing.”
Two years ago, Shufflebarger couldn’t wait to stop. In his first attempt at Western States, Shufflebarger reached Michigan Bluff, the 15th of 25 checkpoints and the 55-mile mark, and said no mas . Although he managed to finish--and earned his silver belt buckle for finishing under 24 hours--he did so quite grudgingly.
“I was a complete robot after Michigan Bluff,” Shufflebarger said. “I just sat down and said, ‘My race is over.’ Then a camera crew comes up and asks if I was going to enter again next year. I said ‘This is a very bad time to ask me this question.’ ”
Days later, Shufflebarger reconsidered.
"(At the 55-mile point) I had said, ‘I’ll never do it again! Never! Never! Never! ' " Shufflebarger said. “But, then, a couple days later, I was thinking, ‘You know, I wonder if I can get in next year?’ ”
Shufflebarger, a car dealer who works out of his Laguna Beach apartment, enters Saturday’s race with impressive credentials. He won the Feb. 4 Pacific Crest Trail 50-miler, beating defending champion Neil Beidleman of Boulder, Colo., by 54 minutes. In that race, a blizzard dumped about six to nine inches of snow along the trail.
“It started snowing around the 33-mile mark,” he said. “It was coming down real hard, coming in your eyes. It was a scary thing, really. It really livened up the race, but I actually realized at one time that ‘Someone could die out here.’ ”
It is that fear factor, Shufflebarger said, which attracts people such as himself to such events.
“It is a challenge to the human spirit--a tremendous challenge,” Shufflebarger said. “Going into this race, I am scared. Everybody’s scared. One hundred miles of torturous terrain--that’s scary. But, it’s also very exciting. It’s like you compete in these (ultra events) so that you can artificially create hardship for yourself. It’s about as life-and-death as you can get.”
For Meg Slavin of Irvine, Saturday will mark her first attempt in the Western States race.
Slavin, who turns 33 today, completed 104 miles in the Orange 24-hour run last August. Before that, she had not competed in a race of more than 50 miles.
“I’m just real excited,” said Slavin, a professional shopper for shut-ins who will be an assistant cross-country coach at Corona del Mar High School in the fall.
“I’ve worked real hard for this and I’ve been tapering back (cutting back her training mileage) so much, I’m going out of my mind.”
Slavin had a high week of 122 miles in May. This week, she’s run 11.
“That’s it for the week,” she said. “It’s driving me crazy.”
All In The Attitude, Dude: To prepare for the Western States, most competitors run lots of long, slow miles over hilly terrain, incorporating several runs of 30 to 40 miles every few weeks.
On May 6, Shufflebarger joined Slavin and some other county runners for a 54-mile trek through the hills off Ortega Highway. The temperature that day, Shufflebarger said, was in the low 100s.
A bad day for a very long run? Not if you pack the right attitude.
“It was wonderful,” Shufflebarger said. “Really, you might think, ‘Oh my God! This is hot .’ But really it’s, ‘This is great! We need the heat training!’
“And then you come up to this humongous hill. You could think, ‘Oh God! Look at that hill!’ But you think, ‘This is great! This will be great preparation for Western States!’ ”
Add Western States: Other county runners in the Western States field:
Mike Monahan of Laguna Beach,
Robert Brown of San Clemente, Nelson Cunningham of Laguna Hills, Diane Eastman of Los Alamitos, Paul Jeffers of Seal Beach, Eugene Trahern of La Habra, Rich Ballante of Laguna Niguel, and Martin Foltz of Mission Viejo.
Also expected to compete is Judy Milkie-West, a former Anaheim resident now living in Sierra Madre. Milkie-West, who recently gave birth to her first child, won the women’s division in 1984 and 1986 and was second in 1983 and 1985.
Trish Pierson scored an impressive double last Saturday at the Yorba Linda YMCA 5 & 10K. Pierson, a 36-year-old Coto de Caza resident, was the first female finisher in both races on the hilly course. She finished the 5K in 19:53 and the 10K in 44:07. Chris Jaggers, 29, of Yorba Linda won the men’s 10K in 33:53, and Brian Hild, 19, of Yorba Linda, won the men’s 5K (15:58).