Ryan Palmison finished the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run in June in under 24 hours. Courtesy Photo. (click for larger version)
August 13, 2012SOMERVILLE, Mass. — It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Ryan Palmison has gone a long way since his graduation from Plymouth Regional High School in 2003.
Earlier this year, the former Bobcat added another 100 miles to that distance, as he competed in the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run and finished with a time under 24 hours.
Palmison had been trying to get into the Western States for a number of years, but 2012 marked the first time that he was able to secure a spot in the starting lineup.
"It's been four years plus of qualifying and entering," Palmison said, noting that a lottery system is in place to choose the runners for the race.
"You have to run a 50 (miler) or a 100 (miler) every year just to get into the lottery," Palmison said. "I ran two 50s and a 100 just to get into the race."
Palmison started running in high school and continued at Springfield College. While attending graduate school he stayed in the running game by coaching and began entering marathons with the kids he was coaching.
One day, while looking around for marathons and finding the entry lists all filled up, Palmison stumbled upon a 50-mile race in upstate Massachusetts.
"I said, 'I'll give it a shot,'" Palmison stated. "I thought I wouldn't like it and wouldn't want to do it anymore, but I fell in love with trail running and the people in it."
In that first 50-mile trail run, Palmison qualified to run in a 100-mile race in Vermont and things just escalated from there.
To qualify for a 100-mile race, Palmison had to finish the 50-mile race in under 11 hours and he finished in 7:30. At the Western States, Palmison came home in 23:18:29.
"You never know how your body's going to react," Palmison said about running the ultra-marathons. "It's more about overcoming the mental obstacles."
He noted that getting through a race of that length is something that takes a lot of mental training.
"Your body is telling you it wants to be done and you still have 12 or 13 hours left," he said. "Mentally being able to get through the type of stuff is tough."
While training and running in 50-mile races was difficult, going the extra 50 miles was even more incredible.
"It's such a daunting distance with such difficult terrain," Palmison said.
The Western States was certainly not the typical road race. In fact, it's not even run on roads, as most marathons are.
The race is run through the remote trails of California, starting in Squaw Valley and heading toward Sacramento, running in the Tahoe National Forest.
"People have run into all sorts of animals," Palmison said of the race. "I didn't have to deal with that, thankfully."
Palmison, who now lives in Somerville, Mass., was certainly wary of getting into the ultra marathon and the challenges it would present, especially given the fact that he lives in an area not exactly known for its mountains and steep hills on which to train.
"Our highest elevation is 600 feet," Palmison said. "So being able to train for these mountains is difficult because there is nowhere that is similar."
So, the resourceful former Bobcat set out and found a hill near his home and began running up and down the hill for six hours or more at a time.
"I spend most of my weekends just running," he said, noting he would do 30 to 50 miles a day on weekends.
The Western States features many altitude changes, as runners bounce back and forth in the altitude changes. The trail ascends from the Squaw Valley floor (elevation 6,200 feet) to Emigrant Pass (elevation 8,750 feet), a climb of 2,550 vertical feet in the first four and a half miles. From the pass, following the original trails used by the gold and silver miners of the 1850s, runners travel west, climbing another 15,540 feet and descending 22,970 feet before reaching the finish in Auburn, Calif. In fact, the weather was a factor on the opposite side of the thermometer than people would think of in June.
"It was hailing and snowing at the top of the peak," Palmison said. Winds were blowing up to 40 mph. Temperatures ranged from 30 degrees at the top of the mountain range to between 100 and 120 in lower portions, meaning runners had to be prepared for just about anything.
Palmison stated that this year's competitors lucked out a bit, as the temperatures for the most part were in the 80s, which is fairly comfortable running weather.
"We really lucked out," he said. "When you're running stuff like this, you take what you can get."
The race also featured river crossings that had water up to competitors' chests, but also had tons of beautiful scenery and sights along the way.
Palmison carried water and food with him, but noted there were aid stations every five to eight miles, providing runners with basically whatever they might need, including water, food and salt pills, which were key in keeping bodies standing and moving.
Palmison said that conquering the 100-mile race was something that he was proud of, but noted that it was much different than in a marathon.
"When I run marathons, there's such a small window of time where I'd not be upset," he said. "That's not the case here."
The first Western States Endurance Run took place in 1977 with 14 competitors. That number increased to 63 in 1978 and in 1979 there were 143 runners. Since then, the race has reached its quota of runners every single year. The number of runners permitted is just under 400 each year and the lottery system was established to make sure there was fairness in deciding those who get to compete. This year, there were 316 competitors who finished the race and Palmison came home 116th overall.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 569-3126