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What. A. Weekend!

Last weekend, Trail Runner Store’s co-founder James Schwartz and his partner Roxy travelled to sunny California for his second attempt at running Western States 100. Western States is considered one of the most difficult races in the world – a 14,500 ft climb over a 100 mile distance through mountainous terrain and canyons. It was one of the top 10 hottest race days in the history of Western States and emotions were running high, but James was determined to conquer the course!

If you’ve been following James’ story, we call it his Road to Redemption, we are thrilled to report that James persevered and completed the Western States race last weekend! Completing this race was a big deal for James – the last time he ran Western States was back in 2018 when he had a freak accident and ruptured his esophagus. This year was a different story - James finished with a time of 27:40:55, and while it wasn’t quite his goal of finishing under 24 hours, it settled his unfinished business.

It was an epic weekend, there’s just no other way to describe it. We caught up with James this week to get a breakdown of the highs and lows of it all:

Let's talk about the weeks leading up to Western States. How was training going? What key pieces of advice did your coach Justin Andrews give you?

I was feeling pretty well going in to the race. I was doing 6+ weeks of the sauna to acclimate to the heat. I also had the opportunity to run the Canyons 100k in late April, and I spent some time in the Rocky Mountains in Alberta in early May, so I had a good opportunity to prepare the legs. Coach Justin had me typically running at least 100kms per week, and I would try to get as much elevation gain as possible in the weeks leading up to the race.

It must have felt surreal to be back on that course after so many years. What were you thinking at the start line? How was Roxy feeling?

It was a very surreal experience. Seeing Lake Tahoe and hanging out in Olympic Valley brought back a lot of great memories. I felt pretty at ease up until the day before the race, then the nerves started to kick in and I started questioning whether I did enough downhill training and if I put in enough kilometers for my training. Roxy was fairly at ease, but she was there doing everything she could do to help ensure I had everything I needed and as the "Crew Chief" she needed to make sure she knew where to drive, when to expect me, what items to have available for me, and more.

Let's talk about the race - what were the highs and lows (metaphorically or physically) for you? Did you struggle at any point? I know you had a goal of finishing within the 24 hr mark too. What was your favourite part of the course?

There were many high points in the race, but there were also a lot of low points that I struggled through. Climbing the escarpment and running through the high country for the first few hours of the race with my friend Dennis was spectacular and an experience that I will always cherish. Dennis dropped me when I needed to use the toilet at Red Star Ridge Aid Station (Mile 15.8). I was originally planning to aim for the 24 hour pace throughout the race, but by Robinson Flat (Mile 30) I was already feeling some nausea, so I started to slow down and just focus on not throwing up. Most runners would probably just keep pushing, throw up and move on, but I still had that fear in the back of my mind about throwing up from my 2018 incident. So I decided I would focus on finishing but try to tame the stomach.

Running through the canyons was spectacular as always. My stomach was mostly behaving in the canyons until I climbed up to Devil's Thumb (Mile 47.8). I took a long break at Devil's Thumb and drank lots of broth to try to settle the stomach. Then I walked for a few kms before starting to slowly run again on the descent down to El Dorado canyon. After Michigan Bluff (Mile 55) I took it slow and just grinded it out. My coach Justin joined me from Foresthill to Rucky Chucky, and then my brother Tom came through the river with me and ran with me for 16 miles.

One of the highlights of the race was when I passed through Peachstone Aid Station (Mile 70.7), my friend JoAnn and her mom were there. They both had tears and they were so happy that I was back again and on my way to finish the race. They introduced me to several aid station volunteers who were there helping me in 2018. JoAnn's plan was to shut down the aid station around 2:30am, head to Auburn for a few hours of sleep, then they were planning to watch me cross the finish line. While running with my brother around mile 87 at 5am, the sun started rising and I got a second wind and felt great.

At Quarry Rd Aid Station, I was served chicken broth by Scott Jurek, which really added to the unique experience of this legendary race. When we reached Pointed Rocks (Mile 94.3) I decided I wouldn't stop at any more aid stations and I would push hard for the final 6 miles to finish the race strong. I ran a lot of the hills in the final 6 miles.

How were you fuelling yourself during the race and combatting the nausea?

For fuelling, I was mostly using the Rocktane electrolytes provided by the race and I would try to eat other snacks: GU gels, chews, fruits, pretzels, crackers, and anything that my stomach would take. I think in hindsight next time I would have probably brought my own Tailwind powder since I found some of the Rocktane drinks to be watered-down. In the canyons I had some leg cramping that was likely due to lack of sodium.

How amazing did it feel to cross that finish line? It was definitely an emotional moment to watch!

Stepping on the track was one of the happiest moments of my life. I was overcome with emotion the moment I took that first step on the track. My friends Dr. Andy and Dr. JoAnn were waiting at the finish line for me and gave me a huge hug when I crossed the line. There were a lot of tears.

Western States President Diana Fitzpatrick's husband was at the finish line and gave me a huge hug as well. He had been following my story and he and Diana were so happy that I made it to the finish line this time. So many people were rooting for me to finish this race and sending positive vibes to me. I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to participate in this race.

Craig Thornley made it back to the track not too long after I finished and he was so happy that I made it. Craig has been such an advocate for me since I met him in the hospital in 2018 and he wanted so badly for me to cross that finish line. Craig has such a big heart and cares so much about this race and about making sure that all runners have an unforgettable experience.

Do you have plans to run Western States again? Any new goals for the future?

I don't currently have any plans to run Western States again, although it might be nice to some day go for that silver (sub 24-hour) belt buckle! My plans for the summer are to reduce my training distances, focus on my businesses, work on my renovation projects at "Camp Schwartz" and spend lots of time kayaking and hiking on the lake this summer. My next race is the Haliburton 50 mile race in September, but I don't have any plans for after that yet.

Shop James' Western States Must Haves

Take a peek into what James packed for last weekend:

T8 Sherpa Shorts v2 - Men's

T8 Sherpa Shorts v2 - Men's

$85.00

 
T8 Commando Running Underwear - Men's

T8 Commando Running Underwear - Men's

$25.00

 
WAA Ultra Rain Jacket 2.0 - Men's

WAA Ultra Rain Jacket 2.0 - Men's

$260.00 $169.00

 
SALOMON ADV Skin 5 Set

SALOMON ADV Skin 5 Set

$180.00

 
ALTRA Olympus 4 - Men's

ALTRA Olympus 4 - Men's

$209.00

 
SQUIRREL'S NUT BUTTER Tubs

SQUIRREL'S NUT BUTTER Tubs

$18.75

 
HYDRAPAK SpeedCup™ 2-Pack

HYDRAPAK SpeedCup™ 2-Pack

$14.00

 
SALOMON Soft Flask 500ml/17oz

SALOMON Soft Flask 500ml/17oz

$30.00

We also want to give a shoutout to our Ambassador Reid Coolsaet who also ran Western States. This was Reid’s first 100 miler ever – he finished with a time of 19:27:03, 17th male and 25th overall. Congrats Reid!

Happy running,
James & Roxy