In one of the most famed ultraruns on earth Saturday, Bob Shebest of Windsor set a personal record. But it wasn’t the personal record he was hoping for.
Shebest, 44, was hoping to crack the top 10 in the prestigious Western States 100 Endurance Run from Squaw Valley to Auburn. His goal time was somewhere near the 16-hour-and-change mark.
His day did not unfold as planned. With scorching heat beating down most of the day and after suffering debilitating stomach issues around the 77-mile mark, Shebest was slowed to nearly a crawl. He crossed the finish line at Placer High in Auburn in 25 hours, 40 minutes.
Only one other time in Shebest’s career have things gone so incredibly wrong, and you have roll the calendar all of the way back to 2009 to find it. At the Tahoe Rim Trail 100, Shebest lost his stomach and had to nurse his system back to health for hours in an aid station before returning to the trail.
And such are Shebest’s gifts that even in that case, he was able to run himself into sixth place. No such storybook ending to this one. This one unraveled in a storm of vomit and dry heaving, some staggering and a lot of walking.
What it didn’t end with is a DNF: Did not finish.
“The best way out of this is through,” he kept telling himself. “Waking up tomorrow having quit is going to hurt a lot worse than walking it in.”
His goal of a 16-hour finish fell away. Then the aim to beat 24 hours fell away. Soon he was left with only one goal: Finish.
“You can sit around and bitch and moan — that is no way to do it,” he said. “Lean against your limits, right? This is my limit today. I can’t go faster.”
So he went slow. He stopped. He barfed. He tried different ways to keep calories down. He kept walking. Sometimes he jogged. He just tried to keep moving.
He chewed on Jolly Rancher candies. He tried to take in energy liquids. He tried watermelon wedges mid-race for the first time in his life.
“Part of your process is problem solving. What is going to work?” he said.
He needed something that would provide enough energy to carry on but wouldn’t come back up.
“My stomach was in charge at that point. I didn’t want to be back on a cot,” he said. “You can only do what you can do.”
The head scratcher is that he came into the ultra-exclusive, invite-only race feeling great. Unlike when he raced there in 2016, his lead-up was pitch perfect. He was amped.
Then the heat, then the altitude — he doesn’t know exactly what did him in, but did it ever.
When I talked to him Monday, he didn’t paint the race as a failure. Sure, it was bruising and he was still trying to analyze what went wrong. But he wasn’t beating himself up and picking apart this piece of training or that part of execution.
He was trying to figure it all out. The day gave him loads of perspective.