Joy of running trumps grueling preparation for Western States entrant

After competing five times, Colfax resident Karen Pierce says this is her finale
By: Martha Garcia, Colfax Record Editor
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Karen Pierce will be among the approximately 360 runners competing in the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run this weekend. “This will be my sixth Western States and it will be my last 100,” said the 51-year-old Colfax resident. “Everybody that knows me needs to know that. … I’m serious. It’s my last one.”

Time and age are factors in Pierce’s decision to make this her last Western States run.

“It’s very time-consuming. We’re doing 12- and 14-hour run days for months,” she said. “It takes you away from your family, everything. There are other things I want to do. Besides, I’m too old.”

From its starting point early Saturday morning at Squaw Valley, Western States takes runners through the canyons and trails of the Sierra Nevada and the American River on its way to the finish line at Placer High School in Auburn.

It’s in those trails and canyons that Pierce has been spending many hours training. Those weekend and midweek runs add up to long days and lots of miles, she said. “You get to get real close to the people you run with, because you spend hours and hours with them.”

Pierce has been training closely with Katy Gifford, of Sacramento, and Mike Savage, of Rocklin, who are also contestants in this year’s race.

All that running takes a toll on the body, Pierce said. “It a lot of impact. It’s hard on your digestive system. … You have a hard time keeping enough calories coming in fueling yourself.”

Training for the 100-mile race is physically difficult because of the stress it exerts on the body. Pierce realizes the type of running she does may not be “very healthy, but it’s very addictive.” But it has given her lots of stamina. “I’m never going to be fast but I can go for a long time,” she said.

Part of Pierce’s training is done in the gym. The coaches at Rocklin Crossfit, especially Gary Baron, have been very helpful, she said. There she gets high-intensity workouts, using weights, kettle balls and wall balls.

“It’s a one-hour workout that very intense,” she said. “And I can run less because I’m strong. It takes some of the stress off my body.”

Baron said the training Pierce gets at Rocklin Crossfit is like a boot camp, but more intense. “We’re focusing on moving the body, learning how to control your body through various planes of motion through space with external resistance or body weight resistance,” he said.

A runner for 17 years, Pierce said she’ll keep running, but not in races that take such a commitment. She took up the sport because her parents were runners. Her father, Tom Bryan, formerly from Colfax but now living in Ft. Collins, Colo., was a Western States competitor. Her mother, Ginger Bryan, never ran the race but she was Pierce’s running mate in the early years.

Her family -- including her husband, Kevin Pierce, a sergeant with the Gold Run Office of the California Highway Patrol -- has been very supportive in her endeavors and will be out there again for this year’s race.

“My daughter, Kristine, is my crew leader, she has never run. … My son is coming home from San Diego to help,” she said.

Auburn resident Pete Korn has run Western States four times over an eight-year period, finishing twice.  He agrees that training and running take a toll on everything, including family life.

For him, training for Western States is a six-month commitment that takes about “20 hours a week when you’re at your peek. Add that to work, it adds up to be a pretty busy lifestyle,” Korn said. “When you’re not doing it,” like this year when he’s not a contestant, “it’s kind of a relief.” Taking a break this year also gave him time to spend time with his mother while she was ill.

Whether he’s running or helping out at an aid station, Korn said he’s always involved with the race somehow. This year he’ll get to experience something new: “I’ll be at the finish line. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen the front runners or winners come through.”

Korn, 49, said he can’t train for 100-mile runs every year, but he will continue to run in 50-mile races, which aren’t as demanding to train for, because he, too, is “somehow addicted to running.”

He plans to try Western States again, but, he said, “Don’t tell my wife that.”