Six miles into the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race, Shaun Pope found himself facing an agonizing dilemma.
On a stretch of the historic Western States Trail in Squaw Valley, California that diverts into a small stream he attempted to pass another runner and slipped on a slick rock. With a deep gash on his shin, he made a decision.
“I wanted to finish, so I kept running,” the owner of Vertical Runner Black Mountain said 12 days after participating in the Western States Endurance Run. “I’ve fallen 1,000 times, it’s really part of running and especially when you’re racing. I glanced at it and realized I had busted it up pretty bad.”
Four miles later he reached the first aid station on the trail where the wound was treated and bandaged.
"I still wanted to give it a shot," said Pope, who qualified for the Western States with a 13:43.09 run in the 74-mile Georgia Death Race in March. "There is so much adrenaline pumping it's hard not to want to just keep moving."
That's exactly what he did.
"Not giving it a shot was out of the question," he said.
The 30-year-old long-distance running veteran was in the best shape of his life, he said, heading into the Western States, which starts in Squaw Valley, California where runners climb 18,000 feet before descending 23,000 feet into Auburn, California. Pope ran the race, which features 369 runners, in 2011.
"My training going in was the most consistent training I've ever put in for a race," he said. "I did a lot of doubles, where I would go out and run in the mornings and then close the shop up and head out again in the evenings."
As Pope put in 90 - 100 miles a week on the trails around Black Mountain, he supplemented those workouts with a swimming regimen.
"This really is one of the most competitive races in the country," he said. "I was hoping to run my own race and enjoy it and I was aiming for picking up my best 100-mile time."
He had good reason to be optimistic on the heels of his second-place finish in the Georgia Death Race.
"That was a tough race, and it was a hot day," he said of the race that takes runners through the mountains of North Georgia. "But it was a lot of fun and I got a chance to duke it out with Morgan Elliott, who is well-known locally and ended up taking first that day."
As Pope hit mile 25 at the Western States, he received a word of caution from a familiar face.
"My dad was there and when he took a look at my shin he said I should probably get it sewn up," Pope said. "I made it to about mile 30 and with 70 miles to go I was worried about the possibility of infection, so I decided I needed to go get it taken care of."
Ten stitches were required to close up the gash on Pope's shin.
"I feel like I made a good decision," he said. "I didn't want to give up, and ultimately I was satisfied that I didn't pull the plug too soon."
As he continues to recover from the injury, Pope reflects on the experience.
"After about three days when you're able to stand up and talk to people, it starts to get a little harder because it's when you start to realize what you missed out on," he said. "But, I'm still looking forward to what's next because I'm still in really good shape. This will slow me down a little, but I'll find different avenues to make it work."
Hiking the trails he typically scampers is helping him keep himself in the right frame of mind, Pope said.
"I'm looking at some races in the fall," he said. "I don't want all the work I've put in to go to waste."
He finds some consolation in the belt buckle he earned in the 2011 Western States, which is displayed prominently in his store among his many running accomplishments.
"The fact I had a buckle from the race already made it a little bit better," he said. "I did about 25 miles on a busted up shin, so I felt like I gave it all I had. I know I'll definitely run that race again."