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Some of the event's 1,500 or so volunteers, especially the long-term ones, are often rewarded with a spot in a race.

Crothers said he got in by volunteering for the last 12 years at the Mile 71 aid station.When Crothers finally got in, in 2006, he had to drop out due to extreme heat.

It remains the only one of the 30 or so ultra-marathons or marathons he's started that he hasn't finished."Half the field dropped that year because the weather changed so drastically just before that race," he said.

But he managed to complete his first 100-miler that September, the Rio del Lago 100 in Granite Bay.The next year, he completed the WS100 in 28 hours, 57 minutes, 59 seconds.

He finished 218th out of the 270 who managed to finish the race within the 30-hour limit, earning himself a brass buckle engraved with the race logo.

Those who finish within 24 hours take home silver buckles."About 15 to 20 miles from the end, I was a little bit concerned I wouldn't make it.

I was really slowing down," he recalled."The problem that year was I had a back issue that held me out from finishing my training.

The last month before the race I didn't do any running.

Hopefully this year, not having that back issue, I'll do a lot better.

I'm looking for something a couple of hours better than that."It's been two years since Crothers — a project manager in his 23rd year with Northern California Power Agency's Geysers Geothermal Energy Plant near Middletown — has been able to try to improve on his WS100 debut.The event was canceled last year for the first time since its 1977 inception due to smoke from wildfires.But he's ready this year, healed back and all, and more serious than ever.In fact, he participated in the WS100 Memorial Day Weekend training runs — 32 miles on May 23 and another 20 miles on May 24."Not finishing the Western States in 2006 taught me two things: First, the Western States course is the toughest I have run, bar none.

It is not only the altitude and long climbs, but the trail is very rough and uneven, once you get through the snow at higher elevations," he said."Second, be prepared for the heat — whatever it takes.

This year, I started Bikram yoga four weeks before the race.

Bikram is 90 minutes of strenuous yoga postures in a room that is over 100 degrees and over 30 percent humidity."Running not his first loveAs time-consuming and grueling as ultra-marathons are, they are not Crothers' favorite way to enjoy the outdoors."My real passion is in climbing and trekking around the world," he said.Crothers has summited Mount Shasta several times, as well as Mount Whitney, Mount Hood and Mount Rainier stateside.

He's also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Elbrus — the highest points in Africa and Europe, respectively.He came up short in an attempt to summit Cerro Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest point in the Western Hemisphere.But that was before he started running WS100s, and he thinks it will help with his endurance when he tackles the 22,841-foot mountain this winter."I learned a lot on that mountain," he said.

"It seems easy, not technically difficult, but the environment is tough, cold and dry."He's also done expedition-length adventure racing, as far away as Vietnam; climbed to Mount Everest's 21,300-foot Advanced Base Camp with a group that was headed to the summit; and hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru.Crothers said he has no plans to tackle Everest himself, though he's already practically run up a mountain in 2009.

He did 50-kilometer races in January, March and April, and the Miwok 100K in the Marin Headlands in May.He trains on the old Oat Hill Mine trail up Mount St.

Helena, about 33 miles up and back; in Boggs Mountain State Forest near his home on Cobb Mountain; and the Glen Eden/Mayacamas trails between Lake County and Ukiah, about 30 miles over and back.While dealing with the inevitable pain of running for up to 30 hours, Crothers — a 1976 Middletown High graduate who played linebacker for the Mustangs — said he focuses on strategy, fueling, hydration and pace, and listens to an audio book on headphones."I listen to everything from Bill Clinton's autobiography to 'Memoirs of a Geisha.' It gives your mind something to work on besides the pain," he said."In this race I'll be listening to the third book in a trilogy by sci-fi writer Peter F.

Hamilton."He'll also stay alert by chatting with other runners he knows.

Meeting people from all over the world is one of the biggest draws of the WS100, he said."There's a lot of camaraderie and common purpose," he said.

"It's quite an experience just to be there, right from the Friday before the race when there's probably a thousand people in Squaw Valley."He'll chat over the last 38 miles with his two pacers.

Nelson Snyder of Portland, Ore., will pace him from mile 62 to mile 93 and Crothers' daughter, Livia, for the final seven miles.Snyder, who does ultra-endurance mountain bike events that can last 24 hours, has accompanied Crothers on some of his mountain climbs.

Livia used to work for an insurance company in St.

Helena and is now a teacher at Middletown High.Crothers will also rely heavily on his wife of 31 years, Kathey, who is president of the Clear Lake SPCA."I thank her each time I see her and get a new supply of turkey sandwiches at various locations along the race course," he said.Along with the sandwiches, he relies on energy gel packets, electrolyte capsules and water for on-course fuel and stomach balancing.He might throw down some pizza, too."I usually avoid pizza during my training months, but really like it during a long race," he said.

"I figure I've earned it."
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