July 25, 2009
The two weeks leading up to WR50M were particularly stressful as I didn't know until 4 days before the race if I'd be able to run due to a relatively significant and debilitating calf/Achilles injury. But the combination of rest, alcohol (possibly) and expert ART treatment got me to the starting line with no noticeable pain at all.
This was going to be my first 50 Mile trail run (I had run a 56 Mile race at Comrades in South Africa 10 years earlier to celebrate my 40th birthday...). I believed I had trained smart and hard with a series of 6 strong marathons and 50k's over the preceding 8 months and had supplemented it all with as much hill training as I could find around here...
The allure for this particular race was two fold: last July, a week after El Scorcho, our relay team ("Off Like a Prom Dress") had participated in the Ragnar ~200 Mile relay from the WA/Canadian border down to Whidby Island (on the outskirts of Seattle). Along the way I had noticed this weird stuff we don't get to see in north Texas. They had these long tall green things, which I later was told were pine trees, and hills bigger than anything I had experienced running anywhere around here with this mysterious white stuff on top....and I remembered how much I missed the Pacific Northwest, and the two vacations I had taken up there (camping and hiking back in '87 and sailing through the San Juan Islands in '96).
The second ingredient was a race report written by a fellow NTTR member, Mike Sawyer (who I have yet to meet), who wrote of his experiences in last year's WR50 race....and this year's race happened to coincide with the week of my 50th birthday.
Barbara and I left Dallas on Thursday and had decided to spend a day in Seattle before heading up to the mountains...after some really good eating and a good night's rest we headed up towards the mountains on Friday afternoon. Driving up the road along the White River surrounded by mountains on either side I started to contemplate the sanity of this decision and was wondering if signing up for this race had been one of my first Senior Moments...
We drove up to the base of the Crystal Mountain ski resort for the package pick-up, pre-race dinner and our hotel. All the race staff/volunteers were extremely nice and answered some of my last minute (neurotic) questions...during the dinner I sat with Ed Ettinghausen and his wife who were up from the San Diego area...subsequently Ed and I ended up running the first 17 miles of the race together. After dinner the race director provided a very comprehensive briefing on the course, race rules and some words of advice.
Let me mention also that this race was designated as the USTAF 50 Mile National Championship so I was in the same room with some of the folks I usually only hear or read about like Scott Jurek, Michael Wardian and Anton (Tony) Krupicka (a 16:14 winner at Leadville!).
Saturday morning was quite uneventful. I got to the start area, dropped off my Drop Bags (which were all waiting for me at the right time and place!!!) and signed in....and went to line up. I bumped in to Ed (from Friday night) and we chatted a little and then ended up starting the run together. The race was delayed for about a minute as they couldn't find Scott Jurek....(I wonder if they would have waited for me...)
The first 3.9 miles to the first aid station were on a lovely tree lined trail and I took it really easy...remembering that I had quite a ways to go before I would get back to the car. After the first aid station the single-track course started climbing and I remembered (from Pikes Peak) that I often actually move faster walking than trying to run, so for the majority of the next 13 miles I walked, and walked and walked...but it was by choice and plan and I knew it was the right thing to do. At this point Ed and I had accumulated a small group of runners (Ed was still leading and setting a comfortable pace)....including Christel - a Masters of Ed. student from Tacoma, Barry - a retired security expert from BC (who was intrigued and tickled by my "Big Girl Pants" T-shirt), Faye - an assistant principal from Everett and a few others. About half way up the mountain I found it quite amusing that Faye actually started interviewing Christel for a job...
During the climb we were in pretty think trees however every once in a while we'd pop out on to a ledge and get to see the sun, magnificent Mt. Rainier and even the airstrip where the race began...a long way down in the valley.
At mile 11.7 we came to Ranger Creek aid station (just water) and started our 5.2 x 2 mile out and back to Corral Pass, the highest point on the course at 5,600 ft. Along the way we almost got knocked off the mountain by the front runners already on their way back to Ranger Creek at a wicked fast pace...which actually was quite a treat as we got to see what was going on in the elite runners' ranks.
Corral Pass was also my first drop bag, so I got to load up my belt with gels etc. and head back out....keeping in mind what I've been told over and over: "don't make love to the aid stations..." (after a while I started wondering if the advice was "to" or "at"....).
Anyway, my uphill convoy seemed to break up at the aid station and I ran by myself back to Ranger Creek (ran by a patch of snow long the way...yes....in the middle of the summer!), and then the steep downhill to Buck Creek (basically the start line) at mile 27.2...thinking to myself that if that had been the finish line I would have considered this a really nice day in the mountains...but, alas, I wasn't even half way done yet! It was really great to have Barbara waiting for me at Buck Creek and she helped me get my bottles and pouches filled from my drop bags and sent me on my way. Even though I thought I had taken it easy on the steep 5 mile downhill, my quads were starting to feel the course.
From here it was basically 10 miles and 3,000 ft. up to Sun Top. Along the way we were treated to a Luau at Fawn Ridge (mile 31.7), although I don't remember too much of that aid station except that one of the volunteers stopped me before leaving to take a picture of the back of my T-shirt with the Big Girl Pants logo, and Christel. Christel apparently had had the good sense to dump me at the top of Corral Pass (Mile 16.9) however was experiencing some GI discomfort and was loitering at the aid station looking pretty miserable...so I slapped her around a little (only figuratively) and dragged her out of the aid station and tried to cheer her up (yes, with some of my awful, politically incorrect and somewhat off-color jokes). We trudged up the mountain for about 43 or 4 miles and then, needless to say she came to her senses and got rid of my company as soon as she could. I ended up hooking up with John and Jason (I was "misery" at that point...and they were my "company", and we all know how misery loves company...) for the last pitch up, through the false top (I actually could swear there were at least two of them), and up the steep path to Sun Top (mile 37).
I knew I was getting a little tired at this point so I decided to spend as little time as possible at the aid station....I even had opened my water bottles and dumped my Amino powder in to one of the bottles before marching in. The volunteers at Sun Top were very eager to help and as I walked in to the aid station one volunteer took my bottles to fill them up with water while another handed me my drop bag. The lady who filled my bottles was so nice she even decided to wash all that pesky pink powder out of my bottle at the same time! Luckily I had some extra powder in my drop bag and was able to avoid a potential disaster.
From Sun Top the course drops down 3,000 ft over the next 6 miles on a relatively hard, quad jarring and rutted dirt road. It really hurt at the beginning so I started by walking and then eventually got into a rhythm of 9 minutes running 1 minute walking which really kept me focused and helped my cut this section of the race into manageable pieces. Subsequently I actually was able to pick up a few runners on this section. One of those was Jason from Atlanta who, as it turns out, works for a company located a mile from my house in Dallas and comes to Dallas regularly for meetings...and wanted to hook up for a run next time he's here...I then bumped in to Faye (who is also originally from London and after the race I found out she actually used to train with Paula Radcliff in the UK).
At the bottom of this painful downhill I arrived at the last aid station at Skookum Flats (43.3 miles) at about 9h:56m. Barbara was here to meet me and help fill up my bottles and wish me luck on my last leg of my journey (and to make sure that my Achilles was OK). Also got a really nice, invigorating and freezing cold sponge face wash!
From here it's "just" 6.6 miles to the finish line. The race directions describe this section of the course as follows:
"...This 6.6-mile section of shaded trail meanders through a beautiful section of NW old growth forest. The footing can be quite challenging due to the abundance of rocks and roots. The terrain is particularly tough to get through if your legs are spent. If you're feeling good, this section is more fun to run than any part of the course, due to the technical nature of the terrain..."
Well, my legs were spent!
There wasn't much flat runable terrain along here and it was hard for me to get any real momentum going however I just tried to keep moving...forward.
Mick and I had traded places down the mountain and then at the beginning of this section. I finally caught up to him somewhere along the way and we kept each other company for a couple of pretty tough miles. At some point along here a young woman, who was all smiles, and wearing a spotless white shirt, cheerfully ran by us (it turned out she was the youngest runner on the course at 19). About a mile or two before the end Mick decided he had enough of me and wished me well....and I continued pushing to the end.
As I turned the last corner in to the finish, some 5 hours after the winners (11:32:49), I was welcomed to the sound of applause and cheers and they even announced my name and hometown over the PA system...and there, in the middle of the finish line was Barbara, waiting for me.
I had done it...conquered my goal. The longest run of my running career...not my fastest (but it is my 50M PR!!!) and, thankfully, not my most painful. It was definitely one of the most beautiful courses I have had the privilege to run around the world. Recommended!
Before ending this account of my first 50 mile trail run I want to especially thank all of those who helped me get to the start, and those who helped me get through to the finish:
Training partners and dispensers of most excellent experience and knowledge: Jenn, Kevin, Kevin, Stacie, Brian, Paul, Tom, Pat, Sandy, John Morelock, and of course, my trail running muse and hero, Jay Norman.
My thanks go out to all those volunteers, race officials and fellow runners (many of whom I have mentioned above), and to my loving crew - Barbara, who helped make this race that much more manageable, memorable and enjoyable.