I finished. In the end, I finished. I didn’t DNS (by getting injured, despite trying to break my face two weeks before at the training run). Nor did I DNF getting injured on the course (despite a few stumbles I never hit the ground). Nor did I DFL (you can’t be DFL when you run in with 2 other runners, right?). It was my day. I broke the streak of (one) 50M DNFs (Sun Mt, see other post, someday if I ever publish). I finished. And the White River 50M is in the books.
I run for the social aspects. And the finish line; the finish line is cool. I ran with, saw, and made so many new friends on the course it was astounding and inspiring. When you feel stuck and like you can’t go on, there’s nothing like having someone be there for you to give you that little extra push you need.
For 90% of the course, that person was Michael Covey. I’ve known Michael for 3 years now. He is a trainer at the ProClub in Bellevue, head coach of the ProTri team, and runs a great Running Development class on Wednesdays at 6AM (!! When did 6AM become a thing?!?!). For the past 2 years, I have worked w/Michael on my training plans, some of which I followed, and some not so much when I didn’t run enough or sometimes running too much (I might have forgotten to tell him I was going to run the Pigtails 100K (my first) one week after the Sun Mt. 50M (which I completed 44 miles of, but that’s a different story/blog-post). Knowing White River would be tough and after Sun Mt didn’t go quite as planned, I asked Michael if he wanted to enter White River and hang out with me for a while. Michael is much, much faster than me but he’s a great guy and agreed to stay at the back of the pack with me to keep my company (whoops, there goes his Ultrasignup ranking). Michael stayed with me the vast majority of the race but I’m thrilled that he finally charged ahead of me in Skookum Flats in order to make the 14-hour finish line cutoff as it was unclear I was going to make it. Seriously, it was important to me that he do it and he did it with style.
The race weekend for us started on Friday afternoon as we left Redmond for the Crystal Mountain Hotels. It was a splurge but I figured if (when!) I finished the race I would have earned it and if I couldn’t finish the race (DNF’d) then I’d be in such bad shape that I’d need it. The first hiccup, and there always is at least one, was when we were halfway to the hotel, about 1 hour in, when I realized my hydration bladder and bottles were still at home in the freezer. Whoops. No way I wanted to drive back and miss registration and dinner so we kept going and called Eric Sach of Balanced Athlete and Glenn Tachiyama at 7 Hills Running Shop. Eric was already at Crystal and was kind enough to offer spare bottles (although I’m not sure he had the ones that fit my Salomon pack) but I lucked out that Glenn was still at the store and had the Salomon bottles. I bought 3 (and I’ll gladly pay you on Tuesday for a hydration bottle today, although I guess I could/should have given him a credit card over the phone, sorry, didn’t think of it) so I could put 2 up-front and 1 in the pack. Hopefully that would be my one “bad thing” for the weekend (it really was, whew).
Michael also came in on Friday and stayed in a single room while Laura and I had a “family loft” with a queen bed downstairs and 2 full-sized beds in a small loft for our kids. Unfortunately our kids didn’t come (Ben was having fun white-water rafting in Utah and Meg was whale-watching and Vancouver-aquarium-ing with Grandmom) so we had a spare loft. This actually worked out well as the weather had turned and my friends Vivian Doorn and Leslie Miller were not excited about camping on Friday or driving up at 2AM on Saturday so we gave the loft to them for the night (they were heading home Saturday evening). It was wonderful having (excellent!) company, getting dinner beforehand and enjoying some great conversation. After eating dinner in the dining room, we went downstairs to The Snorting Elk Cellar to get the race briefing from Scott McCoubrey and see a movie of the course (Video Part 1 & Video Part 2) from 2002 (whoa, the short-shorts and guys in tank-tops, fashion has changed just a bit since then). This was the most comprehensive race briefing I’ve ever heard with details of what was carried at each aid station (and each one was customized with special items), including personal commentary on how Coke was a bad idea early in the race but they were going to provide it anyway (thanks, but the only time I drink coke is at races and it’s simply a nice option to have if I’m in the mood). Great briefing. Then off to the room for final preparations.
I’m going to back up for a minute and talk about the training runs. 2 & 3 weekends before the race, Eric Sach organizes training runs that cover the second half and first half of the course. These are brilliant in so many ways. It really helped knowing the course, especially in understanding what was going to suck and knowing the suck really would stop at some point. The training runs were beautiful this year:
The first run, which was actually the second half of the course, boosted my confidence that I could finish that section of the course in 6.5 hours (especially if I didn’t miss the trail up to Sun Top and kept running down the airstrip an extra ½ mile. Dang it!). I describe it as 4.5 miles of suck followed by some beautiful, very enjoyably runnable downhills before a crazy up to Sun Top and 6.5 annoying dirt road down to Skookum (the last two I skipped and just got a ride back to my car w/Eric). This was also cool in that Eric had us start w/Skookum Flats so we could enjoy it, something we likely wouldn’t do on race day because the world would suck by that point (he was right, it did). What wasn’t cool is that it hit the 90’s that day which was brutal, but if I could run that in the 90’s then I should be able to handle anything on race-day (kindof).
The second day of the training runs we did the first half of the course where just 1 mile in I learned that my feet should go Left, Right, Left, Right and not Left, Right, Left, Left. OK, I actually hit a root while going full speed. Did a face plant (literally), going down so fast I couldn’t break my fall with my arms (and didn’t really want to risk breaking my arms or legs) so I hit my face. Surprised me but I didn’t get knocked out (I think). Everyone (Steven Yee (MM Prez), Patti, and a bunch of people) were already well ahead of me and called back to see if I was OK; I felt fine and stood up so told them “yup” and they kept going (good). Monte was behind me, asked again if I was OK (yup), and we headed off. That’s when I felt the dripping on the right-side of my face. I’m one to sweat a bunch but it was early in the day. I stopped and Monte asked if I was OK to which I replied “I’m not sure, can you take a look?” He looked and with experience trail-runner attitude said “you are a bit scraped up but you’ll be fine.” We then pulled my first aid kit (you do carry a small first aid kit, right? I always do and won’t be leaving home wo/it in my pack). Dabbed up the blood on my eyebrow and eyelid and then applied anti-bacterial ointment to prevent bad things from happening and mainly stop the flow. Then we were off again. I had no idea how bad it was until people started passing me, did a double take after seeing my face, and every last one declared “Oh my God! Are you OK? I have a first aid kit in the car, do you want to come down and get it.” (I wasn’t excited by that prospect as I was already 12 miles into a 25 mile run). It got to the point I’d look away and cover my face when people came by (seriously, it got annoying).
Once I got back to the car, I took a Selfie and realized I really didn’t look great. Headed home (stopping for another shake at Wipiti Willies, I must have looked really scary) and at Laura’s behest stopped by the Swedish Urgent Care by our house. They were suitable impressed, glad to hear my pain level was just a 1 or 2, cleaned me up with alcohol (OOOWWWW, pain level 9! 9! 12!, seriously that HURT) and proceeded to glue my eyelid back together. I didn’t look great that night but looked absolutely horrendous the next day with a scrape down my entire face. Made for great stories and double-takes at work.
Oh, and the training run was again great although I realized that I was going to have to work harder if I was going to make the cut-offs as it took me about 7:20 hours and I really wanted to be under 7 on race day which would also have 2 miles more distance. Ugh. There was also an annoying bet that some other runners started as to how soon they thought it would take me to get lost (I bet 92 minutes). Turns out we all lost as I didn’t get lost once (thanks, Monte!) and it was Sabrina who zigged when she should have zagged at the (race-day) Ranger Creek aid station (it really is a tricky spot with lots of trails meeting there). Eric again provided a great aid-station which we especially needed given the lack of water on the course (it has been a DRY summer).
I tend to do a bunch of planning for races, reading the Runners Manuals, looking at the elevation charts and aid station locations, etc. One trick that Alley Kloba taught me at the 2014 Gorge Waterfalls 50K was to print out the elevation chart, write in the Aid Station locations and Cutoffs, bring it with you. I’ve done this ever since and here’s the one from White River:
I grabbed the chart from the website which had the basic Aid Station names then added in the exact distances, elevation (which I find to be far more accurate that the GPS watch distance which tends to get off in the deep woods as it loses satellite but the elevation is based on barometric pressure in my watch so is almost always within 50’ of actual. I also added in a fairly realistic goal time based on my training runs. I forgot the cut-offs in this version but hand wrote them in for the printed versions. Note that the Goal clock times (6:48AM) are perfect but I screwed up the time-on-course times to the left of them which were wrong for Fawn Ridge and Sun Top. Ah well. I then print a variety of sizes, fold them in half (no sense in leaving a blank back), and laminate them to bring along. Love it. Thanks, Alley! I had a bunch and gave some to Michael, Vivian, and Leslie.
And They’re Off!
Race morning came and we were up and out by 4:45AM (ugh!). Got to the race, checked in, said “hi” to a few people, grabbed my bottles from Glenn (thanks again, Glenn!), and got everything ready for race. Too many cool people to count. Then it was time to line up, get our picture taken by Glenn, some last minute instructions from the RDs, and at 6:03PM (this is important later on) we were off.
We took off at a solid pace (needed to drop my time from the training run) and I carefully avoided another face plant at the previously location. The first aid station is Camp Sheppard at 2,500’. It’s only 3.9 miles in and at that point I hadn’t eaten or drank anything so I blew right past it. It’s really early on the course for an Aid Station but sometimes aid-station access is limited so… I also took advantage of a Honeybucket at Camp Sheppard (yeah, yeah I know, I should have gone 3 times before the start) unfortunately letting most of the pack past us; this was part of our strategy, however, in letting the speedsters wear out so we could overtake them later in the course. Yup, that was it. It was then that we ran into Erica who had all sorts of cool things like a Spot tracker on the back of her pack, funky gaiters, and some impressive tattoos. We chatted for a bit then went our separate ways (well, not exactly, we went the same way but at our own speeds) doing a touch of leapfrog but mostly with her leading. More on Erica later.
From Camp Sheppard, the course starts the first hill of the day with about 4,000 feet of elevation gain over 10 miles. We made good time and I love my new poles. They are new poles because my old poles were stolen 2 weeks before when my car was broken into at the Redmond Watershed. Ugh. I continue to discover things that were missing and I came up with 2 or 3 new ones at this race including 2 sets of gaiters, one pair which was my special Pigtail gaiters that Betsy Rogers made. 😦 😦 Could have used those for the race. Harrumph.
At Mile 11.7 and 5,030’ we got to the (limited) Ranger Creek aid station where we filled up our waters, grabbed a Gu, and quickly took off. My goal was to minimize time at the Aid Stations and I did pretty well, although sometimes it took longer than I’d liked to fill up water and then get Nuun into it (need to remember to split Nuun tabs in advance so they fit into my bottles without me farting around with them at the stations).
Then it was up to Corral Pass at mile 16.9 and 5,800’. The one really annoying thing about this part of the course was that part of this was an out-n-back and we lost several minutes pulling to the side of the narrow, single-track as the front-runners (OK, OK, as well as the middle-runners) charged by us on the trail. They were inspiring to watch but it got old pulling over. Ah well. At Corral Pass we got a full-service station, enjoyed some good food (all detailed below) and headed up for a final push to the top before heading back to Ranger Creek. The volunteers were great and, as they had offered to do for me on FB the previous week, kicked my ass out of there as quickly as possible. Thanks guys! (no seriously, thanks for the ass-kicking). It was here that we ran into Takao Suzuki who got some great pictures of us (thanks, Takao!):
Then it’s some rolling downhills to Ranger Creek (touch more water) followed by a beautiful, extremely runnable, non-technical trail down to the road and then Buck Creek. Once I got my groove on the downhill, I was doing 8-9 minute miles (both by feel and Garmin) for reasonable stretches. It was that much fun. So I screamed down, felt great on the legs during and after, and just had a blast. Road crossing and 1/2 mile to the Buck Creek Aid Station.
The Buck Creek Marathon
I describe White River as 90% physical and 10% mental. The worst part of the mental is the Buck Creek Aid Station at Mile 27, which is back near the Start/Finish line. The majority of people who are going to drop will do so at Buck Creek. Seeing your car, as well as having gone through an incredibly hard marathon-distance, it’s just too tempting and convenient. It’s so popular that it even has a name: the Buck Creek Marathon. Fortunately I was feeling good, refilled water, grabbed PB&J on saltines (yum!) and some Mt. Dew and we were off. Oh yeah, and this is where Laura was volunteering so there were also lots of hugs and kisses which were quite helpful as well.
Second Verse, Shorter (but Harder) than the First
After a quick run around the airstrip, we were on the trail to Sun Top and another long climb. While having less elevation than Corral Pass and 4 less miles (23 to the finish), it is steeper and on more tired legs. Not pleasant but the training runs were fabulous in helping me know that the pain would end and I’d get a glorious downhill until the final push to Sun Top. Fawn Ridge Aid Station (Mile 31.7 and 4,280’ of elevation) was a quick stop for water and some snacks and then off again. I completely missed the fact that Erica was sitting behind the station working on a blister; she got going, caught up with us, and suffered with us another 18 miles to the finish, exchanging life stories along the way.
Oh, the weather for the day… was either Awesome or Awful depending on your point of view. For running, it was far better than the 90+F on the first training run up to Sun Top, but at 52-62F and light rain most of the day it was chilly and wet. And the clouds. Completely clouded in. Which meant no picture of Rainier at Corral Pass. I frequently choose races based on Glenn’s pictures (no, seriously, I do, and perhaps some other minor other criteria such as what the course is like and where it is) and this time there was no Corral Pass picture. Bummer. I got lots of good pictures at the training runs but didn’t have someone get the amazing photo at Corral Pass on that run. And it didn’t happen at the race. It was still *wonderful* having Takao up there (and Glenn for the faster folk) getting good shots of us but they just aren’t quite the same. And Glenn’s Sun Top photos are great as always. But I’m sad about my missed shot. Oh well, just have to do the race again next year. 🙂
Another 5.3 miles from Fawn Ridge to Sun Top, with 1,000′ elevation but more like 1,500′ gain with all the up-and-down. Much of it is up but there is a section 2/3 of the way through that is a beautiful, wooded, runnable downhill that was glorious after the second long slog. After coming out of the woods from that downhill it’s a little over 1/2 mile to Sun Top, an incredibly steep and painful 1/2 mile. There were only two good things about this: I knew it was relatively short and I knew Glenn was at the top waiting to capture our suffering faces. We reached Sun Top right at the cut-off so it was a quick refill then off again. Here is some of the suffering along with a bit of goofiness with Erica (sorry, Erica):
I wasn’t too worried about cut-offs since all I had to do was maintain a 13 minute pace downhill for 7 miles and I’d be in with lots of time to spare. Easy, right? Ummmm… No, not after 37 miles. I got to Skookum Flats with 2 minutes to spare on the cutoff. However, since the race started 3 minutes late they thought I had missed the cutoff. They were pretty adamant that if I wanted to continue I’d need to hustle so I just grabbed water and ran until I was out of sight. Then I walked. I did a run-walk interval but I was just tired by this point and was definitely leaning more on the walking side. Somewhere mid-Skookum after 13.5 hours the battery on my Garmin 920XT gave out. I’m a bit bummed by this as it successfully made it through 15:40 hours at the Pigtails 100K so I figured I’d be fine. I had the same equipment (heart rate monitor and foot pod). Need to figure that one out.
At the start of Skookum, I was DFL and slowing dramatically. I knew I couldn’t made the Finish time which didn’t help my speed, nor did it help knowing I would be OK (still get credit) with coming in late (better to have had the pressure to finish sooner, although I’m not sure I could have anyway). But I was able to catch up with Erica who was also struggling. And we caught back up with Taryn, who we had been playing leapfrog with for much of the course and who was hurting more than either of us.
With 3 miles to go, we decided to pull together to get to the finish and with some helpful (but incredibly annoying!) pushing from Nancy Szoke as well as Taryn’s mother, we made it to the finish line.
We were able to do the last 1/10th of a mile looking strong (where strong = a non-walking, slow-shuffle/jog) and to great cheering. OK, most of the runners were long gone but from those few dozen hardy souls who hung around it sounded like a thunderous, deafening welcome back and was much appreciated. It almost brought me to tears (and again now as I write this) but it didn’t. Nope. No tears. That I’ll ever admit to. 😉
And we finished. We also had the honor of a Finish Line Arch thanks to Leslie and Vivian who were kind enough to hang around waiting for us. You guys rock.
And Michael. I can’t express enough appreciation for Michael. He stayed with me almost the entire race, and while he gave me some advice, it was really limited (thanks!); I wasn’t excited about the prospect of being harassed the entire time (pick up your feet, stand up straight, less arm swing, etc) and I didn’t get any of that. I got great company with some good conversation and some encouragement to keep moving out of the aid stations. It was perfect and really helped me through. Michael was there waiting for us at the finish line, already covered in blankets and being well cared for. I was such a wreck I didn’t see him (didn’t help that they carefully lowered me into a chair facing away from him); sorry for not cheering earlier for you Michael.
While we were sitting warming up under the blankets and drinking warm water (sounded weird, tasted weird, but was just what we needed to warm up, thanks Eric & Medical!), medical was checking out Michael, Erica, and me who weren’t looking that great; Laura said I was pale as a ghost. Medical and Eric Sach were great at giving us hot water to drink and hold, which took me about 10 minutes to realize was to warm up our core temp. Warm blankets and dry clothes also helped.
Still, it was quickly clear that none of us should be be driving home as planned so we came up with a cunning plan (OK, it took us a while to figure out but everything was hard to think about at that point). Michael was clearly in bad shape (ended up being sick on the way back) and I wanted to stay close to him to make sure he was OK. Erica was also stuck as she had planned on driving home but again clearly needed rest. So we drove back to the hotel, Laura driving the van w/tired runners and Medical driving Erika’s car, Erica stayed in Michael’s room from the night before, Michael got our queen bed downstairs, and Laura and I got to hang out in the cool loft since Vivian and Leslie drove home earlier that day. Worked out great for all involved.
As soon as we got back to the hotel at 9:30PM, we called the restaurant which was in the process of closing but was kind enough to make us some pasta with chicken and a variety of desserts. Hit the spot for Erika, Laura, and me; Michael was on a no-see-food diet and ended up skipping the smelly pasta (good call for him although the pasta was yummy and hit the spot, although I think anything would have tasted good at that point). Then it was quickly to bed for some much needed rest. In the morning, everyone was doing much better and we all headed our separate ways. We bumped into Michael one more time at Wapiti Willies where much Huckleberry ice cream & shakes were enjoyed.
I learned a few days later that I was the “Last 7 to Glenn”. Seven Hills frequently has contests, giving away prizes and store credit for those people wearing Seven Hills gear, such as my race shirt, and reach Glenn first or last. White River is cool because there are prizes for First and Last to both Corral Pass and Sun Top. Since Glenn has to leave Corral Pass early in order to make it to Sun Top before the first runners reach it, someone in the middle of the pack becomes “Last 7 to Glenn” which is a nice way to reward those who aren’t super-speedy or super-slow. The good news is that being DFL has it’s advantages and I was indeed the Last 7 to Glenn winning me store credit. The bad news is that I had already spent it on the replacement bottles. Ah well…
All-in-all an amazing adventure.
- Entrants: 373
- Starters: 319
- Finishers: 276
Night before: small Huckleberry Shake from Wipiti Willies (500 Kcal), Pasta Dinner (bread (300), pasta (300), meatballs (200), Homemade Bagel (150), Total: 950
- Pre-race: Homemade Bagel (thanks, Laura!, 300 KCal), half an amazing biscuit (thanks, Vivian & Leslie!, 100), Protein Shake (thanks, Costco!, 160), and half a banana (thanks, God!, 40). Total 600 Kcal
- A/S 1 Camp Shepard: Nothing, blew right by it without stopping.
- A/S 2 Ranger Creek: 2 Nuun Waters, S-Cap, 1 Shot Bloks (frozen!, 200 Kcal), Total: 200
- A/S 3 Corral Pass: 1 Nuun, 1 Water, S-Cap, ¼ PB&J Bagel (100), few M&Ms (50), few chips (50), coke (50), 1 Honey Stingers (mmmmm, soft, 160), Total: 400 KCal
- A/S 4 Ranger Creek: 1 Nuun, 1 Water, S-Cap, ½ big Almond Butter (200), Total: 200
- A/S 5 Buck Creek: 1 Nuun, 1 Water, S-Cap, Mt. Dew (50, out of coke! S’ok, I like Mt. Dew but still ;-), PB&J Saltines (100, out of bread! S’ok, the saltine was perfect), M&Ms (50), Shot Bloks (200), Total: 400
- A/S 6 Fawn Ridge: 1 Nuun, 2 Waters (had a third in my pack), S-Cap, BBQ chips, ¼ PB&J (PB&J was hitting the spot today, 100), M&Ms (50), BBQ chips (maybe not here, but wherever I had them they were really yummy, 50), coke (50), ½ big Almond Butter (130), Total: 400
- A/S 7 Sun Top: 1 Nuun, 1 Water, S-Cap, M&Ms, Coke, handful of goldfish crackers (50) and chips (50), chomps from Buck Creek (100), Total 200
- A/S 8 Skookum Flats: 1 Water (they were worried about the cutoff), ½ Shot Bloks (100), Total: 100
- During Skookum: ½ Shot Blocks (100), Total: 100
During the Race Total (inc BFast but not post-race dinners): 2,500
- Finish: Hot water (weird sensation but felt good), bowl of BBQ chicken (surprisingly good, surprising because I didn’t expect to want to eat but it was yummy, 300), Total: 300
- Dinner at hotel: Chicken Pasta (300), blueberry crisp (600), Ice Cream (200), 2 Sprites (300), Total: 1,400
Post-Race Total: 1,700
Day Total: 4,200
Cal burned: 14 hours @ 500 cal/hr = 7,000. Rats, only short 3,000 which is about 1 pound. Must find better way to lose weight. 😉
Additional Notes / Lessons:
I love my Garmin 920XT but the battery gave out 14:30 in (halfway through Skookum flats). It has an Ultra mode that is supposed to go 50 hours but it only gets the GPS location once a minute which is simply too slow except perhaps for long, straight roads. I really wish they offered an in-between mode such as every 5 seconds instead of every second. It also lost the GPS signal from Ranger Creek to Buck Creek on both the training run and race; those are some dense trees. I can dream of a watch with super-strong signal reception…
I really need to figure out where to stash my Yurbuds when I don’t have them in my ears. I typically tuck them in the pocket with my front bottles but when I go to take the bottles out the covers come off the Yurbud headphones and I end up losing them. Have to think about that one.
Cover photo by Glenn Tachiyama at http://tachifoto.net.