Running White River 50m 2013

We are still in the witty banter stage, fresh out of the gate and running easy miles through forests rich with moss. Sometimes I engage in the banter, sometimes I let it slide over me, and sometimes I try to block it out. A lot of times the conversations are about whether we’ve run the course before, where we are from, jobs, schools, family. It is a familiar pattern threaded with bits of wit or jest. “I hear there’s no wireless on the course!” someone yells in mock disgust as we run through the woods toward the first mountain.  Later, on a really steep climb, as our breathing becomes labored, someone says sarcastically “Normally I would be sprinting up this”.
Who else smiles at 5:50am before 50 miles?
Natalie Thompson, Seth Dwyer, Pablo Trejo, Ian Preppernau, Alexis Braun, Elliott Nolan
If there is one thing I really like about long distance running it is the tangential camaraderie and community that it engenders. Smaller and more intense than the road marathon world, I’ve never met nicer people.  Strolling the campground the night before, we stop and share beers. Dogs mill around, fire pits crackle, and people trade stories about different runs.  Later, around our own campfire,  Natalie Thompson, Matt Palilla and I bounce around the idea of trying to both run around Mt. Adams and climb it in the single day in mid-August.  We talk about trying to do a speed traverse of the three sisters in Oregon and then segue into the craziness of trying the Nolan 14 challenge in Colorado, fourteen 14,000 foot peaks in under 60hrs, something that seems beyond impossible. Tomorrow’s 50 miles doesn’t seem so bad anymore. We turn in early, alarms set for 4:30am;  we’ll be eating oatmeal by headlamp to get ready for the 6:00am start.
What did Scott McCoubrey say about the climbs?

Now we are climbing hard, short z-like switchbacks. We’re about 7 miles in and a guy is leaning against a tree. His back is soaked in sweat and his breathing  is ragged. You don’t usually see people on the side of the trail at ultras except for maybe 100 milers. But it is easy to start too fast and this is a tough climb. It isn’t long before my breath gets ragged. I try pursed-lipped breathing which is a technique high altitude climbers and people with emphysema use to increase their oxygenation. It doesn’t work but I get to look like an idiot for a while.  The truth is I haven’t done many long training runs leading up to this, I’m banking on having naturally blood doped myself by climbing Kilimanjaro twice and running the high altitude circuit trail in the last ~month as a guide for S2, but those acclimatization benefits start petering out after 3-4 weeks and I continue huffing. 

Getting close to Coral Pass mile ~15

With Coral Pass behind us, we now have miles of descent in front of us. I catch glimpses on switchbacks and realize the woman dogging my heals is Meghan Arborghast – an elite ultra runner from Oregon. In not so many words, I tell her I am a fan by saying I liked her blog post about being invited to run a 100k in Japan and the descriptions of sushi and  ‘cat-cafes’. Yeah, I’m a guy and I like cats. We chat a bit about the running community, races, oxygen tents, but most of the time we are running too fast and concentrating on footing too much to talk. At one point she tells me we are on track for a 8:20 finish. I’m not wearing a watch and have no concept of time until she says this. And now I know for sure I have gone out way too fast and will burn out, I don’t belong in the 8:20 category.  I’ve only been able to keep up because of the down-hill.

When the trail levels out and we pull into the campground at mile ~27, I give her a weak goodbye and watch her cruise away on incredibly strong legs. Mine are shaky; at the aid station I grab five quarters of cut up PBJs and stack them in one hand and  fill the other hand with heavily salted potato chips. A little girl looks at me and says “That’s a lot of food!”.   I give her a ‘no shit, I deserve it’ look. I stumble along through the campground and realize our camping spot and my truck is only 40 odd feet away. The cooler is filled with ice, and buried deep within is beer, frozen grapes, chocolate covered caramels, Washington’s best brownies, and single malt. There are still 23 miles in front of me. Many things were sampled.
Coming into Sun Top mile ~37

Suntop is the crux, the ~8 miles getting there involve a lot of climbing and leave me dazed and sometimes unable to run. But seeing Glenn and the volunteers near the top cheers me up. There are no significant climbs after this – just a long downhill and the ‘flats’. I take in the views, scream a little as someone squeezes a sponge filled with ice cold water down my back, snap a picture, and then I start hobbling down ~7 miles of forest road with Mt. Rainier front and present, slowly gaining speed and willing my quads to loosen up.

Forest road down from Sun Top

The last six miles of Skookum Flats are anything but flat, but it is fun rolling terrain. I lean in and try to guess the remaining miles. I minimize them by creating fractions in my head with the miles I have already run. At mile 45 you only need to run a ninth more, that doesn’t sound bad eh? The White River comes in and out of focus and all I can really think about is the dusty road at the finish, a cold drink, and mostly being able to sit down. Scratch that, lay down. I dig deep and gain speed, running as fast as I did in the early morning.

I arrived at the finish about a mile earlier than I was estimating in my head. Running down a dusty road along a dirt airstrip, through a campground and past  people who understand your pain, never felt so good. I finished in 9:21, a nice improvement over my previous time of 10:03.  A little later, I got to watch my friends Natalie Thompson and Pablo Trejo cross the finish line of their first 50 milers. It was really moving to watch. Running this far in the mountains makes you dig deep, sometimes deeper than you have ever dug in your life,  and the sense of relief and raw emotions as the the finish line nears is palpable. It is something to experience, something to witness, and something I find incredibly inspiring.
Done! Photo by John Wallace

Thanks friends.

-Seth
On a couch in Seattle, WA.


Post script: Big thanks to Natalie for driving down with me and to PROBAR for their support. Matt Fischer came down to cheer our Seattle contingent on and then volunteered to run the first 27 miles as a sweeper. Matt Palilla came up from Portland under a doctor’s order to ‘take it easy'; he did this by also running  27 miles as a sweep. I never saw Matt Hagen but I know he swept as well (really, how many Matts can sweep?) and I know he talked some smack about me behind my back, thanks for that. Thanks to Ian Preppernau for helping me at the finish,  RD Scott McCoubrey, to all the other volunteers, awesome aid stations (especially Laura Houston at Fawn Ridge and Wendy Wheeler at the flats), Glenn Tachyama and Takao Suziko for their amazing photography, and to everyone who encouraged all of us along the way. Great to hang with Rich, Sam, Justin, Dan, Scottie, Alexis, Elliot, Lars, John, Mike, Glenn, and many others. Trading notes with usa crossers Mike Ehredt and John Wallace was especially cool. Congrats to the winners Rudy Gilman and Ashley Arnold and everyone else who crossed the finish line or gave it their best. It was great to see so many friends out there, witty banter aside. Meghan set a new F50-59 age group record, 8:37:20 And Andrew Smith, 14 years old, became the youngest person to run the course, finishing in 12:04. He might be my new hero. Van Phan ‘Pigtails’ turned around and ran the course backwards after finishing, prompting Matt Hagen to insinuate that she had somehow negated things and her total mileage was really 0 and not 100.  Jess Mullen called it a night but woke up yesterday and ran the course again for a double. Meanwhile, I was sleeping.  www.whiteriver50.com

4 Responses to “Running White River 50m 2013

Feedback welcome