|Who else smiles at 5:50am before 50 miles?
Natalie Thompson, Seth Dwyer, Pablo Trejo, Ian Preppernau, Alexis Braun, Elliott Nolan
|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.
|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.
|Done! Photo by John Wallace|
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