Ultrarunning is an interesting sport. The highs and lows a runner experiences both during racing and in training are difficult to describe to those who don't run ultras. Since running White River and the weeks that have followed I have been through a plethora of these feelings. Why do I run? How is that person faster than me? I am never doing this again! That was awesome! I hate myself for signing up for this race. Why do my toes feel like someone smashed them with a hammer? Was that my ACL that just popped? How far to the next aid station? Will this uphill EVER end? I could go on for a while, but you get the idea. Despite all this in the end, we run across the finish line triumphant, proud of the accomplishment and, after some recovery time, are ready to do it again!
This is part 1 of my race reports, the White River 50, part 2 will be on Resurrection Pass and will come later in the week, part 3 will be on lessons learned. For now, here is my recap on White River.
White River 50
This race is a classic northwest favorite and has seen just about everyone in the ultra running world run it. The race website says the course has 8,700 feet of climbing with an equal amount of decent. However, after a course change and talking with other runners I was hearing numbers as high as 10,000 feet of gain and loss, although I believe it was somewhere around 9,500 feet of gain and loss. What does all this mean? That course is hlly! I should have been tipped off when we drove the camp sight in a valley sandwiched between mountains. But, it is difficult to wrap your head around courses simply by maps, pictures, and course profiles, sometimes you just have to run it.
The race starts at 6 AM on a small airfield that was just a few miles from our camp sight. In hindsight I started too far up front and went out too fast, but that was always my plan, in a way. I knew that the goal of 9 hours was very optimistic and that 10 hours was more realistic. However, this didn't prevent me from going out at a 9 hour pace. I was feeling good as we went in and out of the trees for a few miles before crossing the highway and running on more rolling single track. After about 4 miles we started the first climb, this is probably where the day started to turn for me. I didn't anticipate the hill lasting as long as it did, somewhere around 3 hours. I knew what 3,500 feet of gain would feel like, but for some reason this felt more difficult and much longer. I was trying to keep up with those around me which meant I was pushing myself a bit too hard. In hindsight I think the hill was less steep than I anticipated and therefore just drug me along. I think I was more prepared for a steeper climb.
We crested the first big climb and the course flattened out a bit before we hit more switchbacks and then a longer flat section heading into the first big aid station which is the high point of the course. I actually hit the first aid station at about a 9:30 pace. Having started with a backpack I stopped at the aid station only to get a few pieces of watermelon before pushing on. Mentally this was probably the high point of the day for me, once I moved through the aid station the crowd really thinned out and I was able to run without any pressure. With no one right in front of me and no one right behind me the race started to feel more like a training run and I was able to move at my own pace.
I started the long downhill section and immediately my stomach started to knot up. This was the same feeling I had during Resurrection Pass last year but not until mile 44, I was only at mile 20. I was still able to run most of the downhill after slowing down and talking more frequent walk breaks. I was really excited to hear the cars on the highway knowing the mile 27 aid station was close and I would be able to get to my drop bag. I reached the aid station a full hour behind my goal pace, but on track for about an 11 hour finish. I was pretty hungry and was a bit disappointed to see the lack of real food at the aid station. Either way I grabbed my ipod, slammed a red bull, and took off with my handheld water bottle.
I ran the short section on trails and then on a road before we started the second big climb. Shortly into the climb I knew I was in trouble as my knees really started to hurt from the hills and my stomach was knotting up again. But I made the best of it and kept moving. I reached a small aid station about half way up the climb and in all the excitement of getting water I neglected to grab a gel, I realized this about 1/4 mile out. I could have gone back but I figured I would just deal with it and move on.
My pace slowed considerably as I headed up to the Sun Top aid station. I was getting really hungry since I hadn't taken in any calories in over an hour. It was pure delight to arrive at the Sun Top aid station! I told myself to take time and consume calories. I ate just about everything I could, several quarters of PB & J sandwiches, chips, watermelon, water, sports drink, and electrolyte capsules. I was there for about 5 minutes eating and trying to get my stomach to settle. Once I realized that more food was going to do more harm than good I topped off my water bottle and started down the 4 mile hill.
Some think that running downhill is easier than going up, sure its faster, but that doesn't meant easier. Just a few minutes out from the aid station my stomach started to knot up again, and with each foot impact it just hurt even more. I tried to run downhill, walking some and running some. It probably took me an hour to run the 4 mile downhill section.
I kept a running and walking regiment until the next aid station. I saw the aid station and started hearing some people cheer and holler my name. To my surprise it was my crew! This was not actually a crew aid station but it happened to be about 1/2 mile walk on trails to our campground. Seeing them gave me a huge boost, my stomach changed from knotting to straight nausea but despite this the mental boost meant I still ran the first mile out of the aid station. My run then slowed to a walk, I was trying not to throw up at this point as I walked it in. I figured I was too close to the finish line to have a complete breakdown so my plan was to just hold it together until the end.
I managed to come across the finish line in 11:26:18. Not the 9 hours or even sub 11 hours I had hoped for, but in hindsight running this time on that course is something to be proud of! That course is difficult, I was simply not ready for the hills (more on that in part 3). It took 3 days for my left knee to straighten, and I am still not fully recovered. However, it was a fun day despite all the times I cursed myself for taking part in it, and it was only 24 hours before I told myself I could go back and run it faster.
Next up, Resurrection Pass 50!