Monday, July 28, 2008

Blisters, Bruises, Blood, Sweat, & Tears - White River 50 Race Report

The short - The title sums it up. Finished the course in 13:49:28, 2nd to last officially off of the 14-hour cutoff.

The long - Weeks and weeks of bad training (running and walking about 20-30 miles per week at best with alot of cross-training), I had put my money down on this race and decided to go for it anyway. I knew it was going to hurt, so my expectations were not set very high. However, it doesn't mean that they weren't set.

The goals were to:

1.) Finish no matter what.
2.) Finish in the 14-hour cutoff.

Although I did wish to finish sooner than 14 hours (way sooner), that would be just a pipe dream and not an actual goal. Besides, there's always next year for that.

I got my gear ready the night before and figured out my drop bag situation and what to bring (FINALLY!). I had also agreed to carpool with two of my fellow Maniac bros (Monte #438 and Nic #932) and since my house is an hour away from the start, it only made sense to have the carpool done at my place. I got up at 2am and loaded up the minivan, had 4 yummy eggs and toast for breakfast (along with a diet pepsi to wake me up), then waited for Nic and Monte to show. Right on time, they found my house and we left on schedule.

Despite getting mildly confused while driving in the dark, we found the Buck Creek Campground start and waited for things to get setup. It was a good thing we got there as early as we did too. People started flooding in trying to find parking.

After getting my race bib, free tech t-shirt w/Smartwool socks, and dropping off my drop bags (two total), I towed the line with the rest of the 5:30am early starters. When the "gun" went off, we started on what would be a race course that is as beautiful as it is merciless.

Aid Station #1 - Camp Sheppard (3.9 miles)

The first ~4 miles from the start was very smooth and quiet. I think everyone was just trying to gain some consciousness for being up so early in the morning. I soaked up the sounds and smells of the forest and White River nearby as we headed to our first aid station, Camp Sheppard. Now, despite my pacing chart dictating that I should have shown up here about an hour from the start, it only took me about 45 minutes. Did I run this fast? Yeah, I guess. But I knew that I would have a 13 mile trek going straight up and running wasn't going to be in the cards for that anyway.

So picking up my dropbag contents (my second hand-strap bottle along with my waistpack with a bottle, making 3 to use for the whole race), I filled my handhelds with GU2O and my waist bottle with water, chewed up some bananas and took 4 Espresso Love GU's. It would be a LONG CLIMB before getting to Corral Pass where I'd get any real aid.

Aid Station #2 - Ranger Creek (11.7 miles)

Between Camp Sheppard and Corral Pass, there is a water-only aid station at the 7.8 mile point called Ranger Creek. Getting to Ranger was no easy task. The trails are narrow to where you can only run side-by-side to a point. Otherwise, you're in single-file every time or finding a way to let people pass if they're faster. However, Ranger has very lovely clearings where you start to get good views of the mountains. The first viewpoint made me smile big and remember why I came out there, for the view and the fun. This would be one of many views I would get to soak in.

At certain points, the climb just seemed to get longer and steeper with no end in sight. Then I saw the stairs. ACTUAL STAIRS. A wooden staircase that goes up one floor was in a spot that can give anyone vertigo if they looked down. Eventually, the elite runners showed up as we were starting to approach Ranger Creek. It was then that I learned something called "tree-humping". In order to avoid being trampled by these superhumans in trail running shoes, I had to lean very close against the trees that were right along the side of the trail. I got very intimate with a number of trees in the forest that day. I expect many tree-babies to look like me come next year and I'll name them after all the people that passed me (e.g. Kendra, Shawn, tc*, Arthur, Annie, etc...good tree-baby names!)

Eventually, the trail stopped going up and started to level off a bit. YES! Time to run! Or so I thought. This is where the first fall happened. About 0.25 miles away from Ranger Creek, I got caught on a root and took a dive. Thankfully, my bottles broke my fall and I only got scratched on the inside of my left knee. Not too bad. I laughed it off within 15 seconds, stretched out the insta-cramps in my calves, and headed to Ranger to get my bottles refilled for the 5+ mile stretch to Corral Pass where I could get some real food. Still doing good timewise (about 20 minutes ahead of schedule).

Aid Station #3 - Corral Pass (16.9 miles)

The climb was only another 5+ miles, but it seemed to only get steeper in parts. There was an actual bank of snow at one point. SNOW! I decided to sit in it for a minute to cool off my calves. However, in doing that, I learned a new pain. Quad Cramp! The first ever quad cramp I've ever had. It hurt more than the calf cramps! I popped another S!Cap (been taking one every hour), but it wasn't going away. I relented, but decided it was time to use the painkillers. I downed 4 Aleve and within 10 minutes, I was feeling good to run and walk again. (Later on, I was told that I most likely strained the muscle, which did make sense since I knew I was pretty balanced electrolyte-hydration wise.)

The approach to Corral Pass was worth the previous agony. I finally saw that breath-taking view of Mt Rainier. It was picture perfect. I wish I would have brought my camera with me there. This was also the same place where ultrarunner/awesome photographer Glenn Tachiyama would snap your first photo. Glenn is so good to where even if you're having a horrible day in your run, you still look good on film. A big smile for the birdie, some more tree-humping as the fast runners were coming back from Corral Pass, I finally made it to Corral Pass myself.

Picture by Glenn Tachiyama
Doing exactly what Eric (friend/running mentor/shoe supplier) said, I grazed at the aid station, eating watermelon, some serious boiled potatoes in salt, PB&J squares in salt, and scallop-size bananas in salt (did I mention salt?). I tried to get more GU's to take with me on the way down, but this was one thing that wasn't going to happen. With all the faster people ahead of me, they got to the GU before I could. I ended up putting various pieces of regular food in a baggie and running with that back down to Ranger Creek. Still 10 minutes ahead of schedule from my goal time.

Aid Station #4 - Ranger Creek (22.1 miles)

Despite feeling a bit worn down and still doing my best to recover from the muscle cramps, things were doing okay. I continued with what I knew would be effective. Walk the ups, run the flats and downs. Since the trail heading back to Ranger Creek is a combo of downhill and rolling terrain, I used that to my advantage. I also stopped again at the snowbank and chilled down my calves, quads, and I packed some snow in the bandana I had around my neck to cool me down more. Coming down to Ranger, I was able to catch a few people who were head of me. WOW! Things were looking really good!

I knew I was close to Ranger due to the smell of smoke. The guys who stocked the "water only" aid station also made a campfire. I was stoked that I made it nearly a marathon distance and wasn't too spooked by the rest of the distance. Reloaded with water again, I set out to Buck Creek.

Aid Station #5 - Buck Creek (27.2 miles)

The distance to Buck Creek is a bit over 5 miles and has some serious downhill running. Despite everyone saying, "Don't run this too fast or you'll burn out", I think this part of the course only complimented my abilities...well, until I fell AGAIN.

About a mile after Ranger, there was a tree that went down in the trail path. In order to get over this tree, you had to traverse the steep and smushy terrain about 50 feet. I managed to get over with the help of Robert Lopez (aka McLovin), another Marathon Maniac bro who was doing this race as his second 50 miler in his running resume. As Robert and I continued down the trail, my mind wandered again and my foot caught another root. WHAM!!! The bottles that saved me the first time decided to take off out of my hands and try to flee down the side of the embankment. I landed on my left hand and my left quad. The insta-cramping happened again due to the sudden stop and shock of falling. I pulled out the stick that got jammed in my clothes (didn't get impaled thankfully) and saw my left hand. Cut deep enough to bleed out. "DAMN IT!" I screamed. The primal rage insticts took over. I was hell bent on finishing this race this time. No more wimping out like I did at Mt. Si at mile 30. No dropping out after doing 2/3rd of a race. Not today, not today. To use the phrase from the game Halo 3 - FINISH THE FIGHT.

I focused hard on the downhills and ran them as smooth as I could, being patient for the Buck Creek Aid Station to come. I arrived right on time and immediately asked for a Medic to assess my hand. It took some time (about 5 minutes), but they were able to clean the wound out and bandage it up. Thankfully it wasn't deep. However, those 5 minutes lost really would have helped me on the course more. I proceeded to eat more, grab some more GU's, get my bottles topped off again, and headed to Fawn Ridge. I left the aid station 15 minutes later than expected, but 20 minutes before cutoff. It was going to be a close one at this rate.

Aid Station #6 - Fawn Ridge (31.7 miles)

The 4.5 mile journey lead me to a familiar face in the ultrarunning world. Uli Steidl was coming from the opposite direction with his dog, getting some training miles in (probably doing 25 miles I'd imagine). Seeing him inspired me to press on and gut it out. I got to the base of the Sun Top trail that would lead me to Fawn Ridge at the 3 mile point and eventually to Sun Top another 5+ miles further. The climb didn't seem like it wanted to stop. I was so glad that I hiked up a similar mountain with almost similar terrain and elevation a few weeks earlier. It made the climb alot more easier in perspective. Plus, using the streams to continue to cool myself down really helped too.

As I continued to hike up this 3 mile x 4,000 ft elevated thing, I saw unusual markers that weren't the typical orange ribbons to mark the trail. There were paper parrots, tiki idols, and hawaiian flowers decorating the trail. I knew that the aid station had to be close. Sure enough, I hear a big "ALOHA!!!!" from up ahead and I was at Fawn Ridge. I shouted out, "Hey, if this is Hawaii, does that mean I'm gonna get leid?" But the music pumping from their boombox must have drowned me out.

I fueled up like mad at this Aid Station. A few cups of Coke. More GU2O w/ice for the bottles. Salted PB&J and Salted Boiled Potatoes. Ruffles chips and some M&M's. Another two more GU packets and I was off again. I knew that if I could get to Sun Top in the cutoff, I had a chance of finishing this in a sub-14 hour for sure. I left the aid station well under my intended time, but still left about 15 minutes before they closed down.

Aid Station #7 - Sun Top (37.0 miles)

The last of the serious climbs. There was an unusual amount of downhill in this area for some reason. But for every down, there was an up. I did relish the downs though. No branches. No brambles. No roots. Hardly any rocks. I felt like I was floating. But after 40 minutes of this, I began to question how far I was and if the aid station would ever show up. I asked a few mountain bikers the distance and they gave me some bogus number of distance that made no sense based on how long and fast I was going myself. I pushed on, more annoyed than anything until I could figure out where the hell I was. Time was running out!

I finally get to a clearing that had a road with a volunteer. YES!!! He told me it was 0.5 miles to the top and it was a climb. He also told me to smile big since Glenn is now over there taking pictures. Time to put on my happy face. I do my best to get to the top and Glenn did what he does best as I approached the aid station.

Picture by Glenn Tachiyama

I finally get there and quickly load up while my bottles are being refilled. It was like being in the pits at NASCAR. I left the aid station 3 minutes before they shutdown and I had 6.5 miles to get to the next aid station and just a bit over 3 hours before the course cutoff! However, this is where my confidence starts to Hulk up.

Aid Station #8 - Skookum Flats (43.4 miles)

This part of the course is where if you have any downhill running ability left within you, crank it here. A 6.5 mile hard-packed gravel road would lead me to the final aid station before the finish. The road however felt more like a paved/concrete road with rocks thrown on it, but it was good enough for me to do what I do best - fly on the downhill! Despite the cars that kicked up gravel dust in the air and the lack of tree/cloud cover, it was a good run where my confidence kicked into overdrive. The cutoff time at Fawn Ridge was at 4:23pm and the cutoff time for Skookum Flats is 5:57pm. This means that you basically have 94 minutes to get to Skookum Flats and leave quickly since the overall cutoff is at 7:30pm.

I made it to Skookum Flats in under 70 minutes!

Once I got there, the aid station volunteers were very impressed with me making up the time and quickly got me situated with more GU2O, GU, and food before I left. I had more time, but not much. The clock was 1 hour, 50 minutes till the cutoff and I had another 6.6 miles to deal with to reach that finish line.

Finish - Airfield (50.0 miles)

The final stretch is an unusual one in that it is kind of scenic, following along side the river as the trail rolls up and down, yet providing some decent last minute climbs in places that can just plain bug anyone after running over 43 miles and having to do another 6+ more.

I continued my run/walk pattern and eventually caught up to a few folks who had been ahead of me for about 20 minutes! I was so stoked that I bridged the gap of time! Now question was, "How far is that damn finish line?" As a group of three (Marilynn from SLC & Chris from Seattle) we ran together up and down the trails, doing our best to beat the cutoff. Eventually, once we got to the spot where we would have to enter the dry part of the riverbed, they overtook me on the last bit of climb left. Once the trail started to level out, I saw on my watch that I had 30 minutes left. I tried running again. However, due to exhaustion and inattentiveness, I fell for a third time.
This fall was the worst and practically broke my spirit (not to mention nearly breaking my bones). I fell hard on my right side, scraping my right forearm to my elbow, receiving a very large red scratch about 1 inch wide and 1 foot long (going down my right side near my shoulder) thanks to a cut stump in the ground, and smashing into the same stump with my right hip that left me with a bruise about 6 inches in diameter and just plain sick looking. I screamed out, "WHY!?!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?". Three falls with each one being worse than the last. And the biggest insult being that I was so close to being done. I was practically spent. With being on the ground again, my body seized in massive cramps again and it took all of my strength to get myself off the ground, get my bottles, and do my best to put one foot after another. It was painful, but I knew I had to be close. There was 25 minutes left on the clock. I HAD TO BE CLOSE!

I did my best to maintain my composure as I continued down the winding trails. Running was too much. Walking was my only option and even that hurt thanks to the monster hip bruise. I wanted to go home. I wanted this to be over. I wanted the damn finish line. Then I heard it. In the distance, I heard a "Wooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!" and what sounded like a low humming engine. "Oh my God...People...Car..." This is when I lost it and the tears started to flow. I pushed on. The timer on my watch ticked away.

Move. Move. Move. Move damn it. Move. Where's the finish line? Where's that damn finish line? I finally see a clearing and an arrow pointing to the right. I've made it to the road. I see the cars driving by. People roll their windows down cheering me on, encouraging me that it's not much further. The tears are flowing more. The pain is radiating all over at this point. My blisters are throbbing in my shoes. The tape on my left hand is falling apart from the sweat and my cut is getting more exposed. Where is that damn finish line?!

I see someone coming up to me cheering me on by name and asks if I'm okay. I tell him as I'm moving that I need a medic bad and asked how far the finish was. He told me 50 yards to the left. Follow the cones. In the haze of gravel dust, sweat, and exhaustive pain, I can make out orange cones and continue to follow them. The crowd noise is getting louder. I see the chute and the finish banner ahead. Less than a hundred feet away. I can't run. I can barely walk. Every nerve in my body is either on fire or dead from pain. People are trying to hi-five me, but I hardly have the strength to lift my arms up. I beg for a medic. The tears are coming down more with each step. I scream for a medic (with some profanity) and the moment I pass the finish, I'm scooped up by two volunteers before I collapse and I'm rushed into an empty cot to recover. It took a few bottles of VitaminWater, Gatorade, and some blankets to bring my body back out of the shock and allowed me to manage myself and regain my composure once again.

50 miles. 17,200 feet of elevation change total. 8,700 feet of elevation gain alone.

Total time: 13:49:28...2nd from the last one in the cutoff...3rd from the last one to cross the finish line.

Post-race: Once I left the medic tent, I was able to slowly shuffle my feet over to my minivan and with each passing minute, I was starting to feel better. Leslie McCoubrey (the RD's wife) was nice enough to save me a plate of BBQ (which I wolfed down very fast). After an extended rest/chat with the rest of the Maniacs who were in attendance, I had felt okay enough to drive home. Thankfully, no accidents on the way out!

Looking back at my previous races, I'm kind of kicking myself for dropping out at certain points when I did have it in me to keep going. So, with my lackluster training and alot of persistance, I had it in me to finish at one of the premiere ultramarthon events in the country. If I can take this thing on and finish...well, I'll just post up again what I did before back in April that should put it perfectly...

'Cause sometimes you feel tired,
feel weak, and when you feel weak, you feel like you wanna just give up.

But you gotta search within you, you gotta find that inner strength
and just pull that shit out of you and get that motivation to not give up
and not be a quitter, no matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face and collapse

-Till I Collapse by Eminem


Anonymous said...

Wow, Jon...what a moving, detailed, downright honest and humble account of all your highs and lows out there on the course. Ya know, I think YOU deserved a cut of that prize money the race gave out, not just those superhuman elite racers who made it look so easy!

Enjoyed talking with you for part of that long trek up to Corral Pass. We were almost in tears also, as we saw you approaching that finish line with time still on the clock, all battered and bruised and hunched over, yet still with the fiercest look of determination and satisfaction on your face!

Heal quickly for your next endeavor!

Linda W.

crowther said...

Congats on persevering despite all of the falls.... And thanks for doing the "tree-humping" for the benefit of me and others!

BUC said...

I too enjoyed the tree humping. But seriously, good job on finishing such a tough one. Heal up! Looking forward to our next encounter.

Mark Swanson said...

Way to gut it out, Jon!