Wednesday, August 20, 2008

8/17/08 The Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon

That picture and the other picture below were borrowed from Race Director Brian Pendleton's album of photos for this race.

Last year, Maniac Brian put together a couple of low-key summer events: The Rattlesnake Lake Marathon and The Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon. Both events utilize two rail-to-trails conversions just outside of Seattle, but the races are very different experiences.

Rattlesnake Lake is a 10 mile out-and-back followed by a 16 mile out-and-back. 5 miles of constant downhill on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail (SVT), then back up, then 8 miles up the Iron Horse Trail (IHT), then back down. Trains can't go up steep hills, so rail-to-trail conversions always have really gentle grades. But some of these grades are very long... and sure enough, Rattlesnake Lake really DOES have 13 miles of uphill in the middle of two extended downhills.

Light at the End of the Tunnel (let's just call it "Tunnel") starts further up IHT. In fact, it starts on the other side of Snoqualmie Pass near the Hyak area of the Summit at Snoqualmie ski area. Back when they were building the railroad, they had to figure out how to get trains over the pass. They built a tunnel for this... a 2.3 mile long tunnel. When they converted the tracks to recreational trail, they left the tunnel in place. Yes, the IHT goes through a really long tunnel. And this tunnel is dark. However, because there are no turns in the tunnel, one can see the other end fairly quickly - the literal light at the end of the tunnel. The race... Tunnel... starts at Hyak and heads downhill the IHT 21 miles to the SVT, and then 5.2 miles down SVT to the end. A full marathon that's downhill. The whole way. And not steep, quad-busting downhill. Gentle rail-to-trails all the way down.

In 2007, both of these races were low-key. I didn't do either one. This year, I decided to do both. Rattlesnake Lake remained low-key (my report is the second part of this). Tunnel blossomed into a much bigger deal. Lots of people wanted to run down the hill really really fast. Maniac Brian worked hard to get the course certified, and the BQ potential attracted more interest. And so, the little event that started with 21 people last year became a 130 person logistical challenge this year. Permitting. Insurance. Water stations... getting big containers of fluid onto a multiuse trail (not driveable) at specific intervals. And trying to figure out rides for people. Tunnel is a point-to-point course. Last year, people just carpooled before and after. 130 people is a lot for that... so Brian arranged for buses. That, in turn, meant trying to find a place to park 70-120 cars. Lots of work!

The weather was a little crazy on race morning. Starting about 3a, thunderstorms roared across the suburbs (we call this "the East side") and the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Which is where the Tunnel's course is located. Thunderstorms! Real lightning! I grew up in Texas where the thunderstorms are intense, long lasting, and loud. In Seattle, a thunderstorm is usually "one and done"... meaning, we hear one clap of thunder and that's it. Show's over. Not this storm. It was crazy. Luckily, it was fast moving and headed from south to north. By the time people started showing up for the buses, the storm was gone. But as folks were driving to the race site, it was pretty scary. It was also very interesting.

The aftermath of the storm was also weird. Usually when a storm passes through, it is associated with a cold front. It'll get cold and breezy. Not this storm. Afterwards, it was warm and soupy. Probably close to 70 (usually in summer, it'll be 45-50 in the foothills at sunrise) and 200% humidity. And still.

A full school bus of folks opted to start early. The rest of us waited for the two later buses to take us up to Hyak. My bus got lost a couple times, but we still got to the starting area with an hour to spare.

I felt like I knew almost everyone who was waiting to start. This isn't exactly true, but it seemed to be this way. A few people who I did not know came up to talk to me about previous race reports. So... hello to those of you who are reading this! Hello to those of you that I have not met! I hope to meet you soon! :-) Anyway, the time before the start passed quickly. It was a sociable morning.

While some folks were putting on their game faces to go fast and/or BQ, I knew that I didn't have that kind of day in me. My right heel is really messed up... all the downhill running over the last few weeks took most of the skin off it. I have a skinned heel. Really. And Tunnel would be all downhill. I was a bit nervous; I didn't want my foot to fall off. I had taped it, and I had extra supplies in my Race Ready shorts. So what about a goal? Hmmm. I figured "about 3:45". Up until mid-May, "about 3:40" was my basic goal... 3:45 was a given. Not since, though. Aside from a 3:42 in early June, my best time has been 3:46. And I haven't been consistent, either. My times have been all over the map. Why? Ultras. I've been doing a lot more ultras lately. More importantly, in mid-May I ran a race that was over 50 miles. And then a few weeks ago, I ran another 50 miler. Both of these races took me 12 hours, give or take. I'm pretty sure that they messed me up too... and I don't just mean my heel. Although I've been able to put in quality training, I just haven't felt 'right' on race days since that 12 hours in May.

However, Tunnel would be gentle downhill for 26.2 miles. "About 3:45" seemed doable.

Then again, my heel was skinned. It was 70 degrees and climbing, with no wind. And it was so humid that I felt like I was breathing underwater. This was before the race even started. Logic dictated that I should go out very, very conservatively and pick it up as the miles went by IF I felt like it.

Sounded like a reasonable strategy. And at 8:05a, off we went. The first .2 was a quick out and back to make the mileage "right", and then we were headed down the trail. Immediately, my logical plan met an unlikely obstacle: the tunnel!

As expected, the tunnel was dark. Most of us had headlamps or flashlights. The tunnel was also damp; as we started into the pitch black, I got several dumpings of ice water on my head. Yikes! I considered doing the whole "Dead men tell no tales..." chant from Pirates of the Caribbean, but I didn't want to annoy everybody.

Unexpectedly, the tunnel made me speed up. I think what happened was that I was trying to stay clear of other runners, and a small group behind me was pushing the pace. Rather than slow down, I sped up. I also kept getting really close to the side wall. Over and over again, I caught myself just before clipping the wall. And SPLOOSH, my foot would go into an ice puddle. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and I went towards the light.

It took awhile. Finally, I was out. How fun was that? Brian had done something really cool before the race. We each got a bag to carry through the tunnel. At the exit, there was a box and a Son of Brian. Flashlights into the bag, bags into the box, and off we went. Son of Brian brought the box to the end. Now, the bags were also for our jackets. Usually the tunnel is ice cold. Not today. In fact, as I got closer to the end, it was so steamy that my glasses fogged over and I couldn't see anything. Exiting the tunnel was like entering an oven. Oh my.

And when I got to M3... I was at 22:30. Oh no. My conservative start for an "about 3:45" finish should have been 8:45-9:00 miles. I was running 7:30s. I let a bunch of people go by me and tried to settle down.

The IHT is neat because they kept some of the old railroad signage for various sidings, exchanges, and long-gone towns as well as mile markers (2220 miles from Chicago, etc). As I was trying to find a better, slower pace, my stomach started bothering me. Great. I had been concerned about the humidity and my heel. I wasn't expecting stomach issues. But there they were, and when that starts happening, it takes precedence. They got really bad about M8, which was near the Bandera exchange. Luckily, there was a bathroom here. I spent quality time at Bandera. Onward.

The halfway point was at the Garcia exchange. This happened to be the start of the 20th Century WIMP: a downhill 50k I ran in May. That race's first 13 miles were the same as the last 13 of Tunnel. I hit halfway at 1:49. Considering that I had started way too fast, I thought that this was a reasonable time for my "about 3:45". I knew the steamy day and my heel would slow me, hopefully only slightly.

Just after halfway, my brain or my body... or maybe both... started rebelling. Although my perceived effort was going up, my pace slowed. People started passing me. I wished them well, but I wasn't feeling sociable anymore - a key sign to me that my brain was struggling. Then my stomach punched me again. Rock climbers utilize the cliff next to the trail around M16, and there's a portapotty here for them. I ducked in.

Back out of that, I tried to get moving again. Ugh. Maybe half a mile later was an aid station. I stopped again. My bathroom break showed me that I was a lot more dehydrated than normal for the middle of a marathon, so I gulped down extra water and made sure my bottle was full.

Off I went again. The good news was that my stomach felt better. The bad news was that my singlet had more water in it than my body. Also, my heel woke up. It yawned and said, "YOU SUCK." Alright. By M18 of a gently downhill marathon in which lots of people were PRing and BQing, I had just entered survival mode. Incidentally, the rest of Tunnel also happens to be M26-42 of the Mt Si 50 Miler, which I ran last year. As you can tell, I have become verrrrry familiar with the miles I was about to run. Or, really, shuffle.

The next aid station was near M19. I stopped again. My brain clearly was not functioning well because I could NOT figure out how to get the valve open on the water container. I turned it 90 degrees to the left. Nothing. I turned it 90 degrees to the right. Nothing. I tilted it and repeated the turns. Nope. I banged on the top like a TV in the 60s. I cursed. Finally, I tried turning the valve 180 degrees. Success. Oh boy. I drank a cup of gatorade. I started down the trail, stopped, turned around, went back, and drank another cup. All in all, I was there for at least 2 minutes. Then I was off again.

Just after M21, the course turned off the IHT and onto the SVT. The footing on the SVT is slightly better, but the scenery isn't nearly as good. At this point, I didn't really care about either thing. I was just counting down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, done. Not as many people were passing me. A few. I was also passing early starters and a few others who were a bit more into death march mode than me.

Maniac May caught me right at M22. She had been stung by a bee in the lip! Ouch. I thought my day was going poorly. No bees for me, though. She took off. It looked like she was trying to hit 3:45. I knew it wasn't in the cards for me. She lost me almost immediately.

I did the best I could to keep moving. And, in fact, the last two miles were actually close to 8:30s, the pace I needed to hit "about 3:45". Too bad all those miles in the middle were not. And too bad I lost at least 5 minutes in portapotties and standing at aid stations.

M26 and the course passed under I-90. Whew. I finished it up. An ugly 3:52 with a gruesome 1:49/2:03 split.

I usually don't compare my finish with others, but I will this time just to show how stupid-fast I started and how badly I faded. The group that pushed me through the tunnel included Maniac Shawna. She was just getting warmed up at the time... and finished at 3:18. I had no real business running with her. Maniac Mary passed me around M10 and finished at 3:26. Maniac Van passed me as I was euphemistically "going on break" at M16. She finished at 3:38. I'm assuming this was a bit of a negative split for her... and if I had had a good day, this is probably where I would have landed. Maniac May, bee sting and all, pulled a 3:47. She must have smoked the last 4 miles. She ran 4 miles a full 5 minutes faster than I did.

From the results, it looks like about 20% of the entrants BQed. Of course, a lot of people came here specifically to do that... so good for them. It does seem like it would be a fast course for most folks, but it surely was a hot-and-humid day. Impressive work by this group. Actually, impressive work by ALL OF US. I lost 7 pounds, and I wrung it all out of my singlet. It was not a fast course for me, especially with one good leg. Speaking of that, my heel was really hurting afterwards, but it didn't look that bad. It looked way worse after Haulin Aspen last week! Maybe it's getting better?

I decided that I'd take most of the following week (this week, as I write this report) off from running. This isn't going to make me any faster for the upcoming weeks, but I need to heal.

Oh yeah. After the race, we got a medal, a nice tech shirt, and a full spread of food. VERY impressive for a low-key race with 21 finishers last year.

Incidentally, you might notice from my schedule that Tunnel was supposed to be the second race of a double weekend. I had intended to run a 33 mile race at Blanchard Mountain the day before Tunnel. However, I didn't hook up with the organizers in time and I was worried about my heel. I skipped it. This was probably a good move. I know two people who did 11 miles there and DNFed because they thought it was too hard. Had I tried Blanchard, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have made Tunnel. Even though I felt cruddy during the race and afterwards, I'm glad I was able to complete Tunnel.

Next up: Theoretically, I am supposed to run a double this weekend... the Park City Marathon and a new marathon at the Redmond Watershed Preserve. I ran Park City last year. It was a tough race up in the mountains. We'll see what happens. I may just spend two days in my bathtub instead.

Monday, August 18, 2008

8/10/08 Haulin Aspen Trail Marathon

Haulin Aspen: very fun race with the somewhat goofy name. This is the third year I've run Haulin Aspen (which I'll refer to from here on out as HA). So instead of repeating myself, here is my report from last year. The first few paragraphs discuss the course, so it might be worth a look if you've not read it. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Thanks for coming back.

In both 2006 and 2007, I ran HA as the second day of a double, coupled with the Saturday Crater Lake Marathon. I consider Crater Lake to be the hardest road marathon in the US, so attempting HA one day later has made for a tough weekend. My HA time for 2006 was 4:45, just about an hour slower than a regular marathon in that timeframe. In 2007, I pulled a 4:32 - a huge improvement, though still a little less than an hour slower than my regular marathon time. In the back of my mind both years was the what-if question: What if I ran HA on its own, not part of a double? It seemed like this would make for a more pleasant experience, and I figured I could run something more like 30-45 minutes slower than a regular marathon.

That's what I decided to do this year. As far back as January, I planned on doing the 2008 HA as a single. In my goals for the year, the very last sentence mentions a 4:15 target. Then in May, I accidentally PRed with a 3:28 at Eugene. One of the chain reaction effects of this PR was a new possibility for HA - could I somehow manage a 4:00 finish? Maybe I could.

I made a critical judgment error along the way, though. I decided to run the White River 50 Miler two weeks before HA. I knew White River would be hard, but I figured that two weeks would be enough to get back on track. I did not figure on White River beating me down... nor did I factor in the possibility of injury. Sure enough, I messed up one of my heels running on all the crazy-steep downhills for hours and hours.

I came into HA with a bum foot that had been screwed up by running down hills. And what is the last 12 miles of HA? Yes. A very long downhill. Hmmm.

Nevertheless, I showed up bright and early on race morning. As with the previous two years, the Bend weather did not disappoint: bright blue skies and no wind. It was very cold (38 degrees), just like the past two years. And it was supposed to warm up to 75 during the race, just like the past two years. With all that prior experience on the course and the consistency of the race's weather, I knew how to run, I knew how to deal with nutrition, and I knew how to layer my clothing appropriately. I conveniently forgot about my heel. For awhile, at least.

The early starters went out an hour before the regular start. As we were milling at the starting line waiting for the regular start, some of the early starters showed back up. They had apparently gotten lost. Ooops. This would be a theme later in the day, although I didn't get lost. It's a very hard course on which to get lost, actually. There are only a few places where the runner could turn down the wrong road or trail, and they are all marked well.

Regular start. And we were off. Early on, my heel felt fine. More accurately, my heel didn't really have a feel at all - meaning, I didn't notice any issues. I wasn't feeling especially spry, but I knew that we had a long road UP. I settled in, determined to run as much of the uphill as possible. This meant running the first flat 3 miles conservatively. I did. I fell in with some chatty folks early on. I had no idea if I'd stay near them throughout the day, but I figured that the hill would make them considerably less chatty :-).

The hill. As I recall, in 2006, I charged up this hill way too hard in the early miles. The HA hill starts at M3 and crests at M14. There are a few flats along the way, but it is mostly up... and it gets steeper as it goes. The last mile is an especially grueling set of false summits as the road snakes around the mountain. Anyway, I charged up it in 2006 and specifically recall doing a lot of walking towards the top. 2007 was very different. I mixed in lots of running and walking. For 2008, I wanted to run as much as possible, even if it was slow running.

I was mostly successful. Up I went. Up and up. The aid stations were 2-4 miles apart. I stopped at each station... not a lingering stop like I tend to do at ultras, but certainly a full-on "stop" that I would not do in a road marathon. Aside from that, I ran. Sometimes slowly. Sometimes very slowly. I walked a brief steep section in the middle. I mixed walking and running on the last and steepest section of the hill. I felt great.

The hill crests around M14, and then there's a brief downhill to M14.5. This is the aid station where the course veers off the road and onto technical singletrack for the long trip down. Last year, I hit this aid station around 2:40. This year, by focusing on running as much as possible, I hit the aid station... at 2:42. What the hell? I was quite frustrated by this turn of events! However, this aid station was run by a very nice couple - an American woman and an Australian man who was going over-the-top with the Aussie references. They were both very VERY friendly and offered up encouragement to the steady stream of walkers (most with shell shocked expressions from the hill). I didn't share my frustration about my time with the aid station folks. They made me smile.

And it was time to head down. Just before leaving, I offered up encouragement to the downcast folks who had wandered up behind me. Really fun downhill! Best running ever, anywhere! Great fun!

Now. Let's take a break for a second. As you know if you've read my other reports, I am a terrible downhill trail runner. Absolutely terrible. And usually, I don't like these sections. But there's something about HA. For the most part, the downhill isn't steep enough to scare me. There are only a few true switchbacks. It really is fun, and I really AM sincere in my love for this section. Especially after 14 miles, mostly straight up, to get here. It's great fun!

So I told everyone. And I headed out.

Not 50 yards later... POOF. I was down. Some parts of the trail section are rocky, but a great deal of this trail is nice, soft dirt. I was lucky to superman onto a soft dirt area. Hence, POOF. We always hear that our friends to the north have lots of different words for "snow" because they experience many different types of snow. Similarly, I have different words for "falling during a run".

"Superman" is fairly self-explanatory. This is the face first, full extension, land-horizontally fall.

A fall that kicks up a big cloud of dust is what I call pulling a "pigpen", after the Peanuts character.

I managed a two-fer: a superman with a pigpen landing. 50 yards from the aid station. Right after going on and on about how great this part would be. At least it didn't hurt. I did, unfortunately, get a bunch of mud all over my water bottle.

I got up and started running. I had left that aid station at 2:45. With 12 miles left, I'd have to run 12 miles in 90 minutes to make my 4:15 goal. Even with the downhill, this was highly unlikely in a trail race. Plus I had just fallen. I don't really like falling, and so my brain wanted to be extra cautious (that is, timid and slow). Fooey. I ran fast when I could. I tried to have fun.

I don't think I fell at all in 2006, though I stumbled a lot. I also stumbled in 2007, and fell twice. The first one was further down... probably M16ish... it was one of my more evil falls ever: a "George of the Jungle". This is where you fall full speed, but instead of hitting the ground, a tree catches you. And not in a good way. You fall full speed until the tree catches you by your face or your shoulder ("Watch out for that...ooooo... tree!!!"). That fall hurt. I didn't want to do that this year. My second fall last year was a pigpen at the bottom of the hill at M24.5. Right in front of an aid station. Classic! At least it didn't hurt.

Anyway, I had JUST fallen at M14.5. Lots of time left for more falls. So I sped up until I tripped and stumbled. Then I slowed down. Then I'd try to speed up again. The cycle repeated.

A few people passed me going down the hill. I tried to keep up when someone went by, but it wasn't going to happen.

By M16, my heel let me know that it was unhappy again. The downhill. Ouch.

When I got to the aid station just past M17, I was at 3:12 on the clock. Factoring in the fall, I was pleased with the 27 minutes it had taken me to get here. My foot was not pleased, though. So I lingered longer here than I really wanted to stay. I should have lingered even longer.

About a mile down from that aid station, I fell again. Luckily, it was another pigpen... but this one hurt more than normal. I landed on my shoulder. I broke my water bottle. I think I was a bit dazed because I barely remember much except for moving very very slowly from "prone" to "upright". Onward.

I hit the aid station at M20 around 3:40. I had made quick work, relatively speaking, of the previous three miles. This tells me that I was definitely running quickly, again relatively speaking, when I had fallen. The M20 aid station is where the half marathon course merges with the full. Although most of the half marathoners had long since passed this way, I knew that a few walkers would still be on the course in front of me. Because my water bottle was broken, I drank what I could. The next aid station would be in 4.5 miles, the longest gap on the course. I did not linger. It was 3:41 on the clock.

Off I went. Most of the hill was done by M20, except for a couple rocky, steep switchbacks. I was passed by a few runners on the rocky section, so once again I tried to keep up. I tripped. This is one of the very few places on the course where a fall could put a nasty end to the runner's day. When I tripped, my brain finally took over and said, "no, you are now going to slow down." I gingerly went down the rest of the switchback.

My clock watching had really gotten me down by this point. I had 10k after the M20 aid station. I knew the last few miles were flat. I was tired, my brain was telling me to go slowly, I had no water, my shoulder ached from the fall, and my heel was very unhappy. I figured that it would take me at least an hour to finish. That meant something around a 4:41. Almost ten minutes slower than last year... and no Crater Lake the day before. Booooooo.

After articulating all those things that were wrong with me, I decided just to focus on the next few yards of trail. I ran a few yards, and then another few yards. Etc. For miles. I passed a few walkers along the way, as well as a few full marathoners that had underestimated the course.

Where was the aid station? I figured that I was probably running 10:00 pace, so I started anticipating the final M24.5 aid station at about 4:21. This was where I fell last year, so I also paid particular attention to my footing through here.

It didn't come. Wait. Surely I wasn't running THAT slowly. In fact, I was quite sure that I was getting somewhat close to the finish. But where was the aid station?

It was nowhere. I made a turn, and unexpectedly, I spied the park's parking area out of the corner of my eye. I was nearing the finish. It dawned on me that the aid station was simply MIA. I had actually passed M24.5 long ago.

Finish line. As I approached it, I noticed the clock and my watch. I was at 4:29. Oh my. I tried to get there before the clock flipped to 4:30.

My finish time was 4:30:01. HA. Didn't quite make it.

I was a bundle of mixed emotions at that finish. I still am. I had managed that last 10k in 49 minutes. For me ON TRAILS, that's actually flying. And I had done it with no fluids whatsoever. And my finish time is the fastest HA I've run. All good!

On the other hand, it was only about 2 1/2 minutes faster than last year. Without running Crater Lake the day before. My falls had hurt me. My heel was really hurting. And I spent a lot of that last hour disoriented because of the missing aid station. AND it took me longer to get up the hill this year even though I ran (or thought that I ran) more of it. Hmmm.

I try to find the positives when I can, but overall, I was not satisfied with my race this year. Looking back at my training and my race results, I believe it is the number "50" which has been the issue. I hurt my heel during the White River 50. That affected me for sure. But really my numbers have been off ever since the Watershed Preserve 12-hour race back in May. I was a 3:30-3:40 marathoner before then. Not since. Hmmmm.

I think I'll do a different race next year instead of Haulin Aspen. Maybe Crater Lake as a single. Maybe something else. But I need a break from this one. And until my heel heals :-), I probably need a break from intense stuff in general. Certainly from downhill.

A break, yeah. Next up? Yesterday's Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon, a rail-to-trails point-to-point course that is 26.2 miles of gentle downhill. I'm an idiot.

And that gives you a preview of how I did. Sigh. Check back RealSoonNow for the gory details.

The dictionary definition of gory is "covered or stained with gore; bloody." Indeed!

Incidentally, several of my friends got off course while headed up HA's hill. Apparently, one of the crossroads was not marked as well as usual. I assume I missed this because I'm familiar with the course. Anyway, they got lost. And by the time they got back on course, the organizer was picking up all the course markings thinking that everyone was in. D'oh! Sorry, folks.

Friday, August 08, 2008

8/2/08 The Taco Man Half

That's Aunt Annie with me... Maniac Annie. Two fun things about Annie:

  • She won 6 marathons in about 2 1/2 months between April and June.

  • She was 3rd female at the White River 50. She finished in 8:29, over four hours faster than me. Four hours! She had time to run another marathon! She had time to drive from Seattle to Portland. And stop for an hour in the middle to eat pizza. She had time to watch Dances With Wolves. The extended version.

Various people handle the week after a 50 miler very differently. Me? I decided to run a half marathon. Halves are actually my favorite distance. Long enough to feel, well, long. Short enough to make for a fun morning with lots of time left to hang out or do other activities. The weekend after White River offered up two fine marathons, with accompanying halves: Juneau on Saturday and San Francisco on Sunday. I've done both races; I liked both.

However, Founding Maniac Tony, otherwise known as "The race director of the Tacoma Marathon", was starting up a brand new half marathon for this weekend: The Tacoma Narrows Half Marathon. The highlights of the new race would include running over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and running the warning track of Cheney Stadium, where the AAA Tacoma Rainiers play. Those are two great reasons to run it. Plus we'd get a pint glass! Just to make things more fun, I noticed that my brain kept wanting to process the website's url ( oddly: Taco Man Arrows. I dubbed the race "The Taco Man Half". And I had to run something called "the Taco Man Half". Heck, I thought briefly of coming up with a Taco Man costume for it. But I didn't. Maniac Annie did, however, convince me to register under a pseudonym. McLovin, the name I'm currently using on the Maniac calendar. It would be the first time I've ever run as McLovin.

I am McLovin. And this weekend, it was official.

The Taco Man's course was set up to be pretty cool: a point-to-point from the Gig Harbor side of the narrows to the same finish area as May's Tacoma Marathon in downtown Tacoma. After a couple miles of out-and-back, the course heads over the bridge. Then through neighborhoods. The last six miles of the course are essentially the last miles of the marathon course *except* for one nifty change: the full marathon runs near Cheney Stadium, but Taco Man takes a detour through the stadium. Then it's back onto the marathon course along the highway and into downtown. The course is moderately hilly, but not too terrible. Especially when compared to White River :-). And, as with the marathon, it has two miles of downhill to the finish. WOOSH!

Alas, "point-to-point" means "shuttle" and lots of the bus drivers got a little lost. Whoops. Luckily, a Gig Harbor local was riding the same bus as me, and when our driver missed the exit, the local runner was able to point out backroads to get us where we needed to be. Phew.

And so I arrived at the start line of the Taco Man half with plenty of time to spare. It was a blue sky morning, but kind of cold. I was bundled up in pants, 3 shirts, gloves, and a coat. The first weekend in August and here I was dressed for the final push up to the summit of Mt Rainier.

Being seven days removed from my glorious 12:30 in the mountains, I had no plans to actually race the Taco Man. I did need to get in some faster miles for the week, though. I could have used the race for a tempo run (2 miles warm-up, 6-8 miles fast, 3-5 miles easy). However, I knew the course had some long uphills and I just wasn't feeling mentally ready to charge up long hills. So I decided on unstructured running: fast when I wanted to be fast, not-so-fast when I needed a break.

Then there was my foot. I had lost the skin off most of my right heel at White River. I'd managed some 5-6 mile runs during the week with minimal pain. It seemed to be healing. I didn't want to reinjure it by pushing too hard in a race that wasn't a Big Deal Goal Race. So... "fast when I wanted to, not fast when I didn't want to" seemed pretty reasonable. That would mean 7:00-7:15-ish miles when in fast mode, and 7:45-8:30s when not. Okey doke.

The start was delayed for 15 minutes because a registration snafu/delay had led to long portapotty lines. People need to pee, and you can't rush nature! This gave me some extra time to consider my choice of attire. Island Boy does not like to be cold; I'm very much a wimp about it. I'll usually still be in multiple layers when everyone else is wearing singlets. But I need to work on that. It was a chilly 48 before Taco Man, but it was dry. And it wasn't that windy. And... the race was only 13 miles. Less than two hours (hopefully). Hmmm.

I gritted my teeth and took off the layers. Today, Island Boy would run in a singlet. 48. In a singlet. Me. Well, technically, I was hiding as McLovin, but still. Brrr. I stood at the starting line shaking. Brrrrrr.

And we were off. I tried to hold back some. Had I been racing, I would have done some warm-up laps before the start. This was my warm up. The race had started in the parking lot of a golf facility. We left the lot and turned down a road away from the highway. This was the out-and-back, and we were headed towards a bike trail. Along the way, we passed a house with a husky tied up out front. This was some dog. He (she?) had his (her?) head tilted all the way back and was in full-on wolf howl mode:

Ah-wooooooooooooo!! Ah! Ah! Woooooooooooooooooooooo!

How cool! I declared something like, "Look! An animatronic dog!" but everyone around me seemed to be racing. As my Spanish friends might say in English, "Is ok".

Out to the turnaround and then back the other way. I seemed to be towards the front of the pack. Interesting, but I wasn't going to push it. Then it was back by the non-animatronic husky, through M2, and off we went towards the bridge.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge is LONG. Including the approach, it's also a whole lotta uphill. But the views were totally worth it. Between this and the sights at White River, I'm constantly reminded why this area is such a nice place to live. When it isn't gray and cold. And not factoring in the traffic. Or the costs of food, housing, and gas. Earthquakes. But boy is it pretty here. The bridge also made for some nice photos. Here I am steaming down the Tacoma side.

And "steaming" is pretty accurate. Because guess what? Island Boy in his singlet actually warmed up. It didn't stay 48 very long, especially on the Tacoma side, but it was still in the 50s. I should have been wearing two shirts!

M5. Into a neighborhood, and then back out to the highway. And then it was suddenly M8 and time for Cheney Stadium! I thought we'd just kind of run around the warning track. When I got there, however, we entered at the first base-side dugout. Then up the foul line, all the way around the warning track, and out at the 3rd base-side foul pole. There were no spectators in the stadium, but they had the audio cranked and the scoreboard lit up. "Welcome Runners!" For some reason, it made me think about the Astros scoreboard welcoming the Bears towards the end of Bad News Bears Breaking Training. As I was rounding the track, the Rocky theme started. Always good for motivation, and I like it a lot more than Eye of the Tiger.

Out of the stadium and back to the highway. The miles were ticking down. The gentle downhill started at M10 as the course zigzagged through an industrial area. At M11, the downhill wasn't so gentle.

You know, I really sucked on White River's downhills. A lot. It was depressing. As Ricky Bobby's car says: I WANNA GO FAST. So I tried.

M12 was my fastest mile of the race (7:04).

Until M13. That became my fastest mile of the race (7:02). Slower than my 5k pace, but way faster than White River.

I was hoping that McLovin would get announced at the finish. However, the race didn't seem to have an announcer, at least when I went through the chute. "Is ok."

I said hello and offered up encouragement to lots of people during the race, but I didn't get into any involved conversations. Most of the people around me seemed to be really focused on running. After the race, I talked and I talked. :-)

Oh. I ran a 1:37:15. 48 seconds slower than my PR. Huh. I wasn't trying to race. Looking back, I am 100% sure that I could have PRed. 7 days out from White River. And my heel held up too. So it's reasonable that I could have PRed without hurting myself in the process. Ah well. I had a groovy experience. And no pressure!

One of my stated goals for this year is to run a 1:30 marathon. I haven't done that, and I don't think I could have run that much of a PR at Taco Man. I think I'm pretty close to being ready for an attempt, though.

Halves sure are fun. Taco Man was extra fun - well organized, great course. And at the end, I got my promised pint glass.

Next up: The Haulin Aspen Trail Marathon on Sunday. It will be the first time I've tried this race without having run Crater Lake (my vote for "Hardest Road Marathon in the US") the day before. Another one of my stated goals is to run a 4:15 at Haulin Aspen, which would be 18 minutes off my previous time there. That's a lot. Haulin Aspen is 12 miles up, 12 miles down, 2 miles flat. Those 12 miles down are mostly technical trail. Downhill on a trail. My favorite thing! It's one of several reasons why my Haulin Aspen times are 45-60 minutes slower than my regular marathon time. Check back Real Soon Now to see what happened!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

7/26/08 White River 50 Miler

This picture was taken by Glenn Tachiyama at approximately M16 of the White River 50. Glenn takes the best pictures ever. The look you see is very representative of how I felt for most of the race.

The following takes place between 6:30am and 7:30pm on Saturday, July 26th.

Chirp...Cheep...Chirp...Cheep. (That's supposed to be the countdown clock from the TV show "24". Remember this.)

About five years ago, I ran into ultrarunner extraordinaire Scott Jurek at the Seattle Marathon expo. This was long before I had run an ultra, but I was interested in trying one. So I asked Scott for advice on a good ultra for first-timers. His suggestion was White River.

Fast forward five years. I've run a few ultras, including two 50 milers. White River did not become my first, but I've heard so many great things from people about the race throughout the years. Against my better judgment... my two 50 milers were not pretty... I signed up. And for the last few months, I've been terrified of the upcoming experience. See, it turns out that Scott recommended it because it is *very* well managed, the course is well marked, and the views are spectacular. He did not recommend it because the course is "easy". In fact, White River is really quite challenging. And it comes with a 13 hour cut-off time. I checked some of my friends' times from prior years. People who are generally 30-60 minutes faster than me in a marathon have times in the 10-12 hour range at White River. Uh oh. That cut-off seemed pretty aggressive. I was terrified of both death (ok, injury) and the sweeper. Odd juxtaposition. True story, though.

Held near the Crystal Mountain ski resort near Mt Rainier, White River's course is essentially two mountains: climb, descend, climb, descend. The first climb goes from 2000 up to nearly 5700 feet over 8ish miles. The second climb "only" goes up to about 4800 feet over 8.5ish miles. The trails are single track and jeep road, except for a 6 mile section of gravel road downhill towards the end. Most of the single track is technical, and some sections are TECHNICAL. Some of the climb and descent sections are long, but over 50 miles, there's lots of roly poly too. Some of the climbs and descents are somewhat steep. Some parts, ridiculously steep. And a few times, "you have GOT to be kidding" steep. I know that the fast folks run most, if not all, of these sections... and I have no idea how. Especially the downhill switchbacks. Even at a shuffle, I have a hard time negotiating the U-turn at a switchback without sliding off the edge.

Oh yes. Edges.

Much of the course goes up and down the sides of the two mountains. This means that at any moment, runners are feet...or inches... away from seriously hosing their days. And forcing a Wilhelm Scream (learn about that and listen to it here).

In the weeks leading up to the race, the organizers had held training runs on each of the course's two halves. It would have been a great idea to come to these. Of course, I didn't because I was running other races. Had I come, obviously, I would have known what I was in for. But I didn't, so I showed up on race morning pretty oblivious to the challenges, aside from knowing that the race would be "hard".

I was terrified enough to show up in time to take the early start option. This would give me 14 hours instead of 13, and just before the early start, Maniac Lesa... who had done the two training runs... looked me in the eye and told me, "yes, you want to start early." Yikes. But I didn't. I don't know why. Well, I went back to my truck to get my shoes and the door from the car next to me was blocking my way. That's just an excuse. I suspect that deep down inside, I was perversely excited by the challenge of trying to beat the 13 hour cut-off.

In the days leading up to the race, the organizers had sent us a nice description of the course and aid stations along the way. For most aid stations, the document listed pace times for those trying to run a 10 hour and 12 hour race. For the later aid stations, the document also provided the cut-off time for each station. Runners who didn't make it out of a station by the cut-off time would get pulled. The Grim Sweeper! Using a sharpie, I had written the aid station mileage and the 12 hour pace times on my arm. I figured that running close to that 12 hour pace would be reasonable, and it would give me an hour buffer in front of the Grim Sweeper.

At 6:15a, we all gathered for a final course briefing. I saw tons of people, including some semi-famous ultrarunners. Many of these people were waaay more serious about blowing through 50 miles than I was. Maybe they were less afraid of death. Most of them certainly didn't seem to be scared of getting swept. Then again, some people didn't give off nearly the same vibes. Lots of smiles. Lots of chatting. I didn't hear much of the course briefing.

Just before the start, Maniac Chris gave me some advice: "Take it easy in the first half. It gets really hot in the second half." Ok. It certainly wasn't hot at the start. I was in two shirts, a fleece, and gloves.

And then we were off. The 24 clock (really, the 13 clock) started.


The race starts and finishes at the Buck Creek Campground, which is a short distance from the highway up to Mt Rainier. Oddly out of place in the environment, Buck Creek has an airstrip. We started by running down the road next to the airstrip. I was trying to go slowly. After a bit, we turned onto the singletrack and snaked along a river back towards the campground. And then across the highway. Goodbye, civilization. I almost always have a difficult time in the first crowded miles of a trail race with my pacing. I don't want to get trampled, so I get sucked into the little packs of people. White River was no exception. I thought that I was running slowly, but it was hard to tell. My heartrate was up, but that could have been "I'm running too fast","the big race just started", or "I'm absolutely terrified".

We hit the first aid station, Camp Sheppard, at M3.9. I was at 45:43 on the clock... goodie! I was indeed running slowly. Everyone around me stopped. I was carrying two handheld bottles and they were both still full, so I flew through this station as if I were really racing or something. I'd later figure out that most people stopped to ditch clothes. Not me... I was still in three layers and gloves.


The next aid station, Ranger Creek, would be at M11.7, so essentially 8 miles away. This would be the biggest gap between stations. Our handout cryptically mentioned "Get ready for the first hill on the course." Yeah. After about a mile and half of roly poly, I hit the hill. Switchback up. Lots of fast walking. Not much running. I did the best I could to keep moving at a reasonable clip. Towards the top of the climb, the trail would bend around a ridge and we'd get our first views of Mt Rainier. It looks very different from an elevation of 5000 feet and a few mountains away than it does from Seattle. It almost seemed as though I was looking across, level, at the summit. I knew I wasn't up nearly that high, but it was really cool.

Ranger Creek, M11.7. This was a water-only aid station that we'd visit twice. In the absolute middle of nowhere, the volunteers had hiked in all the water. Wow. As I was filling one of my bottles, a bunch of runners pulled into the station. I assume this was the big pack that had stopped at the last aid station. One guy, let's call him Red Shirt Guy, pushed me out of the way so he could get water. He pushed me! I knew we were somewhere towards the back of the pack. This guy was waaay too serious. My time as I left Ranger Creek was 2:38. In a road marathon, I'd be at M20.

I left the station with a few others. I was in front of Red Shirt Guy. I heard one gal ask another gal why she was back here. Second gal said "I got caught in a congo." What? I thought about that for a bit as we continued our climb. Then I got it. She had been caught in either a convoy or a conga line. Little trains of runners. A congo. I was tempted to ask her if she enjoyed Africa, but I didn't want to get punched.

Welcome to the scariest part of White River. This part of the course is a 5.2 mile (each way) out-and-back between Ranger Creek and Corral Pass. Some parts of the trail were skinny and some parts wide. The climb gave way to a step set of roly polies, including the first "you've got to be kidding" incline/decline. Along the way, there was a snow field. At the end of July. I won't be too dramatic about it because the snow field was only about 100 feet long. But it surely was unexpected! It started to get hot.

But this was the scary section because the fast people were now screaming back in the other direction. I usually love out-and-backs because I get to see the fast folks. Not here. Runners headed up (that would be me) were supposed to casually step out of the way of runners coming down. Casually. Except that they were doing Mach 3, and in some parts, stepping out of the way either meant jumping to the up side of the trail and potentially twisting an ankle OR jumping into oblivion on the down side. Or... stepping in that one-foot wide space between the edge of the trail and oblivion as the person blew by. I tried everything, but it was always scary when they came by. And lots of people came by. I really was at the back of the pack.

This was also the first section of the course where I encountered blow-down. Blow-down is the funny term that hikers use for trees that have fallen across a trail, usually because of a storm (or maybe rogue mountain beavers). Perhaps I could have hurdled some of these trees in a shorter run, but not in this race. And most of these trees were pretty big. I went under them sometimes, but I found that crouching hurt my back. So usually it was up and over. Gingerly. The fast people coming the other way tended to vault them. It made that yop yop yop yop sound effect like Speed Racer's car when they did. I just sounded like an old man getting out of bed. Usually, someone else would be wanting to pass when I got to a tree. If it wasn't a Speed Racer coming down, it was someone behind me going up. Almost everybody was nice about it. I noticed that sometimes, people going up weren't that nice to those coming down. This was where Red Shirt Guy caught me again. He was headed up and over a tree when Speed Racer coming the other way wanted to do the same. Red Shirt Guy got mad! GAH. Go on ahead, Red Shirt Guy.


People coming down would sometimes offer up encouragement. A few folks tried to tell me how far I was from the turnaround, the aid station at Corral Pass. This would ultimately be very frustrating because people's estimates were all wonky. It seemed like the station would never appear. I started seeing some folks headed back down who were NOT Speed Racer. And some of the early starters. I knew I must be getting close. In here, I learned a lot of ways to pronounce "Corral". A corral is where they keep horses. Core-RAL. Some people were saying it "coral", like in the ocean. A few times, I heard Cor-EL, like someone in Superman's family. Heh.

This was the first sign that perhaps my brain was getting loopy. I came up with that Cor-EL joke the second or third time that I heard it, and it made me laugh out loud at myself. I never do that.

Anyway, I finally got to Superman's pass at M16.9. No horses. I had sent a drop bag up to this station, so I spent a couple minutes finding it. Then I ditched the yellow fleece and the gloves. I mixed two bottles of perpetuem. I ate some M&Ms and cookies. An eternity went by. Glaciers may have melted. A few runners came in, including Red Shirt Guy. I heard him declare to the volunteers "Only fast people get to eat potatoes!" I guess he was trying to rationalize why he didn't want to eat a spud? I don't know. Finally, it was time to head back down. I was at 3:53 on the clock. The 12 hour pace for this station was 4:02. Huh. I was ahead, and it was time to run downhill.

Chirp...Cheep...Chirp...Cheep. This is the point in a season of 24 where you realize that Jack Bauer is getting way way too much done for a single day. Similarly, I was 17 miles into a 50 miler, and I was beginning to feel it. I was feeling way too yuck way too early. At less than 6000 feet, I couldn't blame the altitude. It was THAT hard of a course for me, and there was a lot more coming. At least the next part would be downhill.

Yeah. Downhill. I suck at trail running in general, and running down the hills is my suckiest aspect. I had 5.2 miles back down to water-only Ranger Creek. The top three miles were the same roly poly stuff, but in the down direction, I was more keenly aware of the steep drops that I had previously negotiated with Speed Racer in my face. Yipe. I wish I could say that *I* was Speed Racer now, but no... I was doing old man shuffle on the downhills and hiking the uphills. Not many people headed up as I headed down. A few. One chick with a funny accent. She'd become important to me later. Anyway, this was back-of-the-pack running. About halfway down this section, I passed a woman headed up. "I'm the sweeper". GAH! The Grim Sweeper is following me!

I pulled back into Ranger Creek (this time, M22.1) at 5:10. Holy cow. It had taken me 1:15 to go up this section and 1:16 to come down. So much for running down those hills. Sigh. I was asked to take it easy on the water... they were almost out. I filled up only one of my two bottles. I had 5.1 miles of downhill to the next aid station at Buck Creek, near the start/finish. I figured one would do. For some reason, I suddenly recalled Maniac Chris telling me to take it easy on the first hill. In fact, the course description specifically pointed this out. No problem for me. Apparently I can't run down hills.


The 5.2 miles to Buck Creek was ALL downhill. Steeper than the previous section and no roly poly mixed in. Switchbacks. And blow-down that made previous blow-down look like easy trail. I tried to run. Really, I did. The course description reads "this 4.8 mile section of switchback downhill running is a blast." I do not think that word means what the course description writer thinks it means. I was absolutely petrified.

About halfway down... which at the time I didn't really know was only half; I thought I was down... I encountered a trail washout. The orange tape marking the course seemed to indicate that we were supposed to go around the slide and blow-down by (cautiously?) scaling down the steep side of the hill. I did this to the next flag. I saw that the following flag was even lower. Down I went. And then I saw no more flags.

Oh shit.

I was on the steep side of a slope and I was absolutely completely lost.

Red Shirt Guy was coming down the slope by this point. We looked around and around... and, aha! The next marker was way back up at where the trail continued on the other side of the washout. Looking back, this makes perfect sense. But at the time and already feeling 1) loopy and 2) petrified, it was a miracle revelation. We carefully climbed UP the slope and headed onward.

For a second. From far behind me, I heard someone call out, "what do I do now??" I stopped and turned around. A guy was kind of noodling down the hill as I had done.

There's a character in the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean movies, one of Davy Jones' creature henchmen. His head dislodges from his body frequently and the head has to direct the headless (and therefore blind... but not deaf, huh?) body back to find the head. One of my favorite lines from the second movie is this guy.

"Minudo! Follow my voice. Diss way."
(the body stumbles into a tree)
"No, no. Dat a tree."

That's pretty much the exact dialog I used with the lost guy behind me. I may have even done it with that character's voice. Heh. Anyway, I helped him avoid the stone petrification that I endured. And off I went.

Down and around. Down and around. A guy was peeing at a switchback. Not even modestly behind a bush. Yahoo! Down and around. And then from behind me, I heard it. The Wilhelm scream. Oh no, someone just went over the edge. I turned around and looked. Nope, no one had gone over. But the guy I'd helped... let's call him Minudo... he was spread eagled on the side of the hill. Ooops. I went back. He collected himself and I collected his stuff. Had we been skiing, this would have been called a "yard sale". Onward.

Incidentally, the course description for this section also contains this gem: "There are lots of good falls in this section." Yes. I believe the writer was trying to tell us about waterfalls. I saw a few. But it meant something altogether different to me. (Wilhelm scream)

As I got toward the bottom of the hill, a small pack of people had developed. Me, Minudo, Red Shirt Guy, switchback pee-er, and a couple gals found ourselves at the highway crossing. I talked to the gals for a second and realized that they, along with many other folks, were only doing the first half. A lot of people were dropping by choice or otherwise at the next aid station. After another half a mile, we finally... and I do mean finally... got to Buck Creek.

Buck Creek. M27.2. Essentially this was halfway, plus it was close to the start/finish. My truck was right over there. Oh man I was tired. Other people had dropped. I could. I ate some food and drank a coke. Nah, no dropping. Time to head out. I was at 6:25 on the clock. The 12 hour pace was 6:18. At the top of the mountain, I had been 9 minutes ahead of pace. At the bottom, I was 7 minutes behind. Even factoring in some of my unplanned stops, it was clear that I had run down that mountain poorly.

And now I was pushing closer to the absolute cut-off. The Grim Sweeper. Crap. I should have gone out early. But I didn't. Chirp...Cheep...Chirp...Cheep.

The next aid station, Fawn Ridge, was only 4.5 miles away. Only. After a mile or so of flat running next to the river, the trail headed up. It wasn't too steep at first. Suddenly, a guy came sprinting towards me down the hill. Wow. My brain had difficulty processing him. This was not an out-and-back section, so there shouldn't have been anyone headed this way. It was Uli, former winner of this race as well as many Seattle Marathons. He wasn't in the race; he was just running down the hill with his dog. Hiiiiii, Uli. And hi Uli's dog. He was fast too.

Over a creek crossing - the only time my feet got wet. Then the hill got steeper and it got hotter. And steeper. And steeper. Finally I was walking the switchbacks. I passed a couple folks in here. I also completely drained two bottles (40 oz) in 4.5 miles.

I was at Fawn Ridge. 7:45 on the clock. 4.5 miles took me 1:19. 12 hour pace was 7:33... I was now 8 minutes over. Also, the Grim Sweeper now actually came into play. This aid station was due to close in slightly over 30 minutes. Everyone over this would get yanked. Time to beat feet.


By this point, it finally sunk in that I should not look at the mileage to the next station with the modifier "only". The next station would be Sun Top, 5.3 miles away. Not "only 5.3 miles". The steep hill continued for about three more miles. Up and up. This part of the trail headed up the center of the mountain rather than following the slope around. It was covered with trees, but the forest seemed really strange. I figured it out: no understory at all. Just trees over bare ground. Obviously this area had been logged and replanted. It was weird. Luckily, it wasn't nearly as steep through the forest. The trees gave way to a clear-cut area that was blanketed in wildflowers. This was by far my favorite section of the course for scenery.

I popped out at a road. Runners were headed down. Woohoo! I saw Maniac Bob, who was in front of me. He said "3/4ths of a mile to the top." Across the road, I was back in the forest. But a few minutes later, I curved back to the road, this time a bit higher up. This time I saw Maniac Monte, who was also in front of me but apparently behind Bob. "One mile to the top!" GAH. Across the road and back on the trail. More wildflowers. And more switchback. The last (one? 3/4ths??) mile up to Suntop was super steep. My legs were burning. Just before the top, I saw Photographer Glenn T again.

"You're limping."
"Yeah, I know."

I knew what it was. Way back at Corral Pass, you know, M16.9, I had known what was going on. All the downhill had rubbed a blister on one of my heels. A big one. And it had certainly broken a long time ago. One more reason why dropping at Buck Creek had been tempting. I had been choking down the pain for 20 miles. And I had 13 more. I was indeed limping.

Suntop, M37. My other drop bag was up here. I had originally planned on changing socks, but I knew that with the blister, I shouldn't. Taking off the shoe and sock might rip off whatever skin was left. I pulled some perpetuem out of the bag and mixed it. Then I ate the best peanut butter sandwich I've ever had in my life. Ever. And I eat a lot of peanut butter. Maniac Leslie arrived at Suntop. Hooray! I was at 9:3o on the clock, still 8 minutes over 12 hour pace. I hadn't really lost more time since Buck Creek. Another reminder - going up hills: good, going down hills: bad. Leslie was a little worried about the cut-off. "Leslie, we have 3 1/2 hours to run a half marathon. We can do this."

The next section was the downhill section on the gravel road. Long too: 6.4 miles to the final aid station, Skookum Flats. Essentially, this was a downhill road 10k. Had it not been after 37 miles and 9 1/2 hours of legtime, it might have been fun. But I gritted my teeth, and Leslie and I headed down. Lots of time to discuss the meaning of life in this part. Discussing the meaning of life helped distract me from the incredible eyewatering pain in my foot. We passed a couple folks in this section, including Maniac Don who I had met the day before. Down we went.

The Skookum Flats station was located back on trail, about 50 feet off the road. The volunteers were all eating birthday cake. I was offered a piece. It sounded terrible. In retrospect, I can see that my brain was really out of sorts. Cake should have sounded yummy. I was no longer sociable: I wanted to be done. Skookum Flats was at M43.4. The clock was at 10:44. 12 hour pace was 10:27. It had felt like Leslie and I sprinted down the hill, but it had taken 1:13. On the good side, I had shaved a full minute off my difference from the 12 hour pace.

We had 2+ hours to finish the race, 6.6 miles. Roly poly miles along the river. On fresh legs, this would have been a groovy trail run. At the end of this race? Old man shuffle. Chirp...Cheep...Chirp...Cheep.

Oh man. I could barely move through this section. I told Leslie that I was going to have to go easy and she went off ahead. I tried not to lose sight of her, and I noticed that anytime the course involved going up, I gained. Anytime it involved downhill, I lost ground. Yup.

I caught up to Leslie. She had a weird smile on her face. "Coyote!" And she pointed. I looked, but I didn't spot it. She now believes that perhaps she saw a wolf. Either way, that's pretty cool, but I missed it.

Every now and then, the course ran across the river's grey sand beaches. It was pretty, but, ugh. Leslie pulled away again. I kept looking at my watch. We must be getting close. But the trail continued with no sign of civilization. I heard a couple voices behind me. Maniac Don had caught up. So had... the chick with the strange accent, who I hadn't seen in 8 hours. She passed me. I passed Leslie. Don and Leslie ran together. I was just slightly in front of them, and Strange Accent Chick was about 100 yards in front of me. Chirp...Cheep...Chirp...Cheep.

I saw her rocket up a hill to what looked like a road.

I called back to Leslie and Don, "I think we're there." Chirp...Cheep...Chirp...Cheep.

I got up to the road. We were indeed on the little road headed into Buck Creek. I spied Strange Accent Chick up ahead making the final turn to the road where this had all started. Chirp...Cheep...Chirp...Cheep. If this was 24, it would be time for the final showdown and twist.

Ok. Just finish. Around the corner. People were sitting at a makeshift stage. Awards were being passed out. Some cheering went up for Strange Accent Chick.

I glanced at my watch. Yeah, I'd make the cut-off. Chirp...Cheep...Chirp...Cheep.

A few cheers for me, and I was done. I hadn't saved the world from some random nuclear threat. No bioweapons were confiscated. But I did finish a ridiculously hard race. At exactly 12:30. 30 minutes before the cut-off. It took me a full 1:46 to complete that last 6.6 mile section, and it didn't involve long climbs or steep descents. I had been +7 against the 12 hour pace, and I finished +30. WOW. I slowed 23 minutes over 6.6 miles. Just, wow.

I heard the timers mention that there were only 10 more people out on the course. Two were right behind me... here came Leslie and Don. Woohoo!

In the final results, I am slightly higher than "10 before the end" because several early starters actually took longer than me overall, even though they finished before I finished. But not that many. Red Shirt Guy was one of those last 10, though.

All the beer was gone. Most of the good drinks were gone. I got a cup of water, and then some excellent hot food.... of which there was PLENTY. I talked to my friends, including Maniac Annie, who had come in third female overall.

I thanked Strange Accent Chick for helping pull me to the finish. Turns out, she was (and is) from Venezuela.

I went to first aid to finally reveal the bloody sock. While I was in there, a guy was carried in. Minudo! He had fallen one more time and I think it really freaked him out. Plus it hurt. Plus... we had all gone 50 miles, some folks on their feet for 13-14 hours. We were all a little freaked out.

But guess what! I did not get taken by The Grim Sweeper! I made my goal.

Did I learn anything from my White River adventure? Many things. The most important thing I learned was the value of race-specific training. It's one thing to teach myself how to run 50 miles. But I did not spend nearly enough time learning how to climb. And my biggest weakness... by far... is how to descend. Aside from the last 6.6 miles, my slowest sections were the downhills. If I choose to come back, I have a lot of work to do. That said, I have no real desire to come back. Just, WOW. That was hard. And while it was fun and it feels nice to achieve a difficult goal, there comes a point where the cost/benefit doesn't really work out. Said differently: I can't think of anything in life that is fun for 13 hours.

I am glad I ran White River, though. And for those who want to run a 50, I would not hesitate to recommend it. The race org was outstanding and the course was really cool. But I think I'd be a bit more descriptive than Scott Jurek was with me :-).

Next up: The all-new Tacoma Narrows Half, which I lovingly call "The Taco Man half" because of their website's url: Considering that I was seven days removed from White River and missing all the skin from the heel of my right foot, I did pretty well. More on that Real Soon Now.

And if you read this whole report, you deserve a special prize. Thanks.