White River…UP, DOWN, UP, DOWN, updownupdownupdownrootupdown
With a post card back drop of Mount Rainier, you can’t beat this epic 50 miler (total elevation change: 17,400 feet). The USATF National Trail 50-Mile Championship, White River, was my 2nd attempt at the 50-mile distance; let’s just say this one hurt…a lot! The journey your mind can take you through on 7 intense hrs of trail is amazing – moments of triumph, moments of despair and moments of no-mind (my favorite). Some could call this insanity, but I choose to call it Zen! There is just something about being so connected to your body and to the earth that you can feel every cell alive, filled with this primal energy, ready for battle and meditation in the same breath. Being out on the course surrounded with the energy of everyone – runners, crew, spectators, volunteers – making this event happen, is just something I love to be a part of.
Now to the race…with last minute sign-ups of running extraordinaires, Anton Krupicka, Scott Jurek and Josh Brimall and the already loaded field with Greg Crowther, Dakota Jones, Yassine Diboun and Adam Lint, I knew I had my work cut out for me. I’m new to the ultra scene but I was encouraged to run a hard race and to try to hang with these well-experienced runners, so I thought why not shoot for a 7ish hour pace.
We started promptly at 6:33 with a shout (go) from race director Scott McCoubrey (RD) and we’re off. A smooth trail and a gentle pace to start, which reminded me that for 50 miles we don’t shoot out like 50k pace. It felt nice to have the legs warm up and enjoy the crisp morning breeze, which I knew would not last long. As we reached the first aid station (camp shepherd) it was a tight pack of front-runners. I tried to keep a consistent pace, but climbs always get me hyped-up, as I want to charge them. I tried to keep cool, but by the Ranger creek I gave a little burst that was unneeded yet gave me a chance when nature called to take a squat and not loose any ground. Climbing the ridge line, I was able to capture views of Mt Rainier and a blanket of trees as far as the eye could see and be reminded why I do this. I was also reassured that if I break down and have less then a stout race I always have vistas like this to remind me why I came out to play. Just a few miles before reaching the turnaround, Dakota Jones came cruising by. My heart wanted to go faster then my feet, so we conversed for a minute and then I let him push it to Corral pass (16.7 miles). The initial 4000+ climb gave way to a few challenging points, but with fresh legs from a week of tapering I did push a little harder then I probably should have. After the turnaround, with a quick switch of water bottles I had waiting for me there, we were off the way we came. The single track with runners coming towards us was a tight squeeze but it was nice to exchange words of encouragement. It was good to see other runners out on the course and my friend and fellow Ashlander Shahid Ali pushing it up the up hill and fighting his way to a new PR for 50miles.
I made it back to ranger creek (22 mile) feeling good and enjoying the down hills to re-stock the tank on calories and water. I know what I need to train more of, the down hills. I just don’t feel as comfortable flying down as I do up, so the quad pounding down led to Scott Jurek, Yassine Diboun and Josh Brimhall all catching up to me. I do however feel I began to let myself go a little bit, which is encouraging for future down hill stretches. At one switch back I lassoed a tree with my right hand and enjoyed a flying twist without losing any momentum at all. A mile or so later I had a good chuckle at myself as I missed seeing a root and nailed it with my foot, going superman style along a nice bedding of cushiony earth. Ah, ultra-running. Well eventually I made it to buck creek (27 miles)where I picked up more supplies and some needed pep from seeing my wonderful crew Krista, my beautiful wife, and away I went…to the most daunting part of my race (3000 climb up to Sun top). I was able to catch Josh and get a little breathing room from him, but Scott was always a few steps ahead and seamed to keep increasing that distance as my mind went lower and lower. Eventually Gregg Crowther passed me. My legs weren’t cooperating well with me at that time, which told me my 7-hour dream was running away from me. To sum it up those miles to Fawn ridge, HURT! Many thoughts of “why do I do this” and “why do I like to test my self“ came up, but as my pain body screamed, I re-centered myself pushing only one stream of thought – “Am I being present?” My love and joy for running comes from one thing, the present moment, that’s all there is and the rest of the miles and pain are withered in the past and nothing but the step in front of me matters. The only thing that is true is this moment I am in right now! This foot and then this foot, and when I enter this state, every drink is the best drink; every GU is the best tasting GU. Every step is the realization that I am free; I am solid; I can enjoy every step I make. A poem I recite to myself a lot and especially when things seem a little tough is by a great poet named Thich Nhat Hanh. It goes like this “I have arrived, I am home, in the here and in the now. I am solid, I am free, in the ultimate I dwell”.
After a long battle up, I reached the Sun Top aid station. It felt refreshing to have arrived, and after a good sponge of water down my back and a refill by excellent aid station help, I was on my way. Encouraged to have made it to the top, I was able to reflect on the hard stretch up and be motivated to run it stronger in the years to come. By the way, that view of Mt Rainier is one of the most breath taking views I have seen; go check it out.
So down, down I go. This section was pretty uneventful and gave me a chance to catch up on some calories that were not settling smoothly on the climb to Sun Top. It’s the 6.4 miles that won’t end and what do you know, speedster Josh catches me ¾ of the way down (man I need to work on my down hills).
(Josh and me)
I eventually reached Shookum in good spirits and very eager to enjoy the last 6.5-mile section of the course; which was technical, but tree shaded, white river chilled and had no more long descents down. One last farewell to my wife who rocked every aid station with ease and I was on the home stretch! I felt great through these trails with hopes of catching up to Josh and getting as close to 7 hrs as I could. A couple more falls did not help the situation, but sometimes a good nose dive with not too much slowing only makes for some good chuckles alone in the woods and knowing I made it through some pretty rough spots made the smile that much bigger. I was feeling hungry for that finish line, with not too many look backs, and continued on a confident push to the finish. Every bridge I crossed, I thought this must hop out on the road soon, but the trail kept coming and the clock ticked past the 7hr mark…bummer, yet still super stocked to know only a few minutes remained. The back and forth action of Josh and I came to an end with a half mile to spare where I gave one final push to move up a spot as I came to the finish. The finish felt great and I had ambition of letting out a final battle cry, but not enough air in my lungs to let it out. I settled for a uff da (Norwegian saying meaning I’m beat) and a couple minute cool down to make sure nothing was going to cramp up…and DONE! 6th place at 7:09,UFF DA!
Next few days… A night of celebration with friends in Portland eating gluten-free burgers, yammers and gluten-free beer to wash it all down…Ah recovery food the best! Sunday was very low key, walking around Portland, which was great to get the legs moving and access the aches and areas I can address with massage work the rest of the week (the perks of being a massage therapist). This day included lots more food (delicious rice noodles with peanut sauce and a heap of kale followed by some chicken and corn tortillas later) and a hearty amount of stretching and working on my foot, which has been giving me problems for the last few weeks. Thankfully it made it through the race with not a tremendous amount of pain. Monday was back home and back to work. I did however make time for a massage and a chiropractic appointment with Kelly Lange to get my metatarsal (foot bone) back in place. Now its just time for the body to heal its self, what a great machine! So with some extra attention to the body and conscious choices in diet, I’m back to the trails. See you out there. peace.