White River 50 2011
I don’t know what I was thinking when I signed up for White River. I knew my legs were still not working the best since Western States 100 mile run, but I could not miss the magnificent views of Mt Rainier and the forested Cathedral that is Mt Rainier National Park. In the end I think it was the right choice to get my legs moving again and enjoying one of the best courses out there in the ultra circuit.
Race morning snuck up a little quick after a short two-day taper. I was pretty beat up from Western States and had finally healed enough to be able to put in a solid 100+ mile week. However it was the week prior to White River and I never really felt like tapering after I was finally able to run 2+’s hours every morning again. I got a nice 30 mile run in the Sunday before that let me know my legs were healed enough to take a crack at sub 7 at White River.
From the start I knew Uli was after the course standard. He went flying out the gate and I knew my legs were not up to that speed. I tried to forget about him for the moment and started to enjoy my race. I blinked and was through camp Sheppard (Mile 3.9) and on my way to the first 4000 ft climb of the day. It was a perfect day for running and the single track was as faultless as I remembered it from last year. We seemed to just hop up the incline as time skipped on. I never pushed too much, but made sure I kept Gary Gellin in my sites. The views were perfect as we cruised the switchbacks catching glimpses of Rainier and the surrounding valleys of oxygen producing greenery.
I had quick flash backs to Western States as I climbed my way through some snowfields which were melting as the day heated up. The patches of snow were not much, but fun little obstacles to add some flavor to the day.
I had a chance to see Uli for the last time till the finish on the out n back section to Corral Pass (mile 16.9), realizing he was only five or so minutes ahead and backing off from his intense start to the day. He was still on record pace and I was happy to know he wasn’t completely out of reach yet.
Out to Corral Pass. Photo Glenn Tachiyama
Now it was time to fly back down, trying to make room for two lanes of running traffic on the narrow single track. It’s a little tricky maneuvering, but exciting to see other runners and friends on their voyage of 50 grueling miles.
After water fill up and goo wrapper drop off at Ranger Creek (mile 22.1) I was ready to enjoy the cushy single-track switchbacks back down to Buck Creek (mile 27.2). I remembered this beautiful trail from last year and was hoping to not lose too much ground on Uli and Gary. I felt fast enough, with my shaky Western States induced beat up quads, but my energy was getting a little low and thoughts were creeping in on my sanity of racing once again.
Reaching the bottom (mile 27) and my wife, I almost wanted to call it a day. Unfortunately my mind wont let me give up and with some added energy from seeing my wife (Krista) I was ready to give it a go up to Sun Top. The day was heating up and my legs were warming up as well.
I have looked forward to this climb since last year because it roughed me up pretty decent in 2010. I had a score to settle and I finally started to feel like running, catching Gary and moving into second place.
Fawn Ridge (mile 31.7) came a lot quicker then last year and I was still ready for more climbing. I was feeling happy and content with how the day was unfolding. The expansive views of the terrain below were breathtaking; you’ll never see as many trees as you see from ridgeline views in Washington…Amazing! I was glad I made the trip and even my stomach was cooperating for me.
Hal mentioned to me once when I first started running with him and the gang that he didn’t warm up till 15 or so miles into a run. I thought he was crazy at the time, but figured the Western States defending champ knew what he was talking about. On this particular day it took me about 30 miles, but it sure felt good to be running far again.
Sun Top. Photo Glenn Tachiyama
I love getting to the moments in the race when time stands still and it’s almost like you’re watching yourself move from a different perspective. I was connected with nature and the present moment making everything very simple and still even as I bound through the mess of trees, roots and rocks gnarled together. These moments are when I really feel connected to all things and the mindset I wish to bring out of the woods and into my every day steps.
Reaching Sun Top (mile 37) and knowing the climbing was done was bittersweet. I edged a little off of Uli’s lead and put some space between the rest of the field, but I knew Uli would really have to blow up for me to see him before the finish.
Change of water bottles at Skookum Flats with my speedy wife Krista. Pic by Holly Harris
The 6.5-mile gravel road to Skookum Flats (mile 43.5) is a hot and dusty slugfest. You want to push harder but you can only fall so fast. Some miles whipped by and others seemed to lug on. It was ok because I knew I was almost home, where I am able to sit and have a gluten-free beer next to my wife as we soak up the sun and the joy, watching people accomplish their 50 miles of pure fun.
Skookum Flats trail was picturesque as I skipped, hopped and tumbled over the last few root-laden miles. The cool breeze from the White River refreshed my spirit and I finally believed my goal was in site. I ran the last couple miles the day before in hopes that I would remember where I was on the trail during the later stages of the race. Unfortunately it all looked the same and every turn I thought might be the end led to yet another bend. I was almost there and chuckling to myself at the absurdity of asking hikers how close the finish was. The finish wasn’t going anywhere. It was waiting for me just down the road and I would be there soon enough. As I remembered patience, and reminded myself that I could always come back to race again to go under seven, I realized where I was! I popped out on the road and gave one last push to just squeak under the 7-hour mark in 2nd place with a time of 6:59:38…uff da!
It was a fun day and I was excited to finish and enjoy the festivities with everyone else that made it out to beautiful Crystal Mountain Washington. Congrats to everyone who ran and a huge thanks to Scott McCoubrey and everyone else who made White River a race you don’t want to miss. Ultra running doesn’t get better than this and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to be there the last two years. I’ll definitely be back again!
The next few days I recovered quite well. I dialed in recovery as soon as I finished the race with a delicious cappuccino Ultragen protein drink, followed by a good soak in the frigid White river to decrease inflammation. I ate some delicious food, a roasted turkey sandwich with all the fixings, and a couple gluten-free beers as we chilled around at the finish. I’ve been moving quite fine this week and even a few 2hr+ runs in the process. Gotta love it!