Tuesday, July 28, 2009

White River 50 Miler

Picture by Glenn Tachiyama

What can I say about my first trail/mountainous 50 miler? There are a number of words that come to mind; gorgeous, difficult, stunning, and no joke. The race is held in Crystal Mountain, WA. Here is a great description from the race’s website:

“Set in the shadow of Mt. Rainier, this race offers spectacular views. Like "The Mountain" itself, though, the race stands as an ultimate test of mental character and physical endurance. Over the 50-mile distance the race course rises and falls a staggering 8,700 feet (total elevation change: 17,400 feet). The race features rolling terrain, ridge tops, northwest forest, several sections of technical trails, and of course several demanding climbs and challenging descents.”

I had signed up for WR a number of months back with the idea that it would be my qualifying 50 miler that I would need for the AC100 in September. But, after some thoughts about what would happen if I had a bad day at WR, I decided to get the qualifying out of the way with the Delano Park run. So, going into WR I didn’t have a complete “do or die” mindset, but more of a continuing gut check to see how I was doing with my AC100 training.

My number one goal was to cross the finish line in the allotted time of 13 hours or less, which for a while I had debated in taking the allowable “early start” where they let people that feel they need more time start at 5:30 instead of 6:30. I had debated this due to being pretty sick the week following July 4th. I had gotten chest cold that knocked me down so hard that walking my dogs outside for 15-20 minutes would leave me having to immediately go lay down in the bed for a while. I was not able to workout at all for 9 days straight! Talk about someone about to go nuts! When I come back to work and start easy running again with my lunch crew, I had to stop multiple times to cough and dry heave trying to clear my lungs. I start wondering how am I going to run a 50 miler in the mountains when I am struggling with a 5 mile loop on the road??!! I appreciate my THD crew that was patient with me and refused to leave me through those spells! I know it wasn’t pretty.

I talked to a number of running buddies asking their opinions about the early start with regards to my prior sickness. Some thought that it would be a good thing for the early start. Some told me just to go for the regular start and see what I could do. Rhonda, my wife, has a way of helping me stay balanced. I asked her opinion on what I should do. She told me to do the regular start and to have this be a “trial by fire” type situation. She thought that I would be fine and that my training would get me through it. I can’t tell you how much it means to have a spouse that supports and even encourages you in a crazy sport like ultra running.

I flew to Seattle airport Friday night around 9:30p.m. and Pat, my partner in crime from the Camp KP post, picks me up and takes me to his house which is only about 15 minutes from the airport. I get to bed as soon as possible, but have a hard time sleeping with the “night before a race” nerves. Same type of night before your first day of school in a brand new school but intensified. Before I know it, Pat is waking me up at 4 a.m. to get ready to head to the race. It is around an hour and half drive to the start line from his house. We get there an immediately start to see friend from all over and some of the super stars of the ultra world. I get to talking to some of my friends from GA that made the trip also and start meeting new people, before I know it I have about 10 minutes to get to the starting line. I am doing all sorts of things to try to make sure I didn’t forget anything and Pat calmly assures me that he will take care of my stuff and have it at the aid station that we has discussed.

People ask me all the time, “How do you run that far?” I think I am starting to scratch the surface of the mental aspect to this thing called ultra running. As the race begins and we start running down through the first mile and I start having these thoughts of “What am I doing out here?” “I don’t want to run 50 miles today” I really wanted to stop turn around go find Pat and hang with him the rest of the day at an aid station and take it easy. So, what did I do? I bold faced lied to myself! I told myself that I should at least run to first aid station just see what it looked like and the layout of course to that point. So I get to the first aid station in around 40 minutes. Not too bad, but it might have been a little fast for me. So I start thinking about what the next aid station might look like and decide to run on and check it out. There is a word that has been said to me a number of times lately about learning to run 100 milers. That word is “patience”. And I am trying my best to learn it. So I decide to patiently work myself from aid station to aid station and also from friend to friend. I had made friends with Glenn Tachiyama through Pat and knew that he would be out on the race course taking some awesome pictures of all the runners that day in 2 different spots.

So I start up the first of the two big climbs for that day. In the course description it is told that this is a 6 mile climb going up nearly 2900 feet of elevation gain. I was curious just how difficult the mountain climbs that I had read in others WR blogs. This is a stout climb, but with only 4 miles on your legs it doesn’t feel that bad. I continue on between different individuals and groups of runners and get up to the Ranger Creek aid station, mile 11.7. These volunteers have to carry cases of water from some type of serious distance, because there is no way to get a car or even 4-wheeler to that site. My hats off to them!

I feel better about the run and am thinking that I will now keep going and run over to see Glenn around mile 16. It is amazing how much seeing a familiar face can do for your spirits in doing these long runs. Shortly after seeing Glenn is the next aid station, so I stop for just a minute and grab some potato chips, but not enough food. I am still working out how to fuel myself properly for these long runs. I don’t feel that hungry and am still feeling good so I head out and keep going. This section of the race is an out-and-back, so we return to the Ranger Creek aid station. At this point I am 22 miles in to the race and know that Pat is waiting for me at the next aid station about 5 miles away and the majority of this section is down hill. I happen to catch up with another trail runner named Heidi and decide to chat with her some while I have someone to talk to. Depending on the situation in some of these trail races, you can run for a long time and not see or talk to anyone, so I tend to take advantage of opportunities to chat with people. It makes everything seem to go faster.

I get to the Buck Creek aid station and while I am still 200 yards out I hear Pat start yelling my name “Ransom!” A smile comes to my face. He gets me into the aid station and has a chair ready for me to sit down and starts taking care of water bottles and asking me what I need, just like a true ultra runner brother. I switch some things out in preparation for the next section of climbing due to direct sunlight and the temperature heating up. I am still feeling good and don’t really eat much, but I do pack a double cheeseburger in my pack for later.

I had done some research online about this race for a few weeks before. I had read how this next climb, even though it was less elevation gain than the first climb, had been the breaking point for a number of runners. Some talked about breaking down into tears wondering how to take another step. Since I am over half way done and still feeling good, I think I got a little cocky with this part and really underestimated what it would feel like to climb with legs that have 30 miles on them. Thinking of this section, all I can think about it is the word “WOW!” It beat me down. Some of the sections just seem to go on and on with this steep grade that just wears you out. I finally get to Fawn Ridge aid station and lose my balance walking in. This big medic guy comes over and grabs me and walks me to a chair. I was pretty tired, but I knew that I was not done. I had been told that if you can make it to the next aid station at mile 37, you should have this course beaten. I sit there for about 20 minutes resting and eating potato chip and drinking Mountain Dew. I start feeling better and know that I have an hour+ before the cut off time. I start climbing again.

Picture by Glenn Tachiyama

I get going and continue to repeat to myself that if I just make it to the next aid station I should be able to finish this course. Also, thoughts of seeing the familiar face of Glenn helps too. The last mile to Sun Top aid station is brutal for most. You have been climbing for almost 7 miles and then this last mile is continuous, steep, and in the direct sunlight. I tried to keep moving forward the whole time I was on the course besides sitting down at the aid stations, but on this last section I had to stop just for a moment and rest. I would usually justify a break with the absolute gorgeous scenery and take a picture. I finally come around a corner and can see the top of Glenn’s blue baseball cap. I yell out to him, “Man, you don’t know how glad I am to see you!” I slowly walk up trying to gain some type of composure for when he takes my picture instead of a brutalize shell of a wannabe runner. He gives me another high five and encouraging words and I walk on to the aid station. I guess I am looking worst for wear because the volunteers want me to sit down in the shade in a chair. I decide that I should try to eat my cheeseburger now since the next 6.5 miles are all downhill and the blood should be able to get to my stomach and not be needed in my legs as much. A number of people see me eating the cheeseburger and have all kinds of questions from if the aid station had more to where did get that. It seemed to trip some people out. I keep coming into these aid stations right before Heidi is leaving and she continues to encourage me on.

The 6.5 downhill seem longer than that, but it eventually comes to an end and I am at the last aid station before the finish line. I had created a card that I carried with me to know the cutoff times and know that I have 2 ½ hours to cover 6.6 miles. I know that I should be able to walk this and make the cut off time. I had even started joking to myself that I had spent a lot of money for this race and that I should get my money’s worth and stay out here as long as I wanted to before the cutoff time! The last section of this course is some of the most technical running I have ever been on. With already having 45 miles on my legs, the last thing I wanted to do was step wrong in all of this roots and rocks and injure myself. One of the best feelings of the day came when I met a guy on the trail and he let me know that I had just ¾ of mile to the finish line. I happen to get to the finish line when they were handing out the awards for the people that had won that day and everyone stopped to turn around and cheer me through the finish line. That is something that I will never forget.

Here is a clip of me crossing the finish line:

White River is a beautiful, tough course that I will treasure for years to come as my first mountain 50 miler. A huge “Thank you” goes out to the race director, Scott McCourbrey, and all of the volunteers that made that race so wonderful.

Post race interview by Pat:

Heidi – It was great meeting you. Thanks for putting up with and encouraging this old southern boy.

Tracey and Everett – very nice meeting you as well. You guys try to keep Pat under control if you can. I know that is a big job. By the way, when are you guys signing up for your first 100 miler?

Pat – Brother, can’t thank you enough for everything that weekend. You guys were such great hosts and really took care of me. I know the next time I see you will be at AC and will be glad that you will be there by my side for the biggest run of my life.