Up from the depths of the “better late than never” abyss, I present my long ago promised race report from the White River 50-mile Endurance Run. Sure it was four months ago, but the memories are as fresh now as ever. The long weekend started with some time away from work and a family excursion to a cabin in the woods. I was so fortunate to have my parents and grandmother with me as race crew and general support. One highlight was definitely our Friday afternoon trip on the gondola to the summit of Crystal Mountain before packet pick-up. Gorgeous.
That night it was time to finish off my prep: get clothes in order, drop bags prepared, and crew briefed on expected arrival times and desired gear/food. Follow that up with dinner, a soak in the hot tub, and an early night’s sleep. Perfect.
Race morning went off without a hitch. 4:45 wake up, relaxing breakfast, nice early arrival to the start, and perfect weather for the gun. Wait, there was no gun. I mean race director Scott saying “go.” Despite the largest field in the event’s history, over 350 starters, you’ve got to love the old-school, laid back vibe Scott McCoubrey and all the other organizers have continued to foster over the years.
The first little loop around the air strip was comfortable. Although it was certainly frustrating getting stuck walking in a bottle-necked conga line just a mile into the race, I knew I’d be happy later that I’d held back in the early going.
After Camp Sheppard, the larger of the two main climbs of the day started. Despite objectively being in worse shape than at the race last year, I’d done much more vertical and significantly improved my climbing and power-hiking throughout the winter and spring in the Issaquah Alps, and the climb up from the valley felt far easier than before. Just one foot in front of the other, always moving forward. It’s easy to keep pushing when you have such amazing views awaiting you.
There were minutes at a time that I lost all sensation of effort and exhaustion and simply lost myself in the expansive, unadulterated views from my ribbon of singletrack along meadowed ridges. It was glorious. Even as I descended back into the forest, I was completely and thoroughly happy with no qualifications of any kind. When you’re out doing what you love in the beauty of nature with the only evidence of man the 12 inches of dirt beneath your feet, how could you feel anything else?
I finally dropped back into the valley and approached the start/finish area, the Buck Creek aid station. There I got to see my family for the first time in over 4 hours, eat anything and everything I wanted, sunscreen up for the upcoming exposure, and change my shoes to a more plush ride with the more technical descending behind me.
After leaving Buck Creek I began the climb up the east side of the valley. I knew what was coming, but that trail will still work you. It was hot. Much of the trail was harshly exposed to the midday sun. Stretches were dusty enough to feel the grit in your teeth. As the heat beat down and fatigue mounted, my stomach started to turn. It didn’t turn like it has in the past; no nausea or gas or cramps. Rather, I just completely lost any semblance of an appetite. I’d been struggling getting my calories in all day, far below my 300 calories/hour goal, but now it had dropped to darn near zero. I forced a bit of watermelon and a gel down at the mile 32 aid station, but I just wasn’t wanting to eat.
I was still running great, trucking up the climb at a good consistent clip of mixed run/hike, and I was gliding along the beautiful ridgeline. I finally hit the Sun Top aid station, mile 37, feeling great. From there to the finish last year was a formality, and this year I hit Sun Top 13 minutes ahead of last year’s pace and feeling much better with none of last year’s knee pain. The 6.4 miles from Sun Top descend 3150′ down a nice gravel road. You can fly here.
Pretty much right after leaving the aid station I started to absolutely crash. Hours of calorie deficit caught up with me. It was my first true and proper “bonk” since my first marathon back in 2007. It was bad. Going down a nice non-graded gravel road where I’d clicked off 7-minute miles on my recce training run, I was jogging. Then walking. Then jogging a little bit, and walking a lot more after that. I even took a couple of stand-there-and-catch-my-breath breaks at the side of the road. I finally hit the bottom of the hill and pulled myself along the long, straight, agonizing mile to the Skookum Flats aid station.
I was able to see my family for the first time in nearly 4 hours here, and they were certainly pained to see my complete lack of energy. My joints and muscles were fine but I just had no mental energy to keep going. I stayed there at Skookum Flats for 12 minutes as my family forced me to eat, if only a little bit. Oranges, Coke, whatever else I didn’t protest too heartily. Eventually I rolled out for the final 6.6 mile stretch to the finish. After leaving Sun Top 13 minutes ahead of last year’s pace, I left Skookum Flats on 6.4 miles later a full 17 minutes behind, losing about 5 minutes per mile on a stretch that I didn’t exactly crush last year either.
The final stretch along the Skookum trail is gorgeous. It’s the most technical stretch as you root-hop along the banks of the aptly-named White River. I was still struggling and taking my time, but I made myself enjoy it. I don’t know if it was just the adrenaline of the finish, but over the last mile or so I started to get energized again. Time to roll. When I left the forest and hit the gravel road on the last quarter mile to the finish, I was thrilled. This was arguably the biggest mental hurdle I’ve overcome in a race, and I was so happy to have survived it and come out the other side.
I couldn’t have done it without the support of my amazing family, all the volunteers out there, and the fantastic race organizers. Two years, two wonderful events.