The idea of anything over a marathon—less than one year ago—was laughable. In July I ran White River 50—a dare of a race among a few friends. I was the second-least ready for it at the beginning. By the end, the least ready.
Jitters have always been a problem before races. As I described in an earlier blog post, I had nixed the possibility pre-race stress; I’d let the race wash over me. There wasn’t going to be an exit before the race, but I would deal and react with whatever happened.
The morning of, after a decent amount of sleep (but certainly not enough), I strapped on my hydration pack that I definitely didn’t need but felt good having, plopped on the overworn-by-ultrarunners-but-more-important-with-long-hair trucker hat, and lined up a respectful distance behind the first row of gentlemen and ladies. This race featured minimal clothing—which turned out to be a bad thing—and Brooks Cascadias 10, my favorite running shoe ever.
The race started with a little bit of instruction, DNS checks and double-checks, and a pre-race yawn.
The race starts.
Because of my knee injury pre-summer (after the Boston Marathon), I hadn’t put in as many long runs as I’d wanted or needed. So with great restraint I started slow and slowed myself even more during the gentle, rolling three or four miles in the foothills.
Beautiful, comfortable; and then the wasps came. I heard raucous yelling a few hundred meters in front—who told a funny joke? who cut someone off? None of that. Somewhere between mile 5 and 10 was an incredible jolt of energy from a mad wasp. And then another, angrier wasp. For a minute, not knowing it was a wasp, I thought this might be my exit from the race—if it was a bee, I’m allergic. But then someone confirmed a wasp and I continued on.
The mountains begin.
The first mountain wasn’t terrible. The climb was steady and the climb was hard, but not terrible. I had been "practicing" my power hiking and confirmed that it was much more efficient than my running, so I switched often and early.
In what would be the only time I pass my compatriots along the course, which happened to be near the turnaround of climb one, I shouted out the gap from first place. Helpfully, I thought. Turns out none of them knew what I was talking about.
At the first aid station, it was cold enough that I couldn’t do anything with much dexterity for myself. The volunteers were amazing, helping me grab a bit of food, a water refill, and handing me a few electrolytes.
It was raining.
Or maybe just wet was in the air.
It’s obvious that a trail shoe is necessary for this race, but I think the best choice I made during race day was picking a pair of Cascadia 10s. There was a lot of pounding in the second half of the race going down a very long hill, so I’m super glad that the more cushioned Cascadias won out over my Pure Grits. (Pure Grits are great, but contain a lot less shoe.)
The Cascadias grip well out there, even on rocks.
After the first out-and-back, you arrive back at the start (and so near the finish). Food was pounded. Had a guy buckle my hydration pack for me as my fingers were nearing worthlessness. I was feeling pretty good, and it was about to get even better.
I made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t even touch my iPhone and earbuds until after the first half. I made it!
I plugged the wire in; I opened Music. Scroll to the T’s. Taylor Swift — 1989. Repeat Album.
The second mountain.
Seemed steeper. More power hiking. More loneliness on the trail. The, I think, second woman, one of two people I had ran with during the first half, quickly pulled away. She had a ton of power. I had been trading places with the guy running in what could only be board shorts, and he too seemed to have a lot of power for the second climb.
At this point, 30 miles in, I started to wonder why I ever liked running to begin with. Certainly not hills. Certainly not mountains. I’m from Indiana damnit.
This was where the actual walking might’ve happened. I differentiated power hiking from walking, but this was some straight-up, standing tall, walking. I got a second and third wind, and euphoria when I hit the top. I chugged an iced coffee—the only thing I put in my dtop bag—and started down the road.
The road was steep enough that you stomped. I won’t blame my WR50 injury solely on the road, but actually I will. Six miles at a little less than 7-minute pace. All downhill. It actually tore up my Cascadias a little bit. A lady behind me was running sandals. Insanity. (They were also broken so they were extra loud.)
I pushed the pace down to 6:45 for a while so I could get away from the noise. Defeaning even with T-Swift in the background.
I passed board shorts at the next aid station.
Skookum Flats: Made a joke. “So are we the first two here or what?”
No one laughed. Guy with a clipboard told me what place I was in—I heard 40. Apparently he said 30? Looked at the watch and—with incomplete information—had the idea that with a solid pace of around 7:00 flat, I may be able to make it in inside Joe’s prediction for me. (That means I’d possibly win a rare bottle of whiskey!)
It’s a weird feeling, throwing your body along the trail after 45 miles. It’s nothing close to fluid—every step I took felt like it was powered mostly by arms; the legs didn’t seem to have anything to do with it, except for providing sharp, and dull at the same time, pain.
But several miles later, I realized I didn't have the right information. I was 10 minutes off of Joe’s prediction time because Skookum Flats was incredibly misleading—the “flats” only lasted about a mile.
I passed quite a few folks, though, to finish White River 50 in 8 hours, 46 minutes, 37 seconds. I can improve. I’ll be back.