Aid station splits up front. Official ones are in black, blue are mine from when I departed the aid stations where they don't track time in/out. I recorded mine when I departed the aid station (or within a few minutes if I forgot), while the official ones appear to be the arrival time.
First, this is now officially the hardest thing I've ever done. For about 70 miles I was swearing I'd never do anything like this ever again. As a matter of fact, I spent much of the race willing myself to not drop only so that I wouldn't feel like I had unfinished business and kept going merely to get the belt buckle so I'd never have to come back. Pretty sad, huh? But I know some perspective will dull the bad and sharpen the good memories, so we'll see how I feel in a week.
The day started well enough. Got up at 5am, Dianna and I drove to drop the two puppies off at the kennel, then proceeded over the pass to Easton to arrive shortly after 8am. Nerves were really an issue....I was a mess and tried to used the drive to distract me from the looming effort. I'd been having trouble wrapping my brain around propelling myself for 100 miles. My injuries of late haven't helped my confidence, and neither has my mileage. But there we were, so I dropped my drop bags and started prepping. Problem #1....left my body glide at home, sitting on the edge of the bathtub where I'd been applying it to critical areas while getting dressed that morning. Problem #2, putting on my compression socks, the right one ripped at the ankle, a big hole, and I'd left my other pair at home. This was a bigger problem, since I was really counting on them to support my left ankle during the race, so I decided to apply some duct tape over the hole to attempt to keep the dirt out. Lessons learned? Bring extra stuff.
Got some breakfast, race brief @ 9am, US & Canadian national anthems at 9:55, and we were (finally) off at 10. The morning was already warm and the sun was unobstructed overhead, so it would warm quickly. The left hip started affecting my stride early, but fortunately the start was on softer gravel/dirt and relative flat roads so I just held the pace I could and hoped that it'd loosen up when the climbing started and I downshifted. It did and those first couple of miles were the only time it bothered me at all.
I'd written up splits based on 24 hour finish. Basically, I was just hoping for some race day magic. The initial climb to the Goat Peak trailhead was fairly benign and I hit the first aid-station ahead of schedule. The next climb to Goat Peak and beyond was much tougher and by the time I hit the Cole Butte aid station I was 16 minutes behind schedule. Fortunately, I quickly recognized that a sub-24 finish was a clearly overambitious goal, so I just kept plugging along at a pace that seemed to straddle the border between reasonable and crazy.
Hydration was already difficult. The heat really takes it out of me and while mid 80s might not seem hot to some, I was boiling over. The weeks before the race here in WA had not climbed into the 80s. The week *of* the race had been in the 80s all week. As I write this a couple of days later, we're back in clouds and the 60-70s. Needless to say, the heat would be an issue for me. I was running with 2 handhelds and was regularly emptying them between aid stations. I was also pushing S! Caps every hour, which seemed to help keep my stomach on an even keel.
Anyway, Cole Butte to Blowout Mt moved from single track to dirt roads, a long 1500' descent followed by a long 1500' climb. I ran with another runner here for a while, Gavin, who was also a former Army officer and who had last year biked from Seattle to Mount Rainier, climbed Mount Rainier, then ran unsupported on the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier, in sequence. Wow. Made me feel a little less crazy but a whole lot impressed. Gavin left me behind on the climb as I downshifted once again to a power hike. Rolled into Blowout Mountain aid station at 3:17, now over 20 minutes behind my original schedule.
Don't really remember much about the stretch to Tacoma Pass, but I think this was the section where I ran across Davy Crockett. Had a chance to introduce myself briefly and make some likely inane passing comments, but I was anxious to make progress and to cover as much distance in the daylight as possible. I think this was the section where I had to make a fairly quick potty stop, but it was brief. Tacoma Pass arrived at the 4:57 mark, now 31 minutes behind.
Instead of spending some time there to rehydrate and refuel better, I left fairly quickly, anxious to cover the mile or so remaining before hopping onto the Pacific Coast Trail for 30+ miles. The trails and roads so far were nice, but I'd really been looking forward to the PCT section since signing up for the race. It didn't disappoint. The trails provided some nice shade, scenery, and diversity, covering exposed hillsides with views, cool shady forests, and much in-between. If my back hadn't really started acting up at this point, I'd probably really have enjoyed it more, but it did. Friday I'd made a last visit to the chiro for an adjustment and I think he went a bit overboard...by late friday afternoon my back was stiffening up. Foam roller treatment worked those kinks out, but it was tightening again and no foam rollers were in sight for at least another 75 miles. An aching back would follow me for the rest of the race.
Got a brief pickup from the cross-country team manning the Snowshoe Butte aid station (6:53, 55 minutes back), considered stopping to address a blister on my right foot that I'd been feeling for several miles but decided to wait until the first set of drop bags at Stampede Pass and pushed on. Coming thru the aid stations was a real highlight, as mentally I was struggling trying to deal with the distance, both behind and ahead of me. In fact, I probably spent miles 15 to about 70 or so with serious thoughts of quitting, which I managed to stave off by convincing myself that I'd regret it later, wind up signing up for another 100 again, and then would have to cover the entire distance, whereas if I just kept on going, there was only X miles left. Makes sense, right? It did at the time.
Stampede Pass came at the 7:42 mark, 59 minutes behind schedule. Here I did take some extra time to get my lights, pack my arm sleeves and gloves, and grab some additional honey stingers, as well as to grab some additional liquids and food. I definitely got behind on liquids during the day, but foods I was still doing okay and was managing to keep at least one GU down per segment in addition to grazing at the aid stations.
The trip to Meadow Mountain (9:30, 1:15 behind) and on to Olallie Meadows (11:18, 1:28 behind) was long. Darkness started descending after Meadow Mountain and I got passed by several runners in this section. The nice thing was that the heat of the day was passing but I was feeling pretty wiped, hurt pretty badly, had little energy, and still had well over 50 miles to go. The pierogi's at Olallie Meadows were a good pickup....actually, the food at each aid station was a real boost each time I got there.....watermelon, pierogi, ravoli, potato and chicken noodle soup, and quesedillas all took their turns during the race giving me a boost. Olallie Meadows was the first aid station where I allowed myself to sit down for a couple of minutes and it was heavenly, but I made myself get going quickly lest I never want to depart. After Olallie meadows, it was off the PCT, down a steep aggregate gravel road to the ropes and then the tunnel.
The ropes were absolutely required. If I'd had a harness and carabiner I could've just repelled straight down, but instead it was a combination walk/slide/dangle event until I finally lowered myself onto the John Wayne trail, a blessedly smooth gravel (former rail) trail with a slight uphill climb thru a 2+ mile tunnel. I seemed to catch a bit of a second wind here and made some good time in this section, passed a couple of runners, and emerged from the other side looking for all the turns to the Hyak aid station. Got a bit disoriented twice trying to find the arrows and markings but didn't get far off course and stumbled into Hyak, the notional half-way mark, at 12:44 (1:16 behind). A good section where I even managed to make up some time.
Dianna and Blue were waiting for me at Hyak, big boost #1. Half-way, big boost #2. Easy place to drop, big minus #1. 2-1 for continuing but a surprise bonus pushed me onwards.....a runner named Nick came up and asked if I'd like a pacer to Lake Kachess. That was like asking me if I'd like to win the lottery. So after some soup, another dip into the drop bag to grab my cobbled together garmin recharge device (USB charger and the charging cable), change my shirt and some more stinger gels, we were off.
Nick was a godsend. He got me chatting and took my mind off the fact that I'd been at this over 12 hours now and face yet another climb, although this one was on gravel roads. Nick's uncle is running the Ultrarunning Grand Slam this year (uh, wow) and thought it'd be a good idea for Nick to experience an 100 mile ultra, so he and his buddy should offer to pace runners from Hyak to Lake Kachess, where his uncle was volunteering at the aid station. During our time together, I discovered that while Nick was a outdoors kind of guy, he was really just getting into endurance running and this would officially be the longest run he'd done. I might've been more concerned had I been more conscious, but I was glad for the company. When I planned to run this, I figured I'm used to running alone and could handle no pacer easily. Well, I might've made it, but having Nick along really helped. The long climb to Keechelus Ridge (15:05, 1:40 behind) went faster than it would've otherwise, especially since the climbing gear in my transmission was gone. The descent to Lake Kachess (16:21, 1:55 behind) was a bit brutal as by this time my quads were shot and every downhill step hurt. We passed some people and got passed by others, but Nick got me there and gave me a mental break that I really needed before the last section of the race. Sorry about all the whining and talk about quitting, Nick!
Lake Kachess was a great aid station. I spent some time in a chair there getting tended to by the Grey Rock 50K race director, putting back some soup, and steeling myself for what came next. This aid station is listed as the place to quit if you're not up for the remaining 30+ miles.....the next section, the Trail From Hell, is described as nothing less than brutal and leads further into the backcountry where places to catch a ride back are extremely limited. But, after 5 minutes, Nick chased me out of the chair, helped me stash my watch recharger (worked great, got the whole 26+ hours course recorded on my garmin) and raid my last drop bag and got me to the TFH trailhead, where I bid him farewell.
The race manual says not to worry about pace in this section. I might've taken that a bit too literally, but the initial bush-whack just to *get* to the TFH was....hellish. Climbing over, under, and around blowdowns was really tough, especially this late in the race where just bending and moving select joints was not easy. Then I got to a section where I almost made a big mistake....I lost the trail, couldn't see the next trail markers, and was trying to decide between 2 fairly well established and wide trails. It just didn't seem right.....and after wandering between them for a few minutes, I finally decided to go back to the last marker and slowly turn 360 degrees. Then I spied the distant marker in the other direction away from the nice trails and straight down towards the creek/river. Oh boy, a couple of logs across a pretty wide stream/river crossing where balance would be an issue. I gave myself a 50/50 chance....and actually made it.
So now I'm on the TFH and it doesn't initially seem as bad as advertised, but it really was. Plenty of steep rollers, unkempt trails, washouts, blowdowns, and just generally slow going. I had my handheld light out since it was brighter, but carrying it with 2 bottles really made for slow going. About the only thing that pushed me periodically was the sound of others behind me....I was sick and tired of getting passed. I was maintaining a *blistering* 26:xx/mi pace thorough this section. A few small stream crossing throughout and another wider and deeper one at the end where I felt sure I was going in since the crossing log was tiny. Threw my handhelds across, managed to dive to a stump that was 1/3 across to resteady myself and somehow managed to take the 3 or 4 steps to arrive mostly safe and dry at the other side. By the time I hit the Mineral Creek aid station at 19:00 (1:59 behind) I was *so* ready for some nice gravel roads. I lingered a bit long here until another runner who'd been lingering even longer than I finally departed, so I left shortly thereafter to give chase.
The 3000' 7 mile climb up to No Name Ridge was a long slow grind, but the sun was coming up and I was starting to feel a bit better (or less worse). I caught and put some distance between myself and the runner ahead and caught and passed another later. During the climb, I saw some behind me that were maintaining a decent hike pace so I kept pushing as much as I could so they wouldn't overtake me. Ditched the light about 1/2 way up. Rolled into No Name Ridge at 21:08, 1:57 behind). Only a few minutes spent here and I was off to give chase to some runners that had left when I'd arrived.
Back to single-track for the remainder of the race until getting back into Easton and the finish area. This section contained the first of the "Cardiac Needles", meant to reflect their extremely steep climb/descend nature. Supposedly 5 in total, 3 between No Name and Thorp Mountain (1 itself), with one after. Well, there may be 3 official ones, but there were plenty of other steep climbs and descents. Nonetheless, I managed to find both a climbing and descending gear again for a while. I'd stopped taking S! Caps overnight once it cooled off and that may have been a mistake, because my quads felt sore but better after taking them and on the gentler downhills I managed to make up some time. Not particularly speedy, but better. Got to Mt. Thorp and trudged to the top for my "proof of summit" ticket, got barked at by the ranger's dog that lives at the cabin on the peak (great view), and got my Glenn Tachyiama happy-snaps. The descent was the worst....my quads were done again and every step was agony. Finally got to the Thorp Mt aid station at 22:51 (2:20 behind), grabbed some more water and some snacks, and left.
One more needle and a short trip to the next aid station. Unfortunately, quite a bit was downhill that I could not longer walk, much less run, and I shuffled as fast as I could. It was getting warm again quickly and I was going thru water just as fast. Got to French Cabin in under an hour (23:58, 2:07 behind), took a brief seat, grabbed some more quesadillas and headed out for the final climb and the descent back to the final aid station.
This section was a slow blur. A blur because I was tired and getting hot again and just wanted to be done. Slow because I was tired and just couldn't run for very long on the descents. About the only reason I ran it as fast as I did was that I had some runners on my tail the entire time. They nearly caught me once (the pacer did, the runner was still a ways back), which spurred me on to just accept the pain and run as much as I could. I'd run anywhere from 10' sections to 1/2 mile, depending on the terrain, but was reduced to shuffling down steeper portions. Numerous stream crossing were in the stretch, which soaked my feet and reminded me about the blister on my right foot I'd been nursing since early in the race, but I was too far in to worry about much aside from getting done as quick as I could. Arrived at the Silver Creek aid station at 25:48 (2:35 behind), refilled my empty water bottles and got moving quickly, hearing the volunteers start cheering for another runner coming in.
The final 4-5 miles was just hard. Mostly flat or rolling, which was nice. Dirt road (okay) and pavement (ouch). Definitely hot and definitely smelling the barn. I tried to run as much as I could until my breathing got out of control or I just ran out of juice, regroup and repeat. I was really afraid I'd get passed here if I wasn't pushing, and I thought I had the 3rd place female bearing down on me (as it turned out, she was the 4th place woman). Took what seemed like forever, but I finally hit the outskirts of Easton, made it into town, then across the gravel lot to the Firestation and the finish. 26:30:42, 2:30:42 behind my 24 hr target, enough for 38th place overall. Charlie Crissman, the RD, met me at the finish with my brand new Belt Buckle....way cool. Gave Dianna a big smelly sweaty hug and stumbled into the shade of the firehouse to sit, soak my feet, get some food and drink, and attempt to recover.
As it turns out, the blister on my foot had long ago popped and was about silver dollar sized. Amazing it didn't hurt worse on the course, although it made up for that error later. I crashed pretty quickly and Dianna managed to get me packed off into the car for the trip back to pick up the puppies and for home. I even managed to sleep in the car for a bit (quite rare for me).
So quite the adventure. There was a good 70+ miles in the race where I swore I was miserable and would never do something this idiotic ever again. Of course, I knew at the time that was probably a big lie...I'm already thinking about next year. It was definitely a new experience for me and quite rewarding (now that its over!)