Monday, August 2, 2010

White River 50 miler

Redemption Run. I first did the White River 50 miler in 2007. It was the first ultra I did on the west coast after moving to Seattle from Philadelphia. I was not prepared by the amount of elevation gain in west coast ultras and completely bonked. I had been putting off running the course again until I felt prepared to redeem myself for falling apart the first time. In 2007 I used up all my energy on the first half of the course and barely made it to the first aid station on the 2nd climb, Fawn Ridge, before collapsing in a chair and telling myself I was going to drop. The aid station volunteers encouraged me to keep going, that it was only 5 more miles to the top of the second climb and then there would be 6 miles of downhill. I still remember how intensely I whined to myself, 'You don't understand, I don't want to go downhill anymore than I want to go uphill.' Somehow I eventually decided to keep going and did finish in just over 11 hours.

Skip to 2010. I had wanted to make White River a summer goal race, but with Cascade Crest 100 coming up it seemed more prudent to make it a training run. But in the end I think it was more of a race. The course is made up of two loops, both starting and finishing at the Buck Creek campground off route 410 just north of Mt. Rainier. The course director, Scott McCoubrey was generous enough to organize training runs on the course, both of which I did. Three weeks before the race we ran 25 of the 27 miles in the first loop which took me 5 hours and 15 minutes and reminded me just how tough the climbs are on the course. For me, the course is particularly difficult because most of the climbing is actually runnable. The trail goes up 5,000 feet in the first half, but it is spread out over 6-8 miles. So despite the fact that it is runnable, it is difficult for me to find the right mixture of running and hiking so that I have enough energy to make it through 50 miles. Two weeks before the race we ran the 23 miles making up the second loop which made it clear that the second half is easier than the first half--at least when run separately. It clearly wouldn't feel that way when doing the second loop after the first loop on race day! The practice run on the second half took me about 4 hours and 15 minutes. So going into the race, I was hoping to break 10 hours but not thinking it was really possible given the amount of climbing on the course and the times I had done on the practice runs.

Course map from my Garmin recording of the race. The first loop is on the right side of the road (with an out and back section) and the second loop is on the left side of the road.

We drove down on Friday afternoon and checked into the hotel on Crystal Mountain. I checked in and got my lucky number #24 which I had requested and then we went to the pasta dinner and met up with BJ and Erica and met some runners as well. It was a shock halfway through dinner to look out the window and see Anton Krupicka who had not been on the entrants list, but who set the course record in 2009 and would be the clear favorite to win again this year. Scott McCoubrey showed a video about the race and gave a lengthy description of the course before we took off for an early bedtime.

Saturday morning came all too soon and the temperature was about 50 degrees as we made our way to the starting line for the 6:30am start. I left a drop bag for the halfway point and got back in the car to stay warm until starting time.

Me at the starting line.

The starting line.

Video of the start.

I had decided to go out fast for the first 4-5 miles which are flat to avoid getting too backed up in a train of runners when the uphill started, but wanted to back off a bit on the first steep section up the stairs to try not to burn up all my energy on the first half climbing. It was a gorgeous day and fortunately not as hot as it often gets this time of year and despite the fact that I started sweating within the first mile, I felt comfortable at the fast initial pace and was prepared for the long slog from the Camp Shepard aid station at mile 3.9 to the Ranger Creek station at mile 11.7. The beautiful views of Mt. Rainier that periodically jumped out when there were gaps between the trees made the climb more enjoyable.

View of Mt. Rainier from the first half of the course (actually taken during the training run).

View of the airstrip at the start/finish from the ridge line during the first half of the course.

Fortunately the training run had reminded me that there is significantly more climbing after Ranger Creek before hitting the relatively flat ridge section leading to the turnaround. I was surprised on one of the switchbacks in this section by the site of someone (later learned it was Adam Campbell) followed by Anton leading the race back the other way. The next 3 or 4 miles was punctuated by jumping off the trail to make room for the leaders while cheering them on. I got to Corral Pass at about 3 hours and 10 minutes and grabbed a section of peanut butter/jelly sandwich and banana and headed back towards Ranger Creek. About 2 miles before Ranger Creek the trail finally starts an extended downhill section which continues all the way to the Buck Creek aid station back at the start/finish area. It definitely felt good to be going downhill. A week before the race I had taken a hard fall on a training run, cutting open my knee, forearm and bruising my wrist. So I was definitely keeping totally focused on the trail during the downhill section which although relatively smooth, had plenty of opportunities for additional face plants. I refused to let myself look at my Garmin watch throughout the entire downhill to avoid distractions.

It was a great relief to arrive at Buck Creek still feeling relatively good, and I was surprised to reach this point at only 5 hours into the race. I quickly picked up my hat and some more gels from my drop bag and then got a great pick up from chatting with Scotty at the aid station. He took this picture of me below:

Looking happy before the pain of the second loop. Photo by Scotty Railton.

I grabbed some more food and headed towards the suntop trail and was greatly embarrassed to fall flat on my face about 100 yards past the aid station. Hopefully no one saw me and I was none the worse for the tumble although my banana section was now covered with dirt. I started the climb towards Fawn Ridge and probably made an error here. I pushed hard to run some of the uphill sections alternating with hiking and by the time I got to Fawn Ridge the wheels were getting loose. They hadn't fallen off as in 2007, but I was reduced to hiking the remainder of the uphill sections to suntop--definitely running out of gas compared to the practice run on the second half of the course. And starting at Fawn Ridge my stomach sort of shut down. I tried to eat some grapes there but ended up throwing them away.

The remainder of the climb to Sun Top went slowly but it sure felt good to cross the road and know that there was only a short climb left to the top! Glen Tachiyama was just below the summit shooting photos with Rainier in the background and I managed to break into a trot for the camera. I grabbed some potatoes/salt at the aid station and then relaxed into the long down hill. I left Sun Top at 7 and a half hours into the race, so I thought my goal of finishing in under 10 hours was still intact. The 6.5 miles down the dirt road are the best opportunity to gain some time on the course and I just tried to keep my legs and hips relaxed and swinging freely to channel the gravity. I averaged 7:45 minute miles down the hill which felt great. I generally have a strong preference for single track over dirt road, but at this point in the race the downhill on a road could not be beat!

The last six miles on the Skookum flats trail along the river is actually one of the nicest sections of trail on the course which was proved to us at the second training run when we started with fresh legs on this section. However, it is the most technical section of the course with lots of roots, rocks and short ups/downs with a net elevation gain as you run upriver. It is definitely a struggle to keep running through this section at the end of the race but it was comforting to know the finish line was the next stop and when a nice person on the trail told me I had less than a mile left, it definitely put some more life back into my legs. Francine and Scott were there to cheer me on at the finish line and I was so happy to be done! I finished in 9hr39min beating my previous time by over an hour. I wanted to go sit and soak my legs in the river, but ended up being too tired to find a nearby place to climb down. We sat and watched other finishers, cheered for the winners at the awards and filled up on barbecue before heading home to Seattle.

Approaching the finish line. Photo by John Wallace.

With Francine at the finish. Photo by Scotty Railton.

Some numbers:
Overall pace: 11.6 min/mile
Total time not moving: 9 minutes--don't think I could do 8 aid stations any faster than that!
Pace over the first 27 miles: 11.1 min/mile
Pace over the last 23 miles: 12.1 min/mile

Final thoughts:
I love running through the wilderness and prefer to pace myself so that I can enjoy the surroundings. White River is a beautiful course but it is a serious challenge for me. This year I think I went out a bit too fast at the expense of suffering through the last third of the course, but I was pleased with my time and when I finish a race without any low spells I wonder how much faster I could have pushed it. This is a great race which I heartily recommend. The race is well organized, course well marked and it has a very laid back atmosphere considering that it is the national championship race.

1 comment:

  1. Great writeup Mike! You totally nailed it--great run!