White River 50 Miler - Crystal Mountain, WA
The White River 50 Miler is the USATF national trail 50 mile championship. It is located smack in the heart of the elite ultrarunning community of Seattle. I had no illusions of placing highly in such august company. Legends such as Scott Jurek, Greg Crowther and budding legend Krissy Moehl were not doing this race (they would each be on hand of course) but they are still indicators of the level of talent that the northwest has in ultras. No, my goal for this race was just to run feeling strong and enjoying the mountains. This would also be the first time that my kids crewed for me. I wanted it to look fun for them, and looked forward to much longer rest stops than usual.
We drove down to Crystal Mountain on Friday evening. The race checkin was in the rustic Swiss-style Alpine Inn, where my kids and I always stay when we ski there. We've been there so many times that the resident cats know us and sneak into our rooms to sleep at night. So we of course made arrangements to stay there this weekend as well. The Alpine Inn has no TVs and small rooms, but is still one of our favorite places to stay anywhere.
Although we arrived after 8pm the volunteers were still handing out race packets. We picked up my number, as well as a technical shirt and some socks. After getting directions to the race start at Buck Creek, we repaired to the Snorting Elk restaurant in the Inn for a delicious pre-race meal.
The next morning we all rolled out of bed and drove to the race start at 6am. I downed a Powerbar C2Max before the race and drank some coffee that Rebecca had artfully scammed from the still not open Snorting Elk. There were several noshows at the race including Lon Freeman, which perhaps accounted for starting a few minutes late, at 6:33am. As with Bull Run, my plan was to take it easy for the first half and then see how I felt before really pushing it. So I started at the back of the pack and worked my way up gradually. After less than a half mile of fireroad we were deposited onto single track. We winded along the flat root-strewn single track, bordering the river for a couple miles until we emerged onto the highway. Shortly after the highway we reached Aid Station 1 at Camp Sheppard. Rebecca and the kids were waiting there. I picked up forgotten Advil and electrolyte tablets and now began the climb up the hill. I felt great and passed quite a few people on this climb. My altimeter read almost 6000 feet when we peaked just before Corral Pass. I reached Aid Station 2 at Corral Pass at mile 17 at around 9:45am. I hung around and drank Red Bull and ate salted potatoes for a few minutes, since I was so impressed that Rebecca and the kids had made it up the treacherous fireroad to meet me. A little before ten I took off back down the ridge. I wiped out on a rock on the slight descent. As usual, the sight of my own blood just woke me up and got me motivated. I comically starting growling fiercely and sprinting (so much for my leisurely run through the mountains). Who should I see running up mid-growl but Greg Crowther sweeping the course (I thought he gave up on trail running after Western States?).
Once we hit the woods again (around mile 20) descending down to the Ranger Creek water stop, a French guy passed me eager to bomb down the hill. Despite not normally being much of a descender I passed several others past Ranger Creek down towards the road across from the Buck Creek aid station (marathoners bonking?) At Buck Creek I sat for quite some time, eating potatoes, and drinking soup and Red Bull. This was probably a mistake as I got up quite stiff and sore. I took off at a walk/hobble despite being fine when I sat down. I guess the solution is to not sit ("beware the chair"). Its too bad, because it felt great when I was sitting there.
I was actually very relieved when we started climbing on singletrack again in earnest as I could powerwalk much nimbler than my sorelegged run. Although I ran the entire "first mountain" this one was steep enough that it seemed much better to walk most of it. We reached the aid station at Fawn Ridge at mile 31 (and 4200 feet) and I down downed more Coke and potatoes and pretzels. Yum. We were informed that it "just five more miles to the next aid and the summit" (actually it was closer to six). And just another 1000 feet up. At Sun Top, there was a large aid station set out with lots of enthusiastic volunteers. I hit this station at around 2:10pm. The legendary David Horton (PCT record holder and former Hard Rock winner) came in shortly afterward I did.
From this station, runners had to pound down six and a half miles to the last aid at Skookum Flats. The hardpack fireroad was brutal on the quads after such a long run. This is the one part of this course that I don't like.
I hit the last aid station at Skookum Flats at 3pm (8 1/2 hours into) with visions of a 9 1/2 hour finish flitting before me. After downing some sugar Red Bull and eating more potatoes that Lizzie fed me, I took off, again quite slowly to start. It was just 6.6 more miles so I thought I had a shot. But soon enough this river-fronting trail turned out to be reasonably technical. I figured out soon enough that I was not going to be running 8 minute miles at the end of this fifty miler. So I resolved to just enjoy the scenery of the south side of the White River, which I so often admired driving along 410 on the north side. I fell in with "Cougar Bait" who I had been running behind for the climb to Sun-Top. He said he thought he was bonking so I took off ahead. The last portion of this remains quite hilly in its "rolling" despite the mild looking appearance of its elevation profile. I came out of the trail onto the fireroad towards Skookum Flats for the final half mile. A cheering crowd including Rebecca and the kids helped me to finish with a fullon sprint in just under 9:50, good for 53rd, and the fifteenth masters runner.
I guess that sounds slow, but this course is a monster. I was within shouting distance of several far more accomplished ultra runners than I (David Horton finished six minutes earlier) I think 9:30 is doable once I'm more used to this distance. With the exception of my (presumably avoidable) stiffness after sitting at mile 27, I felt pretty good the whole time and never really suffered. Being able to run up and down mountains without massive pain is a life-enhancing gift. With the possible exception of the Golden Gate Headlands this course is the most beautiful I've done: almost all single-track, lots of climbing, a mixture of shaded forest paths and open mountain vistas. Once I've really learned endurance I can see myself focusing on this race and trying to do really well. It is definitely a climbers course and the downhills are not too terribly technical for my klutz-like self. Josh got Scott Jurek's autograph and we headed off to Enumclaw for a recovery dinner at Cafe Panini.