I needed to rekindle my love affair with the trail. The relationship needed some serious attention because I have neglected it a bit. I loaded my IPOD with every love song I ever enjoyed. The playlist crossed decades of ballads. Some good, some cheesy and some so beautiful they can make you cry. White River 50M was my first ever mountain 50 mile race so a decade later I needed to go back and revive my relationship with trail.
I didn't have a plan. The only thing I did was print off an 11 hour pace chart so I could be sure I had enough fuel. My goal was to completely immerse myself in the trail and event. I wanted to feel and experience everything. I wanted to have moments of glory and not fight the lows. I needed to re-learn how to run a tough ultra. Sounds stupid but it is undoubtedly the truth. I have focused so much on gaining fitness and very little on how to manage that fitness. My fueling needed attention, my pain sensors needed understanding and I needed to reconnect to all that goes on in a tough long ultra event. I have a fit body but when it's not managed and nurtured it means nothing. I forgot how to deal with discomfort or lows. I have been muscling through them. That clearly does not work for me. With my confidence in the toilet I vowed to let all expectations go and rekindle a romance.
Race morning came and I was casual. I wasn't nervous or anxious. This would be my 6th running of WR50 and know the course. It's beautiful, tough and offers some of the best views of any 50 I have run. It's like home. Since it takes place in WA there are many familiar faces, friends and lots of support. We lined up and it was time to have fun. I ran comfortably to the first aid station where I turned on my IPOD. It was time to get settled and work on my relationship. I was incredibly ready for whatever came my way. Good and bad moments were welcomed. I was humbled and raw. No better day to start over. The first climb is long and there's lots passing. People are working hard. Lots of racing since it is the USATF Championships. All of us who were USATF had to were flags with our age on our butts so all the competitors knew who they
needed to beat. I wasn't here to push myself like that. Not this day. I pulled over many times during the first 13 mile climb. I met new friends, talked with old ones. I ran till I was breathing hard then backed off. I completely let go and used the terrain as my meter. Not my watch. I felt incredibly strong. I knew I was physically fit. I fueled diligently and timely. I managed my salts which has been a joke lately. By mile 14 I was beginning to see the leaders coming back. We shared the trail for a couple of miles which allowed me to see my friends. Micheal was looking very strong. Amy was coming up the hill comfortably. Gary was looking fresh after Tahoe 100M. Cheri was having a fine day. High fives were being exchanged. I got to appreciate one of the greatest things about this particular sport. That is, the really fast runners who are very talented share their enthusiasm for this adventure with everyone.
Scott Jurek will pause and give a high five while racing. What other sport offers such inspiration? When I got to Corral Pass (mile 16.9) I casually filled my tanker, emptied my garbage, opened my food choice, wished Allison the best day ever and left. I walked out eating. It was early but I was having a great day thus far. The descent into Buck Creek is made up of really sweet single track complete with technical switchbacks. I vowed to let gravity to be my guide, not fall and hopefully avoid any bee stings. I had my first moment of glory on this section. A time when you are running so fast you feel like you could fly. That feeling of pure bliss. A running high you want to last and last. A time where nothing else exists and you feel endless boundless energy. This is truly what brings many of us back to this sport. The question of, "Why do you do this"? For this! Those moments that are hard to explain but anyone who has had one knows exactly what I am talking about. When the story is shared the other persons eyes light up as if they are right there with you.
They can do that because they've been there and can't wait to go back. I live for these moments. I arrived at Buck Creek (mile 27.9) and glanced at my watch. I was running much better than I thought. Though I was pleased to see the time it meant very little except to remind me I do belong here. I am fit and strong. A feeling that has been missing for too long. I retrieved my drop bag, resupplied and headed off the second long climb to Suntop.
The day was beginning to heat up. The trail was warm on the way to Fawn Ridge. I walked and ran when I felt like it which wasn't much. I listened to my music and got engulfed in the deepest meaning of every song. I began to feel some tightness in my quads. My butt was a bit tired. This was one of the moments I was waiting for. This is where the meat is. This is where ultra running gets juicy. There are so many ways to handle pain. I wanted to learn to work with it again. Not avoid it and certainly not dull it with Advil. I needed to use it for fuel. I changed things up to alter the discomfort. I started running. Forcing myself to allow my heart rate to climb. When my lungs began to burn I kept going. The feeling of heaviness began to fade and my quads began to work with less stress. I was doing it. I was nurturing my body for endurance vs. battling it. There is a time and place for the battle but this was not one of them for me. I was fueling the fatigue. Gaining control of the all my efforts and working with it.
Leaving Fawn Ridge to finish the last 6 miles of the climb to Suntop I was on top of the world. Moment of glory number 2 had arrived! I felt like I had won the lottery. I was strong and had tons of energy. I was moving very well and running hard when the terrain would allow me. I had so much joy I was almost shaking. I was on cloud 9! The views were incredible on ridge and I wanted to pinch myself but feared I might wake up because seriously this was like a dream. Corny and sappy as it may sound that is truly how I felt. The climb to Suntop (mile 37) was over before I knew it. Nothing could kill my buzz. Not even the gal who heard me singing and told me not to quit my day job. I smiled and informed her I didn't have a day job. The day was coming to the final stage. I couldn't believe it. Here I was still strong and mentally untaxed.
I flew down the 7 mile gravel road. I felt my quads but loved it. They were working hard and earned the pain. At every twist of the road I would get a glimpse of the airstrip below. The final destination. We were so high above it. That sight in of itself was character building. The final 6+ miles of this journey gave me goose bumps. At Skookum Flats (Mile 43.6) I looked at my watch and figured I could break 10 hours if I gave it focus. My PR was 9:59 so I had a shot at a PR today. I almost chocked when I learned this. Of all the days to have a PR. Unbelievable! A race where I seriously spent every step searching for bliss and understanding. A day of reckoning, humility, honor, learning and feeling. Not a day a pushing. I got some water and left feeling like my relationship was mended. My appreciation for the difficulty of this sport was understood. My mind and body melded as it should in this kind of endeavor. My love for the trails and all the solace and clarity it offers was appreciated. With 6 miles left I felt I could kick it up and get that PR. I did, running 9:51. I crossed the finish line renewed and filled up. Not low and complicated. I felt like that 33 year old who stepped foot on this course 10 years ago and was blown away byall this sport has to offer. How can 10 short hours bring so much clarity and pure joy? That's why we keep coming back and getting filled up time and time again. Topping off the day I got 8th overall, 2nd masters (Meggan won so it opened up a slot) and $250 smackers!
I woke up on Sunday still high from the feeling of simply feeling if that can make any sense. I am still humbled and hopefully will forever have the foresight to know I can't be down for long. But, I need to know I can be down and pick myself back up, dust myself off, learn a lesson or two and once again feel strong. I am incredibly grateful for the my day at White River! I am also incredibly grateful to all of you who read this blog and always have really great words of wisdom and advice.
Photo 1 by: Glen Tachiyama
Photo 3 & 4 by: John Wallace III
Photo 2 & 5 by: Eric Barnes