September 4, 2013

White River 50 - yes this post is long but not as long as running 50 miles.

It's been over a month since I ran the White River 50 miler. I don't know why it's taken me this long to write a race report about it. Given I haven't written anything about my 10 other marathons/ultras this year perhaps it's par for the course.

Or perhaps I just want to keep this experience all to myself.

Running 50 miles is an incredibly emotional, challenging, humbling, empowering, soul-searching thing. It is an experience that exceeds anything I've ever done - it was that freaking hard. (Yes, harder than giving birth to three 9 pound babies without drugs.) White River is one of the most challenging 50 milers there is - mountain terrain, scorching temps, and a staggering 17,400 feet in elevation change (over 8,400 feet in climbing up two mountains). And during those 50 miles something inside of me was changed and maybe, just maybe, my heart isn't ready to open up and let a peek inside.

But enough of the sappy stuff. Let's get to the fun part - like how much 50 miles can suck. And why the heck would I want to do it anyway.

Oh man, this thing called White River (WR) was always, always in the back of my head. Like ever since I ran my first marathon back in December. I knew quite a few people who had done this 50 miler before and I would casually talk to them about it - trying to get as much information as possible in order to make an informed decision. Because 50 miles was definitely something I didn't want to be impulsive about. These were people I respected and admired as a runner and just about all of them said that White River was so flipping hard. Like really hard. And every time someone would say that I would think, there is no way I could do that. There is no way I could fit the training miles into my busy life with kids. But with Mike on board for whatever I chose to do about this thing, I knew I had his support - not only for the weekend in and of itself but also for all the training involved. So that wasn't the problem. I guess I had figured out how to balance homeschooling and kids and activities and running so that wasn't really a problem. The real problem was I was scared. What if I couldn't make the time cut off's at each aid station? What if it was too hard? But, in the end, there was one emotion that trumped it all: I wanted it. And I wanted it bad. So, I signed up. I paid the entry fee and said this was my 30th birthday present to myself. And the moment after I signed up I felt peace. Because for some reason I knew I had to make this journey.

The week before the race was the craziest week of my entire life. No joke. Like, I'm kind of still recovering from all of it.

Two weeks before WR I ran my 5th marathon in 50 days (10th mara/ultra in 6 months). The next weekend I had a 24 hour relay (Ragnar) near Bellingham in which I was running at all hours of the day/night. I got home late Saturday night and Sunday we had to be completely moved out of our house.

I was a wreck.

I was tired, emotional, grumpy, and I cried all day. All freaking day. And that night as I was about to leave, for the last time with the kids, I found out Max hid my car keys in a box. And that box was somewhere in a friend's garage. More tears.

We spent a couple days in limbo, not knowing when we could move in to our new place and then, on Tuesday (my 30th birthday) we got the keys. Wednesday was move-in day and Friday I headed up to Crystal Mountain to finally get some sleep before my 4am, go run 50 miles, wake-up call.


Fun to see all these other "marathon maniacs" the night before. And apparently I like wolves.

I guess the good thing is I really didn't have time to get all worked up about the race. I knew that my best strategy was to not think about it (other than study the elevation profile and know the course in and out). I literally woke up, got dressed, packed my drop bags, and told myself that I was running 50 miles that day. I didn't taper well (meaning I didn't go into it fresh) just because I spent too much time on my feet the week prior - carrying furniture and unloading a moving truck isn't all that rejuvenating. But whatever. Give me those mountains anyway.

FOMO. Fear of missing out. Got it from Relentless Forward Progress, an awesome book about ultra running.

At the start line I got to see many familiar faces. And all throughout the race I met so many wonderful people and got to hear all their stories. That's the thing about ultra runners - they are the kindest, most amazing people you will ever meet. And it's crazy and motivating to hear that lots of them were using this race to train for other races, like 100 mile races.........

Sabrina's second year running WR. Notice her hydration pack is pink and purple. Me want.
I may not be fast but if I'm gonna run 50 miles I better look good doing it, darn it.

Anyway.....It started at 6am and the first 16 miles were spent climbing, straight up up up to a summit called Coral Pass and then straight down for 12 miles back to where we started. This first half of the race was through rolling single track under beautiful trees and then popped out along the ridge-line to reveal sweeping views of Mt. Rainier. Climbing is my strong point (must be carrying all those babies up stairs...) but downhill running is not. While many make up for time on the downhill after the long climb I just tried to make sure I didn't trip on any boulders or loose rocks and fall off the side of the mountain. But just in case I did, I wore bright colors. :) I waited to turn my music on until about mile 22 or so and tried to let myself fall out of the mountain rather than fight it. Knowing I had to conserve energy for when the race really began (during mountain #2) it was a game of giving just enough and not too much all at the same time. As I was rounding my way into mile 28 I was on track for a 12 hour finish and was feeling great. My spirits and energy level were high and there we no real low points thus far. That would all change during round 2.

Looking back down towards Buck Creek and the start/half way/finish point

Never ever eat tortilla chips during a run. That is my new motto. After refueling at Buck Creek I headed out for the second climb. But I was dumb and ate something I'm not used to during ultras. I had my PB&J but I grabbed a handful of chips from my drop bag thinking that was smart. It was not smart. I paid for it the next hour.  But besides the chips, my fueling and hydration was spot on. 2 electrolyte tabs every hour, refuel the hydration bladder about 40 oz every 5-6 miles (at the aid stations) and food every 1/2 hour-hour during an ultra. A combination of chomps (sugar/caffeine) and bonk bars (more sustaining carbs/protein/some fat). It's another game of getting enough to sustain forward progress but not too much to induce the dreaded stomach problems that can crop up. And a beer, always a beer, at the finish. Poor husband missed my finish by 2 minutes because he had to pick my beer up from the grocery store. My bad. But oh so good.

The second climb was 9 miles up towards a checkpoint called Suntop - and the name reveals what is so majestic and challenging about this section of the mountain. The climb was exposed during the heat of the day and the lack of rain made the trails all the more dirty fun. There was a false summit built into this section however I studied the course extensively before going into the day and I carried a map of the elevation profile on my phone so I always knew what was coming next. This helped to mentally prepare myself to avoid the nervousness that can come with the unknown - especially when you've been pushing your body to the limits and all the mind can think of is a nap and a margarita. Before I hit the Suntop aid station a photographer was out to take our pictures on the ridge with Mt. Rainier kissing us in the background. That picture will be framed and cherished, especially since you don't get a medal for running 50 miles...Seeing the gravel logging road we were going down after Suntop gave me a (false) sense of relief as my mind needed a little break from navigating the trails. I longed to simply put one foot in front of the other without having to think of rocks and roots and cliffs. But that relief didn't last long because my quads were dead and my old sprained ankle injury didn't feel too great and it was literally 6 miles down. No flat. No uphill. And I desperately wanted either or both but definitely not downhill! Walking hurt worse than running and I just wanted this section to be done so I pushed it whenever I could and I told my mind to be quiet and think of anything besides how much it hurt. I knew the next aid station was at mile 44 and after that just 6. more. miles. 

Mile 40.01 - and all by myself for 6 miles. Kind of heavenly. In an excruciating way. 
And yes my time reads 10 hours 28 minutes.

But this course was relentless and unforgiving and that last 10K was not only rolling hills but an extremely technical section of the trails. Meaning lots of roots, lots of boulders to climb up and over, and not a lot of mental or physical energy left to navigate it all. At mile 48.5 I just about had a breakdown - both from despair and from being so close to the end. Every minute felt like an hour and all I wanted was the taste of that finish line - the taste of the culmination of months of training and longing for this moment. And then it came: I popped out of the trails and onto the gravel road back to the Start/Finish. Driving past me were runners who had finished earlier - cheering me on from their car windows and sharing a moment of victory that was soon to be mine. I saw familiar faces and veterans of White River and then I saw my husband, my friends and the finish line. 13 hours 1 minute. I got a hug from one of the co-directors, a dreamy ice cold water bottle and then the tears came. Lots of tears. These tears had been welling inside me from mile 30 on and they finally all came out. I'm not a crier - I cry at births, when watching military homecomings and apparently after ultra marathons. But these were sweet tears and they encompassed every emotion I was feeling at the moment: exhaustion, exhilaration, joy, and a knowing I had accomplished something that will forever change me. 

Coming in to the finish

Just let me cry. Then let me do it again.

Yes, again. I will do this again. Mike's response: "No you won't. Oh who am I kidding, just get it out of your system." 

Bahahaha. I love that man.

White River will be mine again someday - if anything to see if I can slash my time of 13 hours, 1 minute. Or at least run it not exhausted. I love 50 milers. They hurt. They suck. But they are amazing. And maybe, just maybe, a 100 will happen. Because this whole ultra running thing is now in my blood and no matter how much I try not to think about them they are now a part of me. 

This whole 50 mile thing was not something I did to prove myself. It was something I needed, almost feeling called to do it. I'm so glad I walked through that open door and dabbled my foot in the deep end.

Now I'm kind of ready to jump in. OK, maybe when the kids are all out of diapers.

But hey, if Ann Trason can nurse her infant at the aid stations during a 100 miler and still win it then, crap, I guess I can do anything. Just kidding, Michael. Maybe.


jen said...

You make me want to run one (kinda just kidding!). So proud of you!!! Thanks for sharing the personal side of running with your readers!

Kristine Mauss said...

I used to say "just kidding" too ;) wink wink. Can't wait to hear about your races coming up!!

Rod Wolfy said...

I saw your group of MM at Ft. Steilacoom.

This was a great & inspiring post! Thank you.