"The moment my legs began to move, my thoughts began to flow" - H.D. Thoreau

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

2014 Waldo 100k Redemption and Race Report

Most people know that I've spent a lot of time thinking about how THIS went down last year. Since that time, I have been determined to get back to Waldo and complete what I set out to do last year: Cover 62 awesome miles of central Oregon Cascade climbing and diving singletrack in under 16 hours (under 16 gets you the coveted hat, Waldo's version of a buckle). I'm happy to report that this year's Waldo went down MUCH differently, and I completed the race in 13 hours and 48 minutes. Besides finishing this beast, the entire weekend was memorable and full of quality people and good camaraderie.

The Race

The Kit - a much more sparse set-up than last year (not pictured are the 36-48 shot blocs I chewed over the course of the day)

I drove up to Islet Campground on Waldo Lake to meet up with Choi family and get my spot situated for the weekend:

The sweet new tent and attached "gear shed". I'm digging this MSR Hubba Hubba 2 person backpacking tent

Waldo lake view from my tent, and sweet sweet Anya Choi waiting patiently for me to come play

Finding peace before the race on Waldo Lake

Lounging in the hammock...a much more restful day before the race than last year

After settling in at the camp site, we made the short drive to Willamette Pass to pick up packets and see some of the Tuesday night crew. All in all, 5 of the hunters were running the race (Joe, Lewis, Eric, me and Paul). Tom and Emily were both there as crew for me. I'd committed to limiting my time at the packet pick-up/start finish area on the night before the race to just an hour, to avoid heightening my anxiety and/or drinking too much and staying out too late. I headed back to camp with Paul, while his family went to stay the night at Odell Lake.

As the sun sets, one last bargain with Waldo before going to bed on the eve of race day

Race Day:

I slept surprisingly well, and my alarm woke me up right around 3:15am. After getting dressed and making some coffee and oatmeal, I shook up my first bottle of UCAN (2 scoops) and Paul and I headed to the start of the race back at Willamette Pass. I downed the UCAN about 30 minutes before the race started, and then we hung out in the lodge, shedding clothes and doing the bathroom thing as we got closer to the start of the race. At 5am, the horn went off, and up the ski run we headed for our first substantial climb of the day, right out of the gate. 

I felt solid on this climb, and hiked quickly and efficiently while chatting with some other runners nearby. I was determined to keep anxiety low and stay present in the moment, not getting too caught up in how many miles lay ahead, or how the past miles had unfolded. Socializing and conversation helped with this, and I was pleased at how casual the dark climb up felt. The long descent down to Gold Lake aid station is one of the fastest, most effortless sections of the course. I enjoyed conversations with a runner from Delaware and one from South Carolina on the way down. We chatted about the challenges of training for a race like this on the east coast during the summer. 

At Gold Lake aid station, the first aid around mile 7, I was with Paul and Lewis feeling quite good. We dropped our headlamps as the sun came up, and then I quickly grabbed some food. My plan was to take another bottle of UCAN at mile 20 and mile 40 (with only one scoop in each) and then eat solid food (whatever looked good) and drink coke at aid stations, while chomping on shot blocs between aid stations and taking s-caps when I felt a cramp coming on. This nutrition plan went really well, and I think that if anything, I had more food than I needed. I'd take that problem over eating too little and then bonking any day. 

Lewis would battle stomach issues and nausea all day, and Paul was going after the "show us your Waldo" award (which involved impressing volunteers at each aid station by singing boisterous "Bon Choi-vi" originals--imagine an Asian Ultrarunner/Bon Jovi mash-up...) so I pulled ahead of them after Gold Lake. I would stay in front of them most of the day, until they came back right at the end of the race with some impressively fast finishes. 

Mt. Fuji was a fun climb. I took it a little easier than last year, and even paused at the summit to wish the daughter of the man checking runners off the list (to make sure they tagged the summit) a happy 16th birthday. It was cool to see Joe mixing it up with the leaders, including the amazing 18 year old Andrew Miller. Joe went on to finish 2nd, win the "Find Waldo" award (first one to spot Waldo Lake on Mt. Fuji's summit) and land a 50 minute PR on the course.

Fuji Mountain to Mt. Ray was an emotional section for me when I thought back to the year before. This was when I had really started to feel bad, and I was getting stung by bees...lots of them. I was feeling so horrible at Mt. Ray aid station last year, that I basically walked it all the way to Charlton Lake before dropping. 

Not this year! No bee stings for me, although I heard others were not as lucky on the day. Apparently the bees got enough of me last year. 

Rather than hiking in to Mt. Ray with nothing in the tank, I came flying in this year looking like this: 

Sweaty and ecstatic at mile 20, rolling into Mt. Ray aid station 

I giggled to myself several times between the Mt. Ray aid station, the Twins, and then to Charlton Lake. There was SO MUCH runnable singletrack that I'd been forced to hike. I relished the fact that I was eating up the miles here this year, feeling quite good, and then I cruised into the big party, Charlton Lake Aid Station around mile 32. I got some cheers from Paul's wife and kids and then I saw my crew, with Emily ready to pace and Tom ready to get me whatever I needed. I took a moment to reflect on my drop here from the year before, and rather than sit in the lake this time, I dunked my shirt and used it to wash the salty sweat from my face, arms and legs. Unlike last year where I spent about an hour in a chair at Twins and Charlton aid stations, I wouldn't sit down all day...only forward progress for me:

Remembering the spot where I dropped last year--Charlton Lake, mile 32

Moving on past Charlton into uncharted territory, putting last year's race behind me

Still cruising around mile 40, may have dropped the pacer a bit here!
As you would expect in a hard ultra, things begin to get less pretty after 40 or 50 miles. After leaving Charlton Lake, Emily and I ran through what felt like high desert of Bend to the 4290 Aid Station--the warmest section of the race--and then up and over the shoulder of The Twins. The section from 4290 to Twins II Aid station was one of the longest, and included the fourth real climb of the day. Lewis finally caught up to me here. Emily and I were in awe watching him run basically the entire climb; he'd come back from the dead! Lewis is toughness personified. Despite battling stomach issues and nausea, he threw down some crazy second half splits. 

I ran out of water a little too early on this section, but I managed to run it in to the aid station at a good clip. Tom was there waiting to take over pacing duties, and offer the last bottle of UCAN. A PB and J roll-up, lots of coke, and a bottle of UCAN later, and I headed out of Twins II, ready for the Maiden Peak, the mother of all climbs.

Imagine "running" 50 miles in the mountains and THEN hitting an almost 8,000' peak with around 3,000' of hands on the knees climbing. This is Waldo. Tom was the lucky person charged with helping to pace me up and over this beast and then to the finish.

Tom encouraged me to run 10 second segments of the climb when I could. It actually rolls a bit on the approach, so I was able to do this and maybe put together a few minutes of running on the approach. When it got to the dedicated power-hiking, I felt the benefits of all my training "runs" hiking up those Appalachian Mountains for thousands of feet with Derek. I tucked my bottle in my waistband (thanks JE!) and power-hiked up, passing 6 people on the climb. I finished with a short little run to the official summit where MonkeyBoy was waiting to give me shit. "When do we hit the Maiden Peak climb?!?" I asked, a quip meant to troll him a little. "It only took you two years to make it up here!" he quickly responded, an appropriate retort for sure.

We headed down tentatively--as my quads were feeling the downs way more than than my hamstrings and glutes could handle the ups--and passed Paul who was headed up to tag the summit. "This is BRUTAL," he exclaimed. I assured him he was almost there. A short while later on the descent, he'd come blistering by me. My quads were shot, his were not, and he was FLYING. It was really cool to see him come tearing down the mountain and to think about how he must have jumped down "Leap of Faith," the sheer section of descent right off the top of the mountain. That guy is a ferocious descender.

At the Maiden Lake aid station, the last of the day and just 7 miles from the finish, I loaded up one last time on fluids (unfortunately warm...they had no ice) ate a peroggi, and Tom and I headed out. My stomach started to turn shortly after leaving the aid station (I guess drinking Coke and Sprite all day while eating gummy sugar cubes will do that to you). I told Tom I needed to stop and go to the bathroom. You can imagine the hilarious scene that was me trying to squat in the woods on blown quads after having run 55 miles....it was not pretty but I made it work!

Anyway, after that I was able to run again, and actually maintain a decent pace. The course threw a couple more rollers my way before joining the PCT and then taking a nice gradual down-grade to the finish. I was really giving Tom a hard time on this section. "HOW MUCH FARTHER IS IT?!? I KNOW YOU KNOW THE COURSE!" He provided just the right amount of uncertainty to keep me running. I hadn't started my GPS during the race, and I had begun to think about getting in under 14 hours, an arbitrary goal, but something that came to have meaning to me for some odd reason in this last section. Anyway, Tom said he thought we could do it, and coyly got me running faster to the finish to make it happen. This close to the end, my approach of staying present with the current mile had gone out the window--I was ready for the finish line!

Tommy peeling off on the home stretch after brining me in sub-14!
Monkey off back and my first 100k in the books!

We sometimes like to kid ourselves into thinking that what makes these things so rad is that we get to the finish line, a very long way away from the starting line, because of our own willpower, fitness, and resiliency. I'm not sure this is ever really the case. The community of support is one of the main things that makes this silly running possible, but more importantly, it's what makes this "sport" so meaningful to me.

Many many thanks:

To Tom and Emily who offered tons of support leading up to the race, selflessly crewed for me all day, paced me expertly, took photos, and then got me whatever I needed post-race, when all I wanted to do was curl in a fetal position! Also, to all the Waldo volunteers and people in administrative roles who couldn't have been more awesome along the way.

To all of those people in NC who were sending positive vibes, but couldn't be there, notably Blaine and my family.

To James, Jason E., and Derek--three talented runners scattered about the world whose advice and words of wisdom stayed with me all day and helped me get to the finish line.

To the hunters of Eugene who knew how important it was for me to finish this race and were at the finish line in full force cheering me in.

To Nate, Chloe, and Blaine, who saw the carnage first-hand last year and understand the meaning of my finishing the race year.

And finally, to Paul and Wendy Choi for putting me up for the weekend in a sweet camping spot. To Luca and Anya (his kids) for keeping it light and playful, reminding me what a silly thing this trail running is. 

Paul is one of the most kind and generous people I know. Oh, did I mention he won the "Show us your Waldo" award?!? No lottery for him next year! He gets auto-entry, this sweet hat, and the glory of the prize:

Paul in his "Show us Your Waldo" cap and the glitter vest he wore for the ENTIRE race while singing Bon Jovi songs at each aid station.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Waldo Training in Western NC Part 2

Back to Asheville for another run through Appalachia's finest with Derek. We'd planned to run pretty much the entirety of the Art Loeb trail, an iconic 30-ish miles that has long been on my NC trail bucket-list. Because it boasts about 9,500' of gain in total, Derek figured it would be a great cap for my Waldo training. Because I'm about 3 or so weeks out from Waldo, it felt like an ideal last long run for this training block.

Friday night I met up with him and we set up the cars so that we could run point-to-point Saturday. After leading my Outdoor Adventure camp all day, and then driving the 4 hours or so to Asheville, it made for quite a long night. Still, I'm always willing to take more time to set up a shuttle; it affords twice the opportunity to see cool new stuff, since you get to see twice as much trail. Plus, as a bonus, we got to see a bonafide "Holy Ghost Tent Revival" in the backwoods, rode through a creepy Boy Scout camp, and almost made road kill out of a goat...

We got up early Saturday and met Derek's friend Derk (or maybe it's "Dirk"...either way, it's a confusing thing to run with both a Derek and a Derk). He left his car on the parkway about 18 miles into the run. This would be his longest run yet, at 18 miles and over 7,500' of gain, so he wasn't trying to run the whole 30 with us. As it would turn out, we were fortunate we had an option for calling it at mile 18...

The entire run it was raining, and at times, it was downright pouring. And we're not talking about that fine mist that is ubiquitous in the Pacific Northwest, I'm talking big ol' thunderstorm-ish rain with big ol' drops of water. Because we were up high, the temps hovered around high 40's, low 50's. Normally this wouldn't be an issue--say, for instance, if one were smart and brought a rain shell of some sort or ANY warm clothes at all for that matter--but I didn't even remember to bring socks or water bottles, much less anything warm or water resistant, so basically it was just a tech tee and some shorts. It's so hot here in the piedmont in summer, I forget that the mountains can be really different. Anyway, this meant several hours of frigid-ness, as we power-hiked the crazy vertical this trail offers.

The first 15-ish miles or so were still pretty fun. Despite the fog and rain obscuring any real views, the flora in close proximity was nice to look at. I found the trail to be runnable, and the power-hiking was steady when the grade demanded it. It was also fun to listen to Derek and Derk geek out about their grad school program and clinical experiences, and have no idea what they were talking about. I remember having the epiphany that this was what it must have been like for others to hear me talking about my own grad-program with members of my cohort. I practiced eating more frequently and really staying on top of my nutritional needs. I chalked up the nausea I experienced anyway (resulting more from their stories of gore witnessed in hospital emergency rooms, intensive care units, and operating rooms) as good ultra training.

It wasn't until we started to really get up high that it got a bit worrisome. That's when the cold set-in and our hands started to do that pre-hypothermic thing. The last straw, however, was that we found the oft-traveled, flatter trail near the parkway to be either a rushing creek of cold water, or large puddles of indeterminate depth (ranging from ankle to shin deep). Derek was familiar with the final 12-ish mile section and let us know it would be more of the same river/bog running, potentially with much deeper water. Suffice it to say, the running was sketchy, we were very cold, had sipped the last of our water miles ago, and Derk's car--plus the Cool Ranch Doritos and pizza inside--were just too tempting.

Before the run, I thought Derek had said the whole 30 miles had about 7,500' of gain. When my watch said well over 8,000' at mile 18, I figured I'd gotten what I came for. Also, the wetness and constant uphill kept us out there for a while (good time on feet). I may do one more long run (25-30 miles) around here, but I feel like I'm ready.

Here are some pics taken toward the end of our outing:

Wondering if we'll ever stop going up

I like this pic, because it appears that Derek is admiring my calves...or my butt : )

Note the state of the trail ahead...I promise it's ever deeper than it looks. This area was especially eery.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Waldo 100k Training in Western NC

I got out to western NC to see Derek and the Appalachian mountains for some Waldo training. Day 1 was sort of a grind, but exactly the kind of run I need to train for Waldo. The route started with a roughly 3,000' climb in 3 miles up to a ridge that we'd gain and follow for several summits of 6,000'+ peaks, including Mt. Mitchell, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi. The climb went by surprisingly fast, as Derek and I chatted, power-hiked, and caught up. I was surprised that the ascent didn't hurt more, especially considering I basically haven't run for two weeks, since we embarked on our move back to NC. After Mt. Mitchell, we descended to a horse trail that traverses the ridge to make about a 20 mile loop back to the start. This portion of the trail, basically from miles 10-15, was not maintained at all, and the summer exposure meant major over-growth and dense rhododendrons and thorns. We had expected this to be a long runnable section of trail, but in reality, we probably moved more slowly than on the climb up to Mt. Mitchell. We bush-wacked and map-checked our way through it, however, and then finished out the run with 4 or 5 miles of pretty sweet descent. A jump in the river made for a refreshing end to a 6 hour plus day on the trails. While Derek may have been a little frustrated with the loop, I felt like it was just about perfect training for the grueling course I'll tackle in mid-August. Here are some pics from Saturday's run:

Giddy and gaining the ridge

One of the earlier peaks, looking back from where we came

Forest running


Blue ridge

On the way up to Mitchell

After mud swamping on the traverse

Yeah, it was that kind of thing when the trail was "good"

And then when the trail was not so good

Sunday morning we got out again for a little spin-out on a trail in Pisgah Forest that summits Looking Glass Rock. This run reminded me so much of my standard route up Spencer Butte from Martin St. It's about 3 miles up from the parking lot (6 round trip), and around 1,700' feet of gain. The top affords awesome views of the valley that runs through Pisgah. Here's some pics from our Sunday shakeout:

Colder than it looks
I can see why Derek loves these trails, these lookouts, and these mountains so much. It was really gratifying and inspiring to see him so content with where he is, and so connected to, and invested in, the land around him. Besides this and the opportunity to catch up with him, I got to run about a marathon distance (spending just over 7 hours) on some sweet Appalachian trails, some of which were at altitude, and totaling just over 7,200' gained within the same 24 hour period.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Yellowstone National Park

Blaine and I were fortunate enough to be able to schedule some full days of hanging out between long driving days on the way back to NC. We spent the first of these days touring Yellowstone. What amazed us both about this place was the awesome diversity of landscape found in such a relatively small area. Here are some images from our trip:

Heading into the park, the geysers:

Painted pots

Mud pots

Old Faithful:

Waiting for it to blow

The crowd surrounding Old Faithful

A lone buffalo that wandered up to Old Faithful

Blaine finally gets to see a buffalo!

Yellowstone Lake:


Sulfur Spring:

Buffalo Herd


The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone:

The falls

Arist's Point

Heading out of the park: