When it became clear I’d be running my 100th race of marathon distance or further in 2012 I started thinking about the perfect race to commemorate said feet, er, feat. I wanted to challenge myself, so I considered the Cascade Crest 100. I liked the thought of running 100 for my 100th, plus the timing was right for hitting #100 without having to cram in a bunch of races. Problem was, the race scared the bejeezus out of me. While I had become much more confident on the trails, this was varsity-level stuff. Even with year-long preparation, I wasn’t sure I’d be up for it.
When a friend of mine suggested the Waldo 100K, I knew I found my race. I’d still be running 100 for my 100th, it too was perfect timing (it’s a week before Cascade Crest), plus it would provide the challenge I sought without chewing me up (at least I hoped). In order to earn the coveted Waldo hat, runners had to finish within 16 hours of the regular start, or 18 from the early start. I knew from the get-go I’d not only need the extra time, I was concerned about making the 18-hour cutoff.
I designed my 2012 race schedule with Waldo in mind, opting for longer trail runs wherever possible. The first quarter was light in terms of races given Rocky Raccoon, but by mid March I was back in the game, with the Chuckanut 50K, Gorge Waterfalls 50K and Yakima River Canyon Marathon just a week apart. I was somewhat disheartened when it took almost 5 hours to tackle the Yakima Skyline Rim 25K in April, but I kept telling myself it was a great strength training hike (it features approximately 4,300 feet of elevation gain — half of which is just in the first 2.25 miles). I followed that with three 50-milers in 7 weeks — Capitol Peak, Sun Mountain and Echo Valley — throwing in two marathons (Tacoma and North Olympic Discovery) for good measure. The end of June my darling and I turned the Seattle Rock ‘n Roll Marathon into a 50K by running from our house to the start (we were expecting a parking kerfuffle with the new course), then ran the Great Cranberry Island 50K in Maine at the end of July, where I PRd by almost five minutes.
Despite having run Javelina and 90 miles of Rocky Raccoon, I anticipated Waldo would be more challenging due to three factors: 1) elevation — it features more than 11,000 feet of gain and an equal amount of loss with three major climbs of more than 2,000 feet each and two minor climbs of more than 1,000 each; 2) altitude: the course starts at 5,120 feet and tops out at 7,818 at the top of Maiden Peak. Much of it ranges between 5,000 and 6,000 feet; 3) heat: despite the higher elevations, it’s still August. Temps in the 80s or even 90s weren’t out of the question.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to train on the course (it’s a six-hour one-way drive), so I tried to replicate course conditions closer to home. The Issaquah Alps provided great hill training, especially the 2-mile Section Line trail on Tiger Mtn. (it most closely resembled the last mile climb up to Maiden Peak — relentlessly steep with no switchbacks). I also hit Scott Jurek’s former favorite hill repeat trail — Mt. Si — although I hammered it a bit too hard, leaving me with thrashed quads that curtailed my Tiger Mtn. 3 Summits run two days later. (I had intended to run the 3 Summits three times, but I was a blubbering mess after just one loop). Once the snow melted I headed to the White River 50 course to run 20 miles on the first half of the course, which includes a climb of more than 3,000 feet over 8 miles.
Running at altitude proved to be more problematic given the snow level. I got in a couple more runs on the White River course while volunteering for that race; by then the snow was cleared so I was able to get up to 6,000 feet. I then ran 19 miles in the foothills of Mt. Rainier from Sunrise to Lake Eleanor and back; the trail starts at 6,400 feet, tops out at 6,800 and then descends down to Lake Eleanor at about 4,800 feet. I knew none of these runs would acclimate me, but they at least gave me an idea of how I would react. Aside from some light-headedness and more labored breathing, it really wasn’t that bad. I’d just have to be prepared to go at a slower pace.
Summer came particularly late to the Pacific Northwest, so I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get in any heat training. But fortunately the temperatures got into the high 70s/low 80s by July, and I headed out on my training runs during the full heat of the day. I got some particularly hot & humid weather during our trip to Maine, and since the GCI 50K didn’t start until 11:30 a.m., we were running in the heat the entire race. While I still prefer running in cooler temps, these runs taught me what I could still run a decent race. As with the altitude, it was just a matter of slowing down.
The week of the race my darling kept monitoring the Taylor Bridge fire near Cle Elum as it threatened the Cascade Crest 100 course to be held a week later. The RD sent emails updating the runners on the fire’s status, and I was surprised when I received one on that Wednesday. But then I realized it wasn’t from the Cascade Crest RD, it was from Craig Thornley, the RD for Waldo. Turns out MY race was also being threatened by a nearby fire. When I clicked on the map showing where it was, it was smack dab in the middle of the Waldo course. D’OH! I tried not to stress too much, but I started preparing myself for the worst.
On Thursday the Waldo Facebook site was a flurry with posts from concerned runners, and Craig and crew did their best to calm us down. They assured us they were working with the forest service on an alternate route, if necessary, which they’d post by Friday at noon. However, on Friday morning we saw the forest service had closed several of the trails that we’d be running on; not good! Craig once again assured us they were working on a reroute, however, we wouldn’t know for sure if the race was going to happen until we were well on the road. We decided to take a chance, figuring we could always drown our sorrows at the Ninkasi Brewery in Eugene should the race be canceled.
I kept checking both the Waldo website and the FB page every half hour and by 11:30 we had our answer: the race was on! The reroute would add three miles, but they extended the cutoff time to earn a hat by one hour. SCORE! So rather than drowning my sorrows at Ninkasi I celebrated the good news with a pint (but just one).
We arrived at the Willamette Ski Area to find several runners who had already set up camp, but fortunately we scored a decent spot. We set up the Tent Mahal — our ginormous 10-person tent — as well our kitchen area. (I figured my own food would be way better than what we’d get at the pasta feed). Since my back doesn’t always appreciate hard ground, even with a pad underneath, I had splurged on a couple of fold-out cots which were incredibly comfortable.
We hit packet pickup just after they opened and gave kudos to Craig for everything he did to ensure the race happened. (As expected, he had gotten little sleep the night before). I also got to hug one of my inspirations, Meghan Arbogast, who is co-RD of the event. Meghan had run one of our races, Dizzy Daze, as a training run for the world 100K championships. (She smoked the 50K course with a 3:41). After dinner we headed back to the lodge for Craig’s trail briefing; as I sat on the steps I kept looking around to see the big names in ultra-running: Hal Koerner (who unfortunately was sick and wasn’t running, although his wife Carly was), Tim Olson, Joelle Vaught, Yassine Diboun and Ian Sharman. It was starting to feel real!
After the briefing I set out my drop bags and headed back to the tent to hit the sack. It was still light out, but I knew the 1:45 a.m. wakeup would come way too quickly. Despite the highway traffic noise just yards away, I was able to settle in to sleep fairly quickly.
We both jumped awake once the alarm went off and my darling set about to making coffee. I headed up to the restroom in the lodge and was surprised to see a couple of runners already dressed and ready to go; and here I thought I was being silly for having such an early alarm! I ate my yogurt and granola while getting dressed, and gave my darling my final instructions on where to meet me with some turkey & avocado wraps. Suddenly it was less than 10 minutes to the start; YIKES!
About 30-35 runners gathered for the early start. It was already fairly warm, so I decided to leave my arm warmers behind. (I had a long-sleeved shirt and a rain jacket in one of my drop bags for later in the evening). Craig counted down and we were off promptly at 3 a.m.
There’s little risk of starting off too fast on this course as it immediately starts climbing up a dusty forest service road, gaining just over 1,200 feet in the first two miles. I was warned about the dust, but fortunately it wasn’t too troublesome. After the climb we turned on to some downhill singletrack, and while it wasn’t technical I still took it easy since I hadn’t done much night running on singletrack.
I arrived at the Gold Lake aid station at mile 7.4 in 1:41; I grabbed some gels from my drop bag, filled my bottle and immediately headed out. (It was a pretty quiet station since it was still early in the morning and it was right next to a campground). Although I was doing a bit of walking due to the dark, I was still moving at a decent clip. By the time I hit the Fuji Mtn. aid station at mile 12.4 I was able to ditch my headlamp. Since I still had water in my bottle I didn’t stop for long since I’d be able to fill up after the 2.5-mile out & back up to the peak. My hill training was evident as I made the climb; while I wasn’t running I was feeling very strong. Once at the top of Fuji I caught the first glimpse of Maiden Peak; I tried not to think about having to climb that some 40 miles later.
I got halfway down before the leaders came barreling toward me, Jacob Rydman in front with Tim Olson not far behind. (I had hoped to at least make it to the peak of Fuji before I saw them). Once back at the aid station I refueled and placed my drop bag with my headlamp in the bin heading to Gold Lake, where I’d pick it up just before mile 50. The leaders soon passed me — Jacob still in the lead — and I commented to Tim that it looked like he’d done this before. (He laughed; he’s such an incredibly nice guy! He would go on to pass Jacob in the last couple of miles for the win) Ian Sharman, one of my ultra crushes, passed me about two miles before the Mt. Ray aid station; I found out later he dropped there since he had hammered too many races in the weeks prior. Yassine Diboun passed me soon after; I’m just amazed how fast and smooth he and the other front-runners are.
I was thrilled to see my darling at Mt. Ray (mile 20.5); he gave me a hug & a kiss, filled my bottles and made sure I had enough gels. I wasn’t ready for real food yet, but told him to meet me just before the Twins aid station at mile 25.5. I was in good spirits, I felt I was on top of my nutrition/hydration, and I was still running a steady pace (I hit Mt. Ray in 5:12). The weather had cooled considerably, to the point where I wished I had a warmer shirt, but the light drizzle was refreshing.
By the time I saw my darling again I was really craving the wrap sandwich as I had gotten sick of sweet things. However, even the sandwich was tough to get down; I’d take a few bites knowing I needed the calories, but had a hard time washing it down. I’d then stick the rest in my pack for later (it took me almost 4 hours to eat the entire thing!)
I arrived at the Charlton Lake aid station, mile 30.4, just before 11 a.m. I had stored a tank top and a cool-off bandana in that drop bag in case it was hot, but ended up not needing either since it was still cool and windy. By then I was following a pattern: run steadily until I hit the aid station, then walk for at least 1/4-1/2 mile as I took in calories.
About halfway between Charlton and the Road 4290 aid station (mile 35.6) I spied something I hadn’t anticipated: the sun. Sure enough, just when I determined I wouldn’t need any of the things to keep me cool the sun decided to make an entrance. Fortunately I had a regular bandana tied to my pack, plus the wonderful volunteers at 4290 had large sponges and buckets of ice water.
When my Garmin hit 39.3 miles I exclaimed to another runner, “Only a marathon to go!” He didn’t seem impressed (although I don’t think he quite heard me given his headphones). It was at this point I felt confident I’d earn my hat; even though I still had 26.2 miles to go, which included the gnarliest climb of the day, I had nine hours in which to do it. It was a tremendous boost of confidence.
I hit the Twins aid station for the second time (mile 43.1) at 2:26 p.m. — more than 2 hours under cutoff. While I was still sick of gels, the coke and fresh watermelon were pure heaven. I also gulped down a cup of lukewarm chicken noodles soup, got sprayed down with water and grabbed a Popsicle for the road. But the best treat was to have my darling run with me. I wasn’t in much of a mood to talk, but just having him there was comforting. Plus I got some awesome photos as a result!
By then my focus was solely on the climb up to Maiden Peak. I wasn’t dreading it, but I was ready to get it over with. The stretch between the Twins and the Gold Lake aid station (mile 49.6) seemed especially long, but eventually the campground popped in to sight. I was expecting limited aid there (the original route doesn’t have us coming back a second time), but was thrilled to see a fully stocked station with energetic volunteers bedecked in Hawaiian garb. I grabbed my headlamp and wrapped a light jacket around my waist (it was the last station for a drop bag), filled my bandana with ice, fueled up, kissed my darling goodbye and headed out.
The Maiden Peak trailhead was a few hundred yards out of the aid station and I saw it’d be six miles to the top. I was surprised to find the first few miles were quite runnable, which just a couple of short climbs. But I knew I’d get to the tough stuff soon enough. It was still pretty hot, and I found having the bandana wrapped around my neck wasn’t quite cooling me off as much as I’d like. So I unwrapped it and dabbed my face with it every few minutes.
I reached the Maiden Peak aid station, mile 53, at 5:15 p.m. and was told it’d be another three miles to the actual peak. While I was tired, my legs were still feeling pretty strong, so I soldiered on. I started hearing thunder, but wasn’t particularly concerned. However, another runner came up behind me and expressed his nervousness. I guess I was too tired at that point to fully comprehend how serious the situation could be.
As I hit the steepest section I muttered to myself, “Okay, here we go.” Sure enough, it was an incredible trudge. I’d walk a few steps, stop for a breather, then walk a few more. I’d check my Garmin every few minutes to see how far I’d gone, only to be discouraged that it’d be a tenth of a mile. But finally I spied a couple of people in some lawn chairs, so I assumed I was reaching the top. Turns out I was a quarter mile shy of the peak, however, I wouldn’t be continuing up due to the thunder and lightening. When one of the volunteers said, “We can’t let you go up, you’ll have to turn down here,” I told him I loved him. After all, I’d still be getting in 65 miles that day. It would have been great to see the view, but not sure how much of one there’d be given the weather. I certainly did not feel cheated.
While I wouldn’t be experiencing the full Leap of Faith section down from the peak, I got enough of it to realize people weren’t kidding when they said it’s the toughest, most technical part of the course. It’s the kind of trail I hate — steep downhill with loose rocks and sand, interspersed with large pointy boulders. I gingerly made my way down and was thankful when the trail evened out about a half mile down.
My darling met me again just before the Maiden Lake aid station, mile 58.1. He was really concerned about me as he could see the thunderstorm moving toward Maiden Peak, just as I was climbing it. He was relieved to hear I didn’t have to dodge any lightening strikes. He had told the volunteers at the aid station that I was running my 100th race, so they all cheered for me as I entered. It was such an incredible boost! My darling ran with me again for a few miles, with the intent to run ahead just before the end so that he could catch my finish.
While the trail was basically a net downhill at this point, there still were a couple of small climbs. I was barely shuffling along; my hips and lower back were giving me grief and all I could think about was collapsing in a chair at the end (with hat in hand, natch). I hit the 100K mark in 17:30, and decided to try to finish the 65 miles within the original 18-hour cutoff. But once it got dark I slowed considerably, in part because I was afraid of tripping, but my lower back was really starting to hurt. I knew I’d be getting my hat, so I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other.
As the lights of the ski area appeared I was able to pick up my pace. I could see the finish line, but it wasn’t patently clear how I was supposed to get there. It looked like there was a path off to the left, but then I realized I just needed to run across some lumpy dirt and gravel. Meghan met me at the finish line as I crossed in 18:02:22, gave me a huge hug and let me choose my prize: a hat or a visor. (I chose the latter since I have a ton of hats).
I hobbled over to a picnic table and my darling wrapped me in a blanket and handed me a beer. I didn’t feel particularly hungry, but knew I should eat. Fortunately they had a great barbecue spread and I chowed down on a burger and some pasta salad. I wanted to stay at the finish to see more runners coming in, but started getting some severe chills. My darling led me down to our tent and wrapped me in another blanket and both of our sleeping bags. I wanted to take a sponge bath since I was incredibly sticky and stinky, but couldn’t bear to get out of the sleeping bag. The chills got worse to the point where my teeth were chattering and I was shaking uncontrollably. My darling kept asking if I wanted him to climb in the sleeping bag with me to warm me up, but I figured it’d be too uncomfortable.
I eventually worked up the nerve to sponge off, but jumped right back in to my sleeping bag afterward and drifted off to sleep. I awoke at 3 a.m. still sticky and stinky, but since the chills had passed I hobbled up to the lodge for a proper sponge bath. (Since no one was in the bathroom I stripped down and washed up in the sink).
The next morning I celebrated properly with a couple of strong bloody Marys, and after a hearty breakfast at the lodge we packed up and headed home. I’ve barely taken my visor off since!