White River 50 – July 30th, 2016 – Crystal Mountain, WA – Race Recap
It’s been two weeks since with White River 50, and I still can’t shake the images from my mind. The race, the course and the views are just amazing and epic, and it rates as one of the top running experiences I’ve had in my life. I’m going to keep this post short (for me), as I don’t think I can do this race justice. Rather than describe the scenery and the epicness of the race…I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Unlike my last 50M was was a big goal race for the winter and a race I trained for…this one was kind of a late add to the calendar. I’m lucky enough to have an awesome friend up in the PNW who was nice enough to pull some strings in early July that got me a last minute entry with 2 weeks to spare. 2 weeks – that’s plenty of time to train for a race with 9,700′ of vert, right? So…this race became about having fun, taking a break from the awful Texas heat, and spending some nice time up in the crazy beautiful mountains of Washington State. So with few expectations other than enjoy the hell out of those trails, and complete my 2nd 50M, I booked a last minute flight and made my way up to Washington.
This race is a well known, well done 50M, so I’m not going to belabor anything regarding how well it is organized or executed. Like I said in the intro, the course is epic and the pictures will do the views justice. We’ll start with the elevation profile to set the tone…
The course starts in the White River Valley, and the first 5 miles or so of trail runs on some soft pine forested single track that meanders along the river. This section is very runnable with the exception of a few downed trees you had to climb over. It was also cool and dark in the valley forest. You hit the 1st aid station around mile 4, but who stops at that? I ran conservatively in this section and just loved the fact that I wasn’t in Texas, could breath in some fresh clean air, and feel the cool and damp morning on my skin. The story of Mile 0 – 5…run easy, and get your head right for the 50 mile journey!
Mile 5 – 17:
Mile 5 is the point where you find out that you have entered a mountain race. Miles 5-10 is a section with some fairly steep and rocky switchback ascents as you begin to climb out of the river valley. The whole time you remain in a dense forest and can’t see too much of what promises to be amaze balls views. While this was mostly switchbacks, you had some steep wooden stairs in this section too. Mile 5-8 is less about running and more about power hiking and controlling the breathing…so that’s exactly what I did. These were the miles in the race where you start to settle in and chat with your fellow runners. I was vocal that I was from Houston, Texas, and really don’t know what mountains look like. The locals took pity on my plight and didn’t seem like they wanted to move to Texas anytime soon. At Mile 8 or so, the grade starts to lessen, and I settled into a section that still climbed, but could be run at 10-12 minute pace (vs. the 15 minute mile hiking). This continued for another few miles until the 2nd aid station (which was water only). After this, there were a few more uphills before you hit some amazing ridge running that offered the first views of the day. By this point you have ascended about 3,000′ in 5 miles. As I hit a turn on the 2nd epic view, I noticed a group of people stopped on the cliff staring…well…they were actually peeing. One of the guys saw me and yelled “hey Texas! You gotta stop and look, you came all the way from Texas to see this!” I agreed, and stopped and took a pee with those fine gentlemen while taking in a view of Mount Rainer so amazing that I would have probably wet myself anyways. As you continue along the ridge, you hit what I’d say are the most rocky and technical parts of the 1st half of the race. You run up and down and catch some rad scenery. Around Mile 17, you hit aid station 3 at Corral Pass. Here I stopped for a refill of nutrition and got my 1st drop bag.
Miles 17 – 27:
Here you do some backtracking and run along some trail you already ran. Slight difficulty with counterflow traffic but nothing bad. Took a bad fall at Mile 18…landed on my chest, fell off the trail and slid down the mountain 10′ or so. Knee and leg OK, just knocked the wind out of me (pheeew!). Bah…my water bottle is fucked…good thing I wore a pack! Got back up, dusted off, moved on. After running along the ridge for a few miles, you start hitting the downhill switchbacks around Mile 20. From here you have a heavenly 7 mile descent down the mountain. Here’s the time you fall into your rhythm, catch your breath, let your breathing relax, and just flow down the trail. You feel great. Early on in the switchbacks I got an added boost as I ran by Super in an out and back section and got a swift whack on the ass as she yelled “sexy is on the mountain!” Damn right it is! As you get closer to the bottom you hear the roar of the White River. You know you are close to home…but home is just the halfway point! Down those switchbacks I settled into 8-9 minute miles and made some good time! Unfortunately you also wreck your quads for the 2nd half of the race…oops.
Miles 27 – 29:
You get back to Buck Creek (start) and hit an aid station. From here you have about 1.5 miles of flat single track. The calm before the storm! I came to buck creek in 4:47…on pace for something around 9 hours. Sub 9 would be cool right! Well, there’s another mountain to climb, and this one is a lot steeper. Let’s see! Fill that pack, eat some food, move on! Marathon is done…let’s keep going!
Miles 29 – 37:
My experience with any ultra greater than 50k is that I go into a dark moment from the 50k point and through about Mile 35. The bitch of White River is that this is the same time you are starting the hardest climb of the day. Miles 29 – 34 or so can be describes as nothing other than ass hard. It is steep, it is rocky, and it just goes on and on. At this point, I had slowed to a 17 – 20 minute per mile crawl. Some chick passed me with some sticks she grabbed from the woods, and I thought that idea sounded amazing. After picking up some sticks, this helped with the climb and took some stress of the tired legs (with the tired quads form bombing the switchbacks). This happened around Mile 30. At Mile 31.7 you hit Fawn Ridge Aid Station. They were nice and liked my sticks, but they also reminded me I had over 5 miles to Suntop…ouch. The climbing goes on, I was a stick wielding fiend. The next 5 miles were just about gutting it out. Tired, spent, and sick of climbing I managed to slowly run some flatter and downhill sections and maintain an OK power hike on the uphills (with stick assistance of course). At Mile 35 you hit a peak (damn you false peak). It’s not Suntop. You get to go down and then climb a bitch of a switchback to finally reach the top. It was rocky and steep. I ditched the sticks…my arms were tired. As you get near the top…this is the moment that awaits you! You don’t know it’s there…it is behind you…but you will see it soon enough, and it makes the last 8 miles of punishment worth every step, and worth every drop of sweat to get there.
When you reach the top of the mountain, there is an amazing aid station. They were making pizza…I ate a lot of that. I ate some chips…they were the best thing I had ever tasted. I drank some Coke! I hate Coke…but not today. Ok, 13 miles left…that’s not even a half marathon! If i do it in 1:50, I break 9 hours! I got 6.2 miles of downhill…fuck yeah…I’m gonna run fast. My GPS is dead…whatever!
Miles 37 – 43.4 (Not Trail, Dirt Road, welcome break):
I turned out of Suntop aid station and as I hit the road I caught the view that you see above. The view triggered some awesome feelings. I was thankful to be at that race, thankful to be in that moment, and thankful for getting to experience that moment and all the ones before them. Ultras bring you to strange places in your head, some good, some bad, this view brought nothing but good…it was awesome and triggered some great thoughts. This was also the time I realized I was going to finish this race. The worst was over…I reached the top. I bombed down the road, caught my breath and just cruised for the next 10k. It was the easiest most comfortable running of the day. I probably did this all around an 8-9 minute pace. The warm sun contrasted the cool air, this was heaven.
Miles 43.4 – 50:
The last part of the race is deceptively hard, it is the dreaded Skookum flats. Unfortunately it is not flat, but rolling and rocky and rooty. It is the longest part of the day. Unfortunately the hard running and climbing all caught up to me here…my pace slowed and I did a lot of walking. Dreams of sub 9 were dashed. Gut through, run slow, walk hard, damn when is this gonna end? After a rough few final miles, I pulled out of the flats and a kind dude told me I had half a mile left…he said, “don’t regret how you finish today,” and I started to run. I ran with what I had left, and smiled to the finish of my 2nd 50 miler. A long day done, 9:26, and a pretty respectable 48th overall (out of 280ish). Not a bad day for a flatlander on 2 weeks notice! No regrets.
I can’t do this race justice with my words, but this is the kind of thing I dreamed of doing in the kind of place that speaks to me…and to live it was amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better day, a better course, or better views. It felt right, the trails felt like home (especially thanks to the “Supers” who cheered me along the way!). I stayed til the end of the race and got to reflect on an awesome day. I soaked my tired legs in the cold White River and felt refreshed. I cheered my friends in to their own epic finishes. Great moments in a great day with great people. White River – I’ll see you again in 2017.
Career Marathon/Ultra #55 – #15 of 2016, 2nd 50M (career and 2016)
Place: 38th Male, 48th OA