You dream you are crossing,
The channel and tossing,
About in a steamer from Harwich,
Which is something between
A large bathing machine
And a very small second class carriage.
The night before the race I dreamed I had a thorn in my foot, and when I woke up the foot still ached from the memory. I dreamed I had misplaced one of my tentacles and kept trying to count them.
First your counterpane goes
And uncovers your toes
While your sheet slips demurely from under you.
I dreamed that John Loftus was about to start the race (in front of my childhood home) and I wasn’t dressed yet and couldn’t find my headband (I never even wear a headband). I dreamed that someone was lecturing me on the quality of my dreams and threatening to disqualify me from the race if they didn’t improve.
But the night has been long,
Ditto, ditto, my song,
and thank goodness they’re both of them over.
In other words, I didn’t sleep very well the night before. I got up before my alarms.
A race hotel is a strange place. Everything goes dead by about 10pm, and you start to hear people moving around at 4am. You’d think it would be easy to sleep early and get up early. But I couldn’t. Well the getting up early worked I guess.
I ran this race three years ago. I thought I’d made a couple mistakes in running strategy which I hoped to correct, and I hoped that I’d finally figured out how to eat and take electrolytes properly. That is, I hoped to do better.
On the other hand I didn’t think I was in very good shape. I didn’t feel that I’d ever fully recovered from Leona Divide back in April; I just felt tired all through training and couldn’t run very fast (not that speed is quite as important in a fifty mile trail race, still it is indicative of general fitness…). That is, I feared I’d do worse.
The white river really is white (or at least grey).
I wrote the above before the race started, and that was about the last time I hoped to do well. Thirty seconds after the start I knew I wouldn’t.
The race starts with about three miles on the flat and people seemed to take it almost as a road race. Last time I went out too fast (my first mistake), got my heart rate up too high and had to slow down (relative to others) when we got to the first climb. This time I resolved not to make that mistake. I very deliberately kept my heart rate to ~80% — and people kept passing me. Far more people than I had expected. And then when the climb came, more people passed me.
Yes, they are probably going out too fast; yes, I will probably pass some of them later. But there are so many of them. I won’t pass enough.
Sigh. Oh well.
It’s still a beautiful course. The race starts in the valley of the white river. For about half a mile we run along a grassy airstrip (where there is plenty of room to pass people) and then dive into the forest and run on the river bank. The trees are massive and we are dancing around roots. Then we cross the river and continue on the other bank.
For some reason this side of the river is covered with wildflowers (and the other wasn’t). There are real buttercups here, willowherbs, and something that looks like a Clarkia (but which turned out to be another willowherb — though it doesn’t look like any willowherb I’ve seen before), lots of daisies (of course), some foamflowers… anyway it’s beautiful. (I went back the next day to get the picture)
Then we cross the big highway (WA 410, at this hour of the morning there’s no traffic) and head away from the river. Here in the deeper woods there are different wildflowers. Sasal, huckleberries. There’s a sweet little orchid that pops up now and then, and, there, under that bush, could that be a broomrape?
We have gentle rolling hills for another mile or so under the forest canopy, and then the first aid station, which I don’t bother with, so I pass a few people, but that’s irrelevant as they’ll pass me back all too soon. Then after another mile we begin to climb.
Last time I had to slow down and walk because I got my heart rate too high on the early part. This time I have to slow down and walk even though I kept my heartrate down. Does that mean that running fast early didn’t matter? Perhaps it wasn’t a mistake? Playing it safe doesn’t seem to have made things any better. Or maybe I’m just not in as good shape? Who knows.
As I trudge up the mountain, people keep passing me.
After a bit we come to an enormous rock face with water trickling down, and we head up beside it, then a switch-back and a real waterfall. It’s still too dark to take pictures, but I wish I could.
The hill just keeps going up.
After an hour we come to the first ridgeline. On a clearer morning (such as we had three years ago) you could see the mountains on the other side of the wilderness area, but today all I see is clouds. Rather nice clouds, but clouds.
Now we are running along the edge of this ridge, sometimes we get close enough to get a view, mostly we’re in the trees. As the race director puts it: “You are 3 feet away and 800 feet above a wilderness area.” There’s a sheer cliff to our right that drops down into a valley, and across the valley is Mt. Rainier. Only Rainier is hidden in clouds just now.
And then we run into fog ourselves.
It’s not dense enough to condense on my glasses, so I rather enjoy it. There’s something nice and — comforting? — about a blanket of fog (especially when you know there’s an 800ft drop just off to the right).
But we climb out of that and see some sunlight (not on us, but across the valley).
For the first time I pass someone. Of course this might just be one of the slower people who started early, still, it is encouraging.
Ah, but someone else passes me. A woman with a black pony tail comes up behind and I let her go ahead, but then a quarter mile later on a downhill stretch she lets me pass her. We leapfrog for a bit, and then she goes ahead. I don’t see her again until 7 miles from the finish.
And we’re back in the fog again. If you squint you can see the guy ahead of me.
We slow down to a walk on the steep climbs. And when we do that, we bunch up.
Here is the next aid station. I fill up with water (I’ve been trying to drink more water). This station has no food (and anyway I carry what I’m eating at this point); but it does have a fire. I realize my hands have gone numb and I can’t open my camelback (luckily the volunteer here can). A fire sounds nice, but I don’t have time.
Out of the aid station and then start running again when the slope levels out. We have been in and out of fog, and now we start to see bits of sunlight.
We have come into a new wildflower regime (we’re about 5000ft up now), and here are our first bunchberries. I like bunchberries. The idea of a dogwood flower on a tiny forb appeals to me. I know I can’t get a good picture of them without stopping, and I’m not willing to stop. So I take a bad picture instead.
Suddenly we are out of the fog and above the clouds. The view is spectacular.
But the guy ahead complains that he was hoping the fog would last longer so it would be cooler later. Oh. Yeah. That would be good. Still, there’s plenty of cloud cover, it’s just below us, we may get into it again.
Turning a corner we have our first view of Mt. Rainier
The woods look different in the sunlight.
And once again, different wildflowers.
Hostas (Corn Lilies) and Indian Paintbrushes. The Hostas aren’t blooming yet, but their leaves are distinctive. A little further up are another species of Indian Paintbrushes, these with orange blooms.
And we start to see beargrass, a spectacular flower, on a stalk about 3 feet high.
Some cute little yellow violets, and small things I can’t make out as I go past.
Suddenly the first returning runner (this section is out and back). He’s a long way ahead of anyone else, but then we see a few more I count up to about 10, but then get back to my own concerns.
And then we move to the sunny side of the mountain again, and things get drier and the wildflowers go away.
Rainier again. It’s just spectacular, floating above the clouds like that.
I’m running behind a woman at the moment. She seems to be running slowly, but whenever I look at my watch my heartrate is about 80%. Sometimes higher. So I don’t pass her.
I guess I notice women more than men in these races, partly because there are fewer of them running at my pace, and partly because I just notice women more.
Graagh. I’ve got a small stone in my foot and it’s digging into my heel. Nothing I do seems to shift it. I’ll wait for the aid station and take my shoes off there.
Rainier again, the clouds below have mostly disappeared. I guess we won’t have much fog later.
I notice that my heartrate has calmed down a bit, and the woman ahead still seems to be running slowly. Then she mentions that she hasn’t had anything to eat since the start (why not?) and she’s running on empty. So I pass her.
Photo by Glenn Tachiyama
Finally the aid station. I hand my camelback to a volunteer to fill up while I undo my shoe and get the stone out. Drat, the heel still hurts even though the stone is gone. The volunteer comes back and tells me (sternly) that I haven’t been drinking enough. I hope she’s assuming that I haven’t filled up since the start… but… she’s right. I haven’t been paying attention to drinking since the last aid station. I should do more.
Three years ago it took me 3:09 to get here, this year 3:10. Hunh. Maybe I’m not going as slowly as I thought. Oh. but we have a slightly different course this year, and we’ve run a half mile less. This is roughly a third of the way — (at least, they say it’s 16.7 miles, my watch says 15.5).
Oh well, I’m out.
Three years ago we just turned around and went back, now we climb a small hill, do a loop and avoid about a mile of returning runners. So this bit of trail is new to me.
I’ve been seeing a bush, about 3 or 4 feet high with large white flowers. Could this be a Cascade Azalea? I don’t have time to look closely. Oh yes, and lots of lupines, I’ve been seeing them ever since we got into the drier area. And phlox, and yarrow too.
The trail is kind of bouncy here with occasional views of Rainier.
The new trail really does provide good views as it edges from looking at Rainier on the left and another valley on the right. It’s pretty bumpy as it goes along the ridgeline. I’m encouraged to see that there is still some fog off to the right… I hope that’s the valley of the white river, to which I’ll be returning in another hour or two.
Hmm. I’m basically alone now. Every now and then I can see someone ahead, and doubtless people aren’t too far behind, but no one is in talking range.
And then I trot down off the ridgeline and rejoin the old route, and meet runners coming the other way again. Only now I’m the one returning.
As someone from the south I’m obliged to get excited when I see snow in July. I remember that there were patches of snow here three years ago too.
And then back to the second aid station where I again fill up with water. Someone passes me before the station, and heads out down the trail faster than I… but after a bit I find him massaging his calf. Cramp.
Mmm. I’ve been getting minor cramps in my right abdominals, but they aren’t bad, and go away. So far.
After the aid station we head down a different route from the one we used to go up, and it also returns us to the start. It’s a shorter route back, and so steeper.
After half an hour I come to a branch in the trail. It isn’t marked. I look harder. It still isn’t marked. Being color-blind I worry that I missed something other people have seen. I run back a little way because there was a smaller trail back there and it is possible it was marked. Someone passes me. He has no doubt and goes straight down. I dither a little longer. Someone else passes me. Oh well. I follow them.
Later I stop to piss and two people catch up and pass me, so I run behind them for a bit. One of them slows, and then the other guy and I catch up with someone else who speeds up when we come up behind him. There’s a huge tree down across the trail here, and as I scramble over it I have to stretch my legs out wide and they don’t like that. Ouch.
I notice that my watch says we have run 25 miles in about 5 hours. Oh dear. That makes for a 10 hour run? I was hoping for 9 (well, I’d have loved 8, but that seemed unlikely).
We catch up with another runner, who seems to be a friend of the guy in front. They start chatting and the other guy and I pass them both.
We run beside a little stream for a bit, but then turn away from it. The stream brings its own group of wildflowers: twinflower, pipsissewa — I thought that only grew on the east coast, but when I go back the next day it really is pipsissewa.
When we pull away from the stream we start to hear the road instead (the stream was nicer). There’s more traffic now, and I worry a little about getting across it. But when we come out of the woods it turns out not to be bad. We do need to wait a few seconds, but nothing substantial.
We cross the road at the same place we did earlier, and then head back along the river. We’ve returned to the start, where there is now an aid station. I left myself some figbars here and some trail mix. First time I’ve ever used a drop bag. I get my bag while someone fills my water. And I grab a bit of cooked potato too. I found at Leona that they seemed to work well. I started the race eating gels, but after a couple of hours I switched to chewy blocks, and now I’m moving toward more solid foods. Or that’s the plan.
I move out of the aid station, eating some of my figbars, and pass several people. We come out briefly on the road again and as I look for trail markings I notice a woman ahead of me, so I follow her, and then I see the marks. The woman turns out to be Dana and she and I will pass and repass each other many times over the next 23 miles (or however far it is).
But now I don’t know who she is and she pulls away from me.
I’m climbing now. And in the sun. I remember I have no sunscreen. Damn. I decided not to bring any so that I could carry my stuff on the airplane, and assumed I could a) buy some in Eumenclaw (which I forgot to do), b) find some at the race start (which I didn’t) c) pick some up on the course (which they said would be available but which I have as yet seen no sign).
I think the trail mix is too sweet. It makes me slightly nauseous so I can only eat small bites. I probably should eat more frequently because of that, but I can’t bring myself too.
I’m walking now. Fast hiking. I ignore my heartrate when I’m walking even though it climbs above 80%. Is that ok? Anyway I pass people. Every now and then I see Dana’s back.
I saw this little flower on the other hill too, but didn’t try to photograph it. Now, I’m moving so slowly that I don’t mind pausing briefly to take its picture. I assume it’s a lily. That is, I assume it is something that was called a lily twenty years ago. But that family is in sadly reduced circumstances now, and many species have moved to other families (and even orders). A little research suggests that this one is a Queen’s Cup.
And is that a sedum? I didn’t even know they grew on this continent.
Finally we come out to the next aid station. Still no sign of sunblock. This one is 50K from the start. I fill up with water, eat a potato and leave the station before Dana.
Something is wrong. Water is pouring down my back. It stops when I stop running, and I think the problem is solved, but no— more comes out when I start up again. Have I sprung a leak in the camelback (god, I hope not)? I’ve still got another third of the course to go, and this is the sunniest bit. I need water. I pull the camelback off my back (while still walking) and discover the answer is much simpler. The volunteer simply didn’t screw the lid on tight, and whenever the water in the bladder splashed up as high as the lid it would come out. So I screw it tight and all seems fine now.
Except… my shorts are now sopping wet and they are chafing my thighs. Arrgh!
And I wonder whether I now have enough water to get to the next aid station, well it could have been worse. And after a bit my shorts dry and stop chafing.
The trail just keeps going up. Sometimes in shade, sometimes not. Finally I come out on a somewhat level ridgeline with more beargrass and some tiger lilies.
And then there is a bit of downhill and three people come thundering past me. One of whom is Dana. After they pass there isn’t much downhill left, and I catch up with them again and we all go together for a while. Then one decides let me pass, with the other goes on faster, so now I’m running behind Dana. I could pass her, but if I did I think I’d just slow down and she’d pass me back. So for now I go at her pace and we chat a bit.
Actually she may be making me move faster than I would otherwise.
A bit more up, and then the false summit. Now there is a nice shady downhill area and Dana pulls away again. And the guy who just let me pass catches up and passes me again.
And then the final climb up to Sun Top. Walking again. I pass a number of people (including Dana, I think). About four of us reach the aid station at the top together. Someone fills up my water. I eat some potatoes, and — yes! Dana is spraying herself with sunscreen. Finally. I get in line to use it. When I pick it up, it turns out to be hers, not from the aid station at all, but she graciously lets me use it. Oops.
Sun Top is three quarters of the way done, and I’ve been running for 7 hours, 45 minutes. That means I’m on track for a 10:20 race. Ug. Still, the fastest bit is up ahead, I should be able to make up some time now.
Again I am out of the aid station before Dana and onto Sun Top Rd. I like this bit. A nice level fire road. Much nicer running that any fireroad in SB. I can just zoom down this. (That’s speaking relatively. If I push I can get an 8 minute pace:-) I’m a little tired.
Anyway, I’m off. There’s a guy just ahead. I pass him. My watch says I’m running at a 9:20 pace. A little further down there are 3 people, and I pass them. (I’m now averaging about 8:30). And then Dana comes zipping by me. I’m surprised, no one passed last time… anyway, we cheer each other on as she goes by. The road goes down steeply for about 5 and a half miles and in that time I pass 11 people, and my watch tells me I’m averaging 7:48. The last two I pass are the guy who was ahead of Dana before Sun Top, and black pony tail whom I haven’t seen since about mile 10.
Then the slope levels out a bit for another mile or so. Last time I made the mistake of trying to keep going at the same pace and my heartrate zoomed up and I had to walk for much of the last six miles. This time I slow down a bit. I can see three people spaced out on the road ahead, and it is tempting to speed up and try to pass them. But I don’t speed up, even so I manage to pass one of them.
At the final aid station I see Dana again (I suspect she was one of the two whom I saw but didn’t pass on the road). Once again I fill up my water and get out of there before she does (if she hadn’t taken so much time in aid stations she’d have beaten me, but maybe she needed that time).
The third mistake I made was to think that I could run at 80% for the last 6 miles. And the fourth was to get lost. I go out of this station intending to go at about 75% and doing my damnest not to get lost. I don’t get lost.
I pass some people and some pass me.
We are once again beside the river, running through massive trees. Every now and then there are views through the trees of the white river. It should be lovely, but mostly I’m thinking how tired I am and how much I’d like to be done. I don’t really hurt. I’m just tired. I look at my watch. I’m a mile out from the last aid station and I’m running at a 13:40 pace, I’ve been going now for 8:45 hours and I’ve got about 5 and a half miles to go. I don’t think I’m going to break 10 hours even. Bleah. That’s pathetic.
Someone comes up behind me, but decides to run with me. We chat a bit. I can’t remember what about. Then someone else joins our group. He seems to know the other guy. Then the first guy drops back and the other runs with me. I try to get him to pass me, and he just encourages me to keep going. Says we’ll break 10 hours at this pace, so don’t worry. I think he’s wrong. I keep going. I wish he’d pass me. If he passed me maybe I could slow down a bit. But he doesn’t pass. I keep going.
I look at my watch. There’s a large banner on it Battery low, press enter. If I press enter the message goes away for about 2 seconds and then pops back up (the battery is still low, you see). Unfortunately this message means I can’t see the rest of the display. I don’t know my HR now, nor what time it is, nor how far I’ve gone or anything. Stupid. I don’t care that the battery is low, I care about my heart rate and other stuff. Don’t show me irrelevant information.
I ask the cheerful guy what the time is and he tells me we’ve been going for 9:15. So another 45 minutes by his estimate, another hour or so by mine.
I’d really like to stop now. Not in an hour. Now.
Someone else comes up behind and this person does want to pass. So the cheerful guy decides he wants to stay ahead of her and passes me before she does. Now there is no one to push me, but even so I don’t slow down.
Someone else passes me.
A little later I find him working on a cramp and pass him. Then he passes me back. And 20 feet after that he turns a corner too quickly, slips, and falls. I pass him. He passes me.
I see him disappear up a hill and—
There’s the road!
Almost done. Up the bank, onto the road, turn left, left again and then 200 meters flat straightaway. I pound down it as fast as I can. The faster to the finish line, the sooner I’ll be able to rest.
A final turn, the clock reads 0:54~~. What does that mean? Maybe after 10 hours it doesn’t show hours any more? I can’t have taken 10:54 to do this; it’s somewhere around 10 hours. Maybe 10:05? Thoughts tumble through my head.
And I’m done. Whatever the time was. I click my watch off, but it’s no help, all it says is Battery low, press enter.
As usual, people seem to think I’m in bad shape and keep asking if I’m OK, but all I need is some rest.
I get some cold water to drink (I hate cold water, I think it made me vomit the last time I did this race, but I need water). And wander over to the results board. There are a lot of people ahead of me. I start looking for my age group. Not many people in their fifties though. The first is about 8:40 hours, the next is not until 9:42 (here I start to get excited, maybe, just maybe I’ll be in third place in spite of everything). But then, right before the end is the third place guy. My name gets added to the list. I see I ran in 9:54:51 and the third place guy was just 2 minutes ahead with only two people between us. Surely I could have found two minutes somewhere? When I was wandering around looking for the unmarked trail maybe? And then I count. Three people ahead of me. One is a woman. Oh. He was the guy who ran with me along the last bit by the river and kept encouraging me. Um. Yeah. He deserves to be ahead.
But how on earth could I have broken 10? When I finally got back to the hotel and convinced the watch to cooperate, I found that according to it the last 6.6 miles were only 5.97. So either the course is shorter than they claim, or my watch was underreporting distance (and my pace). Or both. Anyway either would explain the result.
Just as I finish thinking that I see Dana finish about three minutes after me. And shortly after her comes black pony tail (whose name I never learned).
I am tired. I hobble over to the port-a-potties, and then look for a place to rest, to sit. There’s not much in the way of furniture out here. But I spy some lawn chairs laid out that no one seems to be using. There’s a guy watching them but not sitting on them, so I wander over and ask if I can sit for a bit and he says sure. He also asks if I’m OK. (what on earth do people see in me? All I need is some rest). Then suggests that I lie down. Sure. Why not. Oh. It turns out this is the first aid tent, and he’s some sort of medic. No wonder he’s worried about me. The wind picks up and I start to get chilly so I grab a nearby blanket and pull it over me. A nurse wanders over and suggests I drink a little more water, so I do, but it’s difficult lying down. So I struggle to sit up again, feel nauseous, grab a plastic bag and vomit. After a bit I feel better. The nurse takes my pulse and says it is weak and high. Gets me to take another salt tablet, and drink some more water. I see they have some bananas and ask for one. I lie there for almost an hour before deciding it is time to get up. The nurse checks to make sure that my pulse has calmed (it has, some anyway), tells me I look better, asks me a few questions to make sure I’m not a blithering idiot, and lets me go to my car.
I go back to the hotel, shower and change. I had intended to go back to the race where they were serving food, but I don’t have the energy. I had intended to go back and at least retrieve my unused drop bag from Sun Top, but I don’t have the energy. I had intended to run an extra three miles (to get up to my age in miles), but there is no way that will happen.
All in all, pretty disappointing. Half an hour slower than three years ago, and I still don’t seem to have figured out how to eat/drink on the course. Or maybe I have figured it out but just don’t do it. I wasn’t paying as much attention after Sun Top as I should have. Maybe I should have drunk more? But how can I make myself do that? My attention wanders at that point in the race, I’m just not thinking about it. That is — assuming that’s the problem.
What could I have done differently? Given myself more time to recover from Leona, obviously. But I’ve got to figure out how to eat and drink if I want to do this again. It can’t be healthy to disrupt my osmotic balance until I want to vomit. Maybe if I had a smaller camelback and knew I had to empty it between aid stations… The large one I use gives a cushion against emergencies, but I have no idea how much I drink because I never drain it. Trailmix didn’t work. What can I use instead? Potatoes seem perfect, but how to carry enough? Would bread work? or is that too dry? Biscuits?