White River 50 Miler
By Apryle Craig
White River 50 Miler: 25th out of 81 (142/262) 11:27:10
As I laid awake waiting for the alarm to go off, I was both dreading and looking forward to getting out of bed. Our bed was a sauna. As usual, I neglected to read the Airbnb description in sufficient detail to realize that our room would not have air conditioning. I fought back tears, feeling so sorry for the torture I was about to subject my body to compiled with two nights of no sleep.
Why was I even doing this? If I was just going to be miserable, maybe we should just go home or go do something fun. I put on my running clothes, going through the motions. Zach and I made a bathroom stop at the Enumclaw QFC, where I debated having him wait for me while I raced. After reorganizing the car and buying some food for him for the day, he drove us to my race start at Buck Creek campground.
The weather was already warm, but I took my gloves and throw-away arm warmers I made from an old pair of worn out wool socks. The race started at 6am and I didn’t need a headlamp. I ate my first gel as the gun went off. Despite Zach’s warnings, I got boxed in from the start and spent the first 3 miles in stop-and-go traffic, frustrated with the obstacle down trees seemed to present my fellow trail runners.
Zach was waiting for me at the first aid station, where I ditched my gloves, and picked up seven gels and 1.5L of tailwind – enough to sustain me eating 1 gel/30 minutes through to the third aid station, as the 2nd aid station which was stocked only with water.
As we ascended the first mountain, gaps finally started forming. I took advantage of the false flats to power walk or jog around small groups. Usually the one to hold back and conserve energy for the second half of the race, I wondered if I was going out too hard. I had never raced like this before. I remembered the sustained efforts in Peru, Salmo-Priest, the long miles of pure ascent. I didn’t even run these sections on training runs – what would make me think I could sustain this? I searched for a reason to reel myself, but only found energy.
I pulled out the crumpled elevation profile map with times and mileages scribed in Zach’s tidy handwriting. My watch was slow, or the first aid station was early, or both. I had about 0.5L of tailwind left and topped off the bladder with water. I wondered how many of my fellow runners read the course description in detail enough to knew this was a water-only aid station.
With each step, I pushed my thigh into the hill, letting my arms become a direct line of force into the ground and propelling myself efficiently upward. I topped out and cruised along the undulating ridge, stepping off-trail as the leaders doubled back to complete the only lollipop portion of the race. I counted each woman as her left shoulder passed by my left shoulder, and got to 12 before my ascending track split off from the descending leaders. I was feeling really strong, and decided that this course was designed for me.
I was pretty hungry by the time I reached the aid station, which was the turn-around point. In addition to grabbing enough gu’s to last me through the water-only aid station on the way back down, I grabbed 3 fig newtons and refilled my camelbak with gu-brew. I descended more conservatively than I ascended. After 3 miles of pounding downhill, my knees and quads were on fire. My eyes darted ahead, searching desperately for any uphill relief.
When I finally arrived at Buck Creek aid station (mile 27), Zach had our 2nd camelback ready to go with Tailwind. He had the ipod out and enough gu’s to get me to Sun Top aid station. I had been eating gu’s every half hour, been sucking down water like a sponge, and had more energy than I did during some 12 milers. I was on pace to break 12 hours and felt so good that I was planning to negative split the back half of the course. But my knees were wrecked. And I knew I faced a second monster descent that might be my downfall. I had miles of uphill to rest my knees and legs. I pushed play on my ipod, so glad to be starting the second big ascent, Sun Top.
I powered up the side of the mountain, driving the weight of my upper body down through my arms and hands on my thighs. Still feeling great and still wondering if I was going to regret this effort later. In front of me, other runners came into view. I closed the gaps and danced by, Van Halen and U2 coursing in my veins alongside the caffeinated gu’s I had been choking down every 30 minutes. Throughout the full course, the sun was filtered out through the dense forest canopy, providing a pretty even, moderate temperature. I kept pulling out my elevation profile trying to gauge where I was. The map showed the course peaking then dropping down to the Sun Top aid station. This peak-drop happened about a dozen times as I made the ascent.
Finally, I crossed the road and saw runners descending in the opposite direction – almost there. Sun baked the final switchbacks to the top and I alternated my focus on identifying the various types of vaccinium lining the trail and rereading the note Zach wrote me for inspiration at this juncture. After Sun Tops, Zach would be waiting for me at the final aid station, Skookum, just 6.5 miles from Sun Tops. If I opened up, just a little over an hour. My watch confirmed I was still on pace.
The Sun Top volunteers were good. I just stood there while one guy refilled my camelbak while another offered me a piece of pizza. I took a small slice with little cheese and hoped it would not sabotage my stomach and effort. After grabbing a few more gu’s, I was headed downhill to see Zach. To my surprise, he had run the road and was cheering for me about 2 miles from the Sun Top summit. A good surprise, but a tease… as I expected to be closer to the aid station after seeing Zach. After saying hi, he descended ahead of me. As with the first hill, the first three miles were fine. I felt good and wanted to spend out some of the energy I still had. I was in the home stretch, the final 12 miles. What am I saving it for at this point? I slowly increased the speed and my hamstrings realed me in after 2 miles.
I made it to the aid station, where Zach was waiting with the camelbak. I sat briefly on a moss-covered log. The final miles along the river were undulating – very runnable, and I ran most of it, knees aching with every downhill step. This was the most technical of the terrain so far. My gaze shifted from the roots and rocks to obsessively watching for the bridge which signaled entrance back into Buck Creek campground. When I thought the rolling terrain was never going to end, the trail opened up to the road. I was there. I cruised the last quarter of a mile along the road, knowing I had absolutely crushed my own expectations. My best race ever.
Zach and Ebey had picked flowers for me and ushered me across the finish line into a shaded spot under a tree. Zach got me a potato, salad, and lemonade. I had a tough time standing up and walking. During the last 6 miles, I had allowed myself to quit eating and drinking as regularly, exacerbating the orthostatic hypotension I was battling with throughout the race. It was a long, difficult drive home. Thankful to have my supportive, attentive husband.