29 July 2008

White River 50 - Race Report

White River 50 Race Report

I could go the rest of my life without climbing anything else (mountains, stairs, the corporate ladder, etc.) and I'd consider myself a happy man.

What a tough course. At the pre-race course briefing the RD said that "the course has two hills." Then he pointed to the mountain to the left of us and said that was number one and pointed to the mountain to the right and said that was number two. When did mountains become hills? Gulp.

I wanted to try something a little different with this race. I've always been one to start real slow and then see if I have anything left at the end. Usually I do and make up a lot of ground during the last section of races. This time I wanted to push myself a little more at the beginning to really test what kind of shape I was in.

My main goal for the race (and every one of my races) is to finish injury free. My second goal was to finish under 12 hours (the cut-off is 13). I thought this was a realistic goal. 11 hours? 10 hours? Really, I wasn't sure what to expect. I've run two other 50 milers but those where on relatively flat courses. The White River course was going to be the toughest course I'd ever run.

Section 1: Miles Start-3.9
My legs have been feeling pretty good most of the summer and I was still on a runner's high coming off the Iceland trip. I worked myself toward the middle of the pack at the start. The first part of the course is very flat relative to the rest of it. There's a section around a gravel airstrip before it heads to some single-track through the forest. Everyone's legs feel good at this point and everyone wants to start off fast, it seems. Usually I work real hard to stay back and save my legs but I decided to stay with the middle group for as long as I can and see how it went.

[Video from the start of the race. If you watch it five or six times you might be able to find me running by in a black shirt and orange hat.]

My dad paced a friend during a 100 miler back east a few months ago and the advice she gave him was something to the affect of "run when you can, walk when you have to." I wanted to practice this philosophy during this race. (Is it good to try something new on race day?) So instead of forcing myself to take walk breaks every mile or so I went with the flow and ran the entire first section. I reach the aid station at mile 3.9 in around 37 minutes. I knew there was a lot of climbing to come so I thought surely it must be okay to run "when I can."

Off we go.

Sadie and Shasta hanging around
camp with Jeanie. This was Jeanie's
first time coming to an ultra and I
was very excited that she was there.

Section 2: Miles 3.9-11.7
Sometimes you think you're in good shape and then you realize there are mountains on a particular course that you happen to be running on a particular day. The first time you call it a hill I'll laugh. The second time you call it a hill I'll break your nose with a dictionary, and then give it to you so you can lookup the definitions of mountains and hills. (So I looked it up and a mountain is a natural elevation of the earth's surface that's larger than a hill -- and a hill is a natural elevation of the earth's surface that's smaller than a mountain. That's no help!)

Climb and climb and climb. There was a point that I remember thinking that it would be nice to have slept through the alarm so I could still be in the hotel room sleeping. My legs are still feeling pretty good, though, and I'm keeping pretty good pace with most.

Section 3: Miles 11.7-22.1
This was a spectacular section of the trail that can only be described with these:

From several overlooks you can
see the airstrip where the race started.

Simply a beautiful course.

Some of the views didn't seem real.
Like this one of Mt. Rainer (14,411'.)

A run with a view.
[Courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama]

Section 4: Miles 22.1-27.2
This section was all downhill through some amazing forest scenery. I was glad to be going down after all the climbing and ran most of this section. It felt good. Soft trail. Nice cover from the sun. Mostly by myself. But no animals. Not once on the entire course did I see a rabbit or squirrel or bear. I heard a few birds but it was kind of surprising not running into anything.

The section before I passed my dad, who took the early (5:30am) start and he seemed to be struggling a bit. Washington DC doesn't have many "hills" to train on and he was hurting. I was hoping he could get to this section with something left in his legs because I knew he'd love it. Turns out he did but he didn't make it to the 27.2 mile aid station before the cut-off. This course doesn't give any freebies. We decided the next running trip we were going to make was going to be to a location where we'd be able to run some trails together without having to worry about a race or cut-off times. Just something we could go and enjoy the part about running that we love together. I'm proud of what he's doing. I see in him what ultra running is all about. One person versus the course. It's beat him a couple times, but he's won a few himself. He'll keep going back for the fight.

Mile 27.2 aid station.
The best watermelon EVER!

Section 5: Miles 27.2-31.7
So...much...pain. Just...wanted...to...take...up...knitting...,...like...immediately.

Up up and away. After making it to mile 27.2 in under 5.5 hours I had visions dancing around my head about the possibility of breaking 10 hours. I mean, c'mon, I was over half-way done with the course and the "hard" "hill" was already over with. The next "hill" was the "easy" one and after that it was like 13 miles of downhill cruising to the finish line. 22+ miles in 4.5 hours - why not?

This is where I found out where my true fitness level was at. About two miles I sat down on the side of the trail and...heck, I don't remember what I was doing. I was just beat and exhausted. No more climbing please.

No pictures from this section. Too...tired.

Section 6: Miles 31.7-37
More climbing up to mile 37 and I didn't think I would live another day. Seriously. I didn't want to, anyway.

And this is when my stomach started acting up. I was having trouble stomaching anything at the aid stations, even water. Though I was forcing water down. Mountain bikers were flying by and I kept asking for a ride but they always just laughed thinking that I was joking. Seriously, guys, can you please give me a ride I'm so tired.

I took another break on the trail. This time for a bit longer. Long enough to take out my camera and take a photo of some trees. Sweet.

Me and these trees are friends now.
We bonded.

I eventually kept moving and finally made it to the top of the "easy" "hill." I'm in the best shape of my life but was given a reality check by this course.

Does the smile fool you?
[Courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama]

View from near Sun Top.
The parking lot at the airstrip
(the race start/finish) is
barely visible in the distance.

Volunteers at these events are
always unbelievably amazing.

Section 7: Miles 37-Finish
After Sun Top there was a brutal 6 mile section down a gravel road. It might have felt good to someone who still had something left in their legs, but I was losing anything I had left fast. Mentally it was nice finally going down. But physically...well, I guess no matter how I put it it was definitely better than the climbs before it. So I guess I'll stop complaining. :)

I had to make a couple emergency pit stops in the woods. My stomach has never been this upset during a run or race. I ate the same things I usually do: pb&j, fruit, chips, a bit of chocolate, etc. I'm not sure if it was race related (probably) or previous night's dinner related (maybe). I'd like to get a handle on my fueling if I ever want to go longer than 50 (I do).

After the final aid station there was just over six miles to go along the White River. My spirits got a bit higher knowing I was getting close. This was the most technical section of the trail. Lots of roots and rocks and sand and slippery descents.

Along the White River nearing
the finish line.

At this point I'm thinking I have a chance to break 11 hours. But the trail kept going and going. Possibly the longest 6-mile section anywhere. On and on...

It wasn't until I was a couple hundred yard away that I could hear the finish line and the clapping and yelling. I was just hoping there wasn't another lap around the airstrip.

[Video of my completion of the White River 50.]

10:52:25. 122 out of 238 starters. Official results. I'm enthusiastically satisfied with that result. Dad and Jeanie were waiting at the finish line with a beer. Yes. And I was enthusiastically looking for someplace to sit down.
Me and my dad
after the race.

I'm going to rest a bit more. Maybe take a day or two off before I start planning the next big adventure. I want this race to really soak in.

Keep running!



  1. Ha Ha! Excellent! I think your sense of humor saved you on this course. The dictionary bit was really funny.

    Another great shared adventure with your dad - you look good dude. Strong and courageous, half crazy. Nice guts to get it done with grace and speed. Awesome.

  2. Scott,
    Sorry we missed you - we were supposed to be working the aid station at Buck Creek, but we had a death in the family and the service was that day. Next time! Glad you had fun out there - I hear it's a tough one.

  3. Nice job, and great pics as usual. I love listening to the mental endurance aspects of these long races you are doing. I'm sure it will come in handy for me in November.

    Nice to see your Dad smiling, and I'm sorry you got all the bad genes...

  4. Dude you always crack me up! I have an extra thing of yarn BTW. I'll have it sent to you for your next race :P

    Sounds like you had one heck of a time. Way to rock it homie!

  5. AND ROFLMAO at Wes!!! Awwwwhhhh snap! ;-)

  6. As always, I am in awe of your accomplishments. You are such an amazing athlete; thanks for sharing parts of your journey with us!

  7. Your race reports always make me laugh and cry. I think of you and Dad on my hard runs when all I want to do is go home and knit. You guys are inspirational ...

  8. Congrats on finishing and I love the pics.

    P.S. Sorry for my serious lack of comments/reading in general...somehow you got deleted off my GoogleReader...don't worry you're back now!

  9. Awesome job. I love the pictures.

  10. Congratulations!! Loved the pictures. You look so strong in your finish like you could keep going!!

  11. Ultra-knitting, now there's an idea that's just waiting for the right time to bust onto the scene.

    Congrats for sticking it out through those tough mental patches.

  12. Very impressive - the scenery & the race. Good job finishing!!!

  13. Nice job and great pics. Congratulations for both....
    and the dog of course.

  14. Congratulations Scott! That is such an awesome acheivement... one I will probably never even attempt! The pics are wonderful!

  15. congratulations!! I really enjoyed reading the report. You ROCK!!