16 September 2007

Cle Elum Ridge 50k - Race Report

"If you start to feel good during an ultra, don't worry, you will get over it." - Gene Thibeault


What a day. I'm still exhausted and sore, mentally and physically, but it is just now beginning to set in that I've completed my first ultra. One thing is for certain: this isn't a 50k that they give away for free - you have to earn it.

Forecast called for beautiful weather and it didn't disappoint. It was a great day to run.

(Get comfortable because this may take awhile)

Sunrise on the drive to the start

For some reason I was a bit nervous before this race. I have no idea why. ;) A few of the things that concerned me as I was heading over to the starting line:

1. I had no idea how my knee would hold up.
2. I had never been more than 21 miles on a single run.
3. I forgot to shave my head the night before. I always feel better after a nice buzz.
4. I didn't know how much water I should carry with water stations every 4 or 5 miles. (I went minimal - one handheld.)
5. Everyone looked relaxed and happy but me. Is this going to be easy for them? :)
6. OOPS! I forgot to put on my body glide! (quick jaunt back to the car to rub up.) That could have been disastrous.

Gathering at the start

Elbowing for a great starting position

5....4....3....(here it goes - my first ultra!)...2....1 - GO! (screams and yelps)

The first mile of the course is along a paved road to get to the trail head. The next 30+ miles is all trail.

MILE 0.01 - Yep, I'm feeling good. Very good, actually. What's the course record again??

MILE 0.02 - Wow, how did all those people get in front of me?

MILE 0.07 - My first (and last) tactical race maneuver. I ran around this lady to jump from 95th place to 94th (there were 96 starters). This would pay off in the end. How? I didn't know, but I was confident that something good had to come out of it.

We hit the trail and I was very careful not to get caught up with a fast group. I think there were only a half dozen runners behind when when we started on the trail and that's just where I wanted to be. It was going to be the longest I'd ever run and I wanted to be sure that I saved all I could while still moving forward. My plan going in was to walk the ups and run the flats and downs. I thought a lot of back of the pack ultra runners lived by this motto too, so I was pretty surprised, even in just the first couple miles, to see everyone trying to run the ups. This made me a little nervous wondering if these ups weren't "real" ups and for hardcore ultra runners anything less than 45 degrees is considered "flat." But I stuck with my guns and let them run by me. Pretty soon, though, everyone seemed to be walking the inclines and I felt a little better.

I liked being at the end of these trains so I could stop
and take photos without getting in anyone's way

Going up

It's hard to really know a course without having ever been on it. What kind of terrain should I expect? Are there any stream crossings? Which shirt would match the course mood better - my blue or orange? The race website had a wonderful elevation profile that basically tells you all you need to know about the Cle Elum 50k. You're going to go up, then up, then down a bit, then back up some more. And then up a little more with a tiny down and then a really steep up until you reach the pass at around mile 17. From there it's a nice and easy downhill. Smooth sailing for second half. This race should be easy with a nice downhill like that...right?

from race website

Have I mentioned there were a couple, maybe three, rocks on the course? This trail is shared by dirt bikers, so needless to say it was pretty rough in parts. At the pre-race briefing the race directors (Marty and Chris Fagan) were saying that the trail was looking pretty good compared with previous years. So, I guess I am thankful for these rocks.

These were the "baby" rock sections. The totally gnarly
sections were so outrageously and unbelievably...gnarly...
that I didn't even want to attempt to take my camera out
because I was afraid for my life. Would I lie?

MILE ~6 - The Knee Pain

This is the first big test of the day for me. I knew there would be many of them and I knew my getting across the finish line was going to depend as much on my mental stamina as much as my physical stamina. I felt the pain coming and when it hit I just stopped, picked up a nice size rock, and threw it as far as I could off the mountain. I took a few moments to think about what was happening. This was a pain that I knew would get worse. I was very mad. Devastated? Maybe not quite devastated, but very discouraged. This is the point when the thought first crossed my mind that maybe I wouldn't be able to finish the run. Either the pain would be too much and I'd have to drop, or I would have to go so slow that I'd miss the cutoffs. And I'm only at mile six!!! I got myself together and pushed a little more. The pain was there and if this were a training run I probably would have stopped and went home to rest it.

It didn't help my mood any when I was testing out the knee on a downhill section and this lady whizzes by me, then slows down to critique me (help me?) on my downhill running form.

"You need to stay forward. You can't run on your heels like that." I did my best to nod with a non-evil look on my face. She didn't know my knee was in pain and she just wanted to help, but at the moment I felt like kung-fu fighting her. Actually, I didn't think about that at the moment, I just thought about that now because it sounded funny. Hiiii-YA!

On the drive from Pullman I was listening to one of my Radiohead CDs. Now, I wasn't expecting Radiohead to play a part in getting me through my first ultra, but weirder things have happened. One of their songs, "There There", has a repeated phrase that says "Just 'cause you feel it, doesn't mean it's there." I kept thinking about this song for the rest of the race. Just because I feel all this pain, doesn't necessarily mean that it's there, right? Hmmm, think about that one. I think my Jedi-mind trick worked. When my knee started hurting I would act like it was just an illusion and keep going. Or I would think about how bad another part of my body was hurting and then my knee didn't seem so bad.

Still making my way up

MILE 10 - Feeling...OK. Almost to the first aid station.

Just now starting to grasp on how long this race is going to be. The longest race I'd run before this one was approximately eleven miles back in July. I remember finishing that one and trying to comprehend how in the world would I be able to run that course another two times to equal 50k.
Looking south during another climb

It's also around this time that I realized I had forgot to throw my ibuprofen in my back pocket. I needed/wanted some bad. Funny how before a race I feel so out of routine that I forgot the easy stuff. I had all these thing laid out on the seat of the car but I guess I was so distracted and nervous before the race started that I forgot them. Also forgot to slop a little sunblock on my face and neck. And, as mentioned earlier, almost forgot to apply body glide.

Maybe they'll have some pills at the aid station.

On a ridge looking north

MILE 12.5 - (Aid Station 1) My confidence is building.

Now the climbing begins. I'm hurting at this point, but not too bad. I seem to be making progress on the uphills. My power hiking is strong and the uphills are the only time that I have no pain in my knee. There are a few downhill rumbles on the way up to Windy Pass and it's becoming pretty clear that if the second half of the race is anything but a nice, walk in the park type of gradual downhill (like the elevation chart suggests, right?) then I will be seriously hurting.

Though my body is hurting, mentally I feel I am getting stronger. Six-plus miles after feeling the knee pain and I'm still pushing ahead. This is motivating and my confidence is building. I've read about the highs and lows of long ultra runs (100 miles), and even though a 50k is the wimp of ultra races I can see some of these highs and lows playing out. I want to take advantage of my current high and take as little time as possible at the aid station. I fill up with water, take a few shots of Mountain Dew, and grab a nice big handful of salty, greasy potato chips and head back up the trail. I forget to ask if anyone had any pills.

MILE 17 - (Windy Pass) This is no longer fun.

I'm trying to remember why the heck I wanted to run an ultra. I think it was for the chicks. Ultrarunners are like rock stars and I've always wanted to be a rock star. Near the top of the pass I begin praying that the downhill section was at least wide enough to log roll down. It wasn't.

As not fun as it is at this point I can still trick myself into thinking that the beautiful scenery makes all the pain worth it. Writing this now it is easy to say that, but yesterday the only reason I stopped to take some of these photos was because I was too tired to move and had to find something to do in the meantime.

Can you smell the mountain air?

Next time I come to this spot it
will be on the back of a llama

Heading down the other side
of Windy Pass

That first section coming down from the pass was particularly brutal on my fragile body. I felt like a bag of bones rumbling down the hill. There goes my dream of it being a nice, easy, walk in the park downhill to the finish line.

MILE 17-21 - (Windy Pass - Aid Station 2) Help!

The only thing I remember about this section is that it never ended. Ever.

Actually, the course smoothed out a bit and wasn't the mind-jarring rocky steep declines and I was able to get in a nice rhythm. As bad as my body was hurting and I was still going strong mentally. For awhile there I actually thought that since I was still moving forward that I must have had some sort of supernatural brain power like telekinesis. My mind was moving my body. And I couldn't wait for the race to end so I could share this new power with the rest of the world. Think of the great things I could accomplish!

But then I ran out of water about a half-mile before the aid station and this really bummed me out.

The crew at Aid Station 2 was awesome. They were grabbing everyone's bottles and filling them up with lightning speed and helped me out with food issues. There were some tablets in a bowl that I asked about and they were some kind of salt-replacement thingamabobs and they told me that if I hadn't taken any yet I should pop a couple. I stuffed my face with orange slices and pretzel sticks and almost gagged when I looked at the GU packets. No way I could down one of those at this point.

Aid Station 2 was at the 21 mile mark, which means this was as far as I had ever been. I think my body knew it too, because it decided to quit right about then.

MILE 21-Finish - must...keep...moving...want...to...

You may be thinking, "Scott, why aren't there anymore of your cool photos from the pass to the finish line?" It wasn't for lack of scenery, for sure. At the beginning of the race, I would take a photo of something I thought was worth stopping for. Then, I would take photos when I was taking a break. During the last 10+ miles I was not only too tired to take any photos (the actual motion of taking my camera phone out was too painful to even think about) but I was too tired to even take a break. If I would have stopped moving forward I would have stopped. Period. Call a cab, get a stretcher, whatever, but I won't be moving anymore today thank you.

So I kept moving. When it hurt really bad I tried to run a little ways. This plan worked very well, I think. When walking hurt, run. When running hurt, walk. Just don't stop.

At one point nearing the end I looked at my watch and thought that maybe I would have a chance at breaking 7-hours (8-hours is the cutoff). This gave me a boost of energy for about 45 seconds, and that was the last fume of energy in the tank. I walked in the last two miles.

If I remember correctly, I raised my hands above my head as I ran/shuffled across the finish line. My first ultra complete.

(Cle Elum Ridge 50k race results)

Either I was running so fast,
or the course was so awesomely gnarly...


I don't remember when I knew that I would finish this thing. You always read stories of people running their first "big" race and it seems there's always a point when they know that they'll complete it and there's often a wave of emotion that hits. Maybe I was expecting a moment like this. But after reflecting on it for the past day, I think I knew I was going to finish it before I even started it. I just couldn't imagine any scenario that had me driving home to Pullman without a finish time.

Lessons learned:
  • Salt-tablet thingamabobs
  • Better to carry extra water than not
  • Make a physical checklist (not a mental one) of things needed before going to starting line
  • Utilize drop bag option - you never know what you'll get at the aid stations
  • Take a photo of yourself at the finish line as proof
  • Practice my post-race mingling (I was SO tired I could barely walk let alone meet and greet with people. How did everyone else have so much energy!?!)
  • Next time I think about doing my "first" ultra - pick an easier one
The ultrarunning crowd is as great as I imagined. (I met fellow bloggers Eric and Bella, who kicked butt on the course!) Sitting around the finish line during dinner and the awards/prize giveaway, it was amazing to be around these people. There were still some runners out on the course and any time a runner would pop out of the trail and head toward the finish line the awards/giveaways would stop and everyone would turn around to cheer the runner through the finish. Amazing how much these people support each other. It was great to be a part of.

Ultrarunning is about finishing. It's about proving to yourself that you can do it.

I was sad that Jeanie wasn't able to make it to the race with me. She's right in the middle of her prelims and can't afford to take any time off. I knew when I signed up for the race that her prelims were scheduled during the same time. The idea was that I would get out of her way so she could have some solo time to study. But it was still sad that she couldn't make it.


Thanks to everyone for their inspiration and support! It's been a wild ride, hasn't it??

Keep running!



  1. Wow, that was one hell of a ride! Dude you're so friggen funny though, definitely comes in handy with the mental aspect.

    I wish you really did kung fu kick that old lady and then taken a pic of her body laying on the trail :P LMAO JK!

    Ok now comes the REAL question . . .did you have to go to the bathroom while on the trail? You know I have to know these things LMAO!

    Awesome job homeslice!!! You rocked that thing!! You ready for that marathon now? ;-)

  2. I knew that I would finish my first marathon, but I didn't realize the extent of the accomplishment until the final mile when I knew it was about to happen. And yes, I was in tears the entire last mile. Of course I still didn't know about these ultra thingys yet. You're a bit jaded and may not realize the extent of your accomplishment because you read about 50 and 100 milers and beyond. Finishing your first marathon+ is a big deal. Enjoy your success and give yourself a big pat on the back. I wish I could have been there.

  3. what a fantastic race report!! CONGRATULATIONS a million times over. I hope you can truly appreciate yourself and your accomplishment. An inspiration, for sure!!

  4. Yes!!... You are a ROCK STAR Ultra Crazy Man now!!

    I had no doubt that you would complete this goal. A written list is key because the mind seems to go blank when you arrive at the race. We are lucky that we can even remember how to run :).

    You will thank youself for having completed this event when you begin JFK. Just think how much better you will be prepared next time around.

    I have said this a thousand times, but there is something wonderful about the cummunity of fellow runners at these events. It is like visiting and hanging out with friends you have not seen in sometime. Everyone wants the best for everyone. No ego's to be found!!

    I am just so thrilled for you!!! Great job Scott!!

  5. Ah, Scott, you're a Rockstar in my book! :) Congrats with your first ultra! What's next on your list?!

  6. Yay! Way to go Scott! Whoo-hoo! Now, on to Portland, where you'll get to meet Eric's other half - ME!

    (great photos too! Eric never took the camera out.)

  7. Way to go Scott! What an awesome accomplishment! You should be proud!

  8. Nice work out there this weekend Scott! Hope the Owwwwwww has subsided a little. Sorry we didn't get more time to chat but it was nice to meet you. Hopefully I'll see you at more of these events.

    Have you taken your Cle Elum 50K shirt off yet? You will need to take it off and wash it at least once a month:-)

    Congratulations on finishing your first Ultra on a tough course!

    Trail Scat

  9. Awesome effort Scott. You were clearly always going to finish that race even if it meant crawling over the line.

    Loved your advice about running when it hurts to walk, i'll try and remember that my first marathon.

  10. Great intro, and your report is really good! Got sent here by Eric and Bella:) Congrats on a first ultra, not an easy one by any means either! As for a hole in a sock - I'd say a combo of gnarly trails and a sock (I think these are too thing). Hope you figure out all the little things by next time.

  11. Nicely done, Scott! To finish up after 25 miles of knee pain is just awesome, and you kept a great can do attitude the entire time! Another Ultra is born... Doing a trail ultra before you first marathon is just CRAZY :-)

  12. Awesome report and AWESOME JOB perservering through this. YOU DID IT!!!

    After reading this, I felt like such a wimp today for stopping because my feet were starting their meltdown. I know I could run through it if I had to but...

    Look at you making it through this. I hope you will recover nicely and in the end, you will always have that you did this.

    Great job. I'm so happy for you!

  13. Major congrats, Dude!!! That is just awesome! Thanks for the great pics from the first part of the race. Maybe next year, do the race again and take pics in the last half = ))

  14. Dude!!! Congrats!!!!!! What an awesome awesome job! That's ridiculous and awesome and a 50K that was "gnarly" enough to put a hole in your sock! Ridiculous!

    P.S. The chicks do thing Ultrarunners are rock stars! HAHA!

  15. Oh your recap is sooo much more interesting than mine..and you took PHOTOS!! Aren't you so smart! :)
    Well you did amazing despite the pain and hurt you endured. Just imagined how you would have done if you didn't have a nagging injury..near or at the top!!
    That was funny at the awards ceremony, I'm kept thinking that's gotta be him...then you got your socks for doing a 1st ultra I knew it was "Scott the blogger"! LOL
    Nice to meet you too, enjoy your recovery. See you Portland in a few weeks!

  16. Great race and great report (with pictures!!!!!). Congrats for your first glorious ultra. New adventures are in your future.

  17. So has the HIGH set in? How are those legs feeling today?

    By the way, I hope you tell the "new girl" at work to TAKE THAT!!! You rock ;)

  18. Congrats! That's an amazing accomplishment, Scott! I can't imagine running that far, and uphill and over boulders as well! You're a champ.

    I totally would've at least tried log rolling on the way down.

  19. GREAT JOB!!!!!

    I would have been battered and bruised from tripping on those boulders :p

    How are your feet today?


  20. Congratulations and awesome job! What is it with you and Bob doing your first ultra before doing a marathon? Crazy, dudes! I think the first time you do any new distance is the hardest one because you really don't know what to expect. Great job with it and recover well!

  21. WOOOOOWWW!!!!!!! What an awesome report! Felt like I was there and now I know I REALLY want to do an ultra. The scenery is so amazing, I love the pics! Great job!! Hope you are resting up and enjoying the new title today! Was Sadie mad at you for not inviting her?

  22. OMGOSH Scott!!!! You did such an AMAZING job! I'm with psbowe - just think of the level you would have finished at had you not injured yourself. You have basically been off running for the last month - 6 weeks and still went out there and showed that Ultra who's boss. Can't wait for your next race! You are a total rockstar in my book :)

  23. the race route looks crazy challenging, but you completed it! you rock! i'm sorry that jeanie couldn't make it - i hope she'll celebrate the completion/passing of her prelim soon!

    ... how long do you think it will take for your body to fully recover from such a long run?

  24. Welcome to this new world. I think you were born for ultras. Perhaps it's the Scottish highlander genes. Your Dad is proud of you.

  25. sweet report man! congratulations also.

  26. everybody was kung-fu fighting...that song has been in my head for DAYS and i finally get to use it! i would have karate chopped her. :)
    way to go- holy crap. i am whining and worrying about 26 miles in portland and here you go running crazy distances right before that. you do know you've broken past into the insane zone, right?
    you will come back and run 15 more miles with me when you finish portland in lightning speed right? that would make it, oh- only like a 56.2 mile race, right?

  27. super report. hopefully, the pain and suffering was worth it. someday they'll make a camera that will take the pictures for us.

    rest up, you deserve it.

  28. Hello and congratulations -I found your blog thru Eric's blog and knew who you were from the pictures because I ran near you most of the race (a girl with short blond hair) - I remember seeing you take pictures as we were climbing and I thought I should have carried my phone so I could do the same. Great job finishing, ultras are a blast. Sure I will see you at another. :)

  29. Superb! This sounds almost as fun as a day at sea in the Caribbean! I can't believe you plugging away even though it started hurting at mile 6, you ARE the man!

    All that downhill is harder than you think. I'll be looking forward to reading about your next "first" easier ultra, good luck finding that one. LOL. Portland should be a piece of cake for you now.

  30. Wow! What an amazing report & experience! Congratulations!