Two years ago, the White River 50 chewed me up and spit me out. It was my first mountain 50, and it made quite the impression on me. When I finished I thought maybe I'd never walk again, and I surely would never set foot on a mountain trail with anything more than +1 ft vertical gain. I was ready to pack up and move to anywhere that was flat.
But, it seems, I have a poor memory, because I decided to go back this year and fight the two mountain climbs again. I'm in better shape now, so I expected to do much better. But no matter what kind of hill training I do here in the Palouse, it doesn't quite prepare me for vertical of White River (8,700 feet of climbing; 8,700 of descent).
My pre-race goal was to finish under 10 hours. The race begins with about a mile along a dirt landing strip before it plunges into single-track trails for about 43 of the 50 miles. I have a tendancy to start slow and push later in the race, but with over two hundred runners at the starting line, I wanted to push the pace a bit during the first mile to get a good spot on the single-track climbing trains that form. I found myself in a fast group, and knowing that I probably wouldn't be able to hang with them for long, I broke my own don't-start-too-fast rule and hung with this fast group as long as I could. Actually, I've been doing that more this year. I push out hard to see where my limits are. I guess today with no different.
We hit mile 4 at under an 8-min pace...then the climb began. While most of the group was running the climbs at this point, I was content with power-hiking for a minute or two (and I wasn't losing much ground doing this) and then running on the "flatter" sections of the climb. My legs felt great, but I knew it was going to be a long day. The group eventually left me behind and I was just fine with that.
I hit the aid station at mile 11 well ahead of a 10-hour finishing time pace, and was happy to put it in cruise control for the rest of the climb up to mile 17. There are some amazing views of Mount Rainier on this section of the course. This is also an out-and-back section, so I got a glimpse of the leaders coming back - pretty amazing stuff from some of the best trail runners in North America.
The next 10 miles heads back down the hill (mountain) to the starting point/halfway point (the course is basically a figure 8) - this section includes about 5 miles of beautifully smooth downhill single-track. I had to tell myself to take go slower than I wanted to so I could save my legs for the brutal second half of the course.
I hit the halfway point faster than I was expecting to, but knew that the climb up to Sun Top mountain was going to test the best of me...and slow me down considerably. And it did. The climb lasts about 8 miles and gains over 3,000 ft. of elevation. It's simply a grind. I ran only in spurts during this section, power hiked much of it, and felt like crawling like an infant for all of it. The last mile or so is the worst part of the entire climb: steep, dusty, rocky, steep, sunny, steep, and steep. Though I was still just under a 10-hour pace, I was wondering if I had enough to hang on.
37 miles complete, and now a 6-mile gravel road descent. This part sounds wonderful on paper: after all the climbing, finally an "easy" gradual descent on an open road. My legs weren't quite toast at this point, but they were getting there. The 6-mile descent felt like 10 miles. I ran the entire thing (minus two "I just drank too much Mountain Dew and ate too much watermelon at the aid-station" pukes) but I felt like I had a flat tire going the entire way down.
I got to the bottom with only a 6.5 mile section along the river to the finish line. The aid station had ice water sponges and soaking myself with the cold water gave me a nice lift. I ran probably 2 miles through this rooty, rocky, technical section before some of the minor climbs (30-50ft) started to feel like 1,000ft climbs. I had given myself some time cushion on the long downhill descent though, so with about 4 miles to go I figured I could probably walk the rest of the way and still get in under 10 hours. That was a relief. I might have been able to push harder during this last section if I needed to, but I was happy to run the downs and walk the ups the rest of the way in.
I crossed the finish line in 9:34:16. (official results - Anton Krupicka shattered his own course record with a 6:25:29!)
I love this course. Why does it make me hurt so bad?
I feel like I know this course a little better after having run it twice now. I can definitely see things that I can improve on to run it under 9 hours. I'm sure I'll be back in the coming years. It's such a beautiful course.
The race is just outside Mount Rainier NP
Enjoying the mountains the day before the race
50 Mile Trail Championship - the competition was stacked
Cool mountain morning stretch
Gathering at the start
Part way up the first climb
Mount Rainier over my shoulder
Mount Rainier watching over the runners
Going through an aid station
Pounding trail (photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama)
Climbing up Sun Top (photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama)
Crossing the finish line