White River 50-Miler Race Report: "Pushing The Limits"
It's been one full week since White River 50-Mile Trail Run which served as the USATF Championships for 2010 held in the Enumclaw area of Washington state. I have been able to reflect on the race and how it all went down and, like every other race, there were things I could have done differently. Though I must say that I feel very satisfied with how I ran against a deep field of experienced ultra runners on a pretty tough course. The course climbs a staggering 8,700 feet over 50-miles and does so in two big, "never-ending" climbs as seen below.
This race was to be my last ultra marathon for a while with our daughter being due the week of August 28th, so I wanted to "leave it all out there on the course." Even though I was coming off a solid 4th place 20-hour 100-mile run at Bighorn on June 18th I felt that I really wasn't able to "open it up" and run like I can based on the terrain. I knew that the course at White River would suit me in a way that the Bighorn course did not. The stage was set at The Crystal Mountain Ski Resort in the shadow of Mt. Rainier, and at this time of summer in the Pacific Northwest it is absolutely breathtaking.
A few days prior to race day I had heard that elite ultra runner and course record holder Tony Krupicka was jumping in the race after his amazing 2nd place at Western States 100 just a few weeks prior. Before that news I was thinking that the man to beat was ultra rookie and 19-year old Montrail sponsored runner named Dakota Jones. Besides these two studs there was a man that needs no introduction Scott Jurek, and about ten other runners that can flat out run! This was definitely the most competitive race that I've competed in and I really enjoyed meeting everyone.
(And we're off!!!! Photo taken by Glenn Tachiyama just a few seconds after the start)
The first few miles I took off out in front and honestly I felt like it was a pretty casual pace. Maybe that was a good sign but eventually Adam Campbell from Canada caught up to me and we ran together for a bit. I knew that he had some serious speed based on his Chuckanut 50k race back in March, and after about four miles he pulled away from the pack. It is common for me to start out a race of any length pretty quickly and then I just settle into my own groove. Also for this race I wanted to get a "head start" on Tony, Scott, Dakota, etc. on the first big climb which came around mile six.
(No elevator here...we're taking the stairs! Tony, me, Scott, and Josh Brimhall tackling the first major climb. Photo taken by Eric Barnes.)
Eventually a pack of guys caught up to me as I switched off power hiking and running up the first long climb. I knew this was going to happen but I was able to I stay with the flow of traffic. There were some talented runners out there and on the flat sections and downs I would pass them back trying to stay out front. They must have thought I was crazy but I knew that I had to take advantage of my strengths from the very beginning if I wanted to be competitive in this race.
As for shoes I ran in the very light Inov-8 F-lite 220's which was the first time I have run this distance in them. They felt good although they didn't breathe too well as the race went on and as it got hotter. The trade off was the very comfortable upper and light weight. There were a couple brief times when I slid on some dry, sandy downhills, but other than that they were quick and nimble.
Here is a video of some of the terrain and runners on the course shot by runner Paul Ward and his wife. You can see me at the 2:30 mark following closely behind Scott Jurek with Dakota Jones right on my tail!
At the top around 14.5 there was an out-and-back section where we were able to see how the race was shaping up. I was surprised to see Campbell still out in front but Tony was right behind him just ready to pounce on him like a tiger in the jungle. Then it was Dakota in third and Tim Olson (who is new on the scene and super strong) in fourth. I hit the aid station in fifth and started heading back down. Around mile 16.9 Glenn Tachiyama caught a picture of us coming down the trail with Mt. Rainier in the background and as you can see on my face I was feeling good. Thanks for everything Glenn and good to see you out there as usual! I still felt strong at this point and knew I had a long descent. Here we go!
At this point Scott Jurek and I linked up and "leap-frogged" a couple times before I settled in behind him for a few miles. I joked that I was "drafting the Jerker" and we congratulated other runners as we passed them on the out and back portion of the race. Pam Smith (who was fifth place woman) joked that she thought maybe Scott and I were trading vegan recipes out there on the trail! ;-) When we finally made it to the next aid station at Buck Creek (mile 27) I pushed passed Jurek after grabbing some bananas, potatoes, and gels, and realized that I was in fourth place behind Campbell, Krupicka, and Dakota respectively.
Moments later as I was starting the gradual climb I see a runner in red coming at me down the trail limping on one leg. It was Adam Campbell (who was in first place) explaining to me that his Iliotibial Band was screwed and that he had to drop. I felt for him because I have had that happen to me before...in fact the only race I ever had to DNF was a 50-miler when my leg couldn't bend anymore due to the sharp rubbing pain. So now I moved into 3rd place behind Anton and Dakota and this made me pretty excited.
From approximately miles 27 to 35 I held off Jurek and the rest of the pack up the endless climb to Suntop. I was really proud of the way I tackled this hill. I ran a lot of it and power hiked a good deal as well. I have been feeling really good about the speed that I can power hike. It really is not that much slower than my run going up. I thought about what my buddy Joe Grant told me about this section. He said something along the lines of, "this is where the race could be won."
It was getting hot in some of the exposed sections but I continued to motor up the mountain. As you can see HERE and HERE I was working hard going up the rocky section of trail that seemed to just drag on forever! I said Hi to photographer Glenn Tachiyama again although I wasn't in as good as a mood as I was hours earlier. I kept looking back expecting to see Jurek or some of the other runners but there was nobody in sight. Finally, about a quarter mile from the summit Scott Jurek and Greg Crowther caught me on a switchback and overtook 3rd and 4th place. I told Greg to go after that sub-7 hour that he so methodically had broken down and yearned for over the years.
When I made it to the aid station at the summit ultra running legend David Horton told me that Jurek just left here a minute ago and told me that I was doing great. I had been seeing Horton periodically throughout the day on the course and he would give me words of encouragement along the way. I couldn't believe how well I was running with some of these "big dogs" in the sport. The aid station volunteers told me that I have a 6.6 mile descent and to just stay on the dirt road. Oh boy...this is right up my alley! I took off with a notion that I could catch back up and pass these guys to finish in the top three. I said to myself, "how bad do you want it?!"
As I opened up my stride and pounded down the road I looked at my Garmin to see a 6:20 the first mile! Whoa...I love gravity....especially this late in a race. Miles 2-4 of the 6.6 were pretty much the same... but still nobody. I knew Greg was a fast marathoner and Scott was a world-class ultra runner but I was really turning it on. Then at about the 5 mile mark I caught glimpse of Scott's bright yellow Brooks jersey off in the distance. I continued to reel him in and eventually passed him at the 5.5 mile mark.
Just as I passed him...not even an eighth of a mile past him...I felt my hamstring start to cramp a little. I couldn't hold my pace to stay in 4th and had to slow down a bit dropping back to 5th. I guess I took the downhill a little too ambitiously!
When I rolled into the last aid station at mile 43.4 I was really focused on just holding it all together. I quickly grabbed some food, gels, and caffeine, and made a relatively quick transition. I didn't think catching Scott and/or Greg was out of the question, but I wasn't completely focused on it. I also didn't want my muscles to seize up to the point where I got caught by Olson, Brimhall, Lint, etc. who were relatively close behind. I was simply running this last 10k technical section hard enough to just stay above my threshold of cramping. I definitely slowed down but I was satisfied how I pushed myself consistently retaining my 5th place position. I definitely looked back a few times in fear of being passed with a couple miles to go. The last few miles were so mental for me and I was so ready to be finished!
Finally I came to a sign that said .4 mile to finish...YEAH! I got this! One last look back and I turned the corner into the finish line area to see Tony, Dakota, Scott, Greg all standing around talking and cheering me in. It was such a great feeling! I pumped my fist a couple times to the cheering crowd and crossed the finish in 7:02:57...good for 5th place!
You can see in the video below (by John Wallace III) by the way that I was running that I definitely left it all out on the course....just like I had intended :-) I came in at the 3:10 mark in the video.
Not only was this race potentially the best race that I have run but it is up there with my favorite. Scott McCoubrey and his team of friends and volunteers have this down to a science. Thanks again Scott!...I really appreciate everything and seeing you out on the course and smacking a high five was great :-)
The awards ceremony was awesome and it was fun to be given another USATF medal. Last year I got one from Waldo 100k and this year Scott McCoubrey's son did the honors of putting the medals around our necks.
(Jurek and I getting our "heavy medal"!--photo by John Wallace III)
I carpooled with Amy Sproston who took 2nd female and ran an incredible race, and Pam Smith who, for just placing 10th at Western States 100, ran super strong a finished a tough course in 5th. We had a great ride home and among others represented Team Oregon well!
(Amy Sproston 2nd Female, me 5th, Pam Smith 5th female.--Photo by Ronda Sundermeier)
Another one of my favorite things of this race was the fact that I got to see my friend from Ithaca, NY Nancy Kleinrock. Not only did we serendipitously run into each other in the parking lot before the pasta dinner but we got to hang out before and after the race a bunch. The icing on the cake was that, after having a frustrating year of injuries last year, Nancy raced to a course record for her age group and took home $700. More importantly she ran really well and had a very fun experience out here in the Pacific Northwest! Great seeing you Nancy and good job! :-)