I drove up to Amber’s on Thursday morning bright and early. It took me over 2 weeks to prep my drop bags, nutrition and everything else even though I screwed up a key piece by not putting my socks in my drop bags but just putting them in my crew bag.
I made good time up to Amber’s in Vancover which was about a 2 or so hour drive from the race site. She was packing the RV we had borrowed from a good friend of Amber’s. Elena was helping and I was already feeling pre-race stress.
The drive up to the race site was easy even though the last 45 minutes was on a little 2 lane highway with tons of trucks and as were in the middle of Cascades near Mt. St. Helens. We got to the RV park and hooked up the RV. It was really easy and seemed like the only way to camp.
The day was filled with a course preview, mandatory meeting, medical check and overall check-in. Looking back I should’ve come on Wednesday instead of trying to do it all on Thursday. It really took a mental toll. I wasn’t hydrating or eating well at all during the day. All the activities were finished and I went to the RV to attempt some sleep.
We woke up early to head to the high school for the bus ride up to the base of Mt. St. Helens and the start of an epic run. My crew(Amber & Elena) would follow the buses as just an easy way to get to the start. In just the overall stress of Thursday I didn’t prep my nutrition correctly. I forgot to fill one of my front bottles but I did add an extra 8 ounces to my bladder.
The start was a madhouse as the 40 mile and 100k all were starting before us there. It was just way overcrowded and really felt anti-climatic with all the other folks there for those other races. I guess it’s just the race director trying help her bottom line by reusing permits, resources, etc.
The race started and it was jammed packed but that didn’t matter for me as I was just walking/power hiking all the hills and we basically started going up immediately. Here and there it would flatten a bit and I’d jog before back to the power hike. It wasn’t super steep so it felt fine.
I knew the exposed section with the boulder field was on the list for today but I tried not to think about and not think about the rope climb section either. That is until we got to the boulder field and oh boy. It was just so crazy hard. I was trying to be as careful as possible and pick my way from flag to flag. Everyone else was doing the same but each of us was sortof taking our own routes/steps.
It was just so stressful as one wrong step and you could easily twist your ankle, destroy a knee or even break your leg. I was doing my best to stay on my nutrition schedule and the sun was beating down on us. It was hot.
The first aid station was at 12.2 miles and when I got there it was a MADHOUSE. It was such a small aid station and there were just tons of runners there. I did my best to fill up everything nutrition and water wise but I was still behind on hydration. Ideally, I should’ve drank at least a full 20 oz bottle of water at that aid station. Instead, I just bailed out of there and headed out.
About midway through this 18 mile section, the hydration hit me. I pissed and color was not good. I immediately down some more nutrition and the first water crossing, I filtered 20 oz. I was using chemicals for my filter system so it was a 30 minute delay but all in all it didn’t matter as I was already behind the 8 ball.
I felt hot and started really just walking all the time as I saw folks continue to run the easier flat sections. I had entered survival mode as I was just hoping I’d make it to the aid station. I felt I was getting closer so I willed myself to run some of the flatter sections in the hopes of just getting to the aid station(Windy Ridge) quicker. The last bit was on fire roads as part of an out-n-back. So I was able to get an idea of how far was left by another runner who was coming from the aid station…I got a 2 mile check and knew I could make it.
The plan I was formulating in my head was drink a TON at the aid station and make sure I felt hydrated before leaving.
I arrived at the aid station and immediately filled my pack with the nutrition needed for the next section and then just sat and DRANK. AND DRANK….I consumed probably 50 oz of liquid(mostly water but some coke). I had a piece of watermelon and just relaxed. I stayed probably 2 hours here doing just that or at least it felt that long.
I left the aid station and made my way back down the fire road. I hit the first real flat section of the course and felt AWESOME. I was back to my normal running pace and was gaining on folks all except for this power hiking guy. He was easily power hiking the flats and hills at 15 minute pace. It was AMAZING. I’d only catch and sometimes pass on an easy downhill section.
Little did I know that these 2 sections between the next 2 aid stations would be the EASIEST runnable trail for the whole rest of the course. I was in such a good mood I decided to stop and take a picture.
Over the course of the entire time, I didn’t fall but I came close a couple of times and gouged both shins and both knees but the worst was I hit something coming into the Coldwater aid station in the dark. I grabbed at this bush that was right near the trail to steady myself well it happened to be a sticker like bush. It sliced my hand enough to basically have blood trickling down. I still can seen the slice on my pinky today as I write this. Of all the spots, it was just incredible unlucky. But overall a lot of close calls but no outright fall into the dirt. It probably has more to do with nothing being runnable for the next 130 miles basically.
I got to Coldwater in decent time and never felt like where is this aid station. It was dark but I still felt good. I fueled up and didn’t hang out too long as the next section had one of the more serious hills in the course, Norway Pass.
The first part of the section was pretty flat so still runnable which I tried to do in between some steeper little downhill/uphill. Then all of sudden it just pitches right up at like 20% easy. I immediately stop and unhook my trekking poles from my pack. It’s just a slog and it’s never-ending. It had to be at least 2+ hours of climbing non-stop until this little super steep out-n-back section. The other part was we were basically in a cloud the whole time so it wasn’t that easy to see with the headlamp.
The cloud/fog made navigation a bit difficult as well as just running for any length of time. The terrain was good but I could see enough to risk it plus I was feeling a bit tired. The endless descent just kept going and going plus there were tight spaces. This would be real first scary section of hiking on an 18″ trail right next to a major drop off and the cliff wall right next to you. I’m glad it was night but still scary so I took it slow. I was overtook by another runner who was using a flashlight. I mentioned it was hard to see and she said that the flashlight was helping. I immediately took off my headlamp and starting holding it at my waist and I could see better. I started to try to run certain sections like this just to be done for the day.
The goal was the first major rest/sleep would be happening at Norway Pass aid station plus I would meet my crew Elena & Amber there as well with some new clothes, real food fuel(cold pizza), etc.
Also the first “where the hell is the AID STATION?!?!” started on this last section, I mean it just went and went. I was sure it would be just up ahead but NO. I swear it was easily 2+ hours of descending total but finally I got to the aid station and was able to sit down.
Elena and Amber were there and it was super efficient. I had gone over everything prior to the race so they were like a pit crew. They grabbed my phone and watch for recharging, my headlamp for battery replacement, had my pizza, and replaced my nutrition plus made sure to ask certain questions like do I need extra batteries in my bag for my headlamp. I wasn’t totally out of it so I was able to follow along easily.
I probably sat for a bit too long but finally I got up and walked to the car in an attempt to get some sleep. It was perfect conditions, warm and quiet but I just couldn’t sleep. I vaguely got a solid 10 minutes but the rest was just laying. I decided this wasn’t working so I got up and proceeded to get ready for Day #2..