Waldo 100k 2017
It had been since 2010 that I laced up racing shoes for Waldo 100k. I was excited to back on the “easy” side of this race, after helping Craig and Laurie race direct for the past 6 years. Waldo is the race that cemented my desire to entirely embrace this sport and look to running 100 milers. It is a beautiful, well planned, well organized course that makes sense, is challenging in a way that makes one dig deep and feel a sense of gratitude for the earth we live on and the opportunity to test oneself in an era of “easy is better”.
Since Western States I had taken a bit of time to recover, then built the miles back up, but not much specificity. I planned on riding the coat tails of my spring training, and hoped to break 11 hours, which I’ve only done twice before. I like to aim high. I studied the entrants list and with Camilia Mayfield and Gina Slaby in the line up, I predicted I could be top 3, although with ultras, there are sometimes surprise quick runners coming in off the radar, including my own athlete, Rachel Kelly from North Carolina.
Race morning, I was up at 3:00, devouring eggs, rice, avocado and coffee. I had luxuriated in a hotel so I could possibly get some quiet sleep. After the drive to the race start, I warmed up, did some strides and stretches, and socialized with my many Oregon and California friends. A few minutes before 5, we were at the start line, where I saw and introduced myself to Gina. I encouraged all the runners to actually move up to the start line, as for some reason shyness makes everyone stand way back. New RD James Varner said a few words, then a countdown, and off we went. Camelia slid past right away, and into the dusty dark we all began the first grind up the ski road.
In the dark I didn’t really see anyone, but I ran for a bit with one of my Auburn buddies, Bryan “Slackline” Twardus. It was his second time here, and he was very enthusiastic, looking forward to the day. We hung for awhile, hiking and jogging. I realized that I was hiking more than running and that my legs felt a little less than fresh, but chocked it up to just needing to warm up.
Summiting the first climb, I happily stretched out my legs and started cruising down the still dark single track. My light seemed dimmer than I remembered, so I kept fiddling with the settings until I remembered I had my yellow tinted sunglasses on. Once I removed them, I was able to cruise along more comfortably. I had a small train of 2-3 runners behind me, running in relative silence, but definitely engaged with my pacing. Dawn was arriving, and before the first aid station I was able to turn off my light. Finally, at aid 1, Gold Lake, I dropped my light in a box, filled my bottle with water, and headed out. My split was a few minutes slow, but whatever – I felt good and controlled.
There were already spectators along the way, braving the early and cool morning, supporting their persons, but cheering for everyone. I now began the next big ascent to Mt Fuji, jogging slowly and efficiently on the many steep climbs, with my small train still in tow. Mother Nature finally had me step off the trail to relieve myself and I saw 2 men and one woman slide by. I jumped back on the trail, and kept grinding away, catching and passing the woman, while reminding myself that it is too early to be racing or being concerned about place, and stayed relaxed.
Fuji aid station was bustling with early starters and regular starters beginning to converge, but it was nice to hear the aid station captain Steve Northrup’s voice as I ran through to continue to the dogleg section up to the summit. My split here was also a little slow. I still had one runner from the train on my tail and we conversed a bit – turns out it was his first ultra, and he was from Massachusetts – a relatively flat and low elevation area – so he was doing his best to run smart.
Here I was looking for the top females to come down from the top of Fuji, and the closer I got to the top, the better I felt about not being gapped too much already. Finally, Camilia came into view and we exchanged encouragements, and a few minutes later, Gina appeared. I summited Fuji as the 3rd female, somewhat according to expectations, and tip toed back down the rocky terrain, with my Massachusetts friend in tow.
Coming back to the Fuji aid station, I started encountering many friends plus athletes I coach, Laura Matz, Kim White, Rachel Kelly, Michael Acer, Lee McKinley, Bryan Twardus, Diana Fitzpatrick, Lefty (Austin) Twietmeyer, Scott Vosburg – everyone still relatively fresh and full of hope, myself included. I stopped and filled my bottle, then cruised out.
Up until now, I hadn’t felt great. But as I started to hit more and more descents down to the Mt Ray aid station, I started to gain some momentum and feel some real joyful running. Ah ha, I thought – now I’ll start making up some of the time, or at least not continue to make slower and slower splits! Massachusetts was behind me again, and as we cruised into Mt Ray aid station, his son and wife greeted him with wonderful enthusiasm. As I crossed the road, I spied Tim Fitzpatrick and Tim Twietmeyer, who were ready to crew me. Twiet teased that I must not be running hard enough since I didn’t have any blood running down my legs. I told him I had seen Lefty who was looking good and happy, and told Fitzie that Diana looked great as well. I moved on out, aware that I was still slipping behind my desired splits, but working as hard as was smart.
From this point (mile 20) to Charleton (mile 32) involves a lot of subtle uphill grinding. At 5000 ft elevation, the altitude isn’t all that bad, but it is enough if you’re not used to it. I jogged along, catching a few men, a few early starters, and generally “getting it done”. I got to the Twins Aid Station, mile 26ish, happy to be served by all those great volunteers who had been here year after year. I hustled out, and was reminded that even though eventually the course descends to Charleton Lake, there was still plenty of grinding uphill. Massachusetts had finally decided to push his pace and left me, and now I was pretty much on my own, which at some level in races, I welcome.
Arriving into Charleton Lake aid station, I was greeted with cheers. Aid station captain and good Oregon friend Dennis Gamroth ran towards me, took my bottle and asked what I needed. As he was filling my bottle with cold water, Tim and Tim let me know they were ready to aid me. I dropped my trash on the ground for Twiet, grabbed two bottles and some Huma gel from Fitzie. They were encouraging when I asked if the first women were hours ahead of me. “No, they are only 10-15 minutes ahead! You look great!” Well, I am known for keeping it together on the outside, even if I crumble a bit inside. Full of new enthusiasm, I whooshed out and headed off to the next section which was the flattest bit of the course. I encountered a couple of early starters, but other than that, it was very isolated all the way to the next aid station on road 4290.
I had my bottles filled, asked no questions about other women coming through, and thanked the volunteers for being there. They in turn thanked me for being there, as they would feel quite silly showing up if there were no runners. With that bit of humor, I made my way onto the longest, most isolated, remote section of the course. The years between last time I raced until now, had dulled my memory of the details of this section. By and large, it was filled with big old Western Hemlock, shaded single track, and a feeling or remoteness. Some bits took a seeming eternity, others popped up to my surprise. I passed a couple of early starters, took one dirt dive (so much for a no-fall-August) and gradually made my way up to the saddle of the Twins, and began the much longer than I remembered descent to the aid station along the twisting and rocky single track.
Again, I was greeted with great joviality, filled my bottles, ate some fruit, and began the lovely descent on the PCT that I had previously grinded up. I had made up zero time anywhere, but felt good in my effort and my energy. After 4 miles of downhill and flat running, the ascent to the Maiden Peak aid station began. Walking, jogging, walking, I eventually caught site of a very young volunteer peering down the trail. As soon as she saw me, she sprinted hard ahead, to let the aid station know a runner was coming. I admired and envied her speed and energy.
Carey Miller, a many time finisher of Waldo, was there and offered to help me out. I had my bottles filled, and grazed on the melons and bananas. “I think I am comfortably in 3rd place” I ventured to guess, to which one volunteer responded “well, you can’t win every time!” We all laughed over that, and I left, feeling glad that I had finally made it to the last major climb up Maiden Peak, which meant I could walk.
Hiking up the steep bits, jogging the flatter bits, I reveled in my return to this course. Eventually the climbs got steeper, and my reveling became a little less joyful. When the inclines began excluding any attempts at switchbacks, I thought each hard bit must be the last. But they went on and on. At this point I finally recognized, that with this course, and any course for that matter, training on it really matters. It had been 7 years since I trained for Waldo on Waldo, and I now appreciated what an advantage that is. All of the climbs were harder than I remembered, but this one really cemented that fact.
As all things do, it passed, and I was at the saddle of Maiden, greeted by long time friend and awesome runner, Liz Kellog. She sent me up the rest of the way with the ring of a cowbell, to her wife Kamm at the summit. A hug to Kamm and down the treacherous rocky crap back to Liz, thankful to get there in one piece, and a hug to Liz before I headed down “Leap of Faith” trail. Which really is. I picked my way through it with fatigued legs, desperately wanting to stay upright. Down the scree field and onto runnable single track, I blasted down to the final aid station – Maiden Lake.
Craig and Scott Wolfe, Mr. D (Bob Dickenson) dressed as a Merman, and James Oliphant, a many time finisher of Waldo, were excited to see me. While Craig tried to get me to drink almond milk from a watermelon rind (uh, no, I’ve known these guys too long), James took my bottles and replenished them, and then doused my head with a sponge to get me cooled off. Craig went over the list of runners that had come thru, and it appeared there was no point in digging in too deep as Camelia and Gina were pretty much out of reach. Scott was chanting “Double dippa! Double dippa!” referring to the fact I would double dip in the prize money if I kept my position. “I haven’t finished yet!” was my reply.
I shuffled out on the rolling section that led to the PCT. I looked back fondly on my 2010 run, being paced by the famous John Ticer. We really rolled through this section, as I was looking over my shoulder for the second place gal. This time – I just wanted to keep moving best I could and hope I didn’t get caught.
Finally reaching the PCT, I was able to run well on the downs, and really slowed on the flats. The lakes were beautiful and inviting, but all I wanted to do was get to the finish. Hikers and families were enjoying themselves, and probably wondering what the heck was going on with all these crazy runners.
Soon, I could hear cars on highway 58. This meant at least another 20 minutes. The more descending there was, the faster I could go. With a couple of miles to go I was flying through the beautiful old growth forest along the PCT. Not knowing exactly where I was allowed me to push even harder, and finally I hit the last turn to the finish. I made as straight a line as possible to the finish for 3rd behind Camilia and Gina, and rejoiced in my slowest time ever on this course – 11:40. I didn’t care, and oddly to this day, I still don’t. Again, I now value the importance of training on a course – the specificity is vital. Because surely, being 56 has nothing to with my slower time….
I owe a debt of gratitude to Craig and Laurie Thornley and the entire Willamette Ski Patrol and Back Country Ski Patrol and the many repeat volunteers for their dedication to this event and for the support they all gave me while I transitioned from runner to race director and back to runner. It was so much easier to be back on the running side of the table, but I wouldn’t change the experience if I had to do all over again.
And a special thanks to Mark, for looking after our animals while I was playing on the trails.