White River 50
With Western States and my pacing duties at Hardrock fresh in my memory, I headed up to Washington’s Mt Rainier for Scott McCoubrey’s beautiful singletrack 50 mile race. It was my fourth time here, and I was feeling ready to go after the elusive sub-8:00 finish, having gotten as close as 8:10 three years before. I wasn’t sure if I was completely recovered, but didn’t feel particularly tired. At not-precisely 7:00 (Scott graciously waited for the last person to exit the porta-johns to set us off) the field of 200+ runners were on their way towards the first long ascent. I fell in behind Phil Kochik and Amy Sproston for the first mile of twisty single track, and eventually was nipping their heels. Only a couple of miles into the race, I went around Amy, feeling spry along the mostly flat section through the first aid station.
And then the climbing started. So far so good, I thought. I’m working hard, but moving well enough, and running most of it. Then it occurred to me that I was beginning to accrue a bit of a train behind me. I held my own when if flattened out, but I was definitely in the way on the climbs. I stepped aside letting a group, including Amy and young Ashley Arnold pass by. My heart rate was a bit high trying to keep ahead, so I backed off the effort and let the train gap me. The climb seemed never ending, the openings out from the woods into the open views of Mt Rainier were more numerous than I remembered. I had now become isolated in the massive woods, but the solitude was convenient for jumping off the trail to answer nature’s call. Afterward, I cruised into the next water only aid station and blew through. There was no freely given data on how far ahead Amy and Ashley were, so I gathered it was more than a minute or two. There was yet more climbing before the beginning of the lollypop loop that would indicate the end of the first climb, and I was happy to at least get to this loop before I ran into the gals on their way back. I asked at the aid station volunteers how far ahead they were. To my surprise, Ashley was ahead of Amy, and Amy was only a few minutes ahead of me.
This lollypop loop was new from 3 years ago, and involved an additional 200 feet of gain – which doesn’t sound like much, but I felt it. When all the uphill finally turned to downhill, I began to unfold and cruise downhill, back to the minimal aid station, then onto the long switchback section. The field was very spread out, but I had the company of a runner, Ian from Seattle, and we chatted our way back down to the start finish area, 26 miles into the race. I was still hoping to run a sub-8:00, and continued to do math on what the odds were. Well, I was well over 4 hours, so unless I had a phenomenal second half, it didn’t seem likely. I pulled into the aid station where I was told I was second female. What? I looked up and saw Amy standing behind the table. She was done for the day, leaving me to pursue Ashley on my own. I refueled, and scooted out, and actually was feeling pretty good.
Joining me was another 52 year old, and we chatted for quite a long time as we climbed the long, steady grind to the next aid station. We started to catch some of the young men who had been a bit ambitious in the first half, and eventually my companion also dropped off. As I got to aid station I learned that Ashley had left only 5 minutes ago and was nursing a sore ankle. Being that close to her got me out of the aid station quickly and with a bit more purpose. My eyes kept straining through the dark forest for any sign of her. Mountain bikers came toward me, one of them telling me she was just up ahead. In my eagerness, I did a nice face plant, swearing at myself for being careless.
On and on I strained, waiting for her to come back to me. I reached the last grinding climb up to Suntop, where Glenn Tachiyama was in his usual place taking pictures. I asked him how far ahead she was, and he said she had already left the aid station. Once there, I was cooled off with sponges, ate some water melon, and asked when she left. “About 8 minutes ago!” Ah – well I guessed her ankle was under control and she was still moving well. Every time I checked my watch I was further from my goal and getting out of reach of my fastest time, but with 6+ miles of gravel road, downhill, I cranked up the pace. Down, down, and down some more, still looking ahead for a sign of Ashley. At the bottom of the descent, the road continues another half mile before the last aid station. I quickly went from sub 7 minute pace to over 8 minute miles, and felt like I was running in deep sand. I fought my way in, asked where Ashley was, and when I heard she was only 3 minutes ahead, I downed a couple of cups of coke, stated “I gotta go!” and blew out of there. I had 6 miles to try to reel her in, but my mind was way ahead of my body. There was little response from my legs, and exhaustion became the ruler of the mind. I made myself stop looking at my watch as I already knew I would be WAY over 8 hours, and I didn’t want to check so often that the Garmin distance would seem unchanged.
Slogging along I began to wonder if any women would catch me in this laborious section. I had to admit to myself that the previous month of racing and pacing had made its mark – since I am still unwilling to admit my age has anything to do with a slower race. Nothing really to do but keep jogging. Eventually someone’s footsteps became audible, and a male runner overtook me. We concurred that there was maybe only a half mile left, and sure enough, we were soon on the last stretch of gravel road to take us into the finish.
I crossed the finish line in 8:37 to Ashley’s 8:28 – not my slowest time, but I wasn’t too excited about it. Scott greeted me warmly, pleased with my performance, reminding me what I had done the last month. I spent the next several hours socializing, greeting other runners, and enjoying the great food and nice weather the graced us.
White River is a great event – well established, old school, good aid stations, awesome volunteers, amazing single track and spectacular views. Big thanks to Scott McCoubrey, Scott-sports, Injinji, and Ian Torrence for yet another rich experience!