Finishing the White River 50 mile race with George Orozco, I felt pretty good. I had no hesitation about turning around and running it in reverse. But after a short rest and getting going again with Jess Mullen and Patrick Ackley to keep me company, a searing pain in my ribs took my breath away and worried me about my ability to finish what I was setting out to do. But let's back up a little.
After completing the Issaquah 100 just 3 weeks earlier, I continued my intense training runs on the Wonderland trail and trails around White River. There was not much resting. One week before White River, I did a 50K run on the Wonderland with almost 10,000 feet of elevation gain. This was followed by a very stressful week at work, poor sleep, a 12 hour work day the Friday before White River, and a restless night sleep. I started to feel the fatigue early on in the race and my legs were dead even before getting to Ranger Creek on the way out. I did sabotage my own race by surging past people on the early trails. I was disappointed there was no early start this year. I wanted to use that opportunity to run my own race and conserve my energy for the long haul. As a result, I felt boxed in and needed to either fall back or run ahead. I made the mistake of running ahead and soon found myself being passed by the same people I left behind just a short time earlier.
My muscles were twitching and I decided to really slow down after the Corral Pass aid station. I saw a whole bunch of people disappear out of view and hoped that I would eventually see them again. I didn't drink enough heading to Corral Pass and found myself dehydrated. I then overdrank to the point where I was peeing clear frequently and had to back off on the fluids and just rinse my mouth. I finally got my body back to where it needed to be on the run down Ranger Creek trail to Buck Creek, but still let people pass me because every time I tried to push it, the cramping would return. I didn't want a repeat of my race two years ago when I ran about 12:30 and had to do a lot of slow walking. I knew I was not as fit as last year's sub-10, so I just let go of any particular finishing time. It was all about listening to my body, especially since I planned on doing it all over again.
George and I hashed out the idea of running White River in reverse after the race last year on our training runs. But he had to back out a week before because his wife got a job and he needed to watch the kids on the Sunday following the race. Fortunately, I had enlisted the help of Pat Ackley and Jess Mullen. Pat has been the Buck Creek Aid Station Captain for the last 5 years and saw me come through Buck Creek. It was great seeing him. I was helped by Everett Billingslea, Marty Fagan, and Chris Fagan there also. Chris and Marty are doing a 40 day unsupported expedition from the Antarctic Coast to the South Pole at the end of the year pulling sleds. They are quite an inspiration! Jess had run 47 miles the day before on the White River course and was tired from that effort but was really looking forward to running at night with us!
I left Buck Creek in good spirits even though it took me 6 hours to get there. I knew that the second half would take at least 5 hours and again let go of the idea of trying to finish under 11 hours. I was surprised to find myself running that stretch along the river, hopping over the roots. I started to catch some of the people who passed me earlier. It was a great boost. I was able to strongly power hike up the climbs to Fawn Ridge and Sun Top, passing over a dozen people on the way. I caught up to George, who was having a flare of his plantar fasciitis. I knew he would catch me on the road down to Skookum. At Sun Top, I greeted Glenn Tachiyama in his usual spot and paused for a picture. The view of Mt. Rainier up here was spectacular. I got a cold bath from a wet sponge from one of the volunteers.
I made my way down the road. I didn't try to make up time here. I just ran a relaxed pace. I passed as many people here as passed me. At the bottom of the hill and after turning right on the flattish section to Skookum, George caught me as expected. We ran together from there until the finish. We passed at least 20 people on Skookum. He led at first but then I took over. I really like this part of the trail, dancing around the roots and rocks. George had no trouble keeping up.
Photo by Takao Suzuki
It was during this stretch that the water bottle on the left side of my pack started digging into my ribs. I was wearing the Ultimate pack and should have adjusted something so that it would stop digging in, but I figured we were almost done and as soon as I took it off and wore another pack, the pain would go away. I was wrong. I have had this problem before but not as severe and not followed by another 50 miles. During this last stretch of Skookum, I had passed nearly everyone that I was running with around Corral Pass, so I met my goal of finishing in that pack.
George and I finished holding hands to the cheers of many friends in 11:11. It was very special. George and I have run countless miles together but have never finished together. Jess and Pat were at the finish ready to go any time. My husband Ken helped me get ready for the next 50 miles. I changed my sports bra and shirt but left everything else the same. My feet did not have any hot spots, so I kept my current shoes. I sat and had my eggroll noodle dinner. I spent about 45 minutes at the finish before heading out. I was planning on wearing my Saloman pack for the rest of the run. We would be back at the cars again in 23 miles or so to reload for the last 27.
The three of us started running the course in reverse from the finish line to the cheers of the crowd. That pain in my rib did not bother me as I was walking around the finish area but as soon as I started running, it felt like someone was sticking a sharp knife into me. Even though I was smiling and waving to everyone, I was completely miserable. Scott McCoubrey stopped me and wished me well but as soon as I started running again, that pain returned.
This worried me greatly because it was a 8/10 pain. I knew it wasn't a cracked rib because I didn't fall. So I figured it was safe to continue, it was just going to hurt. I had to move my water bottle on the left side to a pocket in my pack and hold the pack away from my left ribs to continue running. Even so, every step hurt. The only time when the pain backed off was when I was hiking uphill and there was no bouncing or jostling. The rest of the time until I finished, it hurt.
Holing the pack away from my body and leaning in certain directions wasted a lot of energy and I had a hard time keeping up my calories. Still, I forced myself to eat. We saw about 50 people still finishing as we headed back out on Skookum. Running this direction was a blast-downstream. Jess and Pat were telling people how far they still had until the finish and many were grateful to hear less than a mile or less than two miles. Beyond two miles, it was still good to hear, but there was still work to be done. Most people were in good spirits. We saw Arianna, Jess' friend, who was 2 miles from the finish and happy with tears to know she was close. It's easy to lose track of how far you've traveled on that trail.
We finally saw the sweepers, with Matt Hagen being the very last of the sweepers. We were nearing the end of Skookum and it took us about 1:40 to get through it, stopping to cheer all the runners on. Next was the dreaded road up to Sun Top. If you think that road is never ending running down, just imagine how bad it can be going up. It was far steeper than I expected after that flat section. I was able to unstrap my lower strap on the hike up and give my ribs a little bit of space. It took us another 2:20 to get to Sun Top, or 4 hours from the finish. Absolutely crawling. The only thing that made it better was the amazing view of Mt. Rainier in the dusk. So majestic! I had stashed water up here earlier in the week and we reloaded. It was dark now.
The short run down from Sun Top were on very technical trails. Fortunately, it was brief and after crossing the road twice, we hit the stretch of up that was such a nice section of down hill running the other way. That was the hardest thing about going backwards. Going up when normally you are going down was torture. Even the nice down hill running where normally you are going up did not seem to make up for it.
On the down hills, I would keep my lower strap undone also. When I added water weight to my pack, it did not shift as much and I was able to run without holding the pack away from my ribs and run as relaxed as possible. The pain would persist, but at times it was manageable. I had sucked in a lot of dust during the day and it was much more apparent in my headlamp. My breathing was becoming quite labored on the steep climbs. In the dark, it was very hard to see the contours in the trail since the white dirt/sand really became washed out with the light of the headlamp shining down on it. I could have taken out my hand held, but one hand was already being used to hold the pack away from me. So I just really had to slow down.
We made it back to Buck Creek about 6 hours after we had left. Everyone reloaded and adjusted whatever needed to be adjusted. It was getting chilly now and I needed my arm warmers, gloves, and hat. I had my shell too, but they all came off immediately after we started climbing up to Ranger Creek. I had hike this trail earlier in the week on Tuesday to stash our water. It took Tracy Brown and I 1:40 to get to the top at a nice casual pace. It took us 2 hours in the dark and after 63 miles. I was able to lead this entire climb. Next thing Jess and I know, we lost Pat. He approached us sleepily and apologized that he was having trouble staying awake. He had just taken a caffeinated gel and hoped that it would soon kick in. He was able to stay with us for about a mile but then we lost him again. We decided to wait for him at the shelter up at Ranger Creek. I got our stashed water, changed my socks, and ate some food. Pat showed up looking even more sleepy. Jess and I suggested he hike back down and get some sleep. He was disappointed that he couldn't continue with us but did not want to hold us back. I told him he was totally fine and thanked him for keeping us company for 28 miles.
I led us up a mile to the next trail junction and then Jess took over. She was moving well and I was trying to keep up with her but finally asked her to take it down a notch because I would not be able to keep up that pace. The wind was blowing up there and I got cold. I got behind on my calories again and was struggling to move faster. Jess noticed this but was very patient with me. My stomach was growling ferociously and any calories that I ate rapidly dissapated, forcing me to eat rather constantly, and you all know how annoying that is. My rib pain continued to drain my energy.
On our way back from Corral Pass, it was starting to get light and we had the most incredible sunrise view of Mt. Rainer. Although we didn't see the sun, it's reflection on the mountain was magical. Jess suggested I take the lead since I moved faster when I was ahead. She was right. We made good time from Ranger Creek to the stairs in the Palisades I thought. From there, she led until we hit Hwy 410. Again, she was hopping along and I did the best I could to stay with her. The roots and rocks were crazy, so much harder on tired legs and mind. At least it was light again and we were able to pick up the pace.
So, now only 2 more miles along the river and down the airstrip. A couple runners who had spent the night and were packing up to go home clapped for us as we ran by on the airstrip. Otherwise, everyone else had gone. We ran to the sanicans as the finish and did a high five. After a quick clean up of our dusty feet, face, and legs and getting some clean clothes on, Jess and I tried to take a quick nap in our cars. No use. Feet were aching too much after removing the shoes. So we drove to Wapiti Woolies and had some coffee, Jess a hot mocha, me a mocha shake. Again we tried to sleep in the parking lot there, but I tapped on Jess' window and told her I wanted to get into cell phone range so that I could call Ken and let him know we were fine.
She followed behind me on the 20 minute drive towards Enumclaw and could see that I was struggling to stay awake. I didn't fall asleep but was weaving a little. At the first light that we got to, I pulled over and told her that I was going to call Ken and close my eyes for 5 minutes before driving the remainder of the 30 minutes left to my house. I told her I would be fine and she should head home. She was wide awake. I was glad, since she had farther to go.
I got home, showered, ate, and took a quick nap. We ate dinner at Cliff and Mary's house (Ken's brother) and listened to their WR experience. Cliff PR'd in 9:05 and Mary finished her first 50 mile in 11:25. Both took 3rd in their age groups and got a framed Glenn Tachiyama picture of them running on the course.
I looked at my left ribs in the mirror that night. There was no bruising but when I lifted my arms, you could see my ribs on the right but not on the left. There was a lot of swelling over the ribs. Over the next few days, the swelling and pain improved but there was some creaking in that area. I think I developed a bursitis from the rubbing of the water bottle. The best I can relate it to is a creaking Achilles tendonitis or when I tie my shoes too tight and get a swollen anterior tibialis tendon sheath that causes creaking. I am forced to rest anyway with a call weekend coming up and all my aches and pains should subside. My IT band at the hip was really bothering me after Issy Alps 100 but with icing and stretching did not bother me at WR thank goodness. I am on the mend! I need to look into purchasing Saloman soft bottles, but heard they are on backorder.
So if you are considering doing a double WR next year, it's pretty tough. I think things could have gone better if my rib didn't hurt as much. The second 50 just takes a lot longer because of fatigue and difficulty on the technical trails at night. (My first 50 was 11:11 and the second 50 was 15:30 with separate additional time for breaks.) The weather was perfect and I'm glad I did it. I won't be doing the double next year because it will be my 10th White River and I want to be there for the post race festivities!