Monday, October 10, 2016

Deluge 120

I think Candice should just rename the race. Two years, two torrential rain weekends. I paced my friend Tracy Brown last year in slightly worse conditions. But I wanted to run it this weekend and thought it can't be that bad again. Wow, was I wrong. Tracy signed up again and got further this year but decided to stop without regrets.

Carpooled down to Mt. St. Helens with Dave Molenaar from Olympia Friday morning. Got our drop bags there and stood in the rain for the race briefing. Then a two hour ride in a charter bus that had a bathroom in the rear to the race start. Fortunately was able to sleep for about 45 minutes, the last time I would sleep for next 2 days.

The rained stopped for the race start at 4 pm. It's always nice to start a race dry. It's okay if it comes later. The first 2.5 miles are uphill. So we all heated up right away and layers came off quickly. I sensed that we were all starting out too fast, so scaled it way back and got to say hi to a bunch of people I knew as I was passed. When I warmed up properly, I was able to pick up the pace again. Saw Howie Stern for the first photo op. I met a really nice girl named Heather from New Jersey and we ran together for a few miles, but with darkness descending, we got separated when I stopped to put on my headlamp. I went back and forth with her but the last time I saw her was on the short steep climbs in the Quartz Creek trails before the Lewis River aid at about 20 miles. It did rain during these miles, but we were in the woods, so not a problem at that time. It was the wet and muddy steep dirt bike trails that got our attention. My tip to runners for night running is to use a waist lamp or a hand held light. You can travel much faster being able to see all the rocks, roots, and puddles with a light down low. I wasn't needing poles yet and I prefer a hand held. I learned this years ago when I got almost hypothermic moving too slow to keep my body temperature up because I couldn't run the downhills and became chilled.

A bunch of great, wide eyed volunteers in the middle of the night at Lewis River, including Mr. 200 himself, Rick Arikado, who has finished all of Candice's 200 mile races. I was in and out, still warm, didn't need to sit, eat much, or change clothes. I estimated 5-6 hours to get there and I think I got there just past 5.5 hours. After I left the aid, I caught up with Matt Hagen. He was chipper as usual, and I was already becoming grumpy because I had a knot in my low back and a pain in my ass that put a hitch in my stride, but I continued running to try to loosen it up. He did all the talking and I just grunted. I pulled ahead on the flats and downhill, but when we got to the 4.5 mile climb up coarse bike trails, I had to scale down again because I was working too hard and wanted to conserve energy. Matt is a strong hiker and passed me back early in the climb.

Having run the 200 and now doing the same trails in the opposite direction in the dark was really playing with my head. I recognized some of the trails but mostly not. And they were taking longer than expected. So right away, the race was already taxing my mental strength, which I really needed much more later. The last mile before the Road 9327 aid is a nice section of running. I caught Matt again and we came to the aid about the same time. This time, we were greeted by Bigfoot 200 2016 winner Richard Kresser. Max Bliss was also there. Brandon Lott helped me with my drop bag and getting food for me. And Howie Stern was there to capture how we still looked at 28.8 miles. My clothes were wet, so I decided to change my shirt, hat, and gloves because it was important to me to stay as dry as possible as long as possible, even if I wasn't chilled yet. So that's my next tip. In a race this long, with a forecast that is foreboding and the possibility that it can worsen in the next few hours, might as well start dry leaving the aid station. I didn't change my lower clothes all race, but I changed the upper, hat, and gloves several times. It does not take up a lot of room in a drop bag, just make sure you put it in a plastic bag to stay dry.

I knew leaving the Road 9327 aid that we would have a short runnable section then a 5 mile climb. It started to rain more during this section and I started to get cold. I put on my OR Helium II jacket. That helped a lot. However, as we got higher and higher and the wind picked up, I got cold again. This was a 15 mile section, so no aid for another ten miles. In addition to a waterproof jacket and pants, I carry a poncho-tip #3. Or even a large garbage bag. I like the ponchos from Marathon and Beyond since they are thicker than some of the cheap ones. I put that on and felt better. I didn't want to bother with my rain pants, but I was not cold down low. I started with the poncho over my pack, but it flapped too much, so I recommend you have it under your pack, which allows you better access to your food, etc. I was passed by several runners at this time, including Dave. That was the last I saw of him for the rest of the race, figuring he kept pulling further ahead of me as I fought my own demons. I caught Matt again, but this time, he was helping Iris Priebe, who was very cold, and stuck with her until Elk Pass at mile 43, reminding her to eat. She looked like she had all the clothes on that she was carrying in her pack and a poncho and was still cold. I don't know if it was the reason she was really cold, but Iris was wearing capris, and with it being wet, I wonder if that was contributing. All I know is that I was planning on just capris at the start, then changed my mind when Candice said at the briefing that we were going to get wet from the brush even if it was not raining. So I donned compression calf sleeves at the last minute. So glad I did.

It was at Elk Pass that the miles and weather started to take it's toll on runners. Runners now sitting in front of heaters, covered in blankets, rethinking their choices. Here comes Tip #4. Carry and eat something substantial BEFORE you get to the aid station so that when you arrive, you have some calories in you before you stop running and start shaking. This pre-load in calories will keep you warm. I ate a small burrito on the final miles before the aid and didn't get chilled when I changed again here. You still should eat more food at the aid station, because believe me, you are still behind on calories. I had a Sierra Design shell and put that on under my Helium II and was nice and toasty again. I rolled up my poncho and attached it to the side of my pack, in case I needed it again. Matt and Iris arrived as I was about to leave. He got her there safely and decided to stick around until Betsy arrived for her 100K start. Iris decided to take a 15 minute nap. Both later finished their long 120 mile journey!

I left there at about 5:30 am, still dark. This section in the first 1/3 is nice with smoother trails, many of it runnable. There are some short hills, but overall you descend to a road before doing the next part that is more taxing. It was now light. The trail from this point on is a mix of ups, downs, and flats, but you cannot get a good rhythm because of downed trees and branches hanging over the trail. So expect this section to take longer than you think and burning more energy. I actually only encountered one other runner in this section and worked hard to get to Norway Pass before the first 100K runner. I was feeling proud of myself for doing that until I heard their bus was going the wrong direction and had to turn around on a narrow road. They got started closer to 8 am than 7 am. I was also starting to have pain in my pinky toes from my feet swelling. They were rubbing the side of my shoes and my toenails were getting jammed. So my downhill running became more painful and slower.

At Norway mile 55, I again changed shirt, hat, and gloves. I also changed my rain coat. Although waterproof, these jackets still get damp. You get wet on the outside, and sweat on the inside. Tip #5. In a race this long with heavy rain in the forecast, have more than one raincoat if you can afford it. I have been running ultras for over 12 years and have accumulated gear over the years. I now switched to my Mountain Hardware rain jacket. I decided to put on my REI rain pants figuring it was going to get windy and cold as we climbed up the trail. I also changed into new socks, shoes with a bigger toe box, taped my little toes, and new gaiters. My feet felt much better. But, the biggest thing that happened here is that I picked up my pacer Kris Ryding. She was going to travel 65 miles with me to the end! I spent too much time there and didn't leave until around 9-10 am.

Of course, as we climbed up, the sun decided to make a brief appearance and I overheated immediately. I shed my layers one at a time, but would have saved more time if I just did it all at once. We got some brief views, mainly of Spirit Lake. Not too long on the climb, I was passed by the first 100K runner. They continued to trickle through, spread out enough that I was not constantly having to step to the side. They were all nice and said great job! Hat and gloves came on and off during this section, but at one point, I got cold again. Jacket back on until we descended out of the wind. Remember, eat real food! I now had to stop to eat, instead of eating while walking because it was just easier to chew and swallow. I can eat a gel on the run or walk, but this far into the race, better for me to stop to eat. For the most part, the rain stopped during this time and the wind was not horrible here yet. Again saw Howie for a photo with Coldwater Lake in the back drop and he was kind enough to pick a spot where we were actually running. My asthma was starting to kick in so I was only running the down and flats, not any of the hills.

Kris and I arrived at Coldwater mile 74 in the mid afternoon. This is where I changed my pack from the original Salomon 12L pack to the Peter Bawkin 3.0. It was nice to have different areas rub. I went to turn off my SPOT and turn it back on but got distracted and forgot to do that, so on the Livetracker everyone thought I dropped. My poor husband did not find out until a few hours after I finished that I was okay. In my new pack, I had a new waterproof jacket, my Patagonia Torrentshell. I also had a very fine North Face hoody that I got from Pine to Palm 100. New gloves and dishwasher gloves to keep them dry in case the rain returned. Two people really stood out in helping me when they were there to help other runners. Thanks Jennifer Hughes and Scott Hodukavich! It was nice to see Matt catch up and I fully expected to see him again before the finish but he had a problem with his zipper on the Plains of Abraham. Some kind runner with their pacer helped him out and he survived. Having helped Iris, he had good karma come back to him. I had half a hamburger and cup a noodle. Used the bathroom and continued on my way. Kris drained a blister and taped it, so she was good to go again also! It was great seeing Peggy Boisvert for the first time too. She is such a big part of Candice's races as Volunteer Coordinator, so it was nice to see her being taken care of.

The next section had some decent running. We got a chance to see most of Mt. St. Helens before the fog swallowed it up. I was mostly surrounded by 100K runners. Nice to see that I was not the only one walking the mild hills. The steep hills really taxed my asthma. I used my inhaler, but the cold air continued to make it worse. During the 200, this section takes little time to run, but going this direction further into the race was very hard. I kept thinking the aid was closer than it was and even though this was the shortest distance between aid, I was getting very impatient. We managed to arrive at Johnston mile 81 just before it got dark. It was really raining and windy by this time and the tent was packed with cold runners. This is the first time I started shivering, so I really needed to get more serious about eating solid food. I grabbed a delicious breakfast burrito and ate half of it, saving the rest for later. I got some hand warmers and put them into my sports bra because I heard of other women doing that. Except, I never heard anyone saying they got burned from it but it happened to me. I didn't realize it until I took my post run shower because it never hurt. Those are actually blisters! Sorry for the soft porn.

Covering my nipple with my thumb! Any other gals ever had this happen to them? Anyway, my boobs were nice and toasty! Checked out of Johnston pretty quickly because it was so packed in there. Headlamps on before leaving but they were useless in the fog. Tip #6 kind of ties in with tip #1-having a hand held light or a waist light. In the fog, you need the light down low. In a pinch, take your headlamp off and hold it in your hand. It just limits your use of poles unless you have a waist lamp. This section definitely took way longer than in the 200. Wind and rain continued and combined with the fog, it was quite challenging. Plus your feet were getting wet from the rain and creek crossings if you missed a step.

There was a tent at mile 89 Windy Pass, but it was pretty small for all the runners that were arriving at the same time. I did get a chair in front of the opening of the tent. The walls of the tent were shaking and they had volunteers at the corners holding it down. The rain pelted the tent and it was loud in there. I decided to get out of my wet shirt and put on my Pine to Palm hoody, Patagonia jacket over that, and poncho. I left my rain pants at Coldwater when I changed packs. Big mistake! I had my dishwasher gloves over my fleece gloves. I thought I had a new dry hat but couldn't find it in my pack. But I was okay. Was not shivering went I left the tent. Ate more of my breakfast burrito, had some coke and we were on our way. I was the only 120 runner there at that time. The 100K runners went the other way. I left between 9-10 pm.

We climbed up immediately to the ridge and oh my gosh, we almost got blown over. It really gave the urgency to get moving. There were 4 very steep sections to ascend up some steps and my asthma took a hit. Fortunately, it eventually descended on the other side, still very windy and raining. Someone estimated that it was 30 mph sustained with up to 60 mile gusts. Whatever it was, it was powerful! Only when we were in a lull or down in a small canyon or ditch was it safe to stop and pee or grab something from your pack. Tip #7-if you can stomach gels, have them for quick calories. Many times I would tank out because it was such a chore to eat while getting pelted by the wind and rain. I have several gel flasks and filled them pre-race. It's so much nicer to grab those with cold hands than to try to rip the tops off the gel packs, then have to put the trash somewhere on you or in your pack. I like Power Bar gels, especially the real fruit ones because they are not thick and go down easily. Then I immediately get a burst of energy before my next bonk. The fog was better by the time we got to the Plains of Abraham, so I was able to put away my hand held light for good and just used my headlamp. We still had trouble finding some markers, but with the route on Kris' GPS watch, she knew right away if we were on course. Our bodies were assaulted on all sides as the trail twisted and turned, but the worse was getting pelted straight into the face. If I was mid stride and the wind was coming from the side, I was pushed over easily. I never fell. It was exhilarating and freezing at the same time. About 5 miles from the last aid station, we hooked up with the 100K runners again. A group of 4 passed us, but I decided it would be good to have them around in case the Toutle River was raging, so we caught up to them and tried keeping up. It was really hard for me on the steeper climbs. I had audible wheezing now even with my inhaler. I'm glad that they were there when we had to cross a couple of very swollen creeks that were as fast flowing as the Toutle. No rock hopping. Safer to get your feet wet. At some point, they stopped long enough that I had to get going because I was shivering when we stopped. I fully expected them to catch us by the time we crossed the Toutle. We did catch 2 other 100K runners and crossed with them. After crossing, there is a decent amount of climbing before you descend to Blue Lake aid at mile 108.

I forced down as much food as I could there. I was going to change shirts again, but my hoody was holding it's own. I simply added some thick arm warmers because that's the part that was really cold in the last section. I had a new dry hat and gloves. I left a few things to lighten my load and changed my shoes and socks. I had new gaiters but didn't bother to put them on. Big mistake. I would develop blisters from all the dirt that got in from me kicking my feet against each other. I didn't have blisters before this point. I had to take off my shoes twice in the last 12 miles to shake out all the small rocks and sand.

We left there around 6:10 am. I definitely felt this part of the run looked a lot different than doing it in the 200 except for the boulder fields. Really, everything looked completely new to me and took me a lot longer, which I expected at the end of a race compared to the beginning. Be prepared for a lot of sustained climbing to the Loowit trail. I coughed up a few mucous plugs, which gave me about 2 minutes of easier breathing before I became short of breath again. Still coughing them up now as I type this. Got passed by one guy who was having a strong finish. Got passed on the boulder field by two more guys because we were too tentative stepping on the wet rock. Sure glad we were doing it during daytime. We passed them back when I was able to run again on the trails. Thought I was going to break 43 hours easily, but those last 4 miles took forever. I ended up finishing just over 43 hours, happy but completely spent. Couldn't have done it without my pacer Kris and the volunteers!

I was sad to see Dave taking a picture of me when I finished. He dropped at Johnston because of the severe conditions, as so did many other runners, including Tracy. Betsy was running with Lisa Wood and Lee Newbill, and they decided to drop there too. It was absolutely pouring rain at the finish but fortunately no wind. Congrats to all the finishers (Darcy Piceu for an unbelievable overall win and new overall course record, Anthony Lee for 2nd male and incredible redemption run, Peggy Boisvert, Kerstin Fischer, and anyone else I'm forgetting now) and to all those who started but didn't finish because they were smart enough to know when to quit.

Thanks Dave for this picture! I got changed into dry clothes immediately, had my post race Land O Lake hot coco Mocha mix, and my instant Pho Noodles. I sat in the finish like tent in front of the heater swapping stories with other runners while waiting for the Coldwater aid station bags to come back. As soon as they arrived at 2 pm, Dave and I headed out. We stopped and picked up personal pizzas in a bar (pretty good for 2 small pizzas for $15). Saw some interesting characters in there. Dave was able to catch some sleep the night before so was able to stay awake as I nodded in and out a couple times. It rained pretty hard the entire ride back to Olympia. Quick hug and goodbye in the rain after loading all my wet stuff in the trunk of my car. I took off for home with traffic heading north. Able to stay awake, picked up burgers for me and my husband. I took a shower and headed to bed. Up at 3:30 am to take Ken to the airport for a short rock climbing trip in the Red River Gorge, short nap when I got home, then Yoda to the vet for a split nail. Here he is sedated and chilling out.

Well folks, that was my 50th 100 mile or more race and my 4th in the last 2 months. It's been a busy season. I'm thankful my body can handle this load and even more thankful for all the wonderful people who make it possible from RDs, volunteers, crew, pacers, family and friends, and search and rescue. I'm sure I'll be seeing you soon on the trails!


  1. I thought I knew someone that ran a lot, and then I heard of you. Amazing to see you finish the Bigfoot 200, Cascade Crest, Pine to Palm and then this!

  2. Thanks Martin! One more big one (still a secret), then no more 100s until Orcas Island in February.

  3. Dear Van:

    Thank you for posting this remarkable recap of your race. I have seen you in several ultra videos produced by other runners, including "Project Talaria" (on Vimeo) and even Kerry Ward's amazing video of the his 2015 Bigfoot 200 race experience on YouTube. You seem to have a wonderfully positive attitude, and everyone who comes across your path in a race is much better for it. Right now I am just into my second of year of running, so still getting in shape, still losing weight, and still limiting my runs to a couple of hours. Good luck!