Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Issy Alps 100 Mile Unsupported

The discoloration from my hand warmers burn on my right boob from Bigfoot 120 miler less than two weeks ago still had not faded, and yet here I was standing in a drizzle at 4 am with John Barrickman waiting for my husband to take an official picture of the start of our Team Unsupported Issy Alps 100 Mile attempt.

And who is this guy I'm standing next to? John and I knew of each other but we had never run together. Sure we saw each other at races. We seemed to run about the same pace. But if you asked me what he did for a living or about his family, I didn't know him at all. But that's the great thing about runners and particularly ultramarathoners. You know that they are passionate about running long distances and are willing to suffer. This common thread makes you feel like you already know them pretty well.

This was my fourth finish out of 6 tries. This was my first unsupported attempt. After my DNF at a reverse route in the summer due to cougar encounter in the middle of the night (I had completed it in reverse last year), I felt a void. I knew that John liked to do unsupported outings and messaged him if he wanted to do an unsupported attempt together. Lucky for me, he had planned on this on the exact weekends I proposed. When the weather report for October 22 was reasonable, we decided to go for it instead of waiting one more week. It would have been better for my body to get more recovery from Bigfoot, but it had already rained a lot for the month of October and I didn't want to take a chance that the following weekend was going to be nice.

My boob burn was not the only thing that had not completely healed. My lungs and asthma got a beating and I got a blister under my great toe at Bigfoot. After I drained it, I removed the nail but was left with a tender raw nail bed. It had mostly dried out before this run but I still covered it with a toe cap in case. The toe cap stayed on the entire run but some dirt did get in it from the creek crossings.

Come to think of it, my second toenail was gone too, but it didn't hurt.

I had never packed for 100 miles unsupported. Here is what I had:

Salomon 12 L pack
Two 10 ml flasks with gels (no gel pack garbage)
Two small hamburgers cut into quarters
One blueberry muffin cut up
Two chocolate chip cookies
3 Payday bars cut into thirds
Two granola bars
Gatorade single serve packs
Two 5-hr energy drinks
10 salt tabs
Ibuprofen (didn't use)
Blister kit
One headlamp with extra batteries
One hand held light with extra batteries
Cell phone with battery charger
Garmin GPS watch with battery charger
Black diamond Z-poles
Two water bottles
2 buffs
One extra long sleeve thin poly shirt
One thicker Smartwool long sleeve
Thin quick drying poly capris that I could pull over my shoes (no rain pants because too heavy)
OR Helium II jacket
Emergency bivy
One extra pair of gloves
One extra pair of socks
Compression sleeves
Steri Pen
Waist pack for my phone and quick access to food

I started with capris, short sleeve, arm warmers, fleece headband, Salomon Mission shoes, and Patagonia wind shell.

What I would change? More packaged food. I would still keep the gels in my flasks but pack more Honey Stinger waffles, Power Bar wafers, and energy bars in general. I was worried about all the trash, but as long as there is an easy way to stash your trash, it's not that hard to manage. The nuts were really heavy and I didn't find they gave me immediate energy that I needed or even sustained energy. I would probably cook up some bacon the day before and just carry a ziplock of that. I would have started with shorts because I heated up too much during the day and brought different pants to put on at night.

Saturday morning, my husband and I woke up at 2:30 am, met John at High Point at 3:30, left his truck there, drove to Mailbox trailhead. We started at 4 am in a drizzle, although we could see the moon. Even with all my trimming down of gear and food, my pack still weighed 15 pounds. John's pack was 13 pounds. He has done more solo runs, so was better at packing. Here is a breakdown of each section. Everything is approximate mileage.

Mailbox up and down on the old trail 6 miles from the gate. 3 hrs 10 min. Rain had stopped early on the climb. Pack was heavy! Got to go on a just finished new section from where the old trail meets the new trail, basically half mile from the top. I can't believe how much work was performed to create a new rock path. Even in the dark, you could tell this was a significant project. The last 1/4 mile still the same, although they did create a few new rock steps in the tougher sections. It was still dark when we got to the summit so we took some pics and got out of there.

Base of mailbox to Teneriffe trailhead, total mileage 15. The Granite creek trail is this slightly uphill, technical trail with a lot of small creek crossings. John started to jog when we started up and I told him immediately that I wasn't going to do that this early in the run. I knew it would drain my energy quick with a heavy pack. It's three miles and they went by pretty fast. You turn off on what used to be an unmaintained, overgrown trail that is now a wide and winding trail, set to open fall 2017. At least that's what the sign said on the other end off the newly paved Middle Fork road. There was no sign at where we entered it. This was a fun and easy run down, about 1.5 miles. We crossed the road and the Snoqualmie River to another trail on the other side and if you didn't know it was there, you'd have a hard time locating it. It looks like they don't want people to hike there because they made it harder to get down into it and they removed a log in the first water crossing. I should have taken a picture of John crossing it. It was only 10 feet across but the fast flowing river stirred up the sand in this drainage creek. John took his shoes and socks off to cross, I left mine on. It came mid shin for me. Two more water crossing, one with a log across still. Got to the CCC road trail where I knew we would have to cross another creek but the water is clear. I took my shoes and socks off to rinse them of the sand I accumulated in the last water crossings and my feet were good to go even with them wet. Refilled water bottles here. Ran down he dirt road for 4 miles and arrived at Teneriffe trailhead 6 hours into the run or 10 am. Parking lot was already full.

Teneriffe trailhead to Little Si trailhead, total miles 33. I was feeling sluggish by the time we got there.We started up to Kamakaze Falls (which was roaring with all the recent rain) together but I told John that he could keep going and that I would meet him at the summit. I took my time, knowing if I pushed here, I would be paying for it for the rest of the run. Either he was waiting for me or the climb was slowing him down but I caught up to John about half mile to the top. We sat and ate briefly. The sun was out and we had 360 degree views, including Rainier. A quick pic and we descended after less than 10 minutes on the summit.

Descended the previous road now double track trail to the connector trail and Talus loop trail to Mt. Si. It spits you out on the Mt. Si trail 2 miles from the top. Lots of people still coming down and going up. Felt pretty good. Ran into Brad Hefta-Gaub about a mile from the top. Again quick summit pic and down we went.

There was a young Asian guy who looked like he was in his 20s who we passed on the way up almost to the summit sitting and resting. We ran into him again on our way down closer to the summit but this time an older couple that was heading down was with him.  They said something like, "If there were some trailrunners, maybe they could give him some salt tablets for his cramps," just as I was walking by. I stopped and gave him 2 S-caps, and told him to take them now. I gave him 2 more and told him if he still was cramping on the way down, he could take them. I also asked if he had any food. He didn't and I gave him some nuts in a ziplock and wished him luck. At least he had a puffy jacket to keep him warm while he was sitting. He had a bottle of water. We headed down the old Mt. Si/Little Si trail, very steep and technical at times. Glad I had my poles. Hit the Little Si trail. Everyone was coming down as we headed up. Some climbers still were up on the big wall.

Arrived at Little Si trailhead at 14 hours or 6 pm. I had told my husband Ken 15.5 hours, so we were stoked that we were making good time.

Little Si trailhead to Highway 18 on Tiger, 56 miles total. The next 6 miles is flat with slight up near Rattlesnake Lake. It got dark as we were heading up this trail. Passed the location where I encountered the cougar the last time I was there. Coast was clear. Got some more water from the Snoqualmie River after we crossed under I-90. John started to feel tired here but we were able to walk/run. Once we got to the lake, he took a little 5 minute nap before we headed up the trail. Lots of option for water after all the rain we had gotten in the last few weeks. I used my Steri Pen for everything I drank. John just filled and drank. I led him up so that he could concentrate on the reflectors on my shoes and stay awake. Still he was struggling. There was one area of blow downs before East Peak. Once we got there, I had him lead to see if that would wake him up. He seemed to do fine. The 2 mile section between East and West peak had a ton of blow downs. Michael Havrda warned me about this but it was a lot worse than I expected. We must have gone over, under, and through 30 trees down. Very taxing. At one point, I almost fell in a hole left from the tree root of a fallen tree. With all the logging they have done up there, there is no buffer anymore and with any major windstorm, more trees are going to go down. So sad. This used to be one of my favorite trails and unless it gets cleaned up well, I'm less likely to return. The wind was blowing constantly about 10-15 miles with a few gusts up to 30 but at least it was not raining. John is pictured at East Peak and me at West Peak,

We hit the Power lines and made our way down to the service road  towards Tiger. This is when it started to rain. John was getting sleepy again and I asked him if he wanted to rest when we got into the trees. He didn't want to stop and get me cold so we didn't. We went through some bike trails back on to the service road that led down to the Raging River. It was high and flowing fast, so we decided to hike up to Highway 18. We found a pretty nice path that others clearly had gone up. When we popped up on the freeway, we saw a police car in the distance that had pulled over a car. We ran as fast as we could across the bridge over the river and back onto the trail on the Tiger side. With the cop car behind us, the other cars passing us probably thought we were running from the police! Fugitives! We were not looking forward to the next part because for sure we knew we were going to get our feet wet crossing Deep Creek. Once again John took his shoes and socks off and I left them on. I got wet just above my knees. John had thankfully cleared the dense overgrown trail that heads up after crossing the creek 2 weeks ago. I was at Bigfoot, but if he didn't get to it, I was going to do it before this run. That was miserable for both of us the last time we went through there on separate occasions. When we hit the service road, it really started raining and we sat under a pine tree where it was dry to put on extra clothes. I put on my compression socks, Smartwool shirt, and poncho. I already had my rain jacket on, short sleeve, arm warmers, gloves, and buff. John put on long pants and a poncho. Warmer now, we hit the trail for 3 dirt bike miles before hitting another service road at Highway 18. I told Ken we would arrive there at 24 hours. We got there at 22 hrs 45 minutes.

Hwy 18 to High Point, 67 miles total. We had 3.5 miles to get to East Tiger but about one mile up, John said he really needed to stop and rest for a bit. We sat under a tree and he closed his eyes. I tried to do the same but immediately started shivering, so I got up and walked around in circles while I let him rest for 10 minutes. It didn't really help he said, and since we were moving slow, I started to get sleepy too. I had a 5-hr energy drink and seemed to perk up in 15 minutes. Finally made it to East Tiger. I only took his picture since it was raining and cold. John is sporting the fashionable poncho look.

I let him lead the next part which is a nice run on bike trails on the Preston railroad grade before you hit the East Tiger trail, which is still in pretty bad condition. It's never a nice run in this part, even when it is dry. Then Bootleg, Lingering loop, and to High Point. This part was really hard at night with the wet trail, rocky, rooty, steep down trail covered entirely with wet leaves. I slipped once and landed with my right knee bent. It hurt but I was okay, but that's a good way of tearing a meniscus! As we were approaching High Point, John was weaving like a drunk and I was concerned that he was going to fall and do a face plant. We walked past the tent city just about when it was getting light. We arrived there at 27 hours, ahead of my predicted time of 30 hours. Sweet!

High point to Front Street Issaquah, 80 miles total. We hiked up to the upper parking lot and planted ourselves under one of the information boards with a roof over it where the seat was dry. Sat down and did some major clothing change and pack re-arrangement. We spent about 20 minutes removing our heavier clothing, changing socks, stashing trash, and putting food in more accessible pockets. It was wondrous to air out my feet and get new socks! We hiked well up T3. The crowds were not there yet. In fact, there was no one at the summit when we got there. Some had already come down.

Then T2 and T1. Man that hike up to T1 is short but a beast!

The next part was very nice. They cleaned up the logging area and it was not so much of a scramble. Fun downhill. Got to the TMT, more good trails and Deiter Spring water! I had run out, so this was a welcomed stop. And, I didn't need to treat it. So much down hill after the TMT! This may sound nice, but it trashed our legs. My knees were killing me with the extra weight of the pack, still pretty heavy although I had eaten most of the food. Got to Front Street before noon, which was around 32 hours, 3 hours ahead of my predicted 35 hours. Saw Jessica Kelly and she took a picture of us. Thanks Jessica!

Front Street, over Squak, and around Cougar, total 93 miles.The pavement was very painful on our tender feet and the rest of the body. The hike up Sycamore lane is steep and that is followed by 1.5 miles of switchbacks on Squak. I had to stop and change clothes again. I was overheating tremendously. I was thankful for the nice weather but was woefully overdressed. I took off my compression calf sleeves and black capri tights and put on my lighter weight and more loose fitting capri pants. That was better but still hot. That took me about 7 minutes and I met John at the next intersection. The next part was pretty uneventful, except I thought I had more water than I really had and did not fill up. When we crossed the SR 900 to Cougar, I started doing math in my head and started to smell the barn if you will. I picked up the pace. Big rookie mistake! I did fine as long as we were running down or flat, but as soon as I hit the Quarry trail, my muscles protested. I slowed to a crawl, stopping several times. I had been running hot all day and my dehydration was catching up to me. Plus, I was running out of water. I should have taken a detour to the falls, but I didn't. I apologized to John for holding him up. We finally made it back to SR 900 after spending much longer on Cougar than I planned. Still arrived at this point ahead of schedule. I planned for 8 pm or 40 hours. We got there 5:20 pm, or 37 hr 20 min. We took our final picture on Wilderness Peak.

SR 900 to finish, total 103 miles. After a short, painful crawl up Squak, we got to a water source about a half mile in and I was so happy to drink again. I had a really sore right shin that I thought was a cramping muscle but turns out it was my anterior tibialis tendon, the one in front of your ankle. Usually that gets sore from tying your shoes too tight but in my case from lifting my toes constantly to avoid tripping on the steep downhills. It did not get better with hydration, only with flatter surfaces. I was able to do some running once we hit flat or downhill. Not fast, but not constantly walking. We took out our headlamps for the third time. I had to tell myself just a few more hours. Once we reached Front Street again, I knew it was less than 4 miles. We did some running along the high school trail that was new and longer, then hiked up to the power line trails of Tiger, which had been re-done and was also longer. Once we got on the Brink Trail, I was on a mission. Looking at our time, I felt we could get under 41 hours if we got going. Brink Trail is pretty technical, so I settled into a fast hike. John was behind me and I looked like a crazy and frantic person. And he was just doing his normal walk. We looked for the cougar that stymied Yitka Winn, putting an end to her stellar solo unsupported attempt. It pained me just to think about it. John said that no cougar or freaky man was going to stop us now. Finally, we hit the last trail-the Swamp trail There is a very long wooden bridge that I'm sure in the summer is really fun to run on  but it was as slick as an ice rink and I shuffled along, barely lifting my feet. You can mess up your knee here if you fell. Once again, John said if he got hurt, he would still crawl to the finish. We got to dirt and solid footing and ran most of the last mile to the finish gate. After 40 hours 41 minutes and 13 seconds, we finally could stop running. We started in the dark and finished in the dark at 8:41 pm. And the crowd went crazy! Actually, it was dark and no one was there except my husband who was waiting in his truck. I called him when we started our last section on Tiger. Originally, I had told him that we would finish around 11 or 12 pm, so he was happy to come sooner. John and I gave each other a congratulatory hug. I didn't even change or take off my shoes. I had Ken bring me my robe and I just put that on for the ride home. John I think changed and drove home to North Seattle without any rest. Crazy man. 

John said that if either of us had no problems (his trouble staying awake and me cramping for a few miles), we could have had a shot at sub 40. But we were thrilled to have finished it at all. We had two dry days and one rainy night. We worked well together. A lot of time we ran in silence, which was good for us both. We did not mule for each other or share anything. We just had each other's presence. It was a memorable run. Thanks John!

Blurry finish picture!


  1. Van and John, You're kidding, right? Let me try to take this in...and meanwhile thank you, Van, for the fantastic commentary (I felt I was there...) and you, John, for continuing to take my breath away. God bless you both for doing what you love with such determination and, I think, humor. And bless your great families for supporting you! I will continue to watch with interest and love...As ever, John's Mom

  2. Van - I am a new follower and I look forward to your next post. Your courage is inspiring. When I see footage of you in other runners' videos and most recently the Project Talaria (Orcas 100) video on Vimeo, your courage always comes through. You never complain. You are always upbeat. Your sense of humor is marvelous. All the other runners respect and admire you. Thanks for inspiring us back of the packers to try to move up a little, closer to the race that challenges the soul, where the real courage walks and runs. Long, long may you run!!!