Monday, July 29, 2013

White River 50 miles race report

White River 50 Mile Trail Run
                July 27, 2013 - Crystal Mtn WA, 
                327 starters, 286 finishers - Clear,Temp in 50's & 60's
                9200 feet elevation gain, 9200 feet elevation loss
                Male Course Record  Sage Canaday 6:16:10 (2012)
                Female Course Record  Susannah Beck 7:32:12 (2008)

I had a hard time deciding if I should go for it or not. When you finish a race and you finish it well you immediately want to sign up for another one. If you finish not well, you want to sign up for another one even more to get a revenge.

White River 50 was my first 50 miler a year ago. It was the race where I qualified for the Western States. There was a lot of drama involved on the pre-race day, and the day after (when I flew to Russia - 6 hour flight to NY and then 10 hour flight to Moscow - at 6am after finishing my first 50m just 13 hours before). I finished in 10:33 qualifying for Western States (you need to run a selected 50 miler within 11 hours to qualify).

Kolya has signed up for the White River 50 long time before Western States and I was waiting. I was for some reason sure that after WS I will end up losing interest in running and everything related like it happened after finishing my first marathon. But it appeared to be the opposite. The week after Western States I felt happy and not worrying about anything. The week after that I started feeling confused because everyone was asking what's next and I didn't know. So I started looking for 100 milers I can run in autumn. Found few but didn't like any of them (all good 100s happen in summer!), lots of 100 involve running in laps (no way I am not dropping after the first one!), low elevation gain (can you imagine a 100 with 6,000 feet elevation gain?), really boring environment and other stuff I don't think I can survive for 24+ hours.

So at some point I found myself singed up for the White River. I had only one training week between Western States and the White River, because I took one week completely off, the next week running a little bit plus going to Enchantments run that I really love (and it was Nikolay's first Enchantments, I soaked his excitement of seeing this pure beauty for the first time), one week of really good running including my first EVER speed workout on track (8x400, 2x800 - I didn't survive more :( ), mt Si hike and climbing mt Rainier on the weekend (Emmons Glacier - 5,000 feet on the first day up to camp Schurman, and 5000 feet to the top on the next day and 10,000 feet down the same day with backpacks). And the next week I kinda tapered and ran the White River 50. I knew I've probably done "too much hill work" with Mt Si and 10,000 climb up to Mt Rainier the week I was supposed to be tapering for the White River.

But I decided that it's all fine because:
1. I wanted to climb mt Rainier this year (that was my third year in a row climbing it, but only second successful summit) and it looked like a good timing in regards of weather and route conditions. Last year we went up the Emmons route on the last weekend of summer to find it completely destroyed and not existent that together with crappy weather was the reason we turned around less than 1,000 feet before the summit.
2. White River was not my goal race.
3. I felt really slow (even on downhills) during mt Si climb, and Glen suggested that White River will be good to shake my legs to get back to shape after a 100. My post 100 recovery experience is (was) zero, so I decided that I should better listen to what people say.
4. I knew that even though I may not be in the top shape right now, I can still easily break last years time of 10:33, just because my current "not the top shape" is much better than my last year's top shape. I actually printed out splits for 10 hour finish.
5. I expected to be slower on uphills, but if Western States didn't kill my quads, then nothing can. I was sure I can still bomb the downhills. Anyways as I remembered from the last year the uphills at White River were very steep, and I expected many people including myself to hike through most of them.
6. I am drinking beer and I am not vegetarian anymore, that meant that I could finally enjoy the post race BBQ party that I missed last year!

Since I was not going to run the WR for so long, I didn't book the campground as I did last year. And nobody did, just because they don't care about stuff like that (I am the responsible one here, the one who usually gets it all covered, but not this time!). The only choice was to camp at the start, at the free campground with no water and apparently very limited bathrooms access. But it was an okay campground, we've camped at places worse than that. We arrived early this year and there was no drama involved before we setup the tent, had the dinner, met Andrey and had one more beer (that made it 3 total for pre-race day.. but it was okay since I was drinking wit and lager, not 5x IPAs as before the epic failing Gorge Waterfalls). Suddenly I felt a striking pain in my neck and it was so bad that I started screaming and the tears started running from my eyes immediately. Nikolay looked at my neck and found a yellow jacket who apparently has got trapped in my jacket and finally decided to bite since there was no other option to get out. It was so painful, that I decided that either this is the first time in my life I was bitten by a yellow jacket, or the yellow jackets bites in Russia are not painful at all. Even the next morning it was still painful when touched. So, the pre-race drama was still there, I really can't do it without any.

As soon as it got dark we got into our sleeping bags and woke up at 4:30am. There was a very long line to the porta potties, and the start was delayed to let everyone finish that business.

White River 50m Elevation Profile

I like WR course because it starts with a long flat section that allows to warm up before going up the first hill. I usually feel bad then I have to start the race with climbing. We started all together (me, Nikolay, Andrey and Slava), but somehow again got into the too slow group. I try not to start in a faster group because I don't want to start out too fast and then struggle (and I am really good in that, as it has never happened so far..) and I don't like lots of people passing me. But it is the second time in a row when  I should have started a faster group. 3 miles into the race and we were running in a group led by a girl who was crazy slow and didn't let anyone to pass (because people running just behind her didn't ask her to, and for us it was a long line of people before we get to her). At some point I got nervous and passed everyone, but the group before us was already way too ahead. I quickly reached the first aid station, topped my only almost untouched bottle with the water (I filled it with Roctane brew before the start), and headed to the longest almost 8 miles section to the next aid station.

I decided to run WR with one handheld and Salomon Advanced Skin belt because my water consumption was about 1 and 1/3 of a bottle per 7 miles at the Western States, and though Washington was in a heat wave with temperatures reaching 90F almost every day throughout few last weeks, it was not even close to 104F we had at Western States. Also that 8 miles section between aid stations one and two was the longest (others were less than 7 miles) and it was in shade. I've never raced with Salomon Advanced Skin belt before, but I went for 6 miles run with it few months ago and Nikolay used it when he paced me at the Western States and he was very happy with it. So I decided to give it a try since I didn't have enough space in my skirt pockets and handheld pocket to carry all I need (honey stingers, vespa, toilet paper, salt caps, and lipstick). Unfortunately the belt did not fit me well anymore (I lost an inch or two in my waist line after the Western States), so it was bouncing up and down driving me crazy especially on the downhills. Smells like shopping!

At some point I had to use the bushes and when I jumped out of them I saw Nikolay and Andrey with the group of other guys, so I joined their group for the fun. The flat section turned into a steep climbing soon, that's there first Andrey and then Nikolay let me go. I remembered the first uphill as a very steep from the last year, I was surprised there were so many runable sections. It didn't fit my strategy of mostly power hiking the uphills and charging the downhills, but I didn't want people passing me, so I had to run. I ended up with hips started hurting just after aid station two, kinda too early considering that I still had a lot of ups to go. I blamed mt Rainier for that, lots of hill work and no rest. My race preparation strategy has always been "it's better to overtaper than to overtrain", and this time I've done the opposite. Not smart!

Soon the incoming traffic started. The good news was that the leading men (Maxwell Ferugson and some other guy) passed me approximately on the same spot where Ellie Greenwood passed me last year. Either they were moving slower than the last year's leaders or I was moving faster. Actually the both facts were true.

I got to the top already when I saw the first gal and eventual winner Ashley Arnold (whom I did not recognize as I've never actually heard about her before). Amy Sproston was behind with about 5 minutes between them (she will drop at some point). Then there was some other unknown (to me) girl, and then (for those who don't know - fifty two(!) years old) Meghan Arbogast. She looked the most relaxed and confident comparing to all top girls, and she was the only one who responded on my greeting and "good job, Meghan!". She would eventually place second, and she really is a great inspiration for women of our sport.

Then the traffic split, so I had no ideas what my standing is at the moment except for that I am for sure is not top 4 :) I passed Glenn Tachiyama hoping that this time I will look good on his pictures (and I did not :|)

I am not sure why my face always looks that ugly when I run, but at least my legs look ok.
 got to the aid station 3, where I topped my water bottle and got more Honey Stingers from the drop bag. I checked the 10 hour splits and found that I was almost on 10 hr pace, only 10 minutes behind. I knew that the big downhill is coming and downhills is where I can make up a lot of time. I climbed uphill passing men, then at some point a girl running with a guy passed me and she was the only girl who would pass me during that race. I caught her 3 miles later on the downhill to pass and to never see her again.

The downhill stretch has finally started, but my hips were hurting so badly that even downhills felt hard. Also I've got a pain in my feet that was very weird, never had it before. I was in pain mostly from the second aid station till the end of the race. I knew that muscle pain cannot be serious, so I ran fast. The voice in my head kept telling me that I am running too hard for my current state and shape, but I thought "whatever, it is not my goal race, so I will either kill it or burn out and walk for the whole second part of the race". I was close to the bottom of the hill when the pain in my pinky toe started. It felt like... blister. "What the hell?" - I thought, - - "I DON'T BLISTER". As well as I don't fall and don't puke. That was all true before I started training for Western States, e.g. before I started running more or less seriously. First I started falling. Now I've got a blister. This way I am getting to the puking point some day :( Well, at least at this point I was past the half of the race and haven't fallen yet.

To tell you the truth I was thinking about dropping off all that downhill. It was not because I was in pain or I had a blister and stuff. It was because the mile 27 aid station, the Buck Creek is the same as race start and race finish. It is the place where our tent was and our car was. Dropping off at this place is so convenient!!! Apparently this race DNF rate is very high for the 50 miler (about 12%) and I believe that the Buck Creek aid station is to be blamed for that!

I've got there knowing that I need to take care of my blister first of all. I had a drop bag there with a blister kit, when I took off the sock I've seen a detached skin on the pinky toe, but no bubble. I saw nothing  to pop, so I just applied the bandaid above it and changed the sock. Some spectating old woman was annoying me while I was doing all that with questions like "how do you train for such races?" - "I run" - "how many marathons did you finish?"  - "four". I knew by the sound of her voice that she was disappointed with this number, but I had no desire at the moment to explain the difference between marathons and ultras. I guess they all the same for her. I saw a girl who I passed at the downhill and I wanted to leave before she leaves. And I did. Fortunately the blister, stupid marathon buzz and seeing another girl made me forget about dropping off. I noticed that on that aid station I lost all the time I gained over 10 hour pace and now was actually 15 minutes behind..

There was a short flat section passing the campground, and then the second big hill started. I looked back once just before the uphill start and saw that girl from the aid station. She almost caught me on the flats :( I have to add speed work to my training, my flats are even more disappointing than my uphills! The second hill was either steeper than the first one or I just was more tired. I power hiked almost everything on that hill. It also started to heat up, and though I might have lost my pre-Western States heat acclimation, I've got experience and mental readiness for the heat that are much harder to lose than 2 extra liters of plasma in the blood. I looked back one more time and I happily realized that I lost the sight of that girl.

I passed the 32 mile aid station there they offered the ICE water and it was awesome. Now I only had the last 5.3 miles section of uphill and then it is all down! I found that I actually was now only 5 minutes behind 10 hour pace now and it raised my spirits. I passed another girl on the next section (twice, since I had to use the bushes again), but I still had no ideas what my standing is. I knew that if I break 10 hours top 10 would be very close. Last year I placed 18th with 10:33.

The top of the hill was hot. I remembered that first we will cross the dirt road twice (the one everyone's running down after reaching the Sun Top), then I will see Glenn Tachiyama, and then the Sun Top aid station, mile 37 and the top of the last big hill of the race will be just around the corner. I seriously started having Glenn Tachiyama hallucinations after crossing the dirt road for the second time.. But then I finally saw the real one, and was so happy that this is all going to be over soon!

I checked my splits on the top, and I was 5 minutes ahead of 10 hour pace! Now I knew that 10 hours is in my pocket because now there was a 6 mile downhill dirt road section, and then 7 miles that looked more like uphill on the profile but I remembered them as rolling and mostly flat from the last year.

People hate that dirt road section. It is steep, not technical, very hot and very dusty. There is also car traffic that makes all the dust to get into the air, producing poor visibility and not exciting breathing conditions. I remembered last year we ran down this road with Maxim (I met him at the Sun Top AS where he was begging the volunteers to let him drop off there, but they didn't let him, explaining that he still had like 5 hours to finish before cut off - e.g. he could walk the whole way and still finish, so we ran down that road together, there I left him at the last aid station trying to beat 11 hours and qualify for WS) and it was not that bad. This year it felt hotter and dustier, but that probably because I was alone now. I passed few men, but didn't see a single women on that downhill.

At the last aid station I finally got rid of that Salomon Skin belt that was bothering me for the last 9 hours already, I've only got my water bottle and two Honey Stingers in my skirt pockets for the last 6.6 section of what I remembered to be rolling hills.

I started running to the finish on probably the best trail of the whole course. The terrain is very gentle and rolling. It does look like an uphill on the profile, but it doesn't feel like that. I would say that the terrain is very close to Cougar Mountain there I mostly train, except for the trail is much softer and less rockier. I also remembered from the last year that this section passed really fast for me.

Very soon I saw a girl running ahead of me. Hunting mode on. She was running really strong and at some point I started feeling that I should give up and let her go. I think she saw me too, that was the reason why she was running both ups and downs. I did too, because I tried to catch her. Finally I found a longish downhill section and caught her. She asked if I wanted to pass her and I confirmed. Now I had to run away, and she was hunting.. Fortunately at some point I looked back and found that I somehow was able to drop her.

Then I saw a group of TWO girls running not together, but against each other. One passed another, and I passed her too on the uphill (that's kinda unusual for me :)). One more left, and she gave up soon.

Now I started feeling that this 6 miles section should end or I will reach my breaking point. My water bottle was empty. It was the first time I ran out of water today and it happened on a very shady section. Soon I saw a group of three people in Seattle Running Club shirts who were going the opposite direction.

- How long is it?
A girl looked at her watch.
- About 2 or 3 miles.
- OH NO!
- Don't worry, you are running strong!

C'mon, my water bottle is empty, there are at least three girls chasing me and I have another 3 miles to go! CRAP! That's where I saw the fourth one. She was the most stubborn one, and I couldn't even close the gap for 10 minutes or so, so I was very surprised when she just stopped, stepped off the trail and let me go.. I opened the pack of Honey Stingers and just forced myself to swallow them without even much chewing. That didn't feel good without water, but I had to survive these last two miles and try not to let all four girls I have just passed to pass me back.

For some reason I don't look too much in pain here, but I actually am. Photo credit Takao Suzuki.

I was looking far ahead trying to see any familiar places (but it all looked like forest, you know) and figure out how long more to go, when I tripped and fell. Bloody/muddy knees and hands. Awesome. Not longer than half a mile after the fall the trail finally ended and I was on the dirt road! The volunteer was there.

- Where is it?!!
- About one fourth of a mile up the road!

I remember how I sprinted the last mile at the Western States after running for 99 miles and 23 hours. I tried to do the same but I couldn't. I left it all on these last 6 miles today. I slowly passed the finish line trying to make up a smile on my face for the photographer, but I am pretty sure it looked more like a pain grimace.

Eric Sach from Seattle Running Club was there to give me an ice water bottle that was the best prize ever considering no drinking for the last 3 miles and a pack of Honey Stingers stuck somewhere in my throat.

- You are the fifths lady!

the volunteer informed me. My official time was 9:36:54, against last year's 10:33:47.

WOW! I just wanted to drink really. The sixth girl crossed the finish line just one minute behind me. It was a hard RACE. I felt like I was racing not running for the first time in my life. Mentally and physically it felt harder than Western States.

I ran to the car to change and to find my iPhone. I was worried to miss the finish of Nikolay, Andrey and Slava. Fortunately I had enough time :)

Andrey and Nikolay finished together, and we did not wait for long for Slava to finish, since we've got Andrey, and the keys from the car where the cooler with beer was.

Cold beer, BBQ and relaxing in the sun - I missed you all!

My track

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