After the first sip of the kool-aid I received of an ultra event at Fuego Y Agua, I. Wanted. More! And it seems that Christian Griffith has had a huge role into manipulating me into these events that I never thought I would physically be able to participate in. You might say he’s a puppet master pulling on my strings, but I have come to call him Sensei.
After Fuego Y Agua I dove head first into the world of ultra marathons. I avidly searched to see which would be next on my list. My race schedule was already pretty much tied up with OCRs I had registered for earlier in the year, but it seemed I had a free weekend in July which led me to register for the White River 50 Ultra Marathon. Going into Fuego, I hadn’t really trained as much as I should have to perform well in the race, but I wanted to completely revamp my training regiment so I would be able to do well in this ultra. So of course, I turned to Christian. The one guy who talked Deater and myself into Fuego and the same person who talked me into doing this 50 miler.
Just a little side note, prior to doing Fuego, the longest distance I had run was a half marathon. And prior to doing this 50 miler, the longest distance I had run was Fuego. So basically I jumped from a half marathon to a 50k to a 50 miler. And a huge reason I look up to/can relate to Christian, is that we’re both “big boys.” I don’t mean big in the way that we’re fat or anything like that, but we have a tall, wide build to our bodies that you wouldn’t normally see in your average endurance athlete.
Anyways, Christian set me up with a running program that would help me improve my chances in completing this 50 miler. The reason I was stressing that I wanted to do well in this race was the fact that there was actually a 14 hour time cut off to complete the course; and I was not going to return home with a DNF (Did Not Finish). I went as far as changing up my eating habits as well. I even completely cut alcohol out of my diet so I can completely focus on the task at hand.
So after months of going to crossfit 4 times a week, running 5-6 times a week and somehow finding time to either row, swim or bike, I was ready. I left Miami to head to Washington Thursday morning and my God what a change. First off, it was cold. I wasn’t ready for that, and I had left my sweater back in Miami, so that was terrible, but Washington was GORGEOUS. There were large, looming trees everywhere, and the mountains and streams and rivers were an amazing sight to behold. It was something out of a movie.
I finally got to the Alpine Inn hotel which was hosting the race. I checked in, grabbed some dinner and knocked out. The next day after some breakfast, I set up all my gear and drop bags and met up with Christian, Laura and Amy. After we had gone to packet pickup, we went for a little drive around Mt. Rainier. I will reiterate, IT. WAS. BEAUTIFUL. The sights and smells I experienced there were a welcome change from what I usually see in Miami. It’s basically an outdoors adventure. So after some sight seeing, we headed back to the hotel, grabbed some dinner and hung out for the pre-race briefing. After that we headed to bed to get ready for the big adventure the next day.
So the morning came and we were ready to go! I got to the race site early to check in, drop off my drop bags and fill up my bladder for my pack before I hit the start line. Before the race even started I had met a bunch of really nice, cool people. Now this is something I had said before and will say again, the ultra community is such an amazing/different/unique crowd. And I full-heartedly believe that you have to be a special kind of stupid to put your body through an ultra marathon. And with that common understanding, you basically become family with complete strangers. Not to say that you won’t experience this sense of community within other racing circles such as OCRs or marathons or cycling events; but seeing as how the ultra community is smaller (kind of like the black sheep of the racing family), it really brings you closer together.
Before we knew it, we were off! At the start of the event, I had on my persons my Fuego Y Agua buff, SoleRunners t-shirt, Hylete compete 2.0 shorts, compression shorts, CEP knee high running socks, Rocktape, Hoka One One Mafete Speeds, my X-1 audio headphones, my Garmin Fenix 2, my Geigerrig 1600 3L bag (which was holding extra snacks(gu gel, gu shots, trail mix, beef jerky & Urawk bars), diabetes gear, salt pills/ibuprofen, baby wipes and my Black Diamond Ultra Distance trek poles). And prior to the race, I applied some TrailToes cream to my feet, Alo Massage Cream to my legs and some Dry Goods in between my thighs.
Laura and Amy were kind of towards the back of the pack and Christian and I were closer to the front. There was about 300 people that started the race that day. We took a pretty easy pace in the beginning. It was a nice little trail run to start off the event. As we were running, Christian and I were talking to this nice young lady we met who was actually running the event in Luna Sandals. We were laughing because she had her Lunas, I had my Hokas and Christian had his trail shoes which landed him somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of minimalist & ultra support. I completely skipped the first aid station which was about 4 miles into the race because I wanted to save as much time for myself as possible for later on in the event. The trails were really nice and simple, not too technical at all. It rolled a bit here and there, but nothing to the extreme where a nice simple jog couldn’t get you through. Christian was already long gone when I had started the ascent.
I would be lying to you if I told you the elevation gain didn’t get to me. Usually I can run and eat or drink at the same time, but I found myself breathing heavier the higher we went. There was about an 8 mile distance from the first to the second aid station with about 3000 ft of elevation gain. AND OH MY GOD THE SWITCH BACKS. I remember Christian telling me about them when he was talking me into doing the race, but my God there were so many. It was beautiful though. Nice single tracks all the way up and there was even a portion that had some stairs and everywhere you looked you were surrounded by nature. When I finally made it to the second aid station, I got my Geigerrig pack refilled, popped some salt tablets, tested myself and was off again. Maybe about half a mile to a mile after the second aid station, I started seeing runners return from the third aid station, and at this point I was surprised. In my head I was like “Oh wow, I must not be that far off from the next aid station.” But the climb continued. I later found out it was 6 miles from aid station two to three and the elevation topped out at 5600 ft.
What was awesome about this course though was that it was just not a straight climb, it was up and down and there were some straight-aways as well. My personal mantra through this race was “Run when you can, walk when you can’t.” What had me laughing was that at the third aid station, which was Corral Pass, all the volunteers had dressed up in cowboy attire welcoming in runners, filling up their packs with water and handing out food. It took your mind off the race for a bit as you laughed that the volunteers went out of their way to dress up. Again, I tested myself to make sure my blood sugars were okay, popped some salt tablets and a couple ibuprofen and was off again. And that was it! The first “hill” as the Washingtonians like to call it was over and done with.
Now, this is where I excel and made up my time; the downhill! I couldn’t have been happier. I was breezing through all the switch backs on the single trail. I was jumping over rocks and branches as I sped down the side of the mountain and I was singing Against Me! at the top of my lungs and just had the biggest smile on my face. I was feeling good, real good and knew I had it in me to finish. Aid station number 4 was actually aid station number 2 used again. Thinking back on it, I realized the distance that those other faster runners covered between aid station three and four and just started laughing because of how quickly they breezed through that course. But that’s okay, I didn’t mind, I was running my own race. And again after testing myself and having some salt tablets and my water topped off I continued the downhill portion of the run. I got to keep going down and down and down till aid station number 5. I kept checking my watch to make sure I was making good time. Aid station number 4 was about 5 miles off from aid station 3. And aid station 5 was an additional 5 miles which would make it about 27 miles into the race. So think of it, that’s already a full marathon distance. I had hit the halfway point of the race before I reached aid station number 5 though. I was 7 hours in with 26 miles on my watch. But I was okay with that, I did more than half the distance of the race and I still had plenty of time to go. Aid station number 5 was actually the first aid station that had a time cutoff. The cutoff was 2 pm, about 8 hours into the race. I had made the cutoff by an hour and still had the momentum to keep going. The weather was beautiful, the volunteers were amazing and I was going to finish this race.
After departing aid station 5, we were led through some nice flat trails. Very simple, nice and easy. I was starting to feel worn down though. This is what makes an ultra different. You can train and train and train, but at some point, it’s no longer physical and it becomes all mental. So after about 2 miles on the nice trail and some road/rocky portions on the course, we started the ascent of the second “hill.” I kept pushing on. I would tell myself I was going to finish this race. I would look at my surroundings and tell myself how lucky I was to able to be out there doing what I am currently doing and that I should cherish every moment no matter how agonizing. This is what kept me going. Being able to run for those who can’t. What didn’t help was the fact that I started having hallucinations. At this point in the course, I hadn’t seen anyone in a while, and I thought I kept seeing people that just ended up being trees as I got closer.
When I looked down at my watch, I read 31.7 miles. This is where the sixth aid station was supposed to be; I was on a single track trail on the side of the mountain, so you can imagine I was a bit upset. But I kept on pushing and finally made it to aid station 6. This was about 4 miles from aid station 5 and I still had about another 5 to go to reach aid station number 7. But that was alright, even though it was another climb, I had reached aid station number 6 with about 1.5-2 hours before the time cutoff. I had this!
So I kept pushing onward. Running and running and climbing and walking. I kept pushing on, determined, I was going to finish this race. I didn’t train all those months and fly all the way to Washington State just to fail. I would finish. But the farther I went, the more beat down I became. And this portion of the race was more exposed to the sun, so you definitely felt that. I was also starting to panic because even though I thought I had such ample time to finish, I was getting closer and closer to the time cutoff. If I didn’t make it by 5pm to aid station 7, my race would be over.
I thought I had reached sun top when I got to a clearing on the mountain; I stopped, looked around, saw no one in site, but was enveloped by forestation and jaw dropping view of the mountains. It really gives you a sense of how insignificant and tiny you really are in the grand scale of things. Anyways, I finally made it to aid station 7, WITH ONE MINUTE LEFT TO CUTOFF! I got up there frantically asking if I had made it in time. One of the volunteers pulled me to the side and asked me, “How do you feel? Think you can make it another 6 miles in an hour and a half time?” Of course I fucking can!!! Is what I was thinking, but I simply responded “It’s all downhill right?” The volunteer replied yes, with a a smile and I told him I can definitely continue and finish. I tested myself again, got some food in me and filled my pack with Gu Brew instead of water for some extra electrolytes. And then it was all downhill from there.
From aid station 7 to aid station 8 like I mentioned before was 6 miles and it was all downhill on a winding road. Down and down it went. I pretty much let my legs take me and booked it down this portion of the race. It was so freeing not to have to climb anymore and finally being able to just let go and run. Going back to the conversation I had with the volunteer at aid station 7, I made it to aid station 8 with half an hour left to the next time cutoff. This gave me about 2 hours to run 7 miles and cross that finish line.
I was back to running what I loved, trails! I again filled up my pack with Gu Brew, had some food, tested myself and was off. I was completely beat up at this point. But I didn’t care, I was so close I could taste it. I completely shut off my mind to the pain I was feeling and just kept telling myself, “Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot…” Up and down we went through the trails. Up and over roots and rocks with a rushing stream on our side. It was beautiful. Something out of a movie really. I had finally caught up to and passed some racers that previously had me beat by a while. This gave me the extra boost I needed to keep on pushing and finish. After about 6 miles of the trails we broke out onto a rocky road. That was it! One more mile and I was done! Even though the surface was flat, it was all I had to just push out a slow jog. But I did and I pushed and pushed and pushed. All with racers who had already finished and some spectators who were still around clapping and cheering you on to give you that morale booster to finish strong. And finish I did at a time of 13:46 with a 14 hour time cutoff in my first 50 mile ultra!!!
Shoes: I said it before and I’ll say it again! Get fitted for shoes and bring something you’ll be comfortable with for a long ride. Also, have a pair of shoes that will do well in whatever type of terrain you may encounter in whatever race you are competing in.
*(Will give a review of the Hoka One One Mafate Speeds soon.)
Training: Train well and long for how you want to perform. There are only a minuscule number of athletes out there that can just show up to an event and do well. I trained for months for this event because I learned my lesson from Fuego Y Agua that you do need training for longer endurance events.
Hydration: Don’t ever skimp on the aid stations and make sure you’re always properly hydrated. Either with Gu Brew or nuuns or just plain water. Make sure you stay hydrated through the whole race because that can make or break whether you finish or not.
Gear: Gear up properly for the type of racer you are. Myself, I’m a diabetic and I sweat profusely. That is why I run with such a big pack. Other racers may not need this and can run with just two handheld water bottles. Train in advance and see what YOU will need to finish a race of this caliber.
*(I will also be doing reviews of all the gear I carried and gear I have used in the past for different events.)