Where’s Waldo 100k
Willamette Pass, OR
August 22, 2009
A few months back I had learned that a couple VHTRC friends were heading out to Oregon to race the Where’s Waldo 100k. Having never been out to Oregon, hearing wonderful things about Oregon and the race, and with the race being 6 weeks out from my first 100 miler, this was looking to be the perfect chance for me to get in some good time-on-feet, shock the endocrine system a bit, and experience what it’s like to run for more than 50 miles before I go ahead and double it. Fast forward to 2 weeks before the race and I still hadn’t booked my tickets, rental car, hotel, etc. Yikes. Luckily I work well under pressure and the logistics problem was solved in no time.
Mitchell and I spent Thursday in Portland (PS – my new favorite city), then drove 3 hours to the race start on Friday afternoon. There we met up with Amy and the Leesburg Mafia guys, all of whom were looking to dominate and show the Oregonians that they’re not the only ones that can run fast. Myself and Mitchell, well we were just out to have a good time and get our bang for our buck while exploring Oregon’s glorious trails.
After an extremely frigid night camping next to Waldo Lake (oops, I didn’t realize Oregon could get cold in the summer), the gang all gathered in the Willamette Pass Ski Lodge. There we ran into former-Virginian and ultra-badass Jenn Shelton. Amy had disappeared for some last minute getting ready, but we took a picture of all the VHTRC members (past and present) anyways.
We headed outside, all of us slightly shivering from the surprisingly cold weather (40F), and at 5:00am we were off. The first 2 miles greeted us with a 1000 foot climb, a perfect opportunity to spread out the field while forcing me to take it slow which was the name of the game for me today. This was by no means a focus race for me, just a training run. I knew I’d be tempted to hammer it out, but with a soleus muscle that had just returned to 100% after too much barefoot running too soon, taking it easy was what I had to do if Grindstone is the real goal.
Just prior to the race start I realized that my headlamp was giving the low battery signal, so I piggybacked off of other runners’ lights during the climb. After we crested the top and the pace picked up, I turned on my light and started getting into my own flow. In no time the sun came up and off went the headlamp. Nothing totally eventful for the next couple miles, just soaking up the sights of the gorgeous tall ponderosa pines and the feeling of the lovely soft bed of pine needles that made up the trail. At a few points during this stretch I got conflicted with how to deal with the temperature, but after a few games of longsleeve-on longsleeve-off, I finally opted for longsleeve-only-on-one-arm. Hey, whatever works, right?
Leaving aid station #1 (AS1), we started the 2000 ft climb up Mt Fuji. (By the way, “we” at this point is the collective “we”, not “me and the other VHTRC’ers”. They were elsewhere.) The front runners started appearing on the trail, bombing back down the mountain right at us. In the lead was Eric Skaggs (who went on to break the course record by almost an hour in 9:11), followed close behind by Sean and Schmidty, and not too far behind them was Amy. They all looked good, fast and happy, and this was the last I’d see of them all race. And then, after seeing a bunch of Virginians and just when I was forgetting which state I was in, I saw this guy and instantly remembered I was in Oregon…
I hit AS2, stripped off the longsleeve, headlamp and handheld bottle, put on my Nathan hydration pack, and continued up to the summit. In a little over a mile I reached the top, stopped for a quick photo-op (it’s a training run after all) then started back down.
Coming down from Fuji I ducked off the trail to “scrape some leaves” as Gary would say, then got back at it and picked up the pace to make up for any lost time. Much to my surprise, I came across Mitchell. He was apparently right behind me and passed when I was off-trail. We ran together for about a mile or so, but still being early in the race, I wanted to get into my own groove so I went ahead.
After another 10 or so miles, I started seeing signs that read “Head Bangers Ahead”. What in the hell? And then I saw it, a heavy metal themed aid station. Sweet! A busty woman wearing leather and carrying a whip came to my assistance (I can live with that), refilled my bottles and gave me some snackies. This happened to be an aid station we hit twice, so I went off on my way knowing that I’d be back for more in about 20 miles.
We started a loop around the second of three mountains during the race, The Twins. A bit more climbing out of the aid station, then a good portion of downhill to open up the legs. At this point my quads were already feeling pretty trashed. In all honesty, they started feeling it around mile 12, most likely because they were still recovering from the beating they got two weeks earlier at the back-to-back long training runs on the Grindstone course. I accepted the pain though, because after all, it’s not often that I get to beat up my legs with any sort of real elevation profiles.
After 5 more miles I came to AS5, Charlton Lake. Here they had mango slices for us, and let me tell you that these were hands down the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten during an ultra. I probably ate 10 pieces of sweet juicy mango, and although my stomach wasn’t too happy with that decision, but my tastebuds surely were.
I was now halfway through my first 100k, and aside from some serious leg fatigue, I was feeling pretty good. Earlier in the day I had been running thoughts of “is 50 miles good enough for a training run?” through my head. The mind tries every excuse in the book when it knows you are pushing it through some serious stuff, but I am glad that I successfully quelled these thoughts and kept pounding out the miles.
I took a long walking break on a flat section to regroup for the second portion of the race, and as I was sitting down fixing some shoe issues at AS6, Mitchell once again caught up with me. We were obviously running very similar paces, and we had both traveled across the country to run this race, so I made the decision right then and there that I was going to run the rest of the race with my buddy Mitchell. He actually ran with me for a good portion of my very first ultra, the Potomac Heritage 50k, so in some strange way it was actually fitting.
Mitchell and I ran together with another guy whose name I never got, but he had been running ultras for nearly 20 years and he looked rather young. Mitchell actually commented to the guy “What did you start running ultras when you were 8?”. No, but I guess there’s hope out there that running ultras will be my fountain of youth down the road. We then reached the closest point to the top of The Twins that we would get all day, but sadly it was not the summit. The race used to summit, but the race was 64 miles back then, so they cut off the summit and made it a legit 62 mile 100k.
Shortly after the Twins pseudo-summit we descended back into the heavy metal aid station, now AS7 and mile 45, where we each grabbed a popsicle (so awesome and refreshing) and a peanut-butter-topped pancake (also awesome and delicious). We took it slow out of the aid station to digest a bit, then continued to open it up and run the downhill before our final climb of the day, the killer Maiden Peak.
I had no idea what I was in for with Maiden. We climbed almost 2500 feet in a little over 3 miles. I guess that didn’t sound too bad to me before the race, but once I experienced it on trashed legs I was singing a different tune. Mitchell, myself and our new friend Larissa made the slow painful climb up. Lord knows how long that took, probably something embarrassingly slow, but it definitely involved me taking a break about 3/4 of the way up. They didn’t sit, knowing that if they did there wouldn’t be any getting up.
Seeing a group of volunteers up ahead, we thought we were hitting the summit, but for some sick and twisted reason they were just there to point us in the right direction… up. Luckily, this time the summit was only a couple hundred yards ahead, and within a few minutes we were there. From the top of Maiden Peak you could see everywhere we had been through the previous 53 miles, including breathtaking views of various bright blue lakes that we couldn’t really see from the trail.
Larissa didn’t stay to enjoy the summit views as long as we had, but within a few minutes we too made our way back down. Having now bagged the final climb of the day, running 9 miles downhill to the finish shouldn’t be that bad, right? WRONG. The first mile or so coming down Maiden was full of small loose rocks and was such a steep decline that it was impossible to run. Instead, we shuffled down until the grade flattened out a bit. When designing this course, I think they added this part to make sure that, in the rare event that your legs were feeling good at mile 53, they definitely were not going to be feeling good for long.
After a bit of downhill jostling, we came into AS9, the last aid station of the day. My original plan was to get in and out quickly so we’d be done with the race, but once we arrived we were treated like royalty. “Would you like a wet wipe to wash off your face? How about a neck rub?” Ummm, hell yeah!
After a few minutes of pampering, we forced ourselves to keep going. The pampering was nice while it lasted, but the thought of being able to sit down and be done was muuuuch more appealing. We continued to run as best as we could, and even though this was all downhill, we still had to take the occasional walking break. No worries though, we were running 100k so these things are expected. Perpetual forward motion was all that mattered.
The last couple of miles were mostly flat with a slight decline here and there, perfect for finishing off a race. The last 3 or 4 miles we ran without taking any more walking breaks, and then once the trail opened up to show us the gorgeous finish line across the field, Mitchell and I ran full speed ahead, happy as can be, hands together to the finish line. Amy was standing at the finish line cheerig us in, so that was a very pleasant welcome to see a familiar face. I had now finished my first 100k, and Mitchell got himself a new 100k PR. 14:02!
It was a tremendous feeling to be done, but since I came into the race with a “training run” mindset, the accomplishment of running my longest run to date didn’t seem as grand and I wasn’t overwhelmed with emotion as I had been at my first marathon and 50-miler. My previous longest run was 50 miles and 8:32 (a very fast course), while this was 62 miles and 14:02 (on a tough course with already-trashed legs). Oh well, it still felt awesome to run through such gorgeous trails and I was extremely grateful that I didn’t drop earlier when I was considering it.
I went to go shower, only to discover that there were none. Not wanting to live in filth, I awkwardly bathed in a sink. It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done!
Mitchell, Amy, myself, and some of Amy’s Peace Corps friends all camped out at Lake Waldo again. I was much more comfortable this time around (I wore more layers to bed), and in the morning we sat around the campsite eating delicious food and lounging.
Later in the day someone brought out a (very small) kayak, so we each took it out for a spin on the lake. I won’t get into the story about how I rolled it and had to search the lake floor for my sunglasses for a half hour, but needless to say it was a fun day out on the lake, and the forced swimming even got me to move my legs around a bit!
My first 100k was a success. Oregon was absolutely wonderful. I think I’m ready for Grindstone. Bring it on!
To see the rest of my Waldo pictures click HERE.