Waldo, quite simply, is a race to look forward to. Ever since running it last year I couldn't wait to get back. A beautiful course of 99%(!) singletrack in the mountains east of Eugene, there is little more you could ask for. The views from Fuji Mtn. and Maiden Peak are literally breathtaking. The trails are always in great shape. The many volunteers are amazing. The atmosphere at the event is fantastic. RD Craig Thornley manages to nail every detail, but keeps the whole affair somehow extremely relaxed and easy going. It is a great gift, and it matters not how you go about unwrapping it.
|the mastermind at work|
That being said, it is not an easy run. 62.5 miles is far any way you do it. Add 11,000 feet of climb and you have a long day in front of you. It takes tenacity and courage, patience and eagerness. You have to be ready.
Training had gone well. No crazy volume, but consistent running. And between the Mount Hood 50, hiking Defiance with Ruth, and the epic Hood circumnavigation, I had put a lot of crucial time on my feet in. I'd done this before and knew what to expect.
|map of the course|
I found out Monday before the race that I had gotten a bid to do a large tile flooring job (I am a self-employed tile setter) for Stumptown's new coldbrew facility and it was on a very quick schedule. 700 sf hopefully done by the next Monday. Ugh. This was not going to be easy. Monday night I got started...by Thursday afternoon I had 40 hours in already and I was jacked up. There was no way I could enjoyably run. The thought was unpleasant. Luckily, there was a delay on some of the material and Friday ended up being slightly less demanding. Thank God, because it ached just to walk. Not the hurt of a long run, but localized in my knees and hips. Go figure. Anyhow, I got the truck loaded up, picked up the kids from school and Ruth from work, dropped the kids off at Grandma's (thank you, guys!), and Ruth and I hit the highway. A little dinner, some passsenger seat acupuncture, some GPS shortcutting by Ruth, and before long we were at Willamette Pass ready for our midnight bedtime. The tent we borrowed wasn't going to work so we crashed in the back of the truck. Ugh.
Morning came, I checked in, and gear got put on. Food got eaten, and friends were found. Countdowns were made and the race was on.
Waldo starts with a long climb up the ski slopes in the dark for a couple miles until you hit the trails. I had hoped to be near the front to avoid all the dust that inevitably gets kicked up, but it was pretty apparent right away that my legs were not wholly behind the decision to be upright, let alone beginning this race, so I had to put my ego in my back pocket and commit to taking it easy and seeing if this was something I should be doing. I figured I would know in a couple hours (after Fuji Mtn.) if my legs would come around or not. If so, then maybe I could think about racing. But for now, it was entirely preservation.
|running to fuji|
The run up to Fuji brings some life into me. The anticipation of seeing the beautiful summit, knowing I will see how the race is unfolding on the up and down keeps me moving. Eventual winner Dave Mackey already had a huge gap, over 10 minutes. Nick and Yassine are running strong in 3rd and 4th. (I appear to be in the top dozen perhaps, and I would stay there all day).
Up to the top, a bit of a chat, and back down. All this is comfortably runnable and I feel like my pace is good. Sure, I was walking some of the climbs, but things are loosening up a bit. This might work out. Keep it easy down to Mt Ray AS, ease into the first climb of the twins and see what happens.
|Coming into Mt. Ray|
When I got to Mt. Ray (mile 20) I got to see Ruth. She would be a steady presence on the run and a foundation for strength throughout the day. I had been running solo since the start and her company was a blessing.
"how are you?" I say
"you look pale" she says
I tell her I'm fine, and I get going. She is right, though. This race has barely started and I am off--on the edge. I'm tired and I'm lonely, and I have a long way to go. I try not to think beyond the now and breathe in strength.
|Into Charlton Lake and ready for a rest|
Things were actually going pretty well to this point, everything considered. My nutrition was solid. No issues at all. I was running the climb up to twins decently. Sure, I didn't have any kind of high gear, or racing legs--this was apparent--but also expected. My legs weren't fatigued, just tired. It sounds the same, but there is a difference. (Like the eskimos have a tone of words for "snow", I think ultrarunners have a similar vocabulary for tiredness.) Like I'd been on my damn knees too much lately. In and out of Twins AS pretty fast. Thanks for all the help Elvises! Going down the hill to Charlton Lake, the pace felt good--I was just mentally tired out. I had been doing nothing for a week but working by myself, and motivating my tired self, to the point where I was beginning to want to just shut it off for a while. Not think. Rest. My whole self. I just wanted to stop and take a break.
I decided when I hit Charlton Lake (32 mile point) it was lunchtime. Just over 5 hours in. I was beat. If I was gonna do this I needed to put some solid food down. Took a seat. Ate. Sandwiches, fruit, potatoes. Regrouped. Ruth was a big help here (as she had been and would be all day), tending my needs. As I was sitting, first place woman Aliza Lappierre came and went. She sparked some motivation and I got ready to get back to it. It was getting hot and knew the next couple legs would be a bit more exposed. I filled my hat with ice (ahhh!) and hit the trail for the next section to road 4290.
|Coming into Rd 4290|
I ran this section relatively well. I quickly caught and passed Aliza and got into the aid station in 9th place. Again Aliza came and went while I sat and rested. I wouldn't see her again. There was a long, hot 7.5 mile climb back up and over twins the hard way coming on this next leg and I wanted to cool down. More ice in the hat. Ruth dunked my shirt in cold water which was awesome. I switched to a larger bottle, and I got moving.
This is a long climb. There is no real discernible summit to be seen, so you never really know how far you have to go. I trudged along, running some and walking a lot of the steeper stuff. Upwards it is until it isn't. There is a nice open area near the top and the trail turns into some nice winding trail down the other side before getting to the aid station again. There was intermittent snow, which made getting into a steady rhythm slightly difficult.
I made it to twins again, but I was unravelling a bit. I tried to be social, took a seat, drank some coke, ate a popsicle and chilled. Although quick transitions at aid stations had been my plan coming in, I had reached a state where hanging out at aid stations was about the only thing motivating any progress. And it seemed I had company. Neil Olsen, past Waldo winner, seemed to be of the same mindset. I introduced myself, not knowing it would be the start of a series of "conversations" along the rest of the way. Per usual, people were coming in and leaving before I did. Usually I would catch and pass them on the trails, only to see them again from the next chair. Fine by me.
I realized I better get going when Neil took off, so I got up and got moving shortly thereafter. 5 downhill miles to the Infamous Maiden Peak aid station.
|begrudgingly entering the Maiden Peak AS|
Try as I might to focus on the task at hand, all I could think was why the hell wasn't I taking a nap? I mean seriously, why not? Its not like I was in the middle of an amazing day of racing. I had been "going through the motions" since before the sun came up. For what? Perfect spot after perfect spot for just a short catnap were calling to me the whole way, and somehow I kept going. I knew Ruth was waiting for me, and it might be a chance to find some new confidence.
Entering the Aid station I quickly found a chair and occupied it. I was offered an orange popsicle, politely accepted half, and proceeded to finish that along with the other half and another whole one. Life is good. Or at least popsicles are good...
Reality soon hit me upside the head.
Fuck Maiden Peak. I did not want to go up that bitch. Last year I did relatively well on this stretch. This year I knew what I was in for. 2000 ft in three miles, and the descent back down is no picnic itself. Admittedly, I was holding back tears. No joke. I. was. exhausted. But as I watched people come in and out, fire in their eyes (particularly the 2nd and 3rd place women, fighting for those WS spots), I knew I had to get this done.
Maybe 20 minutes and a half dozen other runners later, I got out of the chair. Ruth led me along and really talked me into a good headspace. I can't remember everything she said, but it wasn't rah-rah inspirational stuff. Rather just reminders to take care of myself and focus on eating and drinking, breathing and relaxing. When we parted ways I felt ready. Not eager, but willing to work. Time to drag my weary, shit-ass up the mountain...
It wasn't long before I again saw Neil, this time sitting on the side of the trail. I told him to get up and we could hike together. It was nice to get to know him better and talk about his family and life. Everybody out there has a story and I am glad to say I know a little of his. Class act. Obviously wasn't having the race he wanted, but his will come again soon. I slowly pulled away, but we would leap frog each other this whole leg.
On the out and back at the summit I saw several runners that had 15-20 minutes on me, and that Neil was right behind. I hoped to pick the pace up at this point and try to finish strong. Apart from a calf cramp dropping me to the ground for a few minutes, the descent was decent. I reached the final aid station feeling good and in 12th place. Only 7.5 miles to go of mostly downhill and runnable trail.
I got the always refreshing handi-wipe facial and brief back massage and made my way to the finish.
It took a couple of miles but I finally got into a groove I hadn't felt since around mile 35. Steady, easy running. Focused and in tune. I was having fun. I had energy. I was alive.
I crossed the line in 11:14:42. 11th place. All things considered, it was a great day.
Thanks to my wife, Ruth. Couldn't have done this without you. You were everywhere. I love you.
Ever since my first ultra, this song enters my brain often during races. This one was certainly no exception...