My last race of 2015 was the Waldo 100k. From their website:
The Waldo 100K Ultra marathon is a challenging 100K loop-type course starting at Willamette Pass Ski Area (70 miles east of Eugene, Oregon) at elevation 5120′, climbing up several mountains including Fuji, The Twins, and Maiden Peak before returning to the ski area. The route is mostly single-track trails with some fairly remote sections and has many incredible views of pristine Waldo Lake. It is not a beginner-level ultra and participation in the race should not be taken lightly.
The last sentence was in bold for a reason. This is a tough as it is beautiful course. Coming in I was confident I would finish the race, after all this would be my third 100k race this year. Having bettered my finishing time from my first to second 100k I hoped to continue that trend here. But it was not to be.
The ride from my home town of Bend, OR to the ski area was a pleasant short drive. I shared a ride with friend and fellow runner Brian Frankle. We took a back road which offered less traffic and more scenery. We engaged in pleasant conversation and as we neared our destination he pointed out several of the peaks we would climb during tomorrow’s race. They looked beautiful and I was excited. However upon arrival my troubles soon began. Something I ate at home before departing did not agree with my stomach and I soon had to find the nearest restroom. Then while setting up my tent I aggravated my back which was just coming around after I injured it a couple weeks ago. Little did I know these were to be just two reoccurring issues effecting me throughout tomorrow’s race.
The morning was on the chilly side and I quickly made my way into the ski lodge for a little warmth to await the 5 am start. Headlamps were worn by all as we made our way to the starting line.
Soon after we headed out and in no time came to our first ascent of about 1,100 feet in the first two miles. I reminded myself not to hurry and for the most part didn’t get too anxious. This first climb would soon be over and we would get to run down hill until we reached the first aid station at mile seven. I had taken my running shell off as I had heated up quickly on the ascent. As we made our way to the aid station I dropped off my headlamp and grabbed some watermelon and water. I was so focused on running I forgot a couple of friends were there helping man the aid station until one of them noticed me. I always find it rejuvenating to see a familiar face during a race. As I left to continue on I saw a bathroom available and went for it. Once inside my stomach let me know all was still not well. After what seemed like ten minutes I was back on the trail. We made our way towards the next trail that would lead us up Mt. Fuji and a 2,000 ft climb. As we left a road and got onto the trail I simultaneously heard a buzzing coming from behind a downed tree next to the trail and then felt a sharp pain in my right shin. Dang! Got stung by a bee. Luckily I’m not allergic but I’d feel some pain from the sting the rest of the race. As I settled in and tried to get back into a rhythm I started to get gas pains. Sheesh. If its not one thing it was another. Despite these nuisances I was able to focus on running and the forest scenery. I maintained a steady pace, took in my nutrition and drank from hydration pack. So far so good. As we approached a trail junction I saw two race volunteers sitting in sleeping bags waiting for runners to come to make sure they went in the right direction. I can only guess at what ungodly hour they had to hike up there to be ready for the first runners. I am always so thankful to the volunteers as without them these races wouldn’t be possible. The volunteers at Waldo fantastic. Offering encouragement, humor, and help if needed.
Somewhere after the second aid station at mile 12.4 I began seeing some of the early starters and front runners coming down. I saw my friend Brian during this stretch coming down and he looked composed and running well. I briefly wished I was farther along but then reminded myself I was right where I had hoped to be. My previous two 100k races I did the first half of the race too fast and I was determined not to let this happen again. I had a goal of reaching Charlton Lake aid station between 6 ¼ and 6 ½ hours. My goal if all went well was to shoot for a race time of under 13 hours.
As I approached the top of Mt. Fuji the wind was blowing hard and the views were spectacular in the morning light. Thankfully smoke from various forest fires elsewhere were being held at bay from the winds. I took a moment to take in the views at the top. I pulled out my camera phone to take a few pictures but it seemed not to be working. I played around for a moment with it but I quickly put it away as I was in a race after all. Time to head down.
As I made my way down Mt. Fuji and eventually aid station 3 Mt. Ray we would lose all the elevation we had just climbed up. I usually try to hammer down downhill sections as best I can but I decided to hold back a bit as I figured there was still plenty of miles left to run so it was best to conserve my quads. Even so, more issues started to creep up. My back started talking to me. No sooner then it seemed to go away it was replaced by tight glutes and hamstrings, then the bottom of my right foot started hurting. It seemed all the aches and pains from the running season started to rear their ugly heads. Any one of these by themselves was not a game breaker, but to constantly have one after the other come up and I was only a quarter of the way through the race started to wear on me mentally. Was this how it was going to be the rest of the way? I just didn’t feel right and I wondered maybe I wasn’t totally over a cold/virus I had just the week prior. For the first time ever I seriously was considering dropping out of a race and I hadn’t even reach the half way point.
Despite the various discomforts I made it to Charlton Lake aid station. As I approached I could hear the crowd gathered there. Even as I smiled seeing the first spectators in my mind I was debating if I should continue on. As I entered the aid station I was greeted by a pleasant surprise. My wife Julia had come with our two children. Seeing them always lifts my spirits and today was no exception. But as I grabbed my drop bag and told her of my troubles she asked if I wanted to drop as we both new the second half of the course would be more isolated and if I dropped out there getting out would not be easy. Despite having my doubts if I could finish I was determined to try. Worse case scenario I figured I could always hike out if need be. With a quick kiss to my family I was off again.
It was just over five miles to the next aid station and it helped that this section had a slight loss in elevation. It was still tough going mentally and physically, but the farther I ran the better my frame of mind. By the time I hit aid station six I was feeling better then I had in some time. However not long after departing this aid station I had to soon pull off the trail as my stomach issues once again returned. As I was taking care of business the stillness of the forest was suddenly interrupted by what I’d describe as a loud primeval sound. I heard it again, closer this time and then realized it was another runner who was having problems of his own. He was throwing up repeatedly. I thought to myself I was lucky as things could be worse for me. The next seven miles the trail steadily climbed up as we made our way towards The Twins peaks. At this stage of the race some of the other runners were running a similar pace as I was. I’d focus on one ahead of me and do my best to try and catch up to them. Other times a runner would pass me by and I’d try my best to keep pace. A few of us would seesaw back and forth that way as the miles wore on. On one occasion as one guy passed me as I was struggling with my pace. We exchanged a few words of encouragement as he went by. He slowly disappeared from my view as he continued on but I was to see him again. This section of the race was extremely difficult as I’d be forced to slow down to a walking pace at times. Regain some strength to run at a slow shuffle to again be forced down to walking pace. This continued all the way to the Twin Peaks aid station.
After refueling as much as I could I headed out towards the next aid station at the foot of Maiden Peak. When running long races such as this I find it helpful to focus on one section of the trail at a time. Just think of getting to the next aid station, getting over the next incline and sometimes just picking out a spot on the trail a few yards ahead and focusing on reaching that goal. If I think too much about all the miles remaining I’d never get it done. This next section of trail we’d lose about 1400 feet in elevation over the course of 5 miles and this is probably part of the reason I was able to pick up my pace a bit. I passed another fellow runner who a few miles back had passed me up. He stepped aside to let me by as I was now the one going much faster as he struggled along. I said I had gotten a second wind and was going to ride it for as long as I could. He joked that maybe I’d get a third wind later as well and we both laughed out loud. I ran as hard as I could and these five miles seemed to go by fairly quickly as I reached the Maiden Peak aid station. The volunteers here were great, taking my hydration pack to fill it with water and one told me they had popsciles. Oh yeah! A prior aid station had some as well and this was a great way to help cool off and rehydrate before hitting the toughest climb of the day. I was immensely greatful these volunteers where out here in the middle of nowhere and I told them so. As I got ready to leave the guy I had passed previously came in. This helped get me back on the trail heading up as I used other runners as motivation.
For whatever reason making it this far into the race I now knew I would be able to finish. No doubts lingered anymore in my mind. I had no clue how much longer it would take but I knew I’d be able to do it. Climbing Maiden Peak was a real challenge. It had a similar gain in elevation as Mt Fuji at about 2,000 feet, but doing it after running 50 miles made it way harder. As I moved along I found myself slowing down more and more as the elevation went up and up. Soon I heard my fellow runner from earlier coming up behind me so I stopped to let him by. We offered encouragement to each other again and joked again that I could get a third wind. Not likely on this steep trail section. Soon he was out of sight but in time I saw another runner ahea. I tried to focus on catching up to him. He was a shirtless, bearded, grey haired man who looked much older then me so I assumed I’d catch him in no time. But at some point I stopped gaining and we maintained an equal distance apart. Damn this old guy was fast! As we got closer to the top I lost sight of him through the trees and wouldn’t see him again until after the race. As it turns out this “old guy” was the legendary Gordy Ainsleigh. And by calling him old I don’t mean any disrespect as I can only hope 20 years from now I’ll still be racing like him. For those who don’t know he is he’s the first person to run what we all know now as the Western States 100 mile ultra marathon in 1974. When he ran it this event was a horse race, not a foot race. Some say this is were modern ultra marathons began. You can learn more at Where it all began.
Eventually my slow plodding got me to the top of Maiden Peak. I was greeted by three volunteers who where there to be sure people made the full climb up before descending down again. One of them offered to take my photo.
After taking in the views and getting a boost of positive energy from being up there it was time for the home stretch. At first it was slow going as I encountered lots of rocks on the trail but eventually it gave way to a nicer trail. I couldn’t really go as fast as I wanted but eventually reached the final aid station at mile 55. Just seven miles to go. I got a warm reception and lots of encouragement at this last aid station. One volunteer who had finished the race already had come out to cheer people on and told me there were just a few more inclines and then I’d reach a downhill stretch to the finish. This indeed was the case, but as I ran along those short hills they seemed to be more numerous and longer and steeper to my tired legs. Along this final stretch there were several lakes offering a bit of respite with their aesthetic views.
Eventually with about three miles to go it did start to go downhill and I picked up my pace. I was motivated along by a runner who came up behind me. I asked him if he wanted to pass but he said this speed was good for him. We soon passed other runners including my buddy who shouted you did get a third wind! As my competitive spirit kicked in and I didn’t want this runner behind me to pass I ran even harder and harder. In time he dropped off and I ran alone again. Soon I could hear a truck driving on the highway. Then I heard the announcer on the PA system. I was almost there. Suddenly I was at a clearing and I could see the finish in the distance. I also saw three figures and one of them came running towards me. It was my family awaiting me. Soon my son Leonardo was running along side me and what has now become a tradition we crossed the finish line together.
My official time was 15 hours 10 minutes and 10 seconds. Two hours later then What I aspired for but I did complete my other goals. That is to finish the race and have fun. Although this race presented many physical and mental challenges I did enjoy myself along the way and am left with the great satisfaction of completing the event. I highly recommend this challenging race to anyone and I myself will one day return to try to better conquer it again.