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Thursday, August 7, 2008

White River 50 Mile Race

Not quite four miles into the race the runner ahead of me turned his ankle, then hobbled over to the side of the trail, and leaned against a tree in obvious pain. "Are you OK?" I asked perceptively. "I think I broke my ankle!" he moaned. I ran ahead to the next aid station, which was just two minutes ahead to get help (my medical knowledge is pretty much limited to knowing that the ankle is in the foot region).

Fortunately, I found out much later, his ankle wasn't broken, though he did have to drop out.

White River is a simple little course, it only has two hills. The biggest hill comes first, when we are fresh and leads us up 4000' to stunning views of Mt Rainier. Frequently I would round a bend on the crest and see a zillion gorgeous wildflowers with Rainier as a backdrop as dozens of Munchkins popped up all around me and started singing,
You're out of the woods, You're out of the dark,
You're out of the night.

Step into the sun, Step into the light.
Keep straight ahead for the most glorious place
On the Face of the Earth or the sky.
Next on the agenda comes what quite possibly is the best downhill section in any race, about 8 miles downhill, on soft, relatively non-technical, single-track back to the starting area. I passed a zillion people during the descent. Ever since my lobotomy I am wicked fast on downhills! The Munchkins sang for me the whole way down!

Back at the start (half-way point) I was feeling a little tuckered due to having run so fast for so long. The Munchkins apparently went down for a nap and I was beginning to think I was in for a very long hard day, but Benny Hinn jumped out from behind a tree and I miraculously recovered and actually was feeling pretty darn good by the time I got to the top of Sun Top at mile 37. The Munchkins were back! It also helped that Sun Top and other exposed parts of the climb were in the clouds and it wasn't as hot as usual going up. (In fact, the weather all day long was absolutely, positively perfect.) Sadly though, this was to be the last I'd see or hear of my Munchkin friends.

For at this point we come upon one of the cruelest downhill stretches in the world of ultras: 6.5 miles of steep hard-packed gravel road. My legs hurt, my soles hurt, my hurts hurt. I was running fast (at times up to 7:00 mpm), trying to make up as much time as I could and trying to get to the bottom as fast as possible, but the road went ever on and on. Many times I said to myself: "If I only had a brain..."

By the time I got to the penultimate aid station my legs were thoroughly thrashed. And I still had almost seven miles left. "Flat" they said, but it was rolling and was by far the most technical section of trail in the race. Ding dong, my legs are dead. But all bad things do come to an end and I finished, utterly spent, in 10:19; almost an hour faster than my other visit here six years ago when I was a strapping lad in my 40s.

Of course, six years ago I knew I was heading out on a 200 mile backpack trip the next day down the PCT, which would culminate in running another 5o mile race at Mt Hood two weeks later. So I had taken that wicked downhill of the west a little easier back then. Still, I thought 10:19 was pretty good for a geezer, but awards went five deep and I came in 6th in my age group- "My! People come and go so quickly here!"

And, holding fast to tradition, I did head out backpacking the next day, but only an easy hike up into Goat Rocks with my womenfolk.

At the finish line I sat down with my old PCT buddy, David (DNS!) Horton and reminisced about that time back in aught-five that he and I teamed up to set the PCT speed record :-)

Then I found myself at the front of the line for the tasty post-race BBQ. A couple of bites of meat and my stomach mutinied. I finished the race but the BBQ would go down as a DNF. I offered my unfinished plate to Horton who, just like 3 years ago, completed a task that I could only dabble at. Not bad for a guy who's practically a sexagenarian!

Granted, there's no place like home, but if you ever want to experience life somewhere over the rainbow, the White River 50 is the race for you. Ain't it the truth!


Jon said...

That was you in the yellow shirt? Even with my early start, you caught me at Corral Pass and took off.

John said...

Hey Mark,
great write-up and good run on a tough course. Oh yeah: nice shirt!

aloha, TJ