Wednesday, September 18, 2013

And we danced...Volcanic 50K

And we danced, and we cried. And we laughed and had a really really really good time Take my hand, let's have a blast. And remember this moment for the rest of our lives…. - M&RL

This blog post shouldn’t scare you away from this race. It should be a MUST for anyone interested in seeing what’s in our own backyard. An amazing race that puts you in places that make you realize how very very small and lucky we are. Also, involuntarily yelling,  “Holy Sh!t this is SO damn COOL!” over and over again.

Of course the real race ALWAYS starts with the bathroom line. There in the early dark hours with bibs in hand pinning to our shorts with only 20 people ahead of us.  Looking good so far!

A little nervous at the start, but not any different from all the other trail races this year. AK and I were talking on the drive up about our prep for this race: Evergreen Trail Run Series (7 races), Chuckanut 30K, Mt. Si, 3 Summits, too many Grand Ridge runs of 16+ miles, 26.2 at Discovery, and the Cutthroat Classic.

Totally ready! Bring this shit ON!

AK and I have done plenty of races together, but this was the first endurance race that we’ve done together. I’ve done IM and she’s been at the finish, and she’s did an Chuckanut 50K and other marathons and I’ve been at the finish. This was the first time we’d both be in action. I was nervous for her, but knew that she’s a badass and can bring the fight when needed. But still, anything can happen on race day.
My big worry on the day was pulling an I.T. Band again. I feel lucky enough to get by on marathon’s, Chicago it went at mile 24, lucky enough to happen at the end, but still the pain made me want to throw up. And of course there was IMC 2010. I was hoping for a clean run, in the back of my mind I knew I didn’t have that fight in me this day. Some days you have that fire in you to scream F**k You at anything that gets thrown at you, but this morning I needed a clean run cuz I didn’t think I’d make it through if the fight came to me.

AK and I said “I love you, stay safe”

Photo by Alley Kloba
The gun went off, the Garmin was started and the 4 mile, 4000’ climb to the lava fields began.
I kept thinking of the first 4 miles as the swim part of Ironman: Slow, easy, calm. Slow, easy, calm.

Lots of people passed by, most sounded gassed, breathing heavy as we hit the first ridge and saw St. Helens glowing in the morning sunrise for the first time. Amazing
I power walked/hiked, ran some, mostly just kept it easy. Across the first lava field was hard in that you had to keep your eyes down and try to stay on course. I was terrible at this, kept telling people ‘follow at your own risk’. An older woman and I paired up pretty good and leap frogged each other back and forth. We were with a group of about 20 and finished off the lava alone having dropped the rest. And we did a bad job at crossing?!?! I ran with Mosley (her last name) for a while, she totally rocked!
Photo by Paul Nelson Photography

Photo by Alley Kloba
After that it was down to the trail running I’d been aching for. Rolling, single track with canyons and foothills just feet away. More mountains as a distant backdrop to that, still in the morning light and quiet. A few hundred feet descent into the first Aid Station (AS), then a 40 ft straight drop to the river crossing below then a rope to help climb/crawl out the other side. Very Bear Grylls-n’shit!

Photo by Alley Kloba
After that was the long long slog to the top for the next climb. I felt the stomach start to go and tried to nurse it a bit. However, with the sun and the constant climbing I could feel the turning of the stomach and couldn’t do much to stop it. At 3 hours in the stomach refused anything. It took 45 minutes to get a single Gu down the hatch. - Not good

Time is a funny thing in endurance races: Top of the hour, side of the hour, bottom of the hour, side of the hour, top of the hour.

I figured I’d try the stomach again and was surprised to see that 2 hours had passed since I stopped putting in any fuel. I don’t remember AS #2, but I was on the hunt for AS #3, I had to get there. Felt weak and head was swimming, the heat was eating into me and the stomach was NOT happy. The urge to dry heave mixed w/ a growling hungry stomach. I climbed into AS #3 and collapsed on the stream that was the only water source for the AS.
20.25 Miles / 6 Hours
photo by Alley Kloba
Just needed some time off the legs and time to regroup. I sat for 8 minutes, pouring water over myself and realizing this may be as far as I go. Then I realized, if I quit here: 5 mile hike down to Johnston Ridge, 40 mile drive to the hwy, 80 miles back to Marble Mt. Snowpark where the car is parked. Even worse, 5 mile hike down and AK, after running, would have to drive 120 miles to come get me….. full on zombie-walked out of the AS and just kept saying ‘walk, walk, walk’ - 4 miles to the next station.

Windy Ridge

Leaving AS #3 you had to reckon with Windy Ridge. If I wasn’t in such a haze I might have thought: How? Too far gone to push over what was ahead. 800 ft in just under 2 miles. No shade, and  most of the trail was only about 8 inches at best for 20-30 yards at a time with a 150-200 ft drop to the left.

Photo by Alley Kloba
This tested my fairly new problem with heights. I’ve always loved being up as high as I could possibly climb or get in a building, but over the last 12 years that has, not so slowly, become a major problem? Causing an involuntary shut down and frozen feeling throughout the body. Just great for a race!

Getting to the top of Windy Ridge, you could look straight into the blast zone and new cone that’s been growing there. I looked back over the massive climb back down to the valley floor and saw someone w/ a pink top starting their way to the climb. ??? Could that be AK?
I laughed out loud and clapped. Seeing what could have been her put wind back in my sails. It was 2 miles of downs and flats to the next and last AS. No shade, but no climbing. I could handle 2 miles. I knew if I could make the AS I’d make the day.

Photo by Alley Kloba

The time cutoff was 4 o’clock for AS #4 –you’d be pulled from the course no questions asked.

Heading into AS #4 I waited until I was under the shade of the tent to finally look at my watch to see what time of day it was: 1:40pm. Safe.
Photo by Alley Kloba
Mile 24.4 / 7 hours

My thought was if I can make it to AS #4 I’d rest as long as I needed and easily make the last 8 mile push. I stayed there for 10 minutes, finally being able to take in some fuel: a cup of Roctane and a handful of Ruffles. The stomach let a little/enough in that I felt I was in good shape. As I left I spotted the same person in pink coming over the ridge about a mile or 2 away.

 I figured the course profile was all downhill after one last little climb of about 300ft and I’d finish up in about 1.5 hours at most.

The reality of the situation clearly opened up after the climb. The down hills were too steep and narrow to safely run on tired legs across sand and boulders that where sharp and loose. The canyons that they warned about that went on forever wasn’t the problem, it was that at max I could only go downhill at 17 min pace. Then climb, crawl, and scramble up at 23 min pace. Too quickly you do the math and figure at BEST you’re going to be out here for another 2.5 hours. That’s if everything goes well.
Photo by Alley Kloba
Finally reaching the forest and running on dirt trails again I was ecstatic to say the least. But only to have the trail dump back into the last lava field just over a mile long. I wasn’t ready for a fight today. 9.25 hours on my legs and I was done. My left I.T Band had that familiar sick ache as I crossed the last lava field that I'd been afraid of all day. I reached 30.5 miles at the end of the lava field FINALLY and a volunteer on course said it’s all open trail and service road to the finish line from here.

I sat on a stone stretching out my I.T. Band for 2 minutes wondering if I was going to see AK crossing the lava field just above me. Then I just decided it’s going to hurt. 16 minutes or 45 minutes. I crossed the last dried stream bed and hit the service road hard. Carried 8:15 minute pace and quickly caught the 3-4 people that went by when I was sitting on the stone. About 5 minutes into it, I.T. pulled, run light and hard don’t stop.

Garmin chirped 31 miles, one more to go.

 Pain is a funny thing, I don’t ever talk about it with friends because it sounds stupid and I always get the same response of “Why didn’t you just stop?” I don’t stop because I didn’t need to. It hurt, things hurt, it wasn’t broken, the damage wasn’t going to be long term and I wasn’t going to let something that I was afraid of win. Not after 32 miles. So you bite down, shed tears and focus on turn over, breathing, pace, being as relaxed as possible and ignore the fact that you feel like a rag doll with wolves tearing at your leg.

I thought, in a few hours AK and I will be sitting on the hotel bed watching tv laughing about what the hell we just did to ourselves. - it's funny, I could ignore the beating I was taking by focusing on the details of what'd we be eating and watching.

Garmin chirped at 33 miles

Nothing but forest ahead. I said out loud, ‘It’s 34 miles, I can’t do that.” – I never knew the exact mileage and had heard 32,33, & 34 miles throughout the day.

I started to try and stop. If you’ve ever run with a blown I.T. Band you have no control over your leg, from about mid-hip to your ankle. You kick the bottom of your leg forward with your thigh sending lightning rods from hip to ankle and across the knee, and hope like hell that your foot lands in a way that you can basically pole vault over to the good leg.

 At 33 miles I knew I couldn’t run one more mile to the finish, then to the right of the trail about 20 yards down I saw a line of parked cars and tents………………PPPPHHHHH AAAAWWWW KKKKK…….

Finish time: 9:58 and change

I crossed the line and was seated and looked after by a great volunteer, who brought me food and water. All I could say was, "Food, water, not cold." The people that were cold were being laid out with IV's behind the chairs. Then she lead me to my car after about 5 minutes.

As I got to the car I turned as people clapped for another finisher and I saw a person in pink cross the line. I told my volunteer, “I think my wife just finished”. She rushed off and sure enough 2 minutes later she brought AK around the corner. I yelled to her, “It WAS you that was behind me!”

This course was beautiful and wounded beyond words: Beautiful Destruction. It’s amazing that over 30 years later anything could grow back there again. I had a GoPro and wanted to use it during, but decided against because I felt I had to show respect to my 1st ultra-race and focus on finishing. Same thing with taking pictures, I just couldn’t take my phone out and take pictures like at Cutthroat and other races.

My mantras throughout the day:
Calm, slow, easy.
Wait for the window to open. Breathe. Don’t Panic.
Walk everything first, run when you can.

10+ years ago on our 1st trip to St. Helens
Not sure if I’d ever do this event again, I’d love to think so. The first time AK and I ever went to St. Helens we were in a constant bliss of ‘what’s around the next trail, what’s over that ridge, how can we make it over to that area’. Sort of a fantasy land of trails and sights. Even after 10 hours on course, I still felt a bit of that, minus the lava fields. So yeah, maybe again sometime.


spaceneedl said...

fantastic recap, bill. you have a great gift with words.

"This course was beautiful and wounded beyond words: Beautiful Destruction."


looking forward to reading more in the future.

michael miller

Bill said...

Thanks Michael, words are pretty useless in describing what your senses go through on any part of that course.