White River 50 miler

After the disaster that was Scorched Sole, I knew that I needed to get right back into running and I needed a goal.  Even with the knowledge that White River 50 is for climbers, I got out the credit card and registered.  A bunch of local friends always head down to volunteer, so I knew that our accommodation was set.  Marie Boucher had signed up, looking to get another 50 miler in before going to Pine to Palms.  She was keen on running with me and promised to get me over those two hills.

Before the race, everyone seemed to have advice on how to run the course.

Conserve your energy on the first half

Don’t pound your quads on the first descent.

Remember that Suntop is the longer climb.

Save something for Skookum Flats.  It isn’t flat at all.

Race Face

Race Face

So off we went, side-by-side.  The first part of the course is beautiful forested, single track – my absolute favourite type of trail.   Before Marie and I had even caught up on the latest news, we were at the first aid station.  We carried on this fabulous trail for a while more and it gently began to climb up switchbacks.  We were able to run so much of this part and time seemed to fly by.  Soon we were climbing a staircase beside a rock face and the terrain became steeper.  Occasionally we would pop out at the top of the cliffs and you could see the airstrip where we started far, far below.  Mt Rainier was clear of clouds and so close it seemed that we could simply take a zip-line to the summit.

In no time, we were at Ranger Creek aid station and, soon after that, the front-runners were headed back towards us.  I usually love an out-and-back section of a race because you get to see how the ‘race’ is unfolding.  This section was a bit narrow for the two-way traffic and I found that I was often putting myself or the downhill runner at risk, since I was unable to make much room.  I could see evidence of side-swipes and near-misses with the  squashed shrubs and upturned soil just off the trail.  But it was awesome to see Anton, Dakota, Scott, Yassine and others fly down past us.  Soon enough, we came across locally famous race photographer, Glenn Tachiyama, which indicated that we were very close to the Corral Pass aid station.

Corral Pass with Mt Rainier photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama

Corral Pass with Mt Rainier
photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama

Figuring out who is lurking in the bushes!

Figuring out who is lurking in the bushes!

Marie and I fuelled up and began the long descent.  Our pace had been conservative and I felt great.  I made a mental note to keep a comfortable downhill pace and started to focus on the second half of the course.  As we approached Ranger Creek, I could see some movement at the side of the trail.  There was Bruce, crouched low in the bush, clicking off photos.  As we ran down the switchbacks, he took shortcuts and reappeared below us.  It was fun trying to spot him as he leapfrogged.

This downhill section was beautiful.  The trail was forgiving underfoot and shady with dappled sunlight.  It would have been very easy to push the pace but we cruised down gently and watched as some other runners flew past.  Marie would throw out the marie-ism as they did, saying,

 (please read aloud with an endearing French Canadian accent)

We will see you on the way up to Suntop.  You will be suffering because you went too hard and we will pass you and remind you that you went out too hard.  You will see us again.  Count on it.

Leading the train

Leading the train

We arrived at Buck Creek at the 6 hour mark.  Lisa was there to help us reload and send us on our way up to Suntop.  This is where I really surprised myself.  If you know Marie, then you know that she loves to climb and she sets a relentless pace.  I imagined that she would get in a rhythm and I would never see her again.  She did indeed set a relentless pace but she made sure that she was always in my sights.  There is no arguing with Marie.  She expected me to stay with her and keep up the gruelling pace and, like a dutiful soldier, I did.  I kept focused on the task and it worked.  We climbed fast and we passed many runners.  No one passed us during that 10 mile climb.  I had no idea that I was capable of that.

Next thing you know, we popped out on the forest road about a mile away from the summit.  There was Janet Rosenfeld, already headed down the 6 mile road.  If we had been 5 seconds earlier or later, we would have missed seeing her.  We cheered each other on and continued up.  Suntop was a real milestone.

It looks like I'm having some sort of out-of-body experience here! photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama

It looks like I’m having some sort of out-of-body experience here!
photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama

We arrived at the most smoothly-run aid station I have ever seen.  I would have loved to stay and chat with Lynn, Jess, Jeanie and the rest, but we had a job to finish.

The gravel road down lasts forever.  Again, some runners blew past us on the steep downhill but we ran conservatively, chatting about this and that.  Of course, more marie-isms were called out to them as they passed –

You pass us now, but we will find you again on Skookie (sic) Flats.  You will be tired then and we will be fresh because we conserve.  You men, you are always exhilarated. (??)

Skookum Flats is a beautiful trail.  Someday, I would really love to run along this for pure enjoyment.  But that was not the case today.  The first 3 miles were fun.  There are twists and turns, trees and brush, light and shadows.  And then it became difficult.  Marie was encouraging but wouldn’t allow for any walk breaks.  When I told her I wanted to walk, she said,

Are you hurt?  Will walking make it better?  Non?  Then we run and get this done.

I turned on my music, trying to tune her out and find a groove of my own.  She said that we no longer had to conserve our energy.  We could really let ourselves go now.  The last 3 miles were exactly how I expected them to feel – sapping.  We continued to run and we kept up quite a pace.  We had joined a train of about four other runners and we chugged along.  Finally, we turned a corner and saw three kids.  This was the sight I had been waiting for.  Surely we must be within a kilometre of the finish.

Finish Line 11:15.23

Finish Line 11:15.23

The trail ended and the last few hundred metres were on the gravel road.  We could hear the announcements from the finish line.  We had done it.  11:15.23, putting us at 121 and 122/194 finishers, 26 & 27/54 women. I had run stronger than I imagined possible.  Marie had been great company and helped me discover that my body is far stronger than my mind.  In fact, my mindset (that of a poor climber) has been holding me back.

The 40-something Dirt Divas

The 40-something Dirt Divas