After a solid training block over winter and a successful Gorge 100k race in April my next big goal was to be Squamish 50mi in August. Unfortunately due to some visa processing issues I would not be able to leave the US in August so I had to find another race. It turns out the 19th/20th of August is a big weekend for Ultrarunning. Waldo 100k is on in Oregon, but was sold out when I started looking. The NUT 100k was another good option and looked like it’s technical river trails would suit me. However Celia would still be running the Squamish 50k on that weekend, and thinking it was too hard to have both of us running on the same weekend in different places I decided to look for a different weekend. This led to the next best choice being the renowned White River 50mi. White river takes place just to the the east of Mt Rainier about 90 minutes south of Seattle.
The course starts at an airfield in the valley and has – as Scott the race director says – “just two hills…that one (pointing to Sun Top), and that one (points to the hill on the west side of the valley)”. “Sustained elevation change, pace yourselves, ” was his final advice. Soon after the countdown started and we were off.
I like to try and keep in my own space at the start of a race. I use heart rate to measure my effort output, but for White River I decided to more or less ignore it for the first couple of kilometers while I let my body get over the adrenaline of the start and settle into running. We start off up some gravel road and I just looked at the ground and focused on my stride telling myself I was in my own race etc. I also have a physical trigger which is some physical action that you wouldn’t normally do that is tied to a mental state. My trigger is to touch my temples, which sort of resembles a horses blinker’s.
As we came on to the single track I felt like I was moving well was delighted to check my heart rate and see that it was exactly in the range I wanted it, things were going well already. Soon after the first aid station the first big climb started. I think I was around 20th at the aid station. I didn’t want to push too hard on the climb but also knew from previous experience that it was best for me to setting my own pace, not sitting behind someone. I went for a hybrid approach on this climb, hiking the steeper parts but running for the most part. When we got up onto the ridge we were treated with some nice views across the valley and onto Mt Rainier. We could also see the airfield and event centre down below us, it’s quite gratifying to see how far we had come. On the first spot where we got this view a couple had chosen the spot to hammock camp for the night. They had a great view, but I don’t think they expected 300 runners to come past earlier in the morning while they were cuddling in their hammock! We continued along the ridge to aid station 2 where I was informed I was in 10th place, so the climb had been unintentionally effective. The next section takes you out and back along the ridge to Corral pass, and then back to aid station 2 (4). This section has a couple of punchy climbs, and the trail opens up more and becomes a bit exposed. The course criss crosses the ridge a bit giving you great views east and west. Unfortunately for us the smoke from the BC fires was starting to roll in now, I’m sure the views would have been better on a clear day. Along the ridge a runner (we’ll call him purple shorts) and I played leapfrog, switching places a handful of times. We also get a chance to see the two lead runners who would have been about 15-20 minutes in front already! I tried to stay on top of my nutrition but was starting to feel a bit funny in my stomach, so opted for some banana at the third aid station. On the return journey my stomach started getting a bit worse. It was never disastrous but getting any calories down didn’t sound too appealing. As we descended back to aid station 4 I passed purple shorts again and forced down a gel. I thought that my stomach issues might be due to too much sugar, so I decided to just grab water and let myself burn through what was in my stomach on the descent. I picked up the pace as much and managed to pick off a couple more places, reaching 7th by the bottom of the hill. I knew I had Celia and Dave waiting at the bottom and that I would be more than halfway done at the bottom, which was great motivation to keep spinning along.
I reached aid station 5 (mile 27.2) after 4 hours and 10 minutes. I knew that Celia and Dave were waiting at the aid station but it’s funny how you can’t think 100% straight during the races. As I came in I started thinking about going to the aid station table before remembering just to go over to Celia as she had everything sorted. I sat in a chair for a little bit while I sorted out a few things. I got a hat because this section was more exposed and also picked up my pack instead of the hand held I had used for the first loop. The pack just makes it a bit easier to deal with stuff you are carrying, as well as giving me the ability to carry more water. Changing out this gear is also a good mental change as you can think of the next section as new gear, new goals. I got a fresh ice cold buff and sipped on some ginger brew while I was getting myself together. The ginger brew is great as it’s full of calories and helps to calm your stomach a bit. Quickly enough I was up and on my way on the second loop. (The photo at the top of the article is from running into this aid station)
The second loop starts off up the campground before turning to the hills and starting the second big climb of the day. I hiked most of this climb, stopping briefly at a stream crossing to wet my buff again. The climb didn’t seem that steep at the time and I was thinking to my self that I could probably run this on fresh legs. At the aid station I had some coke to get back some calories and filled up my bottles. The aid station crew informed me that the next man was about 90 seconds ahead. There was still more climb so I kept hiking and start catching glimpses of the guy in front. We sort of rubber banded a bit, at one point getting right behind him. I was still more concerned about my preserving my condition to get me to the finish line than taking the place at this point so I focused on that. Just before the final climb to the second to last aid station I stopped to pee, finding out that I was quite dehydrated, definitely the most dehydrated I have been in a race. It was a bit of a eureka moment as it suddenly made sense that this is what was affecting my stomach too. I still had a bit of water so told my self that I should finish it all on the climb up and then take some time to regroup at the aid station. On the hike up some hikers coming down told me that there was shaved ice at the top. I was surprised before realising that they must just be trying to motivate me up the hill. I kept grinding it up and was relieved when I saw some parked cars above me, before popping out into the car park. They did in fact have shaved ice, and wood fired pizza! Pizza wasn’t really what I was looking but I was more than happy to munch on some ice while I got my self cooled down with some dousing water, ice in my hat. With my bottles full and a shaved ice to go I started heading down the 10km, -950m forest road. It was tough going and I kept myself going by just thinking “if you go any slower it will just be worse”. I got about 160 calories down and a bit of water starting to feel a bit better. After what seemed an eternity the road turned right and the gradient flattened out a bit as I rolled the last kilometer into the aidstation. I still had a full bottle from the descent so I just filled up one bottle before heading out up the Skookum “not so” flats. This was a more technical piece of trail than the rest of the course but nothing crazy. I was pretty sore and starting to get some cramps so I just pushed as much as I could without losing control of my legs. Along the way I really wished I’d done some scouting of this last part as the ends of races seem to drag on so it’s good to know the terrain and know exactly where you are. The trail traced the river for the most part so I kept looking out for the road bridge that went across to the camp ground. It was actually a really nice trail, I look forward to going back on fresh legs! Eventually I popped out on the the road and spilt everything I had left into the last 500m to the finish line.
I ended up in 6th place in a time of 7:53 which was pretty good at the end of a tough day.
- Dehydration is a thing and it can manifest in your stomach! Pay close attention to how much water you were drinking.
- Maybe I should have a simpler nutrition plan that is easier to stay on top of
- Know the course, scouting is invaluable. It would have helped a lot throughout the second part.
- Even if you feel pretty rubbish you are probably still moving ok and looking pretty good. Maybe those aid station crews weren’t lying after all!
Thanks & shout outs:
- Scott and his team for putting on a awesome race. The aid stations were top notch!
- Kinetic Sports Rehab for teaching me how to keep myself in top condition
- Yassine and Wy’east Wolfpack the invaluable coaching
- Celia and Dave for being great crew and even better mates