This is what Waldo Lake looks like from Fuji Mountain on slightly cloudy morning of August 18, 2012. It's also my only glimpse of the lake from about 7000 feet that I would get during the race.
This is a short blog about my Waldo, my first 100K race, where the geographic ups and downs mapped pretty close to the rise and fall of my mind against the body. This is the race where my body and Waldo won, this time.
Of course, the term race for me is a bit of a misnomer unless I view it as my competition against the clock, that arbitrary time from when the race starts to when the race directors say wrap it up or in the case of Waldo the race where the body tells the brain you can't have anymore, you're done.
Yes, I'm a back of the pack average ultrarunner and the mind and body are sometimes at odds with each other. I try to balance my modicum of capability with the challenge at hand. I think I can safely say the Waldo 100K is a worthy challenge mentally and physically.
So it was I took the 3AM start to be safe so that I could hit all the cutoffs. Thankfully I managed to hit all the cut offs with minutes to spare. A little over 12 hours earlier the race director, Craig Thornley, did the countdown I was breathing easily, but I was feeling a bit odd for a early morning start. This was the earliest I'd ever started a run of any length that started in the dark.
Fortunately, I'd done a night run with Mike Rosling a few days earlier and realized I needed fresh batteries and made sure I had a good backup lite just in case. Running in the dark guided only by the runners ahead and a few well placed reflective tapes narrows the focus, it's where do I put my feet and why don't I see any tape. Sometimes, I'd catch a glimpse of a head lamp in the dark or see a piece of tape laying on the ground, somewhat reassured I was heading in the right direction.
After the start we head uphill for the first two miles mostly hiking up the road and out of Willamette pass ski resort. It feels odd to be in the top 10-15 runners and I think how odd it feels to be running ahead of so many other great runners. Then reality strikes and I remind myself that I will soon have the pleasure of getting passed by a bunch of really fast people in about four hours or so. But for just a little while I pretend I'm one of the front runners and it feels good.
Heading down towards the Gold Lake campground I glance at my pace and think it's a bit fast. Sub-12 minute pace wasn't on my mental math card, but I feel like I should take advantage of the gravity assist and hope I don't trip. A short time later I trip and fall, the first of many mind / body disconnects. I decide to keep pressing as long as my heart rate and breathing are reasonable. Check and check, easy breathing, HR less than 130.
At one point I see a big pile of brown stuff, side step it, and think "Bear", then I think how about we think "Horse" and the heart rate drops back into normalcy. This is during a time when there's no runners in sight. It's with relief I see the signs for Gold Lake campground and have to remind myself to slow down and enjoy this first stop before the climb up to Fuji. Todd Miller wishes me good luck and it's too dark to see his face, but I thank him and the other great volunteers awake at too dark to see anything AM.
Next stop Fuji Mtn Aid station. Heading up the mountain trail, I'm starting to get passed by quite a few runners. I decide I need to set my own pace and let them go. I'm looking forward to William "Pain Train" Williams words of wisdom. Mike told me he'd be directing traffic somewhere on the trail. Pretty soon I see someone sitting on the uphill side of the trail saying to take a left. It's William and he says "take it easy". I'm thinking does he mean I should be walking. 'cause that's what I think it means. I try to translate into William's 'take it easy' and I'm remembering his birthday bash up at the North Santiam with Levi, Mike, and a few of his other running buddies, 'cause that easy was my barely able to breathe easy.
I decide he must have meant walk and adjust accordingly. Easy took me just over three hours to cover the 12.4 miles from Willamette Pass through Gold Lake campground and up the Fuji Mtn trail. Happy days only 3 more hills to climb and 53 miles to go. Piece of cake.
I have to remind myself I didn't have a drop bag at this aid station, decide it's light enough to drop my headlamp, grab some watermelon, and head for the top. It seems easier for some reason as compared to the run Mike, Samuel, and I had done a few days before in the daylight.
The downhill is definitely better and I see where the other runners are. I feel like downhill is one of my "strengths", at least compared to uphill, flat, and technical stuff. I gain on a few people and hope I feel this good on the next climb.
I hit the aid station, get some water and Gu brew, (which I now don't like anymore), mentally note how much I really appreciate the volunteers, say my heartfelt thanks and head on down the trail.
William gives me some more good advise about running easy and consistent, I love it when I see this guy running or volunteering, I can't help but be motivated. I hope he had plenty of mosquito repellant, 'cause I could feel them attacking the backs of my arms and legs. As part punishment, the mind decided no DEET and no sunscreen. Of course, it was all based on science, partly cloudy, light sprinkles. The mosquito's would be holed up somewhere staying nice and dry, right. Hmmmm, the body would repay in kind. There's a little rise after passing William, that's a bit of a chore, but fortunately I was distracted by some loud crashing behind me, I glanced back and saw this huge animal in the trees, fortunately not running towards me. It was an Elk one of the few animals I saw during the whole run, aside from chipmunks and mosquitos. That took my mind off the hill and got me onto a good downhill section.
I remember stopping at a small creek and rinsing my face and the 5AM lead runner blows by. I think I better get moving. A little later I think I do a nice little side step to let Timothy Olson go by , he zips by and says "nice". I watch in slow motion as he two steps across two boulders and on down the trail. It takes me four steps and a bunch of pre-zigs and post-zags to cover the same space. I gave some thought as to how I could reproduce that technique, patent it, and sell it for a trillion dollars. Then I decided I better get moving and start some mental calculations, if a Gimpy man is running at an average pace of 13 minutes per miles with a two hour head start how long will it take a lanky Mike "The speedster" Rosling traveling at 8 minutes / mile to catch up with the Gimpy man.
Answer: Not very long, my son took a pic of him around mile 20ish and the next picture was of me and he had a 6 minute lead on me. I felt like he'd just passed me a mile before.
I'm still feeling good at this point, I like my speed and my time. Sipping water, Gu brew, and eating at all the aid stations. That was the plan and I'm following it. Finishing looks good, done with the first 20, 45 to go. There's been a light rain and I chat on the road what feels like the perfect snails pace. That's a good sign. This must be that 'Easy and consistent' William was talking about.
Now the fun begins, two hills down three to go.
Uh-oh that doesn't feel right, before I know it I'm off the trail, one-two-three steps. Mount Hood 45 mile repeat. The body says whatever you did by not putting on sun screen and mosquito repellant, I'm not taking anymore of your food or drink. The stomach rebels. 1-2-3 and Bret goes by and I'm thinking he's thinking that guys not going to make it. I try to block out those thoughts and think reset. If I start all over, a little Gu, a little sip. I've got maybe two miles of feeling good before I crash. I felt better for a couple miles at Mt Hood. What can I do to change things up in the next two miles. Answer: Mint Chocolate Gu. A little, now a little sip. Walk, go slow, you can recover there's plenty of time.
I'm not down yet, let's take it slow. I get the Gu down and more water. Now I just want to get to the next aid station. It will be tough but just keep moving. I can't believe I'm sweating just writing about this. Charlton Aid comes and I snag some ginger cookies and shot blocks from my drop bag. Decide I better switch to Coke, sugar-caffeine, that's got to be better than just water. I read somewhere about a runner who was always throwing up during ultras and they switched to drinking defizzed soda, got switch things up. Slow and steady, slow and steady. Heading out of Charlton Aid I think this is the most beautiful lake I've ever seen. I could camp here, I should camp here, I should find a place right now and camp here. That's got to be the body talking.
The body wanted this, the mind said haha sucker you had your chance and it's not working. Say goodbye to Charlton lake, three of five hills are done, two to go. I said good-bye and head up to "Road 4290" aid station. That's the last bag drop, what's there that might help. I still haven't eaten the shot blocks or the cookies, I don't think I have anything else in the bags that will help.
I'm walking, but at a good pace. I can still make it, if I can just get some food in. Nothing, make it to Road 4290 on Coke, but it's starting to taste too sweet. What to do? Have a seat, and I do. I empty the trail debris from my shoes, adjust my socks, and think maybe Sprite and ice. I hear an aid station volunteer is to help, but encourage us to keep moving, I know it's not directed at me, but I still think yes, I better get moving. Thankfully, the guy that won the "show me your Waldo" just shows up and does a haiku for the volunteers, I'm envious. He hands out candy and is gone, I douse my head with ice water and head on down the trail. Oblivious to the next climbs demands.
This is where I get the bright idea to turn on some music, Andrew, (my son), loaned my his small ipod full of music. It put one earpiece in and turn it on. It helps shift my focus from how tired I am to the music, I tried to concentrate on the words, the beat, the temp, and get my feet moving in sync. Sometimes I get it and then occasionally I'm reminded how tired I'm getting. Another sip, one sip at a time. The "Twins" trail is a grind, the toughest so far. I feel like I'm crawling, I could be laying down and moving faster it seems.
I still have enough will power to keep plugging along, I force myself to look around, keep seeing the meadows, the trees, the water, other runners/hikers. I see I couple of guys and I'm gaining on them. It turns out they are sitting down. A little while later they pass me and then they are sitting down again. This wasn't good, cause now the body is saying see that they get to sit down, that's what you should do. How about that tree, nope it's got a limb sticking out of it, not comfortable. OK how about that one? Nope it is rotting and might collapse. Sip some Sprite, uh-oh don't sip, sup, or think about eating or drinking. How about you sit on that log? Yeah that looks real comfortable, how about you lay down on this log? I can't I have my running vest on. Mind vs body, the body is arguing for rest, the mind to get up and move it.
I finally willed myself up and made to the next tree, all my good works, sipping soda will come to not save watering the plants. Whoo hoo! two more miles of feeling good, take that body. I feel good enough to move and I gotta take advantage. Well it wasn't two miles, but it got me moving. I knew it wasn't a good sign, but I also was starting to see the top of the Twins in the distance. This is the fourth hill, I'm gonna make it. I'm seeing again, the sky is sure blue, and it's warm again. I know I'm moving slow, but I get that slow and steady now. I made it to the top and I want to ever so bad run, jog, speed walk the downs. I can't the body is grinding to a halt. The mile to the aid station drags on and feels more like two, but I hear some bells and hooting. There's Gabi and Frank, David Elsbernd sprays me down with water. You couldn't ask for a better bunch of volunteers. But I'm spent and I let them know it. I want to get up, but I gotta have some food or drink. I eat four little pieces of water melon and wait. I sip some water and wait, I chew some ice and wait.
I finally glance at my watch and I think this aid station is going to close soon, I need to get moving. Frank Schnekenburger is encouraging to get moving and I agree. I gotta get going. He threatens to have Gabi come talk to me and I use it as an excuse to move. I can't believe how much motivation I got from this group. I wished I could bottle it, I know I would have made it to the finish. I didn't mean it Gabi when I said I wouldn't let you give me a IV at the end of the race, I think I could have used it at The Twins, maybe I would have had a better shot at finishing.
Even so, I trotted out of the aid station, feeling better, but soon was down to a walk. There's the road and 3/4 of a mile I needed to make a decision. Keep going to the next aid station, hit 50 miles, and drop or call it quits. Dropping early is always a tough decision, one I've never had to make before. I knew some day I might need to make it and Waldo was definitely a worthy opponent to call "Uncle". So be it, Waldo's my uncle. I got one nice pic of me and Uncle Waldo, but unfortunately pictures of Waldo from "The Twins" and Maiden Peak will have to wait for another time.
Waldo for me was more than a geographic challenge, yes the climbs are tough, the miles seem longer, but this is a beautiful and worthy trail course. The volunteers are amazing, the race directors top notch. I was thankfully saved the higher temperatures and treated to some amazing life experiences and new places to revisit. I had the joy of my son Andrew crewing for me and that was one of the most rewarding aspects of Waldo.
Andrew gave me a ride into the finish line and I turned my number "230" into Craig Thornley as my first "DNF". I shall miss you 230, Waldo, you made me say "who's your uncle" and it is you. But I feel better slogging it out from mile 27 - 42, pushed myself more than ever before and take away some very good memories.
In particular, sitting with my son at the finish line. Seeing Larry Stephens finish and wishing it was me, that delicious veggies soup and hamburger, and losing my glasses in the restroom and finding them at the aid station with Todd Jansen a few minutes later.
Finding Mike and his mom, letting him know he wouldn't have to wait until I finished. Mike as always put it on the line and finished an amazing 10th, under 12 hours. He's one inspirational guy how always runs from the heart.
Thanks Andrew, Mike, William, Frank, Gabi, Scott, Todd, David, Jared 1 and 2, and all the Waldo volunteers and RD's. What a great experience and inspirations one and all. Hope to see you all next year.
Oh Waldo, I did not know you, but I know you better. I saw you once and hope to see you again next year along with those three big peaks above 7000 ft. Mind and body working as one, Team Gimpy.
Woot! Woot! Woot!
Until then, Let's go Gimpy, Time to run!!!
Next stop, McKenzie River 50K...
This should be called the Waldo