To keep it short and sweet…a haiku:
My sister’s birthday.
Up Big Butte in Idaho.
Girls only hiking.
Jesse & I were offered permits to hike up Mt. St. Helens with our friend, his wife, and their 2 former neighbors. We’d been planning it for a few months and just a few days before our permit day, our friend’s wife could no longer join us and their neighbors told us they had company visiting from Michigan. The downside was that they wouldn’t be joining us, either. The confusing upside was that they were sending their friends in their stead.
A few days of questionable planning ensued and we all decided to caravan up together at 3 AM so we could begin hiking before sunrise. We [mostly] stuck to the plan, though it was light enough at the trailhead that we didn’t need headlamps. We were just about 1/2 hour behind schedule.
The sun coming up over the mountain was beautiful. We were hiking in snow right away, but it was warm. It was unclear what sort of conditions we’d have to trek through, so we all packed all the options: snowshoes, crampons, ice axes, poles, layers…the works. It was a much different experience than our summer ascent from last year.
Our hike was slow going, as we sorted out the appropriate gear as we climbed. Some hikers we saw had nothing but YakTrax on, others began with crampons right away. Some were skinning up with skis on and we all knew what that meant – they would have an incredible ride back down! One particular skiing group brought their border collie along. My day is always improved with a dog sighting!
We stopped for photos and lunch before the final push to the top and we were almost blown away by the wind. Once we got going again, I counted my steps in increments of 20 to pass the time. It seemed to take ages.
Once we reached the false summit, I threw down my pack and smiled to the north at Rainier, who was there to greet us. Mt. Adams to the east only peeked out a few times that day, Mt. Hood just the tip, and no Jefferson this time. You can’t win ’em all.
The rest of our group joined us and we relaxed on the top for about an hour, eating some, reapplying sunscreen, taking photos, and preparing for the descent. We wandered over to see the summit and after chatting with a few other groups, decided it wasn’t safe or wise to venture to it. No one had done it that day and it would take quite a bit more time. We just gazed from afar.
Jesse & I brought garbage bags for glissading and made pseudo-diapers out of them. (Note: it does not work as well as one would think).
Of the 5 mile descent, we were able to do about 3 miles on our butts. The chutes were well worn and it was easy to find a track and take off. The problem was all the gear we brought! I had to figure out how to hold my body so my feet were off the ground, my snowshoes wouldn’t drag behind me, my ice axe was at the ready, and also that I wouldn’t impale myself. It took most of the afternoon to sort it out, but it was such great fun!
At some point we put our snowshoes back on and were back on our feet. We arrived at the car and made plans to stop at Burgerville just down the road a bit. We were all famished, sunburned, and sleepy.
Never have I ever been so badly burned. The next morning, my nostrils had blistered and my lips were swollen from it. I went on a 7 mile run with a friend in Forest Park and she politely didn’t say a word!
“So don’t you sit upon the shoreline
And say you’re satisfied
Choose to chance the rapids
And dare to dance the tide”
–Garth Brooks, “The River”
Well, I did it. My first 50 mile race. I was never confident that I could run that far – not on the day I picked out which event it would be, not on the day I finally registered for it, and certainly not on race day. And yet, somehow, my legs and my lungs proved my brain wrong. Probably because my heart wanted it bad enough.
As we do, Jesse drove us up on Friday night to Capitol State Forest (near Olympia, WA) and we slept in the car. We arrived late to the camp site and backed in next to the river, trying to be careful not to shine our headlights at the others tents, while simultaneously trying not to run into a tree. We found a flat enough spot and rolled out the sleeping bag. I didn’t sleep a wink. I promise you, it wasn’t nerves. I was calm and legitimately tired, but I couldn’t warm myself up. I listened to the river rush by all night, clawing at Jesse’s warmth, wondering what the next day would bring.
The alarm went off at 5 AM, though I was already awake. It was dark and the car was foggy. I pulled out my baggie of questionable muffins (“these are easy enough to make and bring to the start line!”, I thought, and proceeded to fail miserably at making them). I ate two. Jesse awoke and I awkwardly pulled on my running clothes in the front seat. We drove the .02 miles to the start line and I immediately stood in the porta potty line. I’ve gotten better about that.
I set my drop bag down on the confusing staging area (“Where is aid station 3/5, from the map?” “Um, not sure.” **thinks to self, “Isn’t this your f**king race?**). It was too early for this. I set it down, knowing I wouldn’t need anything from it, as it only had my old trail shoes in case mine got soaked, a roll of Oreos, and an extra jacket because why not? Sigh.
Jesse joined me and we chatted to some other runners while I ate half a bagel. It was cold, but not miserable. The race director started his briefing and of the approximately 50 runners, he asked who the newbies were. Me + 2 others. I felt even more unprepared. I kissed my love for good luck and took off at a snail’s pace down the trail.
There were some dogs, some old people, some young. The typical gamut. I ran with a young guy, Kyle, for maybe 20 minutes. He was training for the Bigfoot 200. Of course he was. I ran with another girl (Colleen) for a few miles; it was her first 50M as well. She wasn’t super keen to chat with me, but I appreciated running near someone. I stopped for a photo of the sunrise and she continued without me.
Eventually we started up hill #1 (Capitol Peak) and a man joined me from behind (Glen); he had started late. He gave me some advice (“Jog the flats, even if it’s only 10 yards. In a 5k, it won’t matter, but over this distance, it could save 15 minutes or more! Like this, you should be running!”). I needed to run my own race, so I politely let him pass, but I logged his advice away. Power hiking up the hill, I caught another woman (Kim) and commented that I was jealous that she had sunglasses. We chatted about various summer events – she was training for her umpteenth 100 miler. Of course she was. She ran into her friend, who was in some sort of pain, and she stopped to chat. I carried on up the hill.
Aid station #1 came quickly at 5.5 miles. I enjoyed a few Oreos, some watermelon, and some Coke. I thanked the volunteers and continued hiking up to the radio towers on hill #2 (Larch Mtn). The view of Rainier against the sunrise was breathtaking. This is why we do it.
I enjoyed some glorious downhill by myself here, and then traversed on some incredible singletrack before joining a logging road and ascending Larch Mountain.
Here Kim caught up to me and we power hiked together. At the top of Larch Mtn, we were instructed to take an army man, to prove our ascent. We paused to enjoy the view, then took off running on the way down. We both professed our love of downhill running and picked up the pace.
Kim & I maintained a decent distance behind another group of women (ultra runner princess Jill, Christy, Colleen, and the girl in pink). We were chatting up and down the logging roads, matching our pace, and enjoying the run. We reached the same aid station again (#2, the half marathon mark), dumped our army men, and took off through the forest, joining the woman’s group. Every now and then we’d hear gun shots from people target shooting. It was a little unnerving and eventually Christy explained that was why the race shirts were fluoro yellow – an inside “joke” about gun safety in the forest. Makes sense!
We all stayed together, for the most part, leapfrogging as we all took our turn off trail for bladder relief, kindly passing as we found our place in the pack on the varying hills or descents, chatting about everything and nothing all at once. The miles flew by. I was so happy.
A tiny downhill into aid station #3 (mile 17-ish) was a nice intro to the hill to come. I had a few chips, an orange slice, and an Oreo for the road. I refilled my front pocket bottle with Coke and we were off again through the forest. I was just behind Christy and saw the photographer on the side of the trail, clicking away. With no one behind me, I asked if he was ready and gave him my best jump! Classic race shot, both mouth and hand filled with Oreo, and we thanked each other. I’ll cherish that photo and that memory. See it here.
I ended up power hiking with Christy and Jill, talking running, up and up the hill, while the water ran down. Jill stopped for a break and eventually it flattened out enough to pick up the pace. I was out in front, on flowy singletrack with lush, vibrant ferns all around. Pretty soon Colleen and Kim are behind as well. Jill eventually caught up and asked to pass (“I want to be going faster”) and I pulled to the side. No one else joined her, so I took the lead again. This would be my position for the rest of the run (and I heeded Glen’s advice about running the flats. Maybe it helped).
This section was 13 miles out to the far aid station and back again (making a full marathon). It featured views, dense forest, logging roads, clear cut, and, finally, the lead runner. Obviously hours ahead of us, we were impressed. But he didn’t look to be in good shape. He was in the lead by a good margin, but did not appear to be having a very good run. We came upon the “unmanned water station”, and we kept on keepin’ on. I would stop to take photos, and my pack stopped behind me. I offered to give up the pacing position and was assured I was doing a fine job. Christy, Colleen, Kim, & I were in it together at this point.
We started passing groups of runners on their way back and finally one girl said “It’s almost 1:30, you better hurry!”. Oblivious to what she meant, we confusingly chatted about the vague notion of a cutoff. We reached aid station #4 (mile 30) at 1:32 PM. The volunteer said the cut off was 1:30. Whoops! He looked us all intently in the face and asked how we felt. I shrugged and replied “Good…hungry”. I ate 1/4 of a PB&J, an orange slice, a few chips, and, you guessed it, a few Oreos (Colleen took off with half a picnic in her arms). He let us go, but only if we “hustled back”. No problem.
We ran for maybe 15 minutes and saw pink shirt girl sprinting down the hill in front of us and then she was gone. “Didn’t we pass her ages ago going the other way?” We all agreed she was either horribly lost or out of her mind. We never caught her.
We came across a woman who was clearly in the event, walking (with poles) and we stopped to consult with her. We told her the last aid station was still a few miles away and that the cutoff had come and gone. About 15 minutes later, we ran into a volunteer, asking about her. “She went thataway!!” I all but said. I felt bad for her (and him).
Here was where Kim & I parted ways with Christy and Colleen. It was unspoken, we just suddenly realized that they were no longer with us. We didn’t want to linger and decided to continue on, but I felt conflicted about leaving them behind. I reminded myself to run my own race.
The rain started and I got cold. I put on my headband and we re-entered the forest. We came upon a young couple who we saw just before the last aid station and they were asking about the distance left. We urged them not to drop out, but it seemed inevitable. We carried on.
We reached aid station #5 (mile 43) and huddled under the tent. I pulled out my ultralight jacket to help preserve the heat, as well as my gloves. They were out of Coke, so I took a swig of Mountain Dew, something I’d never tried before during a run. Screw it. They also had tiny pulled pork sandwiches and since it actually sounded appealing, I had a few bites. It was going to take too long to eat, so I tossed the rest, grabbed a few chips, and we took off again.
Reckless Kelly’s “Eight More Miles” was playing in my head (“I can’t decide, if 8 more miles, is the top of the world, or the end of line…”). Kim & I talked about anything and everything. It was mostly downhill and we ran it in. I started to hallucinate a little through this section (“Is that a man with a cowboy hat on?”) and had to really focus. “Ready for lap #2?” she asked, insinuating it was a 100 miler. “There’s no way! I could not…” I replied. “That’s because you know it’s only 50,” she said. I know she’s right. Eventually your body will do what you ask it to. It’s just up to you to mentally make it.
At mile 45 my GPS watch beeped – low battery. Shrug. We passed over beautiful bridges, ran next to raging mini waterfalls, sloshed through the mud, and at one point, it looked identical to my beloved Forest Park. I was amazed.
At mile 49, my GPS watch beeped again – ‘saving activity’. It died. I laughed. The cutoff for the entire event was 13 hours and we were toeing that line, but my watch just couldn’t hold on. Nearing the end, I said “Kim, did you see the beautiful mugs for the category winners? Maybe they’ll have an extra one I can have for being in last place”. She humored me and replied “Maybe!”
“Kim, I see the finish line! OMG!” We sprinted. Kind of. Jesse was waiting sweetly with a chair as I doubled over, elated, out of breath, and exhausted. I hugged Kim and we laughed at the ridiculousness of having just run 50 miles for fun. The race director said “We have a mug for you!” and I was thrilled. I didn’t earn it for last place, though, apparently, I won my age category! “The other person dropped, didn’t they?” I asked. “Hey. A win’s a win” she told me. I’ll take it. Funny, because I’m the most proud of that mug. I wanted it so badly.
I ripped off my pack and sat down. A volunteer handed me a package of Oreos and a cup of soup. And a La Croix (I took it, but where’s the freaking Coke!?). After about 15 minutes, Christy came sprinting in. Colleen had to DNF, but Christy booked it to the finish line. I was so happy for her!
In all honesty, it was the best I ever felt during a run. I was never sad or on the verge of tears. I never once thought I wasn’t going to make it. My legs were fatigued, no doubt, but my heart was happy. I enjoyed every.single.second. That is no lie. Because let’s be honest. The race is a culmination of my entire running career – it just happened to be the last 50 miles of hundreds of hours on the trails. Countless training days. Endless podcasts and music streams. Good days and bad. A DNF was never an option: I didn’t come this far to only come this far.
There. The gritty details of my 50 miler. Almost 6 weeks have passed and I have more on my docket, but that event is so, so special to me.
My incredibly large blister has healed:
My little toe turned black (not just the nail, the entire toe) and is now back to normal, though the nail did come off.
I’m back to running, climbing, hiking, and all my normal activities. I was in an incredible amount of pain the following day and spent the day napping and watching videos of the late Ueli Steck.
In the 12 hours and 45 minutes that I was running, my incredibly supportive husband ate breakfast, took a nap, ran the 25k and rocked it, ate lunch, and volunteered at the finish line until I was back. I adore him.
“That’s amazing!” is the standard response to my 50 mile achievement, followed by “What’s next?”. Stay tuned!
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