“As a runner, you have to face the truth about yourself on a regular basis, and it makes you more honest. You can’t pretend to be faster than you are. You can’t pretend that you are better prepared than you are. You cannot pretend to be a runner, you actually have to run.” -John Bingham
In all honesty, I wasn’t properly prepared for this run. I had a crazy intense July and I slacked off in August. September 3rd was Volcanic 50 and I knew it would be a slow day. I’d power through and keep an eye on the cutoffs, but it was going to be hard. With over 32 miles, around 7,500 ft of elevation gain, and almost a completely exposed course around Mt. St. Helens it was going to be the toughest run on my books.
My running buddy (I place the blame for my entry on her) wasn’t going to be able to run it this year after all and I’d accepted the added challenge of running this event alone. The run was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend and I looked forward to the extra two days of rest before heading back to work.
The weekend before the race I began to prep. I was asking Jesse for advice about maps and gear and was constantly checking the weather. Prior race reports ran the gamut for weather: 90 degrees and sunshine to 60 degrees and fog. I was fervently wishing for the latter.
I argued with myself over running with poles or without. How much water would I need, really? Did I need a proper GPS device or would an app on my phone be okay? Through these internal debates, Jesse’s advice turned into his own planning. I don’t know if it was jealously or the thought of missing an epic run, but with 3 days to spare, he signed up as well. While I try to think of myself as a badass adventurer, I was relieved that he was going to be there, too.
Friday night came and we decided the start line wasn’t actually too far from Portland and we would just drive up in the morning. Another friend of ours from Cascade Lakes would be there as well and we looked forward to catching up with him.
After our mandatory gear check, another quick stop at the port-a-potty, we shivered at the start line before taking off. It was a gloriously misty day; the fog and dampness of the air made for an ideal running day. I was incredibly grateful for this.
Jesse & I had no expectations of each other. We agreed to run the entire race together and I was glad the pressure of pushing it to keep up was off. The first few miles were a steady incline and we took off at a brisk hike. No need to over-exert. I wore my heart rate monitor, more for curiosity’s sake than a guide. My average bpm was 162 and I peaked at 189. Not bad!
We were on beautiful single track which eventually was a nice, runnable, rolling terrain. We were park of a pack at this point and around mile 4 we heard screams. Bees.
I knew they were coming. The race reports talked about them and I was hoping to avoid them with the cooler weather, but no such luck. The girl out in front was stung 4 times, the guy behind her 4 times, and me twice. One crawled under my GPS watch and stung. Another got me in the glute through my pants. I tore off my watch and pulled out the stinger from my wrist. The other one would have to stay until later. Luckily Jesse wasn’t stung, as he has a stronger reaction than I do, but it was still an annoyance for the rest of the run. Swelling and an eventual itch on both stings reminded me just how far we had to go.
Aid station 1 (of 4) came around mile 6 and I loaded my front flask with Coke. I grabbed a few Oreos and we took off, feeling like a million bucks. Boulder fields and river crossings await!
There were a few fun sections where we needed to climb down valleys with ropes and up the other side. We had to scramble over lava rocks and jump over streams and rivers. After 6 more miles, we reached aid station 2. This was a bit of a longer stop, as we studied the next course section ahead. We entered more forest, ran through pumice fields, and traversed steep sandy sections.
After 8 miles of pretty lonely running, we came to aid station 3, which was a great relief. There was music, food, and a tiny waterfall. The volunteers at this aid station were so full of energy (and some were even dressed at astronauts…because why not?) and we took their compliments and well wishes to heart.
Four more miles of pumice fields, a huge hill climb and an equally long, rocky descent brought us to aid station 4. The last one. We had made the cutoff by about 45 minutes. It was raining at this point and there was a guy in red shorts we had to catch. We didn’t linger very long. It was almost over. My legs (and my back) were ready to sit down. Just 8 more miles.
These last miles were brutal. On the mind and on the body, it was a never ending cycle of descending the valley, climbing out the other side. Descending, climbing out. Repeatedly. For ages. Followed by boulder fields. And then there was a break of glorious single track and I prepared myself for the descent to the finish line. After just a few minutes of actual running, another boulder field presented itself. I groaned and power hiked up and over. Jesse was out ahead, stopped at a corner and he looked back at me. “How much more of this?” I pleaded. He flashed me his most evil smile and disappeared around the corner. That wasn’t a good sign.
We passed the guy in red shorts and didn’t see another person until the finish. We reached the proper trail and jogged through the trees, enjoying the final minutes on soft forest footing. We saw a trail marker telling us we were 1/2 mile away. We were quiet. And then…cowbells. Cheering. The photographer and the finish line. Jesse and I crossed it together and we were both smiling like fools.
The race director came to congratulate us, handed us our swag, and pointed us to the food. I asked her where the chairs were. Our friend came to greet us (he left us on a big hike and finished well before us…I was proud of him!) and the race director brought a chair to me. I collapsed in it and began to shiver as the 3 of us rehashed the race, ate a little, and basked in the glory of the day.
After emptying my hydration pack back at home, I calculated my intake. A Clif Shot Blok (just one package), about 6 Oreos, 1/4 of a PB&J, a handful of MnMs, about 16 oz of Coke, and 3/4 L of water. In other words: not much for over 11 hours of activity. I always swear I’ll be better at that. I never am.
Here are the links to Paul Nelson’s beautiful professional photos:
In the weeks following, I’ve been asked so many questions about it, but the one I never have a good answer to is:
“Did you feel trained?”
Yes and no. I finished and now have 3 points toward the UTMB. But I wish I had been faster. I wish I could have run more of it. I wish I hadn’t been sore for 5 days after it. Coulda woulda shoulda. But I’m damn proud of it.