Anybody who lives in Oregon know that the most prized possession in local ultrarunning scene is Waldo hat. In fact, it is cherished as much as Western States 100 silver buckle. Where is Waldo 100k is the longest trail ultramarathon in the state, the most difficult, the most remote, and probably the most beautiful. For years the secret of how long the course really is was kept quiet until last year it became a National Championship in trail 100k and was measured, cut and made closer to standards. Turned out, it had 4 extra miles. Was that the reason for somewhat low finishing rate in addition to 10,000 feet of elevation gain, was it notorious climbs, the altitude jumping between 6,000 and 8,000 feet, the high temperatures - we will never know. Because the mere 4 miles didn't make it any less beautiful, difficult, admirable - and fun!
First summer I signed up for Leadville 100 run on the same weekend as Waldo race. Second summer I got injured and pulled off the race. Third - I was up for Cascade Crest 100 the following weekend and didn't feel I was up to "two in a row", so I volunteered. No matter what, I was going to run Waldo for The Hat this year...and this "no matter what" included "no training". Since Bighorn 100 2 months ago I averaged 30 miles a week, doing a long run only twice: pacing duty at Hardrock 100 and scouting Oregon 100 course. I sure knew what I was getting myself into...Mike had optimistic ideas of possibility to do 13 hrs. My pace chart came to 14 flat, but heat or no heat, I totally understood, in real life I'll be happy to run 15. It is not that I am a pessimist - I know myself way too well to estimate what I am capable of.
I made the drive to Willamette Pass by myself, and I made it in 3 hrs, as Mapquest predicted. Unpack at Odell lake cabins - and off to the dinner and pre-race meeting. This is where it was absolutely obvious - we are on home turf. Between packet pick-up table and the lodge with dinner served the distance is probably about 50 yards. It took Mike and I 20 minutes to get there:) Friends talking, hugging, laughing... all that makes coming to a race well, worth the experience! I also brought a whole box of the socks from my wonderful sponsors at Drymax and gave them away to anybody I saw. Thanks, Drymax! The meeting was short and straight to the point - RD's Craig and Curt talked about trail work, marking, weather and USATF rules and awards. It was time to get ready for the day to come…
Morning came early, and we all were back to Willamette Lodge for some coffee and nervous energy. Rumor is, it was the first year it was hot at 4 am already – and everybody talked about it. I really didn’t care much as I wasn’t about to push myself at any point – all I wanted was The Hat. With that we lined up with about 3 minutes to spare and said more “good luck” all around.
5am – and we are off…climbing from first 20 yards. Next 2 miles or so are the ONLY not single track on the whole course, it’s a dirt road up with myriads dust particles kicked up and pretty steep at some parts. I settle in at the back of the pack, let all around pass me if they haven’t yet and see the lights disappear ahead of me. Bret Henry catches me up and the two of us walk together, and in the dark it seems like there is nothing else exists around in these mountains, just trees and us. I am enjoying it to the fullest… Before we know it, the trail pops from under our feet, and we never see anything but soft dirt for another 60 miles. After some rolls it starts going down, and I let my stride to open up, catching a couple of folks and knowing for sure they’ll be back at me again as soon as I walk up. Because the game plan is simple: hike every hill no matter how short and shallow it is, walk every flat with a purpose, gently float downhill. As you can see, running was not involved in my thought process whatsoever…
I soon stop for a potty-break, take my headlamp off, adjust the full pack on my back (I had no drop bags for this race planned) and head out in a blissful alonness. All I could think about – there is nowhere I rather be but here and now. The birds were waking up and going crazy, and I couldn’t stop smiling. Soon I enter first AS with Sean Meissner and CORK folks, and the time is perfect. I am as happy as can only dream. After the brave soul shows off his “Waldo”, I am demanded to match and I try to flash the volunteers, but my pack straps don’t allow the shirt go low enough. Oh, well, I guess “Show me your Waldo” award is not in a picture for me! Laughing, I leave on to the next section, and get caught by Bret again.
After some running and walking we begin to climb, gently at first, and enter the out-n-back to Fuji mountain. Here we begin to see all the runners coming back at us – and I take a few shots, with a memorable one of Mike, because when I stopped, it seems I had gotten myself inside a nest of mosquitoes, and later Mike recalled it was a dark cloud around me for a second. I screamed like crazy…well, mosquitoes were only beginning to show their “teeth”!!!
Soon the climb gotten tougher, we had a first glimpse at the views (and were afraid to stay more than enough for a single photoshot to not be eaten alive) and finally made it to the top of Fuji.
From there on it was a long downhill, and I lost Bret for good…good day or bad day, Bitch or No Bitch, I am a downhiller after all. I also counted only 4 runners behind me, what meant I was #5 from the back of the pack – may be it’s finally my day to be DFL? The Fuji AS (both out and back stop) allowed me to adjust my mind to what the day going to be like. Since I had my 14 hr pace chart pasted on bottles, I figured I am about 5-7 minutes late for every stretch, and that gave me an incentive as to where to expect the next AS to arrive. Life was good, and I was floating on high.
One word for course marking: after last year’s disaster with vandalism, not only did we follow pink ribbons and yellow plates with turns, we had those yellow notes ahead of turns warning us about upcoming route changes and course marshals at each of those intersections! Even I, a master of getting lost, couldn’t do it as much as I wanted!
From Bobby lake trail we turned onto beautiful PCT and followed it for the most of the day (as far as I could comprehend it). And trust me – there is NO better trail than Pacific Crest Trail! Do you need prove? Come and get it!
At mile 20, Mt. Ray AS, I see Gail Phillips, Bret’s significant other, and ask her about repellent. She splashes and smudges me good – I was tired by then to fight the nasty beasts. I also see a lot of carnage sitting on chairs, too early for the day, and from there on begin picking up runners one by one and moving stronger with each step (if whatever I was doing can be called “strong” at all).
Some 7 miles later I am at the Twins AS, mile 27, lead by Melissa Berman. And they are Gypsies! Beautiful girls all smiles dancing in skimpy outfits – if that doesn’t cheer you on, I don’t know what does! I chat with everybody and fill my bottles with ice. The heat is finally getting down, but with the lack of effort I am outing in I don’t feel too bad at all. I believe I was at twins at around 11:25. Another group of “wounded souls” is milling around, so I take off before I loose focus on forward movement. There is a guy latches on my heels, and it takes me a mile or so to realize – he is not about to pass or to loose me from his sight. I ask his name, he recognizes mine – and my quest with a new partner in crime begins for the next 35 long hot miles…David Karman from Seattle, an accomplished Ironman with a few 50k’s and a White River 50 miler under his belt is struggling to make 100k his next athletic goal. After a few sentences of exchange (“You seem to know what you’re doing…Yeah, done a few too many…You think we’re OK?..Hell, yeah, I know for a fact I am getting my hat today!”) he decides to stick around. I couldn’t be happier about a company – David is a great guy, talks as much as I do, responds coherently and has a gazillion of questions about ultrarunning and community I am more than thrilled to answer to!
We are having a great time together, telling stories and slowly reeling some runners in. I promise David we will continue picking up folks and will not be passed ourselves. I can give my word on this. I can also give my word on a 15 hr finish and a hat. That not to mention I can always say for certain how long it will take us to next aid station. David wonders if I ever ran the course. Nope, my first time ever, but I know mountains! To my total delight and his complete surprise, we arrive at each AS right on predicted time, to the minute!
Charlton lake marks half-way point, mile 32, and I worked this AS last year. MacForest folks are awesome! The arrival seems like a cheering for a home-queen, at least to David who is not quite used to personal greeting yet. I am living a life! Charlton also marks first stop where Curt Ringstad, a co-RD, makes an appearance to for a strict cut-off enforcement. We are there at 12:25, and have 35 minutes to spare. Everything is according to plan as we leave to an open section in the hottest part of the day…
Next few miles are hot, very gently inclined and open to the direct sun. The surroundings remind me of Rumble course, high sandy trails with shorter ponderosa pines (at least I think that’s what it was, I suck at tree names). I tell David I am walking every step on it to preserve energy. I know my walk, I have no problem walking the whole race if I need to. A couple of runners go by, but I don’t even blink. I don’t question the ability to finish in time for a hat, and I don’t like to run when it’s hot anyway. Yeah, I know, I am a lazy racer…but just as I said, we are at Rt. 4290 at 1:40pm, and we linger a bit to drink lots and wash our faces. Curt gives me a hug – don’t let me catch you at the next AS! Are you kidding? Make sure you have a white hat saved for me, darling!
Mike warned me next section is long, 2 hrs for me, all uphill, and hot. I carry 2x16oz bottles, and so far I had been draining them to the bottom. Thankfully, Mike gave me a 3rd bottle that I strapped to my pack for the time been, and now is the time I saved it for – I fill it up with iced cold water, and we are off. Back to The Twins and Gypsies, up, up, up, amongst old growth, with some runners feeling the miles and falling back, enjoying the beauty as sick as it sounds. I can’t stop exhaling exclamation points. I almost cry – I love these Oregon trails so much. Somebody during this weekend asked me why I wear Oregon Team shirt that we made for the WS100 (which didn’t happen). You know, I belong to a team or few, but nothing makes me more proud than been Oregonian. Been Oregonian makes me as proud as been Russian, this is second time in my life I call a place “home”, and just as with Russia, no matter what will happen in my life ahead, I will forever be an Oregonian…Such were my thoughts as we plowed up, and I felt just as strong and great as I did some 30 miles before that. Even, consistent, happy and not a single spot achy.
Back at Twins, 2:35pm, and more unhappy people around. Linda Samet was having a rough day, and I encouraged her to come out with us. She did, and shortly after pulled away. I hoped that would be enough for her to make it to the finish, but she called it a day at the next aid station. We ran into a great hiker for the second time, an awesome man (unlike the incident at the PCT50 3 weeks ago), who not only talked to us, but responded to my hug with great pleasure. I loved this man! We made it to Maiden Peak AS run by Backcountry Ski Patrol folks, mile 50, with a full realization it’s a mere half-marathon to the finish. Well, I also knew we are about to hit the most brutal climb of the race, Maiden Peak, some 2,000 feet up in 3 miles. I guess I underestimated this one, as this was my mistake of hoping to get there in an hour – what was I thinking? Not only this climb reminded me of Handies Peak at HR100 (minus the altitude), the mosquitoes came back with vengeance! They were everywhere in thousands, trying not only bite the open body parts, but flying into your eyes, nose and mouth. Oh, what a drag it was!!!
Don’t believe this smile, while I felt fine, the only chat happened on this section was swearing. It also drizzled a bit for half an hour, but didn’t relieve the flying beasts at all. I couldn’t wait to see Steve Smucker, who’s site I knew would mean we are almost to the top! Not soon enough, but there he was, taking videos of folks arriving at the Leap of Faith intersection, sending us to the top. And THIS ONE has yours truly - and I made it to manager's favorite!
Oh, the top of Maiden!!! Jeff Riley deserved the best kiss I could muster on this course! It’s all downhill from here, 9 miles home stretch!!!
Off we went, on crazy steep section turning into more mild one, to the last AS at maiden lake with Barb Ringstad and Bev Abbs helping out. Short stop, guys, turn those legs, I want to be done now!
Did I mention we kept passing people? Well, we did. Although at the last AS my stomach finally said “enough” and shut down, and I felt sloshing in it and the gel didn’t process, but hey, I can do 7 miles on fumes, done it before, and will likely do it again many more times! My brain started getting fuzzy on calorie depletion, and I had to focus very hard under my feet to keep upright and moving, but really, nothing hurt, still. And – as slow as we were – we still picked runners on the way.
Rosary lakes trails were pretty flat, and it was difficult and required a lot of concentration to move forward, and the last 5 miles could not be that long, but they were. At one point I even stopped and asked David to get a map/course description out to make sure we didn’t miss anything. We didn’t. But at the same time, we were out of sub-15 finish, what was fine by me. As soon as I thought about it – we popped out of the trail to the straight finish line. Oh, the joy!
I looked over my shoulder to make sure nobody of those runners we passed is gaining on us, and resigned to walk to the finish last quarter mile. On the way I quickly explained to David why and how we should cross the finish line backwards, in memory of Scott McQueeney. He agreed, as Craig announced out names and the crowd cheered wildly. Home turf makes you feel like a Queen…we held hands and finished in 15:05. Curt brought the hat choices and I picked the blue one. Finally, the hat in my possession…
As luck turned out, the award ceremony just started, and we were able to greet all the winners and participate in after-party. I won’t go into details, you can find all the RESULTS on the website and the full set of MY PICTURES at Picasa album. Somehow, due to a few gals opting not to sign up for USATF, I got a medal for 9th place, when in actuality I was 11th female.
I was upbeat for about an hour, when the endorphins crashed and I couldn’t wait to get back to cabin. It took me a full hour to get my sorry pathetic untrained ass from the couch where I laid useless to the shower, and then the night was restless and achy. Lesson learned – I might fake my way through the 62 miles of tough trails, but I pay for it in full. At 3am I decided it’s not to be to sleep, and eventually, shortly after 5am, I took off on the road. In 40 minutes of driving I pulled to the curb and slept for an hour. The rest of the way I was able to keep up, thanks to my boyfriend talking to me on the phone non-stop. Thus I survived…and got Stephen, and took him to a beach party for his boxing team, where he had a grand time running around, swimming, boating and tubing, and I ate a bunch of awesome Mexican food and dozed off on the sand.
I am pretty beat up today, not sore, just overall exhausted. I did something to my left hip joint, and the pain is sharp. I can muster walking after a few painful steps, but then the left side of the back overcompensates and seizes up. My feet are sore, although not trashed and not a single blister. I am hungry all the time and need to go grocery shopping before I eat my co-workers alive. Sleep-deprivation is really bad and the eyes are itchy. I am fearing AC100 yet hopeful I can pull it off and “walk it in” as well…
As for the hat…was it worth it? Hell, yeah! I am a proud owner of this item, and I intend to look at it with a smile…it was an absolutely awesome un-forgetful day on the beautiful Oregon trails, with fantastic people who make this experience even more valuable than it could ever be imagined. Thank, Craig, Curt and your star crew! I plan on coming back!