Posted by: pointlenana | July 30, 2012

White River 50 Mile – July 28 2012

Well, that was hard.

We arrived in the Crystal Mountain area on Friday afternoon, ready for the White River 50 mile run on Saturday – my first ultra.  My friend Jeff and his wife Linda very kindly let me ride down and stay with them.  Craig, another runner friend of Jeff’s from work, also showed up.  Having a chance to talk with Craig was both great and intimidating.  Craig has done a few ultra’s before and answered a lot of dumb questions for me.  He also showed up basically having done no training – maybe one 10 mile run each week for the past several weeks, and not a lot of training before that.  I figured if he could survive with that kind of training I might also.  On the other hand, it turns out Craig has run the winter equivalent of the Badwater 135.  Instead of 135 miles in the heat of Death Valley, Craig did 135 miles in the snow of northern Minnesota in 30 below weather.  He said the 2nd (!) night out was the hardest part – 40 miles and not seeing another person.  When I heard that story, and thought about Jeff (who ran a sub 3 hour marathon recently at the age of about 41), and some of the other entrants, I got worried.  As I expected, I did not sleep soundly and woke up around 3:30am, well before my alarm went off.

In the morning, we got up, got ready, and showed up at the start area about 25 minutes before the race.  The start and finish are at a small airstrip just outside Mt. Rainier National Park.  Aside from checking in, dropping a bag for the lunchtime aid station, and one last porta-potty stop there wasn’t much to do before the start.  David Horton – an “ultra legend” who is one of 9 people to finish this insane run called the Barkley Marathons – was there having fun harassing people in the porta-potties.  “Hurry up!  I’m going to start shaking them if you take too long.  There, that was good – 25 seconds.  Hurry up!  I’m not joking.  There’s a long line.  I’m not joking.”  I managed to get in and out without him knocking over my porta-potty, and headed up to wait at the start.  While Scott McCoubrey was giving his pre-race briefing I realized I was standing at the front of the pack, probably with people who were going to win or come close, so I quickly dove into the group to get out of the way.

Waiting at the start, a little anxious about what lies ahead.

Scott McCoubrey, explaining the “guidelines”. He’s not into rules.

Runners checking their watches. Jeff is on the left in a black hat and red singlet. Craig is to his right in a white/gray hat and white singlet.

After the 10..9..8.. countdown we were off.  We ran down along the runway, turned into the woods, ran back next to the White River (which is truly white – glacial silt) and after a couple miles crossed the highway.  It was crowded at this point – narrow single track trail and about 340 runners.  Another mile of rolling trail in the woods, and we were at the Camp Sheppard aid station at 3.5 miles.  I refilled my water bottle and set off again in under a minute.

In the first few miles to Camp Sheppard.

Soon after, the climbing started.  From Camp Sheppard to Ranger Creek (11.3 miles), the trail climbs about 3000 feet.  Up until this point I had run the whole time, but quickly fell into power-walking when it got steep.

Headed up to Ranger Creek aid station, climbing the stairs slowly.

Somewhere in there we popped out of the trees with a set of cliffs called the Palisades on the right, and the border of the Norse Peak Wilderness a few inches to the left.  As Scott McCoubrey told us during the (hour-long!) pre-race briefing, if the trail were a few feet to the left and in the wilderness we wouldn’t be able to have the event.  From the cliffs we could see across the valley to the hill that we’d climb in the afternoon.  The clouds hadn’t burned off yet and at this point we were up in the clouds.

Above the Palisades.

Once we got up above the cliffs, the trail was much more runnable than I had expected, and I rolled into the second rest stop (Ranger Creek) well ahead of my most optimistic time estimate.   From Ranger Creek, the trail turned up again.  There is a short section – maybe two miles – that you cover on the way up and then again on the way back down.  After that section, there’s a big loop that brings you back, but in the out-and-back section I had the privilege of watching the elites at the front come bombing back down past me.  Most impressive was Sage Canaday, who won the Mt. Washington Road Race a few weeks ago, and who ended up winning White River as well with a new course record of 6:16 – 10 minutes faster than the previous record, on a course that has a little more climbing than before.  He was FLYING when he came down past me.  I just read in one of his blog posts that he sucks at downhill running.  Yeah, right.

By the time we got near Corral Pass – the aid station at the top of Hill #1 – the clouds had burned away and Rainier was out.

Mt. Rainier, from up near Corral Pass.

Running up near Corral Pass was great – a classic Washington alpine trail.  I used to hike and climb a lot but it’s been a while since I’ve been in a place like this.

Ridge running.

From Corral Pass, the loop continues around and then heads back to the Ranger Creek aid station.  At that point it turns off and heads down, back to the start, descending 2500 feet in 4 1/2 miles.  That’s something like a 10% grade, which is steep enough on a smooth road, but killer on a trail with rocks and tree roots sticking up.  I probably tripped 50 times through the day, and most of it happened in this section.  Fortunately, I alway caught myself somehow before going down.  Somewhere in here I tripped, almost caught myself, then tripped again and avoided a hard fall in rocks only by grabbing a small tree by the side of the trail.  Unlike Sage Canaday, I do suck at downhill running – running fearfully (with good reason) and braking a lot – and by the bottom I was pretty sure I had exhausted my legs so completely that the 2nd half was going to be a nightmare.

When I arrived back at Buck Creek, 27 miles and 5 1/2 hours into the run, I had matched my longest-ever run.  I felt pretty tired when I arrived but then I ate (potato chunks dipped in salt, pb&j, watermelon, oranges, potato chips), had a porta-potty break, and changed my shirt and socks.  With the food and the 10 minute break, I pulled out of Buck Creek feeling much better than expected.  Again, the trail looped out past the runway, and then curved back towards the trail up the second “hill” to Suntop.  That climb was shorter, maybe 3000 feet total in about 8 miles.  Relatively, I was probably at my best in that section.  Everyone was walking and Jeff said he walked all the hills in that stretch.  I was able to run about half of the hills and passed a lot of people.  After a warm section through an old clearcut we popped out at the Fawn Ridge aid station, aka luau party.  They had music (Girl From Ipanema), tiki stuff hanging off the tent and trees, chairs, water to soak your feet in.   I said “this is nice, I might just stay here!” but they ushered me on and after a minute or so I set off again for the last 5 miles up to Suntop.

On the trail to Suntop, we were able to look across the valley at the Corral Pass climb from the morning, and the ridge we ran along above the Palisades.

Looking over at the morning’s adventure.

What you see when you exit the trail and enter the aid station. Everyone’s recording my number so they don’t lose runners.

The Suntop aid station, and the very top of a very long road back down to Highway 410.

One of the weird self-portraits I seem to take during these adventures. View from my water bottle as I fill it.

I popped out on the road at Suntop feeling ok, and glad that most of the day’s climbing was behind me.  From Suntop, the course goes straight downhill on the Suntop dirt road for about 5 miles so I ate a lot thinking I’d be able to digest, and set off.  That descent took a fair amount of willpower.  3000 feet of descent in 5 miles, 10-13% grade, tired achy quads, endless.  I repeatedly forced myself to run for 15 minutes and then let myself walk for a minute or two (which didn’t feel a whole lot better).  Eventually the grade eased and I was able to pick up speed, occasionally seeing paces in the 8’s on my watch.  Still, I got passed a lot as I always do on downhills.  That road can be dusty but fortunately there were few cars and when they did pass, the dust wasn’t too bad.

After the endless descent we turned right into the trees to the Skookum Flats aid station.  I think this was the aid station where I saw Main Maniac Steven Yee, who was volunteering.  From there it’s 6.6 miles back to the start, south along the White River, with about 400 feet of climbing.  Unfortunately for someone with very tired legs, the trail is “technical” – twisty, lots of rocks and roots.  I had figured that section would take about 65 minutes but it took close to 90.  I had my mental low point one or two miles in, when I realized how slowly I was travelling and how far I was from the finish.  One good thing is that I only tripped a few times in here – either I was going slowly enough or I had learned to avoid most of the hazards.

After a very long time I came off the trail and turned right on the road.  I thought it was a half mile from there to the finish, but someone told me it was about 3 minutes.  Suddenly my legs felt great and I was on a smooth gravel road, and I took off.  I think I passed a couple people in that last stretch and pulled across the finish line in just under 10:45.

Janet and our friends Annemarie and Jean-Claude were there, with chairs and freshly-made gazpacho.  That was pretty great.  I found Jeff – he finished in about 10 hours – talked briefly to Sage Canady hoping some of his awesomeness would rub off on me, and thanked Scott McCoubrey for organizing the run.  Craig ended up finishing about an hour after I did and seemed totally fine for someone who hadn’t trained.

The damage report today isn’t too bad – about how I felt after my first marathon.  I have an unbroken blister on one toe and it looks like that nail might turn black.  I’ll be falling into chairs and creeping down stairs for a few days, until my quads recover enough to support my weight.  There are small scrapes on the inside of each ankle where the sole of the other shoe banged into it.  I feel a little weary today as if I did something hard yesterday.  That’s about it.  Oh, and my shoes are no longer suitable for wearing with dress up clothes.

These shoes used to be white.

A great day overall, and an incredible run.  Highly recommended.  Thank you to race organizers Scott and Jonathan, and all the volunteers who made it possible for us to enjoy the day.


  1. Congratulations! I can’t believe you did that. The scenery is unbelievable, but I think I would give myself about 5 days to complete that.

  2. I loved reading this! Its pretty much exactly how it went – except for one detail that while it looks like I’m checking my watch, I was actually pinning the bottom pins of my bib on in the final countdown. Got the last one snapped right as he said “Go”

  3. […] Barringer – 10:47:34 Sage Canaday – 6:16:10 Mark Cliggett – 10:44:50 Jennifer Edwards – 9:21:38 Ellie Greenwood – 7:40:02 Jayme Helgeson […]

  4. […] ran White River for the 5th time yesterday, and this is the 3rd or 4th time I’ve written about it.  So I’ll cut to the […]

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