Saturday, August 23, 2008

White River 50 Miler Trail Race

White River 50 was the race I was peaking for all year. I did my first 50 mile race (Stormy) last year in Squamish and I had a fantastic experience. I have a couple of friends, including my boyfriend and training partner Peter, who have previously done this race and have had nothing but positive things to say about it. I did very well at Stormy last year and had the opportunity to compete in it again but if I am going to run 50 miles, I would rather discover and adventure off into some new terrain. Peter and I both ran White River 50 this year. We are both looking to qualify for Western States 100 Miler next year and you need to have completed a 50 mile race in less than 11 hours to qualify.

Peter, his whole family (mom, dad, 2 sisters/husbands, 4 kids, 2 dogs) all stayed at a campground near the start line. It was really great to have them all there for support. It was also nice to have them cook us our pre-race meals, allowing us to solely focus on our respective races. It was definitely a challenge watching them all pass around smores at the campfire the night before the race.

The weather was perfect. It was going to be sunny with cloudy periods with a high of 24°. The race was to start at 6:30am and I was up at 4am to eat breakfast and get all my clothes and gear together. I was really excited for the day but knew it would be a long one. I started to get really excited once we got to the start area. It is there you get to see and chat with other participants and the hype really sets in. People always ask me if I am nervous or excited a few days before the race but it isn’t until I am at the start that I really get giddy. I went for my warm-up and felt awesome and was antsy to run. There were some ladies there that looked very experienced and were carrying only one 500m water bottle with them. I know for myself I need a camelbak hydration pak and a shirt I carry some fuel in. Some of the aid stations are hours apart and I don’t think I could race 50 Miles with a water bottle that small. Where do they put all their fuel? Most of the pro’s use just one water bottle and I always wonder why and question whether I am carrying too much.

The race takes you up and down one mountain and then up and down another mountain. Needless to say there is a lot of climbing and a lot of steep downhill. When you first head out you run about 35 minutes of flat single track trail and then start the ascent to Corral Pass. There are some steep parts but most of the ascent is switchbacks which you are able to run. As you go up you get to witness some of the most spectacular views. You are surrounded by mountains and you even get to see the back of MT. Rainier. It was these moments when I just thought to myself, “This is the life”. At the top of the mountain you hit an ‘out and back’ section. It is here that you get to see the leaders because they are passing right beside you on a single track trail. You literally need to jump off trail to let them by you or else you will get knocked over (I know from experience, it was a pleasant surprise). It was here that I started to count the ponytails in front of me. I was in 7th or 8th place at the turn around. Along the way back I spotted my boyfriend Peter running. It was so great to get to see him during the run. A quick little smooch and off we went in separate directions, wishing each other good luck as we parted ways. The next section was fun because you got to go down all the terrain you just came up. As I have written in other race reports, downhill running is my favorite. It was here that I seek to pass most of my competitors. I knew there were at least 6 other females ahead of me and I was eager to find them. After filling up my water at an aid station I started running down a steeper slope. I was going really fast and all of a sudden tripped. I went FLYING down this hill and ended up smashing the side of my head into some rocks and roots. My ear was throbbing and I scraped up my hands, forearms and knees. There was a gentleman not to far behind me and he helped me up. I asked him how my ear looked and besides a few scrapes it looked alright. After a fall I seem to always get a surge of energy. All the pain goes away and I get right back to where I left off. I passed by one female and was now in 6th place and feeling good. I read on the website that it is important to take the first descent a little slower because you don’t want to kill your legs for the 2nd half of the race. I tried to keep a steady tempo but find it really hard to holdback on the hills. A few minutes later I fell AGAIN! This time, I was rounding a corner and tripped and in mid air I got the gnarliest calf cramp. It’s like one of those one’s you get in bed, where it feels like you have a huge hard ball in your leg. Again, there was a guy right behind me and he helped me up. It is an unwritten rule in trail running: If someone goes down, you make sure they are ok and get them back on their feet. There is also another unwritten rule: If someone falls down on all fours, you owe a beer to whomever see’s you fall. I have been called out on that one many times. The cramp in my leg was present the whole rest of the run. It was never an active cramp but I could feel that it wanted to. I started to take a lot of salt pills to prevent anymore cramping and never had any other issued the rest of the race. I ended up passing one more female (leaving me in 5th) before the halfway mark. I think she was being paced by another guy as they had been running together the entire race. I noticed quite a few people doing this today and it may be because it was a national 50 mile championship and racers were trying to do there very best. Sometimes people need that person there to push them to their goal time.

I approached the halfway mark at 4hrs 30minutes and met Peter’s family at the aid station there. They helped me fill up my Camelbak and threw out my empty GU gel packets and refilled my race jersey with new ones. With their help I was in and out in no time. I was pretty tired at this point and knowing I still had 25 miles and another mountain to go up and down was tough. The next mountain was fairly steep and not as runable as the first. As I started my ascent I caught up to the 4th place woman. She was among the woman at the start line that I thought looked very elite. I remember this conversation this woman was having with another at the start line. She was talking about how she had recently met up with Nikki Kimball for a run a few weeks back. Nikki Kimball is a lady who won this race last year, holds the course record and has won many prestigious ultramarathon competitions throughout her career. This led me to believe she was going to be really fast. Needless to say, I was really pumped when I passed her. I was feeling good going up and I felt like I could keep the pace I was going all day. All of a sudden I was not in the trees and shade anymore and the mountain opened right up. The sun was beaming straight down on me and my black shirt. I drank a lot more water during this section and that seemed to keep me cool. I hardly saw anyone on this climb, maybe 3-4 other people over the next 3 hours. I power hiked quite a lot over the next few hours. If I had not ran a very hard race (Knee Knacker 50km) 2 weeks prior I may have had a bit more gas in the tank and could have ran a few more sections but I did what I could. Once I got to the top of this mountain I jumped for joy. All I had left was 7 miles of logging road down to the base of the mountain and then 6 miles of flatter technical trail back to the start. As I was leaving the aid station another girl, who I had passed previously on the other mountain, was just approaching the aid station. She had clearly caught up and I darted out of that aid station so fast. The 7 miles of logging road was one of the toughest sections in the entire race. It was so extremely hard on my body and I wanted it to end badly. I could feel the pressure in my Achilles tendon upon every step. The hill was steep and I was flying down but the impact was insane. I got to the end of the road in about 50 minutes and having to actually run on flat ground was really tough. You would assume that getting onto a flat section would be heavenly but running takes a lot more energy and mental toughness than propelling yourself down a hill or power hiking up a mountain, especially after 43 miles.

The last section was the most mentally tough. I knew I was almost there but my legs felt very heavy and it took a lot of self talk to push myself. I had to continuously tell myself to ‘pick it up Nic’, ‘you can do this Nic’. I was not the only one struggling, there were a lot of men I was passing who were clearly bonking. At one point a few miles from the end, I saw the girl I had seen at the aid station before the logging road descent. This really made me get into high gear. I did not want to come 5th or get passed. I had worked too hard the entire day and she was not about to pass me in the last 20 minutes. I sucked back one more gel and went as fast as my body would let me. This section never seemed to end and the tiniest hills seemed like giant mountains. I finally hit the road and started my approach to the finish line. Finally, I could see the finish line and all the people cheering me in. I finished in a time of 8hrs 34 minutes. Peter’s family was there to give me big hugs and I was so happy to be done. The sense of accomplishment at that moment was overwhelming. All the months I had spent training and dedicating myself towards this goal had got me to the finish line successfully. The pain of today’s run was completely gone and a feeling of joy overcame me. I sat down, chugged down some chocolate milk and waited to cheer on Peter. He had an awesome race to and shaved 25 minutes off his last time. A lady came up to me a few minutes after I had finished and told me I had the fastest time on that course ever for someone my age (24 years). The woman who won was 42 years old and she set the female course record this year in a time of 7hrs 32 minutes. The 2nd place female is 40 years old and finished 12 minutes later. The 3rd place female was only 3 minutes faster than me and she was 37 years of age. As you get older you start to reach your peak. I like knowing I have a lot to learn and a ways to go until I reach my full potential and it is fun competing against some of the runner’s I read about in magazines. One day I will be the lady on the cover of Trail Runner magazine!

I spent the rest of the afternoon by the campfire, eating smores and drinking some delicious recovery drinks. All in all a fantastic day and I can’t wait for the next adventure. I would like to thank Innovative Fitness and North Shore Athletics for all of their support. My teammates at Innovative Fitness were all very supportive and sent me away this weekend in good spirits.

See you in the trails!

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