First of all - wow, what a course. And in the current trend of ultra running, it seems that 110 km is the new 100 km.
This was my first time running the Destination Trail Bigfoot 100 km
and it was also my first ever overall victory in an ultra. Boom! Oh what a feeling
The course had been altered this year because of road closures and instead of a point-to-point run (which is fantastic), it was a big loop (also fantastic). Based on runner feedback, this year's course was preferred. Hey, I loved it. Not only is all your crap at the start/finish but you don't need to wake up at the crack and get bused to the start. But the new course did add six miles to the distance so instead of running 62 miles we were now running 68 miles. And the cutoff time was the same as for many 100-mile races! #nervousMount St Helens
is awesome. First of all, it's a freaking volcano that (relatively) recently blew up! And we were going to run around it! I have mountain biked on lots of these trails and so many sections were vaguely familiar. That was somewhat comforting. The surface is also pretty darn rugged and I expected (correctly) that there would be some issues running through all that lava and pumice.
I arrived at the Marble Mountain Sno Park
Friday. The required runner meeting was Friday plus the start was too early for me to drive down Saturday morning. It was very warm out and luckily there were no bugs so I was able to chill and just relax. I listened to some podcasts, took a few pictures and drank water. People were camping in all sorts of ways. There were a few tents on the ground like what I was doing but there was also a very cool collection of camping rigs and vehicles. There was an assortment of mini trailers that folded out every which way, Sprinter vans, a tiny Mitsubishi camper van, some huge motor homes and this crows nest perch thingy.
The promoter personalized the numbers, that was a nice touch.
Eventually it was time for lights out and I slept pretty well.
Saturday morning I woke up as late as possible. Which was not that late as some people had set their alarms for VERY EARLY so they could eat and stress about the race more. After resisting hearing people fire up stoves and generally clank about I finally had to get up because of my hydration strategy the night before.
Looking at the results from the previous two years, the wining times were just over 14 hours. For my age group with similar Ultra Signup rankings
they were about 19 hours. I figured the extra six miles was worth a solid hour so I hesitantly told my family I was hoping to finish in about 18... It was a total crap shoot, I was just pulling numbers out of my ass.
All my gear was nicely arranged from the night before so all I had to do was put everything on, go through my warm-up routine and head to the start about 15 minutes before it was time to run. It was a beautiful morning.
I was psyched but I'd be lying if I said I was not a little nervous.
Luckily Bigfoot was there to reassure me.
And then we were off.
"Take it easy" was the protocol for the start. For several reasons.
- I had signed up for this race specifically to get qualifying points for UTMB. Sure it's incredibly scenic but if not for the points I would not be here. I got my first qualifying points at the Eiger Ultra Trail 101k, my second points at the Pine to Palm 100 mile, and have been working through injury after injury since then so missed many other opportunities. This was pretty much my last chance so I didn't want to risk going too hard too early and having something dumb happen. All your points have to come from just three races.
- I wanted to do well, I at least wanted to win my age group. I don't usually go into races with the specific goal of winning but looking at the list of registered entrants I thought I had a shot. And as I have (painfully) learned, you can't bank time in a trail ultra, you need something in the tank to close.
After a couple of miles I looked up and I was in a group of roughly 10 runners. I also looked behind me and there was nobody there! Oh no... what was I doing in the top 10? This was unfamiliar territory, was I running too fast? I double and triple checked my perceived effort and each time the answer was that my pace was fine. Try to relax Martin.
About six miles in you hit the first lava field.
I love stuff like this! I'm fairly comfortable on technical terrain and it's just a blast. jumping around on rocks (or logs) makes me feel like a kid. I was going a bit faster than two guys I was with at the time so moved up a couple of spots here. By now three people had edged ahead and were out of sight.
It's not all ash and rock up here, it can get very green too.
I was following these two guys when we suddenly lost the trail. They milled around where they were and I headed back to the last spot where we were on the trail and tried again. I found it right away. The trail went up across a side hill and they had strayed down the mountain so now I was ahead of these guys too. That's the first time I encountered the race photographer who (of course) had posed Mt Adams in the background. Nice.
And then we got into the type of terrain that I had expected.
All day long my shoes were filling up with dust and sand. The silt is so fine that you would need waterproof shoes to keep it out. I was not wearing waterproof shoes and changed my socks two times during this run. I am SO thankful I thought ahead and put one pair in my pack and another in my drop bag at mile 29.5. Even so, my feet had tiny abrasions on the TOPS just from all the grit in my socks when I finished.
All day long we did this kind of thing. You would run along and come across a creek that had eroded a channel in the pumice. Because the pumice is so fine, big creeks had eroded some very deep channels! Suddenly you are going down a steep incline, figuring out how to best cross the creek, and then running or climbing up the other side. Repeat countless times.
And there were so many other cool features! Like running along this ridge line.
Or down these "ladders".
And through some deep silt.
Okay, that was not so cool, my shoes filled up stat. And I am getting ahead of myself.
At the first aid station (Oasis Aid at mile 14.4) I pull in and am casually told I am the second runner they have seen. What...?!
I said, "You're joking, right?" but no, they were serious. This did not computer as I was certain there were at least three runners up the trail.
ASIDE - it appears that two of the three leaders either took the old route through this section (which would have bypassed this aid station) or the aid station was not yet staffed when 1st and 2nd place came through. I never found out for sure which it was. Bummer for them either way as the aid stations were few and far between in this race. Did I mention there is very little shade on this run and it was a hot day? :(
One of my goals for today was efficiency. I'd rather eat while walking than spend minutes at an aid station. So I filled my bottles, took an extra drink, crammed some food in my mouth and grabbed some more in my hands and got the heck out of Dodge. Turns out the big pocket on the side of my shorts is big enough to hold an entire banana. I comfortably ran with it in my pocket for perhaps one mile before I ate it. Nice.
From this point on, except for at aid stations, I was running alone. If you don't count passing other runners. This was a new experience for me as I am never at the pointy end of the race like this.
The next aid (South Coldwater Lake Aid) was at mile 29.5. On the way there I passed the two runners that had been in 1st and 2nd place and who had missed the first aid. As I ran by one of them asked if I had seen the first aid station, I said yes and he just shook his head. One of them was already walking the flats.
It was at the aid station that I had my only fall. I was cruising in and stubbed my toe on the transition from gravel to paved parking lot and did a somersault right into the table with all the coolers and food. Luckily I just lightly skinned one knee and one hand. And I didn't cramp or anything. Here I again filled my bottles, changed my socks and took off with my hands full of food.
The way to the next aid (Johnston Ridge Aid at mile 37.5) was a big climb. About half way up I caught the runner in front of me and passed him. The race was not even half over and I was potentially in the freaking lead! Take it easy Martin... Honestly though, I didn't trust the report I got at the first aid that said I was in 2nd place since I never saw or passed the other two guys and still figured there were another couple of runners out there somewhere. But that myth was quickly dispelled when I arrived.
"Dude, you're in the lead!"
Again, what...?! By now I had to accept that I was indeed leading this race. For realz.
Not only was that climb long but it was exposed too. When I arrived at Johnston Ridge I had to down an extra bottle of water just to catch up on hydration. Man did I need that. When I had passed the leader I felt solid and he didn't look awesome so it was a bit of a shock to see him approaching as I was mixing up my bottles! It was WAY too early to start racing but I can't help feeling the competitive juices flow in situations like this. I kind of rushed myself and again and left the aid with a mouthful and handfuls of food. Let me tell you, trying to swallow a PB&J when you are dehydrated and have dry mouth is a chore! I think I was still trying one mile down the trail.
As I was running along I kept putting on the brakes. The guy I passed did not look fresh as a daisy and I was starting to feel the affects of this effort. Not only that but we still had over half way to go! Racing could wait, it was time to pay attention to myself and meter this effort properly. Run, not too hard, eat, drink.
ASIDE - this is one reason I always carry a camera during ultras now. Taking pictures forces me to slow down. The first time I took my camera along
I had one of my best results and was really able to race at the finish. Coincidence? I think not.
At this point I finished the extra loop that the 100k runners did and got back on the big loop around the mountain that the 40-mile racers also ran. As I got off the neighboring hills and back on the mountain proper, the surface got sandier and dustier again. And instead of going up and down longer hills, it was back to an endless series of river canyons. One of which had walls so steep that there were fixed ropes on both sides!
On the up side, I started catching a lot of 40-mile runners, some of which said some very complimentary things as I ran by.
Guy in American flag shorts: "Are you a 100k runner?" When I told him yes he replied, "Whew!"
Two women running together: "100k? NICE!"
Couple running together and talking to each other: "He must be a 100k runner honey, animal!"
All this time I'm cruising along thinking i'mintheleadi'mintheleadi'mintheleadtakeiteasymartinanddon'tscrewthepooch.
As I ran I tried to convince myself that I was not slowing down but in truth I was. It didn't worry me too much as my perception of 2nd place when I passed him was that he was starting to suffer as well. I finally arrived at the last aid station (Blue Lake Aid at mile 56).
And I sat down in a chair.
After about 10 seconds I snapped out of it, "jumped" up and started to go through my routine of filling bottles and grabbing food.
I was casually munching on some watermelon when 2nd place jogs up. Oh no! I thought this guy was cooked but apparently not so much. And I still had to change my socks! I sat back down to do so and I must have been hilarious to watch. As I'm hurriedly making my gear adjustment I kept glancing over at 2nd place every five seconds watching him do the same thing. If he had left the aid before me it wold have been a bit of a moral tester. Luckily I got the job done, grabbed more melon and started walking out of there as I adjusted my vest. As I headed back up to the trail (the aid station was at the end of a 200 m out-and-back), here comes 3rd place!
All I could think was, this is not going to be comfortable.
I turned right onto the trail and immediately started jogging. No more walking Martin, just find your gear and try to push all the way to the finish. To my credit I DID find my gear and I did speed up. I guess taking it easy during the last section was paying off. Except for one brief moment about two miles from the finish, I was able to run all the flats, all the gradual climbs and roll the descents at a pretty good clip. It was hard but it was also empowering in a way. A draining way. :)
I kept looking at my watch and for a brief amount of time I entertained the fantasy of finishing without my headlamp. Ha!
As I crossed one of the last streams/gullys I was exiting and caught a trekking pole in between two rock. It spun me around and my butt slammed into the pole. C r a c k...! Damn, I broke my pole. At least I was close to the finish because these things were a life saver today, LIFE SAVER I tell you. Since one pole is not my style I just stowed both of them and carried on.
Shortly after that as I hit the lava rock field I "ran" into the race photographer again.
Normally I love this terrain! But I was getting pretty bushed and as I tried to hop through the rocks I could tell my legs were not as steady as the last time I was here so I slowed down just a bit. Falling on these jagged rocks would ruin your whole day.
The last six(?) miles of this race are a descent. But the first couple of miles are steep and the surface is really, really lumpy. I almost ran past a trail marker because my eyes were glued to the ground. Luckily I only had to backtrack about 50' and I found the correct path.
As the surface improved I tried to speed up but my feet were toast. All that sand and dust had been wearing them down and I had a sore spot under the ball of my left foot that was quite tender. At the last aid I had looked and it appeared to be a cut. It was really slowing me down.
As I ran to the finish I kept listening for anyone behind me. My mood would alternate between, "I'm f'ing winning this!" and, "No one better pass me because I'm not sure I can accelerate!" I even had to walk a few seconds perhaps two miles from the finish. I guess I metered this effort pretty good because I was empty.
Having run this section at the start helped. I recognized a pile of gravel about .25 miles from the finish and it really lifted my spirits. And then there was the arch. I was done!
I crossed the line, put my hands on my knees to steady myself and someone hung a finisher's medal around my neck. Then they noticed my number and the volunteer exclaimed, "Oh wow, you're a 100k runner, you need a different medal. Hey, you're the first one, congratulations!"
Vest on ground.
Butt in chair.
One last selfie.
I hobbled over to the car and gave myself a very deliberate and slow sponge bath. Good thing it was dark out because I was just standing naked in the parking lot.
With a mostly clean body and clean clothes I hobbled back to the start/finish to cheer on some finishers. After a bit I tried to eat but it wasn't happening. Not only was my stomach still on the edge from the effort, my throat was also torched from breathing hard and sucking in so much dust all day, it hurt to swallow.
I figured it would be mere minutes before 2nd and perhaps 3rd place crossed the line but I guess they finally slowed down and I really did speed up because I turned a five-minute lead into a 50-minute lead in just 13 miles. I'm actually glad I didn't know this, I was proud of myself for not losing focus during that last stretch. And kudos to the guy who was in 2nd for staying in 2nd.
Finally I hobbled back to my tent and got horizontal. All night long I would hear cow bells and people erupting into applause as runner after runner arrived at the finish. It was a nice sound. And it didn't prevent me from sleeping.
In the morning I slowly ate a breakfast burrito (my throat was still quite sore) and then went to collect my award and unfortunately demonstrated how new I was to winning. As Candice Burt
handed me my award she said, "We should get a shot of you on the podium!". Crap. I had not taken any clothing from my sponsors with me as the awards ceremony was not scheduled until 1:00 PM and I unfortunately could not wait that long. Sorry guys, my feet were too sore to make another trip to the car. #rookiemistake
- Lava and pumice is tough on shoes! The ones I wore were practically brand new at the start, now they looked like someone had run them through a rock polisher for 15 hours.
- Lava and pumice is tough on feet! Turns out what I thought was a cut was a blister, and I had about three small abrasions on the top of each foot from all the grit.
- The elation of success (not just of winning, but of a well-managed effort) quickly overshadows the pain of the effort.
- Some 100k courses really do take as long as some 100-mile courses. At 7:00 AM the next morning people were still crossing the line. To the same amount of applause! To everyone that hung out to cheer these runners on AND to these runners - you are awesome!
- I can't say enough about this course. It's hard but so beautiful. I saw Mt Adams, Mt Hood, Mt Rainier and of course Mt St Helens all in one day. Plus the terrain is epic and the blast zone still looks like a blast zone.
- Glacial melt water tastes delicious. I drank from streams four times and rinsed my hands/face/head numerous other times.
- Running alone gives you a LOT OF TIME TO THINK ABOUT ALL KINDS OF THINGS. That can be good or bad depending on where your head is at.
- Ice cream is great for a sore throat.
- Large bottle with 3 scoops Recoverite
- Half a hamburger
- 1 beer