Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Where's Waldo 100K

Sometime shortly after running my first 100 miler back in 2008, it occurred to me that 100K might just be the perfect distance. For me, it’s somewhere shortly after the 60 mile mark that running 100 miles becomes ridiculously hard; everything seems pretty awesome right up until then. So I’ve had my eye out for an opportunity to test this theory ever since, and last weekend I finally got my chance at the Where’s Waldo 100K.

A girl’s road trip up to the Oregon Cascades seemed like the perfect way to finish off the summer, and Jenny, Jamie and I had been planning this one for several months. The drive up went quickly, as we shared stories from our big summer races, and news about who was racing where in the upcoming week. Comparing notes on what we knew of the Waldo course (It was a new race for all of us), we all felt it would be hard, but not that hard. (Turns out, actually, it really was that hard. I guess all the rumors were true.)

Road trip! Jamie, me, and Jenny at Burney Falls on the drive up.

The weather was perfect when we arrived at the Willamette Pass ski area for Friday’s race briefing and check-in. We all gave a big thumbs up to the race shirts, then listened with anticipation as Craig and Curt gave us info for the day and explained how the course would be marked. The pre-race instructions we’d been mailed contained a course description and map with explicit instructions to carry it with us. The fact that the course markings at this race had been sabotaged in the past was apparent in these instructions, but in the end I actually appreciated this, in spite of the mild paranoia it induced. Their expectations that each runner be responsible for knowing where she was at all times forced me to do my homework by studying the map and elevation profile carefully. That knowledge definitely helped my race strategy, and as it turned out, the course was well and clearly marked.

Jamie, Jenny and I were all taking the regular start at 5:00 A.M., and we lined up in the dark with a hundred or so other runners. (There were 123 in the race, but I don’t know how many took the 3:00 A.M. start.) We took off and immediately started climbing up the ski hill. I’m perfectly happy to start a long race with a climb, and in this case, it was a good way to stay warm. It was chilly out!

At the starting line with Jamie and Jenny

When we eventually turned to run downhill single-track and it was still dark out, I had a bit of trouble. Usually the only time I’m running in the dark is when I’m really tired, so I’m moving pretty slowly. Now I was discovering the challenges of moving fast in the dark. It was a forced speed-check, and thus a good way to keep from running too fast early in the race, but I was still glad when the sun came up.

After the first aid station we began the second of the five major climbs, this one to the summit of Fuji Mountain. Jamie found me at the aid station, and we headed up the hill together. Since we spend so much time training together, it wasn’t surprising that Jamie and I found ourselves racing at about the same pace.

Rumor has it that this guy has no association with the race whatsoever, so I was surprised to see him hanging out on the trail up Fuji Mountain. I was told later that he is just a big fan and supporter of the race.

Chasing Jamie up Fuji Mtn.

The climb up Fuji encompasses a few miles of out-and-back, so we had the fun of getting to see the leaders heading back down. Eventual winner Tim Olson was already out front, and in the women’s race Megan Arbogast came by first, with Amy Sprotson hot on her heels. Those two were in close competition all day, with Megan pulling ahead in the final miles for the win.

Jenny shows us her Waldo on the way down from the summit of Fuji.

The trail up Fuji

I took a few pictures and asked the race official who was checking us off for the names of some of the surrounding peaks. Things looked a bit smoky out there, but I couldn’t see any actual fires, so I crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t have a big impact on the day.

Found Waldo! Waldo lake from the summit of Fuji Mountain.

Jamie makes it to the top.

Heading down Fuji and then up a section of the PCT, I did my best to stay in contact with Jamie. I knew she would be the perfect person to pace off of, if only I could keep her in sight without killing myself. My general race strategy was to run conservatively until about mile 40. If I still felt good at that point, I would give myself permission to pick it up and run hard. My training since TRT had been lackluster, to say the least, and that scared me into sticking with this fairly conservative plan. Thus it was that I found myself arriving at A4 expecting to see Jamie, and she was nowhere in sight. Clearly she was feeling good, and I mentally wished her well and stuck to my plan.

Coming into the Charlton Lake aid station at mile 32, I already felt like I was working pretty hard to maintain my pace. I’d been running for six and a half hours, so I knew I would need to run the next 30 miles in an equal time if I wanted to finish in 13 hours. Knowing that the hardest climb comes in the last 10 miles and that I was already feeling the accrued miles, I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to happen. I decided maybe sub-14 was still a good goal.

Artwork on the way in to Charlton Lake

One sign advertised "Nude Beach Ahead." But wait! This is a family-friendly race.

All rumors of a nude beach turned out to be false, but it was still a great aid station.

Charlton Lake

The section from Charlton Lake (A5) to Rd. 4290 (A6) is pretty flat and extremely runnable. It was a bit frustrating then, to feel like I wasn’t making very good time here. This area was sort of a mental low, and after hearing from a number of other runners, that seemed to be a common theme. It was just kind of the doldrums. It seems counter-intuitive, but I always have a hard time staying focused on the flats even though I should be using the terrain to my advantage.

At A6 Sarah was there cheering me, and that was a nice boost. I also saw Claire Abrams and Scott Laberge coming into the aid station just as I was leaving, and that provided another kind of boost. I had better get moving if I didn’t want them to catch me!

Drop-bag time at A6. (Photo courtesy of Sarah.)

Even though it was a few miles earlier than my game plan called for, I let myself push the effort a bit in order to try to fend off Claire. I knew no matter when I did it, I wouldn’t really be picking up the pace anyway. It was simply about maintaining at this point. In spite of all the gaps in my training though, I was here to race, and I figured I may as well give it my best shot.

Many of the trees were covered in this moss. Think it rains much here? It lent a beautiful, very "magical forest" quality to the place.
The trail to the Twins

Coming into the Twins aid station for the second time, I got my camera out preparing to take a picture. On my first visit to this station, they had a “Pearly Gates” theme and I appreciated the enthusiasm that led most volunteers to don white gowns, wings and halos. I’d been too lazy to take a picture at the time, knowing I’d be back here and could do it then. To my surprise though, the theme had changed. Now everyone was wearing devil horns and black cloaks. Clearly it was late in the race and things were getting ugly! I also noticed that, despite my efforts, Claire and Scott were still right behind me. Time to go!

Claire and Scott re-fuel with the devils a the Twins aid station.

Yes, I totally spanked this monkey. When it was the "Pearly Gates" theme at the aid station, I'm pretty sure this sign said something more like "Hi-five the monkey for good luck."

I started the final climb, up Maiden Peak, with Claire. Due to my excessive study of the map and elevation profile, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect out of this climb. Long story short: It was going to be a bitch.

Although neither of us had the energy for any real conversation, it was nice to have Claire right behind me. There’s something about sharing a completely demoralizing climb with someone that helps it to taste slightly less bitter. After the race, Claire, Jamie and I compared notes on how similar this climb was to the climb out of Diamond Peak on the TRT course. Consensus was that they were pretty similar, but Maiden Peak was worse. It’s a bit longer, and it’s also not as straight-forward. There are tricky little spots where the climb teases you by flattening out just a bit before it sucker punches you with another steep, loose scramble. I find those changes in pitch to be a huge mental challenge. So, lesson learned: I guess I won’t complain about Diamond Peak anymore. (Actually, I probably will, but I’ll just end all my complaints with, “Well, at least it’s not Maiden Peak!”)

I knew that the climb got steeper as you got closer to the top, so when things got completely desperate I figured we were getting close. I was surprised and happy to see Jamie heading back down just as Claire and I turned up the last stretch to the summit. I’d figured she was much farther ahead. Reaching the top, I was all smiles. I was completely spent, but the worst climb was done and I knew the last ten miles to the finish were mostly downhill.

Claire and I smile on the summit.

I let Claire lead the downhill since my legs were completely rubbery from the climb, and she was soon far out of my sight. This trail was labeled “Leap of Faith” on the map, and I’ll tell you what - that was the perfect name! Steep, loose and technical, it took more than a little confidence to negotiate. I worried less about moving fast than I did about staying upright.

By the time I reached the final aid station at Maiden Lake, Scott had caught up with me as well, and we enjoyed the amazing star-treatment here. This race gives a number of fun awards, including one to the runner with the most enthusiasm/appreciation (the “Show us Your Waldo” award). Well, if I were giving out awards, I would definitely give one to the ladies at Maiden Lake for the best aid station. Can we call this the “Maiden Lake Spa”? While I happily sipped a chilled frappachino, a volunteer came over with a wet napkin and wiped all the salt and grime off my face. Then she followed it up with a shoulder massage. Could it get any better?

I began narrating my experience aloud: “Well, I DNF’d at Waldo because I just couldn’t leave the last aid station.”

The ladies laughed, but then one continued the story for me, “And then they made me hike out with a pack on.” (All the supplies have to be hiked in to this remote aid station.)

I hastily added, “So, I changed my mind and decided to run in the last 7 miles!”

Thanks for all the love, ladies! At a race with some pretty awesome aid stations, you’re proof that it doesn’t take fancy themes or cute costumes to be the best.

Maiden Lake. Look closely and you'll see the mermaids!

The last 7.5 miles to the finish is fairly moderate downhill, and I felt like I was keeping a good pace on it. I wasn’t too discouraged about getting passed by Scott and Claire, since no one else had passed me in the last 40 miles. I was, however, picturing a large number of women somewhere shortly behind me, and I didn’t want to get passed again. That was my motivation. When I look at my last split though compared to those of the runners near me, I can see that I still have a lot of work to do on my downhill technique. Even runners who finished behind me had a much faster split from the last aid station to the finish. I hate being faced with that kind of knowledge, but sometimes it’s good to have a forced reality check: My downhill pace wasn’t as solid as it had felt.

Waldo also marked the second race for me this year that took place on part of the PCT. As with Leona Divide, I spent some time during the day thinking back to what it had been like to backpack through these parts. Passing the Rosary Lakes, I remembered that I’d camped there with a friend I'd met on trail. In 2,600 miles of hiking, this was the only place where I had taken a layover day on trail (as opposed to in town). I’d spent a rare thru-hiker's day relaxing, swimming and writing in my journal. As the sun sank lower in the sky and I ran along the edge of the Rosary Lakes, I smiled to myself at the memory. This was truly a special place.

Middle Rosary Lake - August, 2010

Swiss Miss and Farmboy, Middle Rosary Lake - August, 1996

I crossed the finish line gratefully, to the cheers of Jamie, Jenny and a handful of enthusiastic spectators and runners. In many ways, the 100K distance was more or less what I had expected: a little harder than a 50-miler, but not nearly as hard as a 100-miler. The Waldo course is no joke, but it’s hard in a really good way. I was fairly happy with my finishing time of 13:30, and my place of 8th woman/39th overall.
(Complete Results)

One of the things I really appreciated about this race is how it does such a great job of combining both the serious and fun aspects of ultrarunning. For a small race (123 starters), it attracts some excellent talent. This is perhaps due to its inclusion in the Montrail Ultra Cup series, as well as good sponsorship which offers cash and prizes to the first five finishers in each gender as well as masters. But along with all this serious racing, there are some fun and goofy prizes, (not to mention some fun and goofy race officials and volunteers). For instance, the runner who swims in the most lakes wins the Wet Waldo award, and the first runner to make it to the top of Fuji Mtn. (and still finish the race) gets the Found Waldo award. Fun, yes, and the prizes are pretty darn good, too: a backpack and a Patagonia down sweater. The Show us Your Waldo award was the best because it’s totally subjective (voted on by each aid station) and can be interpreted in whatever way you’d like. If you’re going for that award, I suggest bringing your A-game. (This is what it took to win this year.)

And ever since Sean came down with a car full of Oregon speedsters to kick our butts at Silver State, I have to give out my own Fastest Carpool award. This one’s a little tough since it’s hard to know exactly who drove together, but this time I think Jenny, Jamie and I just may have taken it with our 3rd, 7th and 8th place finishes. (As usual, I am the weak link in my carpool. I need to find slower friends. Or maybe start running faster.) Other close contenders were Amy Sprotson’s car, and Erik and Mark with their 4th and 5th place men’s finishes. (They had to be officially disqualified because they only had two people in their car. Maybe next year they can offer Victor a ride.)

The three of us stood around the finish line socializing, and eating the amazing food (who made those cookies?) washed down with the best Mirror Pond Pale Ale ever. We cheered on finishers until 9:30, when we were too cold to talk anymore.

It was a fun experience to go to a race on new trails, where I didn’t know many people, and feel welcomed with open arms. The people at this race were great, and the atmosphere was super positive. It’s funny how these things can be just as important as beautiful trails and great aid stations, and Waldo is blessed with all of the above. During the weekend conversations, there was much talk of trying races like Leadville and Trans Rockies next year, but we all agreed that it will be a tough call if it means leaving this one off the schedule. Thanks so much to Craig, Curt and everyone involved in this race. It was an excellent first experience with the 100K distance and Oregon racing!

Three happy runners show off their finisher's hats.


  1. Woohoo, Gretchen! This sounds like a race I could enjoy quite a bit. Congratulations on your are lightening fast in my book! Keep it up girl!

  2. wow, what a beautiful course.

  3. Waldo is one of the most beautiful places and great run races I've ever been to.

  4. You are an amazing runner! Beautiful course!!!

  5. Okay: great time, beautiful course, fun people - I have got to get out there! But, being the guy I am, I have to say Jamie's legs in the photo of her at the top of Fuji are amazing.

  6. What a great race..I have lot's of find memories of Oregon thanks to Olga!

  7. Wooooooow beautiful! I wanna find Waldo! Thanks for the awesome race report~ :)

  8. Paige - I have no doubt you would love it! "Lightening" might be stretching things a bit, but thanks. ;)

    yahkohb - Not only that, but most of the trails were really nice, crushed-fir-needle carpets. Good stuff!

    Olga - Still missin' Oregon, eh? :) It was definitely beautiful. Perfect weather, too.

    Mark - Aww, thanks!

    Steve - Hey, no shame in recognizing a good pair of legs! I was sort of thinking the same thing this weekend - I wish I had calves like that. ;)

    Stuart - Did you used to live in Oregon?? How do I not know this? Olga does create some good memories though, doesn't she? ;)

    Amber - Thanks. This turned out to be one of those very wordy race reports, but there were too many things I just didn't want to leave out. Plus, it was my last ultra of the year, so I wanted to milk it!

  9. Gretchen - Nice report on a excellent race. I really enjoyed it also; the terrain was so different that running in the Sierra Nevada range. I think I was seeing single track for a couple of days!
    I'm glad you will no longer complain about the Diamond Peak climb, I told you it wasn't that bad...
    Congrats to all three of you ladies on fine finishes. You were all showered and had beers down before I can crawling in! :)

  10. BOOM! You done did it again. Nice job!

    I'm thinking after next month's 100 miler, dipping into the world of 100ks. You're right - those last 40 miles are what do ya in.

  11. Wow Gretchen! Fabulous report, it was just what I needed to read after a long day at work! I cannot wait to run with you next weekend. You are NOT the weak link in the carpool!!!!

  12. Aww, Swiss Miss, Farmboy and Rosary Lake made a great picture and I don't think your carpool had any weak links! Fantastic race and fantastic report!

  13. George - Wait, didn't I retract my statement that I wouldn't complain? I reserve the right to complain! Uh, I'll just try not to do it in front of you. ;) And hey, at least we only had to run up Maiden Peak once. Ahem!

    Nice job on your race, George! Glad you made the trek up and enjoyed it as much as I did.

    Rusty - What's your hundo next month? Is is P2P, because I hear that course is going to be a bear! Good luck! (And yeah, especially during that last 40.)

    Jamie - Thanks for such a fun weekend. And yeah, I think 8th place makes me the weak link, but I'm totally okay with that!

    Rae - Yeah, I thought you might appreciate that historic photo. Thanks!

  14. Waldo is special. I was feeling the glow and it wasn't even my race! Very cool the two pictures of Middle Rosary Lake at different times.

    Congrats a great race! It was fun meeting you!

  15. Thanks, Sarah! It was super nice meeting you. You'll have to put this one on your own calendar one day I think.

  16. Yeah: Hitting that 16 hour, 65 mile cutoff will be a chore.

    Expect moaning and griping in my RR.

  17. I have just begun revisiting your blog. Always great to read your race reports. Just the motivation I need as I take it up a notch in my own fitness plans here on the East Coast.

  18. Russ - Moaning and griping totally allowed. Just no "tbc" endings on the report, please. ;)

    Michael - Hey, thanks! I always find motivation from other people's blogs too, so it's nice to hear.

  19. How did I miss the monkey? Great recap, as well--and congrats on fastest car honors. I think you edged us out this year, but I'll work on stacking Bridget (my car) for next year.....

  20. Amy - You must have been running too fast to see the monkey. Nice job on your race! You're definitely on for the car-pool comp! ;)