White River 50-Mile Race Report

White River 50-mile race report

The White River 50-Mile Trail Championships

This may come as a shock, …but sometimes, I get cocky.

No, really…

But, running the White River 50-mile National Trail Championships this weekend provided me a healthy dose of reality regarding where I really fall in the pecking order of ultrarunners.

And it t’aint where I dream in my own head.

A little background

I was a little scared of White River.

Although I ran the Florida Keys 50-mile race in May, the event took place on mostly road-type terrain and was flat as a pancake.

In contrast, the White River course is no joke with a humbling 8,700 feet of elevation gain, with the same amount of descent, creating 17,400 feet of elevation change over the entire 50 mile race course.

white-river-50-elevation-map

For the last four months, I’ve been laser-focused on this 50-miler.

Reading race reports, pinging different Seattle ultrarunners for the inside scoop, and studying the course elevation maps and course descriptions made up a chunk of my free time.

Four of us Georgia fools made the solid commitment to charge across the country and see what a Pacific Northwest race was all about.

  • Rockdaddy – aka. the Mad Monk – Jason ducked out from view of most of us and trained a solid three months on his own. Fast guy this Jason Rockman. Hairy, too.
  • Kid Kahrs – aka. “too-fast-Matt” – Matt and I did a majority of our training at the same spots, but I can’t really say “together” since he’s hours faster than me at anything and everything.
  • Dr. Suess – aka. Sista’ Suwee Sweatpea – Phil was using the White River race as a gauge for his upcoming 100-miler in Los Angeles.
  • C$ – aka. phat Mouth plus – I had three simple goals: get faster; run more hills; lose weight.

We trained our butts off.

Our training consisted of multiple training runs on the Appalachian Trail and the Coosa Backcountry Trail, plus a heaping handful of challenging 50K mountain trail races like Chattooga 50K, Sweet H20, Crowders Mountain, and few other unofficial homemade ones.

I don’t think a single weekend went by where I didn’t log at least 35 miles between Saturday and Sunday, with one weekend of a solid 60 miles of trail running.

I felt ready.

The mark of a true elite?

Standing on the air strip at 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning, all kinds of nervous thoughts started going through my head:

“This is the USATF trail Championships, I don’t deserve to be here running with Jurek, Krupicka, Wardian, Semick…”

“Jeeez, look how lean the elites are – look at my fat ass – man, I’m in trouble…”

“Did I really train enough for this…?”

“What if my foot acts up…?”

But, nothing quite settles the nerves like a good bathroom joke, right?

Here we are, bouncing around waiting to start the 50-mile race, yet it seemed one ultrarunning superstar was still held up in the bathroom. (???) Watch the video to see who we’re waitin’ for…

White River 50-Mile Trail Championships starting line

While I can’t verify that he was in fact in “the can”, getting a chance to belly-laugh certainly lightened up the mood for me.

Before I could finish laughing though, I heard, “30 seconds to start!”

And I got nervous all over again.

Goals and strategy for White River

Hahaha – goals and strategy? me? …yeah, right. The dude that always shows up without necessary stuff, usually without a crew or any help, and charges races he probably has no business charging. Strategy for me is really just a half-baked wish-list, but here goes:

  • Run aid station to aid station – forget about the 50 mile distance
  • Put the New Balance 790s through the test of 50-miles of trail
  • No clumsy hydration packs, and only one water bottle – I hate carrying stuff
  • Try to run some hills, but don’t be stupid – {here’s a li’l foreshadowing – I was stupid}
  • Get in under 11 hours
  • Smile, smile, smile and enjoy the day
  • Make some new ultra friends on da’ West siiiide.

Christian Griffith #95 at White River 50

Aid Station 1: Camp Sheppard

The Pacific Northwest is so raw looking and the first four miles of the race was absolute heaven – like running in the Land of the Lost.

Super soft, rolling single-track trails weaving in and around an old growth forest had me all fired up …just’a hootin’ and hollerin’ and whoppin’ it up as ran through the dark, early morning trail setting.

Thick growth, old rickety bridges, crazy green mossy trees – damp air with the sound of cool, trickling mountain spring water all around.

Man … going back there in my head right now feels soooo good.

During this stretch I met Lorie Alexander, from BC, Canada and Van Phan from Maple Valley, Washington. If I remember right, Lorie was finishing her 50th, 50-mile race and Van was completing some ‘sicketh’ number of race, adding to her incredible running resume. Here’s an article about Van from back in 2006 when I had only started running.

Yup, impressive runners; but, waaaay out of my league – time to back off.

I settled into my own smooth-easy pace, and rolled into the first aid station feeling like supa’man.

“Four miles down already?”

Aid Station 2: Ranger Creek

When describing White River to first-timers, the famous veteran joke is, “Don’t worry, there’s only two climbs” – usually followed by nudges and winks and snickering.

Yup. Technically, that’s true – and after leaving the Camp Sheppard aid station, I started up climb number one.

Running.

I caught up to Lorie again, and because of her experience, decided to follow her lead for awhile, chatting it up through some semi-steep switch-backs with a mix of running and power-hiking.

When we hit some big ol’ thick steps on the ascent, she asked me to go ahead and pass because she gets dizzy and would be slow-going up the short, but very steep, rickety log stairs.

I don’t quite know what got into me, but from that point, about a mile into the climb, I started running and pretty much ran the entire way to the Ranger Creek aid station at mile 11-ish.

All uphill miles.

Here’s where I think experience running all terrains and locales is important to becoming a well-rounded ultrarunner. Here in the Southeast, we had been training on trail grades that were much steeper than this section, BUT nowhere near as long. Since the grade was more mellow, I felt like I was fine running it and believed I had nothing to worry about.

I even said to myself, “Man, if this is the extent of the tough climbing, I’m more-than-ready.”

And, like usual, I just found myself looking stupid later on.

Aid Station 3: Corral Pass – or – Christian’s mini-meltdown

After I hit the Ranger Creek aid station at mile 11-something, I knew I was starting to unravel.

I had expected food, even though the RD was explicit the night before that no food would be available since that aid station crew had to pack-in water in order to provide anything for the runners.

But I forgot all about that.

And I let myself take a mental blow upon arrival. “Damn, no food.”

Plus, in my confused haze, I forgot to drink anything at all. I did fill my water bottle, but never actually drank anything at the aid station.

I left that station hungry and thirsty and for the life of me cannot figure out how or why it happened that way. Needless to say, because I forgot to drink at the aid station, I polished off that bottle in the first three, of a six miles, to Corral Pass.

Smart, huh? …like personal sabotage.

All at once, things started going horribly wrong for me – First of all, I was completely out of water with three miles to go before I could get any more fluids, plus…

  • the terrain turned very rocky and steep
  • the tree-line cut away exposing us out on the ridge in bright, warm sunlight
  • we had run up to nearly 6000 feet
  • I was tired as Hell from running that climb
  • I was starving to death
  • I was still psyched out from my personal Ranger Creek aid station debacle
  • Runners behind me we passing
  • Front runners were passing me coming the other way

That’s a lot of crap all at once and I started my mini-meltdown.

If you ran this race and your reading this, and you finished in under 11 hours, yup – it’s me. I’m that dude that probably asked you how close we were to water because I had been out for miles.

But good ol’ 50-ultra-Lorie saves the day. Why didn’t I just stay back with her from the beginning?

She heard me ask someone (for the 17th time) how close the aid station was and she didn’t hesitate – “you need fluids?”, and with that she pop’d the nipple off her bladder pack and syphoned water right into my empty bottle.

She gave me enough for half a liter, and for a second there, all was right in the world.

Until I drank it gone in one sip.

Man…

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I see my buddy Jason Rockman, aka Rockdaddy, the Mad Monk, coming at me.

He looked at me…

I looked at him…

And I don’t think a single word was shared – just both shaking our heads.

Seeing Jason already struggling some was not encouraging and I began to wonder if I just suck and should stop ultrarunning altogether.

I was really, really low.

By the time I rolled into the Corral Pass aid station, the handful of people I passed earlier, had now passed me back, along with some newer runners I hadn’t even seen yet. Couple that with about eight minutes at the aid station, hydrating and stuffing my face, and I knew I was falling further and further behind.

“Yikes, If I don’t leave this aid station, I’m going to find myself in dead last place”

“I can’t believe I tried to run most of that first climb. I’m so lame”

There’s simply no worse race feeling in the world than to be completely crumbling 16 miles into a 50-mile race.

Finally, Dr. Suess aka. Sista’ Suwee Sweatpea, pops into the aid station, calls my name, and we bang fists. He’s bubbly – happy, an’ stuff and feeling pretty good, but instead of feeding off that, I chose to remain miserable.

I grabbed another handful of animal crackers and those cheddar cheese fish things and just starting walking out of the aid station.

I remember Suess running with me for a few minutes and me clamoring over and over, “dude, I gotta recover, or I’m in trouble.”

I didn’t like this uncharacteristic me I was seeing and feeling. Consumed with negativity.

Now I was last amongst all my friends, and more people were passing me.

It’s possible that I fell within 10 people or so from last place.

Taking some lumps.

Quick side note: Running with Champions

I should add, that while I was completely miserable between leaving and returning to Ranger Creek, it was AWESOME to run by the likes of Anton Krupicka, Scott Jurek, Michael Wardian and all the elites. Seeing them run with such ease and confidence was awe-inspiring and although I felt like a complete tool even trying to offer encouragement to these beasts, I still managed a couple of “nice work, man”, -type comments as they ripped past me like gazelles.

Most grunted or offered encouragement back and I got a little lift out of it each time.

I don’t care if it sounds cheesy. I’ve tried to learn so much from the likes of these guys and it was truly awesome to run with them – …well, sorta run with them, anyway… Someday, I am going to be a good runner. Someone that others look up to, and I will damn sure make certain that I support the newbies and slower folks, too.

We are, after all, one big neurotic, obsessive and excessive family, y’know?

Aid Station 4: back to Ranger Creek

Thank God.

Halfway back to Ranger Creek, the food kicked in, the tree cover came back, the downhill emerged and I started to fly.

Just ten minutes before, I was getting passed by some dude, asking him if we were in danger of chasing the cut-offs, and now I was running like I was chasing the leaders. I passed that same guy as he called out, “use it while you got it”, and I did just that – remembering his comment many times throughout the day.

Rolling into Ranger Creek for the second time, mile 22-ish, I was like my own NASCAR pit crew. I filled my bottle, grabbed two salt caps, and took off, ready for the upcoming six miles of fast, downhill switch-backs.

Aid Station 5: Buck Creek

I simply ran hard and did not stop once.

I passed one dude, cleaning out his shoe, and one early-start female who was wobbling near the bottom of the descent.

Neither person responded to my “what’s up”, but I knew exactly how they felt, and all I could think was thank goodness I wasn’t in that state anymore.

I rolled into Buck Creek, with all the cheers and excitement, and a big ol’ smile spread across my face.

I was back in this thing – I was gonna’ fight my way back.

Aid Station 6: Fawn Ridge

Leaving Buck Creek was easy. For one, this kick-ass dude named Pat took my bottle and filled it for me while I stuffed my face and hands with as much sugary goodness as I could find. By the time dude returned with my bottle, I had skarfed 6 pieces of watermelon, 4 cantaloupe, two handfuls of chips and pretzels, more cheddar cheese fish things and two PB & J sandwiches – not to mention close to 10 cups each of Mountain Dew, Coke and water.

Jacked, baby!

I stumbled out of there with even more food and walked all the way to the Suntop trail (about 1/2 mile) eating and chatting with a guy named Paul Ward who’s stomach was all ganked up. “Waz up, Paul – hope you finished, dude!”

The Suntop Trail is the famous “climb #2″, and it’s a grind. Eight miles of mostly very steep trail that goes from damp and dank; to dusty, dry and rocky switch-backs; to dark and ominous Tim-Burton-type spooky trail …to nice and sunny on top.

I felt pretty good and I hit the first part of this climb pretty hard, — but paid for that right away.

Dry water bottle again with over a mile to go to Fawn Ridge.

“Grrrrr…”

But, no blood-no foul and before I knew it, I was rolling into Fawn Ridge where the aid station volunteers were dressed in Luau gear, ringing bells and partying and having a great ol’ time.

I caught up to fellow Georgian Dr. Suess who was comfortably sitting in a chair, eating a bowl of potato chips.

I quickly grabbed some food and bolted out of there, waaay too scared of those empty chairs.

Aid Station 7: Sun Top Mountain

Leaving Fawn Ridge takes runners through the dark and ominous Tim-Burton-type spooky trail I alluded to above.

I was a little lonely, so I broke out the little Flip video cam to keep myself company – I’ll let the video speak for me.

Climbing Sun Top Mountain

I hit the expected false summit and ran hard down the descent, picking off a few more runners, before crossing a dirt road and making my way up the last significant climb of the day, straight up to the top of Sun Top – where another aid station party was in full effect.

A few icy sponge baths, a can of Mountain Dew, and a little cuttin’ up and I was ready to blow out of there and start the six-mile quad-pounding jeep road descent.

Only 13 more miles to go.

Aid Station 8: Skookum Flats

When I rolled into Sun Top I saw my boy Rockdaddy sittin’ in a chair. For the most part he looked good, but I was surprised to be so close to him. It’s a total bluff, because he’s a much better runner than me – but we rolled out together, and started the gravel 10K+ in tandem, but it soon became apparent that he was going to have to take it easy due to some hamstring flare-ups.

But, I felt $%@#& great!

I don’t know why or how, but I found a fast downhill pace, with good foot turnover, and just like the race director said, you can absolutely make up a lot of time here.

…and I needed every minute I could get back.

I’m pretty sure I passed more people on this section than any other and I had completely come back to life.

When I rolled into mile 44, Skookum Flats, I knew I had the chance to finish pretty strong after all. (for me, anyway)

The crawl to the finish

Scott McCoubrey was 100% correct about this one – the White River trail section is the nicest section of trail on the entire course – arguably anywhere in the country that I’ve been. Very reminiscent of what I experienced running in the trails of Northern Humboldt County near HSU and Wedding Rock/Trinidad areas.

The old growth trail sections are simply incredible. I’m pissed that I let fatigue keep me from filming some of this section, but I just couldn’t get motivated to take any pictures – my motivation was all about getting to that finish line.

…plus, you have to experience it for yourself to truly understand.

You have to feel the air, smell the smells, step in the dark black mud and check out the thick green moss on the huge fallen trees. You have to hear the roar of the White River moving with tremendous force. You have to see the thousand year old trees with the crazy-weird birds that make sounds like a boy scout’s whistle.

A picture just can’t do that.

I enjoyed running back here. I just checked out from the suffering, and into my surroundings.

11:24 and damn happy!

Coming up the road at Buck Creek, heading towards the air strip I heard people cheering and clapping and man… I just started smiling and running and running and smiling and…

…and I heard ” B E A S T !!!” – and knew my boy Matt, aka. Kid Kahrs, was there to prop my finish.

David Horton was at the race and he was shaking finisher’s hands and handing out awards and at that moment right there, I really felt part of the ultrarunning community like never before.

Here I am hand-in-hand with a true living legend in the sport of Ultrarunning and one of my all-time heroes – and HE is congratulating ME!

Plus, over to my right is Anton Krupicka, Scott Jurek, Hal, Greg, and handfuls of other full-on ultra kings and queens; and to my left, was my boy Kid Kahrs giving me the low-down on how the real race went down up front.

Life was good.

So now what?

I really don’t know.

112th place (out of 202 starters?) has humbled me in a big way.

I feel like like I ran very well from miles 22 to 50, but compared to the rest of the field, 11:24 is just not very good.

…but when I consider where I was between miles 13 and 19, I guess I’ll take it.

After all, it’s the perfect ultrarunning example of highs and lows and fighting your demons, your mistakes, your miscalculations, …and getting back on track again.

It’s all progress, I suppose. A constant learning process.

During times like this I can’t help but reflect back to 2006 as a 250lb work-a-holic who was more concerned with making money than being healthy and happy. …A surfer boy, in a man’s body, who thought that all the glory days were past him and the only things left to do were work, watch the news, sit next to other parents at soccer games complaining about coaches, kids and …other parents, and all the while becoming a blob of stereotypical normalcy.

It’s true that any chance of “glory days” might be gone, but Ultrarunning has given me life again.

White River reminded me all about that.

Thanks to Scott, the RD, and all the volunteers, for yet another chunk of the good stuff.

Landsford Canal 50K Race Report

Landsford 50K race along the catawba river in South Carolina

Gotta love that Claude Sinclair.

As a race director, Claude is one of the most unique men I’ve ever met.

There’s something about the guy – an obvious passion and dedication for “doing the runners right.” He’s proud of his races, proud of the runners, and full of all kinds of funny anecdotes and race stories from the past and present.

His races are almost devoid of nonsense – Sometimes there’s a t-shirt, sometimes not.

This years’ Landsford 50K race numbers were 4 digit race numbers, cut in half, to make two-digit race numbers.

I love that stuff.

Races built around the running, not the swag.

40 runners toe the line

40 of us are standing around looking at each other because we have no idea what Claude is saying. He’s standing there, blurting out important directions, but also holding a huge, long civil war musket rifle in his hands.

“Go this way, then turn around and come back up the hill… yada yada…”, but I don’t comprehend a damn thing except for that big-ass rifle.

One lady was hiding behind a tree.

BANG! {bang, bang, bang}          <—- that’s a written echo. Like it?

He fires the gun. Have you ever heard a musket fired before?

It shocked my entire body.

I don’t think I was right until lap #3.

Round and round they run

I always say I don’t like loops, but I think I just gravitated toward some of the ultra runners I thought were cool and allowed myself to be unfairly jaded, because the truth is – I have fun at loop races. You get to know the course and you can be a little faster than you would going point to point. The road too. I sort of bah-humbug the road a lot, but I’m learning that not only do I like running on the road, I’m actually better at it than the trails – which is quite upsetting because I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the trails.

The Landsford 50K is held at Landsford Canal, a beautiful park area along the Catawba River, somewhere off of I77,  in “I have no idea”, SC.

Any race near water, is a good race for me.

The run consisted of seven, 4.25 mile loops, with an early 1.5 mile out-n-back, to make it a legit 50K.

On each loop, three of those miles where on the road, and 1.25 of ’em on lovely, flat and fast trail consisting of wild extremes from rocks and roots, to scree-like gravel, to fluffy cedar chips – all on the same trail. The trail portion was almost 100% along the water which made me look forward to getting there all seven times.

There was one aid station, which was plenty, at the end of each 4.25 mile loop. Claude had the usual fare of candy, pretzels, coke, gatorade, water and the true mark of a Runner from Hell race, good ol’ Ginger Snaps – my personal favorite. I think I ate 47 of ’em.

No, really…

Breakin’ it down fer ya – Loop 1

You always feel like Superman on the first loop, y’know?

I was cruising along, feeling great, and running in around fourth place. I even passed Rich Schick early.

See, I have this secret-sorta rivalry going with Rich Schick, even though he has no clue about it, but because he beats me every single race and is almost twice my age. Mad experience, Mr. Rich Schick, but “dog gone it” (as Spurgeon would say) I really would like to beat him just once.

Loop 1, as with all the other loops, went something like this:

  • Ascend a steep, but short uphill section
  • Patter about 1/4 mile, and ascend another longer, but less-steep hill
  • Bust’a left, and run forever – FOREVER – down a long “I-can-see-the-end-but-I-never-seem-to-get-there” -type road.
  • Bust’a ‘nother left, descend sharply for another 1/4 mile
  • Bust’a third left, and hit the densely covered, water-sounding, fake-snaked trail section
  • Bust the last left, run up a grass hill and yell out your number to Claude, or Mrs. Sinclair.
  • Grab some goodies, and roll on out.

During this first loop I caught up to the third place person, a female. I started chatting, as usual, and learned this was her first 50K, and in fact, the furthest she has ever run was 21 miles.

YIKES!

I know enough now to know when someone is going out too fast and this was most probably an example of that kind of newbie exuberance.

I backed off, and let her go.

Loop 2

On this lap, I passed the eventual second place winner as he was walking up the hill. I was so cocky to myself, “I’m running the hill, he’s walking” — but you’ll notice he ended up in second place – not me.

I’m now in third, still thinking the girl ahead of me is going to blow up; but also thinking that I have no business being up front like this.

Loop 3

Ok, now I’m starting to sorta wish a second aid station was happening. It started to get hot, and I was breezing the aid stations very quickly and probably not hydrating as completely as I should have been.

Alicia, the girl ahead of me was starting to wane and I sensed the fast start was catching up with her. At least, it was certainly catching up with me.

Right around the time I wanted to complain about being thirsty to anyone that might be around to listen, our buddy Colt, who drove us to the race, pulled up beside me, “want some water?”

A runner always knows.

I passed the girl, finally, after some leap-froggin’ and somehow found myself in second place.

Loop 4

Hot, getting tired, still in second place.

A little blood appears in my pee.

Got passed by Greg Myers on this loop.

“Rats.”

Back to third.

Loop 5

Struggling a little to keep the pace.

The combo of the heat plus a marathon road-type pace was starting to take a toll on me.

Feet hurtin’, legs tight, hot, tummy actin’ up, fartin’ everywhere…

“just keep it together Christian, two laps to go you pansy”

Put Greg Myers back behind me, putting me back in second place again, but he wouldn’t truly go away. I’d look back, and there he was in his Badwater-looking groovy white flap hat.

“Dude, fall out or something so I can slow down!”

Loop 6

Ouch.

At the end of loop5, just before the start of lap six, I got looped by the front runner, my good buddy Matt Kahrs (who won the race is 3:52). Not only did he lap me, but he also brought the fifth-ish place dude along with him – I not only got lapped, but I lost second place and was now running in third again.

“So what, I’m too tired to care about place now, just want that 5:25 I called out on Facebook.”, I rationalized.

I hit that long, never-ending stretch, looked behind me and saw no one – “Great, I shook off Greg!”

And then I hear, “you’re having a great day Christian!”

“wha…?”, “huh?” …”where in the Hell did he come from?”

It was Rich Schick. And he was looking as fresh as a daisy, …while I was slothing along like a Spring Break drunk.

“maybe I’m having a good day”, I said “but your strategy must be far better…”

“it’s all in how you look at it”, he said.

“How you look at it?”, I thought – all I’m looking at is his backside, putting more and more distance on me, and it’s not at all what I was wanting, nor expecting, to see at this point in the race.

And with that, he left your humble narrator. Dejected and defeated …and now pushed back to fourth place.

Loop 7

Good ol’ Colt ran the last lap with me.

We ran faster. I always run faster when I can “smell the barn”.

Christian Griffith finishes Landsford 50K

We didn’t catch Rich though, and I ran across the finish line in 5:05 – shaking Claude’s hand for a fine race – and setting a new personal record at the 50K distance,

…but still falling four minutes short of placing as Rich crossed the line in 5:01.

Congratulations to Rich Schick.

Proud to know ’em, still wanna beat ’em.

Finish line fun

Some of the best times during ultras are at the finish.

As an ultra groupie as much as a runner, I have so much fun cheering for others and congratulating them at the finish line. If I ever hold my own race, I will be one of the RDs that stands there and shakes every runner’s hand and congratulates each personally. David Horton and Todd Henderson really made a mark on me with that type of race director behavior and that’s who I would like to be as well.

A few of us disrobed and hopped in the creek – here’s some pics stolen from Claude’s Facebook page:

landsford 50K creek dip

Claude makes each runner a special, hand-crafted and unique finisher award on solid wood. What a great way to top off a great day of running through the park with loads of old and new friends. Check it:

Landsford 50K finisher awards

And that was that.

Landsford Canal 50K was a great experience. It was just the race I needed to feel confident about my upcoming White River race – 50 miles near Mt. Ranier in Washington state, in one week, July 25th.

Thanks to Claude, his lovely wife, and all the volunteers that made sure the picnic table never got empty, and who encouraged us for each and every lap.

Bravo.