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.

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:

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…

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.

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Comments

Great story, dude! Very well written and held my interest all the way through–I felt your pain and your pleasure. Congratulations!

As one of the only non-runners that reads this blog, I have to tell you that I’m finally starting to get it. Before, I just thought you had a competitive screw loose somewhere, but I’m beginning to savor the joyful flavor of the chase, and suddenly I can dig it.
At the beginning of your run, I kept hearing an old phrase “you have to be nice to the people on the way up…because you meet the very same people on the way down” — but now the review was held on the dirt path, rather than through the hierarcy of life. And the brain changes are the same ones I hear from golfers and swimmers -to politicians and businesspeople — all regarding the ecstacy of success vs. the agony of defeat.
Enjoyable reads, $C.

Great job out there and don’t be so hard on yourself. Although I am fairly new to ultra’s, I think we have all experienced those feelings of desperation within a race–and it takes all you got to reach in and get some to get out of the hole…but you did and that’s all that matters. Congrats on chasing those demons.

[...] I tend to be very emotonal about my races, and at all kinds of different levels. I loved the White River 50-mile trail championships because I had never been that far north in the Pacific Northwest, and I fell in love with Seattle, [...]

[...] having just completed the White River 50-mile Trail Championships near Mt. Rainier in Washington, I was tentative about doing Hot 2 Trot. I had almost resolved to [...]

hey christian…
i’ve enjoyed reading your blog lately.
i have been an avid mountain biker since the early 80′s. i got all serious about it and won alot of races…got out of it…came back older…won some more…flipped over to singlespeeding and started the international association of singlespeeding in the late 90′s…started doing long distance rides and races, and have done plenty of off road 100 milers on the rigid singlespeed….bla bla bla. not too long ago i sold my 21year old bike i had been riding due to my lack of cash flow as a starving artist. to fulfill my need to experience that meditaion trance that comes sometime well after the first two hours of an effort, i decided to take up running. globally i hate running. as a biker, running sucks, and hurts. i have a memory as a 11 year old running a five miler with my airborne ranger dad, on the spur of the moment…i puked but kept running. i also use the sore knee the appalachian trail gave me as an excuse to not like running. im used to calculating distance in hours not minutes and seconds…
but, i figured i could afford running shoes easier that another high level bike…. 72 bucks on a pair of asics, plus i already had a pair of solomon trail runners i use for hiking.
ive been at it for a couple of weeks…slowly and once or twice a week. i was up to about three miles max at a ten minute mile pace.
yesterday i ran for 1:06 on the local mountain bike trails. today…my hip flexor hurts and my left heel has a thing going on…but, i’m familiar with those kinda things. yesterday while running i thought about your writeups….about puking when i was running with my dad…about bonking on on a 12 hour mtb race and talking to the trees…and somewhere on your blog the mention of “relentless formward motion.”
so, im up to…ah, about 5 miles or so, we’ll see what happens next.


Ronnie Pettit
http://www.ronniepettit.com

I’m loving the recurring theme of C going out hard and giving everything. Makes me want to risk more up front next time. Good report and great videos. Looking forward to the next one.

You’re a G. Sick report!

Good job in the race. I need to make it out to a race in the West.

Your consumption in Aid Station 6 was impressive! Wow.

Thanks for giving us hope :-) …. Love reading your reports and it feels like I am there too…

What do you mean, “someday”? This REALLY slow runner ALREADY looks up to you! Thanks for showing me how to climb out of the pits & persevere, Christian!

The river section at the end sounds beautifully surreal. Hopefully you’ll be able to return to White River, geared with all the knowledge that you gained from this year’s race.

Enjoy Hot2Trot this Sat.!

Thanks for the race recap! It was a great day out there on the trails. Tough course, but beautiful views and trails. Hearing your description of the course reminds me of how lucky I am to be able to run these trails everyday. You were probably one of those guys flying by me on the gravel downhill! Great job!

Congrats! Those Mountain courses are something else huh? A totally different breed of ultra marathon!

Well done C$. Nice write-up. You are a great communicator. The pictures of the runners @ corral pass are incredible with Mt. Rainier in the background.

Can we expect a helmet-mounted HD cam for Cascade Crest?

Awesome post! Congrats on the finish. I felt similarly in the LT100 a couple years ago when Tony passed me going the other direction at the base of the first big climb. Holy crap these guys are fast. Way to stick with it and finish up strong.

~stubert.
http://runsturun.blogspot.com

Lorie and Van (aka Pigtails) are wonderful ladies. Always fun seeing them at various NW races (and watching them smoke me consistantly ^_^).

So the pic of you near Corral Pass not smiling must have been capturing your mini-meltdown. Man, Glenn did take a good pic of the moment. But hey, you didn’t trip and hurt yourself like I did last year. I would have taken a mini-meltdown like yours versus the falls I took.

So now that you’ve learned from your mistakes and know the course…you want some more White River next year (or some day in the future)?

Dude, next time ditch the video cam and carry two bottles! I’m sorry I missed it. Maybe next year. See you at H2T!

Way to go!! Another great race report and race. I always love to read of your adventures and misadventures.. gives me motivation to keep on slogging at the back of the pack!
Keep up the great work!!

Way to bring it home strong in the end. That must have been some buzz while running with so many legends…

CG – Another great report and congrats on driven through your issues. It amazes me when running some section of a course, with someone I never heard of, to find out later about their awesome accomplishments.
How do the hills out West compare to Brass Town Bald? I love doing hill repeats there when in the area!

Awesome race report! and way to kick it in the last parts of the race, I’m sure it was such a rush to be there and to compete with the elites…

oh and for clarification.. I’m still not there, but working on it.

I already sent you 140 charaters but figured this deserved a little more. :) Welll done!! It takes a lot of commitment to keep the miles up week over week, pay the $$ for all the gear, gels, and whatever else each of us need to keep our heads straight (for me it’s testing new shoes). Also dropping the coin to run a race all the way across the country is a big deal. No worries on that time, you’ll get there. I remember running PCT in 07 and going in with some loftier goals that I should have and thinking half way though the race “huh.. I’m not quite where I need to be, yet”

Keep charging forward and great site, always enjoy checking it out!

Real nice report and good race.
Yeah, those mountains aren’t anything like what we have in Georgia. :)

[...] I’m also reminiscing because I just got done reading Christian’s White River 50 report.  After the army, I lived in Seattle for 14 years, and loved the area. However, my trails [...]

Great race report. I was out there too. It was my first 50 miler run (only my second greater than marathon run) and only my 80th to 130th miles of actual trail running. It was a hell of a day! I came in at 11:45:48 125th overall.

I haven’t written my race report, but I put together a video of my experience here:

http://brad.sweat365.com/2009/07/27/white-river-50-miler-video/

Dude – you rock, nice comeback (ahhh, I’ve been there many times). As always, love your race reports, insights, and humor. I feel like we’re on parallel paths – I need to get faster, become a better climber, I want to run with the fast dudes :) Too funny.

Grab another water bottle next time :)

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