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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Where's Waldo

This year's Where's Waldo was to be my third, and I had my 'A' goal of breaking 11 hours forefront on my mind. I reasoned that this would be difficult at best, but in doing so would make a victory more likely. My main competition was my teammate, friend, and extremely tough Bev Anderson-Abs. I was ready for the challenge and felt nothing but good on race morning.

With the starting gong sending us up the new, steeper start, we the conversations were a bit sparse. My light only cast very diffusely, and I rued the choice I made. I followed John Ticer up the long climb, benefiting when I could from his sharper light. We finally hit the first trail into the woods, and when it became single track I led the way. It was a bit dicey, with the trail pitching up and down, but I managed to stay upright as the dawn slowly broke and I could abandoned the light. We ran silently along, catching up to another runner just as we hit Gold Lake road. John and I chatted a bit, then cruised into the first aid station. I checked my split - 1:10, right what I had hoped for, choked down a Clif Shot and water, grabbed a fresh bottle from Brian, and asked 'where is she?' Bev had passed through about 2-3 minutes ahead. I followed John out of the aid station, we crossed the road to the cheers of the hardy fans and entered Fuji Trail. John was inching away, so I got into a comfortable pace, pulling myself along and alone. I scoped each climb, assessing whether it was runnable or a hiker. As I neared the Fuji aid station, I encountered several early starters. Many words of encouragement were shared, as always.

I saw the aid station before they saw me, and I hooted a hello. My split was 55 minutes, again well on target. Fellow Sunsweeter Jeff Riley was there to greet me. He took my bottle, I downed a Clif Shot and water, and said I would pick up my bottle when I returned after summiting Mt. Fuji. Jeff was Mr. Enthusiasm as usual, grinning 'Go Team Sunsweet! - BE PATIENT!' I heeded his advice and went up the trail towards the top. With about 4 minutes to the top left, Sunsweet Louis Taylor, repeat winner of 'Found Waldo' was on his down. He was followed by more top runners, including John, and 2 minutes from the top, I met Bev on her way down. I liked that she wasn't 1o minutes ahead of me yet! I summited 19 minutes from the aid station, still ahead of the game, gave RD Craig Thornley a high 5 and said 'no time to chat today' and scurried my way down. I carefully cruised through rocky sections and met many runners all the way down. The greetings and support were awesome.

Back at the aid station, Jeff handed me my bottle and advised me to just cruise down to the next aid station, there was no hurry. I grabbed some Clif Shot Bloks and headed out. I felt pretty decent, but a little surprised that my calves were already tight on the climbs. It didn't deter me, and I was able to have a decent run all the way to the next aid station, Mt. Ray, arriving 3:25 minutes into the race. I was 5 minutes ahead of schedule, and Bev had been through about 5 minutes earlier. My drop bag was retrieved, I drank a pint of chocolate milk, grabbed a fresh bottle, and got going. I was surprised at good I felt at this point, happily. I reached Gold Lake trail and began the first portion of the grind up to the Twins aid station. Fellow Corvallisian Sander Nelson soon came up behind and I made way for him to go by. He is a stellar climber, whereas my strength lies in the downhills and the flats, so I figured we would be trading places more than once. I reached the next turn onto Bobby Lakes Trail, and passes a new friend, Eric, from Arizona, who was struggling with some knee pain. He was going to have to take it easy in order to finish. I enjoyed this next stretch, since it is flat to rolling, but no real elevation change. Now my right hip flexor was acting up, but only enough to make me worry, nothing to slow me down.

The next intersection was where the race fell apart for a good number of people. Sander was there, with an out of town invited master runner, Courtney Campbell, and they were trying to decide where to go. I was puzzled - how could you NOT know? Then I looked up the Bobbly Lakes trail and saw pink ribbons hanging from branches. I blew up. "NO! THIS IS WRONG! THIS IS @#$$%'d". I grabbed the ribbons and brought them to the PCT, where the course goes. Courtney kept asking if I was sure. I was willing to bet my life on it. There were tree branches blocking the trail. Sander removed the first batch. Courtney followed my up the PCT, and we would time and again come to more trail barriers to move. I was furious. He was doubtful. I said I would take full responsibility if I was wrong. I think the anger and the need to get to the Twins to let someone know made for a 70 minute split, again, right on target.

RD Curt Ringstad was at the Twins when I pulled in. He looked at me and said "WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!?!?! Where is everybody?" Again, I exploded. I yelled 'SOMEBODY @#$%'D UP THE TRAIL MARKINGS'. (Yep, I guess I showed my Waldo). Sander came in right behind me, and verified what we saw and did, and Curt was soon on his way to right the situation.

I grabbed a Clif Shot, some GU2O, and headed for Charlton Lake. Sander was right behind me. We complained some more (who? WHY?). I felt so badly for the RDs who worked so hard at making this an awesome course, and being granted the USATF 100k Trail Master's Championship Race, inviting elite athletes from around the country, and someone had to screw it up. And now I was ahead of Bev, and that made my heart sink even worse. In my mind, it would invalidate our finishing places.

Sander pulled up and went in front as we were still climbing, and then we began the nice descent that gave my legs a chance to recover. The dust from Sander was getting a bit much, but he was having stomach issues and decided I should lead in case he became offensive. Apparently he doesn't train with the types I do. But, it meant no more dust for awhile, and the cruising felt great. I finally spied Charlton Lake, and picked up the pace. I zoomed into the aid station where the volunteers where a bit bewildered. I was getting riled up again, telling Brian what had happened. I looked over and saw Sarah Ticer and Rebecca Taylor, and my heart sank more, when I realized that at a minimum, John and Lewis, both very strong favorites, had both taken a wrong turn. So I turned to everyone and said 'If you are wondering where your person is, someone sabotaged the trail markings, and many people took a wrong a turn.' There was kind of eerie silence and looks of disbelief. Clem came to me saying 'But how could Lewis and John make a wrong turn?' I explained that John has only run that section once, and it is confusing without flags. If someone moves the flags, and blocks the trail, it is easy to be convinced to go the wrong direction.

I downed some pork and beans, more chocolate milk, and took a fresh bottle from Brian. I had to keep moving forward, and remember my 'A' goal. I had trained hard to get under 11, and I reached the halfway point 11 minutes ahead of goal pace. I had to let go of the incident. Sander left, and I was on his heels. We crossed the road and were on the high 5 miles to 4290 aid station. Suddenly, Sander dove into the bushes as nature called. I went on, my legs starting to show me their fatigue, but nothing disastrous. I amble along, fully expecting Sander to catch up. I ran every section of this trail, even the last climb, and made it to the welcoming cow bell in 52 minutes. Now I was getting into some slower splits, as I had hoped for 50 minutes. I was giving my drop bag, and grabbed 2 packets of Clip2 that I could add to water at the remaining aid stations, since there were no drop bag sites left. I ate some melon, told the volunteers the story, and started on the very long, remote miles back to the Twins aid station.

It was tough going, but I wasn't falling apart. I hiked more than I did in training, but still kept the faith. At the Round Meadow, a volunteer was there, asking me how I felt, and that it was 2 miles to the Twins. I hoped he didn't tell anyone else that since it was more like 6. Finally, I passed an early starter, we encouraged each other, and I plugged on. Then, I saw another Corvallisian, and early starter, Todd Temple. 'Hey Todd! How's it going?' He told me I was cruisin'! I gave him the news, and he said he was glad I passed him because he was tired of being in the lead. I was stunned. It hadn't really hit me that NONE of the regular starters had made it past the errant markings. My heart sank again. I didn't want to be the overall winner in these circumstances. But I had my 'A' goal, and I was going to continue to treat the day as a time trial. I urged myself up the hills, jogged the flats, across the lunar like landscape near the Twin's Peaks and finally crested the saddle, and sailed the wonderful descent back to the Twins aid station. This section had taken 1:28, another 6 minutes slower, but I knew what was coming up. I enjoyed the help a little more this time, and support of the volunteers was wonderful. Melissa made my drink up, even reaching into my pocket to get the packet out. I ate melon, coke, gel, water, and was told not to worry about what had happened, just GO!

I sailed out, flying on the downhill. I was grateful that my legs were still doing well, my calves had settled down, as well my hip flexor. When I got to the scene of the crime I saw one of the volunteers, Kate, who had re flagged the section so well, it would take an army of miscreants to remove the tape. I almost started crying though, but Brian was hanging out there, and told me just forget about, keep going, I was looking good, so on I went. I was flying well, and finally reached the climb to the Maiden Peak aid station. I made myself run the whole way up, knowing it wasn't that long, and I had practiced this section. About 50 yards from the aid station, a volunteer asked me what I needed. With Clip2 packet already in hand, I thrust it and my bottle into his hands and said 'fill this with water please, and dump the packet it'. He was gone in a flash. When I struggle in, it was ready. My split was 45 minutes, back on track. I had another Clif Shot, some coke and melon. They asked if I wanted to show them my Waldo, and I told them I already showed it at the Twins, and it wasn't exactly polite. They laughed me out of the station and cheered me up the final long climb.

It was tough going. Maiden Peak is my favorite climb. It is the hardest, and it comes after 50 miles of challenging running. It is not filled with switchbacks, but very tough straight up climbs interspersed with some runnable trail. It was so strange to be in the lead of this race, and not a sign of anyone, not even Sander. I kept at it, knowing that even taking an hour today would be great, as I have never done that on race day, but have run 52 in training. I was really pleased that I was not in any joint or tendon pain that I have been in for the past several years, due to great physical therapy I had been receiving. My body was cooperating fully.

Finally, I could see the sky, and I reached the course marshal, Steve Smucker, hooting and hollering. Both of us. He made sure I knew the way to the summit, and I was trudging up the final rocky, technical trail to the top. As soon as I was in eyesight, Jeff (yes, he had moved from Fuji to Maiden) about jumped out of his skin. He was SO EXCITED to see me. His spirit is contagious, he told me forget about the circumstances, said I looked so strong, and he couldn't believe I had summited so fast (58 minutes!). I turned around and headed down, wondering if I would see anyone on their way up. No one. It was weird.

I flew past Steve, and reveled in the downhill to the Maiden Lake aid station (the pampering place). The 2 miles took only 15 minutes. Wow - that was fast! The wonderful volunteers filled my bottle, gave me a Clif Shot, and wonderful Barb Ringstad wiped my face, rubbed my shoulders and someone gave me some Frappacino. I said 'I need to leave - I am trying to break 11 hours!' They cheered me out, and started the next section with tired, but willing legs. This bit rolls beautifully. If you have legs left, you can really romp, gaining momentum from each downhill to carry you through the short uphills. My goal was 30 minutes, but it was hard to get really rocking. Eventually, I was getting enough downhills to carry me through, and in 32 minutes, I reached the PCT. Marilyn Bailey was there, and it was so great to have her cheering me and telling me what sweet running I had ahead. I looked at my overall time, added 40 minutes, which would be the slowest I felt I would run, and that would put me in at 10:52. Sweet!

I let it rip, as long as it was down. The flats were a lesson in sheer determination. I was grunting and blowing air like a horse, and talking out loud - 'okay, okay, there ya go', until I would hit the next down hill. I spied Odell Lake, and added 18 minutes to my time, and realized I was still going to make it. I was finally reaching the point where I felt it would be really nice to stop and rest, but then, what's another 15 minutes? I nearly reached the end of the PCT when I saw Alan Abs on his way up, he encouraged my and then voila, there was the sign board. PHEW!

I turned the corner and my watch said 10:46. I thought, wow, 10:50! That will be great. I felt myself push against the wind and try to find solid footing in this last section. The finish line was AMAZING! There was a lot of noise coming from the friends and families and volunteers. I crossed in 10:48, stunned. RD Craig offered me a choice in hat color (white) and I then spent the time enjoying the support and congratulations from everyone. Not a full 2 minutes later, Jeff Browning, one of the lost runners, came cruising in, doing a fanastic job making up the time. Bev came in about 20 minutes after me, which begs the question, what if?

So, she and I will have our chance again. I, and I speak for many, appreciate the volunteers, the RDs, and the family of ultra runners that I am honored to belong to. I enjoyed the evening watching everyone finish, and partaking of the excellent vittles! Thanks especially to John Ticer for the beautiful bench and quilt, to my sponsor Sunsweet, and to Brian for helping me keep my head together.