Glow-in-the-Dark Bocce Ball. I think I’ve found the perfect taper week activity.
This epitomized my approach to the Waldo 100K. The proverbial hay was in the barn. I felt strong and confident from recent races and adventures around Mt. Hood. Nothing more to do really but welcome home rest and relaxation. When 3am rolls around and I rise to an eerie gong sounding off for the early starters, the space I inhabit feels calibrated. The body itches for mountains, more than it ever has before. I feel ready to spend the day exploring boundaries, encouraged by good friends and stiff competition.
Yassine, Willie and I stumble out of our tents like soldiers summoned to war. Java. Banana. Kettlemen Bagel with peanut butter and raw honey. Haven’t budged from this routine since I started racing. Our wonderful crew Sonya and Nina also wake to see us off.
With a 5am start, headlamp fireflies dance at the starting line. The group is a hearty bunch. All walks of life. Old and young. Rail-thin and barrel-chested. Over 100 humans deciding to travel 62 miles and 11,000ft. total elevation gain up and over four major mountain ascents. United here, we all share the same dirt. Feeling intimately connected to all.
It begins. We all move into the night and I make my way towards the front. The course starts immediately uphill. Assessing the pack, there are some strong runners. Mackey, Sharman, Yassine, Jace just to name a few.
Headlamp miles fly by. Through darkness your mind can only go so many places. The beam of light, I find, helps to concentrate thoughts. Effortless is the first hour and I roll into Gold Lake (7.4) in the Top 5 lead pack. Mackey was already nowhere to be seen.
Climb #1 – Fuji Mountain
I run most everything up to the summit of Fuji. I feel great on this ascent and am now positioned in 3rd place with Yassine. Breathtaking views from the summit, we drift the downhill passing uphill runners including friends Joe and Willie, both looking extremely strong. Yassine’s hamstring suddenly seizes with cramps and I don’t hesitate to pass.
After descending off Fuji with Ian Sharman closely behind, I cruise through Mt. Ray Aid (Mile 20) with a quick transition. Seeing Nina and Sonya provide me with a signifcant boost. With Mackey and Jace within range, I engage. Eventually I catch Jace and we make our way together up the gradual, runnable climb to Twins #1.
Climb #2 – Twins 1
Twins Aid Station is rocking an Elvis theme complete with costume and music. Love it. Here I discover that Oreos + Coke = my new favorite aid snack. I never consume this garbage in real life, but here anything goes. Elvis said so.
It is about 3 hours into this race and my IT band begins to tighten along with my right ankle. Nothing debilitating, but uncomfortable enough to make me uneasy and utterly consumed with its irritation. Obsessing: “Is this the beginning of another drop-out? Will it get worse? I still have 7 hours (at least) left of running. Will it hold up?”
I pull out any mental trick I know: visualizing all my muscle fibers playfully opening up and the hip complex loosening up with ease. It subsides for now. The mind, I find in this moment, is a powerful and dexterous thing.
Prior to the race, my best-case scenario split was reaching Charlton Lake (Mile 32 – Halfway Point) in 5 hours. Jace and I burn down from Twins and make it through in 4:38, less than 15 minutes behind the leader. Big crowd, lots of energy at this aid station. Nina seamlessly helps restock my gel supply, and I experience a huge spike in morale by seeing familiar faces. I skirt out of the aid station refueled and inspired to push through the second half. Welcome to the dark side.
Climb #3 – Twins 2
After reaching the lake, the trail follows through forgiving, sandy single track. Though exposed, I find strength in this section and am moving swiftly, considering I’ve been running hard for 5 hours.
I catch Jace after leaving the Road 4290 Aid (Mile 37) and never see him again. Dropping Jace on the second approach of Twins was a confidence boost, but I am reeled in eventually by Ian Sharman. This guy is a machine.
We hike/run together on this demanding section, but I keep him off my tail for a few miles. At around Mile 41, Ian slips by without breaking British sweat.
Climb #4 – Maiden Peak
Sitting in third with only a few minutes behind Ian, I feel relatively composed during this 5-mile downhill section down to the base of Maiden Peak. I keep wondering when this mountain is going to show its face, but a thick canopy and winding single track hide its visage. In this meditative section, my mind gets stuck on Mutemath’s Reset. Funny, as I constantly try to “reset” my own mental disposition as the IT band fires up on this downhill pounding. Ankle isn’t feeling much better.
Entering Maiden Peak Aid Station (Mile 50), volunteers inform me I have “a bit of a hill in front of me.” I welcome any forced respite from running at this point. Fatigue begins to set in, but hiking much of this ascent changes the pace. The next three miles prove brutal, but I keep moving relentlessly. The brim of my hat hides from my eyes the formidable ascent ahead.
After what seems like a lifetime, I reach the “Leap of Faith,” a final technical section of rock and scree finishing off the highest point in the course, Maiden Peak (7,818ft.). I am elated to be done with the climb, but haggard from its demands on both mind and body. I ingest high country winds and staggering views before heading down 9 miles to the finish.
The final 9 miles prove difficult. Steep and technical off the Maiden summit, stiff legs have trouble negotiating its challenging features. I surrender to gravity and float numbingly down to Maiden Lake Aid (Mile 55). I know that I am sitting well in 3rd still, as I did not see any other runners on the Leap of Faith out-and-back section. All I have to do is hold on for 5 more miles. Don’t get hurt or stop for the next hour. Just commit, engage, empty mind of the finish line and run, run, run, run, run, run.
And this is exactly what I do. Passing crystal clear lakes on cushy singletrack, I surrender to pain and fatigue and fly home to the end. Finally, I round the corner and see the finish banner in the distance. I look behind my shoulder a few times to ensure no one is taking me at the very end. I inhabit each final step.
10 hours, 8 minutes. 3rd Place.
Sitting on the ground shortly after crossing the finish, I am destroyed. Extremely satisfied with the day, I find out that, due to my 3rd place finish, I had acquired the coveted spot to Western States 100. Cloud 9.
I hang with Nina and Sonya in the sun drinking and eating food as we await other friends’ arrivals. Yassine comes in rounding out the top 5 with a strong finish but rough day. Joe Kleffner also didn’t feel great but was in great spirits, as per the usual. Willie makes it into the Top 25 with a super strong performance, knocking over an hour of last year’s Waldo.
In all, the day was absolutely perfect for running. The conditions ideal, venue magical. I think what made my day turn out so favorable was two things:
- Nutrition – During the race, I was really consistent with calories, water and salt. 250 calories an hour, no compromise.
- Rest – The week leading up to the race, I seriously didn’t run much at all. I spent evenings walking in the woods, or with friends, pints and bocce ball. Having this relaxed mind and body fully recharged my interest in running and digging deep come race day.
The weekend continued to be magical. Willie, Sonya, Nina and I all returned to Charlton Lake to discover a divine campsite lakeside (literally, our tent was one foot from the water). The evening was full of food, hops (“there’s a trophy in every glass”) and laughs, while the next day started with coffee and music in the sun, peppered with swimming breaks and naps among pine-needles. I couldn’t think of a better place and people to help recuperate, process and heal from the race.
Huge thanks to Craig for a race put on beautifully. Also to the Montenegros for crewing and being there all day, you’re amazing.