Waldo 100k is a local, yet very well put on gem of a race held at the Willamette Valley Ski area in Oregon; between Eugene and Bend. It would be my first west coast race, and I was excited to finally meet my coach, Megan, who also ran it.
Immediately upon entering the forest from Eugene the smell of campfire filled our noses and car. Wildfires are not an unusual sight in this part of the country in August; which was somehow both thrilling and terrifying to me. I have never run near any wildfires, never mind race with several burning.
With the throng of eclipse viewers pouring into the area, we decided to fly in on Wednesday and happily missed most of the crazyness at the airport.
The race rolls mostly between 5,000 and 6,000 ft with the high point close to 8,000 ft, and there are supposed to be amazing views of Waldo lake, its namesake. Unfortunately with the smoke, I only caught a few glimpses of the lake. Though the many smaller lakes that run close to the course were amazing! It gains 11,000+ ft of gain over 62 miles. There are a handful of steep climbs, but overall the ups and downs were somewhere between runnable and a hard hike up.
The race began at 5am, and immediately heads up one of the ski runs. This climb is one of the climbs that averaged over 15% grade and lasts two miles before a 5 mile decent. Most people were prepared for a long hike and we all settled into the uphill grind. Fortunately I had read in other race reports that this section (as well as many others) is very dry and dusty, which it was, and I was thankful for my shoe gaiters that kept all the dust and grit out of my shoes all day! I never needed a sock change because of them! Thanks Carson Footwear!
From the low point at 4,800ft it climbs up to Fuji Mountain at 7,200ft over the next 6 miles, this section there was an out and back up to the top of Fuji Mountain and it was nice to see all the runners. There is an early start for runners who choose, they began at 3am, and this was where we started to catch them. The nice thing about this race is anywhere there was an out and back, or a strange turn there was a volunteer who had hiked out and was waiting for all of us so they could direct us the correct way. It was actually really nice to have them there, no only to direct us, but they were really excited to be there and cheered us all on, even early in the morning!
Almost all of the course could be broken up to sections of 6 miles from here on (roughly 6 miles anyway.). 6 miles up, 6 miles down was the rhythm I seemed to fall into, and my strava confirms this. https://www.strava.com/activities/1144129157
The terrain of the course was all runnable, aside from the tops of several of the climbs- they got rocky, but nothing too technical. For the most part it was a dirt packed course with few obstacles. I think the hardest part for me was the mental grind of the long, not very steep 6 mile uphill sections. There is nothing like that around to train on. Looking back on my training I would have set my treadmill at 6-9% incline for 6-7 miles and just practiced doing that. Downhill for 6 miles wasn’t a problem at all. By mile 25 I was dying–dying for some steep hands-on-knees-east-coast-short hills climbs..there were none until Maiden Peak at mile 52 or so. Of course by the time I got there my mouth and throat felt like an ashtray, and I was feeling the altitude.
Altitude at 5-7,000ft is weird; when you come from 400ft. For me it isn’t headache producing, its more like dehydration, and I can’t get enough oxygen to my legs…they want to go…but couldn’t. Actually, while my legs were sore afterwards, what hurt most was my intercostal muscles working hard to get my lungs to expand as much as they could. I wasn’t out of breath, I was just really wanting to take deep breaths to get in as much oxygen as possible with each inhalation.
As the day wore on, by mile 30 I was hitting a low. It was hot, and I had been spending the morning passing people on the downhill, and then getting passed back on the uphill as I would strain for enough oxygen. The volunteers at this aid station were really great, as well as my husband and best friend from college! I got ice in my hat–nope, brain freeze, and ice in a bandanna on my neck—ahh just right! I do have to say, this was one of the first races I have run where I actually ran with people. Usually I am in no man’s land and don’t see anyone for 80% of my races. It was nice to have targets ahead to try to catch all day.
Coming into the aid station at mile 44 my crew had heard there was a woman on the trail just before the a/s having trouble with nausea, so I was surprised to see Brian in the middle of the trail looking for me. Fortunately it wasn’t me! I had a tiny bit of upset stomach in the heat of the open trail from mile 30-36 but it had passed pretty quickly once I stopped eating for a bit and gave my stomach a break from digesting.
Brian ran me into the aid station, and then I realized he was still with me even a few minutes out of the aid station. I welcomed the company as he updated me on everything that had happened while they were at the aid station. This aid station is at the end of a long lollypop so he was there while I ran from mile 27 to 44. This aid station was a walk into aid station, so my crew had split and dropped him off early to hike in. By the time I got there ET had joined him too. His company was really nice and we trotted downhill, catching and passing people as we went. Soon I realized he had forgotten any sort of hydration pack in our excitement, so he soon had to turn around, and off I went to hunt the people who ran too fast at the start.
By mile 40 I knew I was somewhere in the top 10, but the trouble I had with breathing I hadn’t asked any of my crew what place I was in. I saw all the women who were ahead of me at the out and back going up and down Fuji Mountain, so I guessed I was 6th or 7th. I was pretty close to that guess. I had been in 7th for most of the day. 6th place and I had been trading spots since mile 30something.
The hike up to Maiden Peak at mile 52 should have made me jump for joy–finally a steep grinding 2-3 mile uphill. Then I realized I was going up into even less air. Bummer. Hiking I actually couldn’t feel any of the affects of the higher elevation, but when I tried to run I could tell I was higher than I was used to. I put my head down, and my hands on my knees and just worked up that hill. A few men and their pacers passed me(I passed them back on the technical downhill on the other side.). This was another short out and back to the very top of Maiden Peak. The trail became very sandy with large pumice stones at the top. It was quite interesting, and I made a note not to fall on the way down because pumice is really sharp. Up at the top I was so happy I hugged the volunteers! I knew that the last 10 miles were downhill to the finish and I would actually be able to run. I choose my steps carefully starting back through the pumice field at the top, but welcomed the downhill with some gleeful shouts. I passed the guys who had passed me on the way up–finally some technical, steep downhill!
I ran into the final aid station with a big smile on my face and #6 female on my mind. This aid station was quite entertaining, there was a guy in a hula skirt with a coconut bra serving almond milk out of a coconut. It was offered to me, and I shrugged and said “sure, why not, only a few more miles to go,” while I downed it to their cheers. I recognized Craig Thornley and Scott Wolf who told me to the next woman was just ahead. I thanked them and continued on…smelling the barn.
7 more miles to go..down…down..down…so runnable once I got lower! I felt like I was flying, and then I saw her, she was still hiking the uphills, but I knew there was no time to hike…only time to run! I paused to chat with her briefly before passing her…6th….I continued looking for more runners as I got lower and felt more oxygen going to my legs. This section connects back to the Pacific Crest Trail and I was coming upon all the thru hikers. I usually worry a bit in the last few miles that I have taken a wrong turn (even though there was no way I could have gone wrong) so I started asking the hikers if they had seen other runners, the answer was of course yes…which I knew…but there was no way I wanted to be wrong so close to the finish.
I missed the 13 hour finish by 3 minutes..boo. My husband and the rest of the crew know by now that if there is anything I am good at, its a downhill finish. Somehow I can just shut everything out for the last 5-10 miles of any race if its downhill and just GO. The updates along the course were so spot on at each aid station that my crew knew exactly when I hit the top of Maiden Peak and were placing bets on how much faster I would pick up the pace downhill to the finish. There was a finish in 12:55 guessed, 12:57, and my husband at 13:03….guess who guessed right. Thanks DK 😉
While I was slower than I had hoped, I can’t say enough good things about this race. I know they have been hosting it for many years and it shows- they have it down to a science. This course is made for the trail runner who can run 85% and hike the few steep sections. In hindsight I might have tried some sauna heat training to see if it would help with the slight altitude, I assume that running all summer in 100% humidity would do the trick, but perhaps not?
I want to thank my crew of course! Drew, ET, Brian, and Steph! It meant a lot to me to have you all there!
I also want to thank my sponsors who continue to believe in me:
- Carson Footwear, shoes and gaiters. (use code wisp for a discount)
- Lily Trotters: compression socks I wore before and after for flying, driving, and recovery! Oh, and for all the post race hiking!
- Rabbit for their really awesome shorts! Oh the pockets!! I had trash pockets, gel pockets, handy wipe pockets, I even had a pocket dedicated to beef jerkey…yep you read that right, beef jerkey!
- Orange Mud, I used the Endurance pack the whole race! (Code wispfriends)
- Balanced Movement Studio where Brian and Elizabeth keep me strong and injury free.
My coach Megan Laws (Arbogast) for her coaching and also for expanding my racing horizons and encouraging me to enter more competitive races that are out of my comfort zone!
And of course Rainshadow Running, and all the volunteers, ski patrol etc. Your enthusiasm and helpfulness were bright sparks in my sometimes dark ultra moments!