The day before the race, I looked out the window of our Airbnb and to my surprise, rain. A steady rain that would not let up until the late afternoon. I drove to a local trail head to do my pre-race shakeout, and the mud was so thick and sticky that I bailed after a few steps and made for the roads. This left a bit of a pit in my stomach as I could only hope the course would drain some by Saturday morning.
My alarm went off at 2:45am, but I was already wide awake. I usually sleep pretty bad the night before a race and this was no different. I made my coffee, got my things, and got in the car to head to the start line. Madi and my parents were going to drive to a few spots along the course to cheer me on, which was definitely huge to look forward to. After getting my drop bags all checked in and paying my respects to the port-o-john, I jogged around for a few minutes until I heard a voice on a megaphone by the start calling all the runners to gather around. Madi and I made our way to the start line.
As we’re making our way there, I pass the race check in table. I should probably do that…After almost disqualifying myself before the race even starts, I proceed to peel off my sweats on the start line. I ever so conveniently send my headlamp flying onto the asphalt anddddddd it won’t turn on…Once again Brett, you’re about as smooth as crunchy peanut butter. I frantically pop a few pieces back into place, and luckily it turned on! I was about to have Madi bolt it to the car in the dark to find the spare in one of the seventeen duffel bags in the back of the Subaru. Crisis averted.
5am and the race starts. I can already feel a huge weight being lifted off of my shoulders as getting to the start line is one of the hardest parts in preparing for an ultra. The ankle deep creek crossing at mile two was to my mid-thigh that morning, and I’m sure glad they set up some ropes to hang onto! The first major climb of the day felt great. I was chatting and chugging along with eventual 2nd place finisher, Ryan Kaiser. He was telling me that being from Bend, he was forced to do nearly all of his training for this race on a treadmill, which was pretty damn impressive!
We had just finished talking about how nerve racking running in the dark early on in a race is, when I took a bad step and my ankle just slammed into the side of the ground. I don’t think the creepy girl from the exorcist could have even tweaked her ankle that far. Now, I’ve had plenty of ankle rolls, but this one lingered for a little longer than usual. I really hoped this one wouldn’t come back to bite me.
After the first climb, the course followed the (much more rugged than I originally thought) Backbone Trail for about 10 miles. Coming up to my first drop bag was a comically muddy section that everyone was nearly brought to a stop on. It was that type of mud that just clumps and sticks to everything. It was also incredibly slick, so any rhythm was immediately thrown off. After a sock change and getting rid of my headlamp at my first drop bag, I made my way on to the Backbone Trail again and towards the biggest descent of the day. The wide open, mindless downhill felt great. As I neared the last mile of the descent, the mud got bad. Multiple times I had to chop my steps just so I didn’t lose a shoe. Knowing I was going to have to turn around at the aid station and come right back up this mudfest was demoralizing to say the least. A quick fill of the bottles, hello to Madi and my parents, and I was gone.
The first mile up the climb was killing me. So much heavy mud was just zapping the life out of my legs. It became worth my time to stop and scrape the mud off my shoes which did help drop a pound or two. Each time I did this, I felt a little life breathe into me. When I came around to my drop bag again, I decided to just change shoes so I could at least run for a little while without any mud and dry feet. This ended up being a great decision, and I felt like things were really starting to turn around. I jogged/slid through more comically slick mud before getting onto a more runnable section of the Backbone Trail.
Right around the 50k mark, the ankle I rolled back at mile five was starting to bug me again. It became difficult to run on flat ground and turn left. Climbing and descending was alright though, and ‘luckily’ the course had hardly any flat sections. Seemed like the pain in my foot was messing with my head more than anything.
The final big climb of the day goes up the Bulldog Motorway, but not before coming down it first. I tried my best to just focus on each step at a time, but I couldn’t help but dread coming back up this thing. It seemed never ending. After descending for over an hour, I got to the turnaround point which was no more than a few hundred yards from the parking lot that the finish was at. Talk about torture! My sister and her roommate decided to hang out with my parents and Madi here, so I had the whole team cheering me on, which was one of the biggest motivators to continue. They gave me plenty of encouragement to get my ass in gear and get to the finish. Bummer I had to take the long way back.
As expected, the climb was brutal. I had the occasional jog, but it was a pretty full fledged death march. I treated the top of the Bulldog climb as the finish line, as it was all downhill from there and I knew gravity would help me out. I slammed the rest of my fluid and any food I had at the top and let it go with everything I had left to the finish. I had trained so long and so hard, I didn’t want any of it to go to waste.
There’s something so rewarding about crossing the finish line completely out of breath, feeling like you’re going to die. I pushed hard for all those middle miles. Why not continue pushing all the way through the finish? I have so many amazing friends and family who travel to my races and support my running, that going as hard as I can every single race is the least I could do for them.
The end result was 5th overall in 9:04:59. The course was a few miles short of a full 100k due to all the rain the day before. Big ups to Keira Henninger, the race director, for working through the night and up until race morning to find solutions to keep the race from getting canceled. Huge thanks to all the volunteers who braved the mud and crazy people tearing through aid stations. You guys and gals are what makes this sport click.
Few stats from the race:
Tailwind drink: 800 calories
Gu: 800 calories
Shot Blocks: 800 calories
Hoka Clifton 3 first 30 miles
Hoka Challenger ATR 2 next 27 miles
Bioskin Mazama Shorts
Balega Enduro Vtech quarter socks