August 31, 2022
The night before a race is always tough. Trying to quiet your brain and relax is near impossible. I managed to fall asleep but would wake to a shot adrenaline from my body in anticipation of the 209-mile race I was about to start in a few hours. The anticipation of this event had been building for almost a year, and here I was about to toe the starting line. In the week leading up to the event, I realized that I very well couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea of running 200+ miles in one go. It is double the length of anything I have run. With that in mind, I had to use a chunking strategy and take the race aid station by aid station. I had watched as many YouTube videos of the race as I could to try and visualize the course and the aid stations so I would feel it familiar.
I was healthy, tapered, and feeling good to go. My reasons for completing this race were strong. Amongst those reasons, for those that don’t know, I won a raffle ticket for an entry into Western States Endurance Run (a race I’ve been trying to get into since 2016) but needed a qualifier to run the race. Finishing Bigfoot in 92 Hours is a Western States qualifier.
My gear list included:
• 2 pairs Altra Olympus size 11.5
• 1 pair Altra Olympus size 12 (in case of swelling)
• 1 pair Topo Mountain Racer 2
• 1 pair Altra Mont Blanc
• Xoskin Xotoe Crew Socks size II (4 pairs)
• Xoskin Xotoe Crew Socks size III (2 pairs in case of swelling)
• Xoskin Crew Socks size III I (2 pairs in case of swelling)
• Drymax Crew Trail Socks
• Drymax Cannaday Socks L & XL (in case of wet weather)
• Rabbit Shredder 5” shorts (2 pairs)
• Rabbit FKT 7” Shorts (4 pairs)
• Salomon Adv Skin 12 Pack (2)
• Leki MCT Poles (2)
• Leki Nordic Breeze Shark Gloves
• COROS Vertix 2 Watch
• Goal Zero Flip 24 Battery
• GoPro Hero 10
• Petzl Swift RL Headlamp
• UltrAspire Lumen 600 3.0 Belt Light
• Hydrapak Force 2L Bladder
• Salomon XA Filter
• iPhone 12 Mini (for mapping in Gaia App)
• Emergency Bivy
• Salomon Bonatti Pro Waterproof Jacket & Pants
• Smartwool 150 Long Sleeve Base Layer (3)
• 4 Buffs
• Mizuno Breath Therm Knit Gloves
• Daytime Hydration – Long Haul – Plain Flavor
• Nighttime Hydration – Tailwind – Cola (caffeinated)
• Staple – Spring Energy – Awesome Sauce (180 calories)
• Skratch Chews
o Daytime – Raspberry & Orange
o Nighttime – Blueberry (caffeinated)
• Power Bar Chews – Nighttime – Cola – Caffeinated
• Clif Double Espresso Gels – Nighttime – Caffeinated
• Gu Roctane Gels – Vanilla Orange & Lemonade
• Swedish Fish
• Aid Station Hot Food – I’ll talk about this in the report
We arrived on Weds. and drove from Portland to the start area for the race, which was a Snow Park in the Mount Saint Helens National Monument. Upon entering the Park, we were afforded our first views of Mount Saint Helens. It was impressive to say the least! After checking out the start area, we wanted to see the location of a few of the Aid Stations and the route we would take on the morning of the race from where we would be staying. I’m glad we did. The road between the start and our VRBO was bad, and traveling was slow going due to the condition of the road. We would need to plan extra driving time for the morning of the race. settled into our VRBO house in Packwood, WA (near the finish, which is in Randle, WA). The rest of my crew and pacers would arrive the next day. Weds. was a relaxing day, and I organized my gear in prep for creating my drop bags on Thursday. I had lots of batteries to charge, so I began this process using every outlet available in my bedroom. I got a good night sleep, and our plan was to drive to the last Aid Station on the course (Owen’s Creek) and run from there to the road portion so I could recon the finishing leg of the race.
Thursday, we woke to a beautiful sunrise. And I began to make up my drop bags. The plan was to make three drop bags (we would make a 4th after seeing the logistics of the Owen’s Creek Aid Station parking situation or lack thereof. More on this later). The 1st Aid Station is Blue Lake and is not crew accessible. I made another for Spencer Butte & Lewis River as these were also listed as non-accessible to crews (during the race, we would find that Lewis River was Crew Accessible). I had brought Ziplock Large Storage Bags to use as drop bags. They are the perfect size and seal to be waterproof. I also brought yellow and yellow/black striped duct tape to help mark my bag, so it was easily visible. I created a spread sheet based off my projected finish time of the calories I felt were needed for each section and packed each drop bag accordingly. In the past, I’ve waited till the day before to do this and for some reason it stresses me out, so having this task completed felt great!
Having my drop bags made, and most of my family not awake yet, I continued to sort my gear and prep my race pack and crew bag. I wanted to make sure I had everything I would wear and carry at the start out and ready to go. I sorted my extra nutrition into a rolling tote box and put my extra clothes, shoes, and gear into a rolling duffle. The more I organized and completed, the better I felt. By the time everyone was awake and ready to head to the Owen’s Creek Aid Station location, it was just before noon. The sun was bright, but the temperature was mild (mid to upper 70s).
We had rented a Ford Explorer based on the description of the road conditions the crew would have to drive. In driving to the Owen’s Creek Aid Station, we decided it best the crew hike in to meet me, and thus we needed to create another drop bag for this Aid Station, so the crew wouldn’t have to carry to much gear in as they would be walking 1-mile+ to get to me.
When we arrived at the Aid Station location, I walked backwards on the course to see what it would look like coming into the aid station. I came to a creek crossing and decided this was a good visual to know I would be close in the race to coming into the aid station. I then proceeded to run back and pick up my daughter. We ran just over a mile on the dirt road which was mostly flat to downhill. I then picked up my son and we finished with a nice downhill on dirt road to where we stopped as the course then turned to pavement for the last ten miles. I felt good but wondered how that would feel after 196-miles. I would soon find out!
I was receiving texts that the rest of the crew was or would be soon arriving, so we headed back to the house. Terry Foxworth was the first to arrive. He would be 2nd in command of the crew as my wife was my crew chief. Terry is an amazing human being and truly selfless! I was so happy it worked out that he could be out there! He had driven his 12-passenger van and camper out from NC to drop his daughter off at college and then come to meet us to support me. I was truly lucky!
As Terry was settling in, I played some yard games with my kids and relaxed. That’s when the rest of the crew arrived. It was so great to have everyone there without worrying that they were stuck at some airport and delayed. We were all together and enjoyed the rest of the evening together playing games, talking, and catching up over dinner.
Friday was packet pickup, and our plan was to go over the race strategy after I had returned. All four drop bags were made up and ready to drop off and I had all my mandatory gear which needed to be checked before I could receive my bib number. We drove to White Pass High School where packet pickup and the finish line are located, and I placed my drop bags in the respective locations and made my way to the track to check in.
Check in was quick and painless. I met Ray Sanchez, who has over 250 race finishes to his credit on ultrasignup. He talked about the course and his previous effort here. It was great to hear his thoughts and summation of the course. My race plan felt validated. I would start easy, hike early and often, stay on top of my nutrition and hydration, and sleep as needed until the 2nd night where I would try to lay down for at least two hours.
After packet pickup, Beth brought me home and we made a grocery list for things all of us would need over the course of the event. She left to pick up everything and I made my final preparations. Having finished before she returned, I spent some more time with my kids playing outside and making my crew nervous as I ran around with them in the yard. My mood was light, but the looming task was at the forefront of my mind.
We had a great dinner that David Workman and my wife prepared. As we sat around talking most conversations turned to the race. After dinner we pulled out the aid station charts, maps, and went over the plan for the crew and pacers. When we finished there was nothing left to do but try to get some sleep. We all know how sleep goes the night before a big race. This night would be no different as I would wake with a flood of adrenaline thinking of the distance and terrain I was about to cover. That said, I did get some sleep and woke feeling rested. I got myself together and double checked my gear. We made the two-and-a-half-hour drive to the start (with a few stops due to the high level of my hydration).
Upon arrival, I had to check in and receive my spot tracker (a GPS unit that would display my location during the event online). I could feel the excitement and nervous anticipation of not only my fellow runners, but of our crew members as well. My kids and wife gave me nervous smiles, back rubs, and words of encouragement that I could tell was helping them try to process what we were about to embark on.
After sunblock, insect repellent, and lube had liberally been applied, we made our way to the starting line. I felt happy and, in my element, surrounded by like-minded human doings. I had to take this one aid station at a time and not think of what was ahead of that. I was running to Blue Lake, 12-miles away. That was my task.
When the race started, several runners took off much faster than I would have anticipated. I had to remind myself to run my race and not get caught up in what others were doing. Something I had to do repeatedly through the 4th Aid Station at mile 46, where I would pick up my first pacer and one of my best friends, David Workman.
The early miles, I watched as runners ran uphill and I hiked. I had worn the Rabbit 5” shredder shorts that have loops on the back of the shorts to hold poles. Knowing the terrain ahead had some extremely rocky sections, I stowed my poles to keep my hands free. The temperature felt great! It was in the 50s, so I had to remind myself to sip on my fluids every 10-15 minutes and eat my nutrition every 30-35 minutes.
Within the first couple of miles, I began talking with an awesome runner named Sam. He is from Canada and to my surprise, had very limited running, let alone ultra-running, experience. The miles went by quickly as we talked and got to know one another as we usually do during long races. We both kept pulling out our phones and GoPro’s to take pictures and film the amazing views we were being afforded on this course. Before we knew it, we were on the rocky slopes of Mount Saint Helens. Just as I expected, I need my hands to navigate through this section.
We made a turn around some rocks, and there was Mount Saint Helens. At first, the clouds shrouded the summit, but as we continued to circumnavigate the volcano, the clouds lifted, and we could see the entire remanence of the peak.
Sam and I entered back into the forest and continued to run when able and hike when appropriate. We came to a junction and took note of the signs. To this point, there were three races on the course. There was a twenty-mile, a forty-mile, and the 200-mile race. Recognizing that we needed to go to the Blue Lake Aid Station, we turned left. There was a straight arrow at the junction that we would take after we had done the out-n-back to Blue Lake, but unfortunately others would miss the turn and must retrace their steps back to get to Blue Lake.
The first Aid Station always has the most energy. The volunteers are always so excited to see the runners and help. I found my drop bag and took what I needed. Making sure I had everything for the next 18-miles to the Windy Ridge Aid Station, where I would see my wife and kids, I found Sam and we made our way out of the Aid Station and back to the junction where we would turn left and continue our way.
Up to this point, the course markings had been frequent and reassuring. But having seen runners going back from missing the turn for Blue Lake, our confidence was shaken a bit as we didn’t see any markers for a long stretch. Sam & I pulled out our phones to double check (it was mandatory that the course was uploaded to Gaia so we could make sure we stayed on course), and of course we were fine.
The temperature continued to climb as we were now in the early afternoon, just in time to come out of the forest and into the open exposed sandy slopes of the blast zone side of Mount Saint Helens. While jaw droppingly beautiful, we were presented by a few challenges. One being a rope traverse going down into and back out of a ravine with a water crossing. After coming out of the ravine, we had our first real long climb. I was worried Sam was running my race, and I didn’t want to ruin his race, so I tried to get ahead a bit so perhaps he would slow a bit and run his race.
Runner’s leap frogged back and forth as this next section had huge mounds that required a brief climb and descent repeatedly. A few of these had run off creeks from the snow that remained on Mount Saint Helens glaciers from which I was able to filter water. Sam caught back up with me on one of my filter stops and we remained together to the Windy Ridge Aid Station. We had been primarily on single track up until the last few miles leading into the out-n-back to Windy Ridge, which was a dirt road. The road climbed up to the Aid Station and we saw Mount Adams for the first time.
We reached the Aid Station about two hours ahead of my projected time (I attribute this to the fact that we were about 4.25 miles short of the listed mileage according to my watch). Thankfully my family was there. I could see the excitement in my kids’ eyes and the relief that I was ok in my wife’s. My Mom & Stepdad were there as well. It was so great to see everyone. My kids grabbed me drinks and food. My heels had some hot spots, so we took off my shoes and took care of my feet. I changed into a fresh pair of Altra Olympus (I had started in the Olympus). We made sure I had my lights and batteries and some caffeinated options as I might not get to the next crew aid station at Coldwater Lake (mile 46) before dark. After a triple check, it was time to leave. Sam had told me he was going to take a long break there and to go on without him.
I felt a little sad leaving as I knew I wouldn’t see my wife again until the morning, and I wouldn’t see my kids until Monday. I gave everyone huge hugs and kisses and tried not to show how I was feeling. Thankfully I would meet two nice people leaving the Aid Station and heading to the Johnson Ridge Aid Station. The first was a gentleman from Chapel Hill, NC. What a small world. The second was a woman by the name of Jodine. I spent a lot of time with Jodine between Windy Ridge and Coldwater. Some of that time I was ahead of her and at others, she was ahead of me. I got Dolly Parton’s song “Jolene” (changed to Jodine) stuck in my head. That was rough!
I was able to change my mindset as I was excited to pick up David as a pacer at Coldwater Lake Aid Station! I mixed running and walking and continued to make good progress towards Johnson Ridge. I was unaware that Johnson Ridge had an observatory until I turned a corner and saw the building high on a cliff side. The climb up to the Johnson Ridge Aid Station felt great and I attribute that to so many people hiking from the observatory that would cheer me on as I passed by. It was just nice to see people again!
As I ran into the Johnson Ridge Aid Station, the volunteers began to holler and ring their cowbells. I checked my fluids and threw away my trash grabbing some hot food and continued on my way pretty quickly as I would do a complete resupply when I saw my crew at the next aid station, Coldwater Lake.
To be continued…