This race is my Nemesis. Two years ago this race almost killed me just three miles from the end. It left me broken and in need of rescue. Literally. (Rodney has commented more than once that they should rename the race from “Where’s Waldo” to “Where’s Kate?”) This year, as I trained for my second attempt at the 100 mile distance (Hundred in the Hood, September 26th-27th), Waldo 100K figured prominently in my training plan. I’ll admit that it’s been psychologically a bigger focus. I was determined to finish this year and not be a shivering heap at the end. OK, I’ll take just finishing. Since you only get a finishers hat if you finish by the 18 hour mark, all day long the mantra was “must get hat…must get hat.” That’s worth nearly collapsing for, isn’t it? Well, I thought so.
At the pre-race briefing on Friday night I got called out by the RD to explain to the crowd what the proper procedure should be if one must leave the trail (my previous mistake) so as not to get missed by the sweeps. I deserved that. Embarrassing me in front of my friends. “Always leave something on the trail at the point you left the trail. A water bottle, a pack a flashing head lamp…something. That way the sweeps will know not to pass you by.” Maybe we can let this rest now.
The day of the race started out at night. 3AM is the early start time, 2 hours before the regular starters. So there we were, about 50 of us, huddled waiting for the start. I didn’t mean to, but no one else was stepping up to the line. Every one of us early starters must be so used to being at the back of the pack, that’s where we all lined up…even though there wasn’t anyone up front to line up behind. So I jumped to the front and a few brave souls toed the line with me and for a few brief yards I lead the race. After the first minute of warm up we hit the first big hill and up we started walking.
It was still dark as we traversed the trail sections I had helped clear and grade during my weekend of trail work the month before. Just before the first aid station we ran onto a gravel road and the stars were bright enough (and the road smooth enough) that I turned off my head lamp so I could enjoy the overhead show for a while. It was beautiful. The regular starters don’t get to enjoy this.
After the first aid station we eventually came into the dawn and before the Fuji aid station the headlamps went off. I climbed up the slope, as I had last time, and it didn’t seem really bad (knowing that later it gets much worse). There were some bee hives near by and we heard some really load buzzing off trail. Mental note: “Not a good place to try a pit stop.”
The top of Fuji this year showed a non-fog shrouded view. Beautiful in the early sunrise.
Down we ran to the Fuji aid station and off to Mt. Ray. The ups become more down and it’s a fun stretch so before you know it, another aid station is down. Now it’s off to The Twins. It’s getting hotter already but it never gets really bad this day. My friend and car pool buddy, Glen, is nearby and we run together for most of the rest of this race. The ground is dry the trees are tall the air is thin. It’s the Oregon Cascades at their best. Soon enough there’s the Head-Banger Rock -n-roll aid station which is The Twins. After fueling up with pancakes and various junk food we take off for the next aid station at Charlton Lake. My splits sheet tells me I’m ahead of my pace from two years ago. “Must get hat…must get hat.”
Sure enough it’s getting hotter but it’s not too bad with my ice bandanna around my neck. Nothing eventful happens and we keep up a decent pace to the Lake aid station for more chow and a short rest at the half way point. I decide that a nice cool dip in the lake is warranted especially since I remember that then next section is more exposed and it’s getting to be the hot part of the day. I took off my pack and laid down in the cold water. Refreshing! Too soon we leave the lake side scenery and head into a section with new tree growth but I can see they are already a lot bigger than they were two years ago. At the next aid station we have some more great volunteers who get us prepped for the following section of trail back to The Twins which is long and steep and tiring (unlike the rest of the course, right?).
Sure enough, eventually we’re trudging. But we’re still moving. Eventually we pass through a nice meadow section and some riders on horseback are standing there asking us how we’re doing. We’re fine, even if we look tired. “Are you sure you’re ok? Do you need some water?” I guess we looked haggard. Our other car pool buddy Jerry passed us here, he being part of the regular starters. Relieved when we get to the final downhill before the aid station we let it fly and had a fine run down into the hands of the Head-Bangers. This time they offered us frozen Popsicles! And mind you, they had to carry in everything for the aid station…for 1.5 miles. UPHILL. The ice cold refreshment was spectacular. Glen urged me to get moving, rather than to get comfortable, and so we spanked the monkey and headed out.
After the Twins climb we shuffled a bit more on the downs and trudged a bit more on the ups and I knew the most challenging climb up Maiden Peak still loomed ahead. I was still ahead of my splits from last time and didn’t feel like I was falling apart so I just tried to keep up with Glen. Eventually we saw a big tree that went down a few years ago and had a large rock embedded in it’s roots.
There must be some analogy here. Am I the tree or am I the rock? Such a line of thinking began to hurt my brain so I shut my brain off and just keep my legs moving. When we got the the aid station at the foot of Maiden Peak, there again we were greeted by volunteers with frozen pops! And this time they had carried all of the supplies in UPHILL for 3 MILES! Forever Grateful is too small of a phrase.
I tried to fuel up for the next climb of just 2.5 miles. How long should that take? Apparently it’s about a 1 hour 32 minute endeavor. Holy cow that’s a slow climb. Apparently a lack of oxygen affects me this way. Luckily this time I expected it so I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and didn’t falter, even as Glen faded off into the distance. More power to him! Eventually I saw him on his way down when I was just a few minutes from the top. He took off towards the finish, never looking back and running strong to come in 20 minutes ahead of me. And finally I made it to the top too. Whew! I made it and I wasn’t in tears!
Next I went down, down , down off the peak, through the pumice, careful on the tricky parts…no falling but good quad destroying steepness. Back to runnable downhill and into the last and fateful aid station that was the beginning of my end the last time around. I calmly sat and ate while another wonderful volunteer massaged my shoulders. I tried to avoid doing anything close to what I had done last time. NO BROTH!!
So, off I head down that last 7 mile stretch. I don’t feel great but I don’t feel horrible. I don’t have much of a stomach and even though I feel pretty thirsty I get nauseated when I drink. I’m so afraid of doing something wrong that I try not to do much of anything. Wrong strategy. I throw away all but a small swallow of the contents of my water bottle. Wrong strategy. I really wanted to try that drinking thing again later but didn’t have the option.
So I’m finally reduced from a shuffle to a trudge shuffle – walking flats and much of the downhills. I started to feel really bad and just hoped that I could hold it together enough to finish this time. I passed the point of my last demise and didn’t linger. Three more miles should be over in a flash! Those miles seemed like 8. Honestly, it never seemed to end, even though I had hiked this section of trail during the trail work weekend and it didn’t seem that bad then. At this point it seemed nearly insurmountable. But nearly isn’t actually and thank god for that. I passed by the sweeps who were sitting trail-side waiting for us stragglers to pass before they started their work. I knew two of them and they knew my previous history of late race crash devilment. I put on a good show of strength to prove to them, and myself, that I was fine and I’d be finishing this time.
Run/shuffle a few steps, walk a few, think how weak and lame I am for walking that which is runnable so I start shuffling again. Again reduced to walking. Pathetic. Must get hat. Must get hat. Must get hat. My mouth id so dry but I have nothing to drink. I got rid of it so I wouldn’t have to carry it. Stupid brain. Low on fuel and fluids I finally make that last turn onto the home stretch and see the finish line area off in the distance. By this time I’ve recalculated my finishing time and made adjustments half a dozen times and with half a mile to go I think I can get in under the 17 hour mark. I do. Just barely, in 16:58:55 and I’m the last female finisher of the race.
I’ve never been so exhausted in my whole life. The elevation of this race really kicked my butt. Even my 100 miler didn’t feel this hard. I was done. Literally and figuratively. RDs Craig and Curt welcomed me in and I GET MY HAT. I’m sure they were more relieved than I was that I finished.
The aftermath of the race isn’t pretty. I’m sick. I feel hauntingly similar to how I felt not finishing Waldo last time. There was nausea, vomiting, dizziness and a bad gut ache that lasted all night. I stumbled into the truck and Glen let me barf out the window as we drove back to the hotel and then Glen and Jerry got me back into my hotel room where I was able to shower and fall into bed for a fitful night’s sleep. Luckily by the next morning the nausea and vomiting was replaced by crippled legs. This is progress. The gut ache took a few days to resolve.
Although I told myself dozens of times during the race that if I finished it this time, I wouldn’t ever have to prove to myself again that I could…maybe I will run it again next year. How crazy is that?