White River 50: familiar territoryJuly 25, 2009
The official White River 50 results will show that I placed 3rd. In my mind, though, I was 1st in the Mere Mortals Division, while Tony Krupicka (6:32:07, a stunning course record) defeated Mike Wardian (6:51) for top honors in the Uli Division.
Aside from any illusions I may have had about challenging Tony and Mike, my main goal was to break 7 hours, as it always is on this course. My first attempt, in 2005, resulted in a 7:34 (on a warmer-than-normal day). Last year I got down to 7:07 (which included a 2- to 3-minute wrong turn). This year, as I advanced from the Skookum Flats aid station (mile 43.4) toward the finish, I thought I might finally break 7:00. I needed to run this final section in 49 minutes, and while it took me 52 minutes last year, I felt stronger this time. And so the internal pleading began. “Come on, 20 more minutes and then you’re done . . . with trail running . . . forever!” I lied to my legs. Alas, my split was about 52 minutes again, and I had to be content with a 7:01:59.
On the whole, this year’s splits tracked last year’s rather closely. I ran 0:28 to Camp Sheppard, mile 3.9 (vs. 0:29 last year); 1:41 to Ranger Creek, mile 11.7 (vs. 1:43); 2:08 to Corral Pass, mile 16.9 (vs. 2:09); 3:08 to Ranger Creek, mile 22.1 (vs. 3:10); 3:45 to Buck Creek, mile 27.3 (vs. 3:51); 4:30 to Fawn Ridge, mile 31.7 (vs. 4:33); 5:29 to Sun Top, mile 37.0 (vs. 5:33); and 6:10 to Skookum Flats, mile 43.4 (vs. 6:15). Either my pacing strategy is pretty close to optimal, or I’m making the same mistakes every year.
Another interesting consistency is that I always seem to enjoy the second major climb (from Buck Creek to Sun Top) more than the first (from Camp Sheppard to Corral Pass). This partly reflects the fact that the second climb is more “runnable,” with fewer really steep sections and fewer rocks and roots. But there’s also a psychological side to this. During the first half of this race (or any ultra, really), I’m a bundle of nerves, worrying about whether I’ll make it to halfway in a decent time and with enough energy for the second half. After that, those worries dissipate (assuming that things have gone reasonably well), and I permit myself to “dig in” a bit more because, well, the second half is supposed to hurt. Also, in the second climb I’m running near guys of about my speed, some of whom are fading, which is better for the ego than getting left behind by the fast guys during the first climb.
A final bit of deja vu came in the form of longtime rival Ian Fraser. Ian and I first raced each other in the 1993 or 1994 NCAA Division III cross country meet (he competed for Haverford and I for Williams), and since then we’ve dueled in various Seattle-area races. Ian’s longest previous race was a low-key 50K, so I was surprised to see him at this one — and even more surprised when he passed me at mile 15! He eventually succumbed to cramps and struggled in for 5th place (7:17) behind Scott Jurek (7:13), but, for the first 40-plus miles, it was a heck of a debut.
Thanks to race directors Scott and Leslie McCoubrey, their large team of volunteers, and the race sponsors for another great event.