The Bigfoot 40 course is magical - a full circumnavigation of Mt. St. Helen's, primarily on the Loowit Trail. The race is the brainchild of Candice Burt of Destination Trail. It's also the short option on her menu. A 100k is also available and in August the Bigfoot 200 envelops Mt. St. Helen's and much more in a point to point life altering adventure. While I love many races this is the first one that inspired me to write. I have not raced since the Bellingham Trail Marathon last fall. I spent my spring on the bench with a tibial stress fracture and hired my first ever coach, Alison Naney of Cascade Endurance, to keep me sane with targeted strength workouts and cross-training. I have been in fear. Fear while benched. Fear when told by the doctor I could run again, but to keep it under 20 miles a week. Fear that I would never run an ultra again. My good friend, Ken, lives his life fearlessly and with a similar love for the trails to my own. We decided to run Bigfoot together. My drive to do it was against all injury recovery logic and following my gut instinct was a big risk. If not for Ken's companionship I might have chickened out on driving down late the night before plotting day of race registration. Thank you Ken, so much.
Ken and I started off at an easy run and then slowed to a walk quickly. We pulled over a few times in the first mile, promptly setting ourselves as the official back of the pack. Ever since finishing Tahoe 200 in 2015 Ken jokes that he only goes 200 mile pace anymore, but his breathing was labored and he couldn't shake that. This was not normal for him. As we continued on he needed to take breaks and I started worrying about my friend so at mile 4 we made the decision that he'd head back to the start slowly and I'd continue solo. I questioned this at different points in the race hoping it was the right choice and that he was feeling better.
|A sad goodbye selfie when Ken turned back.
Once I left Ken I picked up pace and started a steep shale climb on switchbacks in the full gaze of the sun. I surprised myself feeling very strong and powered up the hill. The intense inner drive pushing me to finish the race, a need even, that had come up when Ken and I talked, was now in full control. Within a mile of leaving Ken I caught up to the back of the pack and started passing. I am still in shock that in the 10 miles between leaving Ken and the Oasis aid station I caught and passed 21 runners. I assure you, this is not my norm, but if felt oh so good. I'm the chipper friendly type and would say hi and comment how gorgeous it was. Many were struggling with the heat and feeling slightly less upbeat. I think I was completely high, for lack of a better term, on the fact that I was out there, returned to the experience I thrive so deeply on.
At Oasis aid, where the volunteers had hiked in 8 miles carrying all supplies, they had run out of water treatment tablets so they only had untreated water to offer. I'd drunk my entire 60 oz. reservoir and needed a refill with an estimated 5+ hours until Blue Lake aid station so I loaded up and am still hoping there's no funky parasite coming my way :) Due to the remoteness of the course being largely self supported is necessary. A water filter is the only thing I failed to pack to achieve that. Live and learn. I was in and out of the aid pretty quick, departing alone and leaving a crowd behind me. Aside from a fellow in blue who would appear 1-2 gullies or stream crossings behind me in the distance I didn't see anyone for the next few hours. At one point I saw a helicopter pass overhead and being a tad loopy in the sun I worried briefly that something had happened to Ken and they were flying him out and I was a terrible friend to have let him go back alone. As it later turned out he spent the day taking three naps, drinking beer, and socializing so my worry was for naught.
Typically in a longer race I hit a low point where I cannot force myself into a run and get caught in a walk I can't mentally get out of. Not this time. If it was steep I just power hiked, but any other terrain I walked quickly and then every two minutes or so I picked a spot up ahead to run to. Sometimes I felt good energy wise and continued running on past and other times I was relieved to get to my target and walk again. It achieved my goal of never losing mental touch with the instinct to run.
Descending into Sheep's Canyon running down the soft deep sand switchbacks on the cliff felt heavenly as if I was in a dream. I was nearby three other runners here and enjoyed that security. After we descended via rope tied to a tree into yet another stream crossing I passed seven more runners. They were taking their time resting and treating water and I was eager to climb up the cliff with the rope and power on. This left me in the welcome shade of forested switchbacks climbing at a moderate grade. The biting flies here (and in other forested areas on the course) were pretty vicious and the only aspect of the race I swore about :)
|This was actually really fun.
|This is what push-ups and dips train you for!
On these switchbacks I encountered another runner, Rob. He had been throwing up prior to my finding him, but stoically putting one foot after the other forward. He was completely out of water and we had another seven or so miles till aid so I gave him as much of my water as I could. My 17 oz. bottle was good water from home so I gave him most of it thinking if my untreated water was bad that would only make him worse .I stayed with him a bit trying to see if I could offer anymore help. He said he couldn't keep anything down, but appreciated the offer so I told him about the group from the stream crossing who should be along within 20 minutes and could provide more water. I told him I'd let the aid station know how he was. I continued on feeling grateful my day felt so easy while other runners I'd never normally expect to keep up with were struggling so much. I was concerned about his well being, but encouraged that he was continuing to walk and did not know what more I could do to help.
|Peaceful tree cover - home of biting flies.
After finishing that climb I felt great heading into Blue Lake aid and ran much of the gradual downhill and flat sandy trails in. I let them know how far back I'd left Rob and his race number and then settled in to two cups of chicken noodle soup, a quesadilla, three cups of ginger ale, and a ton of watermelon. I also had a hole in the big toe of my right sock that had been allowing sand and gravel to grate up my toe. I had regular socks in my drop bag, but felt strongly that ditching calf compression for the final 13 miles would be unwise. I felt like a genius for borrowing scissors that allowed me to cut off the feet of my compression socks and put them back on as compression sleeves with plush fresh socks on my feet. I also cleaned and dried my feet with baby wipes. After all the silt and sand they'd collected getting soaked then dusty in between stream crossings this felt amazing.
|Sock surgery complete.
Leaving Blue Lake aid was the one spot on the course when running was not forthcoming for me. My body had gone into digestion after dinner nap needed mode from all my gorging, but after a mile or so a guy caught up and passed me running. I chided myself that I recently ran downhill in the Chuckanuts on a lark stuffed with ribs, garlic fries, and beer (full tummy training?? Ha!) so I perked up purposefully and did my run intervals until a climb began. On this climb I encountered and chatted with a couple working for Mountain Rescue. They were on their way to carry out a dehydrated runner by the boulder field who was in a bad way with heat stroke. I feel so lucky we have people like them to protect us from ourselves when things go wrong.
|Leaving Blue Lake aid.
I was alone again and catching a gorgeous sunset as I emerged towards the boulder field. As darkness fell I put on my headlamp and felt pretty adept at the careful game of stability and hopping rock to rock. I heard an unusual noise from the forest I was heading into off and on and my tired paranoid self was convinced it would eat me, whatever it was, and I'd not make it back to my son, Charlie. I am known for getting loopy and emotional like this late in races. A couple caught up to me and I was grateful for their company. The woman was having stomach problems from too much gel and psyched out completely from the boulders to the point of half whimpering half crying as we progressed. Her boyfriend was very stable and soothing trying to build her up and get her through that section. In the end they finished about a minute before me because once on downhill trail she was rejuvenated and took off. Shortly after they left me I passed by where the mountain rescuers and about five racers were attending to the unconscious heat stroke victim. I paused briefly before realizing there was no more I could contribute than they already were. My heart plummeted as I continued on worrying for this man and feeling chided that his fate in the race could be any of us. I later heard that he was in the lead pack and running with only one 500 ml water bottle. The majority of runners were packing at least a 60 oz.reservoir. I again felt so grateful for my luck and fortitude that day and took none of it for granted.
|Sunset falling as the boulder field approached.
There were more gullies and streams to climb down and out of and snow patches in the trees. This section felt drawn out and tedious and as my watch began to die I felt ready to be done. My headlamp also began to dim despite a full battery charge and I began to fear losing my light altogether , but quickly made a plan to glob into runners near behind or in front of me or worst case scenario use the flashlight app on my iPhone that was fully charged thanks to my mophie juice pack and having kept the phone in airplane mode. I was so relieved to get back to the two mile trail to the sno-park and leave the Loowit trail at that point. I roughly 70% ran and 30% power walked here and continually believed I was closer to the finish than I was. The Strava app on my iPhone had taken over for my dead watch by now and I was continually disappointed when I'd peek at the mileage. I was also elated because it was only 11:22 pm and I had not expected to finish before midnight, but now knew I would. Heck, Ken and I's original plan allowed us to bump up right against the 3:00 am cutoff, but here I was almost four hours faster! This was when my headlamp died completely and instantly I was shrouded in full darkness. I was so grateful that if it had to happen it happened less than a mile from the finish line giving me the security of knowing my iPhone flashlight app could get me in without its battery also dying. I ran in this way and arrived at 11:39 pm for a 14 hour 39 minute 31 second finish, happily below the 18 hr cutoff and in 84th place. In the end there were 114 finishers and 13 DNFs. Not too shabby a placing for not having run longer than 11 miles since January and that distance having only ocurred the Sunday prior :) Nevermind that I'm always back of the midpack - no speed in my legs, just joy in my heart.
|Happy to be done and get my friend back.
Ken was right there waiting for me and in so much better shape than I'd left him. We had a big hug and I excitedly rambled on to him and Casey. Ken had gotten the info from the ham radio operators that I'd departed Blue Lake aid at 7:15 pm and the two of them had guessed I'd arrive 10:30-11 pm. I got settled in a comfy chair by the fire with beer and chicken noodle soup and Ken was awesome getting things for me, my new hopefully temporary nickname is princess, ha. I put my feet up on firewood and bs-ed with friends till 1 am and change. Shortly before I went to bed, Ali came running in so strong and on top of the world excitedly wanting to answer if it was true what all the 100k aid stations had been telling her – that she was first woman overall. I'm so proud of her for her first podium finish J
Still wanting to share the race with Ken, and having a tendency to ramble and say silly things alone on a trail to begin with, I took a series of 30 second clips capturing the landscape and my musings. The red bubbling stream might be my favorite part of the video montage. That or the sunset falling or perhaps Ken's delicious Tanka Buffalo Cranberry Jerky Bites that he kindly left with me.
|Heaven on earth.
During the latter half of the race I knew my right Achilles was overly tight and I had minor pain. At one point I stuck snow in my sock before promptly realizing I should not ice it while still moving so I fished most snow back out. Thankfully the shin of my former stress fracture remained pain free and I did not feel aches. I did take two Advil around 2 or 3 pm, but for a headache I think the sun and my 75 oz. of water hauling heavy pack brought on. Three days post race I am not concerned about my Achilles. Gentle care and eccentrics this week and I think I will be as good as I was before the race. Above all else I feel immensely restored in my identity and passion and so grateful to my buddy Ken because if he had not suggested the joint adventure I don't think I'd have followed my heart down to Mt. St. Helen's solo, I'd have let reason and playing it safe get in the way of my gut instinct and drive to do this race. I've heard through the grape vine that the heat stroke / dehydration victim is going to be alright and that Rob got care at Blue Lake aid. This sport, this lifestyle that we love so much is not one without risk.