Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Wy'East Wonder 50 Miler

The Wy'East Wonder 50 miler is a brand new point to point race staged out of Parkdale, Oregon. It also offers a 50k distance and is orchestrated by GoBeyond Racing. Due to various injuries I hadn't raced a 50 miler since summer 2016 so I was very excited to take part in the inaugural Wy'East Wonder.

We arrived at the Red Barn Park at 4:30 am to check in. GoBeyond Racing has some pretty stellar bib numbers. They feature a landscape photo, the race logo, and your first name. They also featured chip timing which is uncommon in trail races.The shuttles (aka school buses) were supposed to depart with us at 5:15 am, but were running behind. As it turned out one of the three buses broke down so John ended up really glad I'd hauled him over to get in line early as in the end a bunch of runners had to stand in the aisles to all fit. There was a married couple in the seat in front of us who kept cuddle napping on each other. I thought they were pretty cute so when I ended up running with them early on in the race I told them so. It turned out they have four kids. Four kids and still finding time to get out and run 50 miles together. I think that's pretty dang romantic.
Sardines on the school bus :)

It was a novelty - the buses climbing elevation up the mountain roads instead of our legs. We arrived 5 minutes past the planned start time and it was announced that we would be given 15 minutes. The race would start at 6:20 am instead of 6:00 am. Myself and some other slow folks were concerned and asked if the two aid station cutoffs would be adjusted Thankfully the race directors said yes they would get word to the volunteers. Nichole and Eric are a couple I met in Winthrop last year after the Cutthroat Classic. I knew this was Nichole's FIRST 50 MILER and I was pretty excited for her. Eric would be running the 50k starting two hours later. Nichole and I have similar paces so we ended up running the first 3 miles together climbing a logging road at a gentle grade. At a point where we were briefly hiking the race photographer popped up. Race photographers have a knack for catching me walking. We startled into a run pose. He said don't worry I'll see you again at mile 27.5, but we never saw him again, nor did my faster friends also racing. At the time I didn't understand why he was photographing us on the logging road. A few teaser photos have been released since and I laughed hard realizing we were simply facing the wrong direction and that Mt. Hood was hovering over us, a stoic foggy mountain beauty photo bombing us.

A view of Wy'East (Mt. Hood) at about 5,800 ft. on Gunsight Ridge.
Between the first and second aid stations I began leap frogging with a group of 10 or so runners who I'd see again off and on through the remainder of the race. One of the prettiest views of the day was just off the trail at mile 6.5 or so, the gunsight view of Mt. Hood, for which the ridge we ran along was named. In this section I got to chat with another Runner of the Wild who had come all the way from Boston for the race. After a bit I let her go as I noticed the altitude getting to me and my pace slowing. The majority of the first 15 miles was at 5,500 - 6,000 feet. I'm usually not affected below 7,000 feet, but it is early season and I haven't been in the mountains much yet this year. When altitude affects me it generally makes me feel a bit loopy, inebriated even. I also have a harder time feeling like I am getting enough air and my fingers swell. These factors and the baseline stress in my mind about the mile 20.5 and mile 40.1 cutoffs made for a strange mental combo as I ran along the ridge. My inability to process basic math is how I first realized the altitude had gotten to me. I was 7.4 miles in and just under 1 hour and 40 minutes had elapsed. I started freaking out that the average pace on my watch was in error at 13:21 average per mile thus far because 8 miles in two hours is 15:00 average and 7.4 miles was less and thus slower than cutoff pace. My "math" was completely backwards my watch was just fine, I just wasn't, ha. It took me 10 minutes to determine that. Perhaps only 3.5 hours of sleep the night before did not help either!

Coming into the High Prairie aid station  there had been some light mist, but I had the luck to have ducked under the structure just prior to a major downpour that soaked everyone not under cover. I opted to stay a little longer than planned to avoid getting soaked so early on. It was here that my obsession with Frito's corn chips began and lasted throughout the race. I haven't seen them as aid station fare before, but they absolutely hit the spot. In fact, I want some right now. I also ate PB&J sandwiches, pickles, oranges, bananas, and watermelon and drank Coke from the aid stations to supplement my Skratch Labs Raspberry energy chews and Muir Energy molasses based gels.

The Aquaduct aid station was almost 10 miles away, but the journey there began with a fun downhill that lifted my spirits. I knew I needed to push and keep my pace up to make the 11:20 am cutoff at mile 20.5. The Auquaduct aid station is the start and finish of the 20 mile loop that differentiates the 50 mile course with a lollipop middle. Meanwhile, the 50k simply borrows the first 20.5 miles on Gunsight Ridge and the last 10 or so on Surveyor's Ridge from the 50 mile course. I was excited to get to my drop bag at Auquaduct and restock on my Skratch Labs chews. I came in, refilled my water, ate some real food (Frito's and fruit), burrowed in my drop bag and departed 11 minutes prior to the cutoff. Aquaduct felt ominous to me because it boasts a tight 10 hour mile 40.1 cutoff as well.
Clearing the mile 20.5 cutoff with just 11 min. to spare.
The course description had promised a trail called the Super Duper Connector after leaving Aquaduct aid. This trail was fun and it reminded me very much of Mole Trap and Lost Giants on Galbraith Mountain at home. Please don't tell anyone I said this, but the Super Duper Connector would have been way more fun on a mountain bike. Fun fact, the majority of Wy'East was run on mountain bike trails and Wy'East was the first running race to grace them.

Next up was the Bottle Prairie aid station at mile 24.8, aka almost halfway, in a little woodsy area in the middle of nowhere. The volunteers working it just seemed incredibly extra kind and encouraging. They also had a really well stocked table of food. Big bowls of watermelon, oranges, bananas, quartered PB&Js, pickles, candy, Ruffles, bottles of Coke and Ginger Ale, and my precious Frito's. I'm so used to aid stations down to slim pickings because I am a back of the mid pack runner so this felt rather luxurious. From here I headed out on a 6.4 mile loop on the Eightmile Trail that would return me to these lovely volunteers once more. This section was beautiful and took us on many switchbacks with mountain views eventually returning along the creek.  As mile 27.5 came and went I wondered where the race photographer was and got grumpy briefly over the thought that he had probably already left because I'm a slowpoke. Later, talking to John, who finished an hour and 43 minutes faster than me, I found he never saw him past mile 3 either.

I came back in to the Bottle Prairie aid and was in a really interesting mental state. The course mileage was 31.2 miles at this point. One would think a truly easy mindset to fall into would go like this, " I just ran an entire 50k and you're saying I have to keep running? 19 more miles?! 2/3 as much as I just got done with? Seriously? No thank you." Except my mind did not go there at all. I never even really thought about 50 miles. The only thing that really mattered at all all day, other than frequent access to Frito's, was the mile 40.1 mark and it's ominous 10 hour cutoff at 4:20 pm. All that was in my mind at that point was that I had 2 hours to get through those 9 miles or my race was over. I left the aid station strong, determined, and fearful.

Strong and determined didn't last that long. Fearful really took over and brought sad along for the ride. I was upset because I was on track for my usual 50 miler pace of 12.5-13 hours, but the cutoff said my pace could very easily be inadequate. In the end there were 26 DNFs. I don't know how many were voluntary and how many were caused by the cutoff that I was fearing. Cell signal cut in and out often on the course, but I sent texts about my fear to three of my close friends I run most with: Ali, Heather, and Bethany. Ali and Heather texted me back strong encouragement that picked me up and Bethany was out running and chose to run longer to be with me from afar and sent me a video building me up in her own special way. I train with my tribe and even though they are not there I race with my tribe too. I love these ladies a lot (and hope Ali and Heather don't mind the screenshot.)
My tribe <3

The route back to Aquaduct was similar to earlier in the day, traversing the Knebel Springs Trail back to the Super Duper Connector. I crashed on energy and walked more than I meant to and thunder came and went with light rain showers and gloomy skies as I impatiently hoped to be on the Super Duper Connector miles before I reached it. For me the Super Duper Connector was the trigger that the aid station was at last near. My watch ran long, showing over 42 miles before the mile 40.1 aid station. Between that and my loopy altitude mind and tired body I had no sense of when I would make it back until I hit that trail sign. Once on the Super Duper Connector I passed two runners. One man was walking with his poles, said his legs were shot, and that he had given up. I said some encouraging words about you never know, maybe you will get it back and then added on about winning lotto tickets for us both as long as we are wishing. That last bit was the altitude loopiness talking. A half mile or so later I saw a woman running up ahead in a way that illustrated my own feelings. She would run then walk brief intervals as if they were truly all she had to give in that moment. I passed her and offered encouraging words of hope that we could both make the cutoff despite my growing fear that my own chances were shot. There was about a mile left, but it felt like more.

As I descended the last bits of trail that would drop me into Aquaduct aid my watch clicked over to 4:20, 4:21, 4:22 pm. I was officially past the cutoff. I had been pushing with all I had at that point with the knowledge that not doing so would end my race and giving it everything could possibly save my race. My mind did a funny thing. It kept saying to me, "it's in God's hands now" on repeat. I'm spiritual, not religious, and prone towards making references to the universe, not to God, so those words were quite out of character for me. They comforted me though and in the back of my mind I reassured myself that if forced to quit at least I'd eliminate the very very faint possibility of getting zapped by lightning associated with the thunderstorms. I came running down the road where all the volunteer's vehicles were parked. A child sitting in a truck with the door cracked told me "you're doing great" like they meant it. I felt like a sham, but made a choice to be positive and come in strong because in my mind my race was ending then so this was the only finish line I'd have. That's when the Wy'East Wolf Pack spotted me. I love this group. Their energy and good spirits are palpable and will pick you up if you are down. They worked an aid station at the Oregon Coast 30k last fall where I wasn't struggling at all, but they raised my spirits that day too.

I wish I knew the name of the Wolf Pack guy who first spotted me. As soon as he did he turned to the other runners and declared, "we have the last runner!" This perplexed me very much. In most races the cutoff is stringent and in some races the volunteers have some discretion. I had planned to respectfully make my case that I didn't need water, I could just be on my way with a handful of food, and that I felt good and on track for my target time of 12.5-13 hours, but he didn't give me a chance. He just took one look at me at 4:23 pm 3 minutes over the line and declared me the last runner. I must have been staring at him like a deer in headlights because when he addressed me directly he simply asked me, "are you good?" Yes! Yes, thank you so much I said and shook his hand and began spouting off about that I didn't need water. Another Wy'East guy shepherded me to the food table to load up a few handfuls to go. That's where I spotted the single croissant and asked if I could have it. They gave it right to me and a kind woman appeared and started handing me Swiss cheese slices from a bag. I took a few banana chunks and grabbed one vanilla Gu as a just in case. Just before leaving I asked the second Wolf Pack guy, noting that it was silly, but could I take a quick picture of them. He declared it was a selfie occasion and leaned in. If I ever move to Portland, Oregon I'll be joining the Wolf Pack. They're a wonderful crew on the pulse of what makes the ultra community tick. Those guys made my day by recognizing so fully that 3 minutes was not material to 10 hours and I'll never forget that moment.
Wolf Pack Happiness at Auquaduct.

Mmm croissants & Swiss cheese. Thanks guys! :)

Once I left Auquaduct I felt an immense weight lifted off of me. The intensity of cutoff pressure throughout the first 40 miles had prevented me from running my own race freely and suddenly there was nothing in the world that could stop me from running 50 miles. I felt so free and light of heart. I passed 2 people between that point and the Gibson Prairie aid station at mile 44.8. At this point we were on Surveyor's Ridge which is supposed to have great mountain views, but it was pretty foggy. I did not care one iota. I thought it was refreshing and felt unstoppable and free. Arriving at Gibson Prairie I was once again truly impressed by the volunteers. They were attentive and kind and had lots of snacks laid out in full bowls. That was well above what I am used to at the back of the pack and I was one of the last 3 runners they would see that day. I stayed only long enough to thank them and take a PB&J with me.
Foggy views from Surveyor's Ridge.
Lush greenery in the last 5 miles.

It was time to go to the finish line. The flowers and lush greenery were beautiful over the next 3 miles and I both ran and walked as I felt able to. Then I reached the sign for the Oak Ridge Trail and got EXCITED. Why? I'd been waiting all day for this section because it was promised to drop nearly 2,000 feet of elevation in less than 2.5 miles. Have I mentioned that I AM A DOWNHILL RUNNER AND THAT IS THE TERRAIN I LOVE? :) No, well consider it mentioned. This part was awesome. It was rocky switchbacks with bits of shale thrown about and the trees reminded me so much of where my family lives in Northern Cali.
Capturing the steepness of the last 2.5 miles.

Almost done.
I got excitable in this section and passed 3 more runners, only 2 of whom I count. The third was a dear friend of mine who had an injury flare up less than 10 miles into the race, but stubbornly and with a bold heart refused to quit even when she was reduced to only walking downhill from heavy pain. I was so shocked to find her and hug her 2 miles from the finish as she'd normally finish a race like this 3 hours faster than me. A quarter mile or so from the finish I was running with a woman I'd leap frogged with much of the day and I wanted to really fly. I told her I'd ask to pass, but it seemed unfair to do so so close to the finish. She disagreed and said to go for it so I did and flew in at my best fun downhill pace. When I bounded in through the timing gate there was John patiently waiting since his own finish an hour and 43 minutes prior. He was a tad purple and slightly shivering as he'd stubbornly avoided the shuttle back to the start for warm clothes in favor of waiting and not wanting to miss my finish. We were both really happy right then. Back at the start line they still had pulled pork, burgers, potato salad, and beer waiting. We found Nichole and Eric. She had come in about 20 minutes ahead of me and I was so happy to hear she finished her first 50 miler strong.

I am not sure if I will run this race again next year or not. I will absolutely recommend it to my friends who are faster than me. The race has a beautiful fun course, great swag, fantastic volunteers, and fun extras like chip timing that boasts finish line videos. For those my pace or slower I hesitate. Cutoff pressure really stressed me out for the first 10 hours of my 12 hour 43 minute 40 second day and that's not what I run for. I run 50 miles to unwind and relax, not to turn into a big stress ball. As it was the inaugural year I would suggest the race directors loosen the cutoffs slightly, but I recognize that their business model is one of tighter cutoffs. My one and only DNF is one of their races as well (the Mountain Lakes 100 miler with a 30 hour cutoff). Tighter cutoffs keep permits on track, get volunteers home sooner, and are economically viable because there are enough fast ultra runners to sell out races such as this without a need to target market the slower runners like me. If you run 50ks in 6.5 hours or less and want to try a 50 miler do this one. If you run 50 milers in 11.5 hours or less do it. You will love it. If you are slower consider any of the Destination Trail races. They are built for runners of all paces to enjoy the cathartic scenery without cutoff stress negating their trail joy. If you want precisely 50 miles run the White River 50 miler. I'm going to run it for the 3rd time next month and while it has cutoffs at the last 4 aid stations and the finish line (14 hours) they are not at all stressful for my pace zone despite the race having more elevation gain. If you are fast, run Wy'East. If you are slow and daring run it, just hope that the Wolf Pack will find you and have your back :)

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