White River 50 Miler

About the Race

The White River 50 is one of the classic ultras of Washington.  While there’s not enough prize money to attract the “big names”, there are plenty of super-fast runners that show up to go after the glory of winning this one.  I kind of like it that way.  My race report won’t really get into the battle at the front, because I don’t really care.  One of the things that I love about ultrarunning is the egalitarian feel of it.  No celebrities – everyone is out there together.  I hope it stays that way!  Here is the only reference to the front of the pack: A picture of the start.

Clear, cool morning.
Clear, cool morning.

The Course

“It’s just two climbs.”  Every White River veteran knows this phrase.  Just two climbs.  Two steep, long, punishing climbs that take up about half of the 50 mile course.  The course starts at the Buck Creek Airstrip, meanders through some beautiful woods, crosses the road, then goes up.  And up.  I had forgotten how high the first half of the course went.  We pretty quickly got to the 4000′ range and kept on pushing.  The course tops out at just under 6000′ in the miles surrounding Corral Pass (Mile 17 aid station).  There is then a long, soft descent back to the start/finish to start the second loop.  The grade down is so comfortable and the ground so soft that it’s tempting to just open up and go fast.  Do so at your own risk!

The second climb to Suntop looks much less intimidating on the elevation profile.  However, with almost 28 miles on the legs, and lots of exposure to the sun, it can be a killer.  The reward is amazing, through – a breathtaking view of Mt. Rainier, so close you can almost touch it.  Afterwards is a six mile downhill on a dirt road, at a very fast grade.  People seem to complain about it a lot, but I love it.  Just let gravity be your friend and enjoy the speed.  Only six miles left at the bottom.

White River 50 course profile

“Only six miles left at the bottom.” Famous last words on the White River 50 course.  Skookum Flats is not really flat – and surely isn’t just six miles (yes, it is…).  I think this stretch is universally loathed – which is a shame, because it’s really beautiful trails!  On the bad side of things, it can be a death-march in to the finish line.  On the good side of things, you can keep moving the whole time.  It can feel a bit like a treadmill – you never seem to get anywhere!  I think I managed about ten minute miles on the stretch this year, which felt like a phenomenal accomplishment.

Adversity

Fortunately, I got to do some learning from problems at this year’s White River.  I camped out the night before, which went great (camping at races had been something I’d be “practicing” this year).  I got my gear together in the morning, filled up my hydration pack, and… it started leaking.  A lot.  Something was wrong with the valve that I couldn’t figure out.  As someone who drinks more water than the average runner, this was panic time for me.  I decided to go into scavenging mode.  At the first aid station, a gracious volunteer gave me a screw-top Kirkland Signature plastic water bottle.  I promptly filled it with GuBrew and refilled my nearly empty hydration pack.  I quickly learned that the leaking pack meant not just that I’d get less water, but that the water that  I was missing would end up in my shoes.  So now I had to worry about dehydration and sloshing, wet shoes.

At the next aid station I looked for another empty bottle.  A racer overheard me asking and offered me his second hand-held bottle that he was leaving in his dropbag to pick up at the finish.  Excellent.  Two medium-sized bottles were less than I was used to drinking on an ultra, but I could make this work.  Plus, I had a goal of taking this race “easy” – just using it as a training run, which hopefully meant I wouldn’t be going through water as quickly.

It was a hotter-than-average day, but somehow I had enough water to pull through.  I think the combination of running a relaxed pace and using trekking poles (more practice) for the 2nd half, helped me keep efficient and relaxed.  I had a little trouble stowing my trekking poles in the last stretch (see the results of a poor experiment, below), but the overall results were quite good.  I was within minutes of my time from last year, while managing to feel quite good at the finish (as opposed to wiped-out, like last year).

Everyone once in a while, my form looks decent.
Everyone once in a while, my form looks decent.  Thanks Ross Comer!

The Results

A great day out in the mountains.  This is not an easy race, but it’s worth the effort.  Beautiful trails and wonderful company.  I got to make some new friends on the trails and catch up with old ones before and after the race.  If you are looking for an excellent 50 mile ultra with a relaxed atmosphere, look no further.  Oh, and a bee stung me in the chest… but whatever.

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