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First 50M - White River 50 Mile Endurance Run

I decided to sign up for the White River 50 Mile Endurance Run shortly after finishing the Trail Factor 50K and watching the documentary of the 2010 Western States Endurance Run, Unbreakable.  I wanted to see what my body could do and felt that 50 miles was the next step in the right direction.

Then I got sick.  Sicker than I have ever been.  So sick I didn't want to get out of bed for about two weeks.  So sick that I couldn't even finish the USATF Half Marathon Trail Championships when I planned to place in the top three.  So sick that I didn't even start the Rock n' Roll Seattle Marathon which I had planned on winning.

At the doctor's suggestion I took two weeks completely off.  Then I tried to slowly work my way back up.  I figured it wouldn't be worth rushing back into fitness so I anticipated pulling out of White River as well.  But after a few weeks of building back up I figured I might as well make good on my investment of the race entry and try my hand at 50 miles.  What did I have to lose?

Trying to find lodging before the race proved to be the greatest challenge.  I couldn't find a hotel or lodge online within an hour's drive of the start.  I finally ended up reserving the last campsite I could find.  It was only a few miles from the start.  Then when we went to packet pick-up and drove to the start to get a sense of how long it would take to get there in the morning we saw that many of the participants had decided to just set up camp right there.  We did the same.

Because the start and finish were a ways away from any towns or restaurants we packed our food and water for the weekend.  I ate a hearty lunch of black beans, brown rice, quinoa, barley, eggs, and spinach (gallo pinto is what they call the white rice version of this meal in Costa Rica).  By the time dinner rolled around all I wanted was something fresh so I ate about 3/4 of a seedless Hermiston watermelon and some quinoa salad with fresh, locally grown yellow squash, zucchini, tomatoes, and peppers.  This made me very grateful to live where I live with such great supporters who produce such tasty, nutritious food.  Thank you Bellinger Farms.

We set up camp and retired to our tents early in anticipation of the early wake-up the next morning.  My five year old son really liked the fact that due to the limited supply of water (no running water) we would have to urinate on the fire to put it out.  The joys of being a little boy.

I woke up just before 5:00am, ate two slices of Killer Dave's Bread and a banana and drank a pint of orange juice. Then I crawled back into bed for a few more minutes to let it all settle and to clear my head.  I got up a few minutes later, decided on the shoes and gear to wear for what appeared to be a beautiful, clear day.

I loaded my shorts with the PowerBar Energy Gels that I would need for the first part of the run and filled my Nathan Quick Draw hand held water bottles with PowerBar IronMan Perform sports drink and made my way to the starting line.

Final instructions before the start of the 2012 White River 50 Mile Endurance Run.
Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.
As we awaited the start, I had a few minutes to catch up with some of the guys (Gary Gellin and Sage Canaday) that I had run with before.  I ended up running much of the first half with Gary Gellin and his HR monitor helped both of us start conservatively amid the mayhem of the first few miles.

Start of the 2012 White River 50 Mile Endurance Run.
Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.

The first few miles were relatively flat, but certainly not tame.  Several young guys took off as if they were running a short cross country race.  Most of them returned within the first few miles and all but one, Sage Canaday, fell off the early pace by the half way point. Gary led an early pace line that patiently inched its way up toward the early leaders.

Jacob Puzey, Joshua Brimhall, and Gary Gellin working our way through
the early starters and those who started out too fast.
Photo by Takao Suzuki
For the most part, most of the people we passed were friendly and appreciated Gary's trademark, "Beep! Beep!" as we approached.  However, one guy responded rather uncharacteristically for a trail runner and just went berserk, shouting all sorts of expletives in Gary's ear telling him how rude it was for him to notify those ahead of his eminent arrival and need to pass by sounding "Beep! Beep!"  I was impressed that Gary kept his cool and that the guy, who was easily three times the size of Gary was able to increase his pace so rapidly without having a heart attack in the process.  Gary and I concluded that this guy should be excluded from the list of the people Dakota described in his recent iRunFar post.  At the very least, we figured that we could reenact the scene after the run and send it to Brooks for a spoof on their "Run Happy" ads.

Throughout the first half, Gary and I laughed at Nick Clark's description of his pace, "an awkward choppy tempo dictated by his heart rate monitor," but I for one was glad to have his experience and sound judgement guide me on my first 50 miler.  Eventually we caught everyone but the early favorites, Sage Canaday and Vajin Armstrong. As we approached the Buck Creek Aid Station at mile 27 and the end of the first mountain, Joshua Brimhall of Henderson, Nevada (owner of Red Rock Running Company) made a break.

We passed a few guys as well as we approached the aid station, but this was also where we got separated.  As with most of the other stations Gary sped through and continued on his way, running the entire way up Sun Top.  I was a bit more conservative.  I felt pretty good.  I had been eating a gel, two salt caps, and about a half a bottle of PowerBar Perform every hour.  But I was beginning to approach the unknown.  I had never run more than 50K and it was getting hot.  My foot (an old recurring injury from college) had flared up and the shoes that I started with didn't seem to be the right ones for the next section with a significant downhill.  I felt like I needed a rock plate and a bit more stability so I changed shoes, reloaded my pockets with PowerBar Energy Gels, removed my shirt, changed head bands, and took off down the trail with two Nathan Quick Draw water bottles.

Photo by Takao Suzuki
The second half wasn't physically any harder than the first, but wrapping my head around completing a marathon and then doing another climb and descent of about a marathon in length was a bit challenging.  Despite being exposed to a bit more sun on the next ascent, the climb was actually quite gradual and the wild flower lined trails made it well worth the effort to get to the top.  Intermittent stream crossings provided cool water to dip in and the snow capped mountains in the distance added significance to the sufferfest.

The aid stations along the way were well stocked and shaded.  The volunteers kindly refilled my bottles and added ice to the liquid I already had.  This enabled me to use one bottle of ice water to cool my head and body with while the other which was filled with PowerBar Perform allowed me to stay hydrated and keep my energy and electrolyte levels in check.

Elevation profile comparison compiled by Dan Ripple.
At the top of Sun Top (mile 37) I filled up on oranges and watermelon and cola, refilled my bottles with ice and water and headed down the hill.  When I first decided to do White River I thought it would be nice to break 7:00.  After getting sick and sidelined for so long my goal was adjusted to simply finishing and trying to get close to 7:00.  When I was at the top of Sun top my watch read about 5:35 so when I started doing the math I thought, "1:25 isn't that fast for a half marathon.  I can do that.  Besides half of it is down hill."  So I went for it.  This was the first and only time the trail actually opens up.  It was actually a gravel service road.  I was in my element and making up ground.  By the time I got to the last aid station at the bottom of the hill I had caught Adam Lint who passed me going up Sun Top.  Gary Gellin wasn't far ahead.  The competitive juices were flowing and I wanted to run with and push them for the last few miles, but after the overt assault on the downhill my feet and legs were having a hard time keeping me upright.  The roots, tight turns, and meandering streams didn't help my efforts.  By the time I got back to Buck Creek I wasn't even thinking about time or place.  I was simply thinking about finishing and not getting out-kicked by Ellie Greenwood - literally the fastest woman in the world.

Finishing my first 50 miler in 7:10:52.  Photo by by John Wallace III
It was good to be back with old and new friends that I had met on the trail.  My son was more than happy to join me in the White River for a much needed ice bath.  And then we got to just eat and relax in the sun near the finish as we waited for everyone to finish.

My family decided to stay a few extra days and nights camping at Ranger Creek.  There was no cell service, running water, or electricity and it was only $5 a night so why not?  The weather was perfect: cool at night and in the morning, getting just sunny enough in the afternoon to warm you up after bathing in the river each day.
A rope swing my family discovered near the final aid station.  Got to find something to do while dad is running.
My son loved building fires and cooking over them, being able to pee anywhere he wanted, and most importantly, that his bath only consisted of jumping in the fast moving river and scrubbing all the soot off his hands and face.  My wife and I got to better know the trails as we hiked/ran different sections of the course each day.  I'll certainly have a better sense of where I am at next year and, hopefully, I'll be a little better prepared.  Maybe, I might even be able to give Gary a break and I can help him with the pace line leading duties.

The race was very well-marked, well-organized, and run by very friendly, experienced runners and race directors.  The volunteers were knowledgeable and the awards and prizes were substantial. I can't think of a more perfect setting for a reunion of family and friends.  The White River 50 Mile Endurance Run was my first 50 Miler, but it will certainly not be my last.  In fact, I think it will become a family tradition.  Who knows?  Maybe some day I can get my wife and son to do it with me.

Thank you to all those who put in so much time so that the rest of us could enjoy ourselves for a couple hours on the trails!