15 August 2021


Volcanic boulder fields were both awe inspiring and fun to experience.
I had waited more than two years to finally toe the start line of my first 200 mile endurance race. Not only that, after the adventurous summer of 2019 I really wanted to take it up one more little notch, so I signed up for the Triple Crown of 200s, 'cause what else are you gonna do when you haven't run a 200 mile race. Obviously, you sign up for three of them. I had lots of time to both train and prepare the logistics of an undertaking of this magnitude. Unfortunately, I had a few setbacks along the way and while that added to my uncertainty of the outcome at the start line, I was pretty confident in my overall training and prep. I had chosen to run solo, i.e. without the support of a crew or pacers. This meant extra care as I was preparing all ten of my drop bags. Let's just say there are more than 10 spreadsheets detailing the contents of each, from sleeping bags to foot care to nutrition. Travel planning created another challenge with a shortage in rental cars. Finally, finding lodging near the finish was just as challenging due to the remoteness of the race. In the end, everything lined up as needed and I showed up at race check-in at the finish line in Randle, Washington on time. 
Pre-race mugshot
When I arrived, runners had already started to line up at various check-in stations along the track of the local High School football field. After Medical, bib number pickup, swag pickup and pre-race mugshots I went back into the parking lot to drop of my drop bags at the appropriate drop off locations. Half of the bags would be moving from one aid station to another one later on in the race, so I needed to take extra care in planning the contents of each bag. I plan to follow up with a post for 200 mile race logistics once my crazy summer comes to an end, but suffice it to say that I spent a lot of time and savings on making sure I was prepared for every possible race scenario, be it related to weather, terrain or physical issues. Unfortunately, that did not save my race, but more about that later.
Of course, one of the shuttle busses had to break down during the 2.5 hour transit from the race finish to the start line. It was Friday the 13th after all.
I was done with my check-in pretty quickly and started the 1 hour drive back to my hotel with plenty of time for an early dinner. Since I had a 3:30AM wakeup call to have enough time to make the 60 minute drive back to the race finish for the shuttle pickup and ride to the race start, I grabbed dinner very early, finished final race pack prep and was down for the night by 8:30PM. Unlike in other races with early wakeup calls, I actually managed to 7 hours of decent sleep before the alarm started to ring. Things were off to a great start as I knew I would be sleep deprived for the next 3-4 days out there making my way from Mount St. Helens back the the finish line in the town of Randle, Washington. 
Mount St. Helens looming in the distance.
By the time runners would finish the race, they would cover nearly 210 miles and climb 42,000' to earn that 200 mile buckle. I arrived for shuttle pickup with plenty of time for one last proper bathroom stop before piling into one of the 4 school busses that would take us to the start line. We started the 2.5 hour drive on time. Halfway into the ride, one of the busses broke down requiring those runners to spread out to the other busses. After that delay we hit a remote construction site that added another 30 minutes to our ride. When we finally made it to the race start, they had to move the start from 9AM to 9:30AM. 
I got to say hello to some of the Silverstar Nutrition crew at the start before we were sent off straight onto a single track to start the race. I saw a couple of friends and familiar faces early on, but was pretty much on my own after the first 2 miles. The first section of the race consisted of 12 miles with 3300' of vert. It started with a slow and steady climb pretty much from the start. Temps were still fairly mild, but that didn't last long at all. We also got the first glimpse of Mount St. Helens. We would keep this impressive volcano in the corner of our right eye for most of the day. After some serious climbing we entered the infamous boulder fields, a mix of big boulders and smaller lava rock with fine lava sand mixed in that started to work my feet early. Hopping across boulders was fun, even though it made for slow progress. The sharp lava rocks and fine dust were a different challenge entirely. As the day progressed and the heat climbed quickly, these last two factors would ultimately play a large role in my demise.
I had expected to cover the first 12 miles in about 2:30 hours, but ended up taking about 3 hours plus 20 minutes at the fist aid station. My buddy Walt had shared some wise insight during our shuttle ride, "fill up your nutrition and fluids to the max at the first aid station. You will need it on the next 18 mile section", 18 miles of fully exposed desolate volcanic terrain with triple digit temps. This section ultimately ended my race before it really started.
I heeded his advice and filled up my 2 liter hydration bladder to the top. I also stopped at every single water crossing to scoop up water with my filter bottle and kept taking salt and electrolytes. However, even 12 bottles of fluids during this 18 mile stretch weren't enough to keep me properly hydrated, adding to my foot issues along with the heat and terrain. As a result, I started to develop my first blister before I ever made it to the mile 30 aid station at Windy Ridge.
While my electrolytes/hydration seemed to be out of whack, that did not affect me too badly. I had zero stomach issues and didn't feel underfueled (Note: It did, however, take me more than 10 hours to actually pee and another 10 for the coloring to be somewhat clear, an indication that my hydration was finally normalizing. Still, I realized later that I was severely bloated as a result of the fluid imbalance I experienced).
I rolled into mile 30 feeling great, aside from my feet. I had a plan and executed it as intended. Of course, with all of the drop bags I prepared, somehow this one did not contain a fresh pair of socks. I did, however, take my left heel and lubed both feet to the max after cleaning them thoroughly with wet wipes and drying them out. The friendly medical staff was kind enough to assist me with the tape. While taking care of my feet, I notices some of the early carnage around me. Quite a few runners had developed stomach issues, unable to keep nutrition down. Apparently, the extreme heat created problems for many. I'm sure the final finishing rate will tell the real story, but for now I assume it will be much lower than in years past.
After spending a good amount of time drying, taping and lubing my feet and grabbing some tortillas, I started the next 10 mile section. I was probably moving better in this section than any other, running much of it until the last part that contain most of the climbing in this stretch. I came into mile 40 AS at Johnston Ridge to some delicious warm food and a familiar face (great to see you again, Deon and congrats again on your BW135 finish). I made it to this aid station just before dark, but added my UltrAspire Lumen 600 waist light and a backup headlight before heading out on the next 6+ mile stretch to Coldwater Lake.
During these two sections, my feet held up ok, but they weren't getting any better. By the time I made it to mile 46 at Coldwater Lake AS, I was determined to keep going. 18 more miles to Norway Pass at mile 65 and my first sleeping bag, so I could take my first nap. I had been taking a lot longer than I anticipated, so I figured I wouldn't make it to the next stop until after sunrise. Just as well, Saturday was expected to be just as hot as Friday, so I might as well spend the night to "run" and rest during the daylight.
But the best laid out plans often get blown to bits during an ultra and today was no exception. While I managed my feet ok during the previous two sections, this one wasn't as kind to my feet. I started to develop another blister on my left foot followed by hotspots and ultimately blisters on the heel of my right foot as well. A couple of hours later I developed hotspots under both balls of my feet as a result of trying to stay off my heels. My feet kept getting worse. I still had hours to go before the next stop. Slowly but surely, sleep deprivation set in as well. The 5000' of vert along this 18 mile section kept worsening the blisters. It became clear that I about reached the end of my adventure. I could not envision limping for another 145 miles with two blistered feet, turning the blood blisters into something even worse, what exactly I wasn't sure nor did I want to find out. 
I have not had a lot of DNFs, so coming to this tough decision took the better part of the last section. I am always ready and willing to take on the toughest challenges out there, but I did get into ultras for the adventure AND the fun. I was no longer having any fun. In addition, I had another 3 massive challenges lined up for this summer. Continuing to push did not seem like a healthy choice. There were many other factors I considered, including my recent injury history and risks of further flareups. Ultimately, I made peace with my decision before I ever arrived at the aid station. I had decided to sit down first, clean my feet, get some food and then decide if I would drop. My decision did not change and I was ok with that. "Un"-fortunately, my Altra Red teammate and friend David also had issues and arrived at mile 65 around the same time. Unable to keep food down, he made his own decision to drop at this point. His lovely wife and he graciously agreed to give me a ride back to the finish line and to my rental car. 
Thankfully, I was able to secure a motel an hour away. A short nap and a burger later I was still ok with my decision and started planning my return trip home. After all, the next massive adventure was just around the corner, UTMB before I would take on Tahoe 200 followed by Moab 240. Here's hoping that I can apply what I learned and that it will keep me from experiencing the same issues in he future. Even after more than 100 ultra finishes, the learning never stops, just like in everything else in life:-)

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