“…I go to my fathers, in who’s mighty company I will now not feel ashamed.” Théoden King, The Lord of the Rings
Leaving Chain of Lakes Aid, I knew this final push was going to be tough. Two 17 mile sections with 4000 ft of climbing and 5000 ft, respectively, along with some water crossings and the vaunted log forest…but I felt good…I felt refreshed after getting 5 hours of sleep and longer time spent in the aid station getting food, coffee, and taking care of my feet. I felt like running. After 140 miles in my legs I began at an easy jog, we were on a section that was not as technical and easier to run…at least for the first part of the route.
My mind wandered…my strategy, if I had one…was to finish. So far, I had been very conservative in my approach. I mostly hiked, ran when I felt good, and worked hard at keeping my heart rate down. I was surprised…I kept the same basic pace throughout the first two thirds of the race…my legs were sore, feet beat up, and I was tired of the constant attention to get calories in my body. I stopped at every aid station for at least 20 minutes and many twice that long, to make sure I ate and drank enough….to change the clothing that I needed…and simply prop my legs up and get off them for a brief respite. I ran very conservatively.
There was one area I excelled at, though, and my training in the San Juan’s maximized my conditioning. I knew Bigfoot would have a huge amount of climbing, but I expected these climbs to be strung out and more gradual in nature. I expected the San Juan’s to be significantly harder, steeper, more technical, and longer. What I,…we…, found out, was this course was harder, steeper, far more technical than supposed, and the mountains much longer. It was the hardest 100 miler I had done to date…except with a catch…it was the two hardest 100 milers I have done…back to back. And so here I was on these steep tough climbs…and as the race went on, I began to love the climbs, much more than any other part of the race. On the level paths I would not catch any runners throughout the race, and on the descents, more than naught, I would be caught. But on the climbs, particularly the long, tough ones, I would catch many a runner…this is where my conditioning and my natural pace, excelled. I kept the heart rate still low, but I could press here and find a rhythm, sometimes with poles and sometimes without, but I could keep it going and move at a strong pace.
It’s this type of climb, right out of Lewis River Horse Camp Aid, that I met Luis. I caught up to Luis just as we crested a roller and as we were descending a small rise. Luis was a surgeon from Tucson, here with his fiancé. While Luis and I were getting to know each other, Amy and his fiancé Allie, were getting to know each other at that next aid station. Luis and I talked about the race and he shared experience at the 200 mile distance. This was his third 200 miler in less than a year. It was great to hear his story…what a race…the people you meet, the experience that has brought us together…our crews and ourselves. I was feeling great as we hit the next climb. As we were talking and moving really well, I heard Luis say, “you’re killing me with this pace, I’m going to have to let you go.” I hated to let Luis go…and I thought about slowing down, but this is where I excelled and I felt like I needed to move at the pace that felt good….I would see Luis again, but only in fleeting moments. Luis showed his metal. While I took lots of time at Chain of Lakes Aid, Luis would bomb through. I’m not sure how much Luis slept in this race, but I don’t think it was much at all.
The path to Klickatat Aid was marked by three water crossings, a log crossing and a big climb. I dreaded the water crossings. My feet were already so beat up and the drenching of bandages would likely mean a third taping of my feet (it did, by Nick, who had done my first taping). I also wasn’t sure how difficult they would be…I heard at least one was waist high…I also was unsure about the log bridge and rope hand hold. I had deliberately stayed longer in Chain of Lakes so I could hit this section in the day. I hit the first crossing and it was no bigger than ankle deep. The second was calf deep. The log crossing with rope hand held was done in seconds, and the third crossing was thigh deep with a bit of a current, but not terribly dangerous. I was halfway through this section and my mood was positive, my energy strong, and every step took me closer to the finish line. Every step was farther than I had ever gone before in a race.
The culmination before Klickatat Aid was Elk Peak. Another brief out and back section. About a mile from this part, now tired and ready for the aid station, I saw a runner at the side of the path. His pacer had a benign, almost amused look on his face. His runner was sitting on the ground…and at first I couldn’t understand what he was saying…but as I got closer I heard the epithets about the course and this section…the words came flying at me…”…what distance do you have to the next aid…” I heard and at first didn’t understand…aid, aid, what…distance…”I have…” I began to say after a pause to understand, “I have” he jumped in, “19 miles so far.” I didn’t want to say to him I was at 16 miles so far for the section, but I threw out “…uh, I think around 16…”, he continued almost yelling, “mine is the route GPS, this must be the long section she talked about…”, her being the race director, Candice Burt…more curses at the mountain, the race, and the aid station that was supposed to be there. I continued on, speeding up. The path to Elk Peak turned out to be another sting…steep beyond steep…not too long, but now I was whipped. I got on top of the mountain and turned around and back down. I met the man and his pacer as they began the ascent. I beat it but good.
Twin Sisters Aid was also an out and back, down on the way in, and up on the way out. Along the way down, I met up with Julio from Mexico, he had been lost for 12 hours, and yet, here he was. He was going to finish Bigfoot. Respect. Nothing was going to stop me from finishing this race. I met Luis on his way out and shortly afterword Adam as well. It was awesome. Twin Sisters, Owens, and then the finish. I was in a great mood and running down the mountain to the aid station. I had pulled out my ear phones and was being lifted by the music. I came into the aid feeling ecstatic. But I wasn’t in a rush. As much as I wanted to catch Adam and Luis, my only goal was to finish, and I was not going to let myself get in the way. I stayed long enough to eat, put my feet up, recharge my devices (to some degree), and drink a beer. That beer was awesome. By the time I left I was the one charged up.
I hit the climb out of Twin Sisters in my usual manor and was moving really well. I caught Jim half way to the top of the climb. Jim, at 58, was one of the oldest, if not the oldest participant in the race. But Jim is amazing. He participated in the inaugural Tahoe 200 in 2014, and he has participated in the Vol state 500k multiple times. This road race is 314 miles from Missouri to Kentucky. Jim knows how to race long…and although I had seen him throughout the race, we had not had a chance to share the trails. But again my pace was really strong coming on the up hill and my energy was good. Jim and I talked for a bit and I continued to move up the hill…alone again…as you are so much in this race.
The climb was especially long…this was a 5000 feet of ascent section, but I wasn’t minding it. This was one of the steepest of the whole course. I crested the ridge and the scenery began to change. The trail began to disappear replaced by brush and flags much closer together. If you wondered off, the drop offs were along both sides. The momentum I had was starting to fade. As I bush whacked through, concentrating from flag to flag, my pace slowed…and slowed. Flag, flag, flag…then stop, no flag, no flag, no flag…my pace almost nothing…look for tracks…this way. Over and over I made my way through the ridge and then as it opened up a bit…the lumber yard.
This section was the roughest section I’ve ever seen in an ultra. There were logs everywhere…no path…and a couple of 12 to 15 foot pits lined with logs all around, and smaller branches and sticks over the top. On one of these I pitched over to the side, my foot tied up in a tangle as I almost fell on a series of pointed, broken off branches, on the side of the log. At the last moment my hand caught a dangling branch and I was able to save myself. I screamed. I was now that dude on the side of the path several hours before. All of my momentum was gone and I wanted out of this jungle of fallen down trees and branches grabbing hold of my legs. I screamed several more times…slowly working my way out of the lumber yard.
It was dark now. The path was better, but I was still on the ridge…and I realized there was still Pompey Peak to contend with. The final out and back, no more supposedly than a quarter of mile up and then turn around. I was pissed and my mood was down. I trudged on until I finally saw the sign to go up. It was very dark, but I could see from my headlamp the edges around the mountains and I didn’t need to be in daylight to know that there was a big drop off all around. I stayed in the middle of the path, pushing higher and higher, looking for the peak. It went longer than expected….of course. All around was dark, dark. As I hit the crest, way down at the bottom I could see lights of a city far off. I stayed for two seconds and got my ass off the mountain. I was feeling none of the spirit in which I began this section of the trail.
I was on the ridge again, but now about to go down and descend to the final part of the course. I should have been thrilled, but my mind was sour. As I followed the path, a branch raised four feet off the ground, was sticking a foot into the trail. I pushed my shoulder into the branch to brush it aside…but this was Bigfoot…and on these trails, that hadn’t had work done on them for years and years, branches don’t yield. I felt the tip of the branch dig in my ribs and fling me back a foot to the side. I yelled again…my blood up…I stumbled forward and stepped on a twig, which brought the other side of the twig up six inches off the ground catching my right foot sharply right into the big toe. I stumbled and went to the ground. I saw a small 12 inch piece of wood, about as thick as I could get my hand around it, curved half way to its length sitting right by where I fell. I picked it up an I went back over to the offending twig and beat it into the dust. I stopped. I felt silly. I beat it a few more times. I dropped the stick and started moving forward again. My head phone had popped out of my ear and was dangling in such a way I now couldn’t grab it. I sat down and took off the back pack. I sat and sat. There were barely any stars and no moon. The darkness closed about me. High up on a ridge, alone…the darkness began to settle me, sooth me…my heart rate came down…these moments of the ethereal. I stopped fighting myself, sat, and grabbed a vegan burrito out of my pack (Beyond Meat crumble, potato, black beans, and guacamole). It should have tasted better than it did, but it was enough.
I made my way down to the bottom of the mountain and a five mile stretch of a grown over jeep road. It went on for some time. I caught up to a pair, a runner and his pacer, laying down on the side, their faces covered so I couldn’t see who it was. I called out and heard a grunt…I kept moving. Pretty soon I saw a light way behind me, but gaining on me. I wasn’t sure if it was the two on the side, or someone else catching up to me. The light got closer and closer…pretty soon I waited to see who it was. It was Jim. He had been running the down hill and the jeep trail and had caught me. He took the lead and we made our way to the aid station, commiserating the whole way on the section we just endured.
At Owens, I got a message from Amy. She was distraught. She couldn’t find this aid station. Where you meet your crew was a half mile beyond the aid. So instead of getting food and coffee at the aid, I was walking to the crew area to meet Amy and get food there. Just as I got the message Jim was walking back from the crew area. His bag was at the aid station. I walked back with him and got that coffee I passed up when we first came in. Jim got what he needed from his bag and from his crew Karen. Karen and Amy, as well as many others crews and pacers got to know each other, support each other, throughout this race. Karen would tell Amy I was good…and anxious to see her at the finish line.
Jim and I talked, walked, and ran a little as we made our way from Owens to the finish line. I was happy to make my way and finish side by side with a man of his caliber. This was the proudest moment of my ultra career. I was not defeated by myself, as I have been in the past. I stayed true to the strategy…finish, that is the only goal…
footnote 1 – We lost Sasha, our Basinji mix of almost 14 years one week before Bigfoot. She was in our thoughts and heart throughout the run.
footnote 2 – Todd, Luis, Adam, Jim, and I all finished Bigfoot…the inaugural Bigfoot…we and our fellow 2015 Bigfooters will ever after be known as the Original Bigfooters or OBfers for short.
footnote 3 – We’ve said it before and we should say it again, if not for Amy, Karen, Allie, Adrienne, Todd’s wife and sons, Adams parents, that crewed and paced us, and everyone who crewed and paced the OBfer’s, it would not have been possible. Amy you’re the best!