Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fresh Start: A Gorge Waterfalls 100k Finish

As I grunted my way up the final climb of the Gorge Waterfalls 100k, all I could think about was how weird it would be that in less than 24 hours, I would just be at work.  As in, sitting at my desk at a computer.  As in, 989 miles south and not surrounded by moss covered trees and rushing waterfalls.  What was I supposed to do?  Just… work?

Weekends in the mountains are weird like that.  And a three-day weekend that involves a plane ticket, two races and a soaking pool that you could consume alcohol in was enough to make me forget a lot of things.  Namely that I had any life outside of three dudes, an extremely green forest and a shit ton of rain.

Did I remember my swim suit or am I wearing my underwear?  The world may never know.
Portland, Oregon was the destination and while the race was chosen mainly as an excuse to sight-see a place I’d never been, there was actually quite a bit riding on it for me.  I hadn’t raced in six months, since I dropped from the Bear 100 at mile 75 thanks to some unfixable hypothermia.  Actually, it had been almost a full year since I finished a race – Zane Grey, where I walked the last 17 miles, rendering it hardly a finish at all.  Truth is, I’ve been battling some health issues with my kidneys and adrenals for the past year and a half.  I haven’t talked or written much about it, which is probably because I haven’t wanted to look back at it all.  The only thing that has kept me pushing forward and positive is the belief that things had to turn around at some point.  And so I toed the line on Sunday with the sincere hope that this would be the day to end the curse.

Benson State Rec Area: Excited as one can possibly be at 3:58am.
Photo: Paul Nelson
Starting at 4am was a fun challenge.  Mainly because waking up at 2:30am is an absolutely awful experience that should be required of no one, but also because running over slick rocks in the pitch black forest with mist swirling in your headlamp and making you feel as if you’re high on Nyquil is quite difficult. Perhaps dangerous, even.  Nevertheless, I settled into a nice little pace and just tried to enjoy the morning.  I honestly don’t think I could have gone much faster if I were only running the 50k… or even a 5k for that matter.  At least not downhill, in the dark. Next to a cliff. That would send me over a waterfall.  Obviously, other people were, so I guess I need to work on living more dangerously.

You can feel it in the air: today is a great day to finish something.
Maybe that's actually rain, but whatever man.
Photo: Paul Nelson
The other challenge of the morning was getting out of my head that I might be getting sick.  I had spent Friday walking around rainy Portland and Saturday out crewing Dom and Andy in the 50k (again, with the rain), and perhaps unsurprisingly, my throat had begun to tickle the night prior.  Now, it was kind of burning.  I had also eaten nothing but a PowerBar, an apple and a few graham crackers for the entire morning and afternoon the day before, partly because I was out at the 50k but mainly because I am an idiot.  I tried to console myself with the fact that I ate two dinners, but there really was no contest that I had made poor decisions.  I prayed that 31 is still considered young enough to escape facing consequences for not taking care of oneself.*
*Sidenote: I have been legitimately sick with a head cold ever since the race. REGRET NOTHING.

I guess I would find that out soon enough, but for now, things were looking to be on the up and up.  The first 12 miles clicked right by, as every step required my utmost concentration and attention.  There were four of us of the female variety running basically together – a woman in orange right in front of me – two that I could identify as women by voice right behind.  I had no way of knowing where that put us in the grand scheme of things, but the chick in front looked fast, so I felt good about myself.  Not that I cared... but I probably cared.

We hit the 2 or 3 mile road section (does it matter?) and something super weird happened.  I began passing people.  One… two… three… four… I think by the end of it, I’d passed a good six folks and dropped the pair behind me.  Not the woman in orange, though.  She took OFF and it was one of those I’m not even mad, I’m impressed things.  You see, I was wearing one of those new-fangled GPS watch-a-majigs, which I’d never used before (additional example of my questionable decision-making skills) and it used its witchcraft to tell me I was clocking 7:50 pace uphill.  Maybe that’s not so weird for you speedy folks, but that is SUPER weird for 'ole mountain legs over here.  I will definitely remember to do a 12 mile warmup before my next 5k.  Which will be never.

I was excited for this next section, as I knew roaring Elowah Falls was waiting for me less than a mile out of the aid station.  And now, after almost 2 1/2 hours, there was just enough light in the sky that I could actually begin the sight-seeing portion of my adventure, which as you recall, was the main point of entering this race.  Dom is probably confused by this statement, as my behavior at the first aid station indicated anything but tourism as my chosen activity.  I suppose snapping, “WHERE IS MY BOTTLE?” or more specifically, “YOU HAD ONE F***ING JOB.”* would indicate that I may be in the world championships of waterfall running.  But I assure you this was not the case, at least not to my knowledge. I mean, this would definitely be the place to hold such a thing, were it a thing, but even then my behavior would be questionable.
*Sorry, Dom.

ELOWAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH! (Yes, we run across the bridge.)
Photo: by me, during the 50k
So, now that I’ve indicated that I may have been a little into the race aspect of the event, I’ll let you know how that was going.  The answer is, quite well, thank you for asking.  I settled into a nice, comfortable pace, which consisted of running everything, climb or no.  I caught back up to the still unknown woman in orange and stayed within 20 seconds of her throughout the next 9 mile section, pulling further and further away from the folks I had left the last aid station with.  The PowerGels were going down every 20-30 minutes and my energy felt great.  I guess one might say I was officially enjoying myself. 

I pulled into Cascade Locks, mile 21, needing to drop my headlamp, change out my handheld and drink my PowerBar Recovery Mix. I did exactly one of these things.  Leaving the aid, I felt thankful that my friend Andy was there with my bottle, immediately frustrated I'd forgotten to take off my headlamp and entirely convinced that I would never rely on Dom to crew me at an ultra ever again.* In retrospect, this seems quite dramatic, given the fact that I wasn’t supposed to be racing, but you know what they say:  we women never say what we mean.
*Again, sorry Dom.

Given the absolutely glorious scenery surrounding me, I forgot about my rage in a matter of seconds.  You guys, there was SO MUCH MOSS.  The Columbia River Gorge is now officially the greenest place I’ve ever been, and I loved it.  I love the way green glows in the sunlight.  I love the way green smells.  I loved the on and off rain that kept the green glistening.  I really loved all the sections of green rocks, even despite the challenges they posed underfoot. Before long I had reached another waterfall (yawn) and began picking my way up another climb.  I also began to realize where yet another challenge of this course may come, in addition to the technicality and cumulative elevation change. It was all 100% runnable.  I was nearing the turnaround point, and there was nary a spot I’d hiked on the way out and nary a one I’d noted as a possibility on the way back.  Straight running this amount of miles was likely going to take its toll at some point, and I tried to start mentally preparing for that moment and how I'd work through it.  To distract my mind from pending doom, I made bets with myself on when I thought I’d see the leaders pass on their way back.  5 hours I thought… 5:15 maybe – I wondered if it were even possible for anyone to break 10 hours, given the 50k times the day before.  Either way I’d owe myself a beer, and I never shirk on my debts.

Proof of green-ness.#nofilter #blessed #thighgap
Photo: Kimberly Teshima
Now around 9:30am, the mist and clouds began to break a bit and I was actually getting some sporadic sunlight through the trees.  The entire place gained yet another depth of beauty, and the forest sparkled as if it had been coated with glitter. Just as I was enjoying a particularly magnificent view of the striated cliffs across the canyon, I heard a very familiar “caw!”  It sounded like Dom, but if it were Dom that would mean he was probably running with Guillaume.  And that would mean Guillaume was leading the race.  And that would certainly be possible, but really?  Could it be?

It was.  Guillaume came tearing down the next switchback like a furious freight train, excuse me - like the delightful Paris Metro, and I threw out my hand for a quick high-five.  I immediately regretted this decision due to my limited but adequate understanding of velocity, and quickly pulled my hand back to ease the blow.  ALLEZ! ALLEZ!... and he was off.  I was filled with pride for my friend, and motivated to do what I do every Tuesday morning - just try to stay as close as I can to the guys.

Oh, hey panda…” said a voice, trotting back up the trail.  Dom decided he would run with me to the next aid station, and I decided I would not be mad at him for failing at the first two.  He still had three chances.  I’d been running by myself pretty much all day, so I wasn’t quite sure if I actually wanted any company, but then again – running with Dom is usually quite fun.  Sure enough, we began chatting away and my good day was magnified – we began passing people again, and were sure to give everyone a unique compliment, above and beyond the standard “lookin’ good.”  

Those shorts really compliment your ass.”  
Hey, cool hat, bro!” 
Dom, why don’t you grow a REAL beard, like his?

That last one made us a new friend.  We passed a ferociously bearded Josh Fuller from Seattle, but within a few minutes he and his manly face-fro settled right back in with us.  For the remainder of our journey to Wyeth, the two men talked about drops and stack heights and the 110v2 (turns out Josh shared our experience of working at a running store) and I sang a wicked mash-up I’d created of Pharrell’s “Hunter” and “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac.  They were also successful at photo bombing all of my G-Tach and Paul Nelson specials. See below:

Dom steals my thunder and my outfits.
Photo: Glenn Tachiyama
Josh gives the bro-hand on the Bridge to Terabithia IRL.
Photo: Paul Nelson
We passed a few more folks, including the woman in orange, and I hit the turnaround to find Andy, his charming new mustache and my bottle of PowerBar Recovery.  It tasted like better muscles.  I had long since given up finishing under 12 hours, but now that I was halfway at 6, I thought maybe I could still get it done under 13.  Not that it really mattered, but with how rough this course was and how not fresh I’d gone in, I would consider it a wild success.  Accordingly, I was dead set on quickly taking care of business and getting out of there.  However, Dom jumped into the porta-potty and told me to, and I quote, “take my time” because he needed to go to the bathroom.  HE IS THE WORST AT CREWING. OHMYGOD.  I told him I was leaving immediately, so he cheered for me from the throne, and I, once again, took off without dropping my headlamp. This time, I took the extra 20 seconds to head back and finally get rid of the darn thing.  Jeeze Louise. 

The most perfect product placement-y photo of all times - can you spot the 3 logos of my 3 awesome sponsors? Hint: Suunto is not one of them.
Photo: Paul Nelson
Back on the trail, I was excited to figure out where exactly I was in the mix of things.  I had honestly been surprised to hear that I was only in fourth place – I thought passing the last woman had moved me into second or third.  The first two ladies seemed unattainable, unless something drastic happened (which I would never wish for); but third seemed to only have five minutes on me.  That could be made up over 31 miles for sure – Dom had made up way more time than that in the last 6 miles of the 50k the day prior (super proud of him).  It seemed as if I had 4 or 5 minutes on the woman I passed and maybe 10 or 11 on the next.  I marveled at the fact that all of us were up with the top of the field – there really weren’t that many men in front of us and that made me quite excited.  I love seeing a cadre of strong women towards the front, and I was really loving being a part of that for once.  It had certainly been a long time…

I felt like I was still running quite well, but all of the sudden I caught another runner in my peripheral.  Awww man, I was about to lose my game-day record of passing-not-passed.  (Another arbitrary game I made up. Additional beers were wagered.)  Turns out it was Dom, and it now made sense why he had used the bathroom while I was in the aid station.  I wasn’t aware that he planned to go back out on the course, but fortunately, his training goals would be to my benefit.

The next 8 miles were super, super fun.  We sang. We laughed. We savored the amazing scenery. I ate. He fell. Our friends smiled and high-fived as we crossed paths on the out-and-back. What Dom lacks in aid station organization, he certainly makes up for in my absolute favorite company. All sins were officially forgiven and mentally, I was solid.  I told Dom I'd continue to run at this semi-comfortable pace until the last aid station and then push it in hard for the last 10-12.  This seemed reasonable, since my legs seemed to be holding up just fine. 

What was not exactly holding up any longer were my eyelids. The rigors of awakening at 2:30 am were upon me, but fortunately so was a package of PocketFuel Cold Brew Coffee (Thanks, Tim!).  A zing asketh; a zing receiveth.  Said zing carried me right into the Cascade Locks aid station, where I was boisterously greeted by Billy, GINGER! and Kimberly.  I took down some more recovery mix, switched to a stocked bottle and headed out, now having only a third of the race to go and still only 5 minutes back of third.  Even if something awful happened, I knew I could gut out 21 miles.  Doing my best to ensure that the awful would not descend, I asked Dom to leave my loaded handheld at the last aid station, knowing full well he thought he could get to the finish to see Guillaume AND get back in time to crew me.  They say ultrarunning is all about learning from your mistakes, but I take it one step further.  I also learn from others.

Dom demonstrating a request perfectly executed. 1 out of 5 ain't bad.
Photo: Billy Yang
A few miles out of the aid station, it finally hit.  My legs, specifically my quads, were beginning to hurt and I knew my pace was waning.  This was driven home when the guy in yellow I’d been gaining on was suddenly putting time on me, and out of nowhere, I had company from behind.  The good news of this was that I finally had the opportunity to meet the mysterious woman in orange I’d been either slightly following or slightly leading the entire race – a speedy chick from Seattle, Rhea George.  We chatted for a few minutes about the course, where we were from and how it was her first 100k, but I pulled ahead again on the next descent.  I found this weird, as I had been admiring her flat and downhill running for the first half of the race, thinking I’d definitely fall back on the latter half.  Before long, I had also caught the man in yellow and next thing I knew I was running even harder than before.  I no longer noticed any significant pain in my legs and instead, I started pushing harder.  I passed another runner, and another.  I ran so hard down a muddy descent that I slid into a tree and broke my handheld.  I got up and did it again, this time ripping my jacket. I flew across the bridge at Elowah Falls and was blasted by a gust of mist, soaking me completely.  I grunted my way up the next, steeper climb – not feeling the need to hike at all.  I passed another.  I flew down to Yeon with the intent to chug recovery mix and then hammer the last 12.

Hey guys, remember Elowah Falls?
Photo: me, during the 50k
Approaching the aid, it became immediately apparent that neither Dom nor Andy were there.  This fact could clearly be seen across my face, as the volunteers greeted me with, “you must be Katie.”  There was my mixed bottle and fortunately, a new handheld to replace the broken one I was carrying like a football.  I’d nicknamed myself Randy Moss on account of the… well… moss.  I’m hilarious.

Even though the road section had been kind to me, I was not looking forward to it this time.  It did, indeed, hurt, but remarkably I was still holding an 8 min/mi pace or better.  I reeled in two more runners, and looking back on the long stretch, I couldn’t see any of the folks I’d passed.  I was still gaining, and I really believed I could catch third if I kept this up.  I hadn’t lost any time in the last section, despite my low period, so I was particularly encouraged.  And there, right before the turnoff to the trail, she came into view.

Only problem was that "she" was pacing a dude – not in the race.  So I pressed on, reasoning that if I just ran a bit faster than I/we had been, I would make up the time.  I pressed a little harder, catching yet another runner. Invigorated, I reached a twisting descent and pressed harder still.  By the time I ran down to the final aid station, I was completely sure that I would hear that third had just left.  

“Five minutes."

Really?  I guess it hadn’t occurred to me that maybe third was trying to catch second and was unknowingly mirroring my every surge.  I had no idea what was going on up there, so I just resorted to what I always do:  not worry about it.  Besides, there were a lot of waterfalls in this section that I had missed in the dark morning and I WAS on a sight-seeing tour after all.  There were a lot of other folks out sight-seeing as well, and I marveled at how accommodating they were to moving aside in a pretty rapid fashion and allowing me on through.  I had honestly assumed I was going to need to rely on my finely tuned hiker-dodging skills, forged on the switchbacks of Chantry Flats, but they were rendered useless.  Dear Oregon: you’s good people.

This happened.
Photo: Glenn Tachiyama
Sight-seeing, not racing, REMEMBER?
Photo: Paul Nelson
And just like that, the last obstacle of the day was upon me.  A steep ass climb followed by a steep descent on… duh duh duuuuuhhhhhh…. pavement.  This was officially my last shot at making it hurt worse than anyone else and hoping it was enough.  As such, I decided I was going to run the entire climb, but it wasn't long before I realized I was on the knife edge of completely blowing up.  Getting to the top a little faster but having to run much slower on the way down wasn't going to help anyone*, so I changed my tactics.  Alternating running and power hiking was much more efficient, and I still felt like there was a good chance I could be moving faster than those ahead or behind.  And even if I weren't, who really cared, right? This is precisely how it came to be that on a rainy Sunday in late March, I found myself grunting my way up a hill in Oregon and wondering how it was possible that I would simply be at work in LA in a mere 18 hours.  My brain relinquished the whole hunter mentality and instead waxed poetic for the remainder of the race.

You guys, I was going to finish.  For the first time in over a year, my body had not failed me.  I took care of myself, I pushed when I could and for once, that was enough to complete the task at hand.  And not just as a long training day as planned - I had actually put together a pretty gosh durn good season opener.  This, with no specific build for the race as a goal, and no tapering, save for cutting back on the vert a bit.  This also with a sprained big toe (no joke) which created pain on flexion and a nagging spot in my arch for the entire duration of the race.  Without realizing it was happening until the last 20 minutes of a 12+ hour day, I had run a pretty perfect race.  Happiness literally engulfed me.

I look pretty serious here, but regret nothing, as it resulted in a very legit looking G-Tach special.
Photo: Glenn Tachiyama
As I began the paved descent, I could see the numerous switchbacks below.  There was a guy and his pacer only two down from me, but no other runner in sight.  At this point, I realized my fate was pretty much sealed, but nevertheless, I pushed it in.  My sorcerer's watch had long since died*, so I had no idea where I was at on time, but I figured there was a slight chance I could pull off a 100k PR on a non-PR course.  That seemed like a good idea with regards to my self-esteem.
*Note to self: learn how to use fancy watch

Down, down, down, crossing the tourist stop in front of the famed Multnomah Falls… covered in mud, a little blood and breathing hard.  Down the bike path, past a couple taking wedding photos.  Along the highway, dodging trash.  A left turn, and I was there.  High-fiving James at 12:37.  An 11 minute PR on a race scheduled entirely as a fun building block.  

And the official end to a very unfortunate curse.

The famed Multnomah Falls/mile 61
Photo: me, during the 50k, when I almost missed Dom... shhhhhh:)
Leaving the wonderland; heading for a beer.
Photo: Dominic Grossman
The official breaking of the curse.
Photo: Billy Yang

Shoes:  NB 1010v2 – perfect choice; also worn by men’s winner, Guillaume Calmettes (in women's purple, nonetheless)
Socks: Injinji Compression (mainly for avoiding poison oak)
Fuel:  Breakfast of PowerBar Protein Plus bar + Yerba Maté, then 25-30 PowerBar PowerGels + a serving of PowerBar Recovery Mix every 10-20 miles. Also used one PocketFuel Cold Brew Coffee shot, and had a few small cups of Coke and Ginger Ale. ZERO BONKS. 
Experiment:  I tried taking a 24-hr PPI (Prevacid OTC) before the race to hopefully help with the puking problem I have. It worked!  My stomach felt great, my digestion was fantastic, and I only puked in my mouth a little a couple times, but it didn’t even bother me.
New Gear:  Suunto Ambit 2. Haven’t ran with a GPS unit in years and didn’t even know how to use it, but I think I like it. I may even join Strava… time will tell.

I finished feeling relatively in tact – actually wishing the race was 70 miles.  That would have been an ideal distance for me.  Couple cuts, no bruises, no injuries, no new poison oak, no chaffage. Broken handheld and torn jacket are the only casualties. Legs are feeling good; but unfortunately I caught a wicked cold that has been making training really awful. Looking forward to ramping up to a nice block of training of 3-4 weeks over 100 miles, then a short step back and racing Bishop High Sierra.  While I really like the 100k distance, I’ll probably stick to the 50 mile, as the out and back on a jeep road is super boring.  I have standards, people.



Eating wood-fired pizza, drinking local brews and dancing to The Pine Hearts. James knows how to put on a race!
Photo: Andy Pearson

Oh wait, this one is better.
Photo: Andy Pearson
To New Balance, PowerBar and Injinji trifecta teammates - Brandy Erholtz who won the women's 50k only 6 months after giving birth; and Dominic Grossman 3rd in the men's 50k during his 7th straight week of training over 100 miles/week. Y'all are nuts.

To my fellow Southern California compadres:  Guillaume Calmettes, entering beast mode supreme and winning the 100k, Dave for an amazing first 100k, Billy and Ethan for great 50ks, Andy for conquering your asshole achilles and 50k-ing it, and Pedro for gutting out the 100k.  100% finishing rate on a course that claimed a great and many souls.  Proud 'a ya!

Dom and Andy after the 50k/the last known photo of Andy's "injury beard."

Finally, if you did not get enough waterfall-ness via photo, I highly encourage you to watch this video from Ethan Newberry, aka The Ginger Runner:


  1. I loved reading this. And all your posts, really. Glad to see you're back in action. Come on down to my new pad and let's finish up that work on that toe!

  2. Love your race reports. Hilariously candid as always. Great job again Katie, you killed it!