Monday, August 22, 2011

50 for 50 Final Wrap Up

It's nice to once again be concentrating on something more manageable than training for a 50 Mile Run--a new guidebook! I spent most of the first part of this year focused and training on participating in the White River 50 Mile Endurance Run and raising money for the Washington Trails Association in the process. It was a successful event for me culminating in my landing on the cover of Northwest Runner Magazine--a publication that I have written for over 12 years but was never able to secure getting on the cover (I shot a couple of cover shots though). Anyhow-I am now back in a more comfortable role of hiking my butt off instead of running it off- busy researching the next installment in the Day Hiking series-Eastern Washington. Here is the final column I wrote for my 50 for 50 series in Northwest Runner. It was a great journey and great way to  celebrate my new age. One thing is for sure, when I turn 60, I'll be doing any such run using the metric system!
Fifty for Fifty
A Northwest Runner’s golden challenge
By Craig Romano

I DID IT! I successfully completed the White River 50 Mile Trail Run. It was my first 50 miler and my way of welcoming turning 50 years old this year. Before April of this year, I had never run beyond the marathon. I decided in February that I would run a 50 miler—and not just any 50 miler—but the tough and incredibly inspiring White River 50. I decided too that I would do it as a fundraiser for the Washington Trails Association to give back to the trails that I love and keep me employed as a guidebook author. I launched my 50 for 50 campaign (which ultimately raised over $4,000) making public announcements to both the running and hiking communities. After letting thousands of people know of my ambition. I was committed!

            After the initial excitement of starting such a grand journey, I would experience a full range of emotions throughout the next six months. Excitement. Nervousness. Anticipation. Dread. Intrigue. Anxiety. Self-doubt. Confidence. Determination. And Jubilation!

But in spite of a couple of physical setbacks along the way; just before the race, I knew that I had trained well. I was ready. Four weeks before race day I did my last long run—33 miles on the East Bank Ross Lake Trail in the North Cascades. My running partners were experienced ultra-runners; Alvin Crain, Joe Tompkins, and Shawna Tompkins (the woman’s winner in this year’s White River). I picked their brains as we put the miles in. They gave me great advice on hydrating, eating, staying focused, and most importantly for this race—how to properly run downhill.

            Over the past five months as part of my training plan, I had run one trail marathon and three 50K races. I had run several times up Blanchard, Chuckanut, Hamilton, and Anderson Mountains. I cross-country skied, did numerous bike rides and a fair amount of hiking as cross training. Twelve days before the race I did my last hard run; 16 miles up and over Fourth of July Pass in the North Cascades twice. The fact that I could run the 3,500 feet of sustained elevation gain gave me confidence that I could tackle White River’s infamous climbs. And I got an added adrenaline rush when I ran into a young bull moose along the way!

             I tapered to easy maintenance runs during the final week, resting completely the two days prior to the race. I spent most of that time mentally focusing—imagining myself on the run—and most importantly repetitiously seeing myself coming over the finish line.

            I arrived early at race headquarters at the Crystal Mountain Ski Area the day before the race. There I picked up my number and got reacquainted with race director Scott McCoubrey, his wife Leslie, and a handful of the wonderful volunteers. Scott had graciously invited me to spend the night at his ski club’s lodge allowing me close proximity to the race start.

            Staying at Scott’s lodge was convenient but also gave me anxiety. For also staying at the lodge were some of the Northwest’s ultra-running stars, including William Emerson, Greg Crowther (who along with Paul Morrison had given me great advice leading up to the race), and two-time (soon to be three time) White River winner Uli Steidl. Of course they were all gracious. I was just so nervous going into this race that watching these guys prepare, got my mind playing all kinds of tricks on me. I’m under prepared. I’m not in shape. I shouldn’t be out there. I had to call to my wife Heather to help rid these pre-race demons. She assured me what I already knew. Run your own race.

            I got very little sleep that night. I had anticipated that. Up at 3:30 am for a breakfast of oatmeal, banana, yogurt, a blueberry bagel with almond butter, and four cups of coffee— I was out the door at 4:40. I chose the 5:30 early start giving myself an extra hour to make the finish cutoff at 7:30 pm.

            The morning was fairly warm and as I met up with old friends and new acquaintances, volunteers and supporters; I relaxed. I was ready to run! Starting out with ultra-veteran Mike Mahaney who I completed my first Ultra, Mount Si with, we set into a good pace. Betsy Rogers joined along—and Betsy and I would see each other throughout the race.

            Under a cool canopy of old-growth we cruised to the first aid station at 3.9 miles. Seven miles of climbing would start soon afterward. Most of the climb involved well graded switchbacks, but there was one section through a steep ravine utilizing a staircase. We walked that part, but ran most of the rest of the climb. We paused briefly along the edge of the Palisades, an impressive series of cliffs hovering above the valley we started from. Mount Rainier revealed herself—so did Sun Top across the way. We’d get to that peak later in the day.

            Beyond the second aid station we hit snow. It slowed us a little but wasn’t too problematic. Race volunteers had spent days earlier shoveling out steps and leveling sloping sections. Beyond the half mile or so of snow it was smooth sailing along a mostly open ridge hovering around 5,500 feet in elevation. Views were grand—but I mostly concentrated on the tread at my feet.  By this time the faster participants were breezing by us. Winner Uli Steidl passed us way before the second aid station around 10 miles into the course. Female winner Shawna Tompkins passed us in the snow.

            A little before the third aid station at Mile 16.9 we passed race photographer Glen Tachiyama. I made sure to smile as he captured me coming down the dusty trail with Mount Rainier shining in the background. He would capture us all and then do it all over again on Sun Top at Mile 37. We made it to the third aid station at 4.5 hours and were happy with the pace. We refueled while a volunteer refilled my camelback.

            It was then back across the ridge retracing several miles and exchanging smiles with runners still heading to Corral Pass. At Mile 22.1 it was on to the Ranger Creek Trail and a five mile descent. By this point I was running alone—Mike had gone ahead. But as I made my way down the long, but nicely graded trail, passing runners offered encouragement.

            At mile 25 I was stung by a yellow jacket, which luckily I didn’t react to. I passed my wife at SR 410 where she volunteered making sure we crossed the busy roadway safely. Reaching the aid station at Mile 27.2 was a welcome. But here over halfway was the hardest point on the run for me. I was having a hard time taking food in. The heat made me nauseous. I was 6.5 hours into the race. I had plenty of time to complete the course, but I was worried because I wasn’t feeling well.

            With a handful of animal crackers I walked—first languidly—then with more determination on my way up Sun Top. It was quite warm by this point but I kept taking in plenty of water, electrolyte tablets and gels. The aid station at Fawn Ridge at Mile 31.7 was a lift with its cheerful volunteers.

            The climb went on—but the grade eased and shade and cool creeks along the way kept me from overheating. As I approached the summit of Sun Top, something magical happened—I recharged. Here at Mile 37, a wildflower and American flag lined path through open country lured me to the aid station at the 5,271- foot summit. Mount Rainier glistened in the background. It was surrealistic! Friends Bob and Amy Wismer, who were staffing the aid station, helped me refuel for the final stretch. I took some S-caps which a fellow runner suggested to thwart muscle cramping in my calves. They worked. It was now 3:30pm. I had 4 hours to finish the race. My confidence increased.

            I ran the next six downhill miles at a good clip. It was on a hard surfaced gravel road. Uncomfortable—but I had my eyes on the prize. Race director Scott McCoubrey passed by in his truck giving a thumbs up. I reached the last aid station at 4:50 pm. Here at Mile 43.4 I figured I could crawl to the finish if I had too. I almost vomited trying to take in food. But I had been smart throughout the race and was well fueled—I continued running. By this time I was starting to chafe a little, but I had very little trouble in that department after experimenting with clothing and body lubes during my training.

            I was warned about the last 6 miles being deceptively easy—you actually climb 500 feet on a way lined with roots and rocks.  But I found the trail’s tread was generally good and the surrounding old-growth forest and paralleling roaring White River kept me in awe.

            I came over the finish line in a time of 12 hours 58 minutes and 55 seconds. I nearly broke down—not because I was hurting—but because I was overjoyed that I made it! My wife greeted me at the finish—so did friends new and old; Mike, Joe, Shawna, Julie, Janna, Uli and Trisha—all who had encouraged me over the months and over the race course. It was one of my proudest moments. I was glowing!

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