Somewhere between signing up for a new race distance and running it, my mentality changes from “Sure, why not give it a go! I can always drop if needed – no big deal!” … to “I WILL FINISH THIS RACE EVEN IF IT KILLS ME!” The Gorge Waterfalls 100k was no exception.
Coming off my high after our Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim trip, registering for a 100 km race seemed like the next logical step for me. Last year I crewed so this year I figured I might as well run it since I knew Kyle would be going back to deal with some unfinished business. If I made it past 50 km, it would be the longest distance I’ve raced and if I made it past 80 km, it would be the longest distance I’ve traversed. And if I made it to 100 km, well that would just be the icing on the cake!
Soon after registering at the end of October, I realized that I only had just over 5 months to train for a 100 km race with 12,000 ft elevation gain and a time limit of 17 hours. This equates to an average pace of about 10 min/km, which is definitely on the speedier end of my ability spectrum. It was also my 5th trail race and 2nd ultra race ever. Luckily what I lack in experience, I make up for with insanely helpful friends who actually know what they’re doing.
It was hard to find a newbie 100K training plan so I used one from Hal Koerner’s Field Guide for Ultra Training despite it being way out of my league in terms of mileage. I created a spreadsheet with a row containing the training plan’s daily mileage, a row where I plugged in my actual daily mileage, and a row with a formula which calculated the percentage. I tried to keep my mileage in the 70-80% range as much as possible. I’ve since found Running Your First Ultra by Krissy Moehl which contains much more Brie-friendly training plans.
Overall, I feel like I did really well on my weekday and total weekly mileage, as well as hitting the mountains for back-to-back runs basically ever weekend. However, my back-to-back runs were always one long run and a medium run, whereas I wish I had a couple weekends of two long runs and more time on feet. Oh well, lesson learned for next time!
My list of demands going into this race including heading down to Oregon TWO days before the race. Last year we drove down the day before and by the time we checked into our motel, went out for dinner, and packed drop bags, the runners ended up only getting like 4 hours of sleep before waking up for the 3am early start. I was NOT okay with this approach – I need 8 hours of sleep just to get out of bed in the morning, let alone run 100 km. Kyle and Chris agreed to take two days off so we could head down on Thursday for the Saturday race. My husband, Jesse, and friend, Willa, also took time off work and school to come along for the trip and support/crew us! I feel so lucky to be surrounded by amazing, supportive friends and family!
We met at Kyle’s house, packed the Tesla full of gear, and headed off on our 500 km journey. Our first stop was the supercharger near Burlington, WA, where we walked by two coffee shacks on the way to a nearby Starbucks. From there we drove to the Centralia supercharger and ate a late lunch at a nearby Mexican restaurant and then it was straight to the hotel to unpack and unwind.
Our super sweet friend Dayna (AKA our trail mom) sent a care package with us full of goodies including photos of us with messages, lots of chocolate, and brand new Run Like A Girl Buffs!
Later that evening we decided to visit the Power Station Pub on the McMenamins Edgefield grounds. As we were waiting at a table, the bearded one (AKA Kyle) started talking to some hilarious guys who were in town to “feed some trail runners.” Turns out they were the famous Pizza Jim and his crew, Cliff and Shawn, who cook up fresh, made-to-order pizza from their mobile stone oven at many of the Rainshadow Running events.
We said bye to the pizza guys and were seated at a table. David, a running friend of Kyle and Chris that they had met at Squamish last year, was also in town to run the 100k and joined us for a drink. I ate one of the most disappointing veggie burgers of my life, well half of it anyway. Note: just because it’s a veggie patty doesn’t mean you can’t put BBQ sauce on it!
Friday morning we helped ourselves to our hotel’s continental breakfast and then headed out to Portland. After some charging station difficulty, we hit up REI where I picked up an X-Mug, a new stick of Bodyglide, and a Luci Outdoor Inflatable Lantern and then went for lunch at 10 Barrel Brewing. We also stopped at a nearby Whole Foods to grab some last minute snacks and made an impromptu stop at Voodoo Dooughnut. Jesse got a quick Tesla 101 tutorial from Kyle on the way back to the hotel.
This somehow managed to kill our whole day. I had just enough time to get my gear in order, drink some Nuun and a Vega shake, and hit the hay around 8:30pm. Unfortunately, I was pretty wired and it took almost two hours to fall asleep. Was it just nerves or did I accidentally drink a caffeinated Nuun tablet?
“Omg, this is actually happening. I’m freaking out! Ok, calm down. Remember when you were terrified to do the Rim2Rim2Rim but then after you were so glad you did!? This will be like that. Probably. Besides, this is all you’ve been talking about for 5 months so you better damn well do it! Why did I tell everyone about this anyway? That was really dumb!”
I got out of bed, had a quick shower, ate breakfast (some fruit, a bar, and a slice of leftover pizza from lunch the day before), and got dressed. I wore my new Oiselle Long Roga shorts and Flyte short sleeve top, Nike classic sports bra, Injini lightweight mini-crew socks, brand new Run Like A Girl and BibRave Buffs, and my Altra Lone Peaks 2.5 to start but that would all change later in the race. I topped it all off with my new Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra Set hydration vest with one 500 ml bottle filled with water and one filled with Nuun Plus and Nuun Active in the front pockets, two empty soft flasks in the larger pack pocket in case 1L of water wasn’t enough between aid stations (*spoiler alert*: it wasn’t), and lots of food into the side pockets. I also packed Bodyglide, hand sanitizer, and sunscreen (after applying some to my face).
My drop bags had all kinds of fuel stashed in them because I wasn’t sure what I would feel like eating. They had Honey Stinger gels, waffles, and gummies, the large packages of Trail Butter, a variety of bars, a small bag of Doritos, and of course, more Nuun products for refills. I had strategically placed my Nuun trucker hat in my Yeon bag which I would have access to right around when the sun came out. In my Cascade Locks bag (36 km and 64 km), I had a complete change of clothes, my Altra Olympus, a light knee brace, and a spare headlamp and batteries. And in my Wyeth bag I had a tensor bandage. All my dropbags also all had extra Muff wipes and a light jacket.
At 5am sharp, we left the hotel and drove to the start line. I felt a little like barfing in my mouth the whole way there from nerves. When we arrived, I put my dropbags in the appropriate piles, grabbed my race bib, and made a last chance trip to the bathroom, which amazingly had no lineup. I had just enough time to turn my new Petzl Tikka RXP headlamp on, start my Suunto Ambit3 Peak, give Jesse a kiss, and then we were off!
Everyone was illuminated by headlamps and the air buzzed with energy and uncertainty. The first stretch goes around a small lake and gives everyone the chance to fall into place before hitting single track trails. Kyle went off ahead from the very start while Chris and I lingered around the back of the pack.
The first aid station, called “no name,” was about 11 km in and crew/spectators were not allowed access here. I refilled my one water bottles and made a pit stop at the relatively minimally used outhouse. The Gorge trails can be a bit tricky for bathroom breaks especially at the beginning since a lot of it is quite open and sloped on either side of the trail. We were moving at a good pace, maybe a little too good.
Jesse and Willa would be waiting for us at the 21 km aid station, Yeon. It was exciting and motivating to see them at various points along the journey. Jesse refilled my water according to my specific instructions of just water in one and a combination of Nuun Plus and Active in the other. It was getting quite warm so I also got him to fill up one of my empty bottles for a total of 1.5 L. I stashed a couple snacks in my vest and swapped my Buff for my Nuun trucker hat. Willa helped Chris with his water. I cracked open a bag of Doritos and we had a few handfuls each and then continued on our way.
My legs started getting tired way too soon. It was an all over general soreness and fatigue and it worried me that it was starting only 20 km into the race. Did I start too strong? Maybe, but if I hadn’t done that I would never have made the cut offs so I didn’t have much choice. My plan was to just keep moving until I got pulled from the course for being too slow.
We made it to the Cascade Locks aid station with about a half hour to spare – not bad! It was a lively aid station with music and gave me the boost I needed. I sat down in Jesse’s chair while he refilled my three water bottles again. Sitting was amazing! I grabbed a few snacks from my bag and changed into my Altra Olympus shoes to give my tired body some more cushion and put on a new shirt. Refreshed, we headed out on the next stretch to the turnaround.
Between every aid station was a countdown to seeing Jesse, Willa, and the sweet, sweet chair again. I honestly don’t know if I would have made it without them there. It really helped break the race down into sections and although we spent more time at aid stations that the other runners around us, we left them with a renewed energy and shortly caught back up to them. Every now and then I’d be leading a small convoy of us back-of-the-packers and would ask if anyone wanted by me. Several runners commented that they were happy letting me set the pace.
Chris and I chatted with a few people along the way, including a couple guys from California, a guy from Hawaii, and a guy with a Western States hat (he might have also been from California). The conversations are a bit of a blur but it was really cool meeting new runners.
Between Cascade and Wyeth (the turnaround), the elites started coming back the other way. It was really fun to cheer them on as they sped past and added a new element to the race as we tried to hop out of their way on the narrow trails. I was a little jealous that they would be finishing long before sunset. More and more runners passed by as we got closer to the turnaround and eventually we saw Kyle for the first time since the race started. He was about half an hour ahead of us and looking strong!
The half way point of a race or a run is always a big relief for me. I have a total mental shift when I switch from running away to running back to the finish. I can gauge my pain and fatigue and decide whether I can do it all over again. I wasn’t 100% sure if I’d make it but I at least had hope and the bittersweet realization that I might actually be able to make all these damn cutoffs.
Jesse and Willa got us sorted again as I sat in the chair at Wyeth and then told us the next cutoff time and kicked us out. I didn’t realize it at the time but I had just done a 50K in under 8 hours. My only other attempt at a 50K was the Squamish50 and that took me about 10 hours although it did have about 50% more elevation.
The trails were getting emptier around us on the way back. Runners were fewer and far between. Most of the field was in front of us and the many of the runners that had been behind us at one point would likely have been cut off already or would be cut off at the next couple aid stations. Every time we passed someone who seemed to be slowing down I hoped that they would make the next cut off, but then again, they might have just ready to call it a day and that’s okay too.
As I crawled into my pain cave
We arrived at Cascade for the second time with about 20 minutes to spare. I grabbed my light knee brace from my dropbag which was a lifesaver. My knee had been twinging a bit on the downhills and I was getting concerned about the repetitive impacts. If I had to power hike both the uphills and the downhills, what chance would I have of making it to the finish line? I never wear a knee brace and had no idea if it would even help but I figured it was worth a shot. And let me tell you, it worked miracles! It was a tad too tight so after a while I pulled it down around my ankle to let my leg breathe. My knee felt a lot better and so I only pulled it up for the longer downhills, which seemed to do the trick.
Jesse and Willa reported that Kyle was having issues keeping food down and was about 20 minutes ahead of us. We hoped that he’d rally and that we wouldn’t see him along the way since that would mean he was slowing down.
The run back to Yeon was tight but we made it and I knew then that I could really finish this thing. My legs didn’t feel much worse since they started bugging me at 20 km in and now seemed an appropriate amount of tired, sore, and stiff for 80 km. I ditched my hat since the sun was setting and wore my new orange BibRave Buff as a headband.
At some point, Chris’s hipflexor was acting up and he was preparing me for the possibility of having to go ahead without him. This terrified me. I hate running alone and I am terrified of running alone in the dark because confession: I’m a huge chicken. If there had been more people on the course, that would be different, but I knew it would only be me and a handful of runners on that last stretch. And obviously, bears and cougars and other creepy things that lurk in forests at night. Not to mention, I could fall and who knows if/when someone would find me. Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but these were the last things I wanted to be worrying about 90 km into a race.
Luckily, an Advil seemed to do the trick and Chris had renewed energy just as it started to get dark. I had carried my headlamp with me since the morning because I was afraid if I put it in a dropbag, I might forget to grab it again. It is the ONLY piece of mandatory gear so I was making damn well sure that I had it. And actually, I even grabbed up an additional small spare one at Cascade just in case! If I was going to get pulled from the race, it was NOT going to be due to headlamp error.
No name was full of exhausted, delirious runners and amazing volunteers that helped us refill our water. I sat on a rock for a moment beside another lady who shuffled over to make sure I had enough room. This was the last cut off – we had made it! All I had to do was keep moving and I would complete 100k regardless of whether I made it within the 17 hour cutoff or not, and with a big climb ahead it was definitely going to be a nail-biter.
On this last 11 km stretch, I could see mice darting out of my path as they were startled by my headlamp beam. There were TONS of them. I thought back to camping at Alder Flats in the Golden Ears back country almost 10 years ago. That night around our small campfire, a mouse would try to run up my legs if I stood still for more than 10 seconds. They apparently were quite used to people and the food they left behind. I wondered if a mouse would try to run up my legs when I was running, and if I did, would I freak out and fall off the trail?
Over halfway up the big climb at about 95 km, Chris got an epic nosebleed which he attempted to stop with his Buff. Turns out they aren’t that absorbent so I grabbed some of his emergency TP out of his pack. Luckily blood doesn’t bother me or we’d have been quite the pair: one hunched over bleeding from the face and the other lying on the ground passed out.
We sat down on the trail for about 15 minutes and I called and texted people asked what the hell we should do as gobs of blood shot out his nose. Okay, that might be a little dramatic but it showed no signs of stopping for a while and I was worried about Chris making the dark, slippery trek back to the finish line like that. Eventually it slowed and we were able to get going slowly as he pinched his nose and held the TP up to his face until it finally stopped.
By this point we were pretty sure we weren’t going to make the cut off, although we were uncertain as to exactly how much distance we had left. Chris had done the race last year and his watch said 105 km and mine had been close to 52 km at the turn around.
Finally we had finished climbing and began the mainly downhill section back to the lake. It felt like it would never end. I kept moving as quick as I could in the hopes that we might actually make it in time. Near the finish, we hit what looked like the road and were immediately directed back onto the trail. Very cruel.
When we actually reached the road, a volunteer was there to direct us around the lake the long way, because what the heck, why not do an extra mile? I have only the utmost respect and appreciation for all the volunteers out there that day and especially those hanging around late at night in the cold and dark like the several marshals along the homestretch.
As we approached the finish line in the dark we heard Willa call out, “Brie? Chris? Is that you!?” to which I yelled back (or maybe just squeaked) “YEAHHH!!!”
The clock read about 17:14 which to my surprise and delight was still open despite a 17 hour cut off. I had expected our time to be 17:20 but I guess we started 6 minutes late. Throughout race I had been watching clock time, since all the cut offs were based on that, rather than elapsed time so I hadn’t even noticed here was a discrepancy between the two.
I was overjoyed to finally have made it but at the same time completely emotionally drained. No tears, just relief. Jesse and Willa gave us big hugs and Kyle was there waiting for us as well. I sat down in my favourite chair and was given a slice of vegan pizza and a beer. I proceeded to then eat a giant Oreo Voodoo Doughnut as I tried to process the day’s events.
Wow, did I really just do that? After so many hours of uncertainty and suffering it was hard to believe that I actually made it! I sat looking across the finish chute at the timing people and considered asking them if our time would count. But what did it matter? Whether Ultra Signup showed a finish time or a DNF, I still completed a hundred freaking kilometres! Plus, I wasn’t getting out of my chair.
On our way out, we stopped to talk to the pizza guys. They were having a blast doing impressions of presidential candidates and being generally entertaining. They really seemed to love what they do and insisted we take some leftover pizza with us.
Jesse drove us all back to the hotel with just barely enough charge left in the Tesla to get us there. I hobbled inside, hopped in the shower, and passed out for a solid 4 or 5 hours then drifted in and out of sleep for a couple more.
I finally rolled out of bed around 9am and helped myself to the continental breakfast in the lobby. Then we packed up, checked out, and started our drive home.
Our first stop was a car dealership in Vancouver, WA, which had a high speed charger. We wandered around looking for somewhere to kill time and get a coffee but there were mostly strip malls with big box stores nearby. There was an iHop nearby but it was full of brunchers and would be a long wait for a table. I found a Starbucks reasonable close by but between my stiff legs and my black toenail I couldn’t walk any further. Willa explained to the barista, as I confusingly ordered my drink, that I had run 100k the day before. She wrote a lovely message on my drink! We sat down outside and enjoyed our drinks then headed back to the car, returning the cart on the way.
After a couple more hours of driving, we stopped again at Centralia to charge the car and ourselves with more Starbucks. My favourite Nike clearance outlet was nearby so we ducked into their quickly. Willa and I both bought $6 compression socks, wahoo! We made a last more stop to charge in Burlington, this time going to Bob’s Burgers & Brew for a lackluster meal. Next stop was home!
We arrived at Kyle’s and parted ways after a three-stooges-esque routine of trying to sort out everyone’s many bags.
It was truly an amazing weekend and I can’t thank everyone enough for the outpouring of support I received … but I will try. Thank you to Jesse and Willa for being the most amazing crew! Thank you to Chris for running the whole race with me! Thank you to Kyle for … oh I don’t know, putting up with me I guess! Thank you to the many friends who helped me train (Dayna, Courtney, Ward, and more) and to all my friends and family that sent me words of encouragement and congratulations. And last but not least, thank you to Rainshadow Running and all the volunteers and runners for an awesome event!
This post is almost 4000 words … did you really read the whole thing?? 🙂