White River 50 DNF (aka The Buck Creek Marathon)

So, here I am starting a blog and what happens? I have a really sucky day and DNF for the first time. Do I want to write about it? Not so much. But, I learned some really important lessons and I don’t want to forget them. And, I really need to process it and I’m going to go into “stream of consciousness mode,” so watch out.

In the week leading up to White River 50, the temperatures rose into the 90s and the oppressive gloom of smoke from wildfires to north and east hung heavy over us. It was not my ideal scenario for this race, and while everyone was sending me encouraging notes I was already thinking, “I don’t really want to do this.” My head was not in the game.

If you know me, you know that I’m about as stubborn as a mule (or a donkey, or whatever the most stubborn thing in the world is … maybe as stubborn as a two-year-old?). So, of course, rather than soul searching and making a wise decision, I headed down to Crystal Mountain on Friday to pick up my race packet. Before heading down, I had to try to squeeze in a few hours of work on a hot project, then make a stop at REI for new flasks since I misplaced some heaven only knows where, and then make a run to Target to get birthday presents for the girls (they turned 8 the day after the race). All of these errands got me caught up in traffic, so when I got to Crystal I sooooo was not feeling the vibe.

Do you hear me making excuses already?

Race morning I lined up at the start line with 2 liters of water, a plan, and my head feeling a bit clearer and ready for the challenge.

Am I ready? Not so sure.

The race starts with a little jog along a dirt road and then on to a single track—where we promptly piled up into the classic inchworm walk as runners navigated a few downed trees that blocked the trail. Then we were off across Highway 410 and onto the White River Trail, where we were able to start finding our pace amongst the crowd.

I hit the Camp Shepherd Aid Station right on schedule, and headed straight through as planned. Shortly after, a man in front of me tripped on a root and landed chest-first in the dirt. We were all alarmed as he didn’t move right away, but he’d knocked the air out of himself and couldn’t reassure us until he got some air back.

At the Ranger Creek station, about to go down Palisades … back in the day!

After that, we were all off and soon to hit the steep switchbacks that climb up the bottom of Palisades. This was my second time up Palisades, and I have to tell you it is one heck of a lot more fun to mountain bike down that it is to go up on foot. At this point, I was feeling great—eating on schedule, drinking well, minding my pace—and even had a fleeting thought, “If this goes well, maybe I will try a hundred sometime.” Ha! on me I guess.

We continued to climb, and finally reached Ranger Creek at 11.7 miles. I was surprised at this point to be feeling thirsty and a bit out of it. So I kept climbing, kept drinking, and held to my plan.

Yep, this is when things started falling apart.

After Ranger Creek, there’s a long section where runners are going both ways. Basically this means that mid- and back-of-the-packers are still going up, and the fast folks are going down. Deception Pass has a lot of out and back on singletrack, and I hated it when I did that race and I hated it now. Usually trail runners are awesome, courteous, supportive people … but something about those out and backs on singletrack brings out this I-will-not-yield thing, and I spent a lot of the next several miles jumping out of the way for other runners and feeling really grumpy about it.

My fab friend Wendy helped me restock water and food at Corral Pass.

Finally I reached Corral Pass—the BEST aid station on the course, since it’s run by High Heel Running Group and I got to see awesome people with huge smiles and loud cheers greet me. (I only have a photo of Wendy and me, but I saw all y’all, and thank you! You guys are the best!) It was here that I think I made a clear mistake: I wasn’t feeling that good, but I have a personal rule to get in and out of aid stations as quickly as possible. So, with my friends helping me refill water bottles and resupply food, and I tried to shove down some potato chips—and didn’t have enough spit to chew them. But, I rushed on and started my way down.

And started walking. And then desperately needed a bathroom (I’ll exclude the TMI details). And there was nowhere to go. After a couple of miles, I finally found a place I could scramble behind the trees, and thought thankfully that I could run again. This was true for a bit, and I reached Ranger Creek feeling ok. And then, I had to go again. And there was nowhere to go. Finally, after about 2 miles of walking, I found a place to scramble off the trail. Oh, thank goodness, maybe I can run now! Uh … no … GI distress struck again. And then there was Highway 410, and my wonderfully supportive husband Mike, and all I could think was GET ME TO THE PORTAPOTTIES. I blew through Buck Creek AS to get to the portapots, and started hyperventilating (which I’d never done before and it’s really rather scary when you can’t breathe), and then I said, “F it.” So I dropped.

DNF. Failure. I sucked.

I didn’t want to see anyone, or talk to anyone, and I’m still ignoring the FB posts about the race and the HHRG aid station.

Today, I feel like I’m starting to get my head back in the game. I’ve got some things coming up, no races for me but adventures that I’m very excited about. And I want to take stock of some lessons learned.

  • I need to commit: don’t even start … OR get it together and start out with the right attitude. Why was I there? Because I really wanted to do that race! Was I thinking about that purpose? No, I was whining about the heat and the smoke.
  • Never wear new socks on race day. Those suckers were sliding down my heels and driving me absolutely crazy. Not a game-stopper, but an irritant for sure.
  • Listen to my body and revise the plan if I need to. I think that if I had been thinking strategically, I would have stopped at Corral Pass and spent some time resting and getting my body back in line. The inability to masticate potato chips was a pretty big red flag. I was drinking the amount planned, but clearly with the weather I needed more. If I had taken the time at CP, would the GI issues have not occurred? I don’t know, but I would have had a better chance.
  • Don’t give up so easily. My head wasn’t in the game, my stomach wasn’t in the game, but the bottom line is that I gave up. Really. When I got to Buck Creek, again I could have sat down and spent some time seeing if I could get things back in line. But, all I could think about was the lack of places to go to the bathroom on Sun Top Trail. So I quit.
  • Stop eating crap food. I have a chronic form of colitis, and it is often triggered by (1) crap food and (2) stress. Sure the whole girls’ birthday thing and the rush job created stress, but in truth I know that I’ve been eating foods for months now that exacerbate things. (Y’know, like dairy, and fried foods, and wheat, and corn…) If I want to push my body and ask it to perform, I need to respect it. Maybe I can get away with it 90–95% of the time, but when another factor—like the heat—gets added to the equation, it just ain’t happening.

So, on blog post 2, here I am basically vomiting my disaster onto the page. You didn’t need to read this far. But thanks. Happier stories to come …

2 thoughts on “White River 50 DNF (aka The Buck Creek Marathon)

  1. I know we chatted about this on Saturday, but I’m glad you’ve written about your race! You are not a failure because you’re choosing to learn from this experience, and sharing what you’ve learned. Not every race is sunny but mild, with no chaffing, blisters, or stomach issues. (Spoiler alert to my own sometimes naive brain.) It sucks that it happened to you, but you’re still a badass and now you’ve simply checked the DNF box and can move on. 🙂


  2. Ellen. I’m glad you’ve written this down. It’s so honest. It will come as a great reminder. Those were tough conditions. You know next time to go in with a game plan to deal with those thing- your attitude, what to do with the heat, when you can’t chew, when you have GI issues. All of that makes this day worth it. So proud of you. Thank you for writing these thoughts and sharing them. Angel


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