White River 50 Race Report – Alison Gillespie

Race: White River 50 Mile

Runner: Alison Gillespie

Race Date: 07/28/2018

Location: Near Crystal Mountain, Washington

Results: Learned a Lot

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  1. Well directed, seamlessly put together
  2. Great, challenging course
  3. Strong community turnout

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

White River is an iconic Northwest race in it’s 26th year – directed by Scott McCoubrey and expertly managed by a team of race staff and members of the Seattle Running Club. 50 miles, 8700’ elevation gain (and lets not forget – the loss too!) and plenty of staggering views of Mt. Rainier. Who could resist? I picked this race two years ago – and let’s just say, the lessons keep on coming. (Spoiler alert – I think the third time is the charm!)

My motivation stemmed from a desire to settle some old scores that I have with ultra running. Lots of runners instantly fall in love with the longer distances and experience relatively quick progressions in covering ever increasing distances and elevations – this is most decidedly NOT me. My real superpower as a runner was the two mile. Run on FLAT ground. My first attempt at a 50k- Chuckanut in 2002 – was almost comical – although I am proud that I finished. Soooo, what is a NW living, mountain-loving-stubborn-minded runner to do? Enter the White River 50 Mile Race. Nothing but hills. Two of them. Very Large Hills. Dammit, hills and I were going to be FRIENDS.

I stripped my training down to the bare bones and spent a long cold winter rebuilding an aerobic base – lots of easy running at what seemed to me an absurdly slow pace. My legs like to go fast – and this was not fast. I spent a lot of time thinking about my goals, swearing at the heart rate monitor and working on the discipline to trust my training principles. And slowly, slowly, things started changing. I began to run longer distances at a reasonable pace feeling really good and recovering well. Several trail marathons and a 50k went great, with improving times and ability to handle increasing elevation. Everything was on track. I was less attentive to working on leg strength than perhaps I should have been, but the demands of working, running and can I admit? (skiing) ate up most of my time. Or so I told myself. This proved to be a crucial factor in my outcome.

Heading up the first half of the course, everything felt great. The pace was perfect, I saw several friends, and the weather was reasonably cool. Last summer, there was a large wildfire that burned through the area – leaving a spooky, charred Tim Burton-esque landscape of dead trees and sterile soil. The trail was as good as it could be given the circumstances – but the odd footing left after the fire was one ingredient in my eventual downfall. About 15 miles in, I felt my left knee start to yell at me – a small meniscus tear from a ski wreck – and often I can run it off after a few miles. However, the steep climb + odd footing + lack of proper dedication to leg strength meant that I couldn’t shock absorb well going downhill and what started as a annoyance turned into a full out gimpy gait. I spent 10 miles pondering my options and ultimately decided to call it at 30 miles in. This was hard to do, considering that otherwise I felt pretty good – but I reminded myself that my entire goal is to be able to KEEP running consistently and happily and that I had some things to attend to before returning to this race. This is absolutely the best part of running- there’s no hiding where you are and what opportunities for improvement exist. I’m overall so pleased with the huge increase in my base fitness, aerobic capacity and mental game – and now, I have some clear goals in front of me and things to work on. I’m already looking forward to my next chance to tackle this distance.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

“Only Two Hills!”

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

The terrain is variable – from rooty, rolling trails to steep single track climbs to dusty gravel road descents and even one hilariously perched wooden “staircase” about 5 miles into the first half of the race. Two big climbs and two big descents are demanding on the legs!

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

White River is an exceptionally well run race. There are even two practice runs put on two and three weeks prior to the course – covering half the course each time.

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

Camping near the start is free- first come first serve, and registration is comfortably open for a relatively long period of time

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

Aid stations are plentiful- about 5 to 8 miles apart- and the volunteer crew is top-notch. Friendly, quick and thorough – they were 100% on top of every little detail.

Weather and typical race conditions

WARM. 80 degrees-ish.

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next guy?

Gear used: La Sportiva Akasha running shoes, Nathan Vapor Airess hydration pack, Suunto Ambit3 running watch, Tracksmith Twilight Split Shorts and Tee. I was happy with all of the gear I used and have tested it pretty extensively.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

I give this race a full 5 stars.