Race: Wy’east Howl 50k
Runner: Rob S
Location: Mt. Hood, OR
This was Not a Midlife Crisis
The pounding on the cabin’s roof was relentless. Worries of a cold and wet event haunted my restless sleep. Would I be dry enough? Would I be warm enough? I wrangled my thoughts around the possibilities until, at some point, I just said, “Screw it.” Instead of using the ultra-light layers I had so carefully researched and purchased, I would instead rock my ‘city’ rain jacket that would not only repel the most torrential of rains, but simultaneously keep me warm simply through its lack of breathability. No more worries. Time for sleep.
I awoke to the beeping drone of my alarm at 4:45am. The inaugural Wy’east Howl 50K would commence in under 3 hours. Eat the pre-planned breakfast, gather all the essentials for the day, and get to the race in time to register/pick up race bib. I had run a marathon several years ago. A road marathon. I retired from marathons as I crossed the finish line. A couple years later, I ran a 25K trail race in the North Cascades. A difficult race for sure, but clearly to my liking as evidenced by my dorky grin beaming from start to finish.
So here I am, about to turn 50 and standing at the start line of a 50K ultra-marathon trail race that would take me from a trailhead down in the valley up onto the broad shoulder of Mt.Hood. Apparently, the race moniker, ‘valley to volcano,’ wasn’t just a snappy slogan. I had decided early in the year to run my first ultra in honor of my surviving 50 years in this crazy world. 50Ks for 50 years had a nice ring to it. (Much better than 50 miles for 50 years) I had trained hard all summer for this moment. Anne and TT even came up to root me on. There was no turning back.
3…2…1…GO! The herd of roughly 100 runners jogged up an old gravel road for a short warm up until connecting onto a trail that would take us up 2500’ in roughly 2 miles. The beauty of this climb, steep as it is, unless you are ‘racing,’ you needn’t run. Power hiking is acceptable, and even encouraged, in order to save energy for the multitude of Ks yet to be traveled. Hiking happens to be my strength. Just one foot in front of the other.
The herd had spread out quite a bit by the time we got to the top. I was hopscotching back and forth amongst an assemblage of fellow runners who seemed to share a similar fitness level. The first big downhill was welcome and a total blast. My feet were quick, dodging rocks and roots, as I raced down the slope. The trail was twisting and turning with the topography. I was skipping, leaping, and even howling. All that training was worth it.
The first aid station came quickly. Volunteers were all dressed in wolf costumes. Could this get any better? I fueled up on some tasty snacks, thanked the volunteers, and was off. Only 42Ks to go. The next stretch was tough. It was rolling trail, but rolling uphill. In other words, it was a long, mellow climb with a few short descents thrown in. I could try to grind this section out, but I knew that would likely wreck me. So I took it easy, staying with a fellow Seattleite (via Russia) the entire way. I’d like to think we pushed each other to dig a little deeper.
The second aid station came and went. Once again, great volunteers and snacks. My Russian comrade and I stuck close. This was his first 50K as well. 2000’ of gain in 7 miles to the high point of the race, and the next aid station. I should mention, the travel brochure for this race promised fabulous views of Mt Hood, willing us toward the finish. Oops. Although it wasn’t raining, (so much for my midnight worries) we were one with the clouds. Literally, running through them. Couldn’t see more than 100 yards in any direction the entire day. The great volcano was out there somewhere, but we were blind to her. All was not lost, however. Being early autumn in the high country, the bright yellows, oranges, and reds cast the perfect foreground to the deep greens of the spruce and fir forest. I never tire of October color.
It was a bit chilly at the third aid station. 30Ks into the race; I was tired but feeling positive. I fueled up and happily ambled down a rare, sustained section of descending trail, letting gravity work with me for once. By now, the train of participants was so spread out I was running by myself most of the time. A classic Pacific NW mist hung in the air. Another 1000’ climb followed by a reciprocal downhill. Not nearly as fun as earlier in the race with my tired legs, but I was still moving. Then a sudden pain in my left ankle. As I looked to see what happened, another pain in my right thigh. I found a burst of energy as I ran while swatting bees away. Only a couple stings, but still…really?? It was wet and cold out. Why were they even up and about? I walked off the pain for a few minutes and continued plodding along until… nirvana.
The most amazing aid station I’ve ever come across. A big roaring fire to warm me up. A hot and gooey quesadilla fresh from the frying pan. Even beer and wine. I REALLY wanted to have a beer, but I knew if I started drinking now the volunteers would be driving me to the finish line. Would that be so bad?? No. Yes. I mean, I gotta keep moving. Off into the cloud bank I went. Only 11Ks to go; half downhill with the final Ks back up. Who designs such torture??
I saw nobody but occasional hikers for the remainder of the race. I was ready to be done. Where was this promised finish line? Hopefully it would be easier to find than the volcano. A couple beautiful waterfalls distracted me briefly as I trudged forward. Then I saw it. Glorious civilization. A familiar voice rang out, “Great job, honey.” I had made it. I put on my relieved/happy face and ran to the finish, happily accepted my awards for accomplishment, (a cool bottle opener and a pint glass) and slowly moved inside where I sat for a long time. Until, that is, I heard there was chocolate milk to be had. I can always get up for some chocolate milk.
8 hours 30 minutes. A respectable time for a first time ultra runner, especially one with 8200’ of elevation gain. I’m glad I did it. I’m proud that I finished standing up. The 25K is probably my wheelhouse race, but I could definitely see myself running another 50K…one day.
Oh, and by the way, while Anne and TT were strolling around Mt Hood after they dropped me off, they noticed something moving on a ridge above them. A dog of some type. After careful observation and some Google research, it turned out to be a wolf. A Wolf!!! I knew they were in the area, but didn’t expect to see one. Of course, I didn’t. Anne and TT did. Yep, no matter what I do, how far I run, how high I climb; Anne will always be there to one up me.