Thursday, September 15, 2011

Plain 100 Trail Run

I made a difficult decision not to go run the Hardrock 100 mile trail run this year, after training for months and sleeping in an altitude tent for a week and a half. The day before I was to leave to head out to Colorado, Kathy's midwife told her that she could give birth "possibly this week", and so I stayed at home waiting for Zachary to be born a week and a half later. I could have made it back in time, but I have no regrets. Races come every year, and children only come... hopefully less often than that. Besides, it is extremely difficult to run 100 miles when all you want to do is head back home as quick as possible.

Instead, I signed up for the Plain 100 trail run on September 10th. Christi Masi said that she wanted to run it, so I agreed to run with her. That way, I wouldn't feel the pressure to run too fast, and my pathetic lack of training after Zach was born would be less apparent. Also, the race director doesn't allow pacers, so it would be awfully lonely running 100 miles by myself; I'd much rather spend 32 hours visiting with a friend.

Christi had just started a new job and could not make it out to the pre-race meeting, so I took notes. Note: attending this meeting is very important, as the RD mentioned a couple key turns that were not well described in the course description, and he also provided a "water map" from which I copied onto my GreenTrails map all the locations where water was available. This information proved to be invaluable, as the temperature hit 96 degrees in Plain on Saturday.

Christi arrived dramatically: her husband flew her up from Seattle and they landed at the airstrip next to the Rec Center where we were having our meeting. Noone had seen a plane land here before, as the short grass runway allowed only certain types of small planes to land.

Note: the Rec Center has awful, sulfury water. Don't expect to use the water at the Rec Center. Also, don't plan on sleeping inside the Rec Center, as the volunteers who make breakfast arrive awfully early to set up.

We camped outside the Rec Center at the edge of the airstrip and woke up at 3:30am to grab a pancake breakfast (thanks, volunteers!) and drive several miles over to the start line at Deep Creek. The race started at 5am.

The race consists of two loops, with only one aid station back at Deep Creek after we have finished the first loop. Christi and I planned to carry 16-20 hours of food with us and fill up with water at creeks and streams along the way. We planned to run as slow as we could on the first loop so as to have the will and the means to finish the second loop.

We started the race by running down the road to Thousand Oaks Lodge and back up to Deep Creek, because the RD wanted to keep the race the same even though that start location had changed from previous years. However, the Plain 100 is already 107 miles, so I would seriously consider eliminate this 3 mile section. Running an out-and-back on a dusty road is not my idea of fun, but the Plain 100 is not supposed to be "fun". It is "just plain tough". And it was. All of it.

We started faster than we wanted to, but it was hard to moderate ourselves when other people were around. After the first couple hours or so, we fell into a comfortable rhythm. Even the speed-walking was strenuous on some of the steeper sections, and the day warmed up pretty quickly. By this time we were on our own, and it was nice to have company.

I'd like to say more about the trails, but I'm not sure how to really enliven them. There was a fair amount of dust, and a lot of mind-numbing switchbacks. Many of the trails were ORV trails, and we saw several motorcycles throughout the day on Saturday. For the most part, the trails were not too rocky, but the dust did seep into our shoes and collect in pockets in our socks, so we occasionally would stop to knock the dust out and relieve the hotspots that formed on our feet. We spent a lot of time trying to make sure that we did not get blisters, which I did anyways, but at least they never became disabling. Our goal was "don't do anything that prevents you from finishing".

We had nice views at Klone Peak, at mile 19 our so and the high point along the route (6820').
The race directors were there to wish us on, having run 9 miles or so up from a drive-in checkpoint where we would later see them in loop 2. We also had a really nice time down at Tommy Creek (mile 33) where we waded into the creek and relaxed by the pool before the terrible climb back up and over Tyee Ridge in the afternoon heat. We loaded up on water here but we still ran out. Luckily we found the seep near Signal Peak and could refill with water before we headed back down to Cougar and Mad Creek. Christi did not drink enough and got somewhat dehydrated (as evidenced by brown pee), but she caught up later in the day and bounced back without any adverse effects.

The trail down Billy Creek was overgrown and rocky. I'm glad we did not have to do that part at night. Night fell as we finished our hike back up Mad Creek. At a brief stop I started to shiver, more due to my poor control over my body temperature than to the weather. We finally made it back to Maverick Saddle and followed the logging roads back to Deep Creek, arriving at 9:45pm or so, 16 hours and 45 minutes after we started.

At Deep Creek aid station, we received the best treatment ever. We relaxed in camp chairs at Deep Creek while the volunteers knocked the dust out of our shoes and then gave us each a
foot bath while we were waiting for our soup and grilled cheese sandwiches to be ready. They even held my toes apart for me while I wrapped new layers of tape onto my dust-streaked toes in preparation for the second loop. That was the best aid station I've ever been at, even though we were promised "no aid".

After a sufficient break, we headed out for the second half of the race, a slightly shorter and less technical lollipop loop than the first half (47 miles vs. 60 miles on the first loop). My pack was full of extra food, clothes and gear, as my only concern was to have what it took to finish rather than to finish fast. Christi had recovered from her dehydration and was ready to "run a 50 miler". Off we went, up the winding singletrack, which we had traveled down at the end of the Plain Trioba Adventure Race the other year, so it was somewhat, eerily familiar. Exactly two hours later, we passed the Alder Creek turn-off that we would come back on hours later.

We took it easy through the night and made slow, steady progress. When I got sleepy, we took a five minute nap. An hour later, we passed a runner in front of us who was filling up her water. Betsy Kalmeyer was suffering from blisters and moving slowly. I feel for her, as my feet had been complaining off and on for most of the race, but extra layers of Leukotape seemed to have kept them at bay.

Just before dawn, we pulled into the Chickamin Tie check point and said our hellos to the race directors, who were here cheering us on. A note about check points: the several check points along the race course are for Search and Rescue to keep track of where we are, but have no aid. They will not even give us water unless we disqualify ourselves from the race. It's nice to see a smiling face every now and then, however. We readied ourselves to finish our last big climb before the heat of the new day.

Once we passed Mad Lake, we were ready to tackle the downhills. The motorcycles were starting to appear again, and we passed several groups on our way down Alder Creek trail.
Even the downhills are hard, with mind-numbing switchbacks bolstered by latticed concrete blocks around the curves to prevent erosion due to the ORV traffic. We ran an asphalt road for a mile or two, which turned out to be one of the harder sections on our tender feet for some reason. We arrived at the bottom at 11:08 am, just over 30 hours after we had started, having run 100 miles already. Seven more miles to go.

The last seven miles took us two hours on our way out in the middle of the night. I thought that we could return quicker, however, and finish in under 32 hours. I started to pick up the pace, running some of the shallow uphills. Christi kept up, but was only mildly interested in racing to the finish. A tendon in my ankle started to flare up and hurt with every step. We decided to take it easy, and the miles slipped by. We popped out at Deer Creek before we knew it, and finished in 31:55, comfortably under our goal. I was ready to be done.

Christi finished as the first woman, and won a chunk of granite with "Plain 100 - first woman" painted on it. I was glad to just finish and nurse my wounds.

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