White Rock Classic 50k

They advertise as “No fees, no frills”. There are no participant t-shirts, there are no finisher’s medals. What the White Rock does offer is hills. When you think you’ve done enough hills for a lifetime, you round a corner and there is yet another one. The first 2.5 miles offer 1,000 feet of elevation gain. Followed by another 2.5 miles of up and downs. When I connected my TomTom GPS watch afterwards, Runkeeper sent me an email congratulating me for doing my personal best on the most elevation in a single run and for the most elevation I had done in one month, this race was on February 6th to put a little perspective on it.

Course profile. Start point is 849 above sea level top is 2,343 above sea level

I have heard horror stories of White Rock’s past that included sleet/freezing rain, no such misery this day. There was a slight chill to start but it was in the mid-50’s throughout the afternoon. One could not ask for better weather for a punishing race like this.

The course itself is an out and back that consists of gravel roads through the national forest. Don’t let this fool you, there are plenty of jutting rocks and roots to look out for. Other things to watch for are the many small creeks and streams in the area. We didn’t have to wade through any, but they made for some beautiful views and a few waterfalls.

The road meanders through the forest, gaining altitude. What lies at the end is the reward, the highest point of the course, the turn-around. The last mile into the turn-around seemed to be the steepest, toughest stretch. Other runners I spoke to felt the same, looking at my elevations afterwards, I could see why. There was over 900 feet of gain in a little over a mile. Then add the psychological side, you know it’s almost half over. All those hills that you’ve been cursing will become your friend, they will soon be down hills. Gravity will finally work for you instead of against you.

I had resigned myself to taking a few minutes of rest at the top, time be damned. I felt that 5-10 minutes of rest might pay a bigger reward later when I needed that energy. I’m glad I had made that decision because the view from the turnaround is at the edge of a cliff, looking down on part of the course and out at the many mountains as far as the eye could see. We could see the other runners coming and going from this vantage point.

My wife and some of our friends had done an early start at 7:30 instead of the official start of 9 a.m. I passed our two friends as they came down, so I had some warning about the hill. I also got word that my wife was still looking strong. (We had been in touch via some cheap two-way radios that we had carried with us.)

I caught up to her at, perhaps, the best time, just a fraction of a mile from the overlook. I spent my few minutes of rest taking pictures with her and enjoying what we had accomplished together. I did make the comment that we should return here…in the car.

Now I was rested and ready for all those wonderful down hills. I was fresh and ready to go as I managed to click off a couple of fast (for me) miles, everything felt great. Then I hit a little uphill, and then another, then a flat, then another uphill. I began to think of the old joke, “when I was your age, I had to walk to school and it was uphill both ways”. Had they really moved mountains to toy with me and my weary legs?

Of course they hadn’t, it was like anything else in life. We tend to focus on the negative parts while overlooking the easy. I had plenty of downhills, the uphills just hurt worse, therefore burned into my memory. The miles started coming a little slower, but I still felt good as I reached the 10/21 mile aid station. I took a handful of M&M’s and an Ensure, topped off my water and then headed back down the mountain.

The boost from all that sugar and nutrients didn’t last til the next aid station. I started to drain, but still felt pretty good. In the meantime, my wife and I had been calling our mileage to each other intermittently. I had started to worry about her location and pace, there was a cut off that she would miss if she didn’t pick it up. I tried to tiptoe the subject with her, but no answer, we had lost contact due to the terrain.

The thought of the upcoming aid station pulled me on. I knew a friend of mine was working it and he could give me any advice I needed. As I neared it, my radio crackled, my wife was 3 miles behind me. Kevin King was at the aid station handing out food and water as I had anticipated. His advice was to keep going, he would make sure my wife was ok and he would wait for her.

As I left, I passed the Ham radio and heard them say my wife’s number. I asked the operator what was said about #11. He said she was dead last but still going. Knowing she was still in and that there were people who were willing to help took a load off me, I picked up my pace a little. I knew there were only a couple of hills left so my internal morale had picked up also. Things were falling into place.

About two miles out from the aid station, I saw the co-race director, Lisa Gunnoe coming towards me. She is one of the people who got me into trail and ultrarunning along with Kevin King. She told me that there was only 1/3 of a mile of uphill left. I knew from there it was, quite literally, downhill all the way. She also assured me that my wife should be fine, they wouldn’t roll up the finish line right at 5p.m.

I hit that downhill stretch and saw 2 runners ahead of me.  My pace picked up some. I neared the first runner and was able to pull around him. The other runner was quite a bit in front of me, but I decided that if she was going to beat me, she would have to earn it. In my fatigued mind I was putting pressure on her. In reality, she probably never knew I was there since she was a good quarter mile up. Whatever the situation was, it helped me. In mile 30 in clocked a 7:55, which is fast for me on a short run, much less after that many miles.

I finished with a 7:41. Not lighting fast but about 50 minutes off my only other 50k, four short weeks ago. As I finished, a race official asked me if my wife had a flashlight. Ummm, no, this was a day race. I was informed that they might have to pull her for safety, my heart sank. She had worked so hard to get to this point. I discussed the options with some friends for a few minutes. What if we took one to her? We got the ok.

What I was unaware of was that she had already been pulled and was in the truck with Kevin. They sent him a text that I was on my way and as long as I stayed with her she could finish. He turned the truck around and took her to the point where her picked her up. When I got to her, she was standing outside the truck looking at the uphill that lay in front of her. I could tell she had the drive and energy, she just needed a push.

Here was the plan, keep going, I would follow in the car, using the radio to encourage her. This seemed to work well for a mile or so. Then we passed our friends sitting in their car on the side of the road, so I stopped and told them I needed someone to drive our car. My instincts kicked in and I did something that I never would have guessed that I had in me after running 31+ miles, I got out and paced her in for the last 2.2 miles. Honestly, I had to hold myself back some because my adrenaline was flowing and she was tired.

That moment you become an ultra

She kept asking how much further we had. I kept telling her till we were done, that’s all. How many miles didn’t matter, we were committed to finishing. I kept telling her to show them that they had made the right decision to let her finish. Those last couple miles were truly run on emotion. We rounded the last corner and I dropped back, this was her time. A cheering carload of friends following her and Lisa Gunnoe waiting by herself at the finish line were the only witnesses, but she became an ultrarunner. (Without the need for a flashlight, I might add, but it was an understandable call from the RD’s point of view.)

She now truly understood what I mean when I say that it’s the heart that makes an ultrarunner, not the miles. For me this was the highlight of the race.

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