Last Friday I went on an adventure and it was better than I could have hoped for.
Last year I ran the Bigfoot 20 miler. Or as the race director refers to it: Littlefoot. It was a tough and technical event that I completed with a torn muscle between ribs. Even with the injury, I really enjoyed the atmosphere and comradery. The 20 miler makes a loop on the south side of Mt. St. Helens, but the 40 miler (43.5 to be exact) circumnavigates the mountain. I don’t know why, but I have a thing for running around a mountain. I had wanted to do it for a while, but it was a big undertaking and I was scared. Not only is it a long distance, it is a lot of climbing. The whole adventure would be a big leap for me.
I had tried to talk myself out of it for a long time. It’s difficult. It’s remote. It’s a lot of climbing. But I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Then my brother was interested. He did the 20 too and the idea of not having to be alone if we could stay together made the decision slightly easier. Even just knowing we would both be out there helped a lot. So between sharing the experience with my brother and continuing to plan my training even though I would say I wasn’t going to do it, I decided to sign up.
Leading up to the event, my training was adequate. I should have been more dedicated to miles and climbing, but life was busy. I did my first 50k in June and tried to continue my training to peak after that. I felt trained enough and was happy to not be sick or injured. That is an accomplishment in and of itself so of course I had to pull a muscle in my hip 2 days before while packing. I couldn’t lift my leg. My husband was worried, but the only question in my mind was how much I would let it affect me.
The last couple of days included a lot of last minute trips to the store. We needed the food for camping at the start/finish area. I picked up a power bank in case I needed to charge my phone so I didn’t get lost in the night on a boulder field. I waited until the last minute to buy a pack that would hold more stuff, then I had to exchange it because my poles put holes in it on the very first run. It’s one of those times where you will never feel ready. You never have everything and at the same time you can’t take it all with you either.
We woke up early Thursday morning to start the 5 hour drive. We had a lucky pass through Portland without traffic and managed to find a simple way to fill the camper with water. We made it to the sno park ahead of schedule to find my brother and his family all set up with a great spot. I wanted to get there early, but it ended up being the longest day ever. Just sitting and waiting. I thought catching up with family would make the day fly by, but a daunting task was waiting and nothing else could occupy my mind.
I woke up, hit the porta potties before they were filled to the brim, and picked up my bib. I ate a more moderate breakfast than I would have liked, but whose stomach can handle food when they are nervous? No me. I dressed and fretted over the weather forecast and what I would be wearing. I had shorts and a light tank with a windbreaker in case of bad weather. I worried it wouldn’t be enough, but settled on sticking with my original plan. Once I was ready, I made my way up to the starting line to wait.
The beginning of the race was predictable and comfortable. We started on an easy uphill path until we reached the boulder fields. I knew to remember that there are two sections so when it seems to be over, it isn’t yet. The boulder fields seemed easier and shorter than the year before. I guess I knew what I was getting myself into. I was still working out my hip issue as we headed down towards the aid station, which kept me a little slower than I would have liked. Plus I had a hard time putting my poles away since my pack was new. I ended up coming into the first aid station a little behind my brother, but we left together since I can’t really eat the aid station food and don’t need as much time there.
When we set off from Blue Lake the rest would be unfamiliar territory. We started in the forest with a climb and decent to the toutle where we would reach the infamous rope section. Everyone was worried about a long line but there was none and we made our way up and out. After some climbing we began the switchbacks up the sandy mountain face. We were in the clouds so I really couldn’t see it, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to. The climb was over 1000 feet and we didn’t start at the bottom. The trail was narrow and a slip could have you sliding down. A person behind me fell flat on their face and I was so grateful that they didn’t disappear into the cloud.
We came around the mountain to a place where you could see the trail over small rolling hills for miles. It seems perfectly runnable, but no one was running. There were a few parts where we could bring it up to a jog, but it was a lot of walking. Once through there we began the road to the second aid station. I was hungry and running didn’t seem very possible, but the road was 3 miles long. I couldn’t tell you how grateful I was to finally arrive at that aid station. I ate a strange meal of ham with guacamole. It was the only reasonable gluten free food I could lay my eyes on.
I used the bathroom, which was a respectable pit toilet. I changed my socks and reorganized my gels and bars. Refilled on water and electrolytes. When there was nothing left to do, I put my pack on knowing that this was the last chance to back out. Once I left that aid station, finishing was my only option. We were 29 miles in with 14 to go. It would get dark and we had heard a clap or two of thunder. But, I had no reason to quit yet. I was still with my brother, we had met all of the goal times. We were on track for a strong finish.
We decided to stick together unless one of us was really fading and not injured. It was the best decision we could have made. The next few miles we were able to run some. We saw mountain goats, a marmot, and heard grouse. As the sun set it rained a little, then the lighting started. It was quite a show. At times we were in the trees, but then we would climb up onto the boulder fields and it was a light show. The whole area would light up to show the crazy rugged area that we were trying to get through in the dark. I just kept thinking that as long as I wasn’t struck by lighting it was pretty cool. The miles were slower than I thought. It would seem like we were moving well, but time was flying by. We had been on pace for a 9:30 or 10pm finish, but ended up finishing around 11. In the last couple of miles the rain started. The heaviest rain I have ever run in. I kept having to wipe the water off of my face and I was soaked through. It wouldn’t have mattered what I might have been wearing.
We weren’t sure if our families would be there. With the rain, lighting and thunder, and late finish time I don’t think either of us were expecting them. But as we approached the finish we heard their cheering. Everyone was up and excited to see us. They offered hot tea and food, chairs in front of the heaters. I was so soaking wet though I just wanted to get back to the camper to change into dry clothes and lay down. Once I was settled, someone mentioned hot chocolate and nothing has ever sounded better. I munched on some cheese and nuts and after a little bit of chatting fell asleep. When I woke up at 5am I was starving! I made my way up to the finish line and asked for a sandwich from the kind volunteer. I had no voice so she also made me some tea to soothe my throat. While I ate my sandwich I watched a couple of people finish the 100k, then managed to go back to sleep for a bit.
We stayed one more night to camp and rest. We went to the lake, ate at the restaurant, napped, and sat by the fire. It was such a great trip and I am excited to see how we participate next year.