The White Mountain 100 is a race through the White Mountains of Alaska just north of Fairbanks. It's hosted at the end of March which allows for more daylight and less harsh conditions. I was excited for this race, really excited. But after my sole crushing DNF at the Arrowhead 135 just a few weeks earlier. I wasn't even sure if I'd make it to the start line. It wasn't till all the aches and pains had passed and I wrote about my Arrowhead experience that I realized my failure at the Arrowhead was actually exactly what I needed to get me to the start of the White Mountain.
The weeks leading up to the race were uneventful. I was relaxed and not even slightly nervous of what was in store. I paraglided a bunch and surfed and skied a bit too. The most important thing to me after the Arrowhead was that I was happy. I was happy when I trained. I was happy when I raced. And I was happy when I finished. I just wanted to be happy and if running didn't make me happy I would do something that did. The other two important take aways from the Arrowhead was consistent and appropriate fueling and staying positive even with a bored and ideal mind. The inevitable boredom and loneliness scared me the most. Still not totally sure how to train that other than extreme solitude... and with my dog Lopi I'm rarely alone alone.
The other elephant in the room was my rotated hips. I'm stuck in a forward rotation and have been my entire life. I had hip issues in high school track and field and pretty much my entire running career. However as an adult I barely notice the hip issues until I get 60+ miles into a run. It must be the constant bad form for hours on end that finally add up and explode. I've been in physical therapy now for 6 months and was finally seeing results after the Arrowhead. I however was scared of the idea that I needed to rebuild new running muscles in just 6 weeks so I stopped PT and decided to resume when I got back from Alaska. Better to run on my trained and tested muscles even though a body break down was inevitable.
I flew up to Alaska the Friday before the race. It was cold when I got off the plane about 12F. Not unreasonable though and I was optimistic that the conditions would be actually warm. My friend Lourdes joined me that night and we got a hotel in Fairbanks. It's so cold there over night that you had to plug the car batteries in when ever you parked them. It's crazy to me that people live here all year round. I made sure to do a really good job this time of eating and drinking before the race. So much so that I kept make myself sick from forcing food down my throat. Though I knew I'd be in a caloric deficit after the race so I needed as much as I could now.
We breezed through the prerace checkin, got our bib numbers, said hi to some old friends, and started the long wait for the race to start. The night before the anxiety started to set in. I asked Lourdes how she survives the boredom. What she thinks about while she's out there. She said she thinks about nothing. Sometimes she counts or just repeats the same word over and over. I wasn't convinced I'd be able to do the same so I download a few more podcasts on my phone just in case.
We woke up early and made it to the start line thanks to the badass crusher Teri Buck who let us follow her. (She'd already be home in Anchorage by the time I finished) It's definitely a bikers race with less than 15 runners out of the entire 90 starters. You also get a feeling that they don't really like the runners that much since the very appropriately refer to us as walkers. I guess if it was just a biking race they could probably make the cutoffs shorter and the volunteers wouldn't have to spend as much time out there but I digress.
The race started quickly my plan was to run for as long as I could so that I could get as far on the course as possible before my legs started to break down. I had a strong start and was moving well. The air was so cold that I physically felt my nose holes freeze shut. A lot colder than I was expecting... this would be a theme. About 45 minutes in I ate some food and then reached for my bladder hose to take a drink. Nothing. I thought maybe the change in altitude from Fairbanks to the start had caused the hose to become pressurized so I waited for an uphill to check the situation. I took the pack off and got the bladder out. It was frozen. I was screwed I thought. I can't believe I didn't bring any other way to carry water. I'd surely not be able to continue if I couldn't drink in between aid stations. Then Lourdes came down the hill. I asked her if I could just have a little bit of her water to get me to the first aid station so I could fix the situation there. Instead she gave me one of her little bottles and we went on our way. Lourdes literally saved my race with that bottle.
The first aid station was just a table on the side of the trail. I drank a bunch of water and filled my bottle again. I needed to make it 21 more miles before I could sit down inside a warm cabin and really fix the situation. At this point Beat, Lourdes, Eric, Tony, Virginia and I were all very close. But I was starting to fall back from lack of hydration and fueling. This section also was when the trail turned from punchy runnable to soft sand snow. I could see Lourdes in front of me and I thought we might go back and forth between peeing and layering but it wasn't long till Lourdes started riding the downhills and gained miles on me. I was alone now and actually enjoying the scenery. It was beautiful and warm enough that I didn't need my face covered. My only wish was that my bladder wasn't frozen.
When I made it to the second aid station Lourdes was just leaving and we waved at each other. Inside the cabin Tony was trying to get some food down and warm up. I changed my socks and tried to dry out my shoes. I wanted to drink as much as I could before heading back out for a very long cold night. I ate a pound of bacon and my first PB and J of the race. I also drank a Skratch Labs Recovery shake and made another one in my bottle for the road. A skier who DNFed at the cabin gave me a second bottle for water and I was so thankful for his generosity. The sweep came to the cabin and said the next runners behind me were very far behind and I never saw them even once during the race.
I headed back out on the trail about an hour before sunset. I was really hoping to make it as far over the pass as possible before it got really dark. I had put some music in my headphones at the last aid station and was hoping it would help distract my mind. Instead I just got to think about things with some background music. A few miles down the trail I came up on Tony. Tony had just changed into some serious winter over boots. They looked like they might have been rated for -40F. My shoes and socks were wet and as I passed him I started to think. Was it really going to get that cold tonight? Was I going to get frostbite? Should I put on all my layers before it gets really cold? The thoughts swirled through my head. I stopped waited for Tony to catch up and confessed. Tony I'm really scared. If something happens out here in this 23 mile section the people behind us are hours away and the people in front are hours away. I'd be screwed. You want to walk with me through the night over this pass for safety reasons? Tony was kind of enough to oblige and we chatted for a bit as the sunset.
Tony shouted look up and the northern lights were dancing above us. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Vibrant greens and purples and pinks dancing across the sky. We stopped and tried to take a couple pictures. Then we kept moving to stay warm. I'd look up every once and awhile to watch them but Tony and I no longer talked. It was way to cold to pull the buff down from your face and the higher we rose the less tree coverage we had and the wind chilled us to the bone.
This is when things went really down hill. The temps read -28F and with the wind chill it could have easily been -30F. Even with 4 jackets on my arms started to go numb. The artificial hand warms were key and I kept moving my toes hoping they wouldn't get frost bite. But the worst of all was that everything was frozen and I couldn't pull my buff down long enough to put any food or water in. Tony's head lamp was comforting. Just knowing he was there made it feel less scary. But I started to think that if a snowmobile came by I might take the easy way out. But they never came and by 4am Tony and I had successfully made it to the 3rd aid station.
This was my favorite aid station. The volunteers were great, the warmth was amazing, and I ate literally 5 PB and Js. Lourdes and Eric were still there when we arrived but on their way out. Tony wanted to sleep so he passed out and Fred woke up and we chatted for a bit. Fred was fast really fast but was widely under dressed for the conditions. He had spent a good amount of time in the aid station warming up before going back out to brave the conditions. I left a few minutes before him and he quickly caught me. We chatted and walked together for a bit but my pace was too slow for him to stay warm so he took off. My headlamp was dead so I walked alone in the dark really appreciating the northern lights. I tried the counting thing but mostly found my self repeating over and over "The faster you run the faster you're done". This motivated me to the next medic tent and then finally to the last aid station. But my hip issues had caught up to me and around mile 70 I was unable to bend my left knee.
Walking became a chore and the only way I could even move fast enough was to shuffle at other peoples walking pace. I looked more like I was cross country skiing than running since I would swing my left leg out around by the hip instead of bending it. At the last aid station I sat down for a bit and eat one last PB & J. I was in the final 19 miles to the finish and it was now going to be a death march. It sucked that I felt so good and did everything right just to have my body go out first. But I knew it was going to happen so I pushed through the pain. Screaming in pain every time I had to run. Repeating over and over The faster you run the faster your done. I needed to make it to the finish before sunset. I didn't have a headlamp and I wasn't about to freeze out there another night.
I was in the final 7 miles to the finish when Tony finally caught me. I was so happy to see him. We were climbing up the wall right before the final horrible 6 miles of uphill to the finish. We chatted for a bit but he was walking and I couldn't keep up even at my shuffle. He kindly gave me his headlamp just incase and took off for the finish. I kept him in my sights for awhile but I started to hallucinate as the light started to get dimmer. I kept seeing Tony hiding in the woods. So vividly that I would shout Tony what are you doing. I kept trying to talk to him before he disappear into a tree. Then the pain in my knee became unbearable I would just start shouting like a crazy person every time I had to run. The faster you run the faster you're done! It felt like the finish took forever. Probably because it did but it was still daylight so I met my goal.
I grabbed a bunch of food to eat and then jumped in the car and Lourdes and I headed back for the hotel. Now it was time to take stock. Only one blister on my big toe which I counted as a success. Lower back and shoulder chaffing from the backpack. Butt crack and inner thigh chaffing from well you know... Feet swollen from 37hrs of being on them and well hmmm that left knee ya that didn't bend for a solid 3 days.
I was actually in super great shape for running almost the entire race granted a shuffle run but still a run. Made me wish I didn't have messed up hips or might have been able to finish hours faster. But in conclusion I've canceled all my upcoming races to focus on my hips. I don't want to feel like mile 60 is the guaranteed death of my knee at every race because of my hips. And I'd also like to not have to use my high pain tolerance all the time. Stay tuned for full body reset. I know it'll take months and lots of work but it will be worth it in the end.