Photo By Long Run
Shortly after Randy signed up for the IMTUF 100 mile race, I offered to be his pacer. Randy is a 100-mile veteran, completing most of his 100-mile races without a pacer (including a sub-24 hour finish at Cascade Crest in 2011). He didn’t need a pacer (many runners don’t), but it usually provides welcome company during the dark, cold, sleepy, lonely hours of the night and early morning. He accepted my offer to pace him, and I’m grateful for him allowing me to be a part of his adventure.
|We bought these glasses|
at a dollar store, in case
we needed to keep our
eyes from freezing.
Marjon, Randy, and I drove from Portland to the Burgdorf HotSprings in Idaho over a 2-day period. We made stops at select rest areas, Randy’s favorite gas station, historical landmarks, and even spent the night in a haunted hotel. After arriving at the Burgdorf Hot Springs on Friday evening, we settled into our rustic cabin and casually showed up late for the mandatory pre-race meeting (we may have missed a small important pivotal piece of information at the beginning of the meeting). After some group photos and last minute organizing of drop bags, we slept.
Holy balls. The temperature at the start of the race was about 8° F. My upper lip was freezing, providing yet another reason of why I was jealous of Randy’s mustache. Ready or not, there was no choice in the matter. Randy had mountains to conquer.
3…2…1…YOU POOR, CRAZY, CRAZY PEOPLE….
Watching the runners disappear into the freezing darkness, I couldn’t help but feel a small bit of pity for what they were about to go through…and shear jealousy. There’s something about extreme weather that makes the running experience that much more awesome and ridiculous at the same time. Randy (and everyone else) would have to run smart and efficient to survive the tough course and the brisk elements, and I couldn’t wait to join them.
MILE 12 - CHINOOK CAMPGROUND, FIRST CREW ACCESS
Marjon was full time crew. I was part time crew. Together, we were the best crew ever! We showed up at mile 12 bearing any supplies that Randy might need including hand warmers, sets of clothing, and glasses (from the dollar store) to keep his corneas from freezing. As the first 5 runners came into the aid station, all facial hair had been turned to ice, some of their water bottles were frozen shut, and one runner had Nun chucks (he was dressed like Michelangelo). Soon after the group of runners had left, Randy came running in with a face that could be nominated for the Mustache Hall of Fame. It was hard to tell if Randy was smiling, or if his face was just frozen that way…either way, he was running strong and on schedule. GO RANDY!....Ok Marjon, start the car, start the car! Brrrrr!!!
MILE 32 - UPPER PAYATTE LAKE, 2nd CREW ACCESS
Marjon and I took the scenic route to this aid station…as in, we accidentally went to the wrong aid station before realizing how very wrong we were. Bad crew! Bad Crew! We zipped to the correct aid station, just in time! Not before too long, Randy showed up. It was nearly noon, and Randy needed to change out of his cold weather gear. The weather was sunny and around 50° F. so far, he was running his own race and doing a strong job of it. The frontrunner was far in front of everyone, but Randy didn’t need to win...he needed to finish. Randy was in 1st place in the Idaho Trail Ultra Series, and all he had to do was finish the damn race and he would have a solid chance at winning the series. There were other factors, but everything was looking good for Randy. As soon as he was willing and able, he left the aid station to chase his destiny.
MILE 44 - THIRD CREW ACCESS (Enter Pacers)
|Away we go!|
Marjon then drove by us blasting Gangnam Style from the truck.
MILE 47 – SNOWSLIDE TRAILHEAD
Of all the scenarios playing in my head, there was only 1 where Randy might drop out of the race. If he couldn’t somehow manage to get calories that he needed, there would be a point where his system would likely crash. It seemed like every type of food made him nauseous, but little by little he somehow ate enough to keep moving.
The next 3 miles were a steep rugged grind of a climb, and the pace was like dancing the fox trot without the quick-quick. It was clear that Randy had the end in mind, for he was saving his climbing legs for the 2nd half of the race. So as we climbed, we took our time and soaked in the beauty of it all. After reaching the peak, my Garmin said we were just over 50 miles into the race. We then coasted downhill (no faster than a 9:30 min/mile pace) for about 8 miles to the next aid station.
|Plants on Fire|
MILE 58 – LAKE FORK AID STATION, 4th CREW ACCESS
As we arrived, the light faded completely. Marjon was there, and she seated Randy by the camp fire. I ran to the car and grabbed a plastic bag full of clothing, dumped it onto the ground, and did a complete wardrobe change to prepare for the below freezing nighttime temperatures: New shirts, vest, fleece jacket, fleece hat, gloves, a second layer of shorts, arm sleeves, and two fresh headlamps. A man at the aid station bluntly warned me that it would be too cold for my bare legs…my running experience told me otherwise, so I ignored him and helped grab food for Randy. As a vegan, Randy’s food options were limited. Marjon had lots of Randy snacks, but the aid stations limited him to PB&J sandwiches, pretzels, and fruit...and at the time, Randy seemingly hated fruit.
Meanwhile, the next runner came into the aid station with a huge blister on one of his toes, and he was about to sit down and get it lanced. That sounded exciting to me, so I rushed over there to take a look. In my haste, the soup in my hand had spilt over the edge and onto my right shoe. Fiddlesticks. Not knowing if my wet foot would soon become a frozen foot, I changed into one of my backup shoes. By the time we left the aid station, I would somehow spill my water bottle onto the same damn shoe. WTF, fine I’ll run with a wet shoe. F. Damn. Gosh dang. Gee whiz. It would later prove irrelevant.
The next aid station was only 3 miles away on a mostly flat gravel road. This section of running remained uneventful except for the soothing sounds of burps, farts, and compliments on the quality of such sounds.
MILE 61 - FALL CREEK AID STATION
This was a lovely quaint aid station, completely enclosed in a heated tent. Randy requested 5 minutes to rest and ingest some food. When his 5 minutes were up, we shoved off. From here, the trail was a long steep climb. Our body temperatures were getting hot from the ascent, but as soon as we took off our jackets we started freezing. Cause we’re hot then we’re cold, we’re yes then were no, we’re in then we’re out, we’re up then we’re down. Pretty much. Eventually we were caught by Ryan Lund and his pacer Joelle Vaught. We could hear Joelle chatting from a mile away, and it’s easy to see why she makes a great pacer. After they dusted us, I started to realize how quiet I was. As Randy was getting more and more tired, I would have to find ways to keep him from falling asleep on his feet. Randy couldn’t ingest any form of caffeine, but at least the ginger candies were helping…for now.
The trail became brutally steep before leveling off and eventually catching an ATV trail for a long downhill descent. The trail was covered with soft moon dust (very fine silt, like a turkish grind), and we were keeping a decent pace.
Mile 67 – BLACKWELL LAKE
As we reached the aid station, my shoe started to press into my forefoot uncomfortably. Upon further inspection, the moon dust was beginning to accumulate directly on the forefoot of my insole, which would explain why my foot was feeling tenderized. Using my fingernails, I scraped off the moon dust from the insoles of both shoes.
The distance to the next aid station was about 11 miles. Within the first few miles, we had to stop a couple times to scrape the moon dust from the insoles of our shoes. It’s amazing how something so small can buildup and cause such excruciating discomfort. Onward we marched, eventually leaving the dusty ATV trail and ascending some kind of ridge. Every so often, I would shine my headlamp into the wilderness on either side of us to try and see if we were being watched by anything wild. No eyes reflected back, but maybe that was a good thing. My ability to talk at Randy was 1/100th the scale of Joelle Vaught’s ability, but I kept trying. “Hey Randy, have you ever chopped a tree down with an axe before? REALLY?! How big was it? Wow, that’s manly. I’m impressed….umm…what’s your favorite kind of dog?...interesting…Yeah, I’m the best pacer ever. While telling one of my favorite stories from my soul-searching trip to Scotland, Randy actually stopped running for a second. With his headlamp beaming in my face, I turned to him and asked:
Me: Hey, are you alright?
Randy: …huh? Oh, yeah. I think I just fell asleep.
Without caffeine, only adrenaline was keeping him awake. Not even the coolest story of my life (hiking the Highlands of Scotland in a kilt) could keep the man awake, thus insulting me, though unintentionally. Eventually, Randy managed to ingest a caffeine-concentrated Gel which definitely helped. However, his biggest motivation was to make it to the next Aid Station and recharge. The outside temperature was around 14° F, but it was a dry cold…I don’t know how that works, but our water bottles surprisingly weren’t even freezing (but wet boggy areas were). We approached every stream crossing very cautiously to avoid getting our feet wet, especially with the freezing temperatures. We were fortunate to not slip into the streams, given the sketchiness of some of the crossings.
The mileage on my Garmin suggested we were getting close next aid station, and Randy was lifelessly marching up the hills hoping to see some signs of warmth and food. I was also marching, but with the purpose of hoping to find an actual toilet to sit on. We were surrounded by nothing that would serve as comfortable toilet paper, and I kept kidding myself that the aid station would be around the next corner, with a heated toilet seat and double-quilted Charmin. Delusions of Grandeur. The aid station ended up being 2 miles further than expected, Randy was nearly starving, I became constipated, and there was no toilet anywhere. Shuttlecock. It is what it is, we were just happy to finally reach the elusive aid station.
MILE 78 – CRESTLINE AID STATION
Randy rested in the heated tent while I grabbed him a PB&J, helped refill his bottles, and scraped the moon dust from the inside of both our shoes. After a good 10 minutes of regaining strength, we pushed on. Down, down, down, the dirt road we ran until we were directed onto some bushwacking trail for a couple miles. Reflectors and blinky lights guided the way, and after switching to a new headlamp, my spotlight was beaming strong. We caught Ryan and Joelle and distanced ourselves from them. The trail soon ended at a dam and a shallow stream. There was a dam fence that prevented us from having dam access to the dam road on the other side, so we opted to tip toe across the dam stream on dam little rocks while barely avoiding getting our damn feet soaked. Beyond the dam was a gravel road, which hugged the western rim of Upper Payette Lake for 3 miles before reaching the aid station. The moisture from the Lake made it the temperature drop to balls cold, commencing the freezing of the water bottle nozzles. At this point, it seemed like Randy was getting a little competitive. Every now and then we would glance back to see how far away Ryan/Joelle were. There was still a ways to go, so I was curious to see how hard Randy would push it.
MILE 87 – UPPER PAYATTE LAKE, 5th CREW ACCESS
|If you're happy and you know it...|
|Upper Payatte Aid Station|
Cruising through the flatlands, Randy surprised me by his strong steady pace. I commented that he looked better now than he did at mile 44, and he shot me the dirtiest look I’ve ever seen him make. Okay, maybe he doesn’t FEEL that way. Pretty soon we began climbing the longest ascent of the course, and Randy continued to impress me. Several miles later, the last aid station was in sight…and they had pancakes. YES!!!
MILE 92 – CLOOCHMAN SADDLE
Beyond the final aid station, the hiking continues to the highest part of the course, over 8,000’ in elevation. We stopped when we ran into our friend Michael Lebowitz, who was taking race photos. After some chatting and posing, we marched on. Thanks Michael! The next trail section was absolutely gorgeous, and it was a blessing to run this ridge in the daylight. There were seemingly endless mountains and valleys combined with colors of red, black, and golden brown… atypical of the green Oregon landscape that we’re used to.
|Climbing to 8,000'|
Somewhere along the way, I followed a stray ribbon that was off trail. I confused it for a course marker, but Randy had his doubts. After a good 5 minutes of deliberation, Ryan and Joelle catch up to us and Randy convinced me to get back on the trail to follow them. He was right, and I felt bad about wasting precious time. Bad Pacer! Bad Pacer! Randy was stronger on the hills than Ryan, and we overtook them for the last time. The 7 miles of downhill soon began, and it wouldn’t stop until we reached the finish line. Our pace was pretty fast, considering we were at the tail end of a tough 100 mile race. I looked at my Garmin to check our mileage/pace, but the battery was dead. What? I thought this thing was supposed to last up to 18 hours?...wait a minute…It was this moment when I realized how long I had been running with Randy.
The downhill was endless, understandably. The last 5 miles of any 100-miler are endless, especially when that particular race is closer to a 104-miler. Throughout the race, the distances between Aid Stations seemed longer than advertised, but such is life. The aid stations were extremely well organized with some of the best volunteers I’ve seen, and there’s little more we could have asked for (well, maybe some tofu for Randy). The last few miles were on a gradual soft trail, and it was a super pretty forest. At the bottom, we reached the gravel road and final mile of the race. I jokingly tried to get Randy to pick up the pace, but he didn’t give a **** (fill in the blank with any 4-letter word). This finish would be his longest career 100-miler at just over 30 hours, and it was the 2nd-longest run of my life at 60 miles in 20 hours. Together, we had a blast.
Results: 30:17:44, 5th out of 16 Finishers
|Photo By Long Run|
|Photo By Long Run|
Randy was genuinely happy with his finish. He finished strong despite the toughness of the course, his fitness level, and the stomach issues. And on top of that, Randy earned enough points in the Idaho Trail UltraSeries to remain in 1st place and eventually win the series. Hero status. Undoubtedly, our friendship grew from this experience, and I’m so happy that Randy allowed me to share the adventure with him and Marjon. To solidify Marjon’s status as “BEST CREW EVER”, she was quick with the beers, and a Jubelale was the first thing I drank after finishing. Good crew, indeed.
|R&R at the Hot Springs|
That night, we celebrated by watching the milky-way galaxy and counting shooting stars while floating in the Burgdorf hot spring.
The next day, we would drive to a nearby peak and scramble to the top for one last view of the rugged wilderness that we all became a part of during this wondrous 100-mile Festival. Thanks again Randy and Marjon, I had a blast with the both of you!!!
THANK YOU RACE DIRECTORS, VOLUNTEERS
To Ben Blessing and Jeremy Humphries, you both did a job well done in organizing a tough, beautiful course in rugged Idaho. Having the Aid Stations in heated tents helped keep the food/water from freezing, so thank you for being prepared for the weather. I will recommend this race for anyone looking for a tough 100-miler.
Thank you Volunteers for spending days and nights in the freezing weather to be Aid to the runners and pacers. Without you, this race would be beyond tough. I am grateful for your willingness to help, and for your efforts in setting up Aid Stations in the remotest of places. You have my respect.
You’re living in your own private Idaho.