Frölicking trails since 2010

Frölicking trails since 2010
Frölicking trails since 2010

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Volcanic 50K - The First Ever Race Around Mt. St. Helens - Sept 15, 2012

UPDATE: Click this link to watch my 4 min Circumnavigation video from October 2013. It's a great, upbeat preview of the course.

"Gentlemen, we can rebuild him...we have the technology" - My cardiologist, 2 months ago

Photo by Takao Suzuki
Course knowledge goes a long way, especially on Mt. St. Helens. Having previewed the course just 3 weeks prior, the details were fresh. Every technical section of trail was mapped out in my mind, and my plan for race day was all about efficiency. There were a few badasses at the race whose mear presence immediately had me scrapping a podium goal for 'time' goal (I'd rather be competitive with myself than with them). What was the goal? To break 6 hours...without breaking anything else.

"10... .....8.... .....4...3....2....1...GO!" - Trevor Hostetler, Race Directing like a boss

Seconds before the start.
Two miles of gradual climb, followed by a second round of slightly steeper climbing. Yassine jumped into the lead, followed by Brian Donnely, Joe Kleffner, and Andrea J-H. I was running behind them for a time, but my uphill legs eventually reached their efficiency threshold. My water supply consisted of two handheld 20oz water bottles and a 2-liter bladder on my back. My legs weren't exactly flying uphill with this water weight, thus begins the power hiking just 2 miles into the race. No need to burn out my legs this early, the strategy was to race strong to Windy Pass (mile 22) and gun it from there.

Mt. Adams in the background.
About 4 miles into the race, taken 3 weeks before the race.
Cock-a-doodle-damn it!...A few miles into the race, and my biggest concern was forgetting to put on sunscreen. Thankfully, there was a round of chapstick in my pack with SPF 15. Whilst hiking, I spread it on. The Icy Pear scent filled the air, prompting compliments from Nicole Sellon who was hiking behind me. She declined my offer to borrow my chapstick, though. By the end of the day, there would be chapstick streaks all over my shoulders, surrounded by burnt skin.

Passing Takao Suziki (photographer), the trail leveled off as it crossed the Climbers Bivouac Junction. My legs came back to life! And the weight of the water on my back was slowly going down as I was both drinking and spitting it out to achieve a comfortable 1 liter. Too close for missiles, switching to hand held bottles. Entering the first lava rock field, I caught up to Andrea. We teamed up for the first section of rocks, helping each other find the 'trail' of cairns and was like crowd surfing at a rock concert, literally. After a couple miles or so, I pulled away and ran strong through the twisty ins and outs of silty lava channels. My legs were feeling great, and the trail was super fun! Technical trails bring me to life, and it had me amped up more.

Typical Lava Rocks. Taken three weeks prior to the race.
The Loowit Trail. Taken 3 weeks before the race.
Before starting the race, I had resolved to blow by the first aid station (mile 12). The plan was to have 1 liter of water on my back and two full handhelds heading into the exposed Blast Zone (miles 12-20). GUs were my main food for the day, and my pack had plenty of those. So after the long descent into the Toutle River basin, Aid Station Volunteers began cheering me in. They had to hike in tons of food and water at least 5 miles on their backs, and all I took were 2 pretzels without even stopping. I then jumped down to the Toutle River, chugged some water before filling up my handhelds unfiltered, crossed the knee-high river, and scrambled up the the north slope. It was this moment when I remembered to yell THANK YOU across the channel to the aid station crew. Seriously, though...thank you volunteers for muling the food/water out there, those were the most delicious pretzels I ever had! (Thanks Amy, Willie, Gary, Jared and others who were out there).

Aid Station 1 Split: 2 hours 15 min - 4th Place - 9 min behind Yassine - 6 min behind Brian/Joe

Little me, Scrambling up the slope after crossing the Toutle River
Photo by Animal Athletics
Hiking out of the Toutle River Basin maybe halfway to the top.
Taken 3 weeks before the race 
The climb out of the Toutle River was long and slow (especially the sandy parts). Looking up at the top, I spotted Brian maybe 5 minutes ahead. Being able to see the person in front of me was like dangling a toy in front of a cat. Not a kitten, but a cat. Rawr, baby. After reaching the top of the climb, the landscape was becoming flatter and more baren with every mile. My eyes were glued to the technical trail, with an occasional glance on the horizon to try and spot the frontrunners. At mile 15, they came into view and looked maybe 8-10 minutes ahead of me. If I were going to catch them, there were two either outrun them or outlast them. Since my legs were content with the current pace, I decided not to burn out by increasing my pace. Instead, I would try to outlast them and start chasing them down after Windy Pass (mile 22). But until then, it was steady running through the flat, sandy, rocky, lunar Blast Zone.

North Side Blast zone. Taken 3 weeks before the race.
The North Side blast zone. Taken 3 weeks before the race.
Oasis. As I reached the natural spring on the north side of the Mountain (mile 20), my eyes caught what looked like Yassine and Brian in the distance. After stopping to fill up my bladder and water bottles, the gap was probably 8 minutes. Marching on, I eventually reach a junction and turn right towards Windy Pass. Getting closer to the pass, I expected to see the front runners hiking up. Hmm...maybe they've gone over it already? I didn't think they were THAT far ahead of me...Then out of nowhere, Yassine, Brian, and Joe were hiking towards me across the rocky terrain to my left. They had made a left at the junction where I turned right, and were hiking back up to the correct trail. Out of pity and general fatigue, I slowed down to give them back their respective positions. Yassine sees me slowing down and yells something like "What are you doing?! Get Running!". Shit. So I take the lead as we start the climb up Windy Pass.

High Anxiety. All along I knew I'd be racing hard to the finish from the top of Windy Pass, but in no way had I expected to be in the lead. All 4 of us were within talking distance as we climbed up the pass, but nobody really said anything. The other three looked a little deflated after making that wrong turn, and I was beginning to wonder how I would ever get away from these guys. As soon as I crested and began my descent, I never looked back. Bombing the technical downhill, my feet kept trying to slide off the sandy trail. Fun shit. At the bottom, the trail entered the flat terrain of the Plains of Abraham. From here, it was smooth sailing to the next aid station. My legs kicked steady and strong, trying to push the pace to demoralize Joe a little bit. Two miles later at the 2nd aid station, my lead was extended to 2 minutes.

Coming into Aid Station #2, the final aid station
Morale Boost. There must've been a dozen people at that aid station, and it was a HUGE energy boost! Thanks Renee, Bryan, Joe, Nick, Stephen, Matt, and everyone else who was there (especially those who hiked in everything). Bryan filled one of my water bottles with an electrolyte drink, and within 20 seconds I left the aid station with a fire in my heart. Walking, I switched one of my water bottle holsters for a new one that had 4 fresh GUs in the pocket. With water on my back, water in my hands, GUs within reach...I was ready to crank the final 8 miles of the course.

Aid Station 2 Split: 4 hours 35 min - 1st Place - 2 min in front of Joe - 4 min in front of Yassine and Brian

You can see the Fear in my face. Thanks for the top-off Bryan!
Pure Fear. A mile after the aid station, my calves started to cramp. NO!!! WHY NOW?! I need salt! After digesting a few Endurolyte salt pills, things were manageable again. The badasses were out of site, but not out of mind. How long before they catch me? Are they cramping too? How the hell am I going to do this? The electrolyte drink was probably saving my legs from totally seizing up. Hiking the hills with a furious purpose, I just pushed as hard as possible. My legs hammered the downhills perfectly fine, and that's probably where I made up the most time. The trail was full of quick up and downs, and it was impossible to get into a comfortable rhythm. It just wears you down.

I literally just took a piss before running around that corner.
That would have been awkward. Photo by Takao Suzuki.
By the Hammer of Thor. With 4 miles to go, my hamstrings begin to tighten. With my cramping calves and tightening hamstrings, I wondered how hard I could push without seizing up like a rusty tin man. At any time, I expected to get caught by somebody, but maybe everyone else was suffering too. Getting to the final lava rock field was a relief, since it didn't require much energy to rock hop...just insane amounts concentration. Where's the cairn? There it is. Head down. Hop-hop-hop-hop-hop-hop-hop-hop. Head up. Where's the next cairn? There it is. Head down. Hop-hop-hop-hop-hop...look over shoulder. Nobody. Head down. Hop-hop-hop-hooop-MISSTEP-Ah!-whoa-hop-hop-hop. Is this the trail? Run-run-tip-toe-lunge-hike-hike. Where's the cairn? Where the HELL is that cairn? F***-a-doodle-doo, there it is. Hop-hop-hop...

The final 2 miles. Reaching the junction with trail 244, I turned and glanced up at the rock field. Nobody. Am I going to win this thing? With 2 more miles of gradual downhill, it was cruise control. Since cramping was only an uphill issue, the only thing that worried me was rolling an ankle. Every now and then I would look over my shoulder, but it would have taken a massive effort for anybody to clear the lava rock field and chase me down. All I had to do was keep steady. A lot of things went through my mind, especially with everything that's happened this summer. How cinderalla is this? This one's for you, Todd W. Rounding the final corner, the cowbell started ringing.

Results: 6:03:54 - 1st out of 45 Finishers
Pace: ~11:15 min/mile

Epic day. Racing around Mt. St. Helens was an unreal experience and extremely humbling. It's by far the most scenic and technical race I've ever done, and I really appreciate Trevor Hostetler and Todd Janssen for making it happen. The Volcanic 50 will no doubt become an instant classic in the Pacific Northwest, and it's rad to see so many out-of-state runners come to join the small race of 50 people for its inaugural year. That course wasn't easy on anybody, and everyone dug deep that day.

THANK YOU VOLUNTEERS AND FRIENDS who took the time to spend the day at the race. Having you around was incredibly uplifting, and it made the day even sweeter. Cheers!


Getting back my fitness over the last 2 months has been anything but routine. Volunteering at so many races in the Northwest allowed me to travel and break away from normality, and it provided a breathtaking escape from the monotony of running in my backyard. In the mountains, my spirit and endurance rediscovered the answer to the question of WHY. Why do I need this so much? It's one of those things where you don't realize what you have until you've lost it. Spending June/July off my feet was difficult for me on so many levels, but it was so incredibly necessary. Getting depressed was so incredibly necessary. Feeling the void was so incredibly necessary. For it's times like these where the little things in life become the big things, where you truly learn to appreciate every day for what it is. To be alive is amazing. To be able to make someone laugh and smile is amazing. To be able to say "I did the best I could with the time I had" is amazing.

This day was one of the proudest days of my life, not for how I placed, but for how I finished. Regardless of who was in front or behind me, I was going to run MY race and do a damn good job of it. Apparently, that was enough.


Brian is a badass. He fell and cracked his rib at the Toutle River crossing (first aid station), and finished the race in 2nd. I'm so impressed by that.


The day before the race, I filled up my hydrapak bladder in order to count how many mouthfuls of water it took to empty 2-liters of water. That way, I could keep track of how much water was in my bladder throughout the race. So as I was sucking and spitting water into the bathroom sink with the door wide open, one of my roommates walked by and we made eye contact. I then proceeded to explain "I'm counting how many mouthfuls it takes to empty my bladder". 3nonjoggers, that one's for you.

Thank you Friends, Thank you Family. You are my sunshine in good times and bad.

Much Love,


My Saucony Peregrines, Drymax socks, and Dirty Girl Gaitors


  1. Well done Jason !! It is so great to see you back in an Ultra racing and doing so well, congratulations.

  2. Great post, love the blog! Extreme love of the title pic! Good seeing you last weekend; let's hope for some sun at TNF!