Photo Courtesy: Glenn Tachiyama
Wow, what a trip this one was. Loaded up the family Thursday and headed for Bainbridge Island, WA to stay with my in-laws and visit family. After a good night’s sleep we got up and went to Battle Point Park with the our kids (and their cousins) to let them run off some energy. Plus, I needed to do an easy 20-minute “flush out the legs” run after being in the car all day Thursday. I had a nice easy run with some stretch sessions, headed back to the car, changed and went to hang out with my wife, sister-in-law, kids, and nephews.
The boys soon roped me into a game of “chase Uncle Jeff” around the playground. Okay, I’m tapered, rested and raring to go. So, I joined in without a thought. Soon, 6 other boys on the playground (ages ranging from 4-8) decided it looked like awesome fun and joined in the chase. I obliged and started running all over the playground to keep away from the boys, occasionally letting them catch and “jail” me. I would then quickly break out and it would start all over again. After about 10 minutes, I was scaling a rope/wood wall with 2 boys hot on my heels. I slipped and banged my shin/tibialis anterior muscle about 3 inches above my ankle joint. After I sat down, it really started to hurt. Walking, flexing my foot—all hurt. Oops. That wasn’t smart.
Friday evening I went and crashed at my wife’s sister’s house in Seattle. That way I didn’t have to deal with the ferry on Saturday morning. We had dinner and after hanging out with them and my little 1-year old niece (SO CUTE), I hit the sack at about 10:30. My shin was still sore (this made me a bit nervous). Next morning I was up at 6am, on the road by 7am, and in Easton and checking in by 8:15. After catching up with a few folks (Jamie Gifford and his wife, Matt Hart, Betsy Nye and Paul Sweeney and few others), we made our way to the start at 10am. After the Canadian and U.S. National Athems, we were off and running. The first thing I noted was that my shin hurt every foot strike. Not promising, but I pushed the worry out of my mind and settled in and ignored it.
Photo Courtesy: Matt Hart, CoachingEndurance.com
I had decided I wasn’t going to let anyone go in this race. And with Phil Shaw, Lon Freeman and Dan Barger in the race, I was prepared to go out quick. Rod said Phil went out pretty quick from the start last year, so I was ready for that. And true to last year, he did. I went with him and by the time we hit the first climb a couple miles in, Phil and I had gapped everyone with Dan Barger chasing. Phil and I settled in to running up the first climb and chatting a bit. I felt good and soon we got into some downed trees. I continued to run while Phil hiked. I quickly gapped him and took the lead up to the first water-only station at mile 3.7.
I had gone out with one bottle half filled and one bottle empty, and was planning to fill at 3.7. Jamie Gifford quickly topped off my bottles, and Phil didn’t stop and assumed the lead as we jumped onto the singletrack switchbacks that climb up to Goat Peak. I ran back up to Phil and started to settle in behind him when he suddenly stepped aside and said “go ahead.” So I did. It was early and Phil was obviously running his own race. I checked myself and felt like I wasn’t pushing and kept running with a few short hike breaks on the steeper sections. Soon I was about 100 meters ahead, but could always see Phil a couple switchbacks below. The terrain up Goat Peak is pretty gnarly and loose (as it’s a high-traffic motorcycle trail). Soon I was up Goat Peak and ran into three motorcross riders, one of which had dumped his bike off the steep trail into the trees (upside down) between two switchbacks. They were all standing there assessing the situation. Bummer for them.
Soon we were rolling along on our way to the Cole Butte aid station. I arrived at Cole Butte, filled my bottles, grabbed some banana, and watched Dan Barger run right through the station and head up the rocky double track. I settled in about 30 meters back. We summited the road and Dan stopped to re-tie his shoes. I took the lead and started the dirt road descent. Dan caught up to me and we started chatting about Western States and Bighorn, and soon Phil caught up with us too. After descending 1500 feet, we started up the 1500 foot climb together — talking, running and hiking. We soon arrived at Cole Butte together. We left together and kept climbing on our way up to the PCT junction. I again pulled ahead on the steeper climbs around mile 17 or 18. I soon gapped Phil and Dan, and couldn’t see them anymore. This would be the last time I saw them during the race.
Photo Courtesy: Glenn Tachiyama
I soon jumped on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and started the nice rolling running the PCT dishes out on this course for nearly 30 miles. Awesome. I really enjoyed this part of the course. I felt good (except for the sharp pain every step in my left shin/muscle). I ignored it. At one point I thought about dropping, but then thought about Jurek’s 2007 win (and former course record) performance at Hardrock (which I witnessed) with a badly sprained ankle. It was black and blue with an air cast on. I thought…if Scott can run on a sprained ankle, I can run on a bruised shin…suck it up, Jeff, ignore the pain. So I kept going.
VIDEO: Tacoma Pass Aid Station, Mile 23, 1 minute lead. Video by Matt Hart, CoachingEndurance.com
Since I didn’t have a pacer or crew and was going on drop bags, I was in and out of the early stations with the help of Jamie Gifford, his wife and Matt Hart who jumped in without prompting to help me out (thanks y’all!). At Stampede Pass (mile 33), you leave and immediately start climbing up into the woods. I glanced at my watch when I left and then listened for clapping for the next runner, which was Dan Barger. About 2 minutes. Not much. He was right behind me. I just kept on plugging away and soon arrived at Meadow Mountain aid (mile 40) and got in and out and listened again. I never heard clapping so I knew I had increased my lead over the last 7 miles.
VIDEO: Stampede Pass Aid Station, Mile 33, 2 minute lead. Video by Matt Hart, CoachingEndurance.com
I came into Olallie Meadow, Scott McCoubrey’s aid station at mile 47. I gave Scott a high five, downed some bananas and kept rolling. From Ollalie to Hyak were probably my lowest point in the race. My shin was really hurting badly by this point and there is a lot of rocky terrain in this section. Plus, the off-trail section on the ski resort at Snoqualmie just killed my shin. Downhill running, especially technical downhill sections…the kind I normally excel at, really hurt. I had to really go gingerly down on these sections. I was grunting and growling coming down that thing. I really couldn’t run the steep technical stuff fast like I normally would, it just killed my tibialis anterior, it was like somebody was ripping it off. Best way to describe the pain was with every foot strike it was like stabbing needles in my shin muscle. It hurt enough that even with the lead, I thought about dropping…and I’ve never dropped out of a race…ever. In 48 ultras…never. So, I kept pushing the pain to the side. I concentrated on quick, light steps and kept turning over.
VIDEO: Hyak Aid Station, Mile 53, 30 minute lead. Video by Matt Hart, CoachingEndurance.com
Photo Courtesy: Matt Hart, CoachingEndurance.com
I arrived at Hyak (mile 53) at 6:51pm and got my lights and gear for night time. I had some soup and jammed out of there not knowing where 2nd place was. I got through the paved section and started running up Keechelus Ridge on the gravel road, where I encountered my most bizarre experience in ultrarunning. I was buzzed by a Spotted Owl about 3 feet over my head. Wait, it get’s better. He swooped up into a fir tree about 20 feet off the deck and stared at me. Immediately the line from the kid’s book “Sam and the Firefly” by P.D. Eastman came to mind (I read it to the kids)…so I quoted, “Who? Who? Who wants to play?” and proceeded to run up the road. As soon as my back was to the darn thing, it swooped down and clawed me in the back of the head. WHAP! I felt my head and checked for blood. Nope, just stunned me, but thankfully didn’t draw blood or get my hat or headlamp. I guess the sucker wanted to play. I ran about a mile uphill without any hike breaks. I kept looking over my shoulder, completely paranoid he would come after me again. Good motivation.
I soon arrived at Keechelus Ridge aid and had some soup and got running again. I turned on my lights leaving here and was soon running down making my way to Kachess Lake. When I arrived at Kachess Lake at 9:20, I asked Matt Hart how far back 2nd was at Hyak. He said 30 minutes. That sat well with me, as I knew I’d run pretty hard up Keechelus Ridge and down. Hopefully the lead was more now.
I had some more soup, got bookin’ up the road and into the 5-mile “Trail from Hell” section from Kachess Lake to Mineral Creek, along the banks of Kachess Lake. In the past, this section has been pretty slow with regard to splits and the fastest split was Phil Shaw from last year’s course record run, covering the 5 miles in 1:42. I was hoping to break 1:35. This section is the no-rhythm section. Well, that’s the rhythm…no rhythm. I just ran everything I could possibly run, even if it was only 3 strides. I got through this pretty quickly, and finally found myself turning and crossing Mineral Creek. I ended up running that section surprisingly quicker than I anticipated in 1:26.
I had more soup at Mineral Creek, and got into my final drop bag to get all the gels I’d need to get me to the finish. I was stocked up and moving up the 3,000 foot gravel road climb to No Name Ridge. This section was nice, as my shin was really bothering me after Trail from Hell. The smooth, consistent climb was a nice breather for my leg. I was soon up to the Ridge, drank some soup, ate a peach slice, and was off and moving into the Cardiac Needles section.
Everyone talks about this portion as such a hard section, but I found this trail to be nice. The climbs are steep, but not huge. The downs are steep, but not long. I found it was just a good rhythm through here. I was still in my sleeveless jersey, arm warmers and gloves and didn’t need any other layers. The night was awesome. There was a good amount of dew on the underbrush, but it’s not too overgrown here. I got to Thorpe and went straight up and down it before getting anything at the aid station. It was kind of cool and spooky, as Thorpe was engulfed in a whispy cloud when I went up to the summit and back.
I got going out of Thorpe after downing an orange wedge and getting my bottles topped off. At this point, I knew I had the record, but wasn’t sure by how much. I was ahead of my original splits (for an 18:55), so, I just kept plugging away. This section has a few steep, rocky downs that I could only hobble down. I couldn’t run downhill like I normally would. My shin was just too tender. I made the rocky traverse over to French Cabin aid, and was in and out quickly and making my way up the final grunt climb before the final descent down to Silver Creek. The section from French Cabin to Silver Creek seemed like it took forever. My shin was really bad by this time and I had to walk down some of the more technical, rooty sections…I just couldn’t run downhill fast at all. It felt like someone was jabbing needles into my shin muscle. I gimped down to Silver Creek and knew I was going to be well under 18:55. I got moving through the whoop-dee-doo section after Silver Creek and was soon turning onto the gravel road, and onto the ATV trail. The road section over the overpass and into Easton popped up and went by pretty quickly and I soon saw the lights of the fire station.
After the shin debacle and the owl attack, it was nice to be coming out on top. And, getting Phil’s record was just icing on the cake! It was definitely the most pain I’ve dealt with during a race. I ran with patella tendonitis in ’04 at Wasatch for 60 miles. But, this was way, way worse. Sharp pain in my shin for every step for 100 miles. My brother -in-law and I (afterwards) estimated I took over 100,000 steps on my left shin. A good beating. It was a good discipline in pain management. Just push it down and out. I’m still hobbling (6 days after the race) and the swelling is still there, but got it checked and it appears to be only a severely bruised muscle. Obviously pounding it for 100 miles made it worse, but it will heal—thankfully.
Thanks so much to the race volunteers, Charlie the RD…he’s the man….great race he puts on up there. Everyone should come check it out. It’s a stellar, tough course. My Suunto watch clocked 20,960 feet of climbing! Much love to my supportive family (as always), my sponsors, and Scott and Siiri for all their post-race advice dealing with the gnarly after-effects of the shin. Also, thanks to Jamie Gifford and his wife, Matt Hart for helping me get in and out of the early drop bags. Nice to have impromptu crew. And, as always, the Big Man Upstairs for blessing me with the drive and abilities to gett’er done! And finally, I leave you with this great photo taken of my shin, a few hours after the race, right after I took off my compression socks, right before it balooned up to freakish size…a big gnarly giddyup…