In October of 2011 Trevor Hostetler and I, eager to sneak in some adventure runs before rainy season, circumnavigated the famous volcano Mt. St. Helens (read HERE). This was my first time and I was stunned by the breathtaking vistas and variability of terrain. I was also amazed by the fact that Trevor said he had done it like a dozen times. That being said during our 7-ish hour run we discussed many things including the idea of making it a race around the volcano on the Loowit Trail. I thought that it was such a great idea and I told him that I'd help him in any way possible. Weeks went on and I continued to ask Trevor if he had contacted anyone regarding making it a race. He said that he had been busy with work and family obligations and he hadn't gotten around to it yet. Understandable but I knew I needed to light a fire under his behind so I said, "If you don't pursue this within the next month or so I am going to be the race director!" ;-)
Time went on, Trevor made some moves, and he was granted permission to have 50 runners for the inaugural year. He then linked up w/ experienced race director Todd Janssen to organize and make the Mt. St. Helens "round-a-bout" brainchild a reality.
Fast-forward to July 2012---> The race was at full capacity with entrants and things were pretty much in order for the September event: Volcanic 50. A group of us went out to gather GPS data and video footage of the course, and we enjoyed an absolute gem-of-a-day out there. September 15, 2012....Race Day....finally arrived and we had an awesome group of friends that made the trip up to perform various duties. I was geared up to race it and I had some good friends, including Willie and Nick, who were volunteering. Brian Donnelly and I traveled together and I knew that he would probably be one of the guys I'd be battling with during the race as well. As Trevor sent us off from Marble Mountain trail head a group of five or so pulled ahead on the climb. It went me, Brian, Joe Kleffner, Jason Leman, Andrea Jarzombek-Holt respectively, and we made our way to the first rock field. This is one of the many extremely technical sections and I noticed that Brian was really moving well through these sections. I had a strategy to put some time (at least a couple minutes) on him and the rest of the pack so I wouldn't get passed on the next significant rock field at mile 30 or so. Once we hit some smoother sections I was able to gap them a bit. Before I knew it I was rolling into the mile 12-ish Aid Station 1 and was greeted by friends Willie, Amy Sproston, Gary, and a few others. I made a quick transition and headed down to the Toutle River to cross and climb the burly mountain side.
(Early miles leading the race. Photo: Takao Suzuki)
After climbing out of the Toutle we were greeted by a sandy 1,000 foot climb which I ran the whole way. I felt really good during this section and was able to look down and see Joe and Brian who were very close together. I picked a landmark, looked at my watch, and then looked at it again when they got to it. Four minute lead at approximately mile 15. Perfect...and I was feeling really good. The next five-ish miles were more of the same and I tried to surge whenever possible. We had such good weather and amazing views and by the time I reached the oasis at mile 20-ish I was really ready for some water. I filled up in the spring and scurried out of there quickly. Hunger was kicking in and now since I had water I took out some food and started unwrapping it. I kept plugging away and eventually something didn't feel quite right. Then I saw a picnic table way off in the distance. I yelled "NO!" because I knew that there were no tables on the route and that I was off course. I must have missed the turn while I was unwrapping my food and I was so bummed. There aren't too many worse feelings than sprinting at your competition while you are leading a race. Almost immediately I saw Brian and Joe who both apparently made the same wrong turn. The three of us made our way up toward Windy Pass where we were supposed to be going, and eventually ran back into the Loowit Trail. Just then we saw Jason Leman and he looked over at us perplexed by what we were doing. He slowed down and started to come towards us and I yelled, "run! go! don't stop! you've got the course record!"
At that point I learned that Brian took a hard fall and potentially had a cracked rib. I saw blood on him and my deflated, bummed-out attitude quickly shifted to concern for my fellow racer. I could see the pain on his face and his biomechanics and stride were definitely altered. Joe pulled ahead and went after Jason and Brian and I plugged along as I tried to give him some words of encouragement. Before long we reached Aid Station 2 and smiles and encouragement from friends lifted my spirits a little...(Thank you all so much!) I still felt a little down-and-out about blowing my lead and getting off course.
(Witnessing the grit and determination of one tough Brian Donnelly. Photo: Renee Seker)
The next several miles I went back and forth from not caring about running hard to trying to catch Jason. I found myself in 2nd place with Brian and Joe not far behind. Then we finally hit that rock field at mile 30 that I had been dreading all day. I tried to hone in on my "inner mountain goat" and eventually got spit out the other side. By now I was really starting to bonk and I realized I was out of gels, etc. I kept plodding along and then a thought came to me: "I think I stashed some Clif Shot Blocks in the bottom of my pack in case of an emergency." Sure enough I took it off, dug around, and fished out a pack..."Yes!" This is the part of an ultra where every mile seems so slow and I thought that the bonk, combined with the tough, technical course made it feel like this race is just dragging on. I kept on following the markers tirelessly and yearning for that turn off to the finish line. Another mile went by and I was starting to have feelings of disillusion. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks!: I am starting my 2nd loop around the mountain, and the markers I am following are from this morning! I turned back and was so angry and embarrassed at myself. Before long I spotted another runner who had apparently made the same mistake as me. Enter Nichole Sellon, a super strong runner from Seattle area, who had also been leading the race. Nichole and I linked up together and figured out our error much to our dismay. It took us awhile and we tried to remain upbeat and positive despite the "boneheadedness." Again, in hindsight, I realized that while I was fishing out that Block Shot from my bag I again missed a turn.
We finally made it down to the finish line in just under 8 hours. Nichole still finished 2nd but I dropped all the way to 8th place. Jason Leman ran a stellar race and I am so happy for him to get the win at the inaugural race (read his report HERE). Brian finished 2nd (read his report HERE), Joe finished 3rd and Andrea took the win...so all in all it was still a pretty solid effort for Animal Athletics! I was beside myself with regret and embarrassment, especially because I had run the route twice and one of those times was just a couple months before the race. Really sorry if I worried anyone and I was thankful to have friends at the finish to take care of me and attempt to lift my spirits. Like every race there is a take-home lesson....This one had many...and I realize that part of racing (and leading) trail races involves getting off course.
Thanks so much to all the volunteers that hiked in supplies and spent the day taking care of us. Huge shout-out to race directors and friends Trevor Hostetler and Todd Janssen for making this happen. I have done a lot of 50k races and I have to say that this one is potentially one of the most unique and picturesque, and for sure the most difficult. The next morning I woke up and felt a little emotionally "hung over" and threw a "pity party" for myself all day, but when Monday morning rolled around I vowed to "move on"...and to be grateful to have experienced that day. Now as I am sitting here I am eager to get back out there and race one of the coolest races out there...a circumnavigation of a live volcano!