Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Amazing Waldo Lake Solo Trail Marathon

A solo run through the wilderness. No cheering crowds, no aid stations, no banners, medals, t-shirts, no finish line other than the one in my head. A challenge I set for myself and accomplished solely because I wanted to. I've been looking forward to this all year.

I have wanted to run around Waldo Lake for a long time, but it's a daunting task. The trail ranges in elevation from about 5,500 - 6,000 feet, is almost never flat, and once you leave the campground you are on your own. In the middle of the Willamette National forest, adjoining the 36,000 acre Waldo Lake Wilderness, with one access road coming in, it is a remote and lovely place, one of the most utterly quiet places I've ever had the privilege to visit. The lake itself is one of the clearest in the world, with visibility at over 100 feet. From any angle above the lake, you can look down into its beautiful depths to see the rocks on the bottom.

Lucky for me, my hubby is an avid mountain biker and agreed to be my marathon support team and accompany me on this journey. He packed 110 oz. of water in his hydration pack, and enough Honey Stingers and Lara Bars to keep me in glycogen supply for the five hours we estimated we'd be out there (including stops to take photos, of course!) My brother-in-law Nick decided to come along for the adventure as well, and so on Sunday morning we set out from the North Waldo campground to circumnavigate the lake in a counter-clockwise direction.

Let's just say I learned a lot on this run. There were many lessons it taught me, about trail running long distances, about planning, about elevation, hydration, and how hard I could push myself without any kind of event to provide moral support. Leading up to the day's attempt, my longest training run this year was about 10.5 miles (partially due to breaking my arm in June, which curtailed my running for the early months of the summer). This trail was slightly over 22, though I would run 24 or so by the time the day was done.

Firstly, although we meant to leave by 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning, that just didn't happen. We had been camping for days, and between getting up and cooking breakfast for the kids, making sure they had everything they needed for the day's activities, it was 10:00 by the time I left the campground. It was still cool enough in the shade to wear my long-sleeved shirt starting out, but I knew it would be getting hotter by the minute as the sun cleared the trees. I decided to wear my Vibram FiveFingers shoes, even though I've never run more than 10 or 11 miles in them. Why? Because the trail is largely fine dirt and forest duff, because I can no longer stand to wear regular running shoes, because I thought they'd help with agility on a trail known for roots and rocks. I also wore some new pink compression socks, just to keep the old leg muscles together for longer. So here I am looking like a total dork, getting ready to set out.

Let's say this right off the bat: this trail is never flat. I actually did it in the opposite direction from this elevation profile above, which seems like a pretty stupid decision when you look at the fact that all those hills on the left side of the profile came at the END of the run instead of at the beginning when I felt a little fresher. However, I knew I'd be running through the Taylor Burn, a vast area of starkly beautiful charred trees, and doing that in the morning when it was cooler sounded better than finishing up in the hot afternoon sun with no shade.

So off I set, heading into the burn almost immediately from the North Waldo campground. The guys set off on their mountain bikes only 10 minutes behind me, but as I was running and didn't see them and didn't see them, I started doing the math in my head. If I was running at my usual trail speed of 5 - 6 miles per hour, and they were biking along this rocky rutted trail probably only making 7 or 8 miles per hour, it was going to take a long time for them to catch me! Maybe it wasn't such a good idea not to have my own water and food along. My watch had died during a lake swim the day before (curse you Ironman watches and your supposed "water resistance"), and so I only had my best guestimate to go on, but after about 30 or 40 minutes, I just ran down to the shore and drank the clear lake water. Giardia be damned, at least I wasn't thirsty anymore.

Finally I entered the shady forest and a lovely singletrack trail winding along the lakeshore. The guys caught up to me and I grabbed a bottle of Hammer Perpetuem off the bike and slugged some down. For the next couple of miles they hopscotched me along the trail until we ended up at this fabulous overlook and stopped to ask another mountain biker to take a photo. I'd allowed myself to get a little behind the hydration curve and was feeling parched so I glugged down some more fluid. But from there on out, I figured I'd never be far from my support crew and my water and food, so I wasn't worried.

Off we went again, this time through more densely forested areas with bridges over dry seasonal streams. The trail wound toward and away from the lake, providing lovely views from time to time and at other times the solitude of the trees. After awhile, I noticed that I could no longer hear my mountain biking escort behind me. No worries though, I figured they'd catch up sooner or later. The trail began to climb, turning south and away from the lakeshore views. Although I wasn't really keeping track of time, it occurred to me that it had been quite a long time since I'd seen Wayne and Nick, and I was getting quite thirsty by now.

I stopped, listened. Nothing but the silence of the forest. I pulled out my whistle and blew. No answering tweet from my guys. Then I noticed how far from the lake I was. Maybe I'd somehow made a mistake and took a side trail, one that climbed up and away from the lake? There were several, but all were well signed. I stopped again. What if I was heading away from the lake and the guys were still going along the lakeshore? I wasn't even halfway around and although I knew I could always get back to the lake for hydration, it would be a very long slog without some nutrition. I turned around and reluctantly started running back the way I'd come. Back downhill.

About a mile or so later, I finally ran into them. Turns out that I was on the right trail after all, but Wayne had a flat tire just shortly after I'd left them so they were a long ways back. No worries, I again took the opportunity to try to catch up my hydration and headed back up the hill (ugh!) again. But mountain bike support was not destined to work out all that well for this trail. Although we stayed closer through the rest of the run, we were again separated by Nick's brake failing, and then his derailleur, leaving him as a single speed bike with only one brake.

This is about where the bigger hills took hold, with bigger rocks to boot. Some of them were gnarly enough that I had to walk the downhills as well as the uphills just in order to not trip and kill myself. But these were interspersed with lovely green meadows and water-lily filled ponds that thankfully didn't yield up the bloodthirsty hordes of mosquitoes that sometimes plague this place. I felt really strong and although I was now past my longest training run, the legs felt fresh and I was really enjoying the beauty of the place and the peace of running by myself.

Somewhere around 18 miles, that dreaded Wall came to meet me though. I knew he might be out there somewhere. Beauty and trees and peacefulness are all fine and dandy, but this is still a long ways to run. I think if I'd stayed on top of the nutrition and hydration from the get-go, I might've missed the Wall altogether, but alas that was not the case. I got hot. I got thirsty. I tried to put more fluid and calories down but by now my stomach was feeling a bit rebellious. The altitude I'm sure added to the toll.

The last six miles were definitely challenging. The trail crosses the road and stays away from the lake, it's full of PUDs (Pointless Ups and Downs) that seem tailor-made to demoralize a poor trail runner. Luckily my hubby raced ahead to refill his Camelbak with water, and my brother-in-law stayed with me and kept up my spirits. We talked about that place I call The Dark Night of the Soul that reaches out for you in long distance events, and he reminded me of how we can overcome our body's obstacles with the power of our mind. By the time Wayne got back with the water, I could hear children's voices from the campground and knew I would make it.

All in all, it was a wonderful experience, something that I've really looked forward to accomplishing and was so thrilled to get the opportunity to do. I'm grateful for my support crew, without whom I would've had to carry all my own gear. Being able to run unencumbered was such a freeing thing, and it was great to share the experience with them. I learned (or re-learned) those valuable lessons about not getting behind in my hydration and nutrition, something I really really need to keep in mind for the Ironman. Drink and eat early and often! As always, I find myself so appreciative of all that my body can do. I ask it and I ask it, and still it keeps giving me these amazing experiences. More than anything, I'm so happy to live in this beautiful place on earth. Literally 80 miles from my front door I can run through the wilderness, through silent forests and along majestic lake shores. What a lucky lady I am!


Kovas said...

What an awesome project! This is what I'm shooting for - mostly unsupported adventures.

juliejulie said...

Wow. You continue to amaze me, every single weekend! And I LOVE your shirt!

tinaparker87 said...

Yes, you are avery luck person! Congrads.

Nancy Mize said...

I'm really curious how your feet felt around mile 20 in your 5 fingers. I saw in the sept 7 post that your legs felt great--feet too?
I've noticed that my legs feet & hips are fine after 20 miles in New Balance Trail minimus but have been a little worried about stone bruises etc in the five fingers...any words of wisdom?

Robin said...

The FiveFingers were really great, I had no problems with them at all - no blisters or feet aching. I did trip twice over roots/rocks, but didn't fall either time. One time I did bruise my foot on the rock, so my left foot was a little sore the next day. But since I'm a person who has tripped many times running, even on pavement in running shoes, I don't really see this as a flaw of the FiveFingers ;-)

Nancy Mize said...

thanks for the five fingers feedback, Robin. I'm with you on the tendency to trip anyway. I actually have found that I trip less now since my brain knows where the bottoms of my feet are in the 5 fingers, no cloud of foam confusing the signals!
Your Lake Waldo adventure sounds like a dream. You are indeed fortunate to live in such an amazing place!

Robin said...

Oh I definitely trip WAY less in the Fivefingers. It's one of the things I like about them. Like you said, my feet feel much more in contact with the ground and "know" where they're at.