In the beginning, there was an Oregon Trail Series of ultramarathons – sadly, it was lacking in any distance above 50 miles. Being envious of our neighbors in the state to the south and a certain famous 100-mile race, the Northwest ultrarunning community began making noise about Oregon putting on a 100-mile or 100km race. Route ideas included the Eugene to Pacific Crest Trail (E2PCT) – which, upon further examination, turned out to be less than inspiring – something in McDonald Forest in Corvallis (100 anything in the Mac? Yikes!), or the Umpqua River Trail. Craig Thornley, a Willamette Pass Ski Patrol volunteer, made the suggestion of starting and finishing at Willamette Pass as it had the necessary facilities and was fairly centrally located, right on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Meanwhile, Curt Ringstad, a longtime Bend ultrarunner with a knack for creating great training routes, was inspired to commit to Craig to be a co-RD after a 22-mile run around Waldo Lake, followed by a dip in those pristine waters.
Then the real work began: finding a route. There were beautiful trails, lakes, and peaks surrounding the area, but connecting the best and making the route accessible for aid proved to be challenging. After many ideas turned out to be unrealistic or unfeasible in light of impending Forest Service restrictions in the Waldo Lake basin, Curt was encouraged to look at the maps for less popular trails and came up with a new course he thought might work. However, when the crew went out to locate all the trails that were depicted on the map, they found that several had disappeared in the field due to neglect. With a lot of hard work, trails were re-discovered and cleared.
The resulting course is mostly single-track trail with more than 11,000′ of elevation gain and an equal amount of loss. There are three major climbs of more than 2,000′ each and two minor climbs of more than 1,000′ each. The highest point is 7,818′ at the top of Maiden Peak and the lowest point is at Gold Lake, about 4,900′. According to Curt, “The recon missions were epic suffering. Trying to find the Lost Ribbon and Leap of Faith trails in the heart of mosquito season was incredibly difficult, but one would never know it now. But my real ‘aha’ moment was when I excitedly called Craig from the summit of Fuji after my first ascent. It was so beautiful at that moment that I knew we really had something worth doing, and I was super motivated to scout out every inch of the course. Now when I am out there, it is always striking to me how cool it is that we managed to tie these super loops together. It’s something for the greater good. A legacy. But without Craig’s organizational skills, the course would have only existed in my mind.”
Meanwhile, Craig was putting said organizational skills to work, communicating and getting permits from the Middle Fork Ranger District, striking up an agreement with the Willamette Pass Ski Lodge owner for use of facilities, and getting sponsorship from SportHill in Eugene and The North Face Outlet in Bend. With the help of his medical advisor, Laurie Monico, they enlisted the services of Matt Dillon and his group of volunteer Ham Radio operators to provide communications during the race. The proceeds from the race (after expenses) were dedicated to the Willamette Pass Ski Patrol, an organization that Craig has been with for a number of years. The patrol would be the main source for volunteers and medical and SAR infrastructure.
The name of the race was decided on when it was clear that runners could only ever “see” Waldo Lake from the high peaks and never arrive there. Craig’s wife, Laurie Thornley, warned him that someone might come after him regarding the use of the children’s storybook name, but he decided to chance it. Wanting to add some flavor to the normal prize structure, Craig and Curt added a premium for the racers, The “Find Waldo” award would go to the first runner to reach the top of Fuji Mountain (mile 16), but to win the prize the runner had to complete the race.
And thus, Where’s Waldo 100k was born. It was included in the Oregon Trail Series, and with the fair warning, “It is not a beginner-level ultra and participation in the race should not be taken lightly,” the first race was on the calendar for September 28, 2002. A two-person relay was included to get the numbers up.
(Sept 28; 15/39 = 38% finish rate)
The inaugural event was not without incident. Thirty-seven bold solo runners showed up ready to test the course. At 3:30 a.m., the early starters were off. Craig attempted to radio the course marshals stationed along the way to the first aid station, but didn’t get a response. When two locals, Ken Sinclair and Bill Montgomery, both 5 a.m. relay runners, got to the Gold Lake aid station (#1), they informed race personnel that four runners had been sent off course! Familiar with the course, Bill and Ken educated the misinforming marshal so no one else would be led astray, but the damage to the first four was significant and resulted in DNFs.
Up near the Fuji Mountain aid station (#2), Craig encountered some (gasp!) hunters?!? Turns out it was opening day of deer hunting season. Fortunately, no one was shot at. It was also fortunate that Craig, having listened to his wife this time, decided not to give out an award to the first runner to finish the course wearing antlers.
Another issue to be dealt with on the fly was that the course was slower than anticipated, and cut-off times had to be modified as the race progressed in order to assure that the race would have official finishers. Even so, the finishing rate that first year was only 38%. The first person to cross the finish line was Eugene’s Christian Beck, one of the relay runners, and Craig was ever so happy that someone actually made it. Washington runner John Pearch was the first solo runner to finish, and he also took home the Find Waldo award. Coming in first for the women was Valerie Caldwell of New Mexico, while Melissa Berman of Jefferson took the female masters win. Portland’s Steve Smucker, an accomplished and respected ultra runner, was the first male in the masters division, and summarized, “The organization and attention to detail, not to mention visible worrying and concern for the safety of all runners, was on par with what most runners ever only see at Western States. Radio communications kept track of every runner’s progress throughout the race. Course monitors were strategically placed at all intersections, and with four times as many volunteers as runners, fully stocked aid stations, a coffee and bagel breakfast, quality Coolmax shirts from SportHill, and search and rescue personnel at all three mountain passes, Where’s Waldo was put on like a national championship caliber event.”
(Aug 16; 31/53 = 58% finish rate)
The day after the race in 2002, snow fell at Willamette Pass. The race had barely dodged a weather bullet. Fortunately, an opportunity to move the race date to a warmer time of the year presented itself when another Oregon Trail Series race, the PCT 50 Mile normally held 6 weeks earlier, was cancelled. The series RDs accepted the move so now the race would not coincide with hunting season and hopefully not be threatened with snow. Entries were up to 53 with a finishing percentage of 58%, which was definitely an improvement. There were new winners: Tracy Bahr of Bend for the women and a 21-year-young Yueh-Han Lin, a self-described “roadie,” for the men. Smucker repeated as masters male winner, and Stacey Bunton of Portland won the female masters division. Markus Dennis, a relay runner, was the Find Waldo award recipient.
The year’s challenges included the dilemma of deciding what role race officials should take if it appeared a runner would be better off stopping, for health reasons. Two runners were pulled, even though they were making the cut off times, because they appeared to be suffering physiological issues that were potentially dangerous. After the race, it was decided that in the future runners would be responsible for making their own decisions to continue, but the race would always have medical staff available for runners who requested support or for those whose consent was implied.
(Aug 21; 33/47 = 70% finish rate)
One of the biggest names in ultra running, Ann Trason, sent Craig her entry in the early summer of 2004. When he opened it he went slack-jawed. “Laurie! You’re not gonna believe this!” And apparently some folks thought Craig was yanking their chains when he put her on the start list on the website. But it was true, and she delivered, although we think it was the last ultra she has run. She led the women’s race wire to wire, and famously voiced her opinion of the Leap of Faith trail while descending Maiden Peak (“This ain’t no f***ing trail!”). Tim Turk of Ashland won the men’s race. Both wins were new course records. Ann was also the female masters winner, as was William Emerson for the men.
Entries were down to 47 that year, but the finishing rate was 70%! A new prize was added to the mix: The Wet Waldo would go to the fastest person to fully submerge him or herself in the most of six named lakes along the course and still complete the race. The award was won by Mike Burke. The Find Waldo award went to 2nd overall male, Sean Meissner. Andy Jones-Wilkins, a consistent top 10 finisher at Western States and 3rd overall male that day, had this to say after his first Where’s Waldo: “I was thrilled to see Craig and Curt at the finish line and was happy to be awarded my ‘tomato’ colored finishing hat. Having run some of the largest and most well-organized ultras in the west (Cool, AR, Miwok, Western States) I must say that Waldo is comparable. As a small, ‘boutique’ ultra I was impressed by the commitment of the volunteers, the accuracy of the course marking, and the general ‘old-school’ feeling of the whole thing. Thank you Craig and Curt for putting together a truly special event. I am looking forward to next year already.”
(Aug 20; 38/54 = 70% finish rate)
Entries were up to 54 in 2005, with a finishing rate of 70% again. The course delivered no promises except for the unexpected. This year’s winners were not evident until the last few miles. Jeff Riley and Andy Jones-Wilkins both returned, fit and ready to go for the win. They battled to the end, with Andy pulling ahead in the last three miles. Kami Semick and Meghan Arbogast passed leader Bev Anderson-Abbs with less than two miles to go, with Kami taking the win in course record time. Mike Burke repeated as the Wet Waldo winner, and Sean Meissner captured Find Waldo once again. Ed Willson ran big, winning the masters male division, and Meghan captured the masters female win.
Perhaps the most touching finish was by none other than Craig’s brother, Chris Thornley, who had this to say: “As the last fifty feet of the finish line closed, I felt like a volcano erupting with emotion. I DID IT! I GOT THAT HAT! I hugged my brother and a couple dozen others. Everybody seemed excited for me. Laurie came up and hugged me and asked me what color hat I wanted. I said ‘BLUEBERRY PLEASE!!’ I wear that hat all the time now. I went from DFL last year, 19:50, to 21st, 16:28, this year. Craig and Meghan remind me that I’m now a mid packer! Summiting Denali was an amazing feeling, but this Where’s Waldo will forever stick in my mind as my best single-day mental and physical effort in my life.”
(Aug 19; 47/67 = 70% finish rate)
Since the first running of Where’s Waldo, opinions filtered through the community that perhaps the course was actually a wee bit long. Certainly no one thought it short. To quiet the rumors for good, Curt wheeled the course. The final measurement was kept secret, and a contest was held to see who could guess the wheeled distance most accurately. On the eve of the race, the distance was revealed to be 66.3 plus miles. Anne Crispino-Taylor of Ashland won with her 66.34 mile prediction. For this year, the long course would stay intact. And, for added flavor for Craig, Laurie very graciously agreed to take on more responsibilities (i.e., be co-race director) so he could run in the race.
Accomplished ultrarunner Krissy Moehl was the first runner overall with a new course record, and the first woman to win Where’s Waldo outright, passing Lewis Taylor near the summit of Maiden Peak. Lewis won the Men’s Open and Find Waldo award, and the team of Gimenez and Epstein won the Wet Waldo. Craig and Meghan Arbogast scored masters wins. Forty-seven of 67 starters finished, again at 70%.
(Aug 18; 81/103 = 79% finish rate)
Changing the start of the race and eliminating the summit to the Twins Peak, Curt and Craig now had a 100k race, and with a generous cash donation from Sunsweet Growers, the race was awarded Masters USATF National Championship 100k Trail race status. The relay was dropped so as not to detract from the championship, and there was a large increase in entries coming from all parts of the country. A total of 103 runners started and 81 finished for a finishing rate of 81%! This was incredible given that the course markings were badly vandalized the morning of the race before the runners got halfway through. Many of the top runners and some of the early starters followed the rearranged course markings and headed south on the PCT rather than north. Meghan Arbogast came to the mislaid ribbons while two runners, Sander Nelson and Courtney Campbell, were trying to make sense of what they were seeing and what the map said. She grabbed the mislaid ribbons in a panicked hurry, while Sander began clearing the branches that were blocking the trail. Between the two of them they had it all straightened out, and Meghan convinced Courtney she knew what she was doing. They headed north, and after finally getting to the Twins aid station, informed a bewildered Curt (“Meghan! What the hell is going on? Where is everybody?”) that the course had been sabotaged. This incident set the tone for the rest of the day. Some runners were so discouraged that they dropped. Others missed cutoff times. Neil Olsen, who was leading when he got off course, ran a phenomenal 70+ miles to finish well under the cutoff time. Meghan, whose course knowledge kept her in the lead for the rest of the race, was the second woman in Waldo history to win outright, but it was a bittersweet victory. Who would do such a thing? It put the runners in jeopardy. One woman went so far off course that she was without water or aid for several hours. Jeff Browning was the men’s winner, Lewis Taylor repeated as the Find Waldo winner, and Penny McDermott took home the Wet Waldo award. California’s Mark Lantz captured the masters male top finish, and Meghan double dipped as open and masters female champion.
There has never been a definitive explanation, but the lesson was clear that monitors are essential, trail markings need to be placed well in advance of intersections, and runners need to study the course, carry a map, and be prepared to have to stop and figure it out when in doubt.
But it wasn’t over yet. At 10:30 p.m. the race was thought to be complete. All runners, sweeps, and pacers were thought to have been present and accounted for until an earlier finisher informed Craig, “There is still one runner out there!” Sure enough, race officials had unknowingly counted one of the pacers as a runner, and there was one still not in. About that time, the paramedics at the finish were dispatched to the report of a woman with hypothermia and dehydration at milepost 68 on Hwy 58. What? Out on the road six miles from the ski area? Further investigation revealed that the 911 call came from a cell phone in a tent near Rosary Lakes, and that milepost 68 was merely the closest point on the highway. Sounding as if it was the missing runner, Craig looked around at the possible staff he could send up the trail. All he saw were dirty, exhausted, crashed out volunteers and runners. Adrenaline pumped, he lit up the PCT towards Rosary Lakes. Three miles later, he found the runner who had taken shelter in some PCT hikers’ tent. The runner was in a bit of trouble so Craig radioed to the finish line for help. Search and rescue made their way up, and by 3:30 a.m. everyone was safe and sound at the finish line. That made for one very long day.
One bright moment of the day came with the presentation of yet another new award called “Show Us Your Waldo.” Designed to recognize a runner who may not otherwise make the headlines, it is a subjective award decided on by the volunteers at each aid station, and it is completely open to interpretation by the runners and volunteers. At the end of the day, the aid stations sent in their votes, and Ed Willson became the inaugural winner. His prize was a hand-knit hat (bag?) made by Beki Ries-Montgomery, which is a sight to behold. It has since become a perpetual trophy that is somehow embellished and passed on by each year’s recipient.
(Aug 16; 83/105 = 79% finish rate)
Sabotage aside, the USATF acknowledged the race as worthy of a second open championship. This brought in more competitive athletes vying for the National Championship title. Entries stayed about the same: 105, with 83 finishers for another year of 79% finishers. As word was getting out about this race, competitors were heeding the warnings and preparing better. Neil Olsen returned on a mission, and pulled off the double National Championship (open and masters), redeeming last year’s debacle with a course record. Relative newbie Prudence L’Heureux floated through the course over defending champions Krissy Moehl and Meghan Arbogast. Nate McDowell returned to Oregon to give the course his all, and had only positive remarks. “Waldo is a stellar course and is very professional yet laid back. A great race. Curt, this was the best marked race I have run. I hope we can adopt your marking approach in our local Jemez 50. I loved it…almost zero flags between intersections, then thorough flagging at the intersections. I was never concerned about being on course. The hills were long and gentle and beautiful. I’m already thinking about making this a race (redemption) for next year.” McDowell fell sick during the race, fought it off for second place and brought home the Find Waldo award. Randy Benthin took the Wet Waldo award, and Rob Cain, sporting a complete Where’s Waldo storybook character outfit, won the coveted Show Us Your Waldo award. In the masters female race, Meghan scored another win.
(Aug 22; 88/121 = 73% finish rate)
This was the year the race became the first of nine races in the Montrail Ultra Cup (MUC) series. With the opportunity for runners to race their way into the highly coveted Western States 100 Mile race, the entries went up to a record 121 runners. The race was also still the USATF National Championship race. The course records for men and women both fell by substantial amounts. Erik Skaggs was first male in a blistering 9:11, lowering the course record by a whopping 54 minutes! Joelle Vaught was first female in 10:23, an improvement of 25 minutes. Beverley Anderson-Abbs and Neil Olsen grabbed the masters titles. Lewis Taylor took a different approach to the race this year, going for and winning the Wet Waldo. Leif Rustvold was the Show Us Your Waldo winner. Race updates were blogged real-time from the race.
(Aug 21; 107/123 = 87% finish rate)
Waldo was no longer a USATF Championship race, but still in the MUC, and the numbers did not diminish. A record 123 runners started and 107 finished for the highest finishing rate ever of 87%. The number of out of state runners continued to increase. A new young runner training in Ashland, Timothy Olson, was the men’s champion. He held off a conservative, yet in-the-hunt, Dan Olmstead. Meghan Arbogast clinched her second win and a masters win to boot. A fine contingent from the San Diego area, as well as some more northern Californians graced the race with their presence, and the event delivered. Scotty Mills, RD of the San Diego 100, was near tears at the end of the race, not because of the pain it had inflicted, but because of the joy it had brought him. Mark Lantz captured his second masters win. A vivacious 60+ year young Nancy MacInnis stunned the aid stations with her pom-poms and Waldo cheer, landing her the Show Us Your Waldo award. Marc Brewer only needed three lakes to submerge in to capture the Wet Waldo award.
As Laurie had predicted in 2002, Craig received a “Cease and Desist” letter shortly before the race in 2010. The owners of the “Where’s Waldo” storybook character claimed ownership of the name, and to avoid a legal battle, a new name had to be found. Some entertaining ideas flew about: “Wherdo”, “Weirdo”, “Change the direction and call it ‘Odlaw S’erehw’”, “Waldo Lawyered Up 100K”, “Where’s Charleton”, “Just Waldo”, and “Walds Wheredo”, but “Waldo 100k” was the final choice, and is the new name for the race starting 2011.
(Aug 20; 95/123 = 77% finish rate)
Year 10 had arrived! For the first time, the race filled early in the year — probably due to a combination of factors, including the success of the race, the increasing popularity of ultrarunning in general and the new use of the online registration service Ultrasignup. Waldo was once again in the MUC, which afforded the opportunity for the top two male and female runners to win tickets to The Big Dance (aka Western States).
A major challenge for the directorship this year was the late arrival of summer and the remaining snowpack. Clearing trail was challenging when the trail could not always be found, and everyone risked being carried off by mosquitos if they stopped too long. Snow still covered sections of the trail by race day, which necessitated some last-minute flagging through snowfields.
This year marked Curt’s last go round as co-race director. He had promised 10 years to this race and Craig had found a replacement in Meghan Arbogast. Curt spent a good deal of time teaching Meghan the ropes of course-marking during the week leading up to the race. Meghan also took on the role of cutoff time enforcer. Having to pull runners from the race is no easy task, but Meghan softened the enforcer role by donning a Moeben skirt. At least the bad news came with a feminine touch.
The competition was rich in both the women’s and men’s fields. On the women’s side, Aliza Lapierre from Vermont (6th place at WSER) was the favorite. Leading from wire to wire, she did not disappoint, and she finished in the second fastest women’s time in the history of the race. In hot pursuit and having breakthrough performances of their own were Denise Bourassa and Darla Askew, second and third place, respectively. Since Aliza had a spot at WSER for 2012, Denise and Darla both got their Montrail passes to the starting line at Squaw Valley, and Denise also won the masters division. In the men’s race, phenom Dave Mackey (also a top ten WSER runner) came with a plan to take down the course record, and he delivered by taking six minutes off of Erik Skaggs’ record from 2009. He also won the Find Waldo award, as well as the masters division. Another top ten WSER runner, Ian Sharman, came in second, followed by Nick Triolo of Bend. Dave and Ian were already in WSER, so Nick was the only male runner to take home a golden ticket.
Mikio Miyazoe won the Wet Waldo award, and Leif Rustvold was the winner of the Show us Your Waldo and the first runner to repeat this feat. Perhaps the most poignant finish of the day was by 75-year-old Peter Fish who became the oldest finisher in the history of the race. He was accompanied by his son and greeted by a few remaining hardy souls when he sprinted across the finish line shortly before midnight.
(Aug 18; 91/112 = 81% finish rate)
The second decade of the Waldo 100k began in January, with Meghan doing the footwork (and paperwork) to turn Waldo Ultras into an official 501(c)(3). On March 1st, race registration opened on Ultrasignup, and filled in just 5 hours and 47 minutes.
Three days before the race, Craig received a phone call from the US Forest Service saying that the new “Bobby Fire” had been discovered smack dab in the middle of the race course. Racers were immediately notified that the race could be rerouted, or worse, cancelled all together. Thankfully, with amazing quick response, the firefighters held the fire to just 11 acres. And, with less than 24 hours before the race, Craig and Curt devised a safe and acceptable reroute resulting in the USFS granting permission for Waldo to go forward. Meghan and her crew of trail markers, who had been waiting for the “go” signal, finished the last 10 miles of the course late in the day on Friday, barely in time for the pre-race meeting.
The reroute included three extra miles, which put the race distance on par with the original course distance of 66 miles. However, racers were so genuinely grateful the race was going forward that there were no complaints. In fact, it seemed to add an extra element of excitement—a sense of adventure, an ability to take on the unexpected and roll with the punches.
And so, at 3 am and 5 am, racers set off on what turned out to be an epic day. The weather was phenomenal in that we had many kinds of it. Clear at the start, cloudy and rainy by mid-morning, some heat and sun in the afternoon, and finally a thunderstorm that forced another, albeit quite short, route change to avoid anyone getting struck by lightning on Maiden Peak.
In the men’s race, young Jake Rydman took the lead in his quest for a top finish and a slot in the Western States 100, winning the “Find Waldo” award on his way. Timothy Olson patiently ran behind him followed by Jessie Haynes and Yassine Diboun. Finally, at Maiden Peak, Tim took the lead. Jake held onto second earning a spot in the big dance. With Timothy already having a spot in Western States, whoever grabbed third would also get to go. Jessie and Yassine were close at Maiden Peak, but Jessie put a gap on Yassine, and managed to build a four-minute lead in the end.
In the women’s race, the top women were all vying for spots at Western States. The favorites were course record holder Joelle Vaught, last year’s runner up Denise Bourassa, and North Carolinian mountain runner Alison Bryant. Alison led early, becoming the female winner of the “Find Waldo” award, but Joelle and Denise would both overtake her during the day. Denise reeled Joelle in close to Maiden Peak; however, Joelle felt her fire, and put down some of her own to win the race. She and Denise both earned their tickets back to Western States for 2013.
The duel for “Wet Waldo” was fought by Co Jones and Todd Temple. Both claimed to have submerged in all six lakes, with Co crossing the finish line first. After further investigation, it was discovered that Co had not actually found Found Lake. Instead, he mistakenly submerged his body in a nearby algae infested swamp, and thus lost out to Todd.
The “Show us your Waldo” contest was no contest. Former Twins aid station co-captain Melissa Berman completely swept us all off our feet with her “Bad Waldo” parody of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.”
A certain magic was felt by all on this day—a combination of gratefulness for the race actually taking place, the enthusiasm and competence of the aid station volunteers, the midnight finish line dances, and the Moeben skirts for the women created memories unlike those of previous years. Number 11 was definitely one for the books.
When all was said and done and the books were cooked, Craig presented a check to the Willamette Pass Ski Patrol for $7500.