How I Found My Inner Beauty
2003 Where’s Waldo 100K
August 16, 2003 By Yueh-Han Lin
I had a vivid dream a few weeks leading up to Where’s Waldo 100k, and no it did not involve a minor accident on the bed sheets. I’m 21 and am past that now. I’d heard the stories. I’d seen the statistics. I’d been warned by word of mouth and the race’s official website, “It is not a beginner-level ultra and participation in the race should not be taken lightly.” This just made it that more enticing.
Prior to the race I had no experience when it came to trail ultrarunning. What little experience I did have was running two ultras on the road, where I amused myself by counting the number of road kill that I’d passed. So I think the local ultrarunners were chuckling when they heard some 21 year old roadrunner had signed up for Where’s Waldo. I’d always felt somewhat shunned by the ultrarunners that reside here in Corvallis, Oregon. That somehow my performance on the road accounted for nothing when it came to the unpredictability of the trails. I have feelings too. I hurt. I cry. I feel pain, and tears trickle down my cheeks whenever I see a butterfly take flight.
I didn’t go into the race with a detailed strategy, except to check out the field beforehand. Kelly Woodke seemed to be the favorite to win the race with Steve Smucker as a serious threat. So, while sitting in the stalls 15 minutes before the start of the race, I figured if I stayed somewhere between the two I would be gold. Trotting up to the start line I tucked in right next to Kelly. It was five a.m., and the race was underway. Kelly took the lead, and I followed close behind. The race really didn’t begin for me until descending Fuji Mountain. At that point, I decided it was safe to take the lead. That wasn’t part of my strategy. I was just getting a little woozy from the burritos that Kelly had eaten the night before. A good 20 miles or so into the race, with a slight lead over the other runners, I let myself wander. This turned out to be a big mistake as I tripped and hurled through the air landing on the left side of my body with my hip taking most of the impact.
Sprawled there on the ground with my eyes squeezed shut and my jaw clenched I recalled that dream I had a few weeks back. In the dream I was racing in Where’s Waldo 100k, but as hard as I tried I couldn’t summon any speed as other runners raced past me. I could barely walk. It felt like liquid iron was flowing through my veins. Then I came upon this hill. The monster was literally a wall, a 90 degree hill that somehow mystically shot straight up to the heavens. I tried scaling the bastard by climbing up it, but each attempt brought a bruise on my rear. Then I woke up.
I opened my eyes. This wasn’t a dream. I was lying on the ground with the difficulty of the race starting to sink in. I looked behind me to see if anyone was coming. No one was, so I focused myself on the task at hand. I walked slowly a few steps, shaking out the jitters, and then picked up the pace. I wasn’t about to let the notion float around that I was just a “roadrunner.” During the next 15 miles of the race it was mostly about maintaining. I was saving my energy for the descent after the Leap of Faith, which is mostly downhill to the finish. I reached the Charlton Lake exchange where one relay partner’s nightmare ends, and his partner’s starts. The large crowd helped to get me motivated again. After a brief visit to the outhouse, I heard that someone had come into the aid station a minute prior. Worried, I took off at a faster pace, trying to keep up with a relay runner. But realizing that stupidity with a dash of testosterone was clouding my judgment, I slowed down. From this portion to the North Twin it was mostly easy rolling hills.
I reached a fork in the trails that told me to take a right for about a half mile up to the summit of the North Twin. Water jugs were located here, and by this time I was running on empty. Going up the Twins was difficult due to the sandy slope. For every three steps I took it seemed I slid one back. On the way back down at the water jug junction I bumped into Steve Smucker who was preparing to summit. I refilled my water bottle, at which time, like out of a bad surfing movie, the master’s veteran told me to “hang tough.” I wanted to give him a high five, but I had too much respect for him to do it.
The wall in my dreams appeared in reality at the ascent up to Maiden Peak, I didn’t wake up this time. Neither did I land on my rear. Coming down on the Leap of Faith is really the last hurdle of the race. I’d heard that it really isn’t a trail, but rather some bad experiment involving liquor. It’s one of those places where I’d expect to find carcasses of runners from last year’s race. After reaching the last aid station and with 6.9 miles to go, I began to really pick up the pace. Then I discovered that these were the infamous “Waldo miles.” There’s speculation that the actual race is longer than 62 miles, closer to 70. It may have been due to the altitude, hills, or just being tired at the end, but those 6.9 miles stretched out to what seemed like ten miles. Along the way pictures of Waldo were posted alongside the trails. I was ready to rip one of them out to carry to the finish line and declare triumphantly “I found Waldo,” but then everyone would have thought I was a loser, so I didn’t.
I sped up towards the finish line when it came into view. Simply to attempt the race was gratifying, but finishing it was exhilarating. I had gone to Waldo to prove to myself that I can run trail ultras, not knowing that when I left I would come to love the ultrarunning world from the incredible camaraderie of competitors to the toughness of the competition and the surreal scenery along the way.
Of course this wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my good friend, Ed Willson, who showed me the ropes of running ultras and the race directors, Craig Thornley and Curt Ringstad, for running an excellent operation. Oh, and what about the volunteers? Eh, they were alright. Actually they were so good that I’m going to volunteer at an aid station in the future just to try to match their dedication, hard work, and enthusiasm, even though they didn’t offer to give me a piggy back ride to the finish.