Waldo – The Hardest Run I’ve Done
by German Collazos, Houston, Texas
Where’s Waldo 100K & Relay
Willamette Pass Ski Area
August 21, 2004
The Where’s Waldo 100K Ultramarathon turned out to be the most challenging run I have ever attempted. The 62-mile race begins and ends at the Willamette Pass Ski Area in the Oregon Cascades, 70 miles southeast of Eugene, Oregon. The race begins at an elevation of 5120 feet, climbing up several mountains including Fuji, The Twins, and Maiden Peak before returning to the ski area.
The first runner to reach the summit of Fuji Mountain (15.9 miles into the race) where Waldo Lake can be seen for the first time and finish the race by the cutoff time wins a prize. Hence the name “Where’s Waldo.”
After a very restless night with almost no sleep, I drove eight minutes to the start of the race at the ski lodge. As I arrived at the race site, I heard the three minutes until race start announcement. There was no time to get my usual morning coffee that I was desperately missing; I just had to get to the start line. As I approached the start line, I noticed that all of the runners were very skinny and had the appearance of very serious athletes. I soon found out that this was true. Beginning at 5:00 a.m. in the darkness, I ran the first 10 miles with the lead runners with the only light provided by our headlights and hand-held lights. Running along the single-track trails, we ran in tandem as if joined by a rope.
There was a lot of camaraderie among the runners at this time. Ed Willson, one of the local runners from Eugene, Oregon, talked non-stop. He said at this point that he was going to have to calibrate his pace. I had met Ed the previous day at the hotel. This was his third attempt at completing Waldo. Last year he missed one of the cutoff times and had to drop out.
The pace never slowed even as we climbed Fuji Mountain, the first major ascent of the race. As I climbed the mountain, I saw Ann Trason, one of the world’s elite ultra runners, running down the mountain. She was very focused and did not return my greeting. I realized that I was running too fast, so I decided to start walking the uphills, but the mosquitoes were so that bad that I was forced to run.
I flowed with this fast pack of runners up Fuji Mountain. Lacking the advantage of training in the mountains and realizing I had a long way to go, I backed off the pace a bit. When I reached the summit of Fuji Mountain, Waldo Lake came into view for the first time. I took a couple of pictures and stayed about five minutes contemplating the fabulous view. While I wasn’t the first to see Waldo Lake in this race, it didn’t matter that I wouldn’t be in the running for the prize. I was excited just to be a part of this experience. It was at this point that the lack of sleep really started impacting me. I was in dire need of some caffeine, so I started drinking Mountain Dew at the next aid station. I really needed my freshly brewed Colombian coffee!
The cold morning temperature soon climbed as the sun rose in the sky. Feeling very hot, I ditched one shirt and my two lights when I saw my pacer, David Holloway at the mile 22.5 aid station. David had been traveling to accessible aid stations with Beki Montgomery, who was crewing for her husband, Bill. Beki was nice enough to drive David to Charlton Lake where he started pacing me for the second half of the race. It was uplifting to have some company along the trails, as by this point I was beginning to feel the effects of the mountains. It was soon after we left Charlton Lake that we passed Katherine Coltrin from Costa Mesa, California. From that point through the rest of the race, we exchanged the lead with Katherine many times.
We ran through varied and breathtaking scenery. The towering trees and rocky landscape sometimes opened to cool, green mountain meadows. There were other areas where the forest had been cleared by fire, sprouting only small trees. And then there were the awesome lakes, sometimes huge, sometimes small, but always beautiful and unmarred by commercial development.
We reached the Road 4290 aid station at mile 38.2. This was my last opportunity to change shoes, as drop bags were not allowed at the remaining aid stations due to their limited access. I was only an hour ahead of the cutoff time at this aid station, so I decided not to spend the time changing shoes. In all of my previous ultra runs, concern over cut-off times had never been an issue. This put more pressure on me, so I only walked when I had to, namely up the very steep slopes of the mountains. I had to stop about six times to remove pine needles and small stones from my shoes. I noticed the black volcanic ash from the trail covering my feet, and later discovered this did not easily wash over and remained for several days. Fortunately, my feet never developed blisters, although I did experience some discomfort in my left heel. Next time I will be sure to wear gators on a trail run. Ed Willson passed me and gave me two Tylenol for my heel pain.
The second major climb was up The Twins, which ascended to 7000 feet before dipping and then climbing again to 7200 feet. This part of the race was difficult, especially after running 46 miles, but I realized the major challenge was yet to come.
Another 5 miles and we reached the base of the challenging Maiden Peak. It was 3 miles up the mountain at a steep incline with few switchbacks. The first mile of the ascent was difficult, but tolerable, and was similar to the climb up The Twins. However, the trail became more difficult on the second mile and almost impossible on the third mile. I passed a couple of people who were using ski poles or long sticks to assist them on the climb. I was surprised that this type of assistance was allowed, as they are banned in most trail runs. A couple of people passed me along this incline. In addition to the incline, we now had to deal with the altitude and the rocky trail. We passed a large patch of snow, and the trees disappeared as we approached the vegetation line. It took everything we had to reach the peak at 7818 feet, but once we reached the top, it was all worthwhile. I had never seen such a view in my life! Mountains and lakes could be seen in every direction. The wind was blowing, the air was cold, and I felt great! After pausing to take photographs, we soon were on our way.
At this point I knew the most difficult parts of the race were behind me. The next four miles were downhill, and we ran to make up for time lost walking up the mountain. Running downhill was difficult, as the rocks were sometimes loose. We soon reached the final aid station seven miles from the finish. The final seven miles were a bit more difficult than I had been led to believe, but we continued on our way to the finish. Near the last lake we passed Keah Taylor from Eugene, Oregon. She was struggling and asked if we thought we would make it to the finish line by the 9:00 p.m. cutoff. I said, yes, we would make it, but those Waldo miles are way too long! As darkness approached at 8:00, I grew concerned that we had missed a turning point. David assured me that we were still on course, so we continued running. By 8:15 it was very dark and only my small flashlight guided us. Katherine Coltrin approached us from behind at this point, so I felt confident that we were on the right trail. We asked Katherine is she would like to pass us, but she replied, “HELL NO!” Katherine’s response made us laugh and she continued running with us.
We could hear traffic from the highway and knew that the finish could not be far away. We finally saw lights and a small crowd at the finish line. At 8:32 p.m., I crossed the finish line after 15 hours and 32 minutes. After a congratulatory hug from Katherine, I picked up my prized Waldo cap, and was informed that I had won a door prize, a nice Sporthill jersey from one of the sponsors. It was also mentioned that I was the first and only Texan to ever run Waldo! After having some great bar-b-que, we returned to the hotel for some much-needed rest. The food was very good, but we were so tired and our systems were so out of synch from the run that it was difficult to eat, but we forced ourselves.
Overall, Waldo was a very good race. The course was well marked, very challenging, and I highly recommend it to my Texas friends for next year.