Hitting the Waldo
by Andy Jones-Wilkins, Oakland, CA
Where’s Waldo 100K & Relay
Willamette Pass Ski Area
August 21, 2004
As I was dragging my beaten body through an endorphin-starved, post Western States “recovery” I received an email from my good friend Craig Thornley. Craig is the co-RD of the Where’s Waldo 100K in Oregon and since he knew I was planning another trip to Angeles Crest in mid-September he was wondering if I might want to run his race. I told him I had plans to do Headlands on that day and I was going to rest up for AC.
Well, as often happens, one thing led to another and family vacation plans had us scheduled to be in Oregon in August so I sent in my entry form. After all, 100K is only twice as long as 50K and I could use the “time on my feet.”
I joined Craig and legendary Oregon Ultrarunner John Ticer for an exploratory run on the course in late July and I actually began to look forward to the race. With 11,000 feet of climbing and three significant peaks I felt that it would be good, solid training for Baden-Powell, Williamson, and Wilson awaiting me next month.
My family and I arrived at the Willamette Pass Ski area the night before the race and we set up camp. The pre-race briefing on the steps of the lodge was casual and informative as Craig’s co-RD Curt Ringstad took us through some of the trickier parts of the course. After visiting with a few friends it was off to bed.
I dragged myself out of the tent at around 4:30, got my stuff together, and headed to the starting area. The field was gathered and with a totally “old-school” feel Craig counted down from five and blew the starting horn at the stroke of 5:00 AM. We were off into the pre-dawn darkness. The race quickly took shape from there.
In the field were William Emerson, Sean Meissner, Tim Turk, Sander Nelson, Jeff Riley, Ann Trason, Tracy Bahr and a slew of other northwest notables. While the field was cozy, it was certainly strong.
The course climbs for much of the first five miles before leveling out to the first aid station at mile 10. At that point William, Sean, Tim and I were all running comfortably together and looking forward to the first climb up Mt. Fuji. All of a sudden Sean took off. Perhaps he was tiring of our conversation or the effects of my pre-race burrito or maybe he was going for the backpack which was the premium awarded to the first runner up Mt. Fuji but whatever it was he took off up the mountain and gained three minutes on William, Tim and me by the summit. Craig, who had been at the start, was sitting atop Mt. Fuji when we arrived cheering us on and savoring the view. Meanwhile, we hammered down the mountain and settled into a bit more urgent pace in pursuit of Sean. Knowing that he was coming off a 52 mile training run on the Eagle course in British Columbia was definitely in the back of my mind!
One of the unique features of the Waldo course is that even though it has three significant climbs spread out over 62 miles there are several flat and gently rolling sections between those peaks that are wonderfully runnable. In addition, with the exception of about 400 yards of pavement, this course is run entirely on dirt single track. Many races claim this “all-dirt, mostly single track” distinction but Waldo truly delivers on its claim. In addition, the trails are smooth, soft, and scenic.
Tim and I caught Sean shortly before the 22 mile aid station and moved slowly ahead. At that aid station I stopped for food and Tim took off. I did not see him again until the finish line. I had the sense that Tim was on a mission in this race as he had shared with me his goal of winning the Oregon Trail Series (he did!) and being awarded the incredible, hand-made wooden clocks created by the aforementioned John Ticer and given to the winners of this race. Tim was clearly a force to be reckoned with on this day.
Over the next three hours my crew kept me posted on the runners around me and we stayed surprisingly close together. After opening up a six-minute lead by mile 30 Tim maintained that gap for 25 miles. In addition, Sean and William continued their pursuit a few minutes behind me and of course, Ann was lurking back there as well haunting us all.
My stomach began to get creative going up Maiden Peak (the final major climb) and Sean proceeded to pass me like I was standing still. I made it up the climb reasonably well before reveling in the incredible downhill stretch on the infamous “Leap of Faith” Trail that is one of the most incredible downhill stretches I have ever run (and excellent training for the descent from Sam Merrill at AC!).
The finish of Waldo is just about perfect. Since it was my stomach rather than my legs that was getting me down on this day I was able to enjoy the smooth flowing downhill of the Pacific Crest Trail and smiled as I entered the ski area and made it to the finish in 11:33, two minutes under the old course record.
Tim had continued his incredible breakaway and finished in 11:15 with Sean closing fast in 11:21. William, in his 18th ultra of the season, finished in 11:44.
I was thrilled to see Craig and Curt at the finish line was 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.