Running 62 Miles For a Cause
by Jeff Staiman Where’s Waldo 100K
Willamette Pass Ski Area
August 21, 2004
Race Director’s note: Jeff Staiman ran Where’s Waldo 100K to raise money for Team Bingham, a non-profit created to honor the memory of his friend and 9/11 hero Mark Bingham who was one of the passengers on flight 93 who fought the hijackers and eventually caused the plane to crash into a field instead of the intended target in Washington, DC. Congratulations, Jeff, Mark would have been proud.
1:30 AM. Pre-race. Crescent, OR
Woke up in a cabin in Crescent, OR, a few miles away from the race. Had a cup of strong coffee, a can of soy protein drink, some apple juice, and some oatmeal for breakfast. I was incredibly excited and anxious for the race to start. Toby & I packed all the gear into his Suburban and headed to the starting line.
3:00 AM. Leg 1: Start to Gold Lake (A1- mile 10)
The race began with a five mile uphill stretch. Per my plan, I dropped to last place within the first half-mile. My coach advised me that it was best to walk early on the hills, to ensure that I could run later in the race on the flats. Turned out to be great advice. I ran with my dive light in my hand, which lit up the trail so that I could easily find my footing. The trail was marked with glow sticks at key intersections, which helped to ensure we stayed on the course. The trail ran alongside lakes that could be seen only by the absence of trees.
I was pretty “deep” into the run. I felt very committed to finishing it. I didn’t know what the run would be like, what I’d feel like after the eighth, tenth, twelfth hour, and beyond. But I very much went out with the idea that, come what may, I would Finish the Race. My plan was to give everything I had to the race that day. As I described it to a colleague before the race, “I won’t leave any discretionary effort left in the tank.”
By mile 4 I realized I was running even slower than I’d planned, and decided to pick up the pace a bit. I was pretty anxious at falling behind on my race plan so early. Mile 5 to 10 was a rolling downhill stretch. I’d trained so hard for this, I hated the idea of not making a cutoff in time, or not finishing. But I was carefully checking my heart rate monitor, and my pulse in the 150s told me I shouldn’t be running any faster than I was, if I was to keep some in the tank for later. The high pulse rate probably also had something to do with the altitude, in that the average altitude for the course was around 5500 feet; the thin air at altitude makes the heart pump faster to get enough oxygen to the rest of the body. The night was perfectly clear with very little moonlight, and there were more stars in the sky than almost any other time I can remember. It sounds crazy but it was so, so pretty that it was tempting to stop and watch the sky.
5:20 AM. Leg 2a: 4.8 miles from Gold Lake to Mt. Fuji (A2 – mile 14.8)
I reached the first aid station, filled the CamelBak I was using for hydration, and dropped some electrolyte tablets in the water, and learned that I was bout 6 minutes behind the second-to-last runner. There was a short stretch on road – almost the whole course was on a single track trail – and then I crossed back into the evergreen forests which provided shade over most of the course. I ate some instant oatmeal (yes, dry; I’ve been doing that since I was a kid) to get some solid food in me, almost the last real solid food I’d have until the morning after the race. The sky began getting light about 5:40, and a few minutes later I was able to shut off the dive light. The trail wound uphill through shrubs and woods, past several small and pretty-ish lakes. For those who remember the TV show, that part of the trail had a bit of a Land of the Lost feel to it. No dinosaurs though.
I passed a runner, the first I’d seen in hours, and asked him how he was doing. He was going pretty slowly, and said his IT band was hurting, “you know how it is…” Indeed I do. The illiotibial (IT) band is a broad, thich tendon that connects below the knee to above the hip. When the IT band hurts, each step can snap it across the side of the knee, resulting in a potentially serious shooting pain. I’ve had serious problems with it before, but that have been pretty well resolved through physical therapy. I felt bad for the guy, that so early in the run he already looked to be in rough shape.
6:47 AM. Leg 2b: 2.2 miles, climb & descent of Mt. Fuji (A2 – mile 17)
I reached the aid station at Mt. Fuji and got some carb gel and similar food from the drop bag I’d packed & sent ahead to the aid station. The climb up Fuji Mountain was somewhat steep, but not very long. As planned, I took the steep hills at a brisk walk, rather than a run. Running is faster than speed walking on the hills, but not by a lot; and not by enough to justify the extra energy one uses, at least not in a course longer than 50k.
At the top I met one of the race directors, who was there to greet people and check to ensure that runners actually made it to the summit. It was Craig who put the info on my run on the website for the race, so it was great to meet him & thank him for that support. The view from the summit was fabulous; rolling green hills, lakes, and mountains, all lit by the rising sun. I took a couple pictures and sped down the mountain, hoping to get back some time. I saw the guy I’d passed earlier, headed up the mountain and I headed down. He’d made decent time, and I called out to him “hang in there, brother!” as I passed by him. I checked the website afterward, and it looks like he made it all the way to mile 33. If his IT bands were hurting that whole way: damn, that’s a gutsy run.
7:31 AM. Leg 3: 5.5 miles, Mt Fuji to Mt Ray (A3 – mile 22.5)
I picked up some more water at the Fuji Mountain aid station. As I was getting ready to leave, the first of the runners from the 5AM start reached the aid station, heading up. Wow. In 2:31 he’d reached the point it took me 3:47 to get to, starting two hours earlier. That’s pretty smoking fast. He didn’t even bother to stop for water as he sped up the hill.
The run to Mt. Ray was downhill, but somehow didn’t feel like it. I wasn’t quite in a groove yet. My coach had told me that mentally I’d go through phases of highs and lows during the race. This was a low phase. My own IT band began to hurt. I wrapped a neoprene strap around my thigh and hoped for the best; I knew I couldn’t run another 45 miles if it got worse.
Being a methodical and problem solving type, I often approach situations from the perspective of figuring out in advance what could go wrong, and trying to fix things so that problems don’t occur. But I realized that the time for fixing problems was in the past, and that for the most part that time ended when the race started. So when the problem-anticipation sort of thinking came forward in my mind during the race, I drowned it out with other thoughts. I reflected that there was nothing that was going on was certain to stop me. So I let the thought “Why not?” be foremost in my mind, the idea being that if I didn’t have a sure reason why I wouldn’t finish, I could help to put aside thoughts of potential problems, and focus on doing what needed to be done. It was a great mental exercise for me.
8:44 AM. Leg 4: 6.2 miles, Mt. Ray to the Twins (A4 – mile 28.7)
I arrived at the Mt. Ray aid station and saw Toby, my race crew, for the first time since the start. It was great to see him, definitely good to see a friendly face. As I refueled at the aid station, the first-place runner arrived from the 5am start group, and passed me by. As I headed out of the aid station, I grabbed a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, which I’d packed into the drop bag as my coach had advised eating solid food early in the race. I spent almost an hour carrying the sandwich, eating bits of it as I could. But the bread was hard to swallow, it took minutes for each bite, and it tasted terrible with the lemon-lime flavor of the electrolyte that I had put in my water. So after about an hour, I tossed the remaining half of the sandwich into the forest. The electrolyte solution began to seem less thirst quenching, and I poured it out and replaced it with water, at a trail intersection where there happened to be a volunteer with some water jugs.
The volunteers for the race outnumbered the runners, probably by close to 2:1, and the race couldn’t have taken place without them. They spent a long day doing all kinds of things, manning the start line, the aid stations, and a few posts en route to help people not to get lost. They offered very welcome encouragement as we went by, equally supportive of the fast and the slow.
I could feel some spots on my feet begin to hurt; like my knee, I hoped they wouldn’t get too much worse.
About halfway into the leg, I came up on another runner. We talked for a moment about the course, and I assured him we were in fact headed the right way. I took out my map and compass and showed him the stretch we were running. The course was very sparsely marked with pink ribbons, and those only at key intersections. So one could run for miles without reassurance that one was headed the right way. I talked with the fellow, Peter, for several hours on and off for the remaining legs of the race. He’s quite a guy: 68 years old, he began running at age 58, and has finished marathons in about 3:20, which is faster than I’ll ever consider running them! Later that day he’d become the oldest guy to have finished the course, in the three-year history of the race.
There’s a lot of camaraderie in a race like this. When people run together, they talk. When people run by, they offer congratulations and encouragement, expressions that are heartfelt and meaningful, in a way that I doubt I can fully convey with words. I think you’d just need to be there running. It’s very cool though.
10:33 AM. Leg 5: 4.3 miles, Twins to Charlton Lake (A5 – mile 33)
Reaching the aid station at the Twins was a high point. I had a couple cups of Pepsi – which I hadn’t had in some years — and found the sugar and caffeine to be wonderfully refreshing. I ate a couple slices of cantaloupe that they had at the aid station. While I’m normally pretty indifferent to melon, this was as welcome as the grandest plate of fine cuisine could have been, under other circumstances. There were a couple American flags at the aid station, which mirrored the hand-colored Team Bingham shirt I’d made before my first marathon, in San Diego last June. The aid station was a welcome refuge and I felt strong while leaving. I had made a decision to ignore my IT band, and luckily it complied by ceasing to cause problems.
The route description listed this stretch of the course as 4.3 miles, but it certainly felt like a longer run that that. After running for a while, you kind of get a sense for what certain distances feel like, and this seemed longer than 4.3 miles, by a good margin. There were rumors discussed among the runners that the course was actually longer than 62 miles. It’s not easy (possible?) to get an accurate read from a topo map, not with all the weaving that the trails do. One guy said that a group had followed the course with a GPS, and that the lowest reading was 75 miles. I don’t believe it could’ve been quite that far. But if you told me that the course was really 65 or 68 miles instead of 62, well, yeah, I’d believe it. Of course, maybe it’s just a tough 62 miles. Rumors are worth what they’re worth. We came to run the course, however long.
11:41 AM. Leg 6: 5.2 miles, Charlton Lake to Rd 4290 (A6 – mile 38.2)
I arrived at the Charlton Lake aid station and saw Toby for the second time. I made it to the aid station well in advance of the 1pm cutoff; runners who arrive after the cutoff are not allowed to proceed. The aid station was set along a large, pretty lake. It was the biggest aid station, lots of people, lots of help with things, and it had a feel to it kind of like a friendly summer barbecue. I took the opportunity to try to repair some blisters. My feet had become pretty hard from training, and with proper hydration, socks, and not too hot a day, I’d hoped to avoid blisters, but alas, it was not to be. I’d seen a few other runners wear gaiters, fabric shells that cover shoes and ankles, and thought it was overkill to keep rocks out of the top of one’s running shoes. But as I took off my shoes, I realized that the real purpose for the gaiters must be to keep dust from getting through the fabric of the shoes themselves. What had happened was that the dust, a fine, blackish (I’m guessing) volcanic dust – passed through the fabric of the shoes – went through my socks, mixed with perspiration, and turned into a fine abrasive paste, that abraded my skin with each step. When I took my shoes off, I found that I had a couple blisters on each foot, and had lost patch of skin on each of my Achilles’ tendons, right where they rubbed against the top of the shoe. I put some tincture of benzoin & Compeed bandages on a couple of the blisters, decided I’d spent enough time at the aid station, and headed out.
The run to the next aid station was a bit of a chore, less scenic than some other sections of the course, and with less protection from the sun. My compass had a small thermometer on it, and it registered in the low 80s. Still, I counted myself lucky for the weather. Toby and I had driven around the area the day before, and it was still well into the 80s, at 7pm. If it hadn’t been cooler than that the day of the race, it could’ve been a lot tougher. It was during this leg when I recall being passed by a number of runners from the 5am start. The good news is that I was more relaxed in the run by this point, with my pulse in the 130s, right where I wanted it for an extended day’s work.
1:13 PM. Leg 7: 8 miles, Rd 4290 to the Twins (A7 – mile 46.2)
I arrived at the Rd 4290 aid station well in advance of the 2:15 cutoff. I saw Toby at the aid station right where we’d driven to the day before, on a very rough washboard road. The volunteers had put up a canopy so that the runners could briefly get out of the sun. I drank yet another soy protein drink (my fourth for the day), got the CamelBak filled, and picked up an additional water bottle for what was to be the longest duration leg of the course.
I was in a great mood initially, as I thought I was making good time, getting back time that I’d lost earlier in the race. Had some stomach problems, but stopping for a couple minutes resolved that. This leg of the race kept going, and going. It wound through evergreen forests that seemed never to end. I calculated and recalculated the time it’d take me to finish, but knew I couldn’t step up my speed without risking having the energy to finish later. A runner passed me and joked “when will this uphill END?!” I told him I thought it was soon, less then half a mile. But a few minutes later I checked the map and realized that the leg was a good bit longer and tougher than I’d recalled it when I began the leg. I realized I had something close to an hour left in the leg, and hadn’t made up the time that I thought I had, nothing like it. This darkened my mood. And somehow, weirdly, I began to feel drained and sore, like I was coming down with a cold. At least the weather had cooled.
What I’d forgotten, perhaps in a moment of wishful thinking, was that the leg ended with an ascent of the Twins, a long-ish, steep climb on unpleasant rough scree. I humped it up the hill, slower than I’d have liked, and took a couple pictures.
On the plus side, reaching the summit of the Twins was a turning point for my attitude. I knew that by far the longest & steepest uphill was yet to come, beginning around mile 50, but it was the only uphill left and I felt I still had some energy left in the tank. I ran quickly down the mountain back to the Twins aid station.
4:08 PM. Leg 8: 4.5 miles, the Twins to Maiden Peak (A8 – mile 50.3)
I had a great run downhill from the Twins, running fast, feeling good. I even passed a couple people, for almost the first time since the early morning. I ran with optimism and strength. I was kind of tired at this point, but I was running smoothly and comfortably.
I reflected that what I was doing was difficult, but it was exactly what I’d trained to do. Prior to the race I’d thought with a laugh that I’d begin my race report with one of my favorite Churchill quotes “when you’re going through hell, keep going.” But I knew then that that wouldn’t be the right one. I wasn’t going through hell, it was just a damn tough day, with some really uncomfortable stuff going on in my legs, knees, feet, and stomach. Not hell at all, nothing I couldn’t deal with. And it wasn’t an effort to keep going. It wasn’t a choice. It was the only thing that seemed right to do.
5:32 PM. Leg 9: 4.6 miles, Maiden Peak to Maiden Lake (A9 – mile 55.3)
Leg 8 finished with an uphill stretch that was a bit longer than I expected. Toby had come down the trail a bit to meet me, after the steep three mile hike he’d done to get there. There was no way to send drop bags ahead to this aid station. So it was great that he was there, he was able to bring me some carb gel, a protein drink, a warm shirt, and some gloves. The clouds had come in, and at altitude it was kind of cool; I was happy to have the warmer clothes. From the aid station, the path led steeply uphill. It was to be a long slog to the summit, about 3.8 miles. On tired legs it went slowly; it was a demoralizing leg, as the mountain seemed to go on forever. It wasn’t possible to see the actual summit until we got close to it, but somehow it was clear the whole way up that we weren’t close to it. Eventually I reached the summit, checked in with the volunteer, who was curled into a bivvy sack for warmth, turned around, and sped down the scree path (named “Leap of Faith” trail) toward the final aid station.
7:26 PM. Leg 10: 6.9 miles, Maiden Lake to Finish (mile 62.2)
I felt pretty charged up as I reached the final aid station. I took a couple pictures and got some water for the home stretch. I wanted to finish the course before the 9pm cutoff to get a finisher’s cap. I ran the first four miles at about a 12 minute pace. So at 8:14 I had about three miles left to run and 46 minutes left to reach the finish – no problem. But while I was making good time, it was also beginning to get dark. By 8:30 it was dark, and by 8:40 it was dark as night. I had a headlamp with me to see, and a compass, and knew the route from having studied the maps. But the glow sticks from the morning were gone, and it became tough to figure the route through the forest back to the starting line. By my pace I figured I should have reached the finish line by then, but it was not in sight.
Eventually, and I still don’t know where, I took a wrong turn. I ended up in a parking lot that I knew was not the finish area. I knew I’d not get to the finish line in time for a hat. I found my way from the parking lot out to the main road, hailed a passing truck, and found out where was the lodge at Willamette Pass, that marked the finish line. Despite being able to run, I walked slowly back to the lodge, in a deep snit about the (lack of) markings at the end of the course. I can laugh about it now, but wow, was I pissed off at the time…! 🙂
9:17 PM. Finish The small crowd of people at the finish line cheered as I came into sight. While everyone supported everyone during the race, apparently a number of people had seen the info about what I was doing on the Where’s Waldo website, and knew what I was running for. It was very cool to get that kind of support from strangers.
I crossed the finish line at 9:17. Toby brought me a cup of hot chocolate, then another one; even though it was instant, at the time it seemed the best cup hot chocolate I’ve ever had. There was some barbecue available, but despite how much I love barbecue, my stomach wasn’t quite up for it.
Most of the folks in the race had finished earlier, and had taken off. So there wasn’t much to do there at the lodge. It was dark, and getting cold. So, we got into Toby’s Suburban and headed back to his place in Bend, a pretty, 90 minute ride on a quiet forest service road.
As the adrenaline from the day retreated, the effects of the day’s running slowly came over me. Back in Bend, I took one of the most welcome showers I’ve ever taken, and slept.
In the days after the race, I actually felt a lot better than I expected I might. The muscles in my legs were somewhat sore for a couple days, and the blisters and calluses were sore for a couple more days after that. There are still some patches on my feet that are black from where the dust was ground into my skin. But, all told, I was fine. It took a few days to feel caught up on sleep, and it’s been surprisingly difficult to shift back from my in-training diet, to my decadent food-and-wine diet. In all though, I trained for the race, I ran the race, there were no huge problems.
I’m still a bit close to the race to feel like I have a clear perspective on it. Having run the race, it doesn’t seem nearly so daunting or dramatic as it did before I ran it. It was certainly a challenging day. But I’ve had tougher days mountaineering, much tougher than the run: Although part of that may have been that I had trained more for running than I had for mountaineering. It felt like a worthwhile tribute for my friend Mark, and a valuable effort on behalf of Team Bingham.
It was a pretty course. I’m glad I ran it. It was a new and valuable experience to train for something that difficult. It was also very much a sacrifice to spend so much time not doing other things I would like to have done – time with friends, projects on the new house, etc.
Many people thought I was crazy to do this. I’m not quite sure why. Many people thought it was amazing to run so far. But I think most people could do this, if they wanted to, and were willing to put in the time to train. There’s nothing particularly special about me, athletically. A year and a half ago, I’d never run longer than 2 miles, and until about three years ago I hadn’t been athletic since high school. Doing this just takes a bit of persistence, of stubbornness.
What was it “like” to run that far? For starters, it was utterly unlike running a marathon. It was much more of a personal experience, with fewer people around but a deeper camaraderie with those who were around. It was also much more of a relaxed experience. When one is running for eighteen hours, one doesn’t feel bad if one loiters for an extra minute or three, while getting food and water at an aid station. I stopped a few times (albeit very briefly) to take pictures, including some quick detours off the course, something I’d be pretty unlikely to do in a regular marathon. It was also, obviously, longer than a marathon: with the terrain, it took 18 hours, rather than 4 hours; so in a sense it’s about as different as a 10k is from a marathon.
The race was an incredibly focusing experience. For 18 hours while running I didn’t have a single thought about work, about relationships, about any of the concerns of daily life. It was unique to be so focused in the moment, on breath, and motion, and on the feeling of running, for such a long time that other issues, issues that often weigh heavily in daily life, would have seemed, well, abstract, remote. That was very cool.
But, the best part by far was feeling the support of people as I prepared for and as I ran the race. I simply cannot emphasize enough how meaningful to me it has been to hear kind words & receive support from around me. This is a big part of what energized me and sustained me during the run. More than the race itself, it’s that that I’ll reflect on, when I think about what made this worthwhile.