2008 Donovan

Beware of Pandas at Waldo

Where’s Waldo 100K
August 16, 2008
Willamette Pass, Oregon
By Geoffrey Donovan 

Geoffrey Finishing 12:07:48 - photo by Richard Bolt

“This year we have record high snow, mosquitoes, and temperatures” announced Curt at the race briefing on Friday night. This was my first Where’s Waldo, and only my second 100K, so it was going to be an interesting day.

I slept poorly in the back of my truck on Friday night. I was already awake when the early starters set off at 3AM. When I got up at 4AM, it was a relief to finally get going. The race started up a dirt road, and after 30 seconds or so of running, it turned steeply up hill. The next 20 minutes or so were mainly walking with brief (at least for me) stretches of running. As we crested the top of the climb we turned onto single track and started a long- easy descent. However, the combination of dust and a weak headlamp meant I ran this section slowly and several people overtook me. The dark didn’t last too long, and my headlamp was off by the time I ran into the first aid station. Sean Meissner was there wearing a very fetching dress, although I didn’t have the heart to tell him that chartreuse wasn’t really his color.

After the first aid station we started the climb up to Fuji Mountain, which was pretty steady, although, like most things on the course, it did go on a bit. If the climb hadn’t already done the job, the view from the top was breathtaking. I felt pretty good on the descent to the Mount Ray Aid station, although my eyes were gritty from lack of sleep and dust. My first drop bag was at Mount Ray, and a young girl, who was only marginally bigger than the bag, brought it quickly over to me. I restocked and headed out.

I’d been warned about the next section, and I’m glad I was. It’s a long, steady climb that goes on and on. I was very glad to roll into the Twins Aid Station, which had the standard aid station fair: food, water, fortune teller (“you have a long, hot, tiring day ahead of you”), and good-luck monkey.

On the next section to Charlton Lake I hit a rough patch, and I was laboring as I approached the aid station. As soon as came in sight, about thirty people started to cheer and ring cow bells. It was just what I needed, and brought a lump to my throat. As the volunteers filled my bottles, I jumped in the lake. This earned another cheer, and cleared the last of the lack-of-sleep fog from my head.

After the aid station, the trail runs along the lake shore for a while, before drifting of into increasingly sparse forest. By now the day was really heating up, and the lack of tree cover wasn’t welcome, unlike the sponge soaked in ice water at the next aid station, which felt heavenly. This was also the last aid station with road access, so it felt a bit committing heading back out on the trail.

The next 7.5 miles back to the Twins Aid Station were a bit trying. The heat and miles were starting to get to me, and the climb was interminable. Near the top, Will Swint caught me. We chatted for a while, and he showed me where to fill my bottles from a spring. This really helped, as I was starting to run low on water between aid stations. My fortune hadn’t changed when I got back to the Twins Aid Station, so I filled up, rubbed the monkey’s head, and headed out.

Downhill running isn’t my forte, so I was pleasantly surprised that I managed to maintain a reasonable pace on the descent down to the next aid station, which is at the base of the Maiden. Early on in the race the prospect of climbing the Maiden is like a far off dentist appointment to have your wisdom teeth pulled: unpleasant, yes, but too far way to really worry about, but now I was sitting in the waiting room reading an old copy of Newsweek waiting for my name to be called.

The start of the climb isn’t too bad, and I even ran a little bit here and there. However, any thought of running is soon gone. It was both physically and mentally a tough climb: steep and also difficult to gauge how much was left. Eventually, I came out on the shoulder near the summit. I was out of water and tired. As I was plodding up the final out-and-back to the summit, Kelly Woodke and Meghan Arbogast were coming down and gave me some much needed encouragement. Even as thrashed as I was, the view from the summit was spectacular.

The initial descent of the Maiden is steep and rocky, and I found it really hard to get a rhythm. In addition, my quads were issuing me a final warning: stop this nonsense soon or we quit. After a lot of stumbling, and a self-administered stern talking to, I rolled into the last aid station.

Mike Burke arrived at the last aid station just after me, and we ended up running the next four miles together. His Hardrock stories really helped pass the time. I was, however, still suffering from the heat, so when we got to the final lake, I jumped in. As with Charlton Lake almost 30 miles before, I got a boost. The final three miles is gently downhill, so I suspended the negotiations with my quads and pushed for home. Just as this seemed like a mistake, I heard traffic noise on highway 58, which was just enough to get me to the finish.

I claimed my finisher’s hat and a bottle of water and sat down. I felt pretty wiped out, but normally after a race I start to perk up within half an hour or so. This didn’t happen, so I decided to clean up and put on clean clothes. However, this just made me feel worse: cold, nauseous, and disoriented. Luckily, one of the paramedics saw me stumbling around and took me into the first aid area. A couple of hours and three I.V. bags later, I felt good enough to get up. My friend Joe Grant had waited around for me and drove me down to a motel in Oakridge. On the drive, I gazed absently out of the window and noticed a deer by the side of the road, then a person, and next a baby panda. This made me think that perhaps I was a bit more out of it than I realized, and the sight of one road sign eating another confirmed this. Luckily, a good nights sleep left me with nothing worse than blisters and thrashed quads.

Despite my metabolic adventures I had a great race. It’s a beautiful course, and the volunteers are amazing. I know everybody always thanks volunteers, but the ones at Where’s Waldo are the best I’ve ever come across. They bring a passion to the race that I can’t adequately describe. You need to experience it in person, just beware of the pandas.