Of Pandas and Bunny Grahams
August 22, 2009 Where’s Waldo 100K Willamette Pass, Oregon By Geoffrey Donovan
I used to think that once you got to the finish line of a race, your problems were over. However, a meltdown after last year’s Where’s Waldo taught me the hard lesson that even if you stop, the wheels can still fall off.
In attempt to avoid post-race drama, I did three things differently this year. First, I arranged for a day that was 20 degrees cooler. Second, I carried bigger bottles. Third, my wife, Rachel, crewed for me, and she brought along my secret triple whammy of race foods: chocolate pudding, red bull, and bunny grahams. (I favor bunny graham friends, which are a mixture of all three varieties. However, I think this is more a question of aesthetics rather than nutritional content.)
The only drawback with ordering a cooler day is that it’s pretty cold at 4AM, which exacerbated my usual pre-race clumsiness. In addition, I was trying not to disturb Rachel, so I probably looked like the drunk who gets home from the bar and tries to fix a snack without waking his roommates up. After an hour of ineffectual fumbling, it was a relief to get going. After all, what better way to start the day than flailing up hill in the dark surrounded by billowing clouds of dust?
Surprisingly, as we started climbing, it got noticeably warmer. I commented on this to Andre, my running partner, and he said that it was because cold air sank. I then asked him, if that was the case, why didn’t people climb Everest in shorts? His response was a look that, I suspect, he reserves for the willfully ignorant. No matter.
By the time we reached the first aid station, my light had been off for 20 minutes, and about half way up Mount Fuji, sunlight was beginning to brush the tree tops. The first direct sunshine of the day always perks me up, although the effect on Erik Skaggs was more dramatic: when we reached the Mount Fuji aid station for the first time, he was just arriving for the second time, so, 12.4 miles in, he was already 2.5 miles ahead of us. Did he have somewhere he needed to be?
The out and back to the summit of Fuji was punctuated with the usual giving and receiving of encouragement, and then it was time for the long descent to the third aid station. I was alone for most of this section, which helped me stick to my it’s-impossible-to-go-too-slow-in-the-first-half-of-the-race strategy. It was good to see Rachel at the aid station, and then it was up to the Twins for the first time. Last year, this climb exacted a significant emotional toll, so I took it especially easy. This didn’t make the climb seem any easier, although at least it made it go on for longer.
Last year, the gypsy theme at the Twins made it my favorite aid station, so I was a bit concerned when the signs leading into the aid station revealed a new theme. However, my worries were for nothing, as it’s difficult to complain when your water bottles are filled by a woman in leather.
The next section to Charlton Lake passed uneventfully, and soon I was drinking Red Bull at Charlton Lake. Because I don’t drink much caffeine normally, when I drink a Red Bull in a race, it almost gives me a seizure. Suitably pepped up, I scampered off to Road 4290. Last year, this section was brutal, as it was getting really hot, and the trees are pretty spindly. In contrast, this year, it was as pleasant as a five-mile run can be given that you’ve already run a 50K.
At road 4290, I saw Rachel for the last time, so I supplemented my Red Bull with a few spoonfuls of chocolate pudding and a handful of bunny grahams, and I headed up to the Twins for the second time. Before the race, I was most concerned about this climb. It’s a long way into the race, a long way until the finish, and just plain long. My worries were not unfounded. By the time I began the final steep section, I was feeling — as we say in Yorkshire — rough as a badger’s ass. With my head hanging low, and my tongue lolling out, I crested the climb and descended down to the aid station. The volunteers quickly filled my bottles, and I added some banana Nuun. This made for an amusing few minutes as my bottles hissed and spluttered like a pair of breaching whales.
As I descended to Maiden Peak, a fatalistic calm settled over me. There was no point worrying, as both my tactics for climbing Maiden Peak, and the outcome, were not in question: I was going to walk; I was going to get my ass kicked. I was not wrong.
About half way up the climb, I was caught by Victor Ballesteros. Victor and I chatted for a while, and I surreptitiously checked out his beard, which is truly magnificent. My goatee felt dowdy in comparison. However, I also realized that it would take a man with far more flair than me to carry off such a beard. A depressing thought, but there you go.
The descent from the Maiden was as I remember: a struggle to stay upright and screaming quads. I didn’t stay long at the aid station, as while I was standing and waiting for a volunteer to fill my bottles (I would strongly advise against trying to fill your own bottles at any of Waldo’s aid stations, as I suspect a volunteer would tackle you and pry them out of your hands.), I staggered a couple of times involuntarily. This suggested to me that it was time to wrap this thing up before anything major came unglued.
The final stretch was relatively uneventful, and soon I was running under the chairlift to the finish. By virtue of being beaten by plenty of women, and some men not paying their USATF dues, I squeaked a medal for 10th-place male — I couldn’t have been happier.
Thankfully, the rest of the day was also uneventful, except that I won a sweatshirt in the raffle. Altogether, I came out of the day up a sweatshirt, two t-shirts, and a hat. I won’t have to go clothes shopping for a year.
After eating and catching up with friends, Rachel and I went down to our motel in Oakridge. I fell asleep early but woke in a panic just after midnight. I took me a second to remember where I was, and then I desperately checked the bedside table. Thankfully, my box of bunny grahams was where I left them. I’d had a nightmare that pandas had broken into my room and stolen them.
If you haven’t run Where’s Waldo, give it a shot. It’s tough, beautiful, the volunteers wear leather, and if you keep your bunny grahams close, the pandas aren’t too much of a nuisance. What more do you want?