2010 Donovan

Death, Taxes, and Pandas


Geoffrey Donovan
2010 Where’s Waldo 100km Report

wald-do (vt.)
  1. To destroy; devastate
  2. To crush aspirations especially those of the unprepared


Waldo is a handful. There’s no way around that. Even if you’re well prepared, it’s going to take a toll. It’s like being attacked by a bear. If you’re smart, and have a little luck, the physical damage should heal within a week or two, although the nightmares and bed wetting may last a little longer.

Of course, I’m not the best at taking my own advice. I was trying to train through Waldo in preparation for Palm to Pine, but I was still hoping for a good race. Well, let’s see how that went.

Some races ease you into things gradually. Waldo isn’t one of them. You get about fifty yards of easy running, and then you’re faced with a thousand-foot climb up a big pile of loose rocks and talcum powder. The billowing dust makes headlamps almost useless and gives your teeth a lovely gritty coating. At least licking the grime off your teeth gives you something to do on the rolling descent to the first aid station at Gold Lake.

As I’m running a trail, I form expectations about how hard it’s going to be. This is normally an unconscious process, which I only become aware of when there is a disconnect between my expected and actual level of effort. As I started the ascent of Fuji, I noticed that I was walking a lot of sections, and my legs felt heavy. Given that I had over 50 miles to go, this wasn’t good news. In these situations, I try and become aggressively myopic: eat, drink, get to the next aid station, and don’t think about anything else.

My policy of enforced stupidity got me to the Fuji aid station without incident. After leaving, I’d barely had time to cinch down the straps of my water bottles, before I saw Time Olson ripping down the trail towards me. He looked like a force of nature, and I don’t mean a gentle summer breeze or a spring shower. I mean a hurricane turning a trailer park into kindling. Not far behind him was Dan Olmstead, who looked happy that he’d yet to take a wrong turn.

Fuji’s summit was still nowhere in sight when I saw the first woman, Meghan Arbogast. To say she looked a like a person to be reckoned with is an example of the inadequacy of language.

Craig Thornley was waiting on the top of Fuji making no attempt to mask the unseemly pleasure he was getting from watching me flail up the final few rocky feet to the summit. I suppose race directors can be open about their sadism. He asked me whether I’d seen any pandas yet. I said no. What I didn’t say was that, given how I felt, I suspected it was a just a matter of time. Eventually, they were going to put down their bamboo and come looking for me.

The descent to the Mount Ray aid station was longer, with more uphill, than I remembered. If I’d allowed myself to think about that, it wouldn?t have encouraged me. A couple of miles before the aid station, Ashley Nordell caught me. I’m glad she’s such good company, because when she catches you — something she’s done to me several times this year — she’s harder to drop than a crack habit.

After a quick bottle exchange with Rachel, I started the long grind up to the Twins. On the easier sections, I tried to space out and conserve energy. Unfortunately, my inattention led to a spectacular fall. The first thing to hit the ground was my ribs. Disconcertingly, I felt them flex, before they sprung back into shape. The fall was so jarring, that I just lay on the ground looking at the tree tops for a little while, before I began my internal checklist assessing damage. Once I realized that nothing was broken, and that nobody was going to come by and offer sympathy, I got up and continued on my way.

The heavenly theme at the Twins aid station didn’t match my mood, which was probably just as well, because to do that would have required the volunteers to dress in dog-turd costumes, which would have been a bit much to ask.

The sections to Charlton Lake and Road 4290 passed uneventfully, and I was now faced with the nasty return trip to the Twins. I find this part of the race both baffling and painful. The trail takes endless turns in a dense forest, and once the climbing starts, it never ends. Should you wish to recreate this experience at home, try the following. First, put on a blindfold. Second, have someone spin you around until you’re close to puking. Third, do five thousand squats. How do you feel? Not so good? Don’t worry, you’ve only got 18 more miles to go, including climbing the Maiden.

In the past, I’ve said that getting to the Maiden is a relief, because you get to walk without guilt for an hour. I’ve no idea why I would have said such a stupid thing. I was feeling a number of things when I got started up the climb, but none of them was relief. The second half of the climb is truly ghastly, so I tried to run a little early on. However, this didn’t last long, and I was soon reduced to a head-down-hands-on-quads trudge.

Near the top I caught up with someone. He’d been completely Waldoed. When I said hello, it took several seconds for him to turn around and look at me. His eyes were unfocused, and he was the color of skimmed milk mixed with cigarette ash. As always, seeing other people suffer perked me up.

This warm glow didn’t last long. I’d done a pretty good job coaxing the best out of flat legs, but I was tiring badly. I couldn’t get into any sort of rhythm, and my legs kept banging together like a pair of flabby, discordant cymbals. By the time I got to the Rosary Lakes, I was seeing movement in my peripheral vision. The pandas could smell my suffering, and they were starting to close in. I kept my eyes on the trail in front of me and tried not to stagger. When I finally saw the ski area, I allowed myself to look around. I swear I saw a flash of black and white fur retreating back into the forest. They didn’t get me this time, but I’m sure they weren’t too disappointed. They know they’ll get another chance soon enough.