730+ MILES ON MY FEET HOW I SPEND MY time away from work

above from Scott Rokis Photography

This is part 3 of a five part trilogy (yes, I know). A collective set of words and images from my 2016 set of ultra running events, that as of this writing will hopefully accumulate to more than 730 of racing miles. This part took me to the Mt St Helens area of Washington state and the Bigfoot 200 mile race.

Many of the photos used on this page that are not my own were taken from race websites or social media related to the races. Jerry Gamez, for example, took so many great shots and posted them all to Facebook. I couldn't possible identify them all. Thanks Jerry!! Photos by professional photographers have been purchased in the digital form. If you find one of your own and would rather I don't use it or would like a photo credit given, please contact me directly. runrik @ yahoo.com

This is a point-to-point, single stage mountain trail race. The clock does not stop for runners until they cross the finish line. This is not a relay. While there are sleep tents provided at some of the fourteen aid stations, the runners have a maximum of 105 hours to reach the end, with or without sleep. As this is run through very remote areas, runners must also be on the watch for bears, cougars and of course Bigfoot too.

My prep, three dropboxes and pack

The Short Drive

329 mile / 529km from drive from home to to the Blue Lake aid station where I met up with the crew already doing course marking. From there it was to Randle WA another 68 miles on a less than perfect road. That road is the route the shuttle bus will take on race morning.

Vancouver to Blue Lake
Blue Lake to Randle
At Blue Lake Trailhead - location of aid station #1

At the Blue Lake Trailhead south of Mt St Helens waiting for the others to show up. We camped the night here then marked sections of the course the next day. On day one, I was a shuttle driver, taking others to the race start, dropping them off to mark the first section, and returning to AS#1 location to wait for their arrival.

Candice and crew leaving to mark their section
The long wait for Marv-dog & me

Back at race HQ after a 19 mile day of course marking with Garrett. I thought from this point I would be basically off my feet until the race started. Outside this shed is a 35' trailer bulging with aid station, start and finish line gear to be brought in here, sorted into stacks of what it is on the right wall. Then everything is restacked to the left wall sorted by which aid station it goes to. My Pebble watch told me I walked enough steps to equal about 16 miles between the trailer & the shed. So much for staying off my feet.

An almost empty shed
Yeh, OK, no problem
Then we move again to the left wall.
Water, water everywhere ...actually, they were empty at this point and yet to go through a complete cleaning. You don't want to know what you find when you start taking the valves on these apart.
The left wall is winning
And then the groceries arrived!
What a great race crew I got to join for a few days of hard work before the race. Peggy, me, Garrett, Candice, Kristal, Kyle and Riley. Missing from photo Lois & Joshua.
OK, we had to read the instructions once, but no P. Eng degrees needed here
Sorry, it had to be done
The prize - finishers belt buckles each handmade using natural items found on course, all distinctively different. Each runner selects their buckle after finishing.
Per-race mandatory meeting. Jerry Gamez photo
Listening intently, really. So there will be many miles and climbing and trees and rocks zzzz and there will be water crossings & out & backs up to peaks, and there will be aid stations here here and here ...wait a second, can you back up a couple ...WATER what!?!? Jerry Gamez photo
Another "prize" for the finish line.

Race morning, finally: 3AM, awake making coffee with added powdered MCT oil for breakfast. Three cups ensures lots of fat going in and lots of peeing later. Drive to Randle from Packwood, almost hit big elk on fog covered highway. As it turned out, this was the only wildlife interaction I had for the entire race.

5:45AM Bus ride was just as interesting as last year with the exception that I knew the road a little better having travelled it for course marking.

Pre-race at Marble Mtn start line. Ate three slices of cheddar cheese and a bit of sliced turkey meat. Chatted with many of the runners and volunteers, some I hadn't seen for almost a year others I was just meeting.

Through the luck of a last name that starts with "A" I received bib #1 for the race. In a moment of foresight, I offered to trade Richard Cresser bib numbers. I told him that the odds were much better he would finish in that position. He did win.

Group shot at the start
Class of 2016 all signed before we started

Race Start 9AM Friday Aug 12 Nothing quite like race that needs a calendar to keep time.

First section is 12.2 miles long, ascending 3,280', descending 2,743' through some nice forested single track before getting into the exposed skies and sharp lava rocks.

These rocks can eat shoes. They devoured an almost brand new pair I wore through here last year.
Yes, there is a trail there somewhere

Howie Stern photo

12:18PM Fri Aug 12 3 hours 18 minutes into race.

AS #1 Blue Lake (Mile 12.2) - Saw race director Candice here working at the aid station, so apparently she had no issues getting there from the start before the runners. Really quick turn around here for me. Had a couple of watermelon chunks and headed back out. Splits said later I was in 45th position. I am including position info throughout this write up, because it was posted and fun to see how starting out slow worked out for me by the end.

Second section may well have been the the toughest section of the whole course for most runners. 19.1 miles with 4,926' gain and 3,987' loss. Pretty much exposed to the relentless sun the entire way. Temps climbed to well over 100F through this devil's sandbox. (Heard as high as 114F?) Water crossings through silty rivers, edged by drops, steep and loose enough to require hand ropes. An oasis spring emerging from the rocks partway through saved many from complete dehydration with some of the best tasting on the planet. I knew that any extra effort through this pizza oven would cost me later, so I walked pretty much the entire 19.1 miles.

A sort of clear water crossing
A silty water crossing
The oasis (I do mean the water in the steam)
Yup, we gotta go up there. Can you see the guy ahead?

7:21PM Fri Aug 12 10 hours 21 minutes into race.

AS #2 Windy Pass (Mile 31.3) this bunch of sun-baked volunteers hike & bike everything in to this aid station. Through the inventive genius of the aid station captain, the hauling job was made easier with custom-built bike trailers. I heard here that there might be an issue with my personal SPOT tracker related to frequency of updates. Splits said I was in 44th position. I thought a lot of runners had passed me through the blast zone. I know I only passed two in return. There must have been a few sitting at the aid station when I left.

Third section was a comparatively short 7.8 miles with 1,317' climbing and 1,260' downhill running. With the sun setting and temps finally dropping. I hit the section hard and fast, passing a handful of runners a pace I am sure they considered insane this early in a 200 mile race. It felt really good after a frustrating, yet planned, afternoon of walking. I covered this section in 1 hour 50 minutes.

The late afternoon views of Mt St Helens are spectacular

9:26PM Fri Aug 12 12 hours 26 minutes into race.

AS #3 Johnston Ridge (Mile 39.1) - didn't want to stay long here as I had a dropbox at the next AS and a shoe change to make there. Talked to Peggy (volunteer "Sarge" and crew for runner Tom) here about the tracker and left her to trying to contact race HQ about the SPOT taker issue. If they wanted to swap out the tracker, they would have to allow for me picking up the pace, catch me if you can! :-) I was in 30th position leaving this aid station.

Section four was also fast as it was only 6.6 miles with only 412' of climbing and a huge 2,099' drop. Time to run! I let a few others I was with at the top go ahead so I could make some pack & lighting adjustments for the fast downhill stretch then chased after them. Striding out and getting up on the balls of my feet to pick up the pace felt great in the dropping temps of the first night.

11:03PM Fri Aug 12 14 hours 03 minutes into race.

AS #4 Coldwater Lake (Mile 45.7) - took my time eating, making a shoe change and getting ready for the night & higher elevation temps at this AS. It was about 11PM when I arrived. This was the first food I ate since before the start other than a couple of watermelon chunks. Two small cups of chili with shredded cheese & chunks of avocado. I also downed half a water bottle with 1 tsp Calm Magnesium, 1 tsp beetroot crystals, 1 tsp KetoCaNa. It was taken with a Fennugreek capsule. The bottle was then filled with straight water before moving on.

Peggy was following Tom by vehicle, so had advanced to here as well. SPOT tracker issues cleared, mine was just reporting on a 15 min cycle rather than 5, but race director Candice was OK with it, rather than a hand-off to a rental tracker. I guess everyone would just have to guess where I was 2/3's of the race. Stealth mode. I left here in 36th position due the 53 minutes spent.

The fifth section was a tough one last year. I was more mentally ready for it this year. At 18.7 miles, 5,105' of ascent and 3,909' of descent, including the infamous out&back section to the peak of Mt Margaret, it truly is a mountain trail test. Due to my walking of section 2 earlier and overgrowth on the lower sections, I got to the peak a little later in the day than I did last year. This turned out to be a bonus as I got to see sunrise from one of the best places to do so on the course. Spinning 180 degrees from the rising sun, I also finally saw the double lake view so often photographed that I missed previously. Knowing where the end of this section is doesn't make the aid station come any quicker. I arrived at Norway Pass 22 hours and 44 minutes after the race start.

The view from Mt Margaret that I missed during year one of this race

7:44AM Sat Aug 13 22 hours 44 minutes elapsed

AS # 5 Norway Pass (Mile 64.4) - blister issues on both feet that had started three weeks prior at Colorado 200 were now reminding me they had not gone away. Todd Nardi head of the race medical team was at this station when I arrived and I welcomed his foot taping expertise to keep me going. While waiting for my feet to dry to allow tape to stick, I attempted to eat a little more. A pulled pork taco in a cup without the shell. Pulled pork, salsa, cheese, avocado and maybe some sour cream. Spilled half all over my pack. Oh well, I wasn't really hungry anyway. I spent an hour 13 min here and gained four positions to 32nd place on leaving.

Todd Nardi taking care of my feet

Section six is 11.1 miles with 2,037' of climbing and 1,558' of downhill. Last year, this section had so many ripe huckleberries along the trail, I am sure everyone lost time picking & eating. This relatively easy section took a little under three hours to run, so there must have been fewer distracting berries this year.

12:37PM Sat Aug 13 27 hours 37 minutes into race.

AS #6 Elk Pass (Mile 75.5) - burger time. (At least I think, I may have mixed up at which aid station I ate what). No shoe change or other delay, I ate a bunless burger patty with cheese, grilled onions and some avocado slices. I was only here 22 minutes and left in 31st place.

The seventh section is one that thanks to running this race a 2nd time, I have identified where in the world this piece of trail is. It showed in many of the few dreams I have/recall from the past year. It is a weird feeling to be running a trail that seemed to only come from my dreams. The first running of Tahoe 200 had a section that haunted me in a similar way too until I re-ran it trail marking. This section is 15 miles long with 2,543' of ascent and 3,144' of descent. You enter what feels like a lost valley filled with old growth forest and a stream running down the middle. After crossing the valley & stream back & forth while traveling east and south-east, you climb out the back end and drop down to the next aid station.

5:54PM Sat Aug 13 32 hours 54 minutes into race.

AS #7 Road 9327 (Mile 90.5) - I tried sleeping at this aid station last year unsuccessfully. I spent a bit of time here this year having a tasty scrambled egg breakfast with cheese, bacon, red & green peppers and onion, half sliced avocado on the side. I was here 31 minutes and left in 27th position.

Section #8 is the most disgusting, unrewarding piece of sh*t trail in the galaxy considering it is only 11.2 miles long with 2,817' of climb and 2,860' of drop. You climb and climb and climb in one single shot to find …nothing. Absolutely f*cking nothing, then you pound your sore feet down an equal amount to get to finally arrive at the aid station. I seem to recall hearing this torturous section was devised by none other than Richard Cresser, the 2016 race winner. At least he had to run it too, this year. I thought, if that is true, then it is a perfect reason to spend an entire winter carving mice replicas from styrofoam (inside joke, ask Richard). I might have been a little tired at this point.

Well I am glad the course markers knew where they were going, there is a trail under there somewhere

10:53PM Sat Aug 13 37 hours 53 minutes into race.

AS #8 Spencer Butte (Mile 101.7) - Shoe change here being just over the halfway point. No food, but again I had my potion of half a bottle of water with 1 tsp Calm Magnesium, 1 tsp beetroot crystals, 1 tsp KetoCaNa taken with a Fennugreek capsule. 50 minutes in and out in 24th spot …oh, oh the kids are starting to sleep and I am tiptoeing by.

Beware the chair, too long at an aid station can be hazardous

Section #9 is a beaut! Especially considering the previous section. 9.6 miles with 1,282' of climb and 2,852' drop. The last few miles are along the river with spectacular waterfall views, depending on the time of day, of course. I have wanted both years to see a closeup map of what the water & trail are doing in relation to each other the last half mile or so, as it seems like five creeks are combining in one location.

3:35AM Sun Aug 14 42 hours 35 minutes elapsed

AS #9 Lewis River (Mile 111.3) - Christmas lights everywhere. Best decorated aid station. I rested a spell while sipping on some veggie broth and then headed back out in 31 minutes and bumped up one more spot to 23rd.

Section #10 This section starts with what appears to be a very sketchy river crossing, particularly if you arrive in the dark. On closer examination, it sounds worse than it is. A skip & a jump over some slick rock with no wet feet. At 18.9 miles, 5,472' up and 3,315 down it is not an easy section by any standard. Trail sections through here are also rutted out, making footing tough.

Time for some gratuitous volcano photos. these shots are all taken by various runners from the course.

12:31PM Sun Aug 14 51 hours 31 minutes elapsed

AS #10 Council Bluff (Mile 130.2) - Lunch time!! THE BEST BURGER EVER!! (Bunless of course)

This was not on the menu. Station was co-captained by two veteran 200 mile runners, Dustin & Will who know of my HFLC diet. I met these two guys at Colorado 200 2015. They also ran Bigfoot 200 and Tahoe 200 in 2015. They had picked up fresh beef at a grocery on the way to the aid station and were awaiting my arrival to cook it for me. Onions, tomatoes, avocado, sharp cheddar and topped with an over-easy egg. Cutting into it, the yolk ran down and combined with the juices from the perfectly cooked medium rare beef. Undoubtedly, an unbelievable surprise compared to typical aid station food (that is not a complaint). I would have been happy just to see these two again & maybe have a fast chat over a beer, as it had been since Tahoe 200 last Sept. As it was, the burger was incredible and the visit was too short.

Will, Richard & Dustin at the finish line

Section #11 feels mostly downhill though it is 1,740' ascent and 1,487' descent over 9.8 miles. It takes you through a campground that is on the edge of a beautiful little lake. Temptation got the better of me and I detoured to the beach and dunked head & shoulders in for a great cold down.

That's the lake, just need to get down to it
Not a full swim, but I did get head & shoulders in

4:58PM Sun Aug 14 55 hours 58 minutes elapsed.

AS #11 Chain of Lakes (Mile 140) - I was so sick of the taste of water that had been stored in sun-heated plastic containers by the time I got here, all I could think about was changing what was in my water bottles. I had them fill with ice then go 50% Nuun and 50% water on top of the ice. The ice would melt quickly giving me a less than 50% mixture of whatever strength they were mixing. It tasted pretty good at first but it didn't last. Dropped to 24th position according to split times, though there was no passing or being passed in the section before this.

Section 12 has the "river crossing" section. I actually got through them all until the last one without getting my feet wet. Just like last year, when I was running with Meep Meep, I was trying to make the last river crossing before dark so I could see it better and failed again to get there on time. This is just the easy part though as once you make the last crossing, then you climb, really climb. Total section is 17.3 miles with 3,927' up and 3,900' down with the up coming almost entirely at the end. Doing this in the dark seems to make it more of an endless grind. Just when you are ready to sit down and give up you see a sign signalling a change to the relentless ascent. It tells you that you must now do an out & back to Elk Peak (more climbing) before you can return to the sign and then descent to the Klickitat aid station. I did get a jolt as I stumped my way up to the peak when I caught something in the corner of my eye. Just out of the field of my light was a standing figure silhouetted by the dim light of the night sky, clad in all black. I jumped and he apologized. It was Howie Stern, the official race photographer waiting for sunrise. After what seemed endless relentless miles I arrived at Klickitat. This was undoubtedly the toughest section for me this year.

Topping out at the Elk Peak mandatory out & back climb. Howie Stern photo

1:28AM Mon Aug 17 64 hours 28 minutes elapsed.

AS #12 Klickitat (Mile 157.4) - A lot happened at this aid station. Scheduled shoe change and foot care from Todd Nardi. I picked up a pacer to accompany me further into the race, friend Craig Longobardi. The vollies at this aid station were simply unbelievable. Recent immigrants from Romania, they jumped into this task full on. I had two soul-warming bowls of tomato basil soup. Before Todd looked at my feet, my shoes & socks were removed for me, feet washed and calves massaged. I was here longer than any other aid station (1 hour 47 minutes) but it was worth every second spent). Craig had tins of sparkling water for me that turned out to be the the best, most reviving thing I had to drink over the entire course. I left very ready to face the next section and in 18th position.

Section #13 didn't turn out to be the monster it was the year before. I can say now that there are other sections that easily could be considered tougher. It helped that I had course marked a good portion of this section just a few days prior to the race. Knowledge is golden. Craig pulled me along at a good steady pace, though I struggled at times to keep up, this is what I needed. We also seemed to be getting through before the mosquitoes woke up.

Cool "laser beam" shot taken by pacer Craig Longobardi

Around 9AM Mon Aug 15 Start of day four. 72 hours and change into race.

AS #13 Twin Sisters (Mile 176.8) - Second to last aid station and my sub-conscious knows I have the course beat. I still have a full day to spend on the course, but I am thinking a daylight finish even as we approach this check point. Peggy from earlier in the race was now done her crewing and was full time vollie. I had another tin of sparkling water from Craig and a great grilled brat from Peggy. My check-in & check-out times got lost in the mix but I know I arrived and left before the runner who spoke only Japanese. I think I was around 13th position leaving here.

Pacer Craig & I leaving Twin Sisters Aid station

Section #14 has considerable ascents away from the aid station out&back plus the short but steep out & back to Pompey Peak. After that it is downhill on a variety of trails to the flat section to the next aid station. We stopped for a few photo ops on Pompey Peak then made our descent down through the section of downed logs. As soon as we were on the gorgeous soft loamy trail after the last major log climb, Craig traded places with me, letting me downhill at my pace. Lung-bursting, knee-wrecking hip-turning blast of downhill joy! Craig was right on my heels when we caught and passed Pat from Montreal near the bottom. Pat told me later we woke him up when we passed. He had been wandering aimlessly half asleep before that. After a couple of ugly little upgrades we burst out onto the flat trail that continues for miles to the next aid station. I ran and I ran. I looked over my shoulder and Craig was there, again and still there. I remember speed walking a lot of this section the year before but had a fire going this year. Another shoulder check showed I was alone. I ran on. All fairness to Craig, his plan was to get a ride from the next aid station and go back to pace another runner in for the entire final 50 miles. He needed to conserve energy. I just needed to finish.

Resting after submitting Pompey Peak
Pacers are great for taking photos, too! Thanks Craig!

3:25PM Mon Aug 15 78 hours 25 minutes elapsed.

AS #14 Owen's Creek (Mile 192.8) - conflicting feelings when I arrived here. I was on fire and just wanted to run the final stretch in. The horse was smelling the barn. I didn't want to leave without knowing Craig had made it in and was on his way with a ride to his next pacing duty. Around 15 minutes later, Pat arrived. He promptly asked for his dropped bag and started to change into road racing shoes?!?!? I told the vollies I wasn't up for that sort of a race to the finish and asked for a beer. As I enjoyed the super-tasty IPA they gave me, Craig rounded the corner and Pat took off. While we chatted, Jeri with the pink/purple Kinsio tape on her legs showed up after a fast downhill too. She was obviously looking to finish strong. I left wondering how far out Pat was ahead of me. Splits show me leaving in 11th place.

Section #15 - the half-marathon to end the 200 miler - or at least close to it. A couple of mile downhill on gravel road then finish on pavement to Randle. 13 miles, 385' of climb and 1,639' down. Just as I finished the downhill gravel section and approached the pavement I saw Pat walking along the pavement ahead of me. When I caught up I told him I thought Jeri behind us was on the hunt perhaps chasing him. It was meant to be a conversation starter. He thought she was working hard to stay ahead of Van and hold 2nd place female. Seemed like a more logical scenario than mine. We walked/ran for miles together after that until he tricked me into going ahead. He was struggling with his feet, taking his shoes off, walking a ways, then replacing them. I explained the remainder of the course to him and he suggested we run to the highway crossing before walking again. I agreed and started to run. Vehicle traffic required single file travel. I didn't look back until I got to the bridge just before the road. He was a tiny figure in the distance behind me at that point. I crossed the highway and gave it everything I had left to the finish.

Running the brutal half-marathon to the finish

Finish (Mile 205.8) 7:05PM Mon Aug 15.

Cruising through the school grounds to the track
3/4 lap around the track and done, 205.8 miles
Kristal Sager photos
Race director Candice Burt doesn't miss a runner's finish. The care & attention from everyone at the finish line is unbelievable, regardless of time of day.
With pacer Craig Longobardi - Kristal Sager photo
Hanging at the finish line (to the left in the green jacket, not in the fur
Bigfoot isn't so big now.

Finished 82 hours 5 min (3 days 10 hours 5 minutes) after starting, bettering last year's time by 3 hours 18 minutes.

12th place overall finish

This race was 205.8 miles long, with 50,000+ feet (15,240 meters) of ascent. More than 96,000 feet of elevation change.

It was hours (and numerous beers) before I bothered to try to sleep. I finally grabbed a couple of hours in the back of my vehicle then returned to the finish line to cheer more runners in (there was also a lot of beer still in those kegs). The next day, I wrangled a room at the motel next door to ensure some decent sleep before driving. By the time I could access the room, there was really only time for a shower before heading back to the finish line for the awards ceremonies. The rest of day was filled with celebrating the final runners coming in and the awards ceremony. I hung around for another day helping repack that magical 35' trailer (only to head to Tahoe in a few weeks to unpack it again). Magical because it is bigger inside than outside.

After a quick hiccup getting Garrett underway with truck & trailer tires all filled with air, the last of the circus deserted town. I headed home via a long route around the Olympic Penisula for a couple of beach days to rest the legs and feet.

Olympic Penisula on the way home
The new dragon (middle) made from Purple Heart wood, received at the awards ceremony to add to my collection. Carved by Ken Dam, these are given to volunteers who help mark the Bigfoot and Tahoe 200 course. They are an artistic representation of the clothespin "dragons" used for course makers. Thanks Ken!

I can't simply express enough thanks to the volunteers, my pacer for miles Craig Longobardi, medical lead Todd Nardi, race director Candice Burt & crew and all the other Bigfoot 200 racers that make up the ultra community for this incredible experience. Thanks also to my employer MCW Consultants for the time away from work, yet again.

I end this chapter of my running summer with two photos, this beautiful photo taken by Kristal Sager, that looks like a composed painting,

and this one, by Howie Stern as I approached Randle near the finish

How much did I like this race?

...I have already registered for the 2017 version of this race.

  • Accumulated ascent = 111,327 feet (33,932 meters)
  • Accumulated descent = 106,635 feet (32,502 meters)
  • Accumulated distance raced = 507 miles (816 kilometres)
  • Accumulated time racing = 204 hours 34 minutes
  • Accumulated distance driven = 6,352 miles (10,223 kilometres)

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