Picture this, it is November 2016, Tony and I are on our way home from Long Island where I competed in my third powerlifting meet in six months. This time lifting enough weight to obtain an elite total in my third weight class. We listened to Cameron Hanes podcast, Keep Hammering, when he interviewed Candice Burt, the queen of the 200 mile ultra races. They talked about the 200 mile ultra she and Destination Trail organize and Cameronâ experience running the Bigfoot 200. Listening to them talk about these races actually made me want to try to tackle one of these 200s. They were that convincing.
Me: (flippantly) Would you do the Tahoe 200 with me in 2018?
Tony: Hell, no. Why would you want to do that? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Get serious Hoff.
Fast forward to early 2017: Jana Fogleman and myself had taken a couple of our dogs hiking at Umstead Park in Raleigh. As we were wrapping up the day, I heard Jana calling to me from the other side of the car. As I looked around the back of the car, I saw four labrador puppies all tangled up in their leashes and looking adorable. The kids walking the dogs said they had been abandoned and were rescues up for adoption. Now I think I’m really funny, and decide to joke with Tony (he was away working) a little. I had Jana snap a photo of me with the puppies and text messaged it to Tony. The text message thread went something like this.
Me: Photo: me with four adorable puppies
Tony: Whose pups?
Me: They are rescue pups available for foster or adoption. I’m bringing them home with me to see if I can get them homes.
Tony: Are you serious, Hoff?
Tony: Hoff, you’re joking, right?
Me: Yes, but I wish I could see the look on your face when you came home and we had eight dogs in the house.
Tony: Yeah? I wish I could see your face when you open your email.
I guess the joke was on me! I promptly opened my email and saw a congratulatory email for my entry into the Bigfoot 200… the 2017 race, not the 2018!
Before we proceed to the review of the months leading up to the race and the actual race recap, I would like to note that I am NOT an ultra runner, or maybe I am now… but only a novice. It is very important to me I do insult accomplished ultra runners and appear not take their sport, and all entails, seriously. I have more respect than I can articulate for anyone willing to place themselves in such levels of pain.
This recap serves only as an informative article about the blunders, mishaps, mini successes and sufferings of someone who dares to try things that are difficult or seemingly impossible. I do things like this only to prove to myself it is possible, or at the very least, learn something about myself and what I am personally capable of in this short life. I do hope it inspires others to make lofty goals and strive to achieve them and also, I wish any novice ultrarunner who reads this will learn from my mistakes and successes and successfully complete the ultra event of their choosing!
I had been running about 8-10 miles a week leading up to Tony signing me up for the Bigfoot 200. I was to be part of a 2 person team running a 50 mile Ultra. However, my partner was trying to qualify for the Boston a couple weeks after this trail run. She did not want to risk an injury with a race not relevant to her priority goal, so we decided to pull our team from the run so she could focus on her race. I was not too unhappy about it. I had been dealing with a nagging foot injury. Eventually it got painful enough for me to have a radiograph taken. Bad news, my “nagging injury” was actually a stress fracture of the third metatarsal. The good news? It showed clear signs of healing. Â This was in early March, a mere five months out from the Bigfoot 200. In place of running, I substituted the elliptical and the assault bike for sessions that seemed like an eternity. Four weeks later, I went to the orthopedic MD and he cleared me to start running again. This was early April, four months to the Bigfoot 200.
I began running again three times a week, rode the assault bike once a week and did the stairmill once per week all for about an hour to an hour and a half per session. Â Regardless of the looming deadline of the race, I just couldn’t get myself to do those long training sessions that are needed to get your body ready for these long endurance races. About two months before the race, Tony and I ran six miles on concrete. The next day, my left knee was quite swollen and was difficult to put weight on. I immediately scheduled an appointment to see my Physical Therapist. During treatment, I returned to the elliptical and bike for my training. After about four weeks, the pain and swelling subsided and I was able to run again pain free. I continued to only run one to two times per week, supplementing my training with the elliptical. Four weeks out, Tony added long, boring sled pulls with light weight for miles to simulate climbs. These sled pulls and the stairmill were really the only way to train for the steep climbs of the mountains while training in Wilmington, NC. I was able to make it through these miles of mundane sled pulls due to the great company of my training partners, Tony, Jana, Paul, Matt and Nichole. Thanks for suffering with me, guys!!
I would like to explain my mindset and clarify my strategy going into this event. Clearly, I was undertrained and underconditioned. Tony and I discussed my lack of quality training many times. He was trying to get in as much training as he could and was running much more than myself, a role reversal for sure. My only thought was of my recent injuries to my foot and knee. I knew I needed to run more in order to get trained up but this was a catch 22. If I put more volume into my training, I put myself at more risk for potential injury. I was well aware if I went into this race injured I would have no chance of completing it. However, going in a bit undertrained but uninjured was my best bet to finish this grueling endurance race. So I pulled back on my training volume, stopped lifting heavy weights, got on the elliptical/stairmill more and kept seeing the PT for treatment. In addition to this decrease in volume of training, I dropped 10lbs to hopefully relieve some of the stress on my bones and joints. It is worth noting my longest run was only 13 miles, longest sled pull 6 miles and longest stairmill/elliptical session 2 hours. Such little volume is considered by runners not enough for a marathon, much less a 200 miler. It does speak volumes for the END|Strength methods we use at Comp|EDGE that I did compete 131 miles. The week before the race I felt better than I had in months.
Race Preparation: One Week Out
My last full training day was Sunday, August 6, five days prior to race start. Basically, I focused on deloading and recovery. I saw my Physical Therapist on Monday for an evaluation and light tune up with some dry needling of the calf, anterior tibialis and VMO on my left leg. The swelling of my left knee was minimal and mobility was good. Wednesday, August 9th was travel day for myself and our one crew member, Jacob Bowie. We arrived in Portland, OR without incident and proceeded to the hotel where Tony arrived shortly after. After getting a good night’s rest, we picked up coffee, got the rental car and picked up Andrew Smith, our pacer, at the airport. We went to Wal Mart and bought anything and everything we thought we might want to eat during the race. We bought cookies, protein bars, bread, peanut butter, jelly, muffins, candy, five hour energies, crystal light packets, gatorade and more candy. We also bought supplies such as water shoes, mini gold bonds, sunscreen, insect repellant, lotion, individual wet wipe packets, travel body wash, travel deodorant, toothbrushes and travel toothpastes. By far my favorite purchase, though it didn’t seem pertinent at the time, was a pair of pink piggie slippers. Jacob was always on point making sure I had my slippers prior to nap time at each sleep station of the race.
We then drove the 2 hours to runner check-in and race brief at White Pass High School in Randle, Washington. Here we received our race numbers, swag bags and had our medical exam. We also assembled our drop bags in the parking lot and placed them in their designated spots prior to the cut off time. After mandatory race brief, we proceeded to our hotel in Woodland, Washington about an hour from race start. We fueled up on a tasty pizza and a root beer float after we did a little off roading in the parking lot (JK Jacob Bowie). No curb is safe!
After retiring to our hotel room for the night, Tony and I prepped all our gear. We filled our water bladders and water bottles, and placed food, foot care kits, extra socks, rain jacket, emergency blanket, and supplements in our race vests. We laid out our clothes, shoes, gaiters, socks, and hats. We charged our phones and GPS devices. We placed our race necessities in a separate bag for accessibility for our crew member. Finally, we packed everything else in our suitcases and went to bed. At 6am, we woke, put on our race clothes and headed out. We got my Starbucks and some food quickly and arrived at the race start at 8:00 am without a hitch.
Race Summary by Leg
Please remember, this account is from the perspective of a novice ultra runner that trained for a mountain race at sea level with no ascents or descents.
Start (Marble Mountain) to Blue Lake: 12.2 miles and 3,280ft of elevation gain. Ascent started almost immediately. During the first hour, we met some fellow runners and had some pleasant conversation about where they were from, why they were doing these races, and most importantly, why they picked their particular race number. We enjoyed the views and ran most of the descent down to Blue Lake Aid arriving around 12:30pm. The most important thing to do at Blue Lake Aid was to be sure you resupplied all your water and maybe packed a little extra. This is the aid station prior to the leg of the race in desolation zone of Mt. Saint Helens. Completely exposed to the sun and temps of 90 degrees, there are no water sources until close to the end of the upcoming section.
Blue Lake to Windy Ridge: 18.1 miles. Light ascent until you reach a rope to descend into a small canyon, across a small river (with a rope) and up a rope on the opposite side of the canyon to continue on the trail. It is important to get water at this small river because next water source is 10 miles away. We passed several runners that were in distress due to the heat and exposure of this section. Several people had also run out of water three or more miles out from the next water source. Better to pack too much water than not enough in this section. It was HOT and there is no coverage or shade. I wore a hat, a long sleeved shirt and lathered on the sunscreen. There is about a 2 mile ascent on a dirt road ending with Windy Ridge Aid Station. We arrived at this station around 7:00pm. The views are gorgeous and it lives up to it’s name, it was definitely windy. This aid station had some yummy quesadillas which I polished off within about 2 minutes.
Windy Ridge to Johnston Observatory/Ridge: 9.6 miles. The sun disappeared quickly and we donned our headlamps. Mostly rolling ascents and descents, we ran the downhills and quickly hiked the uphills. This was a relatively easy leg and the trail was well marked and easily followed. We arrived at Johnston Ridge aid station around 10:45pm. Our crew and pacer met up with us and we enjoyed a hot drink, cup of noodles and a sandwich. We decided to fill our water bladders only half full to save weight for this shorter leg to the sleep station at Coldwater Lake.
Johnston Observatory/Ridge to Coldwater Lake: 6.6miles. Again, we ran the downhills and quickly hiked the uphills. Trail had lots of trees and bushes but still easily followed. I took the lead on this leg and we proceeded at a pretty good clip because I was ready to sleep. We arrived at Coldwater Lake Aid Station at 1:30am. Jacob was ready with my piggie slippers and sleep gear. I changed out of my running clothes into jogging pants and a long sleeved shirt, just to give my skin a break from the spandex. I had the medic/nurse address some small blisters on my right foot and left toes. Then, I had some awesome pork tacos, some soup, and a couple oranges. It was lightly raining and all the tents were full of runners so I occupied one of the lounge chairs under the food tent, put in some ear plugs and threw a couple blankets over my head and got a little sleep. Tony set up his sleep spot under our rental truck.
Coldwater Lake to Norway Pass: 18.7 miles. When I woke, Tony and Andrew (our pacer) were already dressed and putting on their gaiters and shoes. Tony had not been able to sleep and was ansy. I quickly tried to figure out what attire the weather called for, threw on some capris, a tank and a long sleeved shirt. Jacob was filling my bladder and water bottles and gave me some candy and a protein bar to put in my pack. Feeling Tony’s readiness to get moving again, I forgot to grab my caffeine (which proves to be a problem later in this leg). There was some tension in the group starting this part of the race but we quickly forgot about it as we headed off into the darkness. As the sun rose, we were able to enjoy beautiful views of the lake before it started getting warm. I let them go on ahead and I changed from my capris to a pair of shorts, slathered on some body glide and ran to catch up. Then the ascent started and seemed to go for miles. It seemed to be a steep ascent (later in the race I would realize this was a moderate climb). The terrain was rocky and as we got higher we were able to see Spirit Lake and Mt. St. Helens. The climb to Mt. Margaret was rough, but the view was beautiful. I would like to note there was one six foot portion of the trail where there was no trail. Just some loose dirt and what looked like a thousand foot drop off. Tony walks across this type of stuff as if it were a nicely paved sidewalk. Andrew and I are neither as sure footed. Andrew made it across but watching him struggle made me look for a different route. I climbed up and over this portion of the course and it only set us back a few minutes. The descent to Norway Pass was easy but LONG. You could hear people at the aid station about 2 miles before you actually arrived. It was hot and exposed. We arrived at Norway Pass and there were tasty cheeseburgers, pickles and icy pops waiting on us!! I had medical (Todd) work on my feet again at this station. He did a wonderful job and I didn’t have to have my feet tended to for the remainder of my race.
Norway Pass to Elk Pass: 11.1 miles. Pretty uneventful hike but the lack of caffeine started to get to me late in this leg. The rolling hills at the end of this leg were easy but seemed to last FOREVER. My choice of attire was making me uncomfortable. My thighs were chafing and my hydration vest was cutting into my shoulders because I was wearing a tank top. This is where the wheels came off for me (the first time). Tony went on ahead to the aid station but Andrew got the lovely task of hanging with me. There were so many curse words flying out of my mouth, even Bigfoot would have blushed. When we FINALLY reached the aid station and the first thing I said to Tony was I’m done with this. An aid worker asked me if I wanted to sit down and all I said was I need to sleep. She was very sweet, asked me if I was medically OK and encouraged me to go take a nap. We napped in the truck for a little less than an hour. When we woke, Tony and I had a frank conversation about whether I should continue or drop. After some tears and some venting of frustrations, I got out of the truck, put on my big girl panties and suited up for the next leg.
Elk Pass to Road 9327: 15 miles. Bless Jacob. He had pre-workout and caffeine pills ready to go for me. I put on some comfy capri pants and a t-shirt which instantly made me more comfortable. My thighs were no longer trying to start a fire and my vest wasn’t rubbing a hole in my shoulder. We started on our way to Road 9327 aid station on a relatively easy section of trail. As we approached the 9 mile mark, the temperature dropped significantly and it began to rain. The trail also turned from easy to nasty rutted and moving was difficult again. We reached the Road 9327 Aid Station and were welcomed by volunteers delicious breakfast burritos and noodle soup. They threw blankets on us and sat us in front of a propane heater. 9327 was a sleep station, so I slipped on my trusty pink piggy slippers, a pair jogging pants and a long sleeved shirt and bedded down on an air mattress for a few minutes.
Road 9327 to Spencer Butte: 11.2 miles. I had my clothes and pack already ready to go so we were able to leave this aid station quickly. It was cold and still raining. We put on our rain jackets and proceeded to Spencer Butte. The trail was again deeply rutted, dirtbikes the culprits. We were even passed by a couple of riders on one of the ascents. I couldn’t help but think how much smarter they were than us as they motored up the hill and quickly disappeared over the crest. Andrew had spoken with an aid worker and she stated there were no major ascents during this portion of the course. We had a rude awakening when we had three different approximately mile long ascents with the ground within reach of our finger tips. After we powered through these unexpected climbs, we easily descended into the Spencer Butte aid station.
Spencer Butte to Lewis River:9.6 miles. At Spencer Butte Aid Station the weather was still rainy and also chilly. The heater wasn’t working and there weren’t any extra blankets because there were already a few runners there ahead of us. I ate quickly, changed my socks and got a hot cup of coffee. I couldn’t warm up so I was ready to get moving onto the next aid station. Tony did a quick sock change and we suited up quickly and began next leg. There were rumors bush whacking was needed during this section, but I found the trail was easily followed and there were just lots of wet plants bordering the trail. The grade leading down to Lewis River is steep and it went on for a couple miles. I lost my footing on a portion of the trail and fell backwards onto my left knee. It did not hurt at the time, but this fall is undoubtedly what lead to my knee flaring up again. After reaching the river, the trail opened up and it was rolling hills on a well groomed trail and park. People were hiking and walking their dogs. I wanted to pet them. We encountered another runner, Emry Ellinger, laid out on a bench, jacket over his head, catching a quick nap. We tip toed by him, but not without snapping a pic. [Note: Emry proudly carrried the United States Flag on his Bigfoot adventure]. We arrived Lewis River aid station, topped off our vests and hopped in the truck for another rest. Tony pulled a hip flexor and wanted to rest it before the next long climb to Council Bluff Aid Station.
Lewis River to Council Bluff:19 miles. We knew the next leg was considered one of the toughest of the race. It was long and had some serious elevation gain. plus we were doing it at night. For some extra eyes on the trail and pacing, we asked Andrew to cut his rest short and join us for the leg to Council Bluff. We left the aid station around 7:00pm and hurried to the trail knowing we were going to be cutting close to the cut off time at Council Bluff. The trail initially wound through the woods with slight rolling hills and easily navigated terrain. Then it started to cool down and we started the brutal, seemingly never-ending ascent. It went on for miles with lots of water crossings and steep climbs. At around mile 11, I noted my knee was really swollen and my ankle was throbbing. I had not used my trekking poles until this leg and they were definitely required for me to continue. The climb was so long and slow. By the time we reached the top of the climb it was around 2am. We were in the clouds and it was freezing, literally. Only dressed for the forecasted low 50s, stopping for more than a minute at a time meant uncontrolled shivering. The remainder of this leg is a gradual descent into Council Bluff aid station, but my knee and ankle had rendered my downhill speed to nearly as slow as my climbing. At this point, we knew we were at risk to not arriving to the Council Bluff aid station before the cut-off time. The next 9 miles would be the most mentally challenging. We were both a little injured and it was getting quite cold. To add to the misery, it began raining. We finally arrived to the aid station. We walked in thirty minutes before the cut-off time. We were guided to chairs by a nice fire and blankets were placed around us. I immediately got a burrito bowl and hashbrowns. The most delicious food ever. Ultimately, due to my injury and not having a lot of time to rest at this station before we had to leave in order to continue with the race, I decided to drop from the Bigfoot 200. I did not know the extent of my injury and definitely didn’t want to make it worse. I also knew one of the most difficult legs was coming up and getting stuck out on the course with an injury was something I was not able able to do.
131 miles into the course, together, Tony and I decided not to continue the race. Despite the reassurances of the aid station workers the next section was easy, we knew I wouldn’t make the next leg to Klickitat. Jacob swooped us up in the truck and we slept for three hours while he navigated thru the wilderness roads of Washington and back to Portland.
That ends my adventure with the 2017 Bigfoot 200.
I learned a lot about myself during this race. I did far better than I initially thought I might. Of course, I wanted to finish but I made the decision before the race completing anything over 100 miles was a success to me. Listed below are some things I did well and would do again and some things I would do differently if I ever find myself wanting to do this race again… say, in 2018.
Things I would do the same:
- Carry at least two pairs of extra socks
- Water shoes for river crossings.
- Wear gaiters the whole time.
- Carry extra water
- Carry and wear a buff
- Pack Emergency blanket and rain jacket
- Wear a hat
- Carry blister Kit with benzoin tincture, tape, and a needle
- Gold Bond powder to put in shoes to absorb moisture and in your shorts to combat monkey butt
- Take care of my feet!!
- Do this event with Sugarbutt and other awesome people!!
Things I would do differently
- Use my trekking poles at the race start. I started using them after mile 111 and they could have saved my knee if I had been using them throughout the race.
- Take more caffeine..
- Rehearse aid station stops. Tony has years of experience of living out of a bag in the woods. He is much faster than I at changing clothes and shoes, foot care (mostly bc he doesn’t get blisters!), and anything else you would associate with a special forces guy.
- Rehearse Tony being more patient. Ha. We both fell victim to the “race” mindset.
- Have a go bag with everything you might need organized and easily recognizable in tupperware containers or bags.
- Go thru your bag with your crew so they can easily locate items at your request or as they identify your needs.
- Have a place to sleep ready and waiting for me at sleep stations. van would be great, but a tent or pop up with an air mattress and blankets/sleep bag.
- Have a fresh pacer for the more strenuous sections. As you get more worn down, it is nice to know someone has you on the correct path and is with it enough to keep you motivated.
- Have a cook stove and hearty soups and hot drinks ready as you enter the aid station. The aid workers were really good about getting stuff ready quickly but if there were more than four or five runners at a station, you might have to wait a while for hot food.
- Wear knee sleeves for added support on the long descents especially from Spencer Butte to Lewis River.
- T-shirts ONLY. My vest starting getting a little uncomfortable after 50 miles in a tank.
- Have a spray sunscreen in my pack. I am damn near translucent and some of these trails were exposed for hours to the sun. I also wore a UPF long sleeved shirt during a couple of those legs.
- Carry a midweight layer at night in case the temps drop below forecasted temps.
- Rest more at the first aid stations; i.e. frontload my rest. Obviously the BF2 is not a sprint, but it is still difficult to slow yourself down from a race mindset of hurry.
- Ensure I have caffeine tabs and/or caffeinated powdered drink mix accessible at all times.
- I would worry a little less about the drop bags. The race staff warned us mistakes can be made (the logistics of this race are echelons deep) the drop bags may not make it to the aid station and of course we were missing drop bags at two of the stations. We didn’t really need anything we had packed there anyway. It was mostly food.
I cannot end this article without expressing my sincere gratitude to Jacob Bowie and Andrew Smith. These guys came through for us in a big way. Jacob was a trooper. Whatever we asked he found a way to make it happen. He didn’t even really know me before this trip but it was like he could read my mind at times (poor thing). Andrew started training to be our pacer three weeks before this event. He jumped in with both feet and I think was more excited about our race than we were! Anyway, I believe Andrew learned a lot about what to do and what not to do but more importantly gained a passion for getting outdoors and doing something difficult. It’s scary getting out of your comfort zone but he stepped up like a champ. The only sad thing was his lost love for M&M’s. Thank you both, we really could not have done any of the Bigfoot 200 without you. Sooooooo, is it a date for next year????