My friend and training partner Karl Johnson writes this race report about the White River 50 Miler. Karl was at times our comic relief in the group, often singing on our trail runs. He grew up in Oakland, California and served in the U.S. Army before moving here to the Portland, Oregon area. Karl had run several marathons and one 50K Ultra trail race prior to this 50 mile trail event.
Whew !!! What a day !!! Where do I start ? Coming into this run I was very confident that I could handle the 50 mile distance. I was really worried about the thin air and the climbs.
My strategy was simple. Run 9 – 10 minute miles on anything flat, walk all inclines, and cruise all the downhills, without pounding my body too much. I knew that I needed an overall pace of 13 1/2 minutes per mile to make the 13 hour cut off. Every 9 – 10 minute mile would just put minutes in my bank that I could use on the uphill parts of the course, ( Ha !!! Uphills !!! ).
The first 6 miles went as planned. I cruised at a comfortable 10 minute per mile pace and then came the first incline. Once we started climbing we didn’t stop. I really can’t describe the inclines, I can’t say it was up hill, because it was more like up mountain … literally.
I think Andy went by me around mile 9 and I had no desire to keep up. I was content walking at my own slow pace. It took me 2 hours and 30 minutes to get to aid staion #2 at mile 11 !!! With just water at this aid station I knew the next six miles of mostly climbing were going to be tough. I just chugged along, ran when I could, but walked quite a bit. Finally I reached aid station #3 at the peak of our first mountainous challenge. I didn’t look at my watch and still felt pretty good, but the sun was starting to get a little warm. I filled my belly, refilled my bottles and off I went.
Besides the sun starting to warm up, the next 10 miles weren’t so bad, as it was mostly just descending back down the mountain. I was able to pick up my pace and able to put minutes back in my bank that I had used up going up the first climb.
At mile 27, aid station #5, I was greeted with Stacy’s big smile, (Joe’s much better half). I can’t tell you how good it feels to see a familiar face, (thanks Stacy !!!). Time for more grub, fluids, change of shirt, and sunblock. I had just taken a potty break a mile 26 and I knew I definately needed to hydrate. I heard the next part of the run was just brutal and unless Sunkist colored pee is a good thing, I needed to drink … A LOT !!!
As I headed out, it was just four miles and change to the next aid station. It took me 1 1/2 hours to travel those four miles !!! This part of the course called the ” Sunny Switchbacks ” was just that. This might have been the first time that the thought of failure had crossed my mind. I am not lying when I say that tears came to my eyes more than a few times, ” How am I going to take another step ???!!!“ I thought, but somehow I just kept moving forward.
Finally at mile 31 and aid station #6 !!! I was fighting heat exhaustion for sure, but I just took some time for some more electrolyte tablets, more food, ice cold fluids and off I went for the last six miles of the climb.
At this point the climbing was still kicking my tail, but at least I was back in the shade !!! This section of the course was a mix of climbs and flats, then I finally got to cruise for about 2 miles of “down mountain”, (“down hill” just does not apply to this course).
I crossed a road with about 3/4 of a mile to aid station #7, when I crossed paths with Joe who was running down the next section of the course. He let me know the distance I had left and that it was going to be steep.
I walked up the steep mountain side wanting to just quit. That was the hardest, longest, 15 minutes of my life. I had stopped two or three times, with the sun pounding and REALLY feeling dehydrated, I just wanted to be done. I had less than a quarter mile before I started to descend to the finish and had nothing left.
That’s were all of my friends, family, and teammates come in. That’s when I think of Joe and Andy on the course feeling the same things I’m feeling. That’s when I think of all the good vibes I’m getting from my people in California, Nick in Florida, Mom and Wayne in New Mexico, all my peeps back home in Oregon and I don’t stop. I think of all of our TNT’ers and our Honored Teammates. What if they quit ? What if they gave up ? I think of my old squad leader, Sgt Braswell, ” Quitting is not an option Johnson, quitting is not an option ” and then finally there it was … mile 37 !!! NO MORE CLIMBS !!!
I refueled at mile 37 said many thanks and off I went. (Ultra marathon volunteers rock !!! ) A half- marathon left and more than half of that down the mountain !!! The next seven miles were nice . Clouds came in to keep us cool as I was chatting with a woman from Portland. She wanted to run 50 miles to celebrate her 50th B-day. “What a dumb lady !!!!” I thought and then she passed me!
I cruised into aid staion #8 and was glad to see Stacy again. That was it … 6.6 miles to go. We chatted for a bit, ate some grub, put on my TNT tank for the final stretch and off I went. I could have jogged off, but I didn’t. I walked.
It was finally the point in the race that I KNEW I was going to make it. Once again tears came to my eyes, as I knew all the hard work had paid off. This was my moment and I just wanted to soak it in. There were a few more tricks that the course had in store, but I was just chillin’. With about a mile left I started to jog.
I finally hit the road headed to the air strip … the finish. I was even able to pick up my step a little bit. 12 hours and 28 minutes , ( 15 minute miles ) and the cheers at the finish seemed to roar. I was so happy to see the crew, Joe & Stacy, Kim & Andy, and my girlfriend Sara.
Who woulda thunk this punk kid could go 50 miles ??? A few years ago, not many that’s for sure. This was the biggest challege of life and I did it.
Would I ever do it again ??? I guess never say never, but I think I’ve thought of something even more stupid for 08′
Just remember to never stop challenging yourself. The day you do is the day you die.
Thanks to all of my peeps for all of your inspiration.
Great job Karl. You rock!”
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