Sunday, July 26, 2009

White River 50

This year's White River 50 was my first "real" ultra race in over a year. Although I ran the Dogwood Canyon 50K in Missourri last fall with Kyle, there was very little real racing occurring that day. Before that, I had raced the American River 50 and Zane Grey 50, both in April 2008. So, White River was planned as a chance to re-engage in the ultra scene a bit again and as a fitness check heading into the Leadville 100 next month.

I came into the taper with about six weeks of solid training after finally kicking a case of patellar tendonitis in early June. However, the final week before the race I was dealing with a couple potentially troubling issues: a bout of something that seemed to be very much like giardia, and a mildly inflamed/swollen peroneal tendon in my right ankle. Fortunately, both of these issues cleared up mid-week while attending the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City where Hal and I sweated it out in the Uphill Challenge. Nothing like throwing a little tempo run into the taper.

After catching a ride up to Crystal Mountain with Jeff Browning, Hal, and Carly, I had a great night's sleep at the race cabin. I usually sleep fitfully the night before a race, but this time I conked out and didn't awake until ~5am when Jeff started rustling around in preparation for the day. I usually just lie there, waiting for the alarm clock to sound, but this time I felt like sleeping in. I was a little worried that this signified a certain lack of nervous energy, not to mention inconsistent sleep all week, but I was mostly just happy to have actually gotten a good night's rest.

I didn't warm up very much for the race--no more than a mile of jogging--even though I anticipated a fairly quick start; my legs just didn't feel like they needed it, probably because of the judicious taper I'd employed most of the week.
As a USATF National Championship event, the race sported some pretty notable competition. I was most concerned with defending champion and consummate road racer Mike Wardian, but the entrants also inlcuded such luminaries as Hal Koerner, Scott Jurek, Greg Crowther, and Lon Freeman. Not to mention a bunch of other guys who are always a threat to pop a good one (Justin Ricks, Joe Grant, Phil Kochik, etc.).

(200 runners rarin' to go. Photo: Glenn Tachiyama.)

After waiting for Scott to finally toe the line, we were off. Greg and Lon shot right to the front while I was content to hang a few dozen yards back chatting amiably with Scott as we strided down the initial gravel road. Kami Semick soon ran up next to us and admitted she felt stupid running in front of us, but I was more than happy with the fairly quick pace we were hitting.

(Chatting with Scott out of the gate.)
After a mile or so we all filed onto some fairly technical, rooty singletrack that looped us back by the starting area. I followed directly behind Scott as he led the way for me with Greg and Lon maybe fifty yards in front. However, we soon caught them at the first highway crossing. On a short uphill Lon stepped aside to let us past and Scott and I followed directly behind Greg all the way to the first Camp Shepard aid station at mile 3.9, which we reached as a group in 28:20, and where there was also a sizeable crowd of spectators. I had four gels in my shorts pockets, a number of S! Caps, and a bottle full of water, so there was no need to stop, as no one in our group did.

We were definitely running quickly through this section but it felt extremely comfortable and I could tell I was likely going to have one of those days where everything just flows. The tread was technical enough to keep it interesting but the pace was discernibly quicker than typical training pace. It was fun to be racing again.

Greg stopped momentarily at the station, so Scott assumed the lead and I followed closely behind. Soon, the trail started climbing up in impeccably graded switchbacks. This trail was gorgeous, as would become the norm for the trails all day. After a few switchbacks, and a particularly steep section where Scott broke into a quick hike, I stepped past him into the lead and held it for the rest of the day.

I quickly opened a bit of a gap as the trail climbed pretty steeply through here and then hiked quickly up a short, steep flight of stairs. After a few more switchbacks I could see Mike Wardian gaining on me, but I just maintained my comfortable pace and certainly didn't worry about making any sort of meaningful break less than an hour into the race.

The night before the race Uli had approached me in the race cabin with a sticky note that outlined his splits from his completely unparalleled (except by himself) 6:32:43 course record run in 2004. Previous to that, Nate McDowell had raced a 6:50:39 then-CR and Mike had run a 6:52:50 just last year. These were the closest times to Uli's--a sobering 20 minutes back. As such--having never run on the course--I was pretty reluctant to even consider approaching Uli's times. Sub-6:40 had a nice ring to it if for no other reason than that it represented 8 minute miles, but shooting for a sub-6:50 time seemed much more realistic. Nevertheless, I had committed Uli's splits to memory so as to have an irrefutable definition of "fast" for the various checkpoints.
In addition to the aid station splits, Uli had mentioned to me two other intermediate creek-crossing splits on the initial climb, which I vaguely remembered the sticky note saying he had reached in roughly 49min and 1:14. I hit this first creek crossing in 48:55 after which the grade of the trail mellowed considerably and Mike caught up to me. I let him know that he was more than welcome to go past me if he pleased, and he responded by saying that I was more than welcome to lead, until the end, of course. Something about that comment rankled me mildly, but I just concentrated on running comfortably and evenly up the hill.

The trail briefly broke out of the thick forest to pass above some cliff bands, which offered expansive views of the White River valley below, but we were just as quickly back at it in the forest and Mike and I crossed Uli's second creek together in 1:12:20 or so. I was a touch apprehensive at going faster than Uli through these early miles, but everything felt easy so I just concentrated on keeping it that way, even with Mike quite literally breathing down my neck.

(A typical view of Mt. Rainer from the Ranger Creek trail.)

After a couple more miles of gorgeous, sometimes technical, singletrack Mike and I arrived together at the Ranger Creek aid station (11.7 miles) just under 1:39. At this point we'd already climbed over 2500'. I quickly refilled my water bottle and exited at 1:39. Mike, however, must've taken a few moments longer because leaving the station I was running by myself and it was that way all the way to the Corral Pass turnaround at mile 16.9.

This section of out and back trail was incredible. The views of Mt. Rainer were impossibly huge. The singletrack was buttery smooth. On this section I just tried to not get too carried away and run too fast; I was barely 1/3 of the way finished afterall. Mike caught me just as we came into the Corral Pass aid station turnaround. I again made quick work of filling my bottle and grabbing a couple gels and left the station at 1:22:50. It was the last I would see of Mike all day. I was also surprised to see that my accumulative split here was only about 30 seconds slower than Uli's 2004 run.

(Cruisin' the perfect ribbon of trail at Corral Pass. Photo: Glenn Tachiyama.)
On the run back to the Ranger Creek station I was able to check out the competition and also derive a lot of energy from all the runners racing towards me. At times the singletrack caused some narrow meetings, but I tried my best to be polite while still efficiently moving forward. There were some steep downhills on this portion of trail that surprised me because I had effortlessly run every step on the way out. I guess that should've been some indication of how good I was feeling. However, it was on this rolling portion of trail that I started having the first hints of fatigue and I worried a bit that it was a touch early to be getting tired.

I rolled back down into the Ranger Creek aid (22.1 miles) feeling good, though, mostly because I couldn't see Mike behind me on any of the many switchbacks. I stopped only long enough to refill my bottle and was out of there at 3:00 flat, less than 1 minute behind the ghost of Uli. It was also a mental boost to see March--a good friend of mine from college cross-country--out on the trail here getting some quality time in the mountains.

My legs relished the steep drop from the Ranger Creek aid station. On this ~5 mile, 2500' descent back down to the White River I felt great. The trail could not have been more perfect and I felt effortless pouring down the trail. I took this chance to drink a lot of water and try to get ahead a little on calories and salt, too. I'd been dreading hitting the bottom of this descent and having my legs feel dead on the flat terrain, but that wasn't the case.

(Smiling my way down the Ranger Creek descent, mile 22 or so.)

(The trail initially drops pretty steeply.)

Instead, they readjusted quickly and I came into the 27 mile Buck Creek aid in 3:34:30 or so feeling appropriately fatigued but ready for plenty more. I left the station right around 3:35--still about a minute off of Uli's pace--and was actually really looking forward to the Sun Top climb so as to give my quads a break.

I got a high five from Scott McCoubrey, turned back onto singletrack, and started the climb. It went really well. Many people had told me it was pretty steep, but I found the grade quite runnable, and fast. Whenever there was a 20 or 30 yard steeper-than-normal pitch, it seemed it was always immediately followed by a decent flatter pitch that allowed recovery. Additionally, a nice layer of clouds had rolled in to give me a little extra cover in the clear-cut zone, so my one-bottle gamble paid off.

This being the second/last big climb of the race, I opened it up a little and settled into a cadence that was ambitious yet totally doable; seeing as I never had any idea what was lying in wait for me, I didn't want to get in over my head. However, this was the one section of the course that I figured I might be able to match or even exceed Uli's course record splits. I turned out to be right as I was soon running into the Fawn Ridge (31.7 miles) aid in 4:15:30ish and leaving right at 4:16. I was now evenly matched with Uli.

It was here that I began to think that I might have a shot at getting the record. I had essentially been hitting his splits the entire way and had somehow managed to even gain back the minute or so that I'd been in the hole. The second half of the climb went equally well. Before I knew it I was descending down to the Sun Top road and then it was just another five or six minutes before I topped out to the crowd at the summit of Sun Top (37 miles).

(Charging to the summit of Sun Top. Photo: Glenn Tachiyama.)

(You could say I was focused. Photo: Glenn Tachiyama.)
I hit the aid at 5:05:something and was sprinting down the road at 5:06. Uli was there and informed me that I was about a minute and a half under his record pace.

I flew down the road. Scott had informed me that I'd only had a 3 minute lead on Mike at Buck Creek and the last thing I wanted was a 2:21 marathoner flying down the road after me. With a 2:42 marathon PR, I don't have the greatest confidence in my legspeed. As a result, I probably over-did it a bit on the downhill. I knew that Uli had covered it in 39:40 or so, and I figured I would have to be all-out to equal that, so I went pretty much all-out.

The final mile or so coming into Skookum Flats the road levels out a bit and I felt really slow through here as my legs readjusted to the flatter terrain. I hit the aid at 5:42:high, filled my bottle as quickly as possible, and got out of there at 5:43 flat with two gels left in my pocket. I knew I was three minutes under Uli's split, but I also felt it was going to be tough to equal Uli's 46ish minute split into the finish for the final 6.6 miles.

I was right. The last 45 minutes of running was pretty tough. I'd really cranked the road--averaging 5:45 miles--and now I was paying for it. Gradually the legs came around and I felt like I wasn't crawling anymore but I was soon out of gels and still hungry. With maybe 15 minutes left to run there were a couple short downhills that got the legs moving again, but it was too little too late and there was no chance for me to break 6:30, like I'd thought I might be able to going into the final leg of the race. It also would've helped to have done a short pre-race out and back on the final couple miles of the course so as to know when I could truly start ramping up the final effort into the finish.

Soon enough, though, I was rounding the final corner into the finish and I when I could see the official finish clock turning over to 6:32 with only a few dozen yards remaining I knew I would finish under Uli's standard.

(Getting my sprint on; how I ever used to run 5Ks I'll never know...)

(The secret to hands-free minimalist running revealed...tuck the bottle in your shorts!)

(A congratulatory handshake from the legend himself, Uli Steidl.)
Immediately upon finishing I was pretty worked. I drank lots and lots of ice water, jogged a short cooldown, and spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out at the finish catching up with friends.

Mike did a good job of hanging on and actually improved his time from last year by a minute or so to finish just under 6:52. Greg Crowther backed up his fast start by rounding out the top three in 7:02.

Here's a video of the finish:

Everything I'd heard about the organization and execution of Scott McCoubrey's race proved to be true. The course was impeccably marked and the finish line food and crowd was excellent. White River is definitely a race I can see myself returning to in the future. It's obvious why it's such a classic event on the ultra racing circuit.
A couple more accounts of the race:


tomdog said...

Awesome job man! Looks like you are in great form in time for Leadville. Rest up and hit it hard in pb.

Justin said...

Congratulations! Great job. Hope you are recovering well. Enjoyed your write-up.
- Justin

Laura H said...

Loved the write up and so fun to watch as you blazed through Fawn Ridge AS! Congratulations and good luck in Leadville!

Anonymous said...

I didn't get a chance to congratulate you in person. Nice to see you healthy and running well, Tony. Greatness!

Brandon Fuller said...

So did you beat Hal on the treadmill in SLC? That was the story I wanted to hear about.

Great job out there.

Did you take the Roost the entire way there or succumb to travel by airplane?

Devon said...

Congrats! Awesome report and experience.

Local Mind Media said...

Had a feeling you were up for a biggy. Super job yesterday. Uli seems to be a true class act and also recognizes talent in others. You deserve that recognition from a master of our sport.

Scott Dunlap said...

That's a stellar time for that course, Anton! Congratulations and best of luck at Leadville. Good to have you back at 100%...


Jonnifer said...

Again, a very entertaining report. Congratulations! You're one of those few people who both can run and write well.

Good luck on Leadville.

Jill and Rob said...

I was looking forward to lining up at Leadville with you (I was signed up to do the mountain bike 100 too), but my wife has been diagnosed with brain cancer and will be undergoing her first chemo/radiation session throughout the month of August. I've enjoyed your blog and look forward to hearing about Leadville. I've started a blog to track her treatment and recovery, however I'm not nearly as eloquent of a writer as you.
While you're climbing Hope Pass, please send some positive thoughts and Hope her way.

GZ said...

Well done Anton.

Curious as to what you will do now to manage recovery and training between now and Leadville.

No results on line yet (amazing!) -

Unknown said...

Hey Tony,

Glad to see you back racing after a year! You nailed it! Tremendous confidence booster going into Leadville. I think it's taboo to talk about race predictions but I have a good feeling your gonna get what you've been after at Leadville.

Stay healthy and for hells sake - taper for Leadville!

From the non-famous, hispanic Scott J.

Jean Pommier said...

Great write-up, Anton, I feel like I just watched the head of the race, live! Good to see you back at full speed and energy. Have a great Leadville!


AJW said...


Awesome race! Congrats! It's great to have you back in the game. I look forward to watching you run at PBVille. Stay healthy and I think 15:low is in the bag. I'll try not to wake you up when I finish.


Speedgoat Karl said...

Way to kill it Tony, you continue to take it to another level...awesome!

Stuart Swineford said...

Congrats on the win and the course record. Great to see you back out there and running well.


Michael Alfred said...

You are an inspiration to so many people including myself and I am really happy that you're back to form. I'm looking for great things in the next couple of years.

WMRC said...

Great Run!! In searching the results on noticed on USATF website that runners who participate in the event are subject to drug testing by the US Anti Doping Agency. I’m curious, do you know if they followed through with it? Are we going to see this more often in high profile ultra events? Good luck at Leadville. Hope to see a record time fall.

Rajeev said...

Congratulations on a fantastic run. I am sooo happy that you are beck to top form again after the injury last year. You are an inspiration!


Unknown said...

Incredible comeback for you Tony! I've run this race and know first hand how fast it can be and equally deceiving with the false summits. You ran with great company as well. Now, no one can say you ducked competition. You ran with some of the best and showed what kind of mountain runner you really are. Good luck at LT100. Recover Well!!

Billy said...

Great job Anton - fantastic write up and even more fantastic of a race!

Very inspiring sir.

Michael Quispe said...

Nice to you back to your old ways of winning and setting records. Also glad you're healthy again. Leadville, here you come.

Jeff Browning said...

Nice work again, bro. Killer performance. Hope you made your 5am flight ah-aight Sunday. Good to hang out. Crank it at Leadville. Peace.

Charlie said...

Awsome race on an awsome looking course. I'd have a hard time concentrating on racing if I had Mt Raineer as the backdrop.
congrats on the cr. good luck in leadville.

Coach Herb said...

Fantastic run! glad you had the opportunity to enjoy our trails up here. Next year bring Kyle with you!

Frank Bott said...

Congrats!! Great focus and results. Love the smile on your face at the finish line..

Gravityh said...

Great race and an inspiring report. You are in the groove running smart. I look forward to following you and other friends at Leadville.

Will Thomas said...

Amazing Race Anton! That's a course record that should stick for quite awhile, unless you come back for more.

I opted for the early start and tried my hardest to get to coral pass before getting passed up by you. You won by 1/2 mile. It was amazing to be running stride for stride with you so far into a race. Too bad it only lasted for one stride.

Good luck with Leadville! I sense more records falling.

Cody Hanson said...

Man congratulations Anton (Tony?). I ran the race also and am still pretty new to ultras. Reading this and trying to comprehend your ability to run pretty much the whole course is ridiculous. Keep up the inspiration and happy trails at Leadville.

Natalee said...

*Expletive* dude, your splits kill me. Great job on the record!

Rogue Valley Runners said...

I mean 5:42 at AR and then you add a couple little hills, and you slow down almost 50 minutes. I'm just sayin it speaks volumes, volumes my man.

Come on Tony, we know there's room for improvement.

I don't feel so bad now losing to you at the Tradmill challenge.

In all seriousness, way to race, most impressive.


Jamie Donaldson said...


Great race!! Looks like you are peaking for Leadville. Hope to see you there in a few weeks.


Norma Bastidas said...

congratulations! great race report, makes me want to run White River 50 next year.
Good luck in Leadville!

Josh K said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

USATF Athlete of the week!

Matt Hart said...

totally redundant. totally necessary... right the fuck on Anton. that was a "performance of the year" type run. glad to see you back healthy and so strong. whoa.

Σπύρος said...

Anton what shoes did you use? Looking at the photo i think they are New Balance MT840.

Anton said...

I wore the NB 790s. 7 oz.

Anonymous said...

Looks like you are in great form in time for Leadville.
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Σπύρος said...

Do you know when the New Balance NB100 will be out?

Unknown said...

Looks like you are in great form in time for Leadville.

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