The 2019 Bigfoot 200 was an amazing and, in some ways, life altering race for me. I’m not sure I can fully describe the emotional and spiritual effect that it had on me. Much of that being due to not only facing a long distance over very rough terrain with little sleep, but also doing most of it without a pacer and only my husband, Ken, for crew. When you continually face things that scare you in an exhausted, sleep deprived state, often at night and alone, it can’t help but have a profound effect. It also provides a lot of time for deep thinking. I learned a lot about myself, others, and my goals and priorities in life during the race. Because of that, I don’t think anything that I do in the future will top the experience that I had, and that is OK. I might do another 200 someday, but it likely won’t be the same. This one was really special.
This report will describe the race a bit and go over my race section by section. I will include at the end some tips for anyone who is back of the pack who wants to try to run this. I think several things that I did, some of which were planned and some of which happened organically, were key to my success. The cut off in the race is generous, but still requires quite a hard effort for anyone who is normally rather far back of the pack such as myself. I have seen some say that a fast hiker could hike this race, and in theory that might be true, but honestly I think the ability to run some declines and flats is necessary if any sleep is to be had, and sleep is key to anyone in the back of the pack in this race.
I lacked time during the race for photos, so a lot of the photos here were taken by fellow runner Darin Lewandowski and used with his permission. Darin is the owner of the Sasquatch Running Company in Palmer Lake Colorado. Like his store on Facebook and visit it if ever in the area! Thank you Darin for the photos!!! Darin left the race at Spencer Butte, but I think he plans to be back next year to go for more!
A few other photos were purchased from the race photographers at run200photos.com. They worked their butts off! Finally, some of the photos are actually mine, but I did not take many! If there is no photo credit, it is my own.
About The Bigfoot 200 Mile Endurance Run
Bigfoot 200 is a 206.5 mile point to point course near Mount Saint Helens in the Cascade Mountains of Washington with over 42,000 feet of climbing and over 85,000 feet of elevation change. Runners have 105 hours to complete the race. It is not a stage race. The clock runs the entire time. Aid stations range from 6 to 19 miles apart with most being over 10 miles. There are 6 sleep stations with cots and blankets, but I highly recommend using a crew vehicle for sleep, which is allowed at any aid station with crew access.
Multiple ecosystems are experienced during the race, making each section unique. Various ecosystems include the blast zone of Mount St. Helens, high mountain meadows, scenic mountain passes and summits, deep pacific northwest rain forest, forested ridges, lowland lakes and meadows, numerous stream and river crossing, and plenty of climbing, often at steep inclines without switchbacks in the later portions of the race. The race ends on thirteen miles of paved country road. Altitude is not really a problem. The highest the race gets is about 5800 feet.
Aid stations were well appointed with a variety of food, and often items, such as burgers or breakfast food, were cooked to order. There was a medic at each aid station and, one of them, Brian Wilford, certainly got to know my feet well! It seemed like he was everywhere, probably as sleep deprived as I was, fixing up people’s feet.
The race is notoriously hard to crew, with about 1000 miles of driving if all crew stations are visited. Some stations require driving on difficult forest roads with washouts. Even with maps, people are known to get lost. There is no cell service, so offline maps or paper maps are a necessity. My friend Linda’s crew had a high clearance camper van and Ken had a rental Tahoe SUV. We carried InReach trackers for communications as there was no cell service on the course.
Bigfoot 200 Training
Essentially everything that I did in 2019 was training for Bigfoot. I completed Black Canyon 100k in February for my Western States ticket and to kick off training. After that, pretty much everything that I did was accompanied by Linda, who was also running the race, and was the brainchild behind this crazy idea in the first place. We made a winter weekend training trip to Tennessee for some quality miles to escape the icy trails in Chicago, and made three trips to Colorado over the summer for some long climb practice. One of those, climbing over boulders on the Boulder Traverse, I felt was particularly helpful. In general, climbing at altitude on all three trips was very helpful. We also did some night running at Kettle Moraine in Wisconsin and at Indiana Dunes, which helped us in the ash dunes on the course. For additional races, Linda and I early started and dnf’d Potawatomi 150 at mile 100 under crazy wet and muddy conditions, and got some practice with short sleeps between running. Then, I ran Ice Age 50k and Kettle 100. Linda did Kettle 100k. We did quite a few shorter runs involving stair climbing and hill repeats and paid some visits to the altitude room in Chicago. Training involved lots of hiking.
I did not put up huge miles in training. I am simply not a high mileage person and often train on 40 mile weeks. But I but did get quality longer efforts and plenty of climbing and fast hiking. I had a few 50 mile weeks and hit 60 a few times as well when focusing on back to back longer efforts. But I also had some 30 mile weeks. At my age (52) it all seemed about right for me. I’m not out there for speed, I just need endurance and enough spunk to finish.
My Bigfoot 200 Race, Section by Section
The plan for the race was that Linda and I would try to stay together. At the same time, Linda had pacers lined up for after the first day, so at a minimum, I wanted to stay with her through day one until we got to the pacers and then simply go the pace needed to stay two hours before the cuts offs at various planned sleep stations and hope that we would still be together.
I tend to be quite good at pacing over hilly terrain, with a good feel for when to go fast on the declines and slow on the inclines. I am also a pretty good climber in that I can usually minimize stops. I’m not fast, but I am able to keep a steady pace. While the pacing got weird at times, and the sleep plan got tossed out the window pretty quickly, I did, to my amazement, finish the race within 15 minutes of the overall goal.
Start to Blue Lake (12.2 miles)
The race starts in a forested area and immediately begins a 2,000 foot climb over 5 miles. The climb tops out at a boulder field in the blast zone of Mount St. Helens, which requires some picking and scrambling over the rocks. We were immediately near the very back of the pack and that was fine. The boulder fields require some eagle eyes to look for markers. Basically, you find one and make your own path toward it, then find the next. Lather, rinse, repeat.
It was foggy, so we lacked some of the nice views of Mount St Helens. After the boulder hopping we descended into Blue Lake on some very runnable soft forest trail. We made up some time there, and the aid station seemed to arrive quite quickly. We made good time at the station, eating, and doing various necessary things, and were out in about 20 minutes as planned.
One other notable thing in this section was the pattern of downed trees from the blast. The whole area is fascinating.
Blue Lake to Windy Pass (18.1 miles)
This was a long, relatively exposed, and dry section that, in hot years, often caused serious issues for runners who did not stop to top off water when it was available. The section starts with some forested trail and then enters the blast zone for plenty of additional exposed boulder hopping, rock scrambling, and dune climbing.
There were several stream crossings in which we could not keep our feet dry. The section included a climb down a rope into a small canyon with a stream crossing, followed by a rope climb back out again. The ropes look intimidating in photos and in person, but I did not find it too difficult. The hardest part was the final foot climbing up onto the trail again from the rope. Anyway, I was happy to cross off scary item number one from my list after not being all that scared on it after all.
We filtered some water at the stream before the rope climb, which wasn’t too crazy silty, but mostly we were thankful that it was not hot. Weather so far was our friend during the race. That would soon change!
After climbing a length of ash dunes, the course tops out in a lovely high meadow full of wildflowers. There were coyotes yipping, which was interesting to hear during the day. There were also plenty of large, fat chipmunks in the area. I have no idea what they were eating up there!
About 2-3 miles from the aid station in this section is the Oasis, which is a spring-fed stream cutting through the trail. The water is clear, cold, and tastes incredible. Just the opposite of the aid station water, which tasted like plastic. So we drank up. No need to filter this water!
We arrived at Windy Pass aid station as fog was rolling in and storm clouds brewing. Ken immediately went to work getting me changed into dry shoes and socks and warmer clothes. He brought me some egg burritos from the aid station along with some noodles, watermelon, and some other items. One of Linda’s crew, Finbarr, came by and got me some Ginger Ale, and Linda’s husband, Mike, checked in on me. After getting fueled up and rain jackets on, we headed out in the dense fog. The crews had quite an experience themselves driving in it. The next section would take them 6 or more hours to drive, with extremely poor visibility.
Windy Pass to Johnson Ridge (9.6 miles)
We didn’t really see much of the section to Johnson ridge because all of it was spent first in dense fog, and then in a crazy thunder and hail storm with wicked lightening everywhere. The section is basically more of the blast zone, with lots of exposed ashy trail, but fortunately not a ton of boulders. There were stream crossings, but by the time that we reached them, the trail itself was a river with lots of side washes coming into it. It was hard to spot markers, but we had people from the 100k coming toward us frequently, which helped confirm that we were on course. I doubt that we were very safe in the lightening, but there was nowhere to take shelter, so we just plowed forward. If anything, the storm kept us moving ahead of the required pace. We couldn’t hide, so we hurried to get the heck out of it! While the lightening was frightful, I also was fascinated by it and, in and odd way, I kind of liked it. I did not care for getting soaked to the bones though.
At some point near Johnson Ridge, we decided to send an InReach message asking the crews to come there if possible since we were fully soaked. Ken had previously planned to go there because, after a long drive to Coldwater Lake, it was a quick and easy 6 mile drive up a paved road to Johnson from there. That plan had been previously been vetoed, hence the need to message. But, given the weather, I had my doubts that they would make it since the trip to Coldwater would now be much, much longer for them, and that 6 mile road would also be in the fog. Getting the message off to Ken in the rain and when I can’t read worth a darn (I normally use readers) was a challenge and said something silly like “come Johnson with Mikey Van 2.” In any event, they never even got the message until the next day. Our InReach situation was not the best at consistently transmitting. Plus, they would indeed not have been able to make it anyway as the conditions made their drive way too slow.
We rolled into Johnson soaking wet. The aid station had lost all of its main power and had tents cave in etc. They were in good spirits though and gave us warm soup. I put my rain pants on over my wet shorts and got rid of my soaking wet gloves (which were supposedly waterprooof. Nope!). We didn’t stay too long and got on our way.
Johnson Ridge to Coldwater Lake (6.6 Miles)
It was generally downhill to Coldwater Lake, but not always runnable and there were a few climbs. Generally though we kept a good pace. The rain let up, and we basically just slogged through, hoping to get some rest. We arrived at Coldwater Lake over an hour earlier than planned, and had 2 hours of sleep planned. Eating, getting out of wet clothes, and into the van to sleep was not particularly efficient. This was not really surprising when everyone was wet and tired. I would say that I slept maybe an hour to 90 minutes of the two hours allotted. I was slow to fall asleep and woke up before the alarm. In hindsight, I don’t think trying to sleep multiple people in one vehicle was the best idea. There simply is too much opportunity in that type of situation for everyone to keep each other awake. But I nevertheless did get some sleep in. We got up and got moving right at our planned time of two hours before the cut off. According to Ken’s spreadsheet, we spent 4 hours total at Coldwater, the longest by far that I would spend at any aid station during the race. I’m glad I did not know it was that long at the time, as that would have made me rather nervous about how much aid station time was taking us, and I already had enough to be worried about just with the course.
Ken had me all packed up and ready to go when we awoke. I had some really good bacon and eggs, and Finbarr magically appeared with some Cola for me before we headed out with Linda’s pacer, Holly, for Norway Pass.
Coldwater Lake to Norway Pass (18.7 miles)
This is by far the most beautiful section of the race. It is also one of the more strenuous climbs, with over 5,000 feet of elevation gain. But, it is not the most difficult climb in comparison to later climbs in the race, as there was generally good footing and switchbacks, with some nice flat sections or descents to mix things up. And it was so darn gorgeous! I do pity anyone who was stuck high up on the ridges here during the storm though, as I saw drifts of hail during my climb. Throughout the race, the storm became a key talking point among runners. Any runner I met always asked where I was during the storm, if I didn’t ask them the same question first.
The sun was out, and the morning was beautiful. Linda, Holly, and I easily completed the flat and easy section along Coldwater Lake, which runs for about 4 miles. Then the climbing started. I kept to my planned pacing scheme and ended up pulling ahead rather quickly. I waited a couple of times, but then just took to steady climbing as I was anxious about losing time. A few times I stopped when I could see long sections of trail behind me and looked for Linda and Holly, but they did not come into sight, and I tend to need to keep moving when climbing to avoid cramping. So, I continued, hoping that we might all hook up again at the next aid station.
I quickly came up with a fairly efficient means of using my time in this section. If I had to stop for something, such as to pee or get something from my pack, I waited until I also had to rest and catch my breath from climbing so that I was making the most efficient use of time. Later in the race, I would include 3 minute trail naps in that plan. I did not allow myself to stop on sections where I could move quickly.
The highlight of this section was a view of two lakes with trees from the blast still suspended in them. It was surreal.
Somewhere before a mandatory out and back up Mount Margaret, I met a man and woman who were together. The man was familiar with the Palos running trails south of Chicago, and we talked about the challenges of training for mountains when you are from the flatlands. I went on ahead wondering when the heck I would ever find Mount Margaret as it seemed like I was passing plenty of climbable peaks, when it finally appeared.
I had beautiful views up to that point and was saving my photo opportunities for the view from the top but, right as I started up, the fog quickly rolled in. So, after a short scramble up, I was greeted with no view at all. Thanks Darin for getting some great photos during his race earlier in the day, since I did not take many!
After Mount Margaret there were some nice runnable downhill sections, and some not so runnable sections. I do not do well time wise with steep descents, and it did indeed get steep at times. A few miles from the bottom brought the course to a short, rocky knife edge section with a washout. At the prerace meeting, this was described as something that one could inch across. But for me, it required a small jump across a washout to a small rock (that I leaned over and banged a pole on first to make sure it was stable), followed by another small jump to the dirt trail beyond. It may have washed out in the storm. I’m short, so even though the jumps were small, maybe a couple feet or so, they seemed huge. The drop off was rocky and steep, so a fall here would be very bad to say the least. Plus, I am not the best with heights, or at least was not before this race. I had to analyze it a bit to figure out how to go about it, but then I quickly made the little jumps over. My heart was pounding, but I made it. Time to cross off scary item number two from the list! The picture below does not really show it very well. In fact it does not really show it all. But it at least gives a bit of a picture of the area. What you can’t see is the scary washout gaps between the rock and the trail.
After the knife edge it was all downhill and there were a lot of berry pickers on the trail. I kept meaning to eat berries during the race and then never did so! A couple of creepy guys in camo gear told me to be careful because there was buffalo up ahead. Wtf? They gave me a bad vibe and I ignored them. You can see the aid station for well over a mile before you get there in this area, which drove me nuts as I was getting very sleepy and very hungry. But soon I popped out at Norway Pass.
Ken was ready for me and he and Finbarr got me some food. I ate a really good burger here, drank some ginger ale, and had about half of a quesadilla. I also tried to take a 20 minute nap in the chair, which really was more like 10 minutes. As I was getting up to leave, Linda came in. I wanted to talk to her, but she went straight to her van for a 20 minute nap, so I missed her. I told Mike to tell her that I loved her and to tell her to go get it, and I headed out. I lost about 20 minutes of time total in the Norway pass section. That made me nervous.
Norway Pass to Elk Pass (11.1 miles)
The section to Elk Pass was rather uneventful. It is a largely forested section with some ruts, but not too bad, and lots of soft trail. It is pretty, but monotonous, which started making me very sleepy. About the time I was hitting a low point and wishing for the aid station to appear, a guy emerged from the woods to pace me into the aid station. He was a volunteer who was running out and coming back in with runners for that last mile or so. It was awesome! He perked me right up and I mostly ran into the station. I didn’t get his name, but he was wonderful! Mystery guy, if you ever read this, thank you!!!
I tried to eat a bit of something here and don’t even remember what it was. I was getting cold easily and was wanting to just get to the next aid station for some planned sleep. Ken told me that Linda left Norway Pass quite quickly after her nap, so maybe she would would catch up with me. I spent times during the next section doing our “woot woot” that we use to call out to each other but never heard her. I also spent much of the next section in my lowest emotional point in the race. It really was my only true super low in the race, but it lasted a long time.
Elk Pass to Road 9327 (15 miles)
This section was soul sucking. It was monotonous trail that was deeply rooted in some areas and had lots of shorter climbs that were just long enough to get you panting and that had steep descents on the back side that you had to pick your way down in ruts. At times, there were lovely smooth runnable sections but, just as you would start to think that it was going to be nice trail for a while, it turned back into a rutted mess. I did this section almost entirely in the dark and was finding myself unable to keep my eyes open. I came across one man fairly early, and never saw another person. I became incredibly tired, but also very afraid that I was losing precious time, and I found myself crying about how much I just wanted to sleep. In between crying fits, I got angry about the ruts and dropped a lot of profanity. Occasionally I would say “If anyone can hear me, I’m sorry I am being crazy!” Then I would laugh at myself and immediately start crying again. I spent probably ten miles of this section either crying or cursing. By the end I would cry when it hit nice trail, begging for it to stay that way, and I would cry at several hallucinations of the aid station. From here on out in the race, I would hallucinate every aid station, sometimes several times, in the mile or two leading up them.
It was in this section that I started taking short dirt naps. Because I couldn’t afford to lose time, I kept them very short. I set a timer on my phone for five minutes and would wait until I needed to stop to catch my breath after an incline and then sit down leaning back against a log or tree, turn off my lights, and close my eyes. I never actually hit five minutes. I always would nod off and then jolt awake with two or three minutes left on the timer. Then I would jump up and go. This seemed to buy my tired eyes a mile or two every time, at least up to the last day of the race, when it quit doing much for me. I did find it very peaceful to sit in the darkness listening to the water dripping off of the leaves in the forest. I would like to experience that without time constraints some day.
My lights were dimming as I approached the aid station, and I did not want to stop to change batteries. They died as I was walking up the road toward the station. I then immediately stepped in a puddle, and burst into tears because I had so far kept my feet dry. A ham radio operator came to my aid and I tearfully told him that I just needed to sleep and that I had to find my husband and my truck. He helped me locate the Tahoe, and Ken made pretty quick work getting me inside and bedded down. Ken had wedged my sleeping pads, blankets, sleeping bag, and pillows into the back of the Tahoe in a way that they could not shift much and the set up was quite comfortable. I slept 90 minutes or perhaps a bit more, which would be the longest I would get the rest of the race, and used 2:55 of time at the station. It cut off an hour of my two hour cushion, which made me nervous, but I needed it there and I don’t think I would have finished the race without that key rest.
I awoke in a much better mood. I had some breakfast and, before I left the aid station, I had the medic (Brian) look at my feet, which were becoming quite painful from the previously rocky and rutted terrain. He taped my heels and the balls of my feet to provide some padding. I left one hour before the cut off for Spencer Butte, making sure to thank the ham radio guy on the way out. Linda had not arrived yet, and I was very worried about her. I asked Ken to message me with how she was doing.
Road 9327 to Spencer Butte (11.2 miles)
The aid station people had said that this section was great trail with no climbs. To my dismay, it was more of the same soul sucking ruts and included one very long climb. But it was daylight, which made it bearable and the woods really were quite pretty. I did a few early miles of this section with a woman who had left the aid station just before me. I passed a man later in the section. There also was a cheerful guy singing Happy Trails with an excellent voice who came by me in this section, along with I think one other person.
At some point, Ken messaged me that Linda had just made the cut off and was still going. Yay! Spencer Butte arrived fairly on time and I spent 20 minutes there eating eggs and bacon and telling the aid station people to look out for Linda. No crew was allowed here, so I had no reason to hang around and I wanted to try to make up some time, so I was pretty much in and out.
Spencer Butte to Lewis River (9.6 miles)
This section began with about a mile or two of road, which I aimed to move quicker on. Then there was a steep, brushy descent to the river that was slow going. I took a dirt nap in there somewhere. Once at the river, the trail follows a nice path past waterfalls and is busier with people. I took another trail nap somewhere in a busy section when I saw a tree that was just too comfy looking to pass up. I passed a guy in this section who looked just as tired as I was and who told me that he had gotten lost earlier.
Lewis River aid station, which had lots of fun signs, decorations, and really great people, came up fairly quickly. But I knew coming in that something was amiss because I did not see Linda’s van. Ken informed me that she got time cut at Spencer Butte and that her crew had left to pick her up. Ken also cautioned me to not expect to see them from here on out or later in the race, and indeed I would not see them again until the finish.
The aid station had hot dogs, which I had been craving the whole race, so I ate two or three of them, plus some chips. I also started drinking a mix of thick Ucann at every aid station from here on out as I was concerned that I was not eating enough on the trail. My trail food primarily was Honey Stinger Waffles, and Gummy Lifesavers. Here and there I ate Nutter Butter cookies and Goldfish crackers. I had Brian look at my feet again before leaving, which were hurting me quite a bit and starting to blister in spots. He added some tape to pad blisters and sore areas, and I set out for what I knew would be one of the hardest sections of the race, and I was about to do it alone at night.
Lewis River to Council Bluff (18.9 miles)
I both loved and hated this section. Or maybe it was that I love to hate this section! The trail starts out along the river past more waterfalls and then quickly starts climbing the largest climb of the race (5,472 feet total in this section). The climbing begins in shorter sections while skirting a stream or tributaries of a stream, with the trail at times rocky or uneven and other times obscured by brush. This was the start of what would be plenty of bushwhacking in the second half of the race. Many short water crossings included a steep embankment, and I slid down a slippery muddy one near a drop off multiple times before I could get up it, scraping my knee up. I was just happy to have not gone over the cliff. There were also some large downed trees that I had difficulty going over. One I slid under in the mud lying on my belly and then pulled my pack through after me. I found myself surprisingly calm about dealing with these things alone. Cross off scary thing number three for me as I knew this section would be tough.
The climbs in this section were very steep and also lacked switchbacks, so everything was a straight slog up. It started misting rain (I think it was just dense fog) and things got slippery here and there. A few notable things in this section were that there was an insane amount of frogs on the trail and they often would move slowly, so I was very worried about stepping on one. I also saw quite a few mice scurry across the trail. More than I have ever seen on night runs in the Midwest. At one point, I took a dirt nap, and an animal came crashing up through the brush behind me, causing me to startle and yelp. It then turned around and ran the opposite direction. I never actually saw it.
At some point, the trail turned into one big never ending climb up. I huffed and puffed my way up it, using needed rest breaks to also grab my food or a dirt nap. Near the top, I came across a pacer without her runner. She told me that she had sprained an ankle and he went on ahead of her to make the cut off. She was OK but moving slowly. While talking, we heard an animal noise, but did not see what it was, nor could I identify it other than that it did not sound like a bird and I don’t think it was a sound that a deer would make. A bit later, I heard it again and turned around to look. In the distance, I saw two eyes glowing green in my headlamp from what would be a fairly large, but not huge, animal, but whether it was canine or feline, or something else, I can’t say. I checked back a few times after that to make sure it was not following me and saw nothing.
After the big slog up, the trail popped out on the Boundary Trail, which was nice, smooth, and wide in most places. It still climbed a good bit, but was easier to deal with. And then there were some very runnable descents.
I came into Council Bluff begging for sleep, which would be the theme at every station for the rest of the race and would be my motivation to keep up a faster pace as well, as going faster would always mean more sleep. This is where Ken’s help became particularity invaluable, and I would not have finished the race without it. Ken kept a spreadsheet and was able to tell me where I was in terms of cutoffs and also what pace I needed to keep in each section to keep the status quo. He also could tell me about how much sleep I could get and what pace I needed to do to buy some extra sleep. I could not have come close to figuring that out on my own and probably would not have kept a proper pace without that information. I’m pretty sure I would have just gone too slow and got time cut.
Ken gave me 30 minutes of sleep and told me that the next section was very runnable and that if I could make up some time I could sleep more.
A note on crewing here: The road to this station had a large washout to the side and Ken had difficulty getting through it. He said that he doubted the van would have made it had they tried to come there. Ken also started teaming up with the crew for Tom Mitchell here (aka Tattoo Tom) who was just a bit ahead of me.
Tom has a very touching story and was running Bigfoot for the fourth time after three previous dnfs to raise money for battling childhood cancer. He ran with bibs of departed runners and pictures of children with cancer, and he had his own departed daughter’s braid with him. And he finished this year! If you are looking for a worthwhile charity, please pay StillBrave.org a visit. Tom’s crew were very helpful to me several times late in the race, helping me with food and shoes, and were great people all around! That is part of what I love about this community. Everyone out there helped each other as much as possible, especially as the race went on.
Council Bluff to Chain of Lakes (9.8 miles)
I took off with a lot of motivation and made quick work of this section. It had much more descent than climb and most of it was on smooth trail and road. My aim here was to make up time and get to sleep. I felt like I needed at least an hour of sleep very badly and this might be my only shot at it. I passed a couple of people in this section, and made quick time of it. Indeed I made up 30 minutes of time somewhere between Spencer Butte and Chain of Lakes, and I suspect that most of that was in this section.
Ken gave me an hour of sleep and it was one of the better sleeps that I had all race. The sun was up, but I pulled a hat over my eyes and was fine. I ate a tiny bit of fruit before leaving, but mostly relied on UCann.
Chain of Lakes to Klickitat (17.3 miles)
The section to Klickitat was advertised as having three major stream crossings, the first of which was deep and fast moving with a rope. I was nervous the whole race about this. When I was about .25 miles from the crossing, Tom and his pacer, who had left the aid station after me, caught up to me and I asked them to help me across, telling them that I was afraid. Tom’s pacer held the rope for us and across we went. I watched Tom go first, and he helped me out when I got across. It wasn’t bad at all. I could feel the water pull on me, but did not feel in danger. I would have been OK on my own. So, scary thing number four was done! Thanks Tom and pacer for the help!
After the first water crossing, I was anxious for the second because the first one was silty and my shoes had a bunch of grit in them. When I got there, I washed my feet and shoes and moved on. After the third crossing, which was a wide river, I changed to dry socks. I noted that my feet were probably macerating a bit under the tape despite airing my feet out during every sleep. Things just don’t dry out well when taped. I was sleepy and splashed cold water on my face and soaked my hat at the crossings to try to wake myself up.
The first 10 miles or so of this section were lovely. Very nice runnable smooth trails along lake meadows, with some bush wacking. It was very pretty and serene, and I wondered why I had read so often that it was one of the hardest sections of the race. Well, I was about to find out!
Toward the end, the section turned upward and climbed about 4,000 feet over these crazy inclines and declines. Each climb was steep and straight up, and each decline was steep going down. And then it never seemed to end. For a section going along a ridge, I was left wondering why the trail needed to be built that way! By the end, I was cursing each new incline, and then I saw the sign that the aid station was near. But wait! You can’t go to the aid station without climbing out and back up Elk Peak first. That was another tough scramble, although it thankfully was short. There were a couple of guys coming down as I was going up who were very encouraging.
I did get a nice view from that one.
I hoped that the hardest sections of the race were now behind me, but I also kind of knew better from reading a lot of blogs and listening to podcasts. Basically this race just gets more rugged every day. Ken gave me 30-40 minutes of sleep and I really probably needed more. Brian was not at this aid station, so I skipped having my feet checked. It turned out that he was out assisting with a helicopter rescue for a runner with kidney stones. Read medic Todd Nardi’s account here and Brian’s account here. The runner turned out OK!
Klickitat to Twin Sisters (19.4 miles)
This was the section that I was most worried about facing without a pacer before the race. But by the time that I got there, I would not have taken a pacer if it was offered to me. I felt like I was getting so much personally out of the race doing it alone. With that said, I think it was not the safest thing for me to have been alone here. Much of the section consists of constant up and downs, again generally without switchbacks, for almost 5,000 feet of gain, along a brushy knife edge. The trail is narrow, with a soft dirt edge that drops off a steep edge that is overgrown with small bushes. A fall would be rather bad, if not deadly, in some spots. The trail ultimately also summits a mountain and goes across a rocky edge at the top, and there are a few sketchy boulder areas and washouts to navigate . I did all but the first two hours in the dark while battling to stay awake.
I saw several runners early on and then a few more after dark. At some point I saw Brian and another person coming back from the helicopter rescue. Then I was alone. I spent a lot of time singing and talking to myself to stay awake. “Be mindful, be careful” became my mantra as I navigated the narrow edge. Anytime that the trail veered away from the edge on a climb, I used my need to catch my breath to also take a dirt nap. As usual, they never went more than about three minutes. Unfortunately they also were not working as well for me anymore.
At one point I hallucinated the aid station far too early and noted how vivid it was with tents full of Christmas lights and people talking and milling about. The full moon just above the ridge also would cause hallucinations of lit up tents on the mountain side. When I hallucinated a panda climbing a log by the trail, I made myself take a nap. Then, I saw the cougar on the trail in the distance. I paused and made sure it was real. I slapped my face a few times, shook my head, drank some water, and briefly rested my eyes. The cougar was still there, it was real! I told myself to look big, make noise, and back up slowly. Backing up in the dark on the knife edge was hard, so I stood and yelled. “I see you animal, I’m big, you should run away!” After a minute or so of yelling, it struck me that the darn thing was not moving. Not moving at all. That is when I realized that it had to be a hallucination. I crept forward slowly, still making noise just in case, until it turned back into the log that it really was. Needless to say, I made myself take another trail nap.
When the trail summited Mount Monument, I sat down, ate a bit, turned off my lights, and looked at the stars. The full moon lit up the mountains around the peak nicely, and it was extremely beautiful. Maybe one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced. It made the exhaustion worth it.
Later in the section, when I was taking advantage of getting away from the ridge edge for quite a bit by running more, I had a set back when I thought that I was lost. I had not seen a marker for quite some time and I hit a boulder field with no marker. Normally the race marked changes like that. Then, a climb after the field had no marker at the top when many climbs did. I checked the Gaia app with my GPS track and it showed me on a trail, but off course. But the GPS track through there was not good and was simply a straight line. But there was another trail on the other side of it a bit away. Was I supposed to be on that one? It looked like a long backtrack to get to it and did not seem right. I backtracked to the last marker that I had seen and verified that, according to it, I was on course. I then noted that the trail I was on would eventually get where I needed to go, so I forged on. After more than a mile I finally saw markers. I was on the right course the whole time. Either the course was very sparsely marked there or a marker or two had gone missing. I did wish at times at night that there had been a few more confidence markers.
From there, I moved as fast as I could. The fear of being lost had woken me up and I was close to tears about the amount of sleep time I lost in the 25 minutes or so that I spent backtracking and looking at Gaia. I told myself to suck it up and just move. Coming into Twin Sisters, I saw a lot of runners who where coming out. They all were very nice and helpful, telling me the distance to the aid station and warning me about an upcoming climb with an extra soft edge. I appreciated that, as it was very disconcerting when your foot would slip off of that soft ridge edge with a big drop off below!
I rolled into twin sisters with enough time for some real sleep and woke up Ken, who was sleeping in the front seat. Ken said that I could have maybe an hour and a half, but I think he actually gave me just an hour or a little over. I slept very soundly here. Somehow between Chain of Lakes and Twin Sisters, I had made up 20 more minutes of time. Check off that last thing I was scared of before the race. I made it through that section alone and at night. I took off with the sun coming up and knowing that I would finish.
Twin Sisters to Owen’s Creek (16 miles)
Other than a slog of a climb out of Twin Sisters for a few miles and an out and back up Pompey Peak, it was mostly downhill from Twin Sisters to the end of the race. I was worried that this section would have a lot steep descents that would make it hard for me to keep pace but, to the contrary, most were gentle. The trail was cleared nicely and very easy to run or fast hike.
I spent this section wrapped in my own thoughts and emotions. I talked a lot to my deceased father and deceased brother (I also carried one of my father’s fishing flies on my pack during the race). I thought about my future running goals and other life goals, and made some plans to meet some of those. I considered just how incredibly thankful I was for Ken, who put many, many hours of work into mapping and route planning ahead of the trip and who managed to keep me moving and keep me on track the whole race. Ken was completely on top of everything that I needed. He did not have to come and crew me. I try to not put that burden on him at races. Yet he stepped up in ways that I never imagined were possible. I realized that I don’t tell him that I love him enough. I also thought about Linda and how much I love her and appreciate her friendship. I wanted nothing more than to see her at the end and tell her how proud I was of her and the effort that she put into the race.
It was this section where doing the majority of the race without a pacer really came to fruition. As I noted at the beginning, you learn a lot about yourself, about others, and about your goals and priorities doing something like this alone. The emotional and spiritual effect of it all was quite profound and I would not have had the same experience with a pacer. Should I still have had one for safety? Probably, but that was not meant to be and I am now so very glad that I did it alone.
My climb up Pompey Peak was uneventful. The view was amazing, and I snapped a few photos. I was surprised to see a race photographer in the area. I really appreciate it when they stick around for the back of the pack and I purchased a photo from this section in part to show appreciation. Those photographers put in a lot of long days and nights.
I next made good time to Owen’s Creek, with a lot of running, although I still had to take several dirt naps to get there. There were various downed trees to go over, but it wasn’t too bad. Apparently there were many more in previous years, but many had been cleared out.
When my watch, which was not accurate most of the race due to signal loss, said that I had two miles left to the aid station, I saw some liquor on the trail left for runners. I thought it was nice of them to hike that far out to leave it there.
Then, I turned a corner and saw a big bright aid station. I immediately thought that it was the most vivid aid station hallucination yet. But, as I got closer, it stayed. I had to ask them if they were the aid station and if they were real. They were! I declared them akin to being the best early Christmas present ever and wondered where Ken was. I then saw him walking up the road to the station. I had beat him there!
Ken informed me that I had made up a bunch of time and could walk the whole thing in. I switched to a pack with only the mandatory gear and a few extras, changed shoes, and headed out.
Owen’s Creek to Finish (13 miles)
The final section is all road. First dirt and then paved. It is mostly downhill with a few little rolls. It was warm and sunny, and I pretty much did a brisk walk for all of it except on some shaded declines. I was still very sleepy until I got into the town of Randle and had cars going by to keep me awake.
Occasionally a car full of runners or someone’s crew would go by and honk and cheer. That was fun and gave me a big boost. I got passed about a mile from the finish, but did not care at all about my place, so no biggie there. But it did make me realize that I spent most of my race passing people and really was very rarely passed, especially in the second half. Other than the incredible and constant sleepiness, I felt pretty strong the whole second half of the race. I also realized that at some point my foot pain had become normal to me and no longer a bother. I guess I had spontaneously disassociated myself from it.
I was elated when I saw Linda by the turn to go to the high school track. I cried and hugged her and told her how much I loved her and was proud of her. I asked her to hold my hand and go around the track with me. She would only go half way, at which point we hugged and I ran it in. My finish was an initial smile and arm pump, followed by a lot of crying and telling Ken how much I love him.
I don’t know how many more ways I can say it or get across the fact that my finish was because of him. He was there for me the whole way and in ways that were crucial to my success. He not only made it possible for me to finish, he also made me want to finish for him. I couldn’t let him down after all that he had done. I owe my race to him. There is not one doubt in my mind that I would not have finished if he had not been there. Ken, I love you! I need to to tell you that more often!
I finished in 103:15:45 Just 15 minutes behind my original plan of staying 2 hours ahead of the cutoff, even though at one point I had lost an hour of that. Honestly, I had always thought that I would eat that two hours and be a buzzer beater!
I picked out my buckle, which is not as fancy as many races, but is special because it is handmade and includes vegetation from the course. I love it. I also got myself a souvenir at the airport, and Ken made a bib for him for me.
Ultimately I particularly want to thank Ken for getting me through this race, Linda for suggesting it and being awesome, and Mike for hauling our stuff across country for the race and hauling the stinky stuff back again. He should get a medal for that!
My feet were a mess at the finish and are still a mess a week later. I macerated under the tape and blistered at the top of it, plus I had miscellaneous blisters under the tape. I had to buy some cushy Hoka slides and compression gear to be able to walk. I’m still in the Hokas a week later. It was good that I asked about removing tape right after the finish, as they would have been worse had I waited. Holly and Brian removed my tape.
The maceration has turned to tight dry skin, but the feet are also still bruised and tender. My feet are also numb. I had toe numbness for 6-8 weeks after my first 100, and I suspect that I might be facing the same here, but with the whole foot this time. Other than sore ankles, my legs have felt fine. Sleep deprivation has been the hardest to get over. Ken was sleep deprived as well, and we spent the following several days in Seattle mostly sleeping. We would go get food or visit a brewpub and then go back to the hotel and nap. We also slept ten hour or more nights. A week later, I am still finding myself suddenly tired at times.
Will I do another 200? Maybe, but not next year, and I suspect that it won’t likely be the same.
People ask why we do these races, and I think Bigfoot gave me the ultimate answer, at least initially. I had the most amazing, satisfying, yet terrifying, and sometimes depressing and humbling experience that could not be gained any other way. It made me gloriously happy at times and very sad at others. Overall, it was incredible, and it was completely worth every minute. But I don’t think I will ever be able to replicate it. And I don’t really feel the need to.
In the weeks after the race my perspective has changed a bit on the above paragraph. I have developed some post race blues, and can’t stop dreaming that I am in the race. That has made me more wary about doing another of these, and I actually put my Bigfoot finisher items away out of sight for now. I want the race to just disappear now, at least for awhile.
I came out of Bigfoot wanting to make sure that I do races with a lot meaning for me. Perhaps because of great scenery, or perhaps a personal connection, or perhaps to keep doing hard things that I don’t know that I can finish. I like the challenge. Sure, I might toss in something easy and random to get a Western State’s ticket, but I don’t see myself doing lots of easy races just for the sake of doing races anymore. I want my local running to be more for the simple joy of being out there, and I want to do more adventure runs, such as Zion Traverse and Wonderland trail. I also want to travel to run simply to see new trails without necessarily doing a race. I feel like I reached whatever it is I was reaching for at Bigfoot and that I can change focus a bit more now.
I do note that Candice says that a 200 is coming to Orcas Island in 2020. Depending on that course, I would consider that one or Tahoe in 2021.
Next year I plan on trying Never Summer again, as I have a deep family connection to the course and I love it there. After that, I don’t know what I am doing yet.
Oh, and I came away from Bigfoot suddenly not afraid of heights anymore. Somehow I feel like it just left me. I don’t feel much afraid of rushing water anymore either. Or animals at night. And I think I might do more races without pacers. But, I do have a new fear of sleep deprivation and its dangers. That fear might seriously keep me thinking twice about another 200 or at least about doing one without a pacer during certain hours unless I think I can get more sleep time in.
We will see what happens…..
Update: Planning new goals has upped my mood a bit. My husband also encouraged me to look at Tahoe for next year. So I am now planning to enter the Tahoe 200 lottery.
Tips On Running Bigfoot 200 From the Back of the Pack
When I was planning for the race I had a hard time finding very back of the pack accounts. I found some more middle of the pack ones that were helpful, but I knew that my pace would be such that I would have to push hard to meet cutoffs. Below are random tips for anyone back of the pack trying this race. Some I planned on and some just turned out to be what worked for me. I suppose some of these tips are actually good for any runner, even fast ones.
(1) Train for a lot of downhill running and fast hiking. My method of making cutoffs in nearly any race with elevation gain is to climb slow and descend fast. I like to fast walk the flats. If it is runnable, run it. If too tired to run, walk fast. Unless you are a good fast climber, in which case you probably won’t be back of the pack, you have to make the most of every single section where you can either run or hike fast. That also means training for that. Train the quads for downhills and train to hike fast for long distances.
(2) Have extremely well versed crew/pacers that know the course inside and out, know the driving route, and can use a spreadsheet to keep you on time. Without Ken’s knowledge, I would have been doomed because I would have had only a very rough idea of the pace I needed to keep in each section based on preplanning, and everything changed as soon as I got a bit behind schedule. Ken was able to tell me what to expect in each section in terms of difficulty and climb and tell me the average paces needed to maintain the status quo and to gain back some time. Ken also was ready at each station to quickly get me in the truck asleep, refill my pack, and get me in and out of shoe changes or clothing changes. He made sure that I got food and that no time was wasted. As the race went on I could not afford to waste any time at aid stations, I needed to sleep and move. It was Ken’s knowledge and management of time that made my race. I would have timed out without it. If you have no crew, at least have info in each drop bag on your needed pace, and if you fall behind try to make an estimate. Work quickly at aid stations to get in and out but also get done what you need. Get a routine so that it becomes efficient.
(3) As for pacing, when there are elevation swings, I use a trick where I look at my watch when it buzzes up each mile and then keep track of how much ahead or behind I am. So, if I need a 25 average pace, and I get 24, I am up a minute. 27 and I am down two etc. I round up so that it is not in my favor and I keep a running total. It allows me to see if I am catching up time from slow ascents and motivates me if I need to move a bit quicker. It also keeps my mind busy. Sometimes I miss miles, and that is OK. I don’t stress over it, but I do use it as a useful tool.
(4) Short dirt naps worked best for me. I quickly realized that a nap longer than 5 minutes would eat too much time to stay on pace, plus it was usually chilly enough that stopping for longer than 5 minutes required additional clothing. I never took off my pack for a nap or did anything other than lean against a tree and nod off with my timer set for five minutes. I then jumped right back up and kept going. Often I stayed in the required pace for that mile even with the nap. It worked OK until the last day when I found that it did not help as much. Regardless, I did not have the time luxury for anything longer. My timer never once hit the 5 minutes during any nap that I took. Usually any nap was around three minutes.
(5) Be efficient on the trail. I would purposely wait until the top of a big climb to pee, dirt nap, get something form my pack etc. I was going to be standing there for a minute or two panting to catch my breath anyway, so I might as well do double duty instead of adding a minute or two elsewhere to do those things. I never stopped on a fast section if I could help it.
(6) Don’t count on a preplanned sleep plan. I had one and knew that it would probably go out the window. And it did. It worked best for me late in the race to sleep some at every aid station even if only as short as 30 minutes. My few times that I got an hour or more were luxuries and they were wonderful. I do think that lack of sleep will catch up with any back of pack person to their detriment. Faster people might get through this race without sleeping, but you can’t go almost 5 days without sleep!
(7) Have the darkest and quietest place to sleep possible. This again is where crew comes in. The sleep stations were tents that looked noisy and uncomfortable. I’m glad I did not have to use them. Sharing the van the first night was less than ideal because there were four people in it stirring, snoring etc. I could not sleep quickly or well. I doubt any of us did. Ken parked the truck in quiet dark areas when possible and I threw a hat over my eyes to block light. I fell asleep quickly every time in the truck and had solid sleeps. If you do have to use sleep stations, have ear plugs and a sleep mask or hat that you can pull over your eyes. Also have warm clothes. It gets cold quickly when you stop. I used a zero rated sleeping bag as a blanket and often found myself shivering violently after getting up from sleeps.
(8) Keep on top of eating and drinking. I ate early and often. When I quit eating on the trail as much I should I started drinking Ucann to keep the calories up. I never got behind on fluids.
(9) Test taping before the race. I did not really do this and should have done more. Having my heels taped early turned out to be wonderful for me, as I never had some of the heel issues that I often get from fast hiking. But I should have waited longer on taping the balls of my feet. At some point they still would have needed it, but I think I could have put off some of the bad maceration had I been able to wait until after Klickitat. I definitely in the future would forego any waterproof tape. I slept with my feet bare to air them out but that tape could not breathe. Just know that tape might save your race at some point, but it will also mess up your feet more after. I was ready for that, but hadn’t anticipated the need for slides or super cushy shoes.
(10) Elevate your legs when resting. I did this at each sleep and did not swell a ton during the race. My feet did swell up like balloons the day after though!
(11) Although I had no pacer, and I recommend trying it without one for the most emotional experience, I don’t recommend going without a pacer for the best chance of success or safety. A pacer, especially if they know the sections and can keep the right average pace, will get you through it. They will also help you stay awake. I woke up so quickly each time I had a chance to speak to a person, even if it was just in passing them. I also lost time in sections where a pacer could have helped me get over trees etc.
(12) Just keep moving. Ultimately, when you are back of the pack you want to stop as little as possible. Keep moving even if it is only baby steps. Stop only when necessary. You will get there!