2013 Plain Race Stories
September 19, 2013 at 10:51am - Joe Lee
It’s nice when everything comes together in a given situation to create the near perfect outcome. I didn’t really expect it but that is exactly what happened to me this year at the Plain 100.
The official name of this race is the Dave M. Smith memorial Plain 100 mile endurance run in honor of Dave, a Search and Rescue team (SAR) member who was with the race from the beginning before his death in 2011.
Not sure why they call it a 100. Even the most conservative estimates of its distance put it substantially beyond that distance. Any running race of 100+ miles is an extreme challenge but Plain takes this challenge a few steps further by not allowing aid except at about 60 miles which is also the locations where the race starts and ends. There are no navigational markings either. If anybody that you know happens to make their way out onto the course to say hello as you run by, you will be disqualified for getting aid. For safety there are Search and Rescue folks stationed at key locations along the course to track runners in and out. The SAR was also allowed to take our trash so as to keep it off the trail.
On Saturday, morning just after a short motivational talk by Tim the SAR master, we were let go. I’m not sure but I think there were 28 or 29 starters this year. As was the case with every other runner I was using a running backpack to carry enough food to get me around the massive 50 something mile loop through the Entiat Mountains of south central Washington State and back to Deep Creek camp where the race started. For the next 27+ hours I’d be fueling on cliff bars, gels, beef jerky and shot blocks. I also had a small amount of emergency gear and spare clothes just in case things went bad. Throw in a water bladder with 70 ounces of water and I was starting the race about 12 pounds heavy. This is not that much different then how I train on the weekends in the mountains near my home in Oregon except on training runs I just eat cliff bars. For the race I wanted a little more variety of food. Plain 2013 was to be my 7th Plain start with 3 finishes leading up to this year’s race.
Most of the elevation gain (21,000-23,000’) comes in 3 major climbs. The first climb up to Klone peak is a good warm up (or wake up) for the race. I usually hit this climb pretty hard with fresh legs. Later on when my legs are trashed I will be walking most of the climbs but for Klone I run.
On the way up to Klone I passed a few runners on the road section and caught up with Tim and Gavin who were in the lead. Tim had just run a tough 100 mile race the week before so I made the comment that I was a cougar, ready to pounce on his Wasatch tired legs. I could not even imagine running two 100 mile races as tough as Plain and Wasatch 1 week apart. Even with damaged goods Tim was holding a good pace and had me working hard to keep up. Eventually I dropped back some because he was moving too fast for me.
Up in the Mad Meadows my energy levels started to drop. Usually this happens because I’m not eating enough but I knew that wasn’t the case because I had my watch set to beep every hour to remind me to eat and I was right on with the calories. Thinking that maybe I was just pushing the pace too hard I backed off some but my energy level just dropped more. The last climb up to Klone I got passed by Sean and Alex. My legs were just feeling weak and my energy was low. Not knowing why I was having such a hard time I decided to ride it out and if it got worse I would consider dropping. I’d never had such a long lasting low this early in a race before.
On the descent from Klone to the Entiat River, I caught up with Alex. Alex was on a mission to finish Plain and although he has the talent to win a race like this he did not want to jeopardize his chance of finishing by running aggressively. After a quick water refill with Alex I took some Advil and an s-cap salt pill. Soon after, I came out of my funk and started to feel pretty good.
At the base of the descent after Klone near the Entiat River I met up with Tom and Chris, the race directors. They said that the 3 guys up front had just come through. Just a mile up the trail I came to the bridge that crosses Tommy Creek expecting to see the front runners gearing up for the big climb up Signal Peak but they had already left. At Tommy Creek I took my time arranging my pack and filling my 3 water bottles and a hydration bladder with water. This would give me 130 ounces of water to get me the next 14 dry miles starting with the monster 4500’ steep climb up to Signal Peak. It was pretty warm too so I decided to put a wet cooling rag around my neck which helped tremendously. I ended up using that cooling rag for most of the race. As I was leaving, Alex showed up to do the same thing that I just did.
The climb up Signal Peak went well but as usual, it really sucked. There is no way to sugar coat the effort required to complete this climb. On this day the climb went relatively well for me as I think I pr’d the time it took to get to the peak just before the ridge junction. I did this section in 2 hours 10 minutes. My normal time would have been closer to 3 hours or so. Near the top I caught up with Tim who was having a hard time and said something about limitations and Wasatch tired legs. I could only imagine how bad he must have felt. From what I hear Tim toughed it out and finished well which was a huge accomplishment.
Along the Tyee ridge I noticed that the 2 sets of foot prints in the dust were looking fresh. Since my low point coming off of Klone, I continued to feel and move better. On the way down off the Tyee ridge on the Billy Creek trail I caught up with Sean who said he was doing great but I noticed he was walking the downhill. This left only one guy ahead of me.
I continued to run hard down the rest of this technical descent down to Cougar creek where I ran out of water just before arriving. I decided to just fill 2 water bottles here then again at the Mad River crossing in order to save time by not having to fill my bladder.
About half way between Cougar Creek and the Mad River crossing I caught up with the leader, Gavin. We ran together back up to Maverick Saddle which essentially completes the large loop section of the first part of the course. From there on to Deep Creek we would be repeating the forest road that we ran that morning except this time it would be downhill. This was Gavin’s first time on the course so I helped him navigate through the somewhat confusing lower section of Maverick Saddle.
On the way down to Deep Creek I was moving well and left Gavin behind. This was an unfamiliar feeling for me. I’m not usually the guy up front. I wasn’t sure if I wanted that responsibility but it sure was exciting.
Back at Deep Creek my wife had gotten word from the SAR post that I was coming down off of Maverick in first place. This was really special because we had spent the weekend with a bunch of my cousins and my Aunt and most of them had come up to Deep Creek with Susi to see me come through. They had no idea that I would be coming through in first place. About 1/2 mile out of Deep Creek I started hearing a whistle noise that got louder as I got closer to Deep Creek. Knowing only my wife could make a whistle noise that loud I stepped up the pace to get there faster. Soon I arrived to a huge round of cheers and excited faces and my dogs. This totally made my day and would provide me with huge amounts of motivation to not just get out on loop 2 but to run it hard.
At Deep Creek I was pampered with attention. Two of my favorite ultra people in the world, Jim and Jane Updegrove, had set up a fully stocked (and then some) aid station. While I changed into dry running cloths Jim and Jane cooked me up some hot food while Susi and some of my cousins geared up my loop 2 running pack. I sat down to take off my shoes to shake out some rocks while Susi and my cousin Karen hand fed me a sandwich and pudding. I also drank a Red Bull which was my first caffeinated product of the day.
I have to mention that Jim and Jane worked non-stop and tirelessly for 2 days straight and very little sleep to keep the Plain runners fed and happy. Their aid station was set up and ready for the first runner and they didn’t shut down until the last runner came through. In addition to that they cooked and cleaned for the pre-race dinner and the pre-race breakfast. They do all this in addition to being kick ass trail runners themselves. To me, Jim and Jane are as much of the Plain experience as the race itself.
While I was at Deep Creek, Gavin arrived and asked if he could run with me on the way out. Being his first time on the course he was a little unsure about nighttime navigation so I said sure no problem. My cousin’s husband Eric told me later that I was in and out of Deep Creek in 18 minutes which is quite a bit faster then normal for me.
On the way out of Deep Creek, as I was about to disappear into the woods, I was able to illicit one more huge cheer from my cousins, friends and my wife. I was feeling good and hugely motivated.
Gavin and I talked a little but mostly concentrated on running the flats and downs while maintaining a fast walking speed on the ups throughout this rolling section that goes on for about 7 miles before you start hitting the 3rd major climb. I was giving Gavin information to help him with hints on where to find water and how to navigate the rest of the course. I could only imagine how intimidating the whole thing must have been for him. I don’t think I expressed myself with a lot of confidence because a couple of times he would say “are you sure?”. I don’t blame him for being cautious because loop 2 is some serious back country and things can get confusing in the dark. We covered the 6-7 miles to Twin Creek which is the start of the loop portion of loop 2 in a little over 1.5 hours which is about as fast as I ever complete this section. I think Gavin had to make some adjustments because he backed off and I didn’t see him again but I think he finished well in like 3rd place or so.
From Twin Creek to Chickamin Tie I ran with one bottle which I refilled frequently. I also kept a little water in my bladder for insurance. At this point I quit trying to run any of the ups but I noticed that my legs were still working great for a fast uphill walking pace so I went with what I had.
At Deep Creek I had put one headlamp around my waist and one on my forehead. The lamp around my waist shook around to much and made me queasy so I put both lamps on my head. I’m part Chinook Indian so I have a lot of forehead real estate.
I was having a hard time swallowing Cliff bars by this point so I switched to mainly gels and shot blocks which were still going down easy. I was starting to get sleepy tired so I swallowed a 5 hour energy shot which really seemed to help.
I scuffed up a few directional arrows at a few of the trail junctions along here to help out Gavin but he had been doing fine up to this point so I doubt if he needed the help.
At the Chikamin Tie road crossing I checked in the SAR. As I was leaving I was told that Tom wanted to see me so I paused for a bit. Tom came to check on me and must have seen nothing wrong because he sent me on my way after a few encouraging words. My time into this check point was just before 1 a.m. which was the fastest I had ever run to there. The last time I came close to this speed was back in 2009 when I got lost up by the Pond Camp trail turn off. To prevent this from happening again I carried a GPS that I programmed with one way point and that was the trail junction to the 1409.2 Pond Camp trail. When I finished the Chikamin Tie climb and arrived at 1409.2 it was very well marked and easy to find. I’m still very confused how I missed that back in 09. So basically the GPS was dead weight but it felt good to have as a back up.
Up on Pond Camp I noticed that my primary headlamp was getting very dim. There was still plenty of running in the darkness left to do so I decided to take the time and swap out the batteries. It took a bit of fumbling but with the light from my secondary head lamp I was able to get it done fairly fast. Actually, I was rather surprised that I had the mental capacity at this point to do the battery thing and I was very relieved to find that the lamp functioned fine.
It took a lot of effort to try to maintain a good pace as I crossed the high meadows in the darkness. I felt like I was slowing down considerably. I started to think that somebody would probably catch up with me soon. I’m mostly just a runner not a racer so if somebody throws down the slam on me they will probably come out on top. Fearing a competitive confrontation I tried to draw from whatever reserves I had to hold a pace in an attempt to hold off any potential challenges.
I think running down Alder ridge in training on fresh legs is just about as good as it gets for fast downhill. But, after nearly 100 miles and in the dark, running down Alder was hell. After what seemed like an eternity I made it to the road section of this descent. By now it was light out which helped considerably. I was kind of depressed that I couldn't run hard anymore but then I realized that I was still running which slow or not, was a very good physical ability to have at that moment. The rest of the way down I came up with a plan to make good time on the 6 or 7 miles of Chiwawa trail, the same section I covered last night. I thought 2 hours would be a good conservative estimate to finish this part. At the last SAR check point I loaded up on calories one last time and filled my water bottle. My plan was to move non-stop while running all the flats and downs and walking the ups. This was pretty much the same thing I'd been doing for the last 12 hours but I needed to focus more on form and speed if I was to make good time.
I allowed myself a peek at my watch and noted that if I met my goal I'd come in just under 28 hours. My primary goal for this race was to beat my pr of just over 29 hours so I new all I had to do was not fall apart.
The last hour and 40 minutes went by uneventful except for a few hallucinations. There were no challenges and no break downs. I gave it my all and finished strong. I smashed my current Plain pr by over 1.5 hours while crossing the finish line in 27 hours 30 minutes. I also got away with a rare (for me) win. My wife was at the finish as were Jim and Jane. I got hugs by all and a brand new rock to go with my collection.
After a shower and some sleep I drove back to Deep Creek and was fortunate to get to see 6 or 7 Plain runners become Plain finishers or repeaters.
Now that is what I call fun! Thanks to Tom and Chris and everybody else who make this such a unique, fun and safe event. And thanks to my wife, friends and cousins for the huge pick me up at Deep Creek. That helped more then you can possibly know.
by Phil Theodore
I recall you saying to me that you'd be interested in my thoughts about how this course compares to others that I've raced, so here you go....
1- The time cut offs appear generous as a first timer
2- The course elevation gain doesn't appear to be too daunting as a first timer
3- The whole self support aspect of the race is cool.
4- Limiting the race to 50 is very very nice
5- The overall vibe of the race was excellent
6- The people that i met and ran with were all very very nice
Now onto the race course itself. I would describe this course as an "Ultra's Ultra Course". The Cascade mountains are beautiful, the crystal clear streams to drink from were great, the small feel to the race was awesome.
As the race began i thought, wow this is cool! Then after the first 20 miles, then 30 and into the 40th mile it began to sink in...the generous cutoffs, the undaunting elevation charts were all just a ruse. The layout of the course delivered constant body blows like that of a tactical boxer. This course never had a "knock out punch" but instead just broke the quads and calves down. It reminds me of the mythological creature...the Sirens...that lured sailors onto the rocks where they'd be eaten.
The unstable footing and long descents delivered unrecoverable blows to my legs. By mile 50 i was laughing out loud in the dark woods at myself at what a rookie i was to fall for this. I went back to your seemingly innocent question the evening before and knew why you'd made the comment that you had. It was perfect. As I write this email, I'm still smiling.....but with anticipation for next years race. I'll be better prepared and ready for this course. All 100 milers are difficult, but this race was the toughest I've run to date, not Leadville, not UTMB, certainly not the Rocky Raccoon.
Like a moth to the flame, i will return.
by: FUTURE FINISHER
First off, I would like to take a minute and thank all of the folks that help make this event unique and unforgettable experience. To the folks with SAR, thank you for watching our behinds while a couple of dozen of us crazies indulge in trying to start/finish this crazy event called “Plain 100”. It is comforting knowing that if something terribly goes wrong that we will have you guys/gals there to bring us back to safety.
The cooking staff, WOW! Thank you for the dinner and the breakfast. I can honestly say that you all put on one hell of a tasty buffet style course. The food you served was perfectly filled with enough calories to help fuel the runners for the event. The Unofficial aid station at Deep Creek played a huge role in helping runners to the finish line. Thank you!
To Chris and Tom, You both are masochists!!!! But you already knew that.
I loved the course as it provided me with what I have always been looking for in a challenge. Plain left me 100% deflated, beat down like an old dirty rug. I gave it my all and it was not enough to finish Plain this time around. This does not mean I cannot finish Plain (I will finish Plain! Even if it takes 10 attempts) it only means that I must adjust my training and strategy for my next attempt. For me an ultra-challenge should be just that! A challenge! If I know that I can finish an event then it’s not a challenge right? The unknown outcome is what is so attractive to a select few ultra-runners who are willing to step up to the podium at Plain even if it means not finishing.
I look forward in participating next year (Please sign me up!) and giving it another go!
Too Tired to Cry
My Encounter with Plain 100
By Scott Martin
After a 2007 Plain 100 DNF, I decided 100s were too much for me being a teacher, husband and father. My wife and I had a two year old boy and a baby on the way. My wife was sick 24/7 the weeks leading up to the race and it was the first week of school. I was physically ready, but not emotionally. I dropped out at Deep Creek feeling fine physically, but without the resolve to finish. I guess I had forgotten my 2007 revelation when I signed up last year for the 2012 race. After a year of inconsistent training because of hip and back pain, I transferred to the 2013 race. With my hip and back pain mostly under control and a pretty solid year of training, I decided I was ready to take on Plain.
Being a teacher, I had summer off and went to the high country often, running around South Sister, up Middle Sister, around and up Mt. St. Helens, around Newberry Caldera, around Mt. Hood, fast packing three days in the high sierra, SOB 50 miler and a number of 30+ milers in the Columbia River Gorge. Many of these runs I carried what I would at Plain, including way more water than I needed (to simulate the Signal Peak climb). I was ready!
I spent the week leading up to Plain reading Touching the Void-a shocking adventure story. I figured if things went bad, I’d realize it wasn’t really anything to worry about compared to that!
The day before the race, I was glad to finally be on the way after a week of butterflies and chomping at the bit to do this thing. I was ready! I stopped on the way up and got some tea in a paper cup with a plastic top and a sleeve. I missed a turn on the drive to race headquarters but made it there in time for the briefing. Hmmm. Trouble finding race headquarters…I enjoyed the atmosphere with volunteers, search and rescue people, families and runners all hanging out in the pre race excitement.
My friends and I decided to camp at Deep Creek which is the start/finish area and between loops 1 and 2. We missed a turn on the way to Deep Creek and it took us a while to find it. Hmmm. Lost trying to find the start…
I slept well that night under the abundant stars. My back and hips had gotten much better, but still hurt and I worried about my hip hurting for 30+ hours! The next morning we finally began! Six years of unfinished business. Two years in the making. 1 year of training. 100+ miles and 21,000' in elevation gain of rutted trails of dirt, rocks, dust, roots, mountains, darkness, heat and cold. No course markings. No aid. Bring it on!
Off we went in the dark and I quickly realized I forgot my sunglasses-oh well! Can’t get them now-that’s against the rules (you must carry everything you start each loop with). I worried how my eyes would do at elevation in the sun all day. Oh well, nothing to do about it now-worrying won’t help.
Settling into a comfortable Trail Nerd-style last place, my friend Sean and I missed the turn around at 1.5 miles on the out and back. Luckily, another runner started late and saw us. Hmmm. Already having trouble navigating…
I started to make my way forward in the dark and in the field of 29 runners and eventually fell in with a train of 7 other runners who spent a good chunk of loop 1 leapfrogging one another. There were mushrooms the size of dinner plates! My left hip was tight all around and painful in back. I worried about it hurting the whole way. I decided I could get rid of the pain. I gathered internal energy and visualized blowing the pain out of my body. I ran on, and it was miles later when I realized it worked!!! My hip didn’t hurt and didn’t even feel tight for the first time in months!
In our train, everyone seemed glad to have company, although our order would ebb and flow with stops to eat, drink, water the trees…A group of motorcycle riders passed us on the way up Klone Peak. At the top, with a gorgeous view of the surrounding mountains, a few of us took in the view and took time to eat and chat. Someone mentioned we were a little over 21 miles into it. I said, “Great, only 85 miles left!” Leaving the peak, I began the long downhill to Tommy Creek. It was on this downhill that my feet started hurting. My feet almost never hurt doing these things, but the miles of motorcycle ruts were taking a toll. I worried about how my feet would feel 80 miles later! Again, I decided that worrying about it was a waste of time. I decided that my feet would get better and they did! I’m still mystified as to how body parts can hurt in the early miles of an ultra and then feel better later!
Tommy Creek is at the bottom of a 5000’ climb in 6 miles (and the beginning of 14 miles with no water). I filled up everything I had, soaked in the creek to cool down, ate and I started up. This is a serious climb. It is very steep, hot, relentless and littered with concrete grids to keep the motorcycles from tearing up the trail (oh, and I had 8 pounds of water on my back in addition to all the food and clothes I had brought.) I made steady progress up, making sure to fuel myself. After some great views, I crested the hill and started down. The thing is, at Plain, the down hills are really nothing to look forward to since they tend to be steep with rough footing.
The sun went down. After a gorgeous sunset, I turned on my lights and continued on feeling excited to be heading off into the dark. This is one of my favorite times in a 100. I love the feeling of running all day, and continuing into the night with everything I need. I sang some of my favorite “Run on Sentence” tunes: “When the sky turns grey, and the clouds come rollin’ in…do not turn the other way. Just face the storm and let the darkness in…” and “In the darkness, you will see…that you look just like me…”
I had 40 ounces of water left when I reached Cougar Creek and the first water in 14 hot, tough miles (guess I didn’t need all of that eight pounds). The Mad River section of the course seemed to go on forever (like last time). I didn’t mind since I was feeling good. I reminded myself that the distance was whatever it was, and to be in the mile (my ultra running take on the mindful “Be in the moment.”). Deep Creek is where it is, it is not moving, and you’ll be there exactly when you get there. Right now, you’re here. Be in the mile! Please remind me of my very deep trail philosophy if I forget!
After trying to be in the mile, and trying not to be skeert of the dark, I finally came off the Mad River Trail and made my way up to Maverick Saddle and down toward Deep Creek. I was feeling great and happy to be finishing loop 1 that way. I arrived back at Deep Creek to the applause of a few people there. Jane Updegrove brought me some soup. I ate it (man that was good!) changed clothes, loaded my pack, and ran off into the night and mystery of loop 2 yelling strange things like, “This one time, at extreme jogging camp…!”
Now, I have heard about all the people getting lost early on loop 2 so I was worried and ready to be especially careful to not be one of those people. Reviewing the map the week before the race, it looked to me like the trail at Goose Creek Campground went straight across a road and continued on. To my surprise, in the pre-race briefing, Tom (one of the RDs) said to turn right there. I clarified if he meant to turn right since it didn’t look like it on the map and he was clear-turn right. It really didn’t look like a right turn to me. When I got to that junction around 1am, I could hear Tom’s voice, “Turn right.” Looking right it seemed like a road. The written directions said we would be on a trail for awhile at this point. So, turn right and stay on a trail. Well, the right turn was a road so I turned left. After a short time, I decided this trail was going the wrong way and that Tom must know what he’s talking about so I turned around. Back at the campground, I heard Tom’s voice again. Again, it said to turn right. I looked right (it looked like a road). I reread the written directions (it said to stay on the trail for a while). Oh, I know, the trail must be just up the road. I turned right and after a short time saw no trail and returned to the campground. Again I decided Tom (THE RD) must be mistaken (uh-huh clear thinking eh?) and again I turned left. This time I went even farther before deciding I was going the wrong way. Now Tom’s voice was stronger than ever, “TURN RIGHT!” So I returned to the campground yet again. I checked the map. I read the directions. I listened to Tom’s voice telling me to turn right. I shined my light up the “road”, looked down and saw a sign on the ground indicating that the “road” is a trail!!! Well what do you know, the RD knows what he’s talking about! J I (turned right) and continued on my way.
The trail was rolling with good footing-my first time experiencing extended good footing at Plain! I continued on my way, up and down, but mostly up to Chickamin Tie (the last cutoff before the finish). It was warm and humid all night! Up until 4 AM I was dipping my shirt into streams to cool off! It turns out I didn’t need my long sleeve shirt, pants, hat, gloves, and rain jacket I was carrying. It was exhausting to push through the heat all day and then have to do it all night. A voice in my head said, “I don’t think I can do this.” And then, “I don’t want to do this.” And finally, another voice, “Oh yes you can and you want it bad!” The voices in my head had this conversation several times during the race. Before the race, I had anticipated the first two statements and added the third to keep me going. I became very sleepy and wanted to lie down and sleep for awhile, but was worried I’d sleep too long and miss a cutoff. Finally my desire to sleep overrode my fear of not finishing and I laid down in the trail. I feel asleep almost instantly and woke up 15 minutes later. Ahh, that feels better! After being terrified by a few frogs and eyes peering out of the darkness at me, it got light and I made it to Chickamin Tie with plenty of time to spare. It was nice to see a couple search and rescue guys and Chris and Tom there. They were the first people I’d seen throughout the night on loop 2.
Back on the trail, I was happy to be through the last cutoff feeling tired but confident that I could finish. The sun was up and I had about a marathon left. After cresting the Entiat Mountains, and enjoying some sweet views, I descended more than I thought I would. I reached the right turn I’d been looking for in a gorgeous meadow full of fall color. I was horrified to see a sign that said I was at the Mad River Trail. Whaaaaaaat! That was on loop one! Did I just cross over from loop 2 to loop 1??? I consulted the map and was relieved to find I was on course.
After climbing up and over the Entiats again, I finally began the descent I’d be looking forward to. Ha! This downhill is not exactly something to look forward to around mile 90! It’s hot and steep with tough footing! I stopped to eat and Jack caught up to me (the first runner I’d seen on loop 2). He set a serious pace and I followed.
A little later we were walking and I felt like I was burning up! Hmmm. Something’s not right… After sometime we came to a little stream where we stopped to cool off and eat. That feels a lot better! There was a checkpoint just after the stream and the Lower Chiwawa Trail-about 7 miles to the finish! Someone at the checkpoint said we looked good. I said, “Really, ‘cause I feel like shit!” Jack ran ahead trying to get me to tag along. After the checkpoint I was now shivering in the heat of the day! I was just burning up and now I’m cold and it’s hot out??? Electrolytes? I checked my capillary refill. Oops! Reeeaaally slow! My electrolytes are seriously drained and my body can’t regulate temperature well. Uh oh! I never take electrolytes because I’ve found I don’t need them. Hmmm. Seems like I need them now and I don’t have any…
Now I’m worried I won’t finish in time! I walked for a bit and ran when I could. I checked the map: 3.5 miles to a road, then 3.3 to the finish. I’ve got this! I could walk in from here! Up ahead, in the middle of the trail, I saw a tall paper cup with a plastic lid and a sleeve. I thought that was a strange thing to see in the middle of a trail. Then I realized my friend Sean must’ve gotten me some tea. Thinking how nice it was of him to do that, I then figured he must’ve forgotten that I can’t accept help from anyone not in the race. As I was pondering this, the cup shrank from a very tall one to a short one and then into a rock! Hmmm. That was a serious hallucination…
I walked and ran to the road-okay 3.3 to go with plenty of time. I rechecked the map. Whaaat! It’s 3.3 from the campground not the road! I’m not at the campground yet! Now I’m not sure I have enough time to finish! I start running. I walk fast on the ups and run the downs. I see another paper cup! It’s just like the one before but shorter. Then it disappears! I’m running scared-stressed that I might not make the cutoff at the end! I look at my watch, calculate the pace I need to do, walk, run, stress, calculate, walk, run…I’m burning up again! After what seems like an eternity (I was definitely not in the mile) I hear people! Deep Creek! I run down to the road, toward the finish and start to cry, then suddenly stop. I was too tired. I finished Plain 100! Soon after finishing a friend handed me a pumpkin spice latte (in a paper cup, with a plastic lid and a sleeve)!
Thank you Tom and Chris for a truly heinous course! Thank you volunteers including 28 search and rescue people for 29 runners! Thank you Food Frau! Thank you Jane and Jim Updegrove for taking such good care of us. See you next year! J
PLAIN 100+ Race Report, 2013
By Sean Ranney
It’s been over a week since Plain, and my feet are still dirty. It feels like it was a month ago, the
highs and lows of running an event like this receding into the recesses of my mind, and the day to
day realities of life coming back into focus. But I look at my feet and am reminded of the best 100
mile run I’ve ever had the pleasure of participating in.
I’m not sure where I first heard about Plain. It’s been rolling around in my head since early this year,
and I was amazed that a number of people hadn’t heard of it. I thought it was one of the generally
known “hard” 100s. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the course, it’s between 106 and 110
miles with between 21,000 and 26,000’ of climbing, and the “trails” are maintained by the
motorcycle club, so are mostly 8 inch U-shaped ruts that you either have to run in (and keep your
ankles at a funny angle) or run alongside in the brush. I chose the latter whenever possible. Plus
there are no course markings, so you have to buy and bring your own map with the course marked
out based on the directions posted on the website. Plus, no aid. It’s laid out in two loops with one
resupply spot after about 65 miles, so you’re hauling all your own food, supplies, clothes, and water.
Oh, that water? It comes from the streams, ponds, mud puddles, whatever you decide is clean
enough to drink. Combine that with the loose dust and gnarly granite rocks strewn across the
landscape and you will start to get a sense of what Plain is about. As the RD Tom put it, “We wanted
to design a course that would be like Hardrock for lowlanders”. Not sure if they succeeded, there are
people who do Hardrock every year that won’t do Plain.
It had been an interesting year, running wise. I just started running a year and a half ago, and had
gotten all excited after learning that the body can handle this sort of stuff just fine, and signed up for
too much. After running Meow Marathons and DRTE 100 four weeks apart, mentally I was ready for
a break but ultrasignup dictated otherwise. This turned running into something I was required to do,
as opposed to something I did for pleasure. I DNFed Tahoe Rim Trail at 50 miles because finishing
simply didn’t do anything for me. Best decision of my life, after that race I totally recalibrated,
stopped training the body, and just worked on training the mind to enjoy the sport again. It worked, I
got over my burnout, and showed up excited to be able to laugh at myself and this sport again.
I flew in to Seattle the day before and got picked up by George Orozco, another runner kind enough
to pick up some stranger who put a random post on Facebook. We made the three hour drive East,
and the dry exposed conditions I had expected turned into lush, forested, beautiful mountains with
just enough rock crags to hint at what laid ahead. We got to the clubhouse around 1.00 as the first
runners to arrive and met the RDs Tom and Chris(tine). Good smells were already wafting out of the
kitchen, and we sat down and did a little reading and chilling to wait for the briefing at 5. The room
filled up, and Tom led us through the course, keeping the attention of 30 highly distractable runners
for almost 45 minutes, and making “turn right here, turn left here” so entertaining that I was
disappointed when it ended. After a fantastic dinner and dessert everybody turned in, they were kind
enough to let me sleep in the rec club so I didn’t need to haul a tent up on the plane. We woke early,
they stuffed some more great food down our gullets, and we all headed over to Deep Creek for the
I had mentally broken the run into three hills. The first hill was up to Klone peak and back down to
the Entiat River. It started with some jeep roads in the dark, and as the sun came up went to beautiful
single track winding along the Mad River. There was a steep ascent from the river to the ridge up the
Hi Yu trail, and then some gradual rising trail along the ridge. I was feeling good, and was happy
that I had decided to start with almost no water in my bladder as there was water all over the place,
and I would just scoop a few handfuls into my mouth whenever I crossed a stream. Even though I
had trained the past 5 weeks with a pack full of a gallon and a half of water, I'm a big believer in
shaving weight whenever possible and think this helped push me forward in the pack on the early
climbing. I reached Klone peak and was surprised to see Tim Stroh (11 time plain finisher) and
Gavin Woody (sub 24 hr DRTE 100 finisher) at the top. We took off down the hill together, I was
happy to let them go ahead but we all stayed fairly close together. The long downhill I was expecting
turned into a longer and longer series of down, down, up, down, down, up winding trails that seemed
to go on forever. I started to get discouraged through this area and I ran out of water, but eventually
made it to a stream in the burned out area and chatted with Tim for a bit. Filled up and with a clif bar
in my belly, I finished the decent and was feeling great by the time I made it down to the road. Tom
had told us that this stretch of pavement was hell on earth, but it didn’t seem too bad, and I quickly
made my way down to the river where Tom and Chris were hanging out taking pictures and slapping
runners on the back. I cut right and went the mile to the bottom of Signal Peak and down to the river
to refill my bladder with Tim and Gavin, who had gotten there ahead of me.
The climb up Signal peak was hard, but not as bad as I expected. I was still feeling pretty good and
just walked it up. Not to say it wasn't tough, because it very much was. Just that the picture I had in
my mind was so horrendously hard that nothing could have matched it. I pressed on and eventually
got to the top and started jogging along the ridge. Tim was having a tough time on the climb, so I
knew he was behind me and Gavin wasn’t too far ahead, so I just cruised along, enjoying the views.
It was here that my cramping started, little insidious cramps in my left calf and hamstring that grew
and grew and hampered me all the way into the aid station. I must not have been doing as well as I
thought because Joe Lee (the eventual winner) said he passed me somewhere along here and I was
walking the downhills, but I have no recollection to this day of seeing him anywhere after Klone. I
continued along the ridge, the cramping getting worse and worse and eventually came to the decent
down to Cougar Creek. I was running when I could, and at one point I tripped on a rock which
caused my whole body to spasm into one massive cramp, the legs were so locked up I fell off the trail
and started sliding down the hill. I was able to stop and pull my legs back up onto the trail with my
arms, but this was no good. I realized I was dehydrated (there is no water for the 14 miles between
the bottom of Signal Peak and Cougar Creek) but I wasn't cognizant enough to do much about it. I
finally got to Cougar Creek where I sat on a log for 5 min, drinking. I knew I should have stayed
longer but didn’t feel like I was accomplishing anything just sitting there so headed on down the trail
in a sorry state. When the trail started climbing back up I started shouting at whatever a-hole put that
hill in my way, and who would make a trail here anyway? It got so bad that when I saw an
emergency shelter on my GPS I nearly stopped and curled up in there, but fortunately was able to
convince myself to keep going. I wound down to the Mad River and walked the trail along the river,
eating, which improved my mood immensely but did not help much with the cramping. I finally
made it back up to Maverick Saddle just about the time Tim came up behind me, so we ran back
down to Deep Creek together, cramps pulling on my legs with nearly every step. The sun was setting
and about a mile from Deep Creek I went to pull out my headlamp and, bummer, nowhere to be
found. Fortunately I had a little maglite backup but I had deep concerns for the rest of the night. I
had another headlamp in my drop bag but it only had 6 hours of juice in it. Made it to the aid station
and sat down, hoping the body would do what it needed to do to stop cramping.
I spent 45 minutes in that aid station, three times longer than I've ever spent in an aid station. The
cook (Jim?) kept making me grilled cheese after grilled cheese, Tom was bringing me HEED and
water, and Chris was massaging my calves and legs to stop the cramping. Mentally I felt good and
had confidence in the body to recover, but I don’t know that it would have if those guys weren't
doing the right thing. The cramping was so bad just sitting there that even my hands were cramping.
Never had that one before. Usually 5 or 10 min of lying down watching the world spin would get
me back to rights, but I spent half an hour in that chair just getting myself back into balance.
Eventually I decided enough was enough and got my sorry act together and headed back out into the
darkness, using the same spare flashlight and saving my headlamp for the steeper climbs and
descents of Chikamin Tie.
I took off into the darkness with my mini maglight showing the way along the trail for the first seven
miles to the bottom of Chikamin Tie. I wasn’t feeling great, but the cramping had subsided (thanks
Chris and Tom!!). I pushed on through the night and started peeing. A lot. I’d guess that I probably
stopped to pee 25 times on the way up to Chikamin Tie, and with the mood I was in I welcomed the
breaks. The other thing that was happening was that the need for sleep was becoming
overwhelming. I’ve stopped and taken a 5 minute sleep break before when my vision starts to get
fuzzy, but never in a race have I needed to do this more than once. At Plain I laid down on the side
of the trail a dozen times for 5-10 minutes of zoning out each. The night was warm, and the dirt was
soft, so I did what my body was telling me to do. I attribute the sleepiness to my headlamp, in order
to save batteries I had it turned down low, which kept it burning through the night but didn’t give
enough light for my eyes to focus on anything very well. As I stumbled, peed, and slept my way up
the hill I eventually got passed by Alex, and was with him at the SAR checkpoint at Chikamin Tie.
I’m normally pretty anti-social in these long races, so I tagged along 300 yards back or so. After
Chikamin tie there is a gnarly scree climb up to the peak, it was here that I saw the reddest sunrise
I’ve ever seen, with Alex and the rocky outcroppings silhouetted against this beautiful backdrop. I
started feeling better with the rising sun, and became slightly less sullen toward poor Alex, and we
climbed to the ridge and down the next drop and along the winding, rolling trails on the top of the
ridge. Eventually, at the top of the second peak I started feeling good enough to start jogging down
the hill, so left Alex, who I assumed would be right behind me the rest of the way home.
Down the hill I went, starting to feel better with the rising sun and the morning air. I scarfed down a
few extra calories and ran the entire 4000’ decent down off the ridge, back and forth and all along a
trail that seemed to never end. I finally got down to the dirt road and jogged down the the last
checkpoint, walked across the creek and onto the trail, and decided to see what the legs had left.
Finding energy that all my sleeping apparently gave me, I started hauling ass along the rolling
downhill trail back toward Deep Creek. I couldn’t believe how fast I was going and how good I felt,
I tried to slow down, knowing that there were 7 miles to go, but I was feeling too good to slow
down. Hammering the downhills, running (most of) the uphills, covered in sweat like I was doing
my lunchtime loop, I pounded my way back toward Deep Creek. After one last cruel joke by Tom
and Chris, who put a 250’ hill on the last ½ mile, I bounded down the hill, gave a whoop and a holler,
and crossed the finish line feeling surprisingly good, in fourth place with a time a little over 31
hours. A couple of grilled cheeses and a bit of conversation with the other runners there and George
and I were on our way back to Seattle.
Plain presents some unique challenges. The length is endless, since the trails are built for
motorcycles they are cut as long, long switchbacks that go across the hill, up and down and all over,
before switching back, instead of taking a nice sensible, direct route to your destination. The rut I
was running in didn’t bother me too much but I have a fairly narrow stride and was up on the sides
whenever possible, but the rockiness of the trail just didn’t end, it wasn’t scree but rather big chunks
of granite strewn everywhere. That got old pretty fast. Navigation was no problem, I never missed a
turn and only used my GPS to reassure myself a few times, but I had bought the map a month and a
half ago and gone over it pretty well, and listened to Tom at the briefing. He tells you that if you read
the directions you don’t need the map, but I found the opposite to be true and navigated almost solely
by the map. Water is something I need to dial in for next time, I didn’t drink enough on the way up
to Klone, so that my body was low on water even before I started Signal peak. Even though I hate
carrying them, I’ll bring handhelds next time so I can just dip and go and not be bothered with filling
up my bladder (except for the trip up Signal). The other big problem was losing my headlamp,
which caused the sleepiness, but not much I can do about that besides duct taping it to my head. I’m
just glad that I use two, so I didn’t have to do the whole night by a mini maglite.
Plain was the best 100 I’ve ever done, it just has a cool, intimate vibe. With 29 starters I met more
people and made more friends than at TRT, which had 300 people. I love the small, hard, events
where there is a very real chance of not finishing, and the possibility of getting yourself into a
situation that may take some work to get out of. I never had any safety concerns at all, but I could
see if somebody was in zombie mode at night they could wind up wandering the hills for a long
time. Tom and Chris have got this event down to a science, and take care of the runners like no
others, before throwing them out to the wolves.
Thanks Chris, Tom, Tim, SAR, Food Frou, Jim and the rest of the cooks!! This is a great event and
don’t change a thing!! OK, the 100k option is a good idea.
P.S. There is a “suggestion” at the briefing that you buy something from Search and Rescue to help
support them, so I wound up purchasing an emergency whistle. Lo and behold, four weeks later I’m
at home, bushwhacking through the brush at 2 AM, looking for a lost hiker and blowing that darn
whistle as hard as I can. Couple (well, maybe more than a couple) of toots on that whistle and he
comes crashing through the forest like I’m the pied piper. Moral of the story, listen to Tim and the
rest of the SAR guys, and buy the whistle!!