Justin Angle’s White River 50 Mile USATF Trail Run Championship Race Report
Patagonia Ultrarunner Justin Angle’s Race Report
This past Saturday, I raced the White Rive 50 USATF Trail Run Championships held on the spectacular trails near Mt Rainier. I toed the line with excitement and nerves – my first race back after a long battle with a persistent heel injury. (Kind of ironic that I had a heel that just wouldn’t heal…)
In the last few weeks my foot was feeling better and better and I was able to build miles with no adverse effects. White River seemed like the perfect chance to test it out, as I knew the course well from training runs and running the race in 2004 and 2005. It’s an incredibly beautiful course with breathtaking views of Mt Rainier and her foothills. This beauty, however, does not disguise the course’s difficultly, with 17,400 cumulative feet of up and down running.
We arrived at the start in time to say hello to some good friends and get in a little warm up. The weather was perfect, but it felt like it would get hot and dry later. As I lined up I saw some of the familiar heavy-hitters and some other fast-looking folks. I tried to ignore the competitive jitters as I was committed to taking it out easy and being careful early in the race.
The first four miles are flat and rolling terrain – an excellent way to start and get into a good rhythm. Some fast cats took off and I settled into what felt comfortable. The feet felt light and the legs rather snappy, hopefully a good sign. As I came through the first aid station at Camp Shepherd, Mike was there with a nervous smile and handed up two fresh bottles for the long climb ahead. After the aid station the trail stays flat for another mile or so and then the party starts: the long slog up to Ranger Creek at 11.9 miles. This climb isn’t particularly steep, but it is steady and long. With my heel injury, I had been avoiding long descents and the only problem with that is it’s hard to train your climbing when you are trying to avoid downhills! As the trail started to climb I told myself to stay relaxed and take it easy. If people pass you, that’s OK…lots of miles to reel them back in. About midway into the climb I was caught by the women’s leader Nikki Kimball. We had met in passing at a handful of races, but never really had a chance to chat. Turns out we had a lot in common as fellow New Englanders. She went to boarding school at Holderness Academy, about 20 min away from my hometown. After about 10 minutes of somewhat breathless (at least on my part) chatter, she surprised me by saying she needed to back off a bit. I was a bit shocked as I was expecting her to blow by me at any moment. Well, that pleasant feeling didn’t last too long, as minutes later she decided it was time to pass. I let her go knowing that to chase I would have push too hard early in the race.
The next several miles, the rest of the climb actually, were spent in solitude and this was rather nice. It allowed me to focus on my own running and not worry about where I was relative to others. I passed through Ranger Creek right on my goal split and started to move pretty well along the ridge to Corral Pass. I passed through Dusty Olsen and enjoyed a little BS with him. The Dust-Ball is never at a loss for words and always provides a good laugh. Getting ahead of him was a bit of a relief as well as I knew Scott would bust my chops hard if Dusty beat me.
At the turnaround I met Neal and Mike and got in and out rather quickly. They had my bottles and gels ready and I wanted to keep moving. They told me I was in 8th place and I thought that sounded OK. There was a long downhill ahead and I know I can run downhill pretty well. I ran the 4-mile grind back to Ranger Creek alone and caught intermittent glimpses of Nikki and another runner ahead of me. It felt good to know they were at least within striking distance. The downhill from Ranger Creek is a screamer and you must take care not to push too hard, as you will pay later. I told myself to keep the turnover high and the feeling light. About mid-way down I moved through Michael Collins and then caught up to Nikki and another runner named Brad. The three of us came through the Buck Creek aid station (27.2) together. Jurek popped out of the woods with a yeti mask on and gave me a little laugh, but at this point I was starting to narrow my focus. Coming through the mid-point in 5th place, I started to think things could get interesting. Mike and Neal had my goods ready to go. They offered the iPod and I waived it off.
The long climb to Suntop is not very steep, but it cuts through some dusty clear-cuts with exposure to the heat of the day. I pushed the water and settled into a slow grind. Brad and Nikki dropped off the pace and I caught up to Michael after he had passed me through the aid station. Michael seemed to be hurting and asked me a couple times how far it was to the Fawn Ridge aid station. I gave him my best estimates and encouraged him as much as I could. He stayed tight on my heels all the way and then took some time to deal with his drop bag. I just filled my bottles and kept going.
About 5 minutes after the aid station I looked back and saw what I had known would be coming…Brian Morrison. He was smoking and I told him if he could keep up that pace, he could likely win. I wasn’t happy to get passed, but I was pleased to see my good friend Brian running well and feeling good after a very difficult stretch of racing for him. For the rest of the climb I did my best to keep him within sight. I soon moved through another runner and I recognized him from the Way Too Cool 50k….interestingly enough, I passed him there on a climb late in the race too. This was indeed a boost, but I was really starting to suffer and I had to hone my focus to keep pushing.
I was able to grind out the climb to Suntop and the folks at the aid station seemed pretty excited. They told me I was in 4th place and closing in on both 3rd and 2nd. This was a bit psychological boost, as I knew I could move well on the downhill. My long legs are at least good for something!
Krissy Moehl helped me with my bottles and firmly told me to “get go’n!” I trotted off and settled into a nice rhythm down the dusty road. I soon caught a glimpse of Neil Olsen and picked it up to move through him. I was definitely pushing and starting to question the sustainability of this effort level. I was not feeling good and knew I needed to make some sort of adjustment to set myself up for a strong finish. Then I saw Brian ahead of me and all hell broke loose. I got excited and started hammering to catch him. By the Skookum flats aid station, I was about 30 seconds back. I grabbed my bottle from Mike and Neal and took off at a hard pace trying to close the gap.
It didn’t take long for this pace to push me over the edge and I soon blew up. After some walking and a nasty bout of puking, not to mention Neil Olsen passing me back, I was able to shake it off and get moving again. I ran decently, holding on the 4th and welcoming the finish as not one moment too soon.
So I guess I’m quite happy with the 4th place, but a little stung over what might have been. I saw a chance at 2nd place and I took it. Better to try and fail than sit back and later regret it. Mike and Neal were fantastic crew and many thanks to Scott and Leslie McCoubrey and all the super volunteers for putting on a fantastic race.