BIGFOOT 200 RACE REPORT (Saturday, August 13th – Wednesday, August 17th, 2022)
After thinking about my 1st attempt at Bigfoot last year, I realized not only did I not get enough sleep, but I spent way too much time at the aid stations. I knew if I was going to finish this year’s run, the number one goal was to get enough sleep each night. I also wanted to become more efficient throughout the run. In order to do that, out of the 13 drop bags locations, I decided to eliminate 2 of them. The 1st one at around mile 12, which created about a 30 mile section without one and the 7th one at around mile 102, which created about a 19 mile section without one.
It had been almost a year since I registered for this run. My redemption run, as I would call it. As with any DNF (Did Not Finish in ultra-running terms), I tend to always look back at what I did wrong the last time and what I could do better the next time. My 2nd attempt at the Bigfoot 200 was no different. I knew if I was going to finish this year’s run, along with getting enough sleep, I knew I had to have training runs that included, not so much as more distance, but more elevation gain. I had set out an approximate 6 month schedule that ended up including 2 50k’s, 2 50 milers and a 100k. I also had a training run of 60 miles over 26 hours, along with numerous night and weekly runs that totaled over 10,000’ per week. After all of that training, I knew I was more confident and determined to finish this year’s race. However, I still knew the determining factor would be getting enough sleep.
On Thursday, August 11th, I decided to fly to Portland, Oregon and meet up with my trail running friend and fellow Bigfoot entrant, Bruce Nguyen, from Citrus Heights, California. Our plan was to rent a car and stay 2 nights at a hotel in Woodland, Washington, about an hour away from the start. We planned to have the car for only 2 days, since we wouldn’t need it for the 5 days during the race. That afternoon, we went shopping for our drop bag gear and other running supplies. During the last few weeks before the race, Bruce had mentioned to me that another runner might be joining us on our way to the start. A runner from Tokyo, Japan named Ayako (pronounced uh y ah k oh) Murai.
On the morning of Saturday, August 13th, my friend Scott, who was staying with his daughter in Portland, agreed to drive up and take all 3 of us to the start at Marble Mountain Sno Park, an approximate 1 hour drive from where we were staying. As we approached the starting line area, my excitement rose, but so did my anxiety. After having DNF’d twice in this race before, 2019 and 2021, Bruce was also determined to finish this time. Ayako, on the other hand, had already finished this run once before in 2018, so I thought she would not have as much pressure like Bruce and myself did.
As I started to walk around the starting area, I ran into another fellow trail runner that I knew in Ben Mitchell, from Benicia, California. We chatted a bit and he told me that this was his 1st attempt at a 200 miler. I wished him good luck, then I headed towards the start line. In keeping with tradition, a runner in the race began to sing the National Anthem. At exactly 9:00am, my 5 day journey began.
The first 11 miles took me through quite familiar territory, deep, dark forest, then an exposed boulder field with faint trails and unstable footing, then back onto a single track until I arrived at the 1st aid station at Blue Lakes, around mile 12, 40 minutes ahead of last years’ time. I spent only about 6 minutes here, since I didn’t have a drop bag. As I was getting rehydrated and refueled, I ran into another fellow trail and local area runner, who was running the race, John Parks, from Gardnerville, Nevada. We chatted a bit, took a selfie together and I was soon back on course. About 5 miles later, I came to the dreaded rope climb of about 50 feet. I remembered as I approached this section last year, there were about 20 people in line ahead of me waiting one at a time to ascend. This time there were only 5, making it a rather short wait. After I reached the top, a race photographer was taking pictures and cheering on the runners. I continued onto the Loowit Trail that ran at the base of Mount Saint Helens to the north, over very exposed volcanic rock. However, given the fact that this section was one of the longest at approximately 18 miles, I started to run out of hydration about 5 miles out from the next aid station. So, in the interest of time and to continue to stay ahead of schedule, I decided to skip a few of the silty creek crossings that I passed and get creative by using my water filter, crystal light packets and collapsible cup for additional hydration.
I arrived at the next aid station at Windy Ridge, around mile 30, almost 3 hours ahead of last year. Here I took a little more time to refuel and rehydrate. As I headed out onto the gravel road, the first thought that came to my mind was, “So, this is what this road looks like in the daytime!” My confidence rose as I passed the junction that led to the next aid station at Johnston Ridge, around mile 40. I knew I could gain some ground, since this next section had relatively easing running with less than 1,600’ of climbing.
A few miles from the aid station and at the top of a small climb and just north of an unnamed peak, however, I started to question the route I was on. As I was searching for my headlamp, I glanced down at the GAIA app on my I-phone, which had the course map downloaded onto it. It was showing the course turning south about a 1/4 mile back. It looked like it went on for about a 1/2 mile, then form a V-shape, in order to re-connect to the trail that I was currently on. As I was turning around I could hear a few runners approach and say that they were confident the way I was headed was correct. For some reason, however, I didn’t believe them so I returned to the trail junction and proceeded south onto the route I saw on the app. I then proceeded to run down the trail that, to my surprise ended at an overlook and a subsequent dead-end. I was a little off-course, but nothing I couldn’t make up. I eventually re-traced my steps and reached the trail junction and the correct trail and arrived at Johnston Ridge shortly after dark, now about 3 hours and 20 minutes ahead of last years’ time. I spent only about 10 minutes here before I was headed to Coldwater Lake, around mile 46, where I planned to get some much need sleep.
The next 7 miles or so after Johnston Ridge was mostly downhill, so I knew I could increase my time cushion. I arrived at Coldwater Lake at around 11:25pm, now about 4 hours ahead of last years’ time. I immediately requested my drop bag and a “sleep station”, which consisted of a few large tents that had been setup in the parking lot. I was planning to get at least an hour’s worth of sleep here. However, given the location of this aid station, it turned out to be virtually impossible. The aid station itself, was quite loud and had too many runners talking in adjacent tents, but at least, it was the first chance to lie down and try to get some rest. I emerged from the tent at around 12:30am, then proceeded to refuel, rehydrate and prepare myself for the next 19 mile section of the course. It was here where I would first meet my new trail buddy, Eojin (pronounced o-gin) Kim, originally from South Korea, but currently living in Boston. He introduced himself to me and we talked about how our races were going. Soon, Eojin had left the aid station, while I was still not quite ready yet. I decided to leave the aid station at around 1:15am, a little over 3 hours ahead of last years’ time. According to my COROS watch, I hit 50 miles in 18 hours and 23 minutes and 61 miles in 24 hours.
By the time I reached the out and back section of Mt Margaret, around mile 58, I physically felt a whole lot better than I did last year, where I had completely ran out of water. This section of the course still had no water sources to speak of, except for the lingering snow patches that could still be seen along the trail.
I reached Norway Pass, around mile 65, at around 9:46am, which was about 4 hours ahead of last years’ time. I met up with my friend Bruce and we were out of there in about an hour. We agreed that we just needed to keep moving forward and continue to increase our time cushion. I arrived at Elk Pass a little before 3:30pm just after Bruce, now more than 5 hours ahead of last years’ time. It would be another 15 miles before Bruce and I together would reach Rd 9327 (around mile 91) at around 11:10pm, now more than 6.5 hours ahead of last years’ time and almost 8 hours until the cutoff of 7:00am. Both Bruce and I decided here that we both needed some solid sleep. After about a good 2 hour nap, we were both ready to head out. We both left the aid station a little after 2:00am. It was on this third morning, where I would take my first of many dirt naps along the course. This one for only about 13 minutes, but just enough time to get re-energized to face my 3rd day out on the trail. I recorded 100 miles in a time of 46:41:18.
I arrived at Spencer Butte, around mile 102, just 4 minutes later at 7:45am, but my time cushion was now down to about 4 hours ahead of last years’ time. I didn’t see Bruce, so I knew he was probably at least a couple miles ahead of me. Even though I didn’t have a drop bag here, I stayed for about an hour before I started to head out about 8:45am, more than 5 hours ahead of the cutoff.
From here it was about a 7.5 mile descent down to Lewis River, around mile 110. I arrived at Lewis River almost 5 hours ahead of last years’ time. To my surprise, I saw my ultra-running friend, Roger Pynappel, from Truckee, California, who had come to the run to volunteer and support the runners. I knew this was a landmark aid station for me, where I would completely change all my running clothes and really prepare for the next section ahead, and an arduous 17 miles, which included the most elevation gain of any section of the course. Before leaving the aid station at around 1:20pm, I ran into my friend Ben, who had just arrived. He said he was still feeling good and I mentioned to him that someone had told me that the rumor was that he got an incredible 6 hours of sleep at Coldwater Lake. Later, however, I would hear that the follow-up story was that this amount of sleep subsequently caused the sweepers to inadvertently leave before him with time still left before the cutoff, so he had to convince the aid station captain to continue on, which they did with an additional tracking device.
After leaving Lewis River, I knew this section would be a real turning point for me, where I really wanted to get through most of this climb before dark. I estimated that I was about 8 miles from Quartz Ridge, around mile 127, when the sun finally went down, a very positive sign. However, I still had a little steeper climbing left to come. At around 10:00pm, I took another dirt nap next to the trail, this time for only about 15 minutes. I arrived at Quartz Ridge at around 11:24pm, almost 5 hours ahead of last years’ time, where I once again saw Roger. During this section, however, my iPhone had run very low on power and the cord that I had didn’t seem to connect well to my portable charger. Roger tried to slowly charge it through another portable charger, but it just wasn’t enough. I stayed at this aid station for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, before I left around 12:40am, more than 4 hours ahead of the cutoff time. About 5 miles out from the next aid station, and just after sunrise, the course took me on a very runnable dirt road where I was able to pick up my pace. A few miles before the single track that would lead to the aid station, I glanced back and could see Eojin had gained some ground and would eventually catch up to me. I told him that I was so glad to see him again and he was doing great and it was here that we talked about staying together as long as we could.
I arrived at Chain of Lakes, around mile 143, at around 8:12am, more than 4 hours ahead of the cutoff, then I saw Eojin come in shortly after me. I remained here for about an hour and 10 minutes before I saw Eojin head out about 15 minutes before I would at around 9:38am. Over the next 17 mile section, I would encounter 3 major creek crossings. The first one I came to I became hesitant to cross, since I didn’t want to get my socks wet. So, I decided to take them off and cross in just my shoes, which ended up being rather pointless, since I ended up putting my socks back on anyway when I arrived on the other side. At the second major creek crossing, I met up with Eojin once again. He told me he needed a water stop, so I continued on. I stayed ahead of him and eventually ran into a couple other runners that I had also met up with earlier in the race, Richard and Daniel, who ended up running the entire race together. As the trail started to flatten out, I noticed that we were closing in on the dirt roads, which were the beginning of the end for me at last year’s race. A few hundred yards later, I passed the pile of rocks at the base of the stop sign where my mind had completely accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to get to Klickitat, around mile 160, in time, due to the lack of sleep. However, I couldn’t think about that. Right now, all I wanted to do was to make it to Klickitat. A few other runners, that included Richard, Daniel and myself, finally arrived at the third major creek crossing. It was a knee high, rather swift water crossing of about 50 feet. I managed to get to the other side, when I turned to look back and saw Eojin was about to cross. However, as soon as he was about 1/2 way across, he started to stumble and unfortunately, lost one of his poles in the fast moving current. As Richard and Daniel started ahead of me on the trail, a few other runners stayed behind, that included Eojin. It was here that I realized that my I-phone was completely out of power. My anxiety increased as I no longer had access to the GAIA app and the course map. I carefully looked for the flagging as I continued on the trail the best I could. A few miles later, I was alone and heading up a rather steep and arduous climb to Elk Peak, which I had never seen before in the daytime. For the next 4 miles, the trail became extremely steep and rocky. I continued to climb until I reached the peak, where I saw 2 other runners. I immediately turned around to head back down to the junction that would eventually take me to the Klickatat aid station.
I arrived at Klickatat around 6:41pm, a little less than 3 hours ahead of the cutoff time. Eojin would arrive about 17 minutes later. It felt so good to be here in the daytime. I felt sleep deprived, but unfortunately, this aid station was not setup as a “sleep station”. However, I knew that I could always take a trail nap. I stayed for about 35 minutes before I was back on a completely new to me section of the course. For the next hour or so, about 10 runners passed me, including Eojin, as I headed into the last night of the race. I had a little over 13 hours to travel around 19 miles, one of the longer sections of the course. I must’ve been so determined to get through this last night, that I didn’t even take the dirt lap within the first hour after the aid station that I had originally planned. However, after a few more miles, I found Eojin, who was laying down next to the trail to rest. I decided to join him. After only about 15 minutes, we were back on course together. As he slowed his pace, I gained some ground.
A few more hours went by before sleep deprivation was starting to take its toll, once again. I finally decided to lay down next to the trail to try and get some sleep, at around 11:40pm. I knew I had plenty of time until the cutoff, a little less than 9 hours, but I hadn’t seen anyone for a couple of hours and I remembered that my phone was still dead. I woke up after only a few minutes to see 2 runners with headlamps come towards me and pass. I thought they were going the wrong way, so I hesitated for a moment on which way I should go next, but then I finally realized that they had been behind me this entire time. I knew I had to keep going. I finally passed a small, flat, open grassy area with a small pond, indications that I was headed in the right direction. For the next 5 hours however, I fell into a demoralizing mental state. At this point, I was seriously considering that I wouldn’t make the cutoff time and my race would be over. The trail seemed to stay high on the ridge line, with steep drop offs that appeared to fall into pitch black never-ending abysses. Since my phone was dead, I knew if I ever fell off the side of the trail that my lifeless body would probably not be found until the next morning or perhaps never. However, something inside kept telling me that if I could just get to the next station, that the next 2 sections after that would be mostly downhill and I would finally finish this epic adventure. One adage in ultra-races is that when the sun comes up, the mind and body come back to life. That’s exactly what happened. Shortly, after the sun rose, I literally found signs of hope that I had been looking for all night, 2 yellow trail markers at a trail junction, one that led to Twin Sisters, around mile 180, the out and back aid station that I was heading for and the other that would lead to Owen’s Creek, around mile 196, the last aid station on the course. After about a mile or so, as I started down the trail, I finally started to see trail runners coming towards me. I arrived at Twin Sisters, at approximately 6:40am, almost 2 hours ahead of the cutoff. My anxiety decreased dramatically and my motivation rose. Here, I met up with another fellow runner Paul, who I had ran with for a few miles before Spencer Butte and had seen a few other times along the course. He let me borrow a battery pack to re-charge my phone. I charged it up to about 50%, before Paul was ready to continue on. Here I stayed for about 1 hour and 20 minutes before Eojin finally arrived. I left about 10 minutes later on my way to Owens Creek. I must’ve been within a few miles of Pompey Peak, an out and back section, when Eojin caught up to me once again. We both climbed the peak together with a few other runners and took in the incredible view of snow covered Mt. Rainier to the north. A race photographer who had hiked up there that morning, took individual pictures and a group shot of myself and Eojin. At the top, we continued to talk about how we were both still determined to finish.
As the trail descended for the next few miles, together we climbed over downed trees and under downed trees, all the while navigating our way through the overgrown brush. Soon the trail leveled out dramatically. Odd as it may sound, but Deja vu started to come back to me all over again. I had been on this trail before, but when? To me, the trail felt like a heavily overgrown old railroad bed, as I continued to follow Eojin. He had gained ground on me, but I was still able to keep him in my sights and could also hear his voice in the distance when he started to sing. Over the next few miles, we traded taking the lead. At one point, I felt pretty good, so I started to pull ahead of him by about 10 minutes or so. However, my short burst of energy didn’t last very long, as I began to feel the onset of sleep deprivation once more. So, I laid down next to the trail to rest. Not even a few minutes later, I heard Eojin call my name, as he was heading down the trail towards me. As he passed, I knew I couldn’t let him go without me. So, I immediately got up and proceeded to follow him on down the trail. We both arrived at Owens Creek about 1 hour and 40 minutes ahead of the cutoff.
We both knew that the finish line was in our grasp. We both stayed for only about 30 minutes, with Eojin leaving just a few minutes ahead of me. I had a little less than 5 hours left to run around 13 miles to the finish. I continued down the gravel road for about 6 miles, passing a few runners along the way. Soon, I had made it to the valley and the paved road that would take me the last 7 miles to the finish. A few miles later, I had caught up with Eojin once again. We continued to talk about this epic adventure that we had both been through and that we really needed to start to run, if we were ever going to make it to the track and the finish line. As we approached an unmanned water station, I decided to stop and rehydrate as Eojin decided to continue on ahead. I noticed an unopened can of White Claw Hard Seltzer, so I took it, just to have something extra in my pack. I quickly started back to a running pace to try and catch up to Eojin. I would continue to glance at the GAIA app on my I-phone and the course map to see how far I had to go. It seemed to go on forever, but I knew eventually I was going to finish.
The Cowlitz River meandered through the valley to my right, as the road continued at the base of forest land to my left. Soon, the road turned right and I started to head north to the town of Randle. I felt my mental state increase to a new high. Just a few more miles. I crossed the bridge that spanned the river and I went through the heart of town. I turned right once more and was finally headed to the track. For the last few miles, there were no other runners around me. A few hundred yards from the high school parking lot, I saw my friend Scott, who was waiting on the corner for me to come in. As I turned into the parking lot, he ran beside me and congratulated me on my run. He started to run ahead as I made the final turn onto the track and one final lap. People started to cheer as I made my way around the track. I was so relieved to know that it was finally going to be over. After 5 days and 4 nights, it all came down to this. As I rounded the final turn and onto the straightaway, I knew I had done it. I was going to finish. I crossed the finish line in an official race time of 105:02:23. I immediately fell to my knees, overjoyed with emotion. My friend Scott was there, along with Roger who congratulated me on my finish. Scott told me that Bruce was waiting for me under a tent that was setup on the inside of the track. After I established to regain my balance, I headed over to Bruce and congratulated him on his finish. We both had done it. We had finished. Right next to him was Ben, who had also finished, as well. I also congratulated him on a race well run. A few moments later, Roger directed me to the finish line table, where I picked out my uniquely designed buckle and finisher’s mug. Later, as I was walking around to stretch out my legs, I glanced over at the finish banner to see Eojin hoist the South Korean flag over his head in what must’ve been pure joy and triumph. I was so proud of him for making to the finish line, too, about 8 minutes ahead of me. His 1st 200 mile run. For the next hour or so, me, Eojin, Bruce, Ben and I all took the time to recover. As the last runner approached the track, the tradition was for people to create a human arch for the last runner to pass through. It was a very special moment. Soon after that, the finish line food had arrived and I immediately went straight for the dessert, chocolate cream pie. It tasted so good. I couldn’t wait for me and Bruce to get back to the motel for some much needed rest. My hardest ultra-running adventure had come to end. No crew. No pacers. Just me. I had finished the Bigfoot 200 mile Endurance Run.