(Mostly) everyone has heard of the Bigfoot 200, but little know that Destination Trail also puts on the Bigfoot 73, 40, and 20 miler a month earlier. The 73 miler used to be a 100k, but the race was modified in order to make it more accessible for race officials and crew. Plus, the additional miles highlight more of the Mount Margaret backcountry. I honestly didn’t know what the Mount Margaret backcountry was, so in my mind more miles = more challenge and an added stepping stone to the 100 mile distance (which I have not done yet if you exclude New Year’s One Day).
Yuch found this race after learning that the Vermont 100 would be once again cancelled due to COVID-19. Although referred to as a “graduate race”, the profile didn’t look too insane: 14,400 ft of gain over 73 miles. Plus, I happen to be a graduate student so I thought it might suit me well. The course is a figure 8, circumnavigating around Mount St. Helens and nearby Silver Lake. The altitude fluctuates between 1,500 and 5,000 ft. Maybe the most “graduate” aspect of the race is that there are only 4 aid stations (3 total, but 1 that is visited twice), making some stretches between aid stations long, remote, and possibly necessitating the use of a water filter. This didn’t seem out of the ordinary to me as I’m used to doing long runs on my own and filtering water along the way.
Required gear for the Bigfoot 73 includes a rain jacket, long-sleeved insulated layer, long pants, hat & gloves, bivy sack, whistle, headlamp with extra batteries, and 500 extra calories. Ah, Ben Nevis all over again! But, after the tragedy in China a couple months ago, better safe than sorry.
When planning for this race, I considered the following goals; A goal: sub 16 hours, B goal: sub 17, and C goal: sub 18. How did I come up with these arbitrary numbers on a course I’ve never run? Who knows, and very carefully. I studied the women’s times from when the course was a 100k and the fastest time was 16:06. I think it was a pretty random decision when I decided I would aim for beating that time on a longer course. A sub 16 hour finish would mean a 13 min/mile average, which seemed totally doable. I cross referenced my paces at Castle Peak and Never Summer which have greater elevation gain/mile. Perhaps it was a stretch, but it’s always good to have goals. Plus, getting in before 9:30 seemed like it would get me to bed at a decent time.
We stayed at a wonderful Airbnb in Ariel, about 30 minutes from the race start at Marble Mountain Sno Park. The race started at 5:30 am. I secretly (or maybe not-so-secretly) hoped that Yuch and I could run together, since he had run Black Hills 100 (and 5) just two weeks prior and would likely be running on not-totally-recovered legs. I started out ahead of him, but that didn’t mean much since he always starts out slow and eventually passes me.
The course begins with 2,000 ft of pretty mellow elevation gain in the first 5 miles. About an hour into the race, we got our first views.
We then proceeded to traverse a field of boulders, which did not seem as treacherous as the boulder field in Never Summer and was actually quite fun (although slow). I felt fresh and jumped from boulder to boulder while wondering “Do any of these move?”
The first aid station was at Blue Lake (mile 12). I didn’t leave a drop bag here so basically checked in, grabbed more water, and headed back out. I looked at my watch and appeared to be right on pace. On the way out Yuch passed me coming in. I was pretty sure he would catch up with me soon. About 4 hours in, I started ascending up some switchbacks to a ridge.
As I turned up the upper switchback I looked below from where I came from to see a tiny runner down below. I couldn’t tell if it was Yuch or not, but waved anyway. He waved back and for some reason I knew it was him. We seemed to be pretty evenly paced since he was not catching up with me.
Beautiful views of Mount St. Helens appeared as I ran along the ridge.
The wildflowers were OFF THE HOOK. The pictures do not do them justice.
I mostly ran by myself. A small group of men ran together up ahead. I saw two men with red shirts running together for quite a long time and thought they must know each other. Until one of them seemed to peel off to take a break, and then somehow I ended up with the other red-shirted half. This was not ideal, as this half was a talker. Not just a talker, but the kind of runner that grabs on to you and won’t let go. I feel bad saying this. The guy was very sweet. Until he used his master barnacle skills to suck all the energy out of me and drain me of life. Maybe I’m embellishing just a bit. This is what he did. At first he was running in front of me at a pace that was too slow for me. I talked to him for a bit and then decided I needed to get in front of him. As soon as I did, he sped up and was running right behind me with a clumsy gait that didn’t seem natural and a jangling backpack that was slightly distracting. He seemed to prefer the company. This pattern seemed to continue where he would slow down and speed up in order to stick with me. Apparently this was his first race. He had done lots of 100 milers before (on his own). He said where he lives, people know him as the guy that runs 100 milers. I had a feeling he was known for a lot more than that.
I lost him at Windy Ridge Aid Station at mile 30. We arrived together but I left before him as he seemed to be having trouble getting food in. Yuch arrived as I was refilling my bottles. “You’re still here?” He asked. It did seem like I had been there for a while, but with only 4 aid stations over 73 miles, I needed to make sure I was always topped off on fluids. The next stretch would be 20 remote miles before the next aid station. Again, I thought he would catch up with me but I continued to run alone as I left the aid station. I was still on my 13 min/mile pace and feeling good.
It started to feel warm and exposed. I was ready for this though since I had started doing some preliminary heat training in preparation for Castle Peak (poor man’s altitude training). It was probably only in the 70s or 80s, but the lack of tree cover made it feel much much warmer. I still felt good and was all smiles as I ran through awesome single track flanked with friendly flowers.
The course was marked excellently. I rarely looked at my Gaia map for reassurance as confidence markers were well and frequently placed. I walked blindly through a jungle of tall foliage. With each few steps a confidence marker would appear in front of me confirming I was on the right track.
On my way up the next ascent I constantly looked behind me to see if Yuch was on my tail. Once again, a tiny runner appeared down below. I waved, but he didn’t wave back this time. Maybe he didn’t see me or maybe it wasn’t Yuch. It started feeling cooler as I ascended and I enjoyed the nice breeze and views of Silver Lake from up above.
Patches of snow started to become frequent and I started stuffing handfuls of it in the back of my buff around my neck. It felt incredible!
9.5 hours in (around 3 pm) I stopped to filter some water from a stream. And finally, Yuch arrived. I had finished filtering and was ready to go but was pretty excited to see him.
I waited while he filled up and we ran together the next 10 or so miles to Norway Pass, the next aid station at mile 50. This was probably my favorite part of the race. Yuch and I were having a blast and we shared our stories and how much we were loving the race and scenery. Every time we crossed a snow patch we grabbed handfuls of it and stuffed it into various regions on our body including our shorts and (my) bra. These intermittent cooling stations made a huge difference. Not only were they fun, but they were highly functional.
At Norway, Yuch left me. I admit I was taking much longer at the aid stations than he was. He had already-prepared smoothies in soft flasks in his drop bag while I had to prepare my drinks on site. He left and I would never see him again (well, until the end of the race). The stretch out of Norway Pass was not especially fast which was a slight let down after the swift miles leading up to it. But, the terrain continued to change keeping me interested and in constant awe of such a beautiful place. At around mile 55 or so, the course surprised me again as it dropped me off on Forest Road 99. I decided this was a good time for a pacer and turned on my favorite race music, Lindsey Stirling. I was pretty happy that I had legs to run this ascending road section pretty comfortably and passed a runner who had reduced to a walk. Yuch must have passed him too. Would I ever see him again?
Shortly after the road section I arrived at Windy for the second time. Just 15 miles to go! I was still on pace and my A goal was still in reach. At each aid station they asked me if I wanted any food. Wow – they had a lot, a stark contrast from the meat-centric aid station fare at Black Hills. They even had every flavor of Spring Energy gel (which I thought was very generous considering each one runs at $3.75 a pop). As much as I wanted to dig into their buffet, I had carefully planned my food for the day and was carrying more than I needed on me. I didn’t want to have to carry it all back on the plane, and I hate wasting food so I never indulged in any of the aid station food for the entirety of the race (except a couple sips of Mountain Dew). My pack felt especially heavy with all my mandatory gear and excess calories that I clearly was not going to use.
The run out of Windy on to the next trailhead was 2 miles and a sign appeared that said just 13 miles to the finish.
I was pretty sure the course profile had shown that it was mostly downhill from here, so it shouldn’t have been a problem to get to the finish before 9:30. What I didn’t realize (and what I could not have known from a course profile) was that these would be verrrry slowww miles. The last 13 miles were slow-going, which was fine.
But then it started getting dark. That was also fine, because I had my trusty light-belt. But then I started venturing into more boulder fields. While boulder hopping is fine and dandy in the light when your legs are fresh, it was a different story after running all day. I found myself struggling with balance and coordination and I was moving at a crawling pace. The ribbons were becoming increasingly difficult to see in the distance and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out where I was and where I was going. I heard something roaring in the distance. Perhaps it was a Bigfoot? When I wasn’t climbing boulders, I would descend into a ravine (also not fast miles) and climb back up. Okay so maybe I would not be cruising in the last 13 miles…
The last couple of miles were indeed runnable. I still had running legs, probably due to the varied terrain and therefore on-and-off running, hiking, hopping, crawling, etc. I hadn’t been paying attention to my watch for a long time. I knew it was after 9:30 and I didn’t want to get down on myself if I wasn’t even going to make my arbitrary A or B goal. But when I saw a sign that said there was just 1 mile to go, I finally looked at my watch and knew my B goal was still in reach. I crossed the finish line at 10:25 with a finish time of 16:55:47. When I crossed the finish line Yuch was waiting there for me. I didn’t say “That was the hardest race I’ve ever done!” or “I’m so glad to be finished!” which are common finishing line comments to have come from my mouth in the past. Instead I said “That was an AMAZING race!” And it was.
If you have any sense at all, DO THIS RACE. It really is more of an adventure run than a race. With such a small field I didn’t really feel like I was racing. I truly enjoyed the long remote sections with solitary miles enjoying the beauty of the area. I also really enjoyed running with Yuch. I did not enjoy running with red-shirted guy. The terrain was so varied I was never bored. The varied terrain was also helpful on my legs as I was able to run throughout the day when the opportunity arose. The course was so beautiful I never felt like I was suffering or that I wanted to be somewhere else. The snow fields were conveniently placed when I needed them for consistent cooling. Despite being a “graduate course”, I never felt scared or concerned for my safety (just out of it and slow at the end). The belt buckles are beautiful and some even have lichen in them!
Have I convinced you yet?