Thursday, May 1, 2014

Badger Mountain Challenge 100

Jennifer Hughes (she tied for first female) and I were keeping each other company on the way back along the McBee ridge. Picture the scene:

It is daytime so there is some light but it is raining hard and the sky is a dark grey. We are running along a ridge line towards a peak and we are about 1500 feet above the valleys on either side of us below.

There are no natural trees in this region and there is nothing on either side of this ridge for miles except empty space. And coming across that empty space are 40-50 mph winds that are driving the rain into us sideways. Up ahead there is a massive volume of water smashing against the ridge that looks like fog, but it is simply a ton of water condensed by the wind and ricocheting off the ridge. The rain against our jackets feels like hail and smacks the plastic hood next to my ear BOOM BOOM BOOM.

We continue running towards the peak in the wind and rain. Jen and I are shoulder to shoulder but we can barely hear each other. She leans in and yells to me "If this doesn't make you feel alive! Then you're already dead!"


  • March 28 & 29 2014 
  • 100 miles on a double loop course 
  • 30,000 feet of total elevation change 
  • Nice terrain with a couple of rocky sections 
  • 7AM start in Richland, WA 
  • 32-hour time limit 
  • 23 Aid Stations 
  • Course was marked well for daylight but I found myself looking around for a flag a few times at night 
  • 73 starters and 41 finishers (56%) 
  • Chris Downie 1st place for Men in 17 hours 16 minutes 
  • Jennifer Hughes & Allison Moore tied for 1st place for Women in 25 hours 48 minutes

Start to Mile 18, Loop 1

Badger Mountain was a nice climb and meandering descent (1000' up, 1000' down).
Photo credit to
Candy Mountain in Front and Red Mountain Behind
Photo credit to

After Badger came Candy Mountain (500’ up, 500’ down). I was feeling great having completed 2 of the 12 climbs.

Following Candy was a stretch that rolled up and down and the route was mostly sand.
Inches of sand.
Miles of inches of sand.
Sand falling into my shoes as I climbed.
Sand kicking up and into my shoes as I descended.

Red Mountain followed Candy and it had a 1200' climb. 15 hours of rain began as I started that climb and that would last until around midnight. The top of Red Mountain was littered with rocks which made it slow going.

The descent from Red felt like it went on for too long. Eventually I was off that mountain and onto 4 miles of asphalt. My quads didn't like the transition but it was a speedy section and it got me to Mile 18 quickly.

Mile 18 to Mile 31, Loop 1

McBee Parking is THE aid station for the course as you visit it 4 times. I had a solid drop bag with everything I could ever want in it including clothing for running in a cyclone. Miranda, a friend of a friend that I met right before the race, was volunteering here. She had only just met me but was very kind and crewed me whenever I arrived at this aid station.

"Bring not what will keep you dry, but what will keep you warm" This came from one of the volunteers and I added a raincoat on top of my wind jacket. If the volunteer hadn’t said something t would have been very bad news for me when I was up on that ridge.

Then its up, up and up the mountain for a 1500 foot vertical climb.

The start of the climb. Look at the landscape behind me.
Photo credit to Miranda B.

I ran with Pat for 5 hours on the second loop. This was first 100 and he made it!
McBee Ridge and the climb are behind him.

Photo credit to Miranda B.
Holy. Ridge Line. The wind was coming in at 40-50mph. It was a constant force and it was driving from a long way off. Really the only thing to come in contact and slow down that wind was the ridge and my body. It was pouring and the rain was hitting me sideways. The McBee ridge run is 5 miles out to an aid station and then 5 miles back. The turn around point is a trailer perched on top of a mountain. After a quick bowl of hot soup in the trailer, I went back out into the typhoon.

Running along the ridge and the turnaround was at the towers.

I was feeling great when I returned down to the McBee Parking aid station because I was so thankful to finally be off of that ridge.

Mile 31 to Mile 50, Loop 1

All of these sections were runnable. The next part of the course was a nice 4 miler through the valley. It reminded me of Iceland with ever changing landscapes. It included a lot of short up and downs including one section with a 100 foot drop straight down immediately followed by a 100 foot climb. It’s too far to jump across.

Next I ran through acres and acres of very nice vineyards. Even though it’s only 6 miles it is a long 6 and it felt like it would never end.

Then its 7 miles running in the opposite direction of the 50 mile mark! I was thinking about how I was going to have to climb Candy Mountain and then Badger again to end Loop 1. Then run back over Badger and Candy again to really be into Loop 2.

But first thing’s first and I crossed through a long dark culvert with another runner. It was dusk when we did this and without headlamps we couldn't see anything except the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. As we popped out on the other side she said, "Well at least there were no dead bodies that I could see."

Mile 50 to Mile 68, Loop 2

At the turn around I was definitely out of it and had trouble thinking. I was on east coast time and had been running for 11 hours straight.
  • Ok, so I take off my shoes so I can put on pants over my short and now I put my shoes back. 
  • Ok so now I remember that I needed to also change my socks. So after putting the shoes back on, I have take them off again. 

My stomach wasn't feeling great but at least I had been eating all day which is rare in a 100. I took down two pieces of pizza and started running. I moved quickly away from this aid station to put some distance between myself and my car.

Back up and over Badger Mountain again and I was heading towards miles 51-100. I was totally unfocused and tried to take caffeine pills but threw them up on both tries. Thankfully the pizza stayed in so at least I would have some energy. It's the small things like not throwing up my pizza that kept me going.

Then it was up and over Candy Mountain for the 3rd Time. Then through the miles of Sahara desert again.

I was falling asleep on my feet so I took 5 minutes to sleep in a volunteer’s car. It tricked my brain into thinking I had slept. I climbed Red Mountain for the second time but on the descent from Red I got a little lost. I wasn't far off the course and kept returning to a spot with a flag and reflector. But I could not find the next flag and walked up and down the mountain looking for awhile.

Then I was onto the 4 miles of asphalt and I did a kickass impression of a Walking Dead zombie as I fell asleep while running.

Mile 68 to Mile 81, Loop 2

Miranda was still at the McBee Aid Station when I arrived at mile 68. She gave me a warm blanket and I slept in her car for 30 minutes. I felt terrible when I woke up but it helped.

2AM. Here is me feeling terrible. 
Photo credit to Miranda B.

Up up up up up up to McBee Ridge. 1500’ climb at mile 68 is no joke. Thankfully it was not really raining anymore but it was still intense. It was sick to see how far up the headlamps were and how far below they went. We’re all familiar with seeing 1500’ in front of us but when it is vertical and marked with headlamps it looks incredible.

The second time I ran the McBee Ridge I paired up with Pat the runner in the earlier photo. We were practically blind up there. It was pitch black with gale force winds and the moisture that was blowing across the ridge was reflecting back our headlamps before the hit the ground. This reduced the visibility even more. The Assistant RD had been waiting at the top of the ridge giving runners the following instructions "Follow the jeep road and if you find yourselves in the brush then you are off the road." The brush is about the size of a head of lettuce by the way. Those directions saved us once because the road was not always obvious and we couldn't see the flags until we were standing on top of them.

At one point Pat and I became separated from the road and found ourselves ankle deep in iceberg lettuce. To add a little stress we weren't exactly positive which direction we should backtrack towards. Once back on the road we moved slow to the turn around to make sure we stayed on course.

Mile 81 to Mile 100, Loop 2

I left the 81 AS as the sun was rising. It was still cold (and of course windy) but in preparation for some heavy running I shed almost all of my layers. I brought out the iPod for first time in 50 miles and cranked up Avicii's Wake Me Up. I tore down the hill determined to run the last 20 miles of a 100 miler.

I looked back at the ridge line and it looked similar to this.
Photo credit to

Soon enough I was less than 10 miles from the finish. I hammered my way up Candy Mountain for the 4th and final time. That mountain is a pain in the ass.

As I approached Badger Mountain I skipped the last Aid Station. I dug in and started climbing. Pole. Step. Pole. Step. I crested over the top and ran. It was 2+ miles of downhill and I blasted down it. The trails had many hikers and runners from other races and they were strung out along the trail. Woo hoo coming through! I was in such a great mood I bombing down the mountain side and singing Imagine Dragons out loud. If there's one thing I know I can't do it is sing. All of those people I passed must have suffered greatly.

I finished miles 81 to 100 stronger than I ever thought possible. It's surreal even as I write this to think about how well I was moving at the end. Did that happen? Now I know it is possible to run like that and it feels great.

This was an insane race at times and now I understand why it is a qualifier for UTMB. And at the same time it was possibly the funnest race ever! Finishing that thing under those conditions is an indescribable feeling and one I will always remember.

My time was 28:05.

Lou, thank you for the advice and yeah "Big ups and big downs." Totally. 

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