Badger Mountain Challenge 100 Mile Endurance Run, March 25–26, 2022
Mile 0 – I Can’t Believe I am About to Do This
On race morning, I arrived at the start before 7:00 a.m. with my friends and a crew of three. I felt butterflies as I checked in and dropped off my bags. The forecast was a high of 70 degrees and a low of 40. The iconic wind of the region was forecast to be only two to seven miles per hour. These were prime conditions.
The vibe was relaxed as the race director gave the pre-race talk including a reminder to take good care of our feet. The race leaves the city park and immediately the trail climbs up the race’s namesake, Badger Mountain. I ran at an easy pace and chatted with my friend Sean, who inspired me to run a hundred, up the switchbacking climb, gaining 800 feet over a couple of miles. The trail was a well-maintained double-track through the sagebrush. I felt strong after my few weeks of tapering. I should have settled into a power hike, but my legs felt so good. By now there were close to 200 runners on the course with the 100- and the 50-milers starting at the same time. At the top, the course runs along Badger ridge and several Cascade peaks shone in the early morning alpenglow.
Mile 5 – I’m Having Too Much Fun for a Hundred
The descent down Badger is runnable to Candy Mountain Aid Station. After grabbing a couple of peanut butter squares and mandarins at the well-stocked aid station, refilling my handheld, and thanking the volunteers, I began the second climb of the day. This section is a quick ascent up about 700 feet in under two miles up to the top of Candy Mountain. At the top of both Badger and Candy Mountain, you get sweeping views of the entire course and you can look behind you to see a wide swath of the Columbia River and the Tri-Cities area in the distance. The light cloud cover kept the sun from feeling too hot, but the clouds were high enough to not obscure the view and I could see for miles in every direction. The descent down the back of Candy Mountain is practically a straight shot down a rocky, technical road. I picked my way through the rocks, jogging gently and making an effort to not lean back on my heels. After a detour through a re-routed section where the high desert is being converted to vineyards, the course passes through “The Culvert” under four lanes of the highway. I captured a few seconds of video and as I put my phone away I tripped on a large tumbleweed but didn’t fall. I walked for the next several yards until I could see again.
Mile 8 – No Privacy
The next few miles of the course are almost too runnable. I trotted along steadily on the paved road and then the dirt road that starts the vineyard. At Jacobs Road Aid Station, I scarfed some food, and trotted through the vineyards for four miles. The trail then veers from the vineyards onto the Jeep Trails. Picture these rock-covered dusty dirt roads as roller-coaster tracks and you see why I laughed as I crested the edge of the first one and ran gently down the steep slope and power hiked up the other side. Repeat this several times over the next four miles with a little oasis, Orchard Aid Station at mile fifteen. The day was heating up so I refilled my handhelds and guzzled more water. Since I was drinking a lot, I needed to pee – A LOT. Finding a private spot was a challenge and time-consuming. After a few more miles of Jeep Roads, I arrived at the crux of the lollipop at the McBee Parking Aid Station, mile 19. I heeded the race director’s and my crew’s advice, cleaned my feet, applied foot glide, and changed socks. I repeated this routine at least four times during the race. The dust felt like sandpaper so it was worth the extra time. My crew made me reapply sunscreen and handed me my trekking poles for the steepest climb of the day up the McBee Climb.
Mile 19 – Laughing My Way Up the McBee Climb
McBee is an extremely steep climb, gaining around 1200 feet in 0.8 miles, with the summit at 2,000 feet of elevation. It’s ridiculous and exactly for that reason, I love it. I power hiked steadily, passing a handful of people along the way. In about five strides you are above the head of the person you passed. It is a hilarious hill. Or a miserable hill, depending on your perspective.
At the top, the trail turns right along the seemingly endless ridge toward Chandler Butte, four miles away. It’s been visible since Badger Mountain and now I wondered if I would ever get there. The ridge trail is a bed of brick-sized cube-shaped rocks pressed together that look and feel like a cobblestone road. I trotted along, picking my way through. I made good use of power hiking up the short climbs. After each rise, I would say to myself, “That next rise is Chandler Butte.” I could see ant-sized figures running on the distant trail so I settled into a rhythm of power hike, passing the same four people, hopping off the trail to pee, run down the slope, and repeat, until I made it to Chandler Butte Aid Station at mile 23, the turnaround back to the start.
Mile 27 – Getting Hot Out Here
Instead of taking the McBee Climb down, the trail continues with a left off the “cobblestone” ridge and down a runnable section of singletrack. For three miles, I ran down the curving and trenched trail past sagebrush and tumbleweed. In the afternoon sun, I was feeling the heat. I passed runners who seemed to be at a low, but they were moving steadily. With a mile to go before the aid station, I ran out of water. Power hiking, I crested the final rise before the aid station and I saw my crew cheering, with my friend, Tam, taking photos with his professional camera and giant zoom. He dashed from one vantage point to the next and got what I think is the money shot of this event. I felt overjoyed at their encouragement and was relieved to have finished the first 50K. My crew helped me get food, refill my handhelds, re-sunscreen, and do some foot care. I left my trekking poles here for the night climb of McBee later.
Mile 40 – Falling Behind on Calories
I trotted back through the Jeep Trails and along with the endless, but runnable vineyards. The vineyards felt like a running vacation after the technical Jeep Trails. The vineyards are not quite flat, but the rises are easily runnable on pleasant gravel/dirt roads. I was loving life until around 5:00 p.m. as I approached Jacobs Road Aid Station I noticed the early warning signs of nausea. The food did not look appealing. I forced down a quesadilla wedge, pickle juice, and ginger ale. Nausea triggered some low-level background negative thinking. I ran along the road and back through the culvert, which cheered me. As I climbed back up Candy Mountain I had a talk with myself about the reasons that I would NOT quit the race: nausea, tiredness, minor soreness, boredom, and not feeling like finishing. As I ran down toward the aid station at mile 45.5, I committed to finishing the race. This gave me peace as I power hiked up Badger Mountain and the start/finish where the 50 milers finish, but the 100 milers turn around to do the 50 miles again. As the sun dropped behind the plateau, I snapped a photo and enjoyed the beauty, but I was no longer in the fun and games part of the day. I was going to be out here all night, in the dark.
Mile 50 – Hurry Up and Get Back Out There
I wanted to get back on the trail quickly to avoid the temptation to quit and take the 50-mile finish, but I was struggling with getting calories. I had to eat, change my shirt, and take care of my feet. With encouragement from my crew, I ate some chicken noodle soup, cookies, and a pickle. Sweet things tasted gross. Happily, I would have a pacer for the remainder of the race. Each of my three crew members would take one section. After closer to 30-minutes and not my planned 15-minute stop, Drew and I started climbing up Badger with our headlamps on and coyotes yipping in the near distance. Another pack howled in return. Drew was in high spirits, singing and joking, but I could barely get myself to laugh. She described me as being “ all business.” And I was for the next 19 miles.
Mile 55 – Eat or You’re Going to be Done
When my pacer and I passed through Candy Mountain Aid Station the volunteers seemed to know that my tummy was fussy and I didn’t want to eat. They kept offering me different things, “How about a pickle, cookies, a banana, or a peanut cluster?” I shook my head then a volunteer said something that changed my attitude, “You know how this works don’t you? You keep eating or your race is going to be done because you won’t have energy.” When he said it I took it to heart. I ate a whole banana, a peanut cluster, and a pickle. At each aid station, I forced the food down. It got harder after 11:00 p.m. which is not eating time but should be sleeping time for me. I ate food and gels anyway. As Drew said, I was all business.
I had been communicating with my sister who lives in San Francisco, but long story short, my phone died. She was doing a walk-in solidarity where for each hour I was on the course she walked one mile, all day and through the night. My pacers took over communicating with her since I was inwardly focused and unable to do more than run the easiest stretches and power hike the rest. I had one revelation in the endless vineyards around mile 64. My pacer said my power hike was strong enough that she needed to jog to keep up. This made me feel less weak and pathetic. This section was my death march.
Mile 69 – Hooray for a Hill
Returning to McBee Parking Aid Station was a relief. I switched pacers and got to climb my favorite hill, but this time at about 2:00 a.m. Being a couple of hours past my estimated times, I was still on track to finish before the cutoff. After drinking some miracle soup broth with instant mashed potatoes I had energy and powered up the McBee Climb. Everything seemed exciting and I had hope that I could finish the race. On the ridge, it was a long dark slog to do the eight-mile round trip to Chandler Butte, I could not see well enough to run. I had a terrible time placing my feet around the rocks. My pacer and photographer from earlier, Tam, and I walked as quickly as we safely could and eventually were heading back toward the fun McBee Grade descent. My first clue that morning was coming was the singing robins. The wind picked up before dawn and my pacer and I got very cold. I tried to warm up on the runnable singletrack as I had earlier, but my tired eyes could not see well. I was relieved once it got light enough to turn off my headlamp.
Mile 81 – Time to Celebrate
Back at McBee Aid Station, I changed pacers again, ate more potato flake-soup slurry, put on my tutu, and decided to keep my trekking poles with me for the 19 miles to the finish. As the sun came up I felt the energy of the day filling me. I would run a hundred again for that feeling alone, the transition between the dark misery of night and the optimistic hope of day. My new pacer, Joanna, managed to encourage me to run more than I thought I would on the return to the finish. Many wonderful moments happened along the way back like passing the energetic 55K runners going the opposite direction, hallucinating that I was in a circus tent, laughing and singing with my pacer, being bossed around that this hill was “calorie hill,” and my fastest mile being to get to the port-o-potty. Crossing the finish line was an unreal feeling. I ran as fast as I could down Badger Mountain and through the park to the finish. I burst into tears as I had been holding back my emotions for at least five miles. I nearly hyperventilated when I finished; I was so overcome. I hugged each of my crew and my friends and finally put my hand on that 100-miler finisher belt buckle, incredulous with a sense of accomplishment.
In years of extreme weather, there was a 34 percent finisher rate. This year had mild weather and the hundred had a 51 percent finisher rate, 110 runners started and 56 finished, including me.
Things I Would Do Differently Next Time
I must have had a good time since my final thoughts are what I would do differently, next time:
- Pack another running vest with everything I need for the second half of the race.
- Use a waist light in addition to my headlamp.
- Eat more instant mashed potatoes sooner.
- Pack more socks.
- Don’t fret about the lows. They serve a purpose even if it’s not obvious to my runner’s brain.
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