The Waldo 100k is one of the oldest ultramarathons in the Pacific Northwest and the original 100k in Oregon. Formerly called Where’s Waldo and 66.36 miles, the first race was in 2002 with 15 solo finishers and included nine two-person relays as a fundraiser by Craig Thornely for the Willamette Pass Ski Patrol. It has lost its original name due to copyright laws of some book about a guy in a red and white striped outfit, Thornley has taken the position of Race Director for Western States Endurance Runs, and a lottery determines the entrants for the closer to 100k distance of 62.5 miles. Rainshadow Running now directs the race and has kept Thornley’s spirit by continuing the Where’s Waldo, Show Us Your Waldo and Wet Waldo awards and profits still go to the Ski Patrol.
I ran this race in 2016 as my first 100k. Growing up in Eugene, Willamette Pass was where I learned to ski. At that time, it only had a rope tow and a T-bar to get up the mountain. It’s now a full feature ski resort. In 2016, there were record temperatures in the Willamette Valley causing only 66% of the runners to finish. I did finish, but it was over 16 and a half hours and I wanted to do better, so I decided to put my name in the hat for 2019.
Before the Waldo lottery, I happened to get into Mountain Lakes 100 mile race which is actually a month after Waldo. So I decided to run the race like I was running 100 miles. This meant hiking any incline. If my legs felt fine, I would push it the last 7.5 miles from Maiden Lake Aid Station to the finish.
The race starts at 3:00 am for early starters and 5:00 am for the rest. In 2016, I did the early start because of the heat and it being my first run over 31 miles. I felt confident enough to do the regular start this year. About 100 yards after the start, the first climb begins up the ski hill underneath the chair lifts. Being in the back, I could barely see from my headlamp due to all of the dust in the air. I just kept my head low and stared at the shoes in front of me for the 1.5-mile incline. The course then follows a trail heading west down a nice descent. I found running with Waldo veteran Andrea Thorpe made it easy until smack! I was stung on the back of my neck just below the band on my headlamp. I got to the Gold Lake Aid Station where they applied a topical form of Benedryl.
Another strategy was that I was going to take my time at the aid station and fuel myself with ginger ale and any food that sounded appetizing. I stayed at Gold Lake for a while snacking on fruit as several runners went by before starting the first climb up to Mt. Fuji. I hiked within a four-pack that included new friends Carey Williams, Melissa Tucker, and Josh Marks. There is a split at the trail that is the out and back up to Fuji and the volunteer director mentioned there were some wasps ahead. Despite the warning, I was stung two more times before reaching the next aid station. I hadn’t been stung since I was a kid, so I didn’t know how I would react. The aid station workers gave me some more Benedryl as I took my time again. By the time I got going, I was near the back of the pack as we started to hike to the summit of Mt. Fuji. I exchanged high fives with many of the runners heading back down, including JP Lavoie, whom I shared a VRBO nearby with his family over the weekend.
As I got close to the summit, I saw photographer Teri Smith as she captured the amazing scenery around us. The sun had come up and it was easy to tell it was going to be a perfect day to run in the forest. The first person to summit Mt. Fuji gets the Where’s Waldo award because the pristine Waldo Lake sits just to the west and it is the only time the lake comes into view. I was far from winning that award, so I took in the landscape and then started my descent.
I chose to just let gravity take me down the hill much as water runs off a mountain slope. I felt good and just kept picking up speed and passing the runners who went by me at the aid station. I got to the section where I was stung and let it go as I didn’t want to have any chance of being attacked again. The trail forks to the left and starts to flatten out as it winds its way to Mt. Ray Aid Station 20 miles into the race. It’s a fun section because it is a gentle descent passing several small lakes among the fir and hemlock trees draped with lichen. I ran some of this section with Megan Lacey, whom I found out from Carey a little later is called “mild sauce” among some of the trail runners in the Auburn, CA area.
Mt. Ray has crew access and it is where Liz Fero had some Nutella and banana flour tortilla wraps waiting for me. I downed a whole wrap and followed it with blueberries and grapes before chasing it down with a couple of rubber cups of ginger ale. My pacer Shane Kroth was also there to help out. I again took my time and many of the runners I had passed since Mt. Fuji had passed me by.
I finally left and started my way toward the first Twins aid station and dang, stung one more time! This section is just enough uphill that I hiked most of it. Carey joined me for a while before he took off ahead. This is the first time I felt tired and started to doubt myself. I thought I was going slow enough I shouldn’t be having any trouble, but 25 miles is still 25 miles, no matter the pace. I was leapfrogging with two runners until reaching Twins. I expected the day to be a suffer-fest if I was already struggling. I was ready for the descent after the aid station that took us to the midpoint of Charlton Lake.
At the descent, I started running again, but it didn’t feel as easy as I was hoping it would. I was really looking forward to seeing Liz and running with Shane. As I got closer to the lake, I started feeling a little better. I made a promise to Rick Kneedler that if no one had gone for the Wet Waldo award by the time I got to Charlton Lake, I would jump in the lake and go for it. The award goes to the first person to have jumped in six lakes between Charlton and the finish. Rick has won it twice, but his time is usually around 12:30, so I didn’t even bother to look at the instructions since I was going to be nowhere to his time. I told Liz to be on the lookout for swimmers just in case.
When I got to Charlton, Liz told me only one runner had dunked themselves in Charlton, and she was an early starter only 15 minutes ahead of me. So I had to go for it. I planned on changing my shirt and socks, so I jumped in right away. I got back and made my apparel change and ate more Nutella/banana wraps and fruit. It seemed like I was at the aid station for 10 minutes struggling to get on the latest Dry Max socks from the Peterson Ridge Rumble. I was finally ready to run and drank a couple more cups of ginger ale and grabbed a handful of grapes and walked and ate on the way out.
The lake dive was very refreshing and my legs felt reinvigorated. We left Charlton and started running quickly and my first recorded mile was well under ten minutes. Shane reminded me we still had a long way to go and I slowed it down again. The next aid station came quickly, and Shane and I decided to not stay long this time. It was so crowded, however, that I actually lost him and almost left without him.
The next section was a long, steady, climb up to the Twins. In 2016, this is where I started to fall apart. I was still pretty cautious and hiked up every little ascent, no matter how small. Even at this pace, I was passing runners. We eventually caught up with fellow Portland runner Jen Worth and hiked with her for a bit. I told Shane to look for Found Lake as that was the next Wet Waldo section. About 10 steps later, we saw the sign for Found Lake.
The name is very ironic because it’s not easy to find. The trail fades among the trees. On the right was a lilypad covered swamp that I figured was not a lake. About 3/8 of a mile later of exploration, Found Lake was found. It was very shallow, so I waded for a bit before just getting on my knees and splashing my face. We turned around and headed back to the trail with the rest of the runners.
Soon we hit a descent and started running for a mile and made it to the Twins aid station for the second time around. The race continues descending the PCT. I started to get a cramp in my right groin. Shane reminded me to take an S-Cap and 5 minutes later the cramp was gone. We got close to the Maiden Peak aid station and a volunteer said we were a quarter-mile away. That quarter-mile stretched to over a half-mile until we finally reached it. The Maiden Peak aid station is 50 miles into the race and the start of the dreaded 3.5-mile, 3000+’ ascent to Maiden Peak. After sitting down on a log and refueling, I looked at Shane and said, “are you ready to do this?” He shook his head and we were on our way.
I had been working on my hiking skills over the last year and wanted to use them on this climb. I was using my arms as much as my calves to make it up to the top. It seemed the closer we got to the peak, the steeper it got. There is a fork where a volunteer makes us go left for the out and back to the crown, so I knew we were close. Shane was cursing under his breath and I actually put a small gap on him. At the top were Kamm and Liz, who got married here during the race a few years ago. I checked in and enjoyed the view for a bit as Shane was running toward me. I started to run back expecting him to join me down the hill, but he kept going to the check-in. Shane caught me quickly and we started the downhill and saw a few runners, including Sean McArthy, coming to the top.
Once the out and back part finishes, the trail is a steep technical descent for about a half-mile. Ohnmar Shin, whom I had been leapfrogging for the last few miles, flew past me on this section. I decided to take it easy on this rocky section so I didn’t hurt myself before Mountain Lakes. I finally finished this part and started the downhill toward the last aid station. I knew I still had to jump in some lakes after this aid station, so I told Shane we would need to hustle through this aid station if I wanted to beat 14:30. I had no time goals before I started the day, but this seemed like something to aim for to push me to the finish.
As we entered the final aid station, I knew I would have to run 12-minute miles while still jumping in the lakes. My legs felt really good, so I started to push it. I caught Ohnmar again, and then Amanda Mazzenga, whom I met at Sun Mountain earlier in the year. We ran by Maiden Lake and Shane asked if I had to hop in that one. I responded that I didn’t and kept going. A set of three lakes called the Rosary Lakes are what I had left. I kept getting faster and faster until I jumped in the first lake. I had to adjust my pack because the hydration bladder and fallen to the bottom and was swinging wildly. I threw it on the ground and waded out until it was deep enough to submerge myself. All the runners I went by earlier had run by me as I swam back to the trail.
Each time I put my pack on after jumping in, I felt faster and kept pushing it, passing more runners. I repeated the steps at the next two lakes and had a couple of miles to the finish. Shane told me I had 14:30 in the bag and there was no need to push it anymore. But I felt great, so I wanted to keep running hard. The next mile was under 9 minutes, and the next one under 8. I saw the finish line and one more runner ahead of me and passed him by.
I crossed the line at 14:21 with a high five from James Varner of Rainshadow. I promptly asked if anyone in front of me was going for Wet Waldo. He responded no and asked how many lakes I made it to. I told him five, thinking that was all I needed to do. I later found out that it was six (dang you Maiden Lake!) and the one runner who did six ended up being an hour behind me. Lesson learned as I should have paid attention to the instructions before the race. I had to go back to Portland with my tail between my legs, but I was still happy with the way the race finished and feeling confident heading into Mountain Lakes in a month.
At the finish was JP, who crushed it in his race, finishing an hour ahead of me and over an hour faster than his 2018 finish. I hung around with Liz, Shane, JP, and his family, along with several other runners watching others cross the finish line and celebrating what was a great day to be on the trails.