Several years ago Luis Escobar said “Hey Tarzan, you should check out the Plain 100, a self supported 100 mile race up in Washington.” I thought that was crazy and pushed it to the back of my mind as long as I could.
Plain isn’t just the name of a town in Eastern Washington, it describes this race itself. Plain and simple; it’s you and you alone against the course. You receive no aid in the form of; pacers, course markings or aid stations. Our volunteers staff checkpoints but, it’s Plain, they leave you to your own abilities. Hence our motto, “The Plain Endurance Runs are just Plain tough”. If you’re looking for the ultimate challenge you’ve come to the right place. – Plain 100 website
Well, if you put it that way, maybe I’ll see if I can do it.
I spent the month before the race in Washington getting to know the area and the course. Two weeks before race day I loaded a backpack with camping gear and spent 2.5 days walking the entire course. I listened to books on tape and moved at hiking speed, visually memorizing the turns, highlighting the running water on my map, and mentally preparing for the race. At the end of 2.5 days I was exhausted and a little worried.
Two weeks later I was back in Plain at the pre-race meeting. I’d spent the day in Leavenworth tying up loose ends, buying last minute Snickers bars, and rechecking my pack, all while my insides were trembling with fear. Seriously, while sitting at Starbucks I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking, and it wasn’t from the caffeine. I decided to head out to the van and drink a PBR to calm my nerves before checking in at the information meeting.
We met the volunteers, got a water update, and learned the race password that we’d have to give at every time station. Place your right hand over your heart and say “This is my heart.” I spent some time catching up with my friend Martin from California who was also running the race. Having a friend around worked wonders for calming my nerves, as did the 2 additional PBR’s before falling asleep in my van.
Race morning came early and we ate breakfast and headed to the Wenatchee National Forest for the start. In the pitch black we heard the final instructions, and then “3, 2, 1, Go!” We were off. I hung back with Martin and we chatted for the first hour or two as the sun came up.
I started the race with enough food to get me through the first 62 mile loop. Snickers, honey buns, Cliff bars, fruit snacks, jerky, and more. I carried a SteriPen to sterilize water from the streams, but after the first river stop I decided it took too long and drank straight from the source. I also had a headlamp and a light jacket to get me back to the van after the first loop. There I’d grab enough food to get through the final 40+ miles, additional batteries, and my cold weather gear. Other than that we had to carry everything we’d need for the entire race. No aid stations, no crew, no food along the way. Just Plain Tough.
I used the first long sustained climb to settle into a good pace. I plugged away, scratching up the steep hills and making sure to eat enough calories. The first half of the race went well. I spent the majority of the time by myself and only second guessed my location on the course twice. In the first loop I refilled water and attacked the 14 mile dry section beginning with a 4,800 foot climb. It was relentless, but I put my head down, dug deep, and made it to the next water crossing.
From there I cut west up a narrow dark canyon as the sun set. I pulled out my headlamp and settled in for what I knew would be a long night. Luckily, at the end of the 60 mile loop I swung through the aid station and my van and changed socks, picked up cold weather gear, reloaded my pack with trail food, and grabbed a burger and a PBR from the finish line crew. After a productive 30 minute break I waved goodbye and disappeared into the darkness.
I rode the energy high from the finish line volunteers into the dark night. I trudged away in the blackness, occasionally wondering if this was the same trail I’d scouted in the daylight, finally pulling out my phone and using the GPS to check my location. Fortunately, I was still on track. Unfortunately, I was seriously struggling staying awake. I’d already been taking caffeine pills every half hour but in the early morning hours I started chewing them rather than swallowing because their rancid taste helped jolt me awake.
By 3:00 AM I was stumbling on the trail and got passed by a few other runners. I tried to keep pace for a few minutes but realized that as lonely as it was by myself, I’d do better if I managed my pace alone. Around 4:45 AM I finally reached the time station check in with two volunteers sitting comfortably in a heated truck. The other folks gave the password and continued on. The only thing I could think about was sleep.
I looked around for a flat spot. I was already wearing all of my warm layers so I just laid down on the dirt with my head on my pack and passed out. I dozed for 15 minutes, or until my backside was so frozen that I had to turn over to warm it up. I snoozed another 15 minutes and woke to an animal scrounging around the brush behind my head. It’d been 30 minutes, my back and one side were completely frozen, and I knew I needed to get moving. I gingerly stood up and hobbled out of the clearing, called out the password, and returned to the loneliness of the trail.
The next 30 minutes I worked on getting my body moving again, refilled my water at a stream crossing, and watched the sun light up the sky above the mountain I still had to climb. My legs were destroyed, I couldn’t fathom eating any more of my trail food, and I was still exhausted, but I was on cloud nine because I’d made it through the night to sunrise, the challenge that I most dreaded with the Plain 100.
I passed another runner on the climb to the high point of the second loop. He was a bit disoriented and said he’d been hiking along the trial, exhausted, and ended up falling into a bush and passing out fast asleep for 30 minutes. He had just climbed out of it as I came around the corner.
The second loop drug on and on, and though I knew exactly where I was on the course I kept hoping that the landmarks would appear sooner. I fought the sleepiness and pain in my legs and pushed on. I finally started the descent off Alder Ridge, but I knew I wouldn’t be bombing the steep downhill this late in the race. I followed the switchbacks to the valley and caught up with a few other runners. I wasn’t trying to race anyone, but it was nice to know that I wasn’t the only person still out there!
The last major landmark was reaching the final turn to the 7 mile trail that led straight to the finish line. I ran around the turn, checked in with the time station staff, and took off my like a bat out of hell for the finish. At this point, I was 30+ hours and 102 miles into the race (by the end we actually covered 109 miles) but I still couldn’t contain myself on the gently rolling trails and ran nearly the entire 7 mile stretch.
I could finally hear voices as I made the last few switchbacks and spilled out onto the forest service road at 31 hours and 47 minutes. Full of humbleness and relief I shook hands with the race directors, grabbed a PBR, and sat down on a truck tailgate. It was only the 4th time I’d sat down since starting the race.
A few other finishers streamed in and I grabbed my Plain DNF rock and traded it out for my Plain 100 Finishers rock. Yup, you read that right. I paid $125 to run a self-supported 100+ mile race through National Forest trails, carry all my own food, find my own water, all alone, and the only thing I got was a hand painted “Plain 100” rock. It was well worth it!
That night I checked into a hotel in Leavenworth and after a shower and resting in bed for half an hour I tried to get up to use the restroom and froze. I couldn’t move my legs. I pulled the rolling chair over to the bed and used it as a walker to get to the restroom, but it didn’t fit through the door. I’ve never felt more pain in my entire life as I did that night trying to sleep, tossing and turning, and calling out in pain with every move of my legs.
What’s harder than running 100 miles self supported?
Getting out of bed the next day self supported.
The Plain 100 Mile Self Supported Race Film
Plain 100 Website: http://www.plain100.com/