On Saturday September 17, 2022, I ran the Teanaway Country 100 in the beautiful Teanaway Valley of Washington. It’s a tough race, with 30k+ vert over the 100 miles. I haven’t finished a 100 mile race in three tries since 2019. This has been something of a “monkey on my back.” I came into the race very fit, reasonably low-stressed, and injury-free. My goal was to finish, but I had a secret goal of a stout 30 hour time.
Miranda, my girlfriend and fiance, came out to Washington with me to crew and pace. We stayed in Renton with her aunt the night before the race. This meant we had an early 2:30am wakeup call to get over to the start line by 4:30 for check-in before the 5:00am start.
After a brief COVID/cold scare the night before caused by anxiety, I felt great race morning. I wasn’t too excited because I knew the hardship before me, but I felt both confident and uneasy, if that’s a thing.
We started in the darkness and ran up the first climb, the Salmon La Sac road up to Jolly Mtn. I had planned to run the first 25 miles at RPE 5-6 (breathing hard but not anaerobic) on uphill. I ended up in the second major pack of runners. I ran through the first aid, not needing anything at mile 6, and continued onto the “trail to nowhere” that the RD had warned us was steep and loose. I found it quite fun at this time in the day, nice steep descents and power hiking ascents. Around mile 13 or so, I let the group of runners I was with go and got passed by a few strong runners who took the first climb a little easier than me. Eventually, I hit Gallagher Head Lake Aid, refilled bottles, and moved on.
Now we got a hard downhill 4x4 road to run for 4-5 miles. My plan for downhills was to not burn them, but also not save my legs too much. I figure either I have the stamina in my quads or a I don’t. I ran this road pretty fast and then took a quick break in pace on the following up hill to Van Epps Pass Aid. After getting to Van Epps Pass Aid, I still hadn’t even looked at my watch, over 20 miles in to the race. I asked what time it was, it was 10:30am! This was way faster than expected, because it means I was on a 25 hour pace. I realized I had to slow down to make sure I finished.
The next section is probably the most beautiful on the course, Lake Ann and Esmerelda Pass. With views of both Baker and Ranier, it’ a stunning vista that must not be missed. For the slower folks, you can even see it twice in the daylight. After summiting the pass, I was gifted the first long maintained trail downhill section of the race. I enjoyed it thoroughly and got into Iron Peak Aid where Miranda was waiting. I got in at 12:05pm, still on 25 hour pace, still too fast. I was glad to see her. She brought me lemonade and guacamole. She’s the best. I changed my socks and relubed my feet and private areas. After the first break of the race, 28 miles and 7 hours in, I was ready to go again up Iron Peak.
The next 20 miles or so, up and over two alpine passes, went by slowly, but uneventfully. We were in the heat of the day and my pace had slowed to a more appropriate 30-hour extrapolation. By the time I reached Miranda again at Miller Peak aid, I was still in control, but I was tired of being alone. Miranda surprised me with the gift of pacing the next 13 mile loop from Miller Peak. At this point, I just missed some company and was happy that Miranda wanted to pace me. We set off down the surprisingly flat trail. I was in a bit of a funk, wanting to take a break from hard-ish running. So we hiked the flat section. I got passed by a few people I had been yoyo-ing with and never saw them again. In fact, other than passing an injured runner later on this section, those were the last racers I would see until mile 94.
The Miller Peak loop went by slowly, as night came in. I got a bit tired toward the end and was generally slow on the whole loop. It involves the only real ridge running of the race, right when the temperature was dropping. So it got a bit cold. I was very happy to return to Miller Peak aid. I changed my shirt and socks, ate a bunch of food, resupplied gels, and eventually set off into the night alone.
I was glad to be running back toward the finish. I knew the next climb was heinously long, so I put in a podcast and just put my head down. Eerily, I started noticing a lack of flagging. I was definitely on the right trail, but I started second guessing myself. I checked Gaia… yeah right trail, but no flagging. Eventually, I encountered the sweepers sweeping the inbound runners. I asked them about the flags (maybe a bit too accusitory), and they explained a hiker had taken down 3.5 miles of flagging on the trail. I was PISSED! I didn’t even need the flagging that much, because this trail had no intersections to speak of, and I had the map on Gaia. But still, it irks me that people would put the runner’s races and safety in danger. I got a few miles free of worrying about racing stuff due to being angry at this hiker in my mind.
As I summited the long climb back, I started calculating projections. I figured if my body held up, I could make 30 hours. So I took off down the descent, music playing in my ears. It was time to work hard again. The descent felt like nothing and I reached the aid station. I ran in, refueled quickly and ran out. I was feeling so good; I didn’t want to risk it by taking a lot of time at the aid.
I bounded up the trail back to Iron Peak. I was hiking hard now, keeping my heart rate high. Unfortunately my choices would come back to bite me as halfway up this climb, my headlamp reminded me it was low on batteries, and I had eschewed the replacement battery in my crew bag at the last aid station. At the top of the pass, the lamp turned to emergency mode, turning very dim to provide some light before dying completely. I used my iPhone for more light, but still, it wasn’t enough. As I descended the two thousand foot descent on dim light, the darkness started creeping in. I couldn’t descend quickly, hallucinations were starting to appear (a skeleton putting on a roller skate was my favorite), and my dreams of a 30 hour finish were gone now.
I was very glad to make it down safely to the aid station where Miranda was waiting. But the low light had done it’s damage. I was tired. I decided to try and take a 10 minute nap. I told Miranda 20 minutes max, but I didn’t trust her to wake me up. After tossing and turning in her aunt’s car for a bit, I got back up. I probably slept for 3-4 minutes total, but it did the trick. I was ready. I drank a caffeine drink, got my stuff ready, and we headed off to the finish line, just 24 miles away now.
Miranda and I run together a lot, so this felt pretty normal. Us heading up a big climb before sunrise, chatting about drama and childhood. It was good fun. When we summited the pass, sunrise had hit and Esmerelda Pass was beautiful again. I’m very glad Miranda got to see this point in the daylight. After a few pics, we headed over to Van Epps Pass aid. We ate a bit, but didn’t stop for long, opting to keep going. I ran down to the 4x4 road and Miranda caught me toward the end. We hiked the 4x4 road slowly. By this point I was not very balanced or coordinated. I kept slipping on loose rocks so much it was irking me. My hallucinations hadn’t stopped due to the daylight: I saw a full green jeep being repaired by what turned out to be a log.
Eventually the road did end and we got to the final aid station at Gallagher Head Lake. These guys were very nice and we ate well. I even got an Athletic Brewing non-alcoholic IPA because I didn’t want to risk alcohol on my very tired brain. This is when the trail started getting hard. The last 10 miles were lots of straight up and straight downs. In the first 10 miles, I called it good trail. Now, I was cursing it’s very existence.
My pace had slowed considerably. I was basically death marching. My quads hurt on every downhill step, but I could ignore it to jog down steep stretches. My cardiovascular energy systems were strained on the uphills, slowing me to 30m miles. My lack of coordination had me slipping on most downhill steps and some uphill ones too. After a couple difficult hours (and getting passed twice), I finally summited the final ascent.
It was here, at mile 96, just 4 miles and a 3000 foot descent away from the finish line, that I broke down. After being in mental control for 32+ hours, I finally lost it and started bawling on the trail. I had an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. I had come here to run this race well, but here I was death marching it in. My logical brain was fighting the trauma and emotion I was experiencing, claiming I had run well and this is super hard and that I’m so close to finishing. I got myself back up and started down the trail. The next 4 miles were not pretty. I wanted to stop and die and cry and complain. I asked Miranda if we could take a break, she refused. I heard the sounds of the runners who had passed me finishing down below and felt so completely “not good enough.” My ugliest and worst thoughts were overtaking my brain and all I could do is keep moving. The downhill was slow. I kept tripping on the loose motorcycle trail. I grunted and tried to show my displeasure in every way I could. I wanted to quit so bad, but there was no road, no aid, no bailout to quit at. All I could see was trail, so I kept going, even while complaining.
I asked Miranda how far; she said a mile. I said I didn’t believe her and checked on Gaia. She was right! The trail ended just around the corner. Somehow I found the energy to run and saw the road. I didn’t know how far from here to the finish, but thank god it was off that god-forsaken disgusting motorcycle loose rock hell of a trail. (ed note: I probably would like that trail any other day.) We hiked and ran the last minutes into the finish. I lifted my pole up to the finish line arch and touched it as I crossed in 33:45, very glad to be done.
I spoke briefly with Brian Morrison, the RD. This race is basically entirely put on by him, and it’s awesome. I highly recommend people check the Teanaway Country 100 out. The aid stations were more than adequate (though not fancy), and the course is excellent. I told him as much at the finish line, received my belt buckle, and collapsed into a chair.
Post-race, I’m very happy with my performance. I got the 100-mile finish I’d been after for the last few years. I did it at a super hard race. And I pushed my limits once more. Sure my pacing could have been better, and I could replaced my headlamp battery. But those things happened and I kept going, so I’m glad for my resilience. Overall, I did great.