Monday, August 10, 2009


As the pain seeps slowly from my memory, the image of this race and what it means to me will continue to take shape. It's been a full week since I was traipsing about the North Cascades with a pack full of food, taking water from mountain streams. The Plain 100 is a different type of race. It's difficult to be sure--a course that measures somewhere between 106 and 108 miles, 21,000+ feet of elevation gain/loss, no course markings, no pacers and a single aid station after the first of two different loops, somewhere north of mile 55. Everything else is only what you carry with you including map and directions because, despite a few Search and Rescue checkpoints set out on the course, only your fellow runners are allowed to help you figure out which way to go.

My schedule is pretty busy right now so I'm not sure when I'll find the time to write up a full report, but I would like to give some sense of the race and how I feel about it after being one of only 10 people to finish this year (out of 32 starters). The course itself is difficult enough what with the added distance, very technical trails and three major climbs up and over 6500+ft peaks. However, it's the format that adds another level of complexity and more than just a little bit of time to the trip. Course directions must be checked at each intersection (doubly or triply so during the night) . Filling up water and diffing food from one's pack are additional sources of time. Finally, there are the almost inevitable mistakes to be made in terms of managing hydration, nutrition or both. There is no next aid station where some kindly volunteer will suggest and then hand you "just the thing" to help turn your low around. Certain foods, such as fresh fruit or hot soup, are pretty much off the menu. If you don't like what you packed, you need to just deal with it.

While it may sound a bit miserable--and, indeed, it had its moments--I also found it quite wonderful. The area where Plain is held is absolutely gorgeous. In my personal race experience, it's natural beauty is rivaled only by Bighorn. Despite the fact that the trails are shared with motorcycles, they are narrow, challenging and surrounded by a pristine alpine environment. The guys who ride here are absolute experts and probably as passionate about the outdoors as any trail runner. The course traverses streams, runs alongside crystal clear lakes, through expansive meadows, into deep forests and over mountains that provide 360-degree views of the surrounding summits. Even with all this, what really sets Plain apart from other races has little to do with its setting. There's something I find just immensely satisfying about being able to traverse great distances through remote areas with only the pack on my back for support. It strikes at the core of why I fell in love with trail running in the first place. It's why many of my long training runs in the hills often best my race accomplishments in supplying fuel for the soul.

There's more than one tale to tell about a race that took more than 34 and half hours to complete. I sincerely hope I will find the time and inspiration to unfold at least some of them here. But, there are a couple moments that are key to explaining how special this race was to me. Some time during the second loop I remember saying that I was motivated to finish just so I would never have to return and do loop 1 again. I was thinking of that loop's pinnacle climb up Signal Peak--an arduous beast that goes up 4600ft in total with the initial 4200 ascended in about 4.5 miles all while carrying enough water to last 15 (for me this meant 145oz). However, even as I was saying it, I felt that it wasn't quite true. Confirmation came hours (and hours) later upon finishing. Despite the immediate feeling of having completed perhaps my most difficult race to date, I was never more certain that I would be returning to do it all over again. It usually takes at least days, if not weeks, before I want to give an event another try. Plain, however, I knew to lay in my future as well as much as my past even before I'd finished my first post-race drink.


miki said...

Congratulations Steve. The finish numbers are pretty amazing and you were one of the 10?! Unbelievable! Well, believable of course, but you know what I mean. :) Wow.

Chris said...

Wow, that is an awesome 'teaser'. I hope you do find the time to expand more on your thoughts and experiences there - I look forward to reading them! I've been interested in that race for a while, for many of the same reasons you mention. Congrats on your finish!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your excellant Plain finish Steve.

My biggest regret by far is that I didn't turn around and follow you to the finish. Thanks for excellant write up. Reading this gave me chills of anticipation of going back to Plain.

Joe Lee

olga said...

Way to go, Steve! Finishing this beast is such an honor!