BIGFOOT 200 ENDURANCE RUN – RACE BEYOND THE BOUNDARY OF EXTREME #2
30. 08. 2019
The next checkpoint, Coldwater Lake, was not far, some fifteen kilometres away. It was mostly downhill run along a nice path. On the other hand, the path was only 30 cm wide and the drops on each side scared me. One wrong step and I would have been done for. I joined a female runner, we had a good pace together, but when we arrived in the valley, I went forward alone, because my colleague had got sick and needed a vomiting break. I did not have to see that. I wormed my way through the beautiful landscape among small lakes; I was running all the way and I felt good. I arrived at Coldwater Lake, which was, as the name suggests, a lake, at the end of the day, when it was already slowly getting dark.
What I was a little worried about, was the fact that clusters of very black clouds had formed in the sky and it looked like rain. We had been warned about that but they looked a bit dangerous. I replenished my supplies at the station and, as always, I was ready to leave immediately, unlike other runners. Just as I was setting off again, the first raindrops hit me. I switched my headlamp on, put on my hood and raced on. There was a relatively long and straight path around the lake followed by honest 1.6 km of vertical elevation. It gradually started raining cats and dogs. There was one lightning after another, some of them not far away, the roar of thunder was deafening, the rain turned into a torrential one. Thanks to my Hurricane jacket, I was like in a raincoat down to my waist, but below it, I was soaked to the skin. However, my T-shirt was also wet - I was very cold and ascending steadily in an effort to warm up left me drenched in sweat. I was actually going so fast that I caught up with a group of four other guys. I was really glad - we all got lost in one place, but we worked together to get back on the route. If I had been alone, I would probably have many more troubles. The lightning increased in intensity and frequency and the rain intensified. There was a flash of daylight every two seconds. I was really scared on the open plains and calmer in the passages with trees. The rain was coming from several sides and we had difficulties keeping on the trail. However, it gradually faded and the intensity of lightning decreased even though the storm got much closer. We were just going to climb to the highest point of the route, Mount Margaret; I prayed that there would be no thunderstorm there any more. Indeed, there was the last lightning and thunder - they really freaked me out - and then the storm was gone. Nature was merciful to us and we were able to descend quickly from the summit to Norway Pass. When we reached the checkpoint, I was very exhausted and I was shivering with cold, so I sat down in front of a heater for a while and tried to eat and drink something.
We ran from Norway Pass to Elk Pass along forest trails, without any major problems or ascends or descends. I started to feel that the situation in my shoes was not favourable. Moreover, my sensitive parts that had had to work hard during the rainy night began to burn and hurt.
Photo: WYSIWYG Photography
I managed to pass through the Elk Pass, but the situation was getting worse and worse to the point where I could barely walk. I did not care about the views of Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier any more. I just wanted to get to the next station. All the ascents and descents made my situation even more uncomfortable. When I got to a dirt road, I tried to run, but I did not last long. I walked for a few kilometres, then the trail led to the forest and my suffering continued. The Road 9327 station on 146th kilometre was a relief for me. I immediately called for a medic. I took my shoes off myself, but I left the socks to the doctor. My feet were completely destroyed. A row of blisters indicated that the rest of the race would be no walk in the park. They let my feet dry on the heater for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, I ate two large tortillas that I washed down with a gulp of beer given to me by some good soul. The beer was cold and regained my strength.
I spent about 50 minutes at the checkpoint, including foot treatment.
Photo: Jerry Gomez
The route to the next station, Spencer Butte, brought a steep descent and then a climb with superelevation of about 800 meters. By the time we arrived there, we had beaten one half of the race. All the time, we passed the same people on the route, overtook each other and eventually all met at the heater in the middle of the route. I developed a very false feeling that when I had already completed more than 100 miles, the race was basically finished. However, there were still another 160 kilometres waiting for me, and as it turned out, the worst part of the whole race was yet to be enjoyed.
The first few kilometres of the route from Spencer Butte to Lewis River were on tarmac. I felt there at home and I kept running. Then, however, the route turned into the forest where there was a technical trail with narrow paths. I was really exhausted, so I mostly walked. I had to be careful not to fall into the depth lurking at my side. Thank God that I mostly descended. Slowly, however, the world began to merge into a single image. So far, I had slept for about 20 minutes only and the body began to demand more sleep. The blisters on my feet were pulsing in synchronization with the heart, and the sore spots between my legs were burning like hell. I tried to grease them thoroughly, but the damage had probably exceeded the salvable limit and it only kept getting worse from then on. I only remotely perceived what was happening at the Lewis River station. As always, I automatically ate the normal meal and replenished the water in my sack. When I was not walking, the pains subsided for a while.
Photo: Darin Levandovski
I was reluctant to go, because there was another brutal section ahead of me, namely the ascent to Council Bluff, 1.7 kilometres of positive elevation; actually, it was like a constant roller coaster - a long ascent, then a short descent, then even steeper ascent and descent. The gradient was incredible. Swinging the poles with both hands at the same time, I crawled up, every step turning into a little hell; I was sweating and the salty sweat was eating away the already raw parts. The descents were no relief either, as different muscles started to burn and my knee hurt. Basically, I was going down as fast or even slower than up. It was pitch black, the path was narrow and I did not even want to think about what was over the edge. I staggered from time to time and the poles reached into emptiness. I did not eat, just sipped water now and then. When I reached the station, it was already daylight and I felt completely exhausted. I was tired and sleepy and my head kept falling down when I was sitting in the armchair. The next section was only about 16 kilometres long, but still, there were about 600 meters of positive and negative elevation before reaching the Chain of Lakes station.
Because my drowsiness was not diminishing, I swallowed a large dose of caffeine, added magnesium, and slowly walked along the path at snail's pace. The beauty of nature was lost with me, I felt like I was starting to lose the touch with reality. Even though there was light, I found myself greeting stumps or leaves that looked like humans now and then. I tried to lie down on a big tree trunk because it was too damp below, but it was so uncomfortable that I gave up and went on after five minutes. I leap-frogged to the Chain of Lakes station; the woes of the previous days were already beginning to manifest themselves.Photo: Darina Levandovski
According to the pre-race rumours, the true sadomasochism was just about to start, namely the climb to Klickitat. 28 km with 1.2 km superelevation. The beginning was pleasant with a long descent. This was followed by a long section without streamers where I felt like I was lost and I checked the GPS several times and even went back once. Fortunately, I soon met a couple of racers, so we continued together. Four river crossings that could not be overcome with dry feet were announced for that section. I arrived in one of them at the end of a long descent. Like really? There was a rapid-flowing deep river with a rope stretched above it. It didn't seem there would be a ferry nearby, so I had to get my feet wet. Clenching the rope, I successfully crossed to the other side. The cool water alleviated the pain from the blisters first, but as some soft mud got into my trainers, the pain intensified. We arrived to a plate saying "Horse Trail": It was an incredibly steep ascent. I was climbing up switchbacks that seemed to be endless. When it seemed that I had finally reached some flatter part, there was another round. I started to feel déjà vu - "I have already been here; I have already seen this stone or tree." "There must be a cottage up there, the female owner has the lower part and the male owner has the upper part." "Bollocks, there is nothing there." My brain started to play games with me again.
But nothing lasts forever and I finally reached the plain. There was another river waiting for me. I crossed it. Then another one, which seemed to be wider and deeper. The third one was pretty large - the water reached above my knees. I started to feel cold. After a short rest and descent, there followed a seven-kilometre climb, which was just as steep as the previous one. I was moving on rocks; the cliffs were first on the left and then on the right. I had a beautiful view of Mount St. Helens, but I didn't pay much attention to it. It was too dangerous; it was wet and one wrong step could end up in disaster. My legs started to get a bit unsure but I used all my will to keep enough consciousness to follow the path. After a short descent, I arrived to Klickitat station.
There was the routine pondering what to do next. I had slept for about an hour in the last three days and there was another extremely challenging stretch to the Twin Sisters, again almost thirty kilometres with a 1.5-kilometre superelevation, up and down like a roller coaster. I would later find out that I had made a mistake but I did not feel so sleepy, so I hit the road again. I climbed up a path lined with high blueberry shrubs. The section was extremely technically demanding. There were cliffs, rocks and fallen trees everywhere. To make matters worse, my feet hurt like hell and my crotch was on fire. The tears of pain crept into my eyes and I had to take my first painkiller. In one place there was even a sign warning against a steep precipice - this was pretty unusual and it meant the section was even more dangerous than usual. It woke me up a bit. I reached the Bigfoot Game Trail, which was full of huge trunks fallen pell-mell, which made them very difficult to climb over. The terrain was also full of roots and stones. From time to time, I hit one with my thumb so hard that I saw stars dancing in front of my eyes.Photo: Darina Levandovski
Before long, I was climbing steeply up again to a place where the track was branching - the Twin Sisters station was to the left, and the race track continued to the right. It struck me suddenly without warning just as I was climbing up the hill. My eyes went black and when I could see again, I saw a car park in front of me. "Great," I said, "it must be the station." I took a few steps and the car park turned into a couple of chalets. I decided to go there and ask where I was. But the closer I got, the further the chalets were. And all of a sudden, they were gone. I saw people and cars and shouted at them in Czech to ask where the station was. The only answer was several painful bites from gnats that were swarming there. That brought me back to reality. I switched on my GPS and saw that the station was still 7 kilometres away with the trail going up and down several times. I kept the GPS in my hand and started walking in the correct direction. Suddenly, my vision changed again. I could see the navigation streamers in all directions. I was desperate. I met a lot of runners but each of them sent me to a different direction. I completely lost my sense of time. I sat down, not knowing what to do. I could see all sorts of animals running around, and I had no idea what they were. Somebody knocked on my shoulder. A fellow runner asked me what was happening. I answered that I was lost and could not find the way. When I looked at my watch, I found out I had been rambling around the hill for five hours. He showed me the correct way and I started descending slowly. The trail was extremely narrow with a precipice on the right. It was scary and I descended very uncertainly. And the brain started tricking me again. I could see another chalet on the left - somebody told me it was the checkpoint. There was no trail there, so I had to climb. I went for it - I kept climbing over fallen trees and when I was at the top, the chalet disappeared. I found out I had climbed on a huge pile of wood. It was not easy to get back to the trail. I took a few steps and the world disappeared again. I did not know how long I just stood there but the GPS told me I had walked about 150 metres. It dawned on me that things were getting serious. When the world had disappeared for the zillionth time and the checkpoint turned into a pile of trees or branches or stones, I started to doubt whether I would even be able to reach the station. Photo: Jiří Hálek
A few minutes later, two figures approached me from below. I was not able to tell whether they were real or not. The called me: "Michael?" I answered that it was me. And that they replied that they were coming from the checkpoint for me. They had probably seen me on the computer and the tracker showed them that I was wandering around in circles. One of them, who eventually turned out to be a medic, offered to grab my pole and lead me, but I refused. The help gave me enough mental strength to go on and we started a difficult journey to the checkpoint together. We went up and down several times and the girls cheered me up a lot. It was late afternoon when the Twin Sisters station suddenly appeared in front of us. As I was in the state of almost permanent hallucinations, the medics made the right decision that I had to sleep. Before that, however, I hungrily gobbled two tortillas and one hamburger, drank a litre of coke and rushed to the sleeping tent. Before I fell asleep, I treated my raw men's parts with a cream they had given me. I had two hours of sleep planned and I fell asleep almost immediately. After two hours, I added twenty more minutes. Then I walked out of the tent, sat by the heater, took off my socks and let them treat my feet for the second time. They had not punctured my blisters during the first treatment, which turned out to be a mistake. This was no longer a problem during the second treatment, because they all burst when the medics were tearing the plaster off, sending tears of pain in my eyes. I ate and drank again during the treatment, enjoying the moments when I did not have to walk. Because I could no longer tolerate the pain caused by my elastic pants that I was wearing under my shorts, I took them off and kept running without them. The cream had worked like a miracle and the stinging pain in my raw parts had disappeared. The medics decided I was ready for the final 62 kilometres and let me go. I saw Szilvia at the checkpoint before going to the tent. So, it was clear that at least one other team member was still on the way. I had no information about Jirka, though.
Photo: Jerry Gomez
Shortly after eight o'clock in the evening, when it started getting dark again, I said goodbye to the station staff and thanked them for saving my race. I decided to put on the headphones and let the tones of my favourite music help me. It was a good decision. I started to climb eagerly toward the hill, where I had wandered in hallucinations for five hours.Michal Činčiala