Washington Yeti 100 Race Report

Spoiler alert here……a DNF is a DNF!  I wasn’t going to do a race report on my Washington Yeti 100 race but after several weeks of reflection I decided I would.  It wasn’t because I didn’t finish the race or not wanting to share failure. I personally enjoy hearing the stories of failure, picking oneself back up and keep chasing the dreams.  I always like to share authentically and while initially I was and basically still am totally okay with my decision to not complete the 100-mile race, but no matter what the reason is for dropping out of a race or not finishing, there always seems to be that regret after.

Explored the 2.5 mile “creepy” tunnel on the course the day before. We’d have to go through it four times.

Let me go back to the beginning.  I signed up for this race sometime in early 2020 or maybe even late 2019 long before Covid starting cancelling races.  I let a number of my races rollover which is what I did with the Washington Yeti 100.  I really wanted to run the course just outside of Issaquah Washington, in my home state.  So when July 2021 rolled around I was still very excited to go run the race although many of my Georgia friends who were also originally planning to run it, no longer were going.  I decided this would be the perfect race for me to run solo and without any crew. 

When I grew up in Washington, I was not a runner or even a much of a hiker.  However, I did enjoy outdoor activities, but never experienced the trails there.  It’s only been in more recent years as a runner that I’ve gotten on the trails in my home state. Of course being friends with Jason Green, the race director, and having run all of his other Yeti races, I had to go run this one as well.  With a little travel planning and not much race planning, I arrived in Snoqualmie, Washington the day before the race.  The race course was a couple of out and back sections of a rails to trails through what they call the Issy Alps that included a 2.5-mile long tunnel.  Very manageable with little planning.

Small race start with perfect weather

A month prior to this race I had run Bighorn 100 in Wyoming and felt I was in relatively good shape.  I had even shared with a couple friends and with Jason Green that my goal was to go Sub 24 hours in this race.  Now, I’m not a Sub 24 runner and I cannot by any means just jump in and run that pace.  I was in good shape and because I’d run only one other Sub 24 which was at the Yeti 100 in Virginia, I really wanted to do it here as well.  I had shared it with a few others to really hold myself accountable, and even Jason had said, “this isn’t like playing horseshoes!”  I knew almost would not count!

So, I found myself at the start line with a lofty goal for myself and a very small race field.  I didn’t really care about the size of the race or placing, my only goal and focus was getting my Sub 24. One thing going in to any 100-mile race, you have to know there is no such thing as an easy 100 miler. For me a flat course that doesn’t have a lot of climbing is almost the worst kind of race for me.  I like the natural breaks of hiking hills and running some good downhills.  Hence, a flat “easy” looking race doesn’t exactly play into my strength or appeal much to my sense of adventure.  For me a flatter course eventually causes a lot of hip discomfort and I have to really think about my pace and taking walk breaks.  I don’t train doing intervals so it’s not something I plan to do in races either. All that leaves me in a race where I have to do a little more thinking and very specific care of myself as the race progresses.

So here I was on a starting line where Jason gave us the “have a great day” speech which I always love to hear him give and making sure we all knew that we could drop down to the 100K midrace if we needed to.  Jason explained how many runners had waited 2 years to run the race but with Covid and shutdowns many were unable to train properly.  I have never been a big fan of offering drop down distances in races.  I always held the belief that you finish what you sign up for or you DNF it.  I try not to even allow myself to think about any other option but to finish. Well, those were judgments I held but would be humbled by those options later.  After Jason’s speech we were soon off. 

The first stretch was about 3 miles out and back.  Jason jumped on his bike and lead the way to the turnaround point.  Most of it followed next to a lake with some nice views, and out and backs always give you the chance to see other people to say hello, good job, way to go or any number of encouraging words.  This was a small race with very few runners between the two races, 100 mile and 100K.  I found myself running near the front of the group not because I’d gone out too fast, but I was running what I felt was very comfortable for me.  I tried to just focus on my race and not others but because the race was so small once we came back from the first out and back and then went the other way for a 20 mile out and back, I found myself mostly alone.  I went back and forth with one runner in those miles and our aid stations were a fairly long distance apart, so it made for mostly solo miles.  I turned on my music and just enjoyed the scenery.

I came in and left the next aid station without seeing any other runners around.  It would be another 7 miles or so to the turnaround point.  Then it was back to the start and repeat the out and backs once again.  There were a few runners ahead of me but most of the race was still behind me. My race was about to take a very unexpected turn.

First checking me out

Now on his hind feet taking a look

I was running along, listening to my music and taking in the scenery when from my right and just feet in front of me a bear jumps out of the woods/brushy area and onto the trail running several yards down the trail before jumping back into the brush on the right side.  It surprised me at first and I immediately stopped.  At this point he did not feel threatening to me and was far enough down the trail, maybe 20-30 yards away so I didn’t have any real fear of him/her at this point.  I stood there waiting for him to run off and go away so I could safely continue down the trail.  I didn’t want to move or at all be threatening towards him, while he made a couple of shorter runs out onto the trail and back into the brush.  I don’t have a lot of experience with bear encounters, although I did know it was a black bear and my first instincts are not that he is going to attack me.  That being said, I still did not trust him or want to give him any cause to come after me.  So, I continue to stand and just watch him.  Then he stood up on his hind legs and looked at me and my instincts started to change a little bit.  I thought he might feel threatened and even sort of wondering if this is a momma bear with some cubs nearby that I just didn’t see.

Then I started to get a little more nervous and not quite sure how to assess what’s up with this bear.  Then it decided to come back on the trail once again and began walking straight up the trail towards me.  Not fast but it was still not something I expected.  I start thinking to myself, “ok, what do I do?”  “I can’t run, he’ll chase me, I can’t out run him” “what do I do”.  “Do I wave me arms, make noise”.  I started immediately looking on my pack for a whistle, I thought was attached to it. No luck.  So what now?  He was still walking up the trail towards me, I was alone, no other runners were around.  Now I’m too afraid to even scream or make noise for fear I would upset him as he continued towards me.  I began walking very slowly backwards up the trail.  Then a couple of runners, one who I’d been around earlier in the race, came around the corner from behind me and could see me backing up the trail.  Immediately they knew something was wrong, although they couldn’t see the bear yet.  They simply saw me moving backwards up the trail and knew it was too early in the race for me to be acting “crazy”.  As soon as they came into view of the bear, they both immediately started waving their hands and making noise to scare him off.  They were both friends and runners from New York State and seemed to know what to do, and just having them there immediately made me feel safer.  It took what seemed like several minutes before even their noises and motions to shoe him off the trail and back into the woods was successful, and as soon as he went up into the woods we quickly got passed that section of the trail and on our way to the turnaround point.  I stayed with them until the turnaround point.

These two were my new heroes!

At the turnaround aid station runners began to come in behind us, also telling stories of seeing the bear.  They were all in groups and didn’t seem to have too much to say other than seeing it.  After a quick stop at the aid station, I was on the trail headed back to the first aid station where the race started, before I would do it all over again.  I had grabbed what I needed and headed back onto the trail as quickly as I could.  When once again, I found myself running pretty much solo and many of the runners who had been right behind me had now passed me and were just ahead.

Soon I came to the same section of trail where I’d encountered the bear on the way down.  I saw that what was now the left hand side of the trail, was a very large berry patch.  That explained why the bear had no intentions of leaving his feeding grounds.  It didn’t take too long after realizing I had interrupted this bear and the vision of him coming up the trail towards me that I began to relive it and have somewhat of a panic attack.  I knew black bears were not usually aggressive, but it’s a very large wild animal and I was literally on my own with no protection.  In another few miles I was back at an aid station where I’d see Samantha Taylor, Jason’s co-race director and friend of mine from Georgia, along with Stephanie McNamara who was also there from Georgia helping out with the race.  They both began cheering for me as I came closer to the aid station but by now I had pretty much lost it.

A very stressed look on my face as I got to Samantha and Stephanie

I had in just a few miles all but decided that I was not doing another solo out and back.  Jason had offered a drop down to the 100K race which would keep me from doing this section a third and fourth time.  I had never once considered dropping down in any other race I’d run.  When I get into my zone and running an event, I want to finish what I start.  Finish what I signed up for and what I trained for. In fact, I so disliked drop down options, I even frowned upon races that offered them.  So here I was deciding to drop down.

It was funny how quickly my thinking could change and I saw things from a different perspective.  Samantha said she wouldn’t change my race until I got back to the starting aid station and see how I felt then.  But 13 miles didn’t change my mind, as I was still a bit shaky just thinking of that bear still being there.  A couple other runners that I was with briefly over those miles shared that the bear was in fact still there just over the side of the trail.  That would confirm my decision.

Once I got back to the starting aid station, I retold my bear encounter a little more to Jason as he tried to make sure I did want to drop down.  He encouraged me at that point to get moving because I still had a good bit left of the 100K distance to run.  I now changed my thinking, adjusted my goal and just wanted to finish a strong 100K race.

The course was beautiful and felt so peaceful and comforting to be running there.  Well until it wasn’t.  While I could not take home any awards by dropping down to the shorter distance, I still managed to finish second place overall and first female.  I didn’t need an award, I just wanted to feel good about what I came to do.  I enjoyed the trails and while I didn’t complete a Sub-24 100 miler, I felt confident in what I had done.

I got some sleep that night and the next morning went up to the race finish to watch the final 100-mile finishers and even went out and briefly paced the final finisher in.  I’ll be back to finish what I started, hopefully next time with either friends to run with or a few more runners to keep me company during a few stretches of the course.  A DNF is still a DNF in my book, but I guess a win is also a win.  Sometimes we all need our thinking challenged a little bit.

Yeti 100 Race Report

The Yeti 100 is a beautiful race course with wonderful volunteers, one of the best Race Directors and sweetest buckles in ultra running!  My running buddies, Carrie, Lisa and I have had buckle envy over this buckle for 2 years.  In late 2015 when everyone was signing up to run the Yeti 100 in September of 2016, it was all we could do to keep from signing up.  We had already planned a trip to the Grand Canyon to run R2R2R just days before the race, so we all knew we had to wait until 2017.  Carrie and I both went to the 2016 race after returning from the Grand Canyon to help out volunteering and pacing.

Yeti 100 is a beautiful course along the Virginia Creeper Trail that runs approximately 33 miles on a rails to trails path, following creeks and rivers, crossing over more than 40 trestle bridges along the way, showcasing gorgeous views and scenery.  You run the race from Whitetop Depot down to Abingdon, back up to Whitetop, and down once more finishing in Abingdon. Because of the non-technical surface of the trail and being fairly flat, the course is completely runnable.  I’m more of a mountain runner and this type of course is not necessarily in my wheelhouse.  After enjoying my time volunteering at the race last year, I decided not to sign up for it this year with Carrie and Lisa, find an “A” race for the year and help at the Yeti race again.

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This year’s race became more exciting when race director Jason Green designed a special sub 24 hr race buckle. If you “shot called” sub 24 and succeeded, you would get this sweet sub 24 race buckle.  If you failed to complete the race in the sub 24 time you got nothing but the finishing time.  The new buckle didn’t interest me because I’d had 2 years of buckle envy for the regular race buckle and a sub 24 time was not even remotely within my reach anyway.  After running my “A” race for the year, I decided to reached out to the RD to ask about getting into the race and had two and half months to focus my training on the Yeti 100!

Spoiler Alert: I finished sub 24 and got the buckle!  If all you want to know is how fantastic the race is, how each aid station is top notch with every volunteer taking care of each and every runner, how the course is so beautiful, how the RD is awesome, and how it should definitely be on your bucket list of 100 mile races, you can stop reading now.  If you want to know how a mid-pack runner at best, trained and finished this race in sub 24, keep reading.  This might be a little long but if ultra runners are good at anything, it’s talking about running and our races!

I have been working with a coach for over a year now, and the Yeti 100 is my fourth 100 miler under her guidance and training!  I feel like a smarter, more patient and stronger runner than I have before.  I finished Vermont 100, my “A” race, with a PR and felt strong and good the whole race.  Once I had some recovery time, I shared with Coach Sally that I wanted to run the Yeti 100, which was 11 weeks later, along with a small list of other races.  Her reply was something like “you are gonna give me a heart attack!  ha ha!”  She crossed a few races off my list, made me promise to allow myself good recovery after Vermont, listen to my body and we immediately went to work, seriously concentrating on my core work, strength training, speed work and stretching.

While I still didn’t care so much about the sub 24 buckle, I was beginning to think about testing my limits.  I had worked hard all year and felt strong, but I’m really not a sub 24 hour runner by any stretch of MY imagination.  This course could be a fast one, giving me the best chance for a PR and doing well, but it could also be my worst nightmare.  Since I’m not a flat surface road runner, I didn’t have shoes I love for this rails to trail course, and I tend to get caught up in going out way too fast.  I know the carnage this course brings after seeing it firsthand last year.  So with just 2 weeks before the race my regular running buddy, David, told me I should tell my coach about my sub 24 idea.  I knew she could guide me and would let me know if that was even something I should push for.  Her reply this time was “I think you can do it” along with a rundown of what I needed to do over the next couple of weeks, including some big changes in my running and workout schedule.  Just 48 hours before the race, Coach Sally and I chatted for a long time by phone.  She calmed my anxiety, encouraged me, and told me she thought that I was way stronger than I thought I was.  She believed in me!  We went over my race strategy in detail, and if I could execute the plan and run smart and patient, taking care of me throughout the race, she was sure I could do it.

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I had no crew and essentially no pacers.  My buddy David got into the race at the last minute, so I wouldn’t be able to get help from him.  Carrie and Lisa had crew coming down from Wisconsin to help them out, the same friends of Carrie’s whom we had run with doing the Grand Canyon R2R2R!  I knew they would be there if I happened to see them.  They also had a cabin right on the trail in Damascus next to the main aid station at mile 17/50/84.  I was able to put my crew bag and a cooler on their porch so I could access that if needed.  Damascus was also a Drop Bag AS, but I thought having my personal bag for quick access would be helpful.

I had been training and running all year with my other running buddies, Rich and Jen.  We live fairly close together and catch some weekly runs and most all our weekend long runs together.  Rich and I have been able to push and support one another as well as run some long races and work through problems together.  So I knew going into the race we would run together, but if you’ve run races long enough you know anything can happen.  Our plan was to run together and have a strong race.  It wasn’t until much later that we quietly discussed the possibility of running sub 24.  We didn’t “shot call” it and we really didn’t want to feel the pressure from anyone.  We wanted to run a smart, patient race and see how it went.

IMG_7603Jen, Rich, Me, Lauren and David

As with many Georgia runners, we are personal friends with the RD Jason Green.  We also know and are friends with more than half the runners, so this was a family reunion, party, and race all rolled into one!  Packet pickup the night before the race was nonstop hugs and high fives.  Then it was off to the hotel to settle down and get some sleep.  Race morning was a shuttle ride from the finish in Abingdon to Whitetop, and before I knew it, Jason gave us last minute greetings to have fun and go!

Most runners try to break this race down into thirds.  It’s a down, back and down race so it really makes sense.  There are aid stations about every 7-10 miles, with Damascus in the middle with our drop bags.  Since it starts with the first 3rd being a gentle downhill all the way to Damascus, the key here is to watch your pace.  Not only is it easy to get caught up in the race and go out too fast, the downhill section of easy running makes it even more difficult to keep yourself in check.  While you feel good running downhill, later in the race you can really pay for too fast a pace.  Several times in this section we had to check our pace and really slow down to stay under control.  I kept focusing on strategy Sally and I discussed; be patient and focus on how you want to feel at mile 70. Then Rich would say “Slow down Trena Machina”!

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Our first time coming into Damascus

We got into Damascus with a quick stop for food and a cold coke before we were off towards Abingdon.  I don’t drink caffeine in my regular diet.  I had given it up many years earlier.  The only time I drink a nice cold Coke is during an ultra race, which is one of my favorite things.  I’m not a vegan or a vegetarian, or even a particularly healthy eater for that matter.  I like my ice cream!  One thing Coach Sally has taught me to do is eat real food in my races.  I used to come into aid stations and look for the cookies and candies, but I now focus on finding real food to take care of myself.  I like potatoes, fruit, soups, PB&J sandwiches, grilled cheese, etc.  I do like my cold Coke but stay more focused on real food.  In my bladder I use Tailwind and have a water bottle in the front of my pack.

The day was warming up and we were now in the less shaded section of the course.  A few miles out we came across Tracy, who gave us some cold bottles of water and would become our “trail angel” several more times during the race!  Many times we came across crowds crewing other runners and they always offered us cold water and asked if we needed anything.  Just seeing smiles, cheers, hearing the cow bells and claps from those people was so awesome, giving us a mental boost.  We passed through the Alvarado aid station at approximately mile 25 on good pace.  It was now 9 miles to the turnaround at Abingdon.  Shortly after crossing Watauga Trestle Bridge, Rich said his stomach was not good.  Yikes!  This was a more uphill section and we had been running for 30 miles or so with no walk breaks, so we decided to power hike and give his stomach a chance to calm down.  Soon thereafter, Rich had to stop on the side of the trail to throw up.  Stomach issues are something that would get to a lot of runners in this race.  The fast pace, the heat, and trying to eat – the wheels would begin to come off for many runners and it’s not easy to recover.

IMG_7611Alvarado AS was Magical!

Rich worked hard to keep up a good pace so we could keep moving and stopped when he needed to throw up.  It forced us to slow down our pace, which we later felt probably turned into a good thing, giving us a chance to rest our legs and keep things in check as we went the last few miles to the turnaround aid station at Abingdon.  We also began to see the runners who were in front of us as they worked their way back towards Whitetop, and it was super exciting to see so many of our friends and cheer them on as we passed.  Once we got to the aid station, we found Carrie and Lisa’s crew who gave me a cold coke and gave Rich a ginger ale.  Rich had managed to get his stomach back under control, the ginger ale helped, and after quickly grabbing food we headed back out.  We stopped briefly to hug Jason Green again.  I told him that I had been training hard, and I didn’t know if I could get a sub 24 but I was hoping to.  If we did get in under 24 I really wanted to have my picture taken holding one of the sub 24 buckles even though we hadn’t shot called it. Jason told us if we finished sub 24 we would be getting both buckles!  Now there’s some motivation.  But we had a long way to go.  Focus. Patience. Take care of business.

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We now began to cheer on those behind us, giving high fives and hugs (and kisses to Jen from Rich) as we passed runners on our way back.  We were back on target with our pace and still doing well.  But this is 100 miles and we were only 1/3 of the way in and anything could happen.  Before each aid station we discussed what we needed so we could keep our stops brief as possible but still taking care of ourselves.  Back at Damascus and the half way point, we planned a longer stop.  I needed to change shoes as the ones I began with were not a good choice.  I found that I had calluses with blisters under them which needed to be drained and patched up so I could keep moving.  I changed into dry clothes, picked up head lamps, jackets, ate some food and got back on the trail towards Whitetop.  We made it to the next aid station at Taylor Valley before dark.  We ate some warm broth here and took off.  It was a fast power hike up to Green Cove which would be within 3 miles of the final turnaround.  We got into our jackets, gloves, and warm clothes for the final push.  We were starting to see more runners now coming down from the turnaround as we got closer and closer to the top.

It was definitely colder up at Whitetop, so we made our stop brief, but managed to take in warm soup before heading down.  We were now at the point we had planned to be all day.  We felt relatively good, stomach and legs were great and we were ready to make up a little time and head down to Damascus.  Sometimes our plans don’t go quite as planned, however.  We ran a good stretch down to Green Cove before the small rocks on the trail seemed to be tripping us both.  We would slow to our fast power hiking pace to keep from falling.  Every time we started to run, one of us would trip.  It was very dark at night up there, and even with lights it seemed hard to see the details of the course.  So we moved as fast as we could down to Taylor Valley and back through Damascus for the final time.  We knew our stops needed to be quick, because the time was ticking away.  This sub 24 hour time was getting tough.  It felt like constantly chasing cutoffs, knowing that if you let up you couldn’t make it.  We left Damascus with a good running pace trying to bank more time to give us a little cushion, but the night just seemed to drag on and the legs seemed to slow down.  Our plan was to get to Alvarado AS with 2 1/2 hrs left on the clock to complete the final 9 mile climb up to Abingdon and we didn’t think that would be a cake walk.  With no idea of our mileage due to both our watches shut down, we only had a clock to go by.   Alvarado turned out to be a mile further than we thought and we came in feeling defeated, and knew we would have to settle for missing our goal.  We would still finish strong and still get our buckle, but sub 24 had just slipped through our fingers, despite all our hard work.  We chatted with the awesome AS crew and told them we couldn’t get our sub 24.  They tried to convince us we could, but we told them we just were not moving at that pace anymore and we were now down to only 2 hrs and 15 mins with 9 miles of slight uphill.  They said it was only 8.5 miles, but we still felt we were done.

We got some food and walked out silently as we both let it soak in that we wouldn’t make it.  Another runner came ever so slowly past us moving at a steady pace.  I turned to Rich and said “we have to go for it!”  We pulled ourselves together and knew we had trained hard, we had worked hard to get here and knew we couldn’t give up.  I kept telling myself what Coach Sally had said to me, “you are stronger than you think you are!”  We could do this.  The miles slowly counted down with the markers on the side of the trail to help us count down our pace.  Six, Five, Four, then Three miles.  We came across other runners but we wanted to silently push ourselves along without others around us.  With around 2 miles to go my headlamp went out.  We both knew there wasn’t time to change the batteries.  Our margin of error was too tight.  I got out a small hand held light that was stowed in my pack and grabbed on to Rich to keep from tripping as we kept up our pace.  We were within a mile now, and we both dug deep to run it in. It was still dark out and that final corner in a 100 mile race seems to take forever to reach, but soon we saw the finish.  Rich started sobbing (he told me early in the race he probably would) and we ran into the arms of Jason Green with just 8 minutes to spare.  Jason took a second to realize who had come in and started to celebrate with us and Rich fell to the ground and yelled “Yeti Army”!  We had done it!  Jason gave us sub 24 buckles and the regular buckles saying “everyone needs surprises every once in a while!”  It may be the only sub 24 hr race I ever run, but it couldn’t have been any sweeter!  A Yeti race with all our friends along the way, and our friend and RD Jason there with his arms open to embrace us after our hard fought journey.

IMG_7622Jason Green, Yeti 100 Race Director, #NotACult

We had no crew and we had no pacers, but we had each other.  But we couldn’t have done this without all the help we got along the way:  Outstanding aid station workers at each stop, random crew along the course, including our trail angel, Tracy, and Jason Anderson.  Mary and Jane, who crewed Carrie and Lisa, and also gave us a hand along with countless friends who cheered us on each time we saw them.  My fantastic coach, Sally McRae, who has guided me and I knew believed in me more than I believed in myself at times.  Running buddy David Yerden, who I told Rich would be more proud of us than anyone if we went sub 24, and sure enough he was!  My husband Ed, who puts up with my running schedule so I can do what I absolutely love to do and is always my biggest cheerleader.

73456010-IMG_2590One of my favorite photos on a trestle bridge