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.