The Race that No One Finished

"If after every tempest come such calms,/May the winds blow till they have wakened death!" - Shakespeare
My crew and me before the start (photo by Paul Nelson).

My crew and me before the start (photo by Paul Nelson).

Last Saturday morning, what seemed like the entire Oregon ultrarunning community congregated in a typhoon to run and support the inaugural Mountain Lakes 100. For weeks, the weather reports leading up to the race forecasted mild weather with temperatures in the 70s. Then, in the last two weeks, the mountain weather did what it does best and changed entirely. Predictions got worse and worse and runners and volunteers quickly adjusted their race plans.

The night before the race, I sat in my hotel room in Detroit, joking with my crew, listening to the wind howl and watching buckets of water pour from the sky. Sometime around 7:00, I asked one of my pacers to close the curtains. I knew that watching the weather was not going to help.

Race morning, I paced around the start line, incredibly excited to run this race for which I genuinely and finally felt prepared. As the wind started to blow harder and harder, I made one final clothing change and, soon after, we were off. 

Ridgeline leading to Breitenbush (photo by Mike Davis)

Ridgeline leading to Breitenbush (photo by Mike Davis)

I ran the first mile or so with Sarah D. We both seemed to find our calm through conversation and simply enjoyed being among so many friends in such a beautiful place. The rain was coming down and the wind was blowing so hard that my headlamp blew off my head. I stopped to make an adjustment and was quickly off once again. It wasn't long before I started to feel hot and overdressed, but I knew, given the conditions, that was probably a good thing. 

Over the next couple of hours, the wind beat relentlessly from every direction. As I ran along the ridgeline to the first aid station, pelting hail beat against my skin as I tried to push against the wind. I left that aid station quickly, knowing that I would see my crew at the next aid station, where I would be able to change into dry clothes and drink something warm. 

Approaching my crew around mile 11.5 (photo by Paul Nelson).

Approaching my crew around mile 11.5 (photo by Paul Nelson).

I reached my crew at around mile 11.5 soaked and cold, but feeling great. Despite the fact that the trails were washed out in some places and we treaded knee-deep water in others, I was running faster than I anticipated and I had nothing but positive energy. I was sure that this day was going to be a good one and that I was going to run even stronger than I had hoped. 

I reached the aid station at Road 380, greeted by my crew and so many volunteers who were eager to help in whatever way they could. I refueled, changed clothes, and quickly left with a smile on my face. 

Though I was warm and dry when I left Road 380, it was not long before I was drenched and freezing once again. Within the first mile outside of that aid station, my dry gloves were soaked and I was starting to lose feeling in my fingers. I maintained a good and steady pace, which is probably the only thing that kept me warm. I continued to eat on a regular schedule, until my hands were so frozen that I was no longer able to get to my fuel. I couldn't even open my Gu with my teeth because they were chattering so uncontrollably. With no other option, I resorted to eating the ginger I carried with me. I was able to get to it and I knew that, if eaten with frequency, the chews would provide me with enough calories to avoid total depletion. 

The stretch of trail back to Breitenbush Campground was longer than I anticipated and the weather was getting worse and worse.  The trails, once flooded with standing water, now blended together in a total marsh, course markings floating in

The ridgeline to Breitenbush (photo by Mike Davis).

The ridgeline to Breitenbush (photo by Mike Davis).

what seemed like a small river. Finding and following the trail took more concentration and became increasingly difficult. The trek to Breitenbush took longer and longer. When I reached the ridgeline once again, the wind had gotten worse, making it difficult to stand much less run. Feeling beaten, but determined, I welcomed the friendly faces of those I saw on the out and back as I approached the aid station (to Anne, Stephen, and Aric, all who individually took a moment to check on me: thank you). 

When I finally reached the Breitenbush aid station at around mile 22, I knew I needed to take a few minutes to recover. I spent 10-15 minutes there in front of a heater, welcoming the endless PB&J sandwiches that the fabulous volunteers kept handing my way. Unfortunately, there was no shelter from the wind at Breitenbush and I could feel that my condition was not improving, so I turned to leave. "Are you okay?" a volunteer asked. "I will be," I yelled back. Just as I started back on the trail, I saw Sarah D. As soon as she saw me, she held out her arms, a welcoming embrace only offered by someone who knows you so well she doesn't need to ask how you are. Sarah hugged me: "We're going to get out of here. We're going to get into dry clothes and we're going to get warm." "I'm so unbearably cold," I said. I decided that I would be better off traversing the 5 or so miles to the Olallie Lake aid station with someone else, so I turned around and went back to the aid station and waited for Sarah. 

Sarah and I left Breitenbush together with the unspoken intent of staying together until we reached our crews at Olallie Lake. Being with someone helped me stay focused. I was having trouble thinking coherently, but I forced myself to try to talk. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing so hard that neither Sarah's nor my words were audible, but we talked into the wind anyway.

Eventually, we reached the road on which we first started. Though the wind was still blowing and the rain still pounded relentlessly, the change in temperature was noticeable immediately. I felt like I might actually be able to recover if I could just reach my warm clothes. Unfortunately, the initial warmth that I felt when I reached that road dissipated as quickly as it arrived and I was freezing once again. My teeth were chattering and I was listing as I ran. When I reached Olallie Lake (approximately 27 miles, somewhere around the 7:16 mark), I saw my crew in the distance. Sarah B approached me to lead me to my warm clothes and food. I was shaking and crying uncontrollably. She rushed me into a cabin that had been opened for runners to change and get warm. She stripped me down to my bra and underwear and wrapped me in a heat sheet. At some point, someone sat me in front of a wood stove, where I drank cup after cup of hot soup. I have little recollection of my time in this cabin. I remember shaking and I remember crying. I remember trying desperately to control my body and my voice so I could pull myself together and go back out on course. 

As I sat in that chair in front of the wood stove, Sarah kept touching my skin to see if it had warmed. It hadn't. Finally, Trevor, one of the race directors, put his arm around me: "I can't let you go back out, Desiree," he said. I started to cry. "Please," I begged, "I've worked too long and too hard for this." "It wouldn't be safe," he said. Every ounce of energy I had left poured out in tears on Sarah's shoulder. I never thought my race would end; I was determined to recover and go back out. I begged Sarah to convince Trevor to let me run, but she insisted that I would be putting myself in danger: "If you lose your ability to navigate, no one will be able to find you in this weather." Defeated, I lowered my head as Sarah dressed me. 

The next morning, I awoke to learn that a few hours after I left the race, the race directors canceled the event entirely due to the weather and multiple cases of hypothermia. As heartbroken as I was to see my race end, I can only imagine how hard it must have been for the race directors, Todd and Trevor, to have to pull their friends, one-by-one, off the course of a race they worked so hard to organize. 

No one finished the inaugural Mountain Lakes 100, but the race was a tremendous success. Every person who showed up to volunteer and to run came together in an indescribable way, showing an incredible dedication to each other and to our community. This will be a race that we will all remember for a very, very long time.