Usually when we participate in ultras, Bev and I run separately, meaning I spend the entire event running behind her, and then eventually see her at the finish line. This year at the Plain 100 however, like in the 2007 version, we decided to stick together through each other’s highs and lows and make it to the finish together. Normally when you vow to stick together in a long event, you assume that one person is going to hold up the other, but we were ready to make that sacrifice if necessary in the name of spending some quality trail time together.
The Plain course consists of two loops of approximately 65 and 40 miles, with access to your drop bags between loops at the Deep Creek Campground. And although the unmarked route takes you past various manned locations staffed by the local Search and Rescue (I think there were more volunteers than runners despite not having aid stations), runners are allowed no support except at Deep Creek. I appreciate events with closely spaced aid stations that allow you to get replenished every hour or so, but for me there is something appealing about loading up a pack and being self-sufficient for 12 to 15 hours at a time.
The race started at 5am with a short 3 mile out and back before we started climbing. I was packed about as lightly as I thought I could get away with, an empty bladder for my pack, a hand bottle, a collapsible 32 ounce bladder, and enough food for about 12 hours. The Plain claims to have about 23,000 feet of climbing, but the hardest part of the course occurs around mile 40 at mid day when you 1) reach the last guaranteed water source for 14 miles, and 2) immediately start a 4,000 foot climb over 6 miles to Signal Ridge. For most of the race you can get away with filling a hand bottle at the many streams you cross, but the Signal Ridge section requires some serious water capacity.
As we settled in on the first climb up to Maverick Saddle, one runner took off. We weren’t too interested in chasing someone so early in the race, and I wondered if I’d ever see him again. After a quick descent at Maverick Saddle we got on the ridge and got our first views of the valley below. Without needing confirmation from each other, we set a pretty steady pace fast hiking the steep climbs and running the downhills, and we seemed to be meeting some tentative split times I had written on the map. At about mile 30 we did a short out and back to get to the top of Klone Peak, and were surprised we didn’t see anyone coming up behind. We had been alone since the 2 mile point, and ultimately wouldn’t see another runner until the finish.
As we left Klone Peak, we began the approach to the part of the course I was dreading, the Signal Ridge climb. The climb is preceded by an 8ish mile, 3,000 foot descent of which 5 miles is on an asphalt service road, which felt really great with the stiff soled and aggressively tread shoes I was wearing for every other mile of the course. By the time we got to the base of the climb, I mistakenly thought I really wanted to be climbing- a thought I reconsidered when I actually had to start climbing loaded with a gallon of water. By the top of the climb I was thinking I had seriously miscalculated my water needs, but we happened across a marshy area up high that yielded about a bottle’s worth of water after a couple minutes. It’s amazing what you’ll consider drinking when you’re really thirsty, but I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about drinking too much of it, and figured we’d just press on and get down to Cougar Creek/Mad River confluence where water was abundant.
From the Mad River crossing, it’s just a short climb back to Maverick Saddle, and then it’s a long gravel road downhill back to Deep Creek and our “aid station.” We made good time to Deep Creek even though I had long used up all the food I had, and we got in with about 90 minutes before it would get dark, and about 90 minutes behind the first place runner. We repacked, cleaned and taped feet, ate and drank, and headed out for loop 2. Remembering how cold it had been in 2007, we both packed rain jackets, much to the surprise of one of the bystanders. It would turn out to be a good call.
The second loop of the Plain seems simple enough, being only about 40ish miles, but in looking at the map, you realize that for about the first 20 of those miles it’s a gradual climb, with a couple steep sections leading up Chikamin Tie near the top of the course. It was dark, there was thunder in the distance with occasional rain, and our morale was low. The thunder got louder and was soon preceded by flashes of light. We did the standard count between light and sound, and it wasn’t long before we didn’t need to count, and the rain came down. As we got to the intersection that would begin the climb up to Chikamin Tie, we looked left and at first thought we saw the glow of an orange moon, but in a little clearing we could see it was actually the glow of a new forest fire, burning the trees on the neighboring ridge. I checked the map and noted the approximate location of the fire, and we continued on up to Chikamin Tie where we knew there would be Search and Rescue volunteers.
At Chikamin Tie, we pulled out the map and showed the volunteers where the fire was so they could report it, at which point we learned that the lead runner had pulled out due to an injury. All of a sudden we were in 1st and 2nd, and with a little bit of renewed morale we pushed on. As we approached the 24 hour mark, however, the challenges of the Plain continued to crop up. Our thoughts of dry feet were dashed by the storm, the trail had become slick and muddy in some places and slick and rocky in others, and the course was unmarked so certainty about being on the right trail was also subject to second guessing, and again I had blown through all my food during a long, cold, and wet night.
At daybreak we hit a gravel road and we knew we were only about 10 miles from the finish. Coming down the ridge, we could see plumes of smoke in about 10 different places, and shortly came in to the last manned checkpoint with about 90 minutes to go. With one eye ahead and one eye looking for runners behind us, we gingerly made our way to the finish and a relatively slow finishing time, judging against recent Plain standards. Nonetheless, we finished as a husband and wife tied for first, which had been done once before at the Plain in the early years, but maybe at no other 100 miler. We were quickly followed by Joe Lee, Arthur Martineau, and Matt Haney who were all making up time fast on us towards the end.
Two weeks later, the fires are still burning near the course, but the fire we reported was limited to 200 acres, and a fire on Klone Peak that we had run through only 12 hours earlier was limited to 300 acres. Being defending husband and wife champions, I guess we’ll have to come back and give it a go again. We hope to see some first timers out there in 2013 that are willing to run a bit outside their comfort zone with the support of some great race staff and volunteers!
This year’s Plain 100 had some firsts. You would think that a husband and wife team winning the event outright would be a first but you would be wrong. Allen Abbs and Bev Anderson – Abbs won this year’s Plain 100 in 28:41 however Tom Hayes and Liz McGoff accomplished that same feat in 2002 as the only finishers that year in 32:00.
What was a first for Bev is that this was her first 100 miler in three years after knee surgery. I guess starting with something easy and building up isn’t part of Bev’s recovery program.
Tim Stroh became the first 7 time finisher. We are already planning for his 10th finish celebration.
Joe Lee became a 3 time finisher to match Jeff Huff as the only runners to accomplish that feat.
Van Phan joined Chris Perry as a finisher of Plain and Cascade Crest in the same year twice.
This was the first time that we have had rain on the course since moving the race into September. Not only did we have rain but the lightning was abundant. Before dark there were several thunder and lightning storms as runners crested Signal Peak heading down Billy Creek. S&R was instructed to allow runners into S&R vehicles without penalty if they were asked but no one asked. That was only a warm up for the vicious storm that hit runners heading up the valley on the Chikamin Trail to Chikamin Tie. From our S&R position at the head of the valley at Chikamin Tie we saw the lighting hitting both ridges above the valley coming our way. It was a very interesting hour until the storm passed over into the Mad River drainage. As runners arrived they reported many small fires and tree crowning that they could see as they made their ways up the valley. They also said that it was some of the most interesting running that they had ever done. Our S&R reported all the strikes and fires to the Forest Service which had received hundreds of reports.
Lastly this was the first year that we had runners refuse to be cut off at mile 70 which is 29 hours into the race. After repeatedly being told by the RD that they were not to go on into the next section of the race, that has NO way out for an addition 23 miles, they went on. S&R notified the county S&R, Forest Service and the Sheriff’s Office that if they were to receive calls for assistance from either runner they were not part of an organized event and all cost associated with their rescue should be borne by them. These two runners have been banned from all future Plain 100’s and other Cascade Running Club events.
Tom Ripley / Christina Ralph RD’s
161 runners have started Plain:
one 7 time finisher: Tim Stroh
two 3 time finishers: Jeff Huff and Joe Lee
eleven 2 time finishers: Alan Abbs, Bev Anderson-Abbs, Ryan Conroy, Tony Covarrubias, Davy Crockett, Tom Jackson, Beat Jegerlehner, Arthur Martineau, Chris Perry, Van Phan, and Mauricio Puerto
eight have doubled CCC/Plain once: Tony Covarrubias, James Gifford, Matt Hagen, Tom Hayes, Tom Jackson, Darrell Jensen, Arthur Martineau, and Liz McGoff.
two have doubled CCC/Plain twice: Chris Perry and Van Phan
Please note that these are to the best of my knowledge from the data I have and taking into account compiling errors. Van Phan