After the Seattle Marathon in November Jeff Webb decided he was ready to run 100 miles. He’s run marathons and the lower-distance Ultras and wanted to take on the “final frontier” of Ultras, the 100 miler. He looked around and decided to run the 2nd annual Badger Mountain 100 on March 30, located in Eastern Washington. His good friend and running buddy Desiree wanted to do it too, and shortly thereafter Jeff’s friend Jeremy decided to join the fun. Game on.
I’ve known Jeff via Twitter for a while, though our connection probably began on DailyMile.com, a social media website that allows athletes to track their training. When I heard about his goal I followed his training and cheered (virtually of course, from Colorado) during the entire time he was on the course. I finally caught up to him a week after the race and got to hear the details of the race, in all its glory.
Jeff mentioned that Badger Mountain is a less supported race than other Ultras; in some sections runners need to carry their own gear for long stretches (over 20 miles) before they see crew again. Sixty-two hearty folks registered for the race; thirty-six crossed the finish line.
Badger Mountain 100 is a “Frontier Race”, where runners need crew of some sort and should understand the course very, very well. Runners know that Ultras are dynamic in nature, and this one was no exception; one week before race-day the R.D. re-routed the course when a landowner would not give permission for participants to cross his property.
Before the race Jeff put together three different scenarios for finishing in 28, 30 and 32 hours, based on times, distances, elevation and a few other factors that his technical brain conceived. He and Desiree talked over many different scenarios for completion, including how far they’d run together and when/if they should split up along the course. Plans were made as training and eventually, tapering, brought them closer to gun time.
The race began promptly at 7am Friday morning. Jeff’s 6am tweet proclaimed it to be “windy, windy, windy”, and sharp, cold blasts continued to buffet his group until they were off the 3rd mountain peak almost seven hours later. Being a seasoned trail runner, he dressed for the elements in an UnderArmour shirt, cycling jersey, arm warmer sleeves and rain jacket. He carried a heavy fleece, wore a stocking cap for the next 26 hours, and had two layers of protection for his legs that ultimately he donned after mile 58. Knowing that the race would be run on mainly jeep roads, crushed gravel and a little bit of asphalt, he ran in Montrail Rogue Racers.
For the first 27 miles things went pretty well. The wind was steady and occasional 60 mph gusts rocked runners as they edged along the top of mountain ridges. Jeff and his gang eased into a modified Galloway, doing 10-12 minutes of running interspersed with 10-12 minutes of power walking. They walked the hills and ran the flats, and pulled into the Chandler Butte Aid Station at 1:50pm. At that Aid Station they saw three people DNF; someone already had hypothermia, another had rolled an ankle and a third had unspecified leg strain.
The little group continued running over hardpack and unpleasant sections of asphalt where the shoulder was just wide enough for runners but too narrow for comfort. Semi’s drove full-speed through this section. Jeff noted “I wasn’t looking forward to going back up this section on the way back. I wasn’t stressed, but it was a constant march for two and a half miles. We definitely expended energy on this section just trying to be careful of the vehicles.”
At 7:50pm he arrived at the Grow A/S, the turn-around point, and sat down to enjoy pizza in a family’s garage. His team was still on track to complete the race in 28 hours, even though rest times at the A/S’s were starting to add up and they were starting to slow down.
Another 9 miles and temps had dropped into the low 30’s by the time they pulled into the next A/S. Jeff layered the heavy fleece under the rain jacket and put the rain pants on as a necessary layer for his legs. Desiree was cold and shivered in a blanket, while the pacer that was going to join them tended to her. Jeff tried to eat a pancake on an acid-filled stomach. By this time his left second toe had been taped and other toes had blisters on the pads though miraculously, his legs were completely fine.
After leaving the A/S the team tried to protect Desiree from the wind as much as possible. She was in the beginning throes of hypothermia, though none of them realized it yet. The wind had picked up again and was constantly changing directions; Jeff tried his best to protect her as she tucked in behind him, letting his larger body shield her much smaller one. It would be another 22 miles before they saw any crew again.
Des and Jeff each popped a Pepto tablet that helped to settle stomach acid. They had been eating steadily at the A/S’s, drinking Perpetuum and munching Gu’s and sport beans but the constant exercise was draining their systems.
During this long stretch Jeff started to worry about not making the cut-off time. The team talked about splitting up, which was hard because the original plan was for Jeff and Des to stay together at all costs until Mile 78. One of the team members didn’t want to talk about contingency plans and minor irritations started to rear.
All during the night Jeff felt fine and never lost his mental powers to do math. He kept running numbers in his head, calculating distance and time, factoring in stops at the A/S’s, elevation and terrain changes.
He pulled into the Chandler Butte A/S with 10 hours to cut-off and 50k to go. At the next aid station, four miles down the trail, a spark of energy goosed him up; he scooted out so fast that his pacer had to call out his number to the volunteers. He ran a good part of this section on moderate terrain and waited for his team to catch up.
Desiree held on until the McBee A/S; she had run over 76 miles and had to stop due to her hypothermic condition. When Jeff & Jeremy headed out again they had picked up a runner that had been sleeping at the A/S for over two hours. The volunteers wanted to DNF the runner but he insisted he still had time to complete the race.
Jeff headed up the side of the ridgeline with his brother pacing. The terrain was steep with lots of ascents and descents and his shoes caught in the sandy loam. Sometimes he was on jeep trails and had to walk through those sections, as it wasn’t good runnable terrain. At mile 84 he headed down and back up the steep side of a ravine.
Jeff began the race wearing his Nathan hydration vest (filled with Perpetuum) and carrying a bottle of water. At each A/S he refilled and alternated between drinking the sports drink and quenching his thirst. At the McBee A/S he took off the hydration vest and switched to carrying two hand-held water bottles, though didn’t realize until too late that they were both filled with Perpetuum; he was water-less and suddenly there was no impetus to run anymore.
He circumnavigated crops along private property and found himself walking down someone’s driveway and into a little town. His team was confused for a bit and when they stopped to ask someone where the course was, the friendly towns-folk couldn’t help because they didn’t know there was a race going on nearby.
At the Dallas Aid Station Jeff sat down. It was 10:24am and he had been moving for over 27 hours. “I think I’m done”.
His brother looked over at him and did what brother’s do; he smack-talked Jeff and pushed every emotional button there was. Jeff grabbed a Nuun, more peanut M&M’s and ran out of the Aid Station in a sub-8 sprint, thinking, “Fine… you want me to run? Then grab onto my ass and catch me!” As he ran the exhilarating feeling of utter freedom climbed into his brain and electrified his body; as he told me later, those next 4.5 miles over 650 feet of elevation gain and subsequent hammering of the downhills wrapped themselves into the best running moment he’s ever had.
Jeremy and Jason finally caught up and they faced one last section of asphalt, the heat of a new day, and random Washington sunshine. The blister that had formed on the side of his foot didn’t hurt as much when he ran, so he ran as much as possible from this point forward, crossing the Finish Line in 31 hours and 32 minutes.
This was the first 100-miler for Jeff, the first in a series of what will become a life-time of 100’s. As he told me this week, it’s one of the best things he’s ever done; he’s excited to crunch stats and fine-tune his knowledge to race harder, stronger and smarter each time.
You ran a great race, Jeff… Congratulations!