Story and photos by Brian Davenport. First held in 2002, the Waldo 100K is an American Trail Running Association race member.
The days leading up to the Waldo 100k Trail Run just outside Oakridge, Oregon went like any other pre-race approach. The confidence was there, but slowly the nerves and doubt crept in. This was to be my third 100k and second in two months. The months of juggling work, training runs, and day-to-day life were behind me, and it was now time to see the fruits of my labors.
August 13th was finally here.
While Willamette Pass Ski Resort and Waldo Lake welcomed the runners, crews, and volunteers on the day before the race, the Clear Creek fire on the west side of the lake was close enough to close local trails and pique the interest of everyone. With communication between the race director, Craig Thornley, and the US Forest Service, the race went off without a hitch. Opting for the early start, I woke at 1:45, shook off the previous night’s cobwebs, ate, and readied myself for the adventure ahead. We arrived around 2:40 and set off on the course at 3 am on Saturday morning. The nerves and anxiety were in full force, but the weather was cooperating, and it was a reasonable 45 degrees at the start. Finally hearing the countdown was a welcomed reprieve. However, the anxiety didn’t subside, and the worry continued for nearly 10 miles. I sliced through the dark with my Jonny Cash-esq black shirt, shorts, and hat.
With my headlamp illuminating the trail ahead, I traversed the needled-covered trail with worry-filled trepidation. I came into this specific race with high hopes and found I was joined by an old (familiar) adversary, my perseveration. Busting out of my mental rut and out from the weight of my doubts, I decided that something needed to change and quickly. I felt ill-prepared to deal with the continued negativity for another 52 miles. The change I inputted was being “present” with myself. I did my best to be mindful of what I was doing and how I was feeling. Body scans were performed regularly, brief utterances were vocalized, and gestures that conjured up positive associations were consistently executed. My tension in my stomach subsided and I found myself flowing on the trail, running with a renewed sense of focus and confidence. Implementing a positive change IN THE MOMENT was what I truly needed. Approximately 17% of the race was completed. Now, we only had 83% more to do.
After completing Daybreak Racing’s Wy’east 100k just four weeks earlier, I was feeling confident that I was going to succeed in my goal of posting an even lower time this go-around. With all the ups and downs at this current race, it was becoming quite the bumpy road and made for an emotional rollercoaster. My feet started to feel swollen and sausage-like in my shoes. My feet ached and the pinky toes throbbed. At the halfway point, where I picked up pacer #1, I alerted my unflappable wife/crew chief that a shoe change was in order. Looking back, I now realize I had allowed myself to slip into a low spot because of the pain and discomfort.
In addition, I missed the fact that I had begun to see that I was judging my success at this race on preconceived notions of finishing “faster”. Thoughts of finishing around dinner were eventually replaced with if I was going to finish at all. Was I missing my “WHY?” Was I missing the fun and challenge of what I was doing? Absolutely. After some helpful love and problem solving from my wife, I trudged on into the breaking heat of the day. Turns out that having two pacers at this race just might have saved me that day. I was able to connect with my friend, hear her stories of her family, and remove my swirling negativity and replace it with an occupied mind that allowed the miles to slowly creep by.
Refocusing allowed me to start to enjoy the experience at some point in the second half. I felt the wind between my fingers, heard the sound of the trail, and soaked in mountain top vistas. To be able to run, see what we see, and experience nature in such a profound way truly is a privilege. Sometimes, it is just helpful to stop, look at one’s surroundings, and smile. Life is busy enough as it is. Why rush through a time when the scenery changes, there are intriguing people to meet, and we are pushing and challenging ourselves? Last summer I was looking for a specific event in a hotel in Montreal, the concierge stopped to ask me if I was looking for someone.
After explaining what I was looking for, we both looked around. We both found that there was a sign near the steps pointing in the direction of the event I was attending upstairs. The concierge turned, smiled, and said, “The answers we are looking for are often right in front of us.” Truer words may not have ever been spoken. That resonated with me on this run and at the later stages of this race. I was surrounded by what I was looking for: a challenge, beauty in nature, camaraderie, support, and an experience that pushed me up to and past my perceived limits that day.
This race has a cut-off of 9 pm to get an official finishers hat. My new goal as dusk settled in all around us was to finish before that cut-off. This served as the motivation I needed. I picked up the pace and undoubtedly ran my 7 fastest miles on the final 7 miles of the course. Looking back now over a week later, I feel I was able to learn a few lessons through self-reflection, conversations with family, and writing this article. My lessons are more specific to ultra-races, but they can be applied to just about all kinds of running. Here is what I believe I’ve learned. First, having a goal is an excellent way to obtain some level of motivation.
We live in an outcome obsessed culture. However, don’t lose track of your “Why.” Everyone’s is different. I challenge anyone to really sit with what their “Why” is and to recognize if it changes over time. Mine sure has. Maybe it is to run fast every time, or to win, or to finish, or for a challenge. All “Why’s” are valid, just ensure you have yours in place before you spiral into an emotional rollercoaster full of tough times. Trust me, it’ll help knowing that beforehand. You can use it as a beacon to return to during the stormy times. Second, at some point, it will suck and you’ll hurt. It’s just the truth and that’s okay. But recognizing that also allows us to know that that feeling is normal, it is expected, and we can work on preparing ourselves before race day to handle that mentally. For every up, there is a down. And for every suck-filled step, there will be ones that feel inspired and as if you’re flowing over the trail. For most people, there will be hiking, walking, and some breaks interspersed. This is normal and okay. This does not mean we are weak. It’s quite the opposite. We have a challenge ahead of us and we are given the options of whether to push through or bow out. This has led me to a crucial question. Would it be okay to quit? Sure.
However, I realized I would never forgive myself for giving anything but my all. I do 100% believe it is better to push through and finish, unless imminent harm/danger is a guarantee, than to quit. I feel honored to have had the opportunity to run, hike, walk, and complete that race. Third, beware the social media comparison game. I’m often prone to looking at what others have accomplished, how fast they did it, and all the amazing places they’ve raced. However, an extremely low number of people post their failures, life’s struggles with balancing everything, and show vulnerability. Surround yourself with people who love and support you as you are while also pushing you to be better.
Lastly, as author James Clear stated, “The effect of your habits multiply as you repeat them over time.” Day in and day out there will be work to do. It won’t be easy, but take steps to prioritize your health, training, and provide yourself with a strong base. The small things we do each day set us up for success and are crucial to our success. Even lacing the shoes up on a blustery day and getting in a few miles counts. We all have what it takes. Just remember to be compassionate to yourself and others, be inspired while doing the mundane, daily tasks, and put in the work. Each step is one in the direction of achieving your goal, whatever that may be.
[Editor’s note: Results from the 2022 Waldo 100K can be found on the race website. Klamath Falls resident Brian Davenport finished 90th place in a time of 17:47:28.]