My body screamed at me to stop, but I kept looking at my watch checking my splits; after 202 miles through the most technical and treacherous terrain, the last 7 miles to the finish line of the 209 mile Bigfoot 200 mile race was on the road, but I was scared. I was scared to try, scared I might give it my all and still fall short, scared to hurt more than I was hurting but I kept looking at my watch to check my splits.
Dion had worked out that I needed to run 14min/mile for the 7 miles to finish sub-90hours. He was there beside me, coaxing me, telling me I could do it and I was screaming at him ‘No, I don’t want it, I can’t do it, it hurts, just let me stop’ but something inside of me kept pushing; I saw 14min, 13min, 12min; at one point I saw 10! I was doing this, I could do this! It was dark, I was delirious with sleep deprivation and the bushes on the side of the road were lit up by my head torch and they turned into animals and people; they were all cheering me on!
I was laughing, giddy with delusion and I waved to them and laughed with them as 7 miles turned into 3, into 1 finally I could see the Randle school ahead. The school running track came into sight, just a lap around the track, I was there; the cheering started and the bells started ringing, keeping going all the way around the track.
I felt like I was flying! My legs no longer hurt, the fatigue left my body and finally after 89 hours I let myself BELIEVE; believe I was capable, the tears welled up and with my arms raised in celebration I crossed that finish line like I’d won the race outright, I fell into Dion’s arms where I belonged and let him lead me from there. He’d been guiding me all along, in my mind, but now he was here, I could let go.
Bigfoot 200 is a point to point race in Washington State, starting at Mt Saint Helens in the Cascade Mountain Range and finishing in Randle after traversing 42,000ft/12,802m of ascent through beautiful, tough, rugged and extremely remote single track trails. To put this into perspective this is the equivalent of running from London to York or Edinburgh to Manchester while also climbing Mt Snowdon 12 times!
Starting with the volcanic blast zone of Mt Saint Helens (which erupted in 1980), you run through lava fields, long mountaintop ridge lines with stunning forest, mountain and lake views, deep old growth forests as green and as thick as jungle, misty mountain tops and numerous river crossings.
This race is the first in the series known as the Triple Crown of 200 milers, which is followed up by Tahoe 200 (10th September – now cancelled due to wildfires and being run as a virtual option) followed by Moab 240 miles on 8th October. What makes this challenge so extreme is that the 3 races take place over a 9 week period meaning that there is extremely limited time between each race to recover, of only 2-3 weeks between each. Running 200 miles in itself is an extreme adventure that only the truly courageous dare to take on.
Buses take runners to the start line of Bigfoot from Randle, which is a 2.5hr bus trip departing at 5:45am on Friday morning. One of the buses broke down en-route which meant we all had to squeeze in together and also meant our group of buses was late to the start, giving everyone a delayed start by half an hour. At 9:30am, after a short briefing and the national anthem, we were off into our journey.
The temperature was set to be high throughout the race but particularly on day one, expected to reach 90f/32C through the most exposed sections of the race. The route would take us firstly through the blast zone of Mt Saint Helens, a desolate and exposed scarred mountain we had to traverse. My decision to wear a wide brim hat and Dion’s long sleeve sun protection shirt from his Badwater race certainly paid dividends to my surviving day one intact.
It didn’t stop me from running out of water about 11 miles into the second leg and I was grateful to reach a silty stream to filter some water to save the day. This section was carnage, there were other runners scattered along the trail suffering from the heat; cramping and dehydrated, attempting to shield themselves from the sun with an odd rock or tree stump giving a scrap of shade as there just was no let up from the dry heat.
By the time I reached the second checkpoint, Windy Ridge at 31 miles, it was obvious this race was going to be brutal. I took my time to rehydrate properly and get some calories in and started my foot care regime from the get go – clean (wet wipe), dry, lubricate (Gurney Goo) and XOSkin toe socks; the formula that would ultimately ensure my feet did not let me down.
As the sun went down on the first day the reality hit me that this was the first of many sunsets to come. There was a welcome morale boost at the following two checkpoints when Dion and Gobi come out to support me, sending me off into the darkness and the 5,100ft/1,500m climb up Norway Pass and Mount Margaret. I started to feel sleepy in the early hours of darkness which wasn’t helped by going past people having trail naps along the climb that they made look so comfortable. I soldiered on, timing my summit perfectly with sunrise before the descent into the fifth checkpoint at 65.2 miles where I rewarded myself with a 20min nap. I had no sleep strategy coming into the race and was hoping to just go with the flow and at that point I really felt that I needed a short nap. It was a sleep station so there were tents with camp mats to lay on, and no sooner had I laid down I was out like a light. Luckily, I had set my alarm for only 20 minutes so I awoke with a start, drooling and groggy.
The sleep helped and I moved on the next 11 miles to Elk Pass (76.3miles) where Dion and Gobi where waiting for me. It’s such a mental boost to see someone you know and love, and this was a surprise checkpoint visit so it felt even sweeter to have them there. It was heating up again for the day. My calf guards were starting to cause my lower legs to get a bit of heat rash so they had to go, which was a shame as they were doing a great job of protecting my skin from all the bushes that would ultimately cut them up until the finish.
The volunteers here had frozen popsicles which were a great treat. Dion and Gobi continued on to the next checkpoint at Road 9327, 15 miles later for me (91.3 miles), and I took the opportunity here to change my shoes to a half size bigger than normal, trying to pre-empt my feet swelling. At this point my feet were in tip top condition with absolutely no blisters.
I spent the next section kicking myself for changing my shoes. The extra half size meant I was now slipping around in them and I could feel the blisters starting on both my heels and once blisters start there is no going back. By the time I got to Spencer Butte at 102.5 miles I knew the damage was done. I managed to get a spot of service here and text Dion to bring my old shoes back but it would be another 30 miles on top of the 11 I’d already done in the bigger shoes before I would see him again.
Stupid mistakes aside, while I sat at this checkpoint the volunteers cheerfully informed me, and the other three runners there, that we were in the top 50! I nearly fell of my chair, I was incredulous, I hadn’t given any thought to where I was in terms of overall placement, I was only thinking one checkpoint to the next not even thinking about the total 209 miles so this really blew me away and to be honest it gave me a huge boost in confidence too.
I’d felt like I’d been running a successful and consistent race so this really confirmed that for me and I promised myself to keep doing exactly what I was; moving with purpose. These were the words Dion had said to me prior to the race and this repeated through my mind time and time again, whether I was running, hiking or sitting, it made me think and contemplate about what I was doing and whether I was indeed moving with purpose.
After 102 miles of tough terrain it was a treat to leave this checkpoint with a 2 mile stretch on flat bitumen road, but it was a false sense of ease. After the 2 mile stretch, which was bliss, the trail left the road onto a steep, near-vertical, descent on a trail that wasn’t even a trail. If I thought my feet were hurting before this section I was deluded; my blisters seared like they were on fire, the path so steep I could feel my toes smashing into the toe box with excruciating force, my quads were screaming and it was pitch black.
This is bear country if ever I’ve seen it, but the amount of times I cried out in pain as I descended would have scared off the most inquisitive wild animal. After what seemed like an eternity, I made it into checkpoint 9, Lewis River 112 miles, deciding to skip the whisky shots on offer by T-Rex (this was not a hallucination I’m told). I opted for a 2hr nap in the sleep station. I felt totally disorientated when I was woken up, I was now through my second night heading into day three so it was no surprise the sleep deprivation was starting to impact my sense of self.
I had the medics deal with my heel blisters again while I demolished a huge plate of hash browns and I hit the road. It totally blew me away by how much a two hour nap rejuvenated me, and also how after 112 miles and a nap my body had not seized up, I was actually moving pretty well.
It was a tough 19 mile section to get to Quartz Ridge (131 miles) with 7,500ft of climbing to contend with on an extremely rutted path that was used mainly by dirt motor bikes. This meant the path was really tough on your feet as they couldn’t lie flat at any point. I was getting tired and cranky, it was hot, again, and my tolerance level was at an all time low. A few dirt bikers come past me showering me in the trail of dust they left behind which added to my frustration.
As with most checkpoints in the race, they never seemed to come and they always took longer to reach than you imagined. As I descended I started hoping that I would be surprised by Dion and Gobi again. I saw a few paw prints in the dirt which in my heart I knew were Gobi’s but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Finally, I could hear the sounds of the checkpoint and as I rounded the corner I saw Dion and Gobi. Instantly my heart lifted along with my mood. With the temperature rising again, Dion could see the heat was getting to me and put the big straw hat back on me and assured me he would be at the next checkpoint.
I cranked out some Australian classic tunes on this section and feeling rejuvenated I got stuck into the climb and was rewarded with the most stunning sight of Chain of Lakes with the mountain in the background. From the top I knew it was a descent, mostly on road and runnable trail, so I got a good solid jog going and caught up to fellow runner, Brandon, a few miles out of the checkpoint. It was nice to have some company on the trail as I hadn’t had this since the very first morning.
We both enjoyed a chat into the sunset and reaching Chain of Lakes (143.5 miles) as dark fell. Dion was here with tater tots and to see me off into my third night on the trail. There was no point looking after your feet at this station, the next section was a guaranteed four ‘get your feet wet’ river crossings so the feet would have to wait. Brandon had headed off a bit before me to have a short trail nap and I caught up to him at the river crossing where he had seen my headlight coming and decided to wait for me. The river was raging, mid thigh height and he was worried I might get swept away.
We joined forces for a few hours and soldiered through together, keeping each other awake with our chat, I was really grateful for some company at this point as the sleep monster was chasing me big time so without the company I would have slowed down tremendously. The sleep monster still hit though and although Brandon peeled off for a nap, I thought I could carry on but half an hour later I couldn’t keep myself upright anymore.
Like a drunkard, swaying all over the trail I started to feel myself falling off the side of the mountain we were climbing and opted for a 20 minute trail nap, my first one ever. I dived into my emergency bivy bag and immediately fell asleep. Thank goodness I’d set the alarm and I awoke with a start looking up to a sky full of bright stars and pine tree tops. Disorientated again I was sure of only one thing, the direction was up the mountain otherwise I could imagine it would be really easy to go the wrong way.
Sunrise was timed perfectly again at the peak at Elks Peak, Brandon had caught up with me at this point and we took a moment to share in the magic before we went our separate ways. I was eager to get to Klickitat, the next aid station, as Dion had assured me this was the one checkpoint he was 100% going to be at…..until he wasn’t! I didn’t let the disappointment take me under mentally when I realized he wasn’t there. I would find out later that he’d had to deal with a flat tire the previous night in the middle of nowhere. Over the course of the race he’d go on to drive 600+ miles which is the entire length of the United Kingdom (as the crow flies)! Unreal! The volunteers here at Klickitat (160.8 miles) warned that the next section was treacherous, it would be 19miles filled with mosquitos, bees and fallen trees to contend with and that I should prepare for around 10hrs out there. I hoped they were wrong!
They were not! The section started off okay and I powered on thinking I would prove them wrong but the trail quickly turned overgrown, with a lot of blow-downs to contend with. It wasn’t just a tree to step over, you were literally climbing through a tree that was across the path, needing all fours to get over, under and through. All the while swarms of mosquitos buzzed and bit me which made stopping to even have a bite of food impossible. They were hungry mosquitos!
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I was halfway through climbing a downed tree balanced rather precariously on the side of the mountain when I heard the sound of bees, and they sounded angry. Sure enough they latched on with 2 of them stinging me. Scream! Shout! Slapping my legs with my poles to get the bees off me I somehow managed to fly through the last of the blowdown and found myself sprinting uphill on what must have been the adrenaline from the bee sting. It took me about 10 mins to calm myself back down, I felt so panicked and scared and then worried I might get an allergic reaction. To be honest you couldn’t even see the stings amongst all the bloody scratches on my legs by now.
What felt like an eternity later, Dion met me two miles out from the checkpoint which is where I finally cried. It wasn’t a normal cry of thinking it was too much and I wanted to give up; it was a cry of letting out how tough this was. At no point during the race did I feel I couldn’t do it, but at this point I was so exhausted and felt overly emotional. It was to be my only cry throughout. I was now into day four, I was 178 miles in at the penultimate checkpoint of Twin Sisters (affectionately called Twisted Sisters) and I finally allowed myself to think about the finish line.
Just one more checkpoint and I’d be on the home stretch. Dion got me moving quickly out of here to try and make the most of the remaining light. I was about to go into the fourth night and the next section was renowned for the multitude of blowdowns. It was a steep climb back up the few miles I’d just come down before peeling off to do a short out and back to a peak which I hit just on dark and as the weather started to turn.
Now it was dark and wet and I was making my way down a ridiculous section of vert with blowdowns. I feel like I spent more time on my bum than on my feet in this section. Reaching the bottom didn’t help too much, it was really difficult to find the markers and the blowdowns just wouldn’t let up. I had to follow the route on my phone GPX here as it was so confusing. I finally caught up to another runner and we helped each other through the next few miles, lifting branches and standing on branches for each other.
My mind was really playing tricks on me by now. I’d been enjoying many apparitions since the third day. I’d seen Michael Jackson in a white sparkly coat (which I took a photo of), I’d seen a carriage being led by two lions and I’d constantly been seeing people alongside the trail. The trees, bushes and rocks had all been morphing into people and animals but it felt strangely surreal as I knew they weren’t real but still I looked and by this point I was pointing at them and laughing with them.
It was feeling like an out of body experience, I could feel my feet and body moving but I felt like I wasn’t there, that I was just floating above me until boom! I hit the deck, one of my imaginary animals was actually a branch and it grabbed my gaiter, tore it and pulled me face first into the muddy trail. At least it woke me up just enough to keep going. I then saw Dion up ahead in the light of my torch but I checked with my new running buddy if he could see a person too as I wasn’t sure it was real.
It WAS Dion, I reached out and touched him and he guided us the last mile and a bit to the final checkpoint at Owens Creek (193.5 miles) My goodness this checkpoint looked so comfortable, I was wet and cold now and they had a fire going, fairly lights and hot chicken soup. I wanted to just sit for a bit but Dion pushed me on, he was right to do so, I could sit soon enough. One last stretch to go. 13 miles to the finish, and 7 of those were going to be on the road. An actual road.
My mind has been well and truly blown! I ran 209 miles! That is truly phenomenal no matter how you look at it. Some say I’m crazy for even thinking about running this distance but I prefer to say I’m courageous. I dared try and try I did. I’d never run 200 miles before, actually before I signed up I had only completed 2 x 100 mile races; Leadville 100 in 2018 and UTMB in 2019 but my imagination was captured by the mystical challenge of running such a distance.
Dion, my husband, had completed the Triple Crown of 200’s in 2018 (coming 2nd!) and he coached and mentored me in the lead up to the race which was invaluable. The training and the preparation aside, the key ingredient to my success was belief. I truly believed in myself like never before and that belief carried me through 89 hours and 53 mins to ultimately be successful in my quest.
Total Time: 89h 53min
Overall position: – 41 out of 111 finishers (199 started)
Female position – 10 out of 34 finishers (63 started)
Total DNF’s – 88 (29 females)
Total Sleep: 2h 40min