call of the wilds 50k; waterville, pa — race report
by Fred Foose
The Challenge – A year earlier, when I signed up for this race, I saw myself as much more fit and ready to tackle what is considered one of the hardest 50Ks on the East Coast. I was going to make this my ‘A’ race of the year and do all I could to be ready. A year later, work, family, and a nagging hip issue found me, in my opinion, under-trained, sore, and debating whether or not to run this race. I had opportunity and excuses to step down to the 25K with no questions asked. No one would fault me and many running friends highly encouraged me to do so (very hard, you are sore, still just as challenging, they will let you switch before the race, etc.) But I am stubborn if nothing else and knew if I didn’t try I would wonder, “What if…” So, I packed up the truck with more gear than I would ever need and headed north to the beautiful and remote regions of the state, to the middle of nowhere: Waterville, PA.
Evening Before – Night before the race, I got a decent meal and a beer. Back at the cabin I detailed out my ‘flat Freddy.’ No drop bags so whatever I needed was going to have to come with me! Decisions, Decisions! Worked on my hip one last time as if this one last session would get it right before the race after months of it nagging at me day after day and then tried to sleep. I don’t sleep well on race night–too anxious–but I got a few well-rested hours of sleep.
Race Day – Up at 4:30 a.m. to get ready, eat, hydrate, and load up with all the stuff that should help me on the course including my secret weapon – mashed potatoes — and head to packet pick-up by 5:30. Looking at all the other 50K runners I knew I was in the wrong race! They were younger, fitter, and looked like they belonged there – still time to step down to the 25K?! Nope–I came to meet the challenge of the 50K or bust. After a cup of Joe by the fire, it was go time – 6 a.m. sharp start and we are off! And…I am the last one out of the gate – telling!
In the Dark – My first ever in the dark start. Headlamps on looked pretty neat! Just follow the other runners up the first hill by tracking their headlamps. By the time I got to the top and by a few other runners. there were no headlamps behind me (making good time?) and only a couple in the distance ahead of me (good pace – guess not!). By the time I got to the second aid station I had overtaken the two in front of me in the dark and it was now light out. Ditch the headlamp and keep going – feeling great! I am doing this! Made it to AS3 and the two behind had caught up on the last very steep and rocky downhill, but I was still ahead of the cutoffs and going strong!
More Hills and Rocks – Back up the hills I go picking my way through the rocks on both the ups and downs. As added fun the course follows along the river up on the ledge on a single track which slopes toward the river, and you have to run kinda sideways as you constantly pick your way through more leaf-covered rocks – slower going, but still beautiful. Now the two in front of me are getting further ahead but there are still at least two behind me right? Yep and nope – they pass me on the downhill headed into AS4! That will be the last time I share the trail with anyone, and it’s only mile 14. Quads now feeling the downhills. Too soon for that! Keep going – get to that next aid station and focus on your race.
The Never Ending Hill – I pull into AS4 with 10 minutes to spare and all alone the guy tells me, “You have 2 hours to go six miles to the next aid station. Just get to the top of that hill and it’s all downhill for the last 4 miles.” Off I go – sounds doable – NOT! The top of the hill never came until what seemed like 10 false summits later and then it’s a couple of miles of rollers before you get to a nasty rock-strewn downhill which most of is no trail at all! Rockslyvania! Oh great – two guys following me down the hill – are they pulling down the flags?! Yep the sweepers are gaining on me! Still, somehow, I pull into AS5 only 30 seconds past cut-off. Legs are feeling like lead after the rocky climb down, but somehow I pull into AS5 (mile 20) only 30 seconds off the cut-off only to find out they sent the sweepers out early!
Chasing the Sweepers – I assure the ladies at the aid station that I am going to finish the race with or without the markers! They take my number in case they have to search for me later and with a quick dash of water I am off to run down the next set of sweepers as the sweepers behind me cheer me out (probably thinking “This guy is crazy!”). I catch them about a mile and a half up the trail screaming for them to stop – ONE MORE COMING! The dog hears me and they stop amazed there is still someone out there! They assure me I have an hour to go the 3.5 miles to AS5 at the bottom of Torbert! I am spent running them down but finally some level trail and I know I can get there in time. By now I am using the poles to propel me with a goal to stay ahead of the sweepers and get to mile 25 and AS6. I push my body through the cramps and shot quads and pull in with 15 minutes to spare! They work me over like a Nascar pit crew and I am out of there and headed up Torbert with 10 minutes to spare! The end is near…!
Torbert and Beyond – I start up the most famous and last real climb of the course – only 1 mile to the top. Stephanie and her dog, the next set of sweepers, are soon on my back as I inch foot by foot up a gentle but brutal climb. Halfway up I am done. My legs are gone. This is the end. There is nothing left. It was spent chasing down the sweepers. I want to just stop. Stephanie tells me there is no turning around. If I want to quit we both have to get to the top because that is where her car is. So I climb… 5 steps, stop. 5 steps, stop…until finally the top of the hill! I made it! And its flat and runnable! Another mile to the aid station – I got this! The hard part is behind me!
New Life – I am actually jogging again at a 13ish minute mile by the time I get to AS7 with 15 minutes to spare! I am making up time! Again, they work me over and see what I need. I tell them to call ahead and let them know Freddy Foose is coming in and they can tear everything down but the clock! I am going to finish this damn race! Five minutes later, I am headed back down the trail – 1 mile of straight, steep, rocky trail down, begging my body to just hold together for 3.5 more miles.
The Final Push – At the bottom there is one more twist of fate. You can almost see and hear the finish line, but nope – back up we go! Another mile of switchback to a crest which overlooks the valley before another precarious steep, rocky downhill to the road leading back to the finish. I can hear the staging area. People are cheering – still some 25K finishers coming in? Maybe I won’t truly be the last one in! It sparks my feet to keep moving -almost there!
The Finish– I have found my way to the road again. Every step my legs are now threatening to completely seize up and now my upper body has joined in the fight against my will to finish! As I come around the final turn – there it is the finish chute and clock! They left it up! Time to make a good showing of it – run the last stretch in – don’t embarrass yourself! They are cheering – finally the DFL racer is in and we can all go home! (I am sure that is what they were thinking and cheering about!). How nice to be greeted after all those hours by fellow runners, sweepers, volunteers, and workers who helped me accomplish the hardest race of my short (so far!) running career. I came, and I answered …The Call of the Wilds!