The time had come. A year of training for one specific goal had come down to this. My best friends and crew for the race headed down to the wilderness with me as I ventured to see if I could complete the daunting WR50. As I have mentioned before, WR50 is a 50 mile course made up of a 27 mile loop that gains 5400′ elevation and a 23 mile loop that gains 3300′ elevation for a total elevation change os 17400′. I loaded up on my traditional day before race meal — Pad Thai, and triple checked everything I was bringing. I was so excited to have my friends with me. Knowing that I would be able to see familiar faces to cheer me on in this test of will and strength gave me more confidence that I would finish. I drove Dave and Katie to the top of the 2nd mountain (which is about mile marker 37) and we watched the sun set over the Olympic mountains casting gorgeous colors on Mount Rainier right in front of us. We set up camp near the start/finish line, which was a great experience. Sleeping at the base of the mountains I would be tackling the next day with such amazing racers like Anton Krupicka and Scott Jurek in close proximity. The whole camping thing before a run was a new experience and cause of great stress for me. I had no idea how well I would sleep or get aches from sleeping in the forrest. Thankfully I had Dave (a PhD psychologist) to calm me down and help me stay focused on my preparations for the next day. I then took some time to teach Dave and Katie how to make my special running elixir. Every runner has his/her own formula. Mine is Hammer Perpeteum (a carb/protein powder) with a Nuun tablet for extra electrolytes and (let’s be honest) flavor. My alternative mixture is using Accelerade and a Nuun tablet. Accelerade is about the same as Perpeteum but has a little more variety in flavor options. My other bottle is for either plain water or Nuun.
Dave woke up with me at 3 am so I could start getting some fuel in the form of oatmeal. After I ate as much as I could force down (which was not much), I crawled back into my tent for the last few hours of rest. I would say sleep, but I could not fall asleep. I had such a mix of emotions going on inside me. Nervous, excited, emotional, scared, surreal, ecstatic. I still had no idea if I would even be able to finish this race. I got up and began my routine for getting race ready. As we were lined up, I heard my last name called over the sound of my music. Apparently there was another Barringer running the race who had not shown up. The first name…Mike, which is my dad’s name. It was almost like having my family there!
The plan was for me to meet up with Dave and Katie at the first aid stop which is only 4 miles in. I did not need a crew there, but it was going to be the last time I would see them for a few hours. I had been jamming out to E.S. Posthumus and not paying attention to my pace that I actually passed by the aid station before they arrived. As I pulled out, they were just starting to walk up so we yelled that we would see each other in a couple hours. Then the hills came. Long, relentless and sometimes too steep to speed-hike. As I knew I was getting close to the Coral Pass aid station, which is about 17 miles into the race, I started to push myself a little bit. I wanted to see my friends and get some food. As I rounded the corner to the aid station I could see Dave and Katie cheering. They had my next round of elixirs ready and lots of energy. Unfortunately, I ate a little too much while at the station which I did not realize until I started going back uphill. After that it was mainly downhill back to near the start line which was mile 27. My training on Mount Si was starting to pay off. All the downhill technique was allowing me to pass a lot of people without feeling like I was burning through my legs.
At the Buck Creek aid station (mile 27, back near the start line) I decided to go ahead and change shirts. It was starting to get warm, and I knew the remainder of the race was under a lot of exposure. I was right at my target time for aiming at a 10-10.5 hr finish. I got some high fives from Dave and Katie and new friend Jeanne (Paul’s girlfriend) and headed on my way toward Sun Top. As I started to approach the rigorous uphill of this section, I began to have to use the bathroom, badly. Not knowing what to do, I decided to walk a bit in hopes that I could stop somewhere, but nothing seemed like a good place. I walked so far that I knew I was killing my time but I could not do anything else. I pressed slowly forward and could begin to hear what sounded like a party. It was actually a party. A Hawaiian themed aid station at Deer Fork (about mile 32). I remember feeling quite dehydrated and knew I needed to eat, but still had to go to the bathroom (of which there was no place to go at this station) so I tried to eat part of a Payday but could not do it. I could hear the people at the aid station say “Is he ok?” “Uh, yeah I think so.” At this point, I knew I probably looked pretty beat up and exhausted. I knew I had to keep going if I wanted to finish, so I started walking the final ascent to Sun Top. I finally made it! It only took me about 2 hours longer than I had planned, but I was there. And it was all American themed. Thankfully there were bathrooms. I ate a few chips and drank some coke for a little sugary energy boost. As I talked with the people at this aid station, I felt better about how I was doing. They all could not believe how great I looked for making that far. But I was not finished yet. 12 more miles to go!
The next 6 miles were a gravel road and all downhill. Easy, right? Wrong! I had held ‘it’ for so long that my core muscles were starting to cramp horribly. This was the section that I had hoped to make up a ton of time on, however I had to stop to walk a number of times because I could not breathe. My legs were starting to let me know that they were at their limit. My arms were starting to show signs of carrying water for so many hours. My back was starting to tense up. It is safe to say that everything hurt. This was a new threshold of pain, and I still had a ways to go. At this point I was running to meet with Dave and Katie. The idea of encouragement was the only thing keeping me going. I began to think about the church, and one of its purposes is to encourage. I felt unworthy of their cheers and praise, yet it was so empowering that I felt like I could keep going. I also could not wait to tell Dave and Katie about the Hawaiian themed aid station, as they were about to move to Hawaii. I gave Katie my headphones because I wanted the last 6 miles to be just me and the trail and the rushing river to my left. There was a sign “Skookam Flats Mile 43.4.” I immediately thought about Lord of the Rings. Having Dave there like Sam and Frodo. I remembered a part from the story as they are leaving the Shire. Sam stops in his tracks in a field and tells Frodo, “One more step and it will be the furthest I have ever been from the Shire.” In similar fashion, I turned to Dave and said “You see that sign?” He nodded. “As soon as I cross that sign I will have gone further than I have ever gone.” Dave squeezed an ice cold sponge down my neck and off I went.
This section of the course is very hard after 43 miles of running. It is full of roots, fallen trees, and lots of quick ups and downs. Trying to pick up my legs was excruciating, but I was at that point again where it hurt less to run than walk. As I progressed, knowing I was pushing my body into unknown territory, I started have uncontrollable fits of smiling/laughing and straight out crying. Partly because every part of my body hurt, partly because of remembering my first marathon and my family and friends, and partly because it hit me that I was actually going to finish. I may be finishing longer than I had hoped, but I was soon to cross the finish line. I emerged from the woods to the road for the last 1/4 mile. It was the most difficult 1/4 mile ever. I was trying to exert all energy into moving, but it just felt like I was not gaining any ground. I was passing traffic of cars with finishers heading home, all cheering me on. I rounded the corner and could see the flags. I wanted to finish with a strong stride but I literally could not make myself. I ran as best I could and crossed the finish line at 12:07!!! I could not believe that I had actually accomplished this feat. I began to choke up, hardly able to speak to the race director, or Dave and Katie. Dave asked me how I felt and I could barely exhale “emotional” without starting to cry.
Running WR50 was the most difficult thing I have ever done. I was shocked at the power of training, the power of community, and the level of running I had achieved. I had reached a life changing moment again. The time during the last 6 miles of the course was filled with emotional highs and great times of prayer. I will always remember that stretch of trail and the religious experience I had worshipping as I ran. I will never forget the amazing care and encouragement from my friends. I did not know what lay ahead for me with running. All I knew is that I loved running now more than ever.
To all who helped me prepare both physically and mentally for this great test of endurance, thank you. You share this achievement with me. To anyone reading this that is trying to push your boundaries, keep at it. I cannot say that it will be easy, but I can tell you that you will never be the same again.