Volcanic 50: Blasting the Demons
After running Go Beyond Racing’s Volcanic 50 last year and letting my anxiety get the best of me, I've spent a year mentally obsessing how to confront those fears and show my anxiety whose boss by running the race again this year. My recap of last year can be found here.
The race is so special because it completely circumnavigates a recently erupted volcano with expansive views of the prominent mountains of the North Cascades as you traverse the blast zone. All of this while getting up close and personal with Mt St Helen herself by climbing in and out of her canyons, over her boulder fields and through her rivers. While standing in the Porta Potty line, I spoke with so many racers who ran a 50k (you must have run at least a 50k prior to running Volcanic) just to run this race. What a beast to choose as your second 50k!
My list of fears included, but was not limited to:
A week before the race I got stung below my eye while out on a run close to home and had a severe reaction that landed me in the ER. I now carry an EpiPen in my pack, especially when up in the mountains or courses like Volcanic where bees are prevalent. I got stung (in the butt) during the race last year, so I was afraid that getting stung again in a sensitive area would force me to quit the race.
We had a hellish camping experience the night before the race last year, so I made sure to book a safe and quiet campground spot 6 months in advance. This race was already starting off better and we didn’t even leave the house yet.
Fierce females would be toeing the line with me. The course record holder, Cassie Knight, came back to defend her title. Beth Cardelli, a La Sportiva Australia athlete, was visiting the U.S. on holiday and, after watching Volcanic 50 videos on YouTube, was enticed to take a trip around St. Helen. Jenn Love is mid-Teanaway 100 training, so she said this course was a little too fast and short for her. Oh, ultrarunners 😊
After a tearful farewell from Renee and Todd, we were off shortly after 7:00am. For the gradual two miles up to the Loowit, I tucked behind Beth and introduced myself. Once we got out of the woods, the sun was already warming the day significantly.
The first section to overcome was where I got stung last year. As I ran through the greenery brushing against my arms and legs, I silently prayed that the bees would still be sleeping. I made it through unscathed when suddenly, from behind, I heard a man yell, “BEES!” Luckily, I was far enough ahead to miss the chaos. Whew! I was aware of the tension this preoccupation was causing so I tried to consciously relax and calm my breathing.
The next obstacle was the infamous boulder fields. I am not naturally adept at navigating the course while, at the same time, getting my short legs up and over these massive rocks. I need to put a lot of focus and attention into it and sometimes when I get stuck, anxiety causes my legs to shake uncontrollably. I kept stumbling and falling as I desperately tried to keep up with Beth, and just like last year, Cassie catches up and effortlessly floats over the boulders. I don’t even think she touches them. The only time I got mad at myself was when I kept apologizing to the people behind me every time I faltered. I didn’t need to do that; faltering is just part of the race. I was stoked that I kept up through all three major fields which was a huge improvement over last year. Check that one off the list!
A large group of the top three women and 2-3 men rolled along at a brisk pace all the way down to the Toutle River. My goal was to get to the rope first so that I didn’t get gapped and have to make up that time. Beth got to the aid station before me and I quickly filled up my bottle and started down the rope first. The river crossing was super easy this year. Then it was back up the 60-foot wall to the other side.
The scree field was a major source of anxiety for me last year, and I am happy to report that I did not have to hold on to someone’s shirt as we traversed. As a matter of fact, I was leading the way across with Beth behind me, Cassie closing the gap 5 seconds back, and Chris Neilson, my friend from Portland, was just below us as we made the tight switch back up and to the left.
I led until about 18 miles with both women right on my shoulder, when I started to get overheated. This was right in the middle of the blast zone and there was no wind to provide any relief from the sun’s burning rays. I kept tripping so I suggested someone else take the lead so that I could regroup. It took just a second before Cassie and Beth went to the front and were gone. Chris, who was battling some crampy legs, came by and I latched on to him. My goal was now to push to hang onto him at least up Windy Pass. Slowly, but surely, Chris brought me back up to Beth. Cassie was long gone. We ran as a group of three from The Springs to the Ape Canyon Aid Station where we stopped and had every kind of liquid cocktail offered.
Chris found his legs (he is attributing his second wind to pickle juice) and absolutely crushed the last 8 miles, leaving Beth and me to work together up and over and up and over and up and over the many canyons. With four miles to go we descended back into the brief stretches of greenery. Beth decided to make a move and quickly pulled away. I was not able to go with her and I could only hope that I would be able to catch up on the last boulder field. When I got to the boulders, I saw her up ahead, but the heat and my quivering legs (this time from fatigue, not anxiety. I welcomed death at this point.) prevented me from closing the gap. I thought I was going to be sick multiple times and fell flat on my face at one point. I remember thinking what a funny picture this would be.
Finally, I made it to Trail 244 which would take me to the finish. Despite it being downhill, it was the longest two miles of my life. When I tried to stride out, I tripped and fell so decided it best not to try anything fancy and just get the damn thing done.
I finished 27 minutes faster than last year on a hotter day. I was 3rd female and 9th overall. Beth was second and Cassie absolutely destroyed her own course record. Full results here.
Because I had someone to run with almost the entire race, my anxiety was not as much of an issue. It feels so good to have run to my full potential on the day we were given and to be able to put my fears on this course to bed.
Thank you to race directors, Todd and Renee, who put their hearts and souls into their races, and to the volunteers who had to hike difficult miles to get to the aid stations to have water, gels, candy, Benadryl and pickle juice ready for runners.
Thank you to everyone who reached out in support and encouragement before the race. Especially those who watched my episode of the Ginger Runner. Your thoughtful messages really filled my heart. (Shout out to Wendy Foster and Scott McKinnon who ran the Volcanic 25k!)
A massive thank you to the following awesome people/brands who were absolutely instrumental during my big 8-week training block leading up to a month of tough races by donating their time, talents, expertise, craft and products to me:
Dr. Steve Noble of Bellingham Performance Lab. I worked with Steve in his performance lab identifying and addressing muscle weaknesses. He also helped me work on my anxiety by retraining the way my body responds to my thoughts with race-specific visualization.
Warren Schick of Active Points Wellness. This man is the Schick! Seriously, go see him.
Dr. Chis Lockwood of Align Chiropractic.
La Sportiva – The Kaptiva’s remained steadfast through sand, water and rocks. BIG rocks.
Lindsay Bekken and Tonia Boze at Terrain Gym – thank you for your guidance in the gym and making my entire body stronger and stronger over the years… 85# 3RM bench press, baby!
Up next, we are flying to Europe for 4 weeks to race, train, race, cheer, eat cheese, gawk at pretty mountain cows and make fools of ourselves by trying to speak French. You can follow along via Instagram @mariadalzot.
Until then, peace out, St. Helen - you can stop haunting my dreams.