When Washougal dentist and ultra runner, Dave Stinchfield, decided he’d tackle a 200-mile race, he wasn’t totally sure he could do it. But, when he embarked on this remarkable journey that began August 9, deep in the Cascade Mountains, he realized all his preparation running 50K and 100-mile races paid off.
“I was really excited building up to it, I was really excited about the whole thing, but I thought could I actually do this 200-miler? Actually I thought there’s a 50/50 chance, so I was wondering where my weak point was going to be,” said Dave, about a week after the race ended. “There was actually no part of the race where I thought I needed to quit.”
Aided by his wife, Adina; daughter, Morgan; brother, Tom; and a team of pacers and supporters, Dave completed the Bigfoot 200 race in 85 hours, 10 minutes, crossing the finish line at 10:30 pm on August 12.
Making the race successful is a delicate balance of mental stamina, focus, support, proper nutrition, hydration and foot care.
Dave walks us through the adventures of each day.
“The first part of the race is the Mount St. Helens blast zone, it was like running on the moon, and then going into Coldwater Creek I heard the thunder in the distance,” said Dave. “I was going to get two to three hours of sleep and it was just dumping and the rain was so loud I couldn’t sleep. My next leg was 19 miles that went up 5,000 feet. That’s what I had ahead of me and there was lightning and thunder and I put on all my rain gear and it took me seven hours to get through that section, and it took me on mountain ranges and cliffs. I passed a lot of people who were getting really discouraged. That was the first night.”
The 160+ ultra runners were supported by aid stations (10-15 miles apart) and sleep stations that are dispersed throughout the race. The runners let support staff know they’re ready for sleep, or if they have a vehicle they use those, but you’re not allowed to leave the area. Dave used a roof top tent on his truck, which Adina drove.
Dave fueled up on breakfast burritos, guacamole, veggie hamburgers, and protein gels eaten along the way. Ultra runners need lots of salt and carbs.
“You need salt because it gets depleted and it makes you tank and you lose your appetite so I was taking salt tabs,” said Dave. “I sweat salt. I drank a lot of water and a lot of electrolytes. I use Tailwind, which is an electrolyte, and it keeps you balanced. I figured I burned about 25,000 calories during the race! I wasn’t able to replace all of that with food. I lost weight. I usually lose 5-10 pounds on these type of races. And, when I was done I really wanted pizza.”
On day two, the storm cleared out and Dave was joined by a pacer named Wes, from Sunnyvale, California, who ran three legs with him, which lasted the whole day and into the next night — a total of 50 miles.
“A lot of the trails were deep rutted and shaped like a V from water run off or motorcycles and there were angled surfaces,” said Dave. “That was the whole 50-mile climbing stretch. He stayed with me until Lewis River camp ground aid station where I got three hours of rest. You have to balance how much you sleep with how far you’re getting behind. I had four time goals set, and I finished only three hours off my awesome goal. I had a really good pace going. I’m typically in top third group and I wanted to stay there in that top third.”
Experienced runners know when you start getting hot spots on your feet that’s where blisters form and you have to take care of it.
“I changed shoes five to six times, and most of the time I’d get wet pretty quick,” he said. “If you run on soaking wet feet it will create worse blisters. After 100 miles I had blisters that hurt with every step. I learned to endure the pain in my feet, but my joints and muscles didn’t hurt too much.”
On day three, Dave was joined by his brother, Tom Stinchfield, who ran two legs with his older brother.
“We left there with a river crossing and we went through this thick wet, overgrown trail area that was soaking wet,” said Dave. “I had a bunch of climbing with Tom, and he stayed with me for 25-30 miles. So he got me to the next aid station in the late afternoon and then he dropped off and I got my feet taped off again. A group called Dirtbag Medic was there and they examined everyone’s feet, so I felt like I covered a lot of ground and realized I had 60 miles left. I felt good, my pace was good, my joints and muscles felt really good.”
“So I left that aid station alone and it had four river crossings, one of which had a five-mile relentless climb, and once I got to the top of that it was nighttime. It was 1 or 2 am on Monday and I slept for three hours.”
Dave told Adina he just wanted to wake up at a particular time, and once he laid down flat, he was gone.
“I took my socks off to air out my feet,” he said. “I had a pair of running shoes once size larger because the feet swell up. To prevent foot damage you go to a bigger pair of shoes. Julie, works with Adina, joined me there, and she ran two or three legs with me. That was beautiful, and we went up these areas with gorgeous views of Mt. Rainier and Mount St. Helens and Mt. Adams. We came across a runner who was passing a kidney stone on this ridge out of reach of anybody. He wasn’t able to move anymore. He ended up having the Air National Guard airlifting him out from a ridge up 4,500 feet.”
On these long races, Dave said you have to watch your urine output as you can be totally dehydrated. Urinating regularly is sign you’re properly hydrated. Runners take dirt naps or short breaks at the aid stations, but they’re focused on constantly moving.
During one of the updates, Adina reported “Just a marathon left.”
Dave said there were a couple times in the last quarter of the race where nothing would hurt.
“I didn’t feel tired at all, my feet didn’t hurt, it was almost this euphoria,” he said. “I could just take off running way faster than I was going. It was really a runner’s high. I felt I was able to do it with a decent time. Everything feels good, and you just take off running. I did my last leg with Morgan and then she jumped on with a half-marathon to the finish and at that point that was mile 193 and ran into 206.5, which was a nice sunset. I came in around 10:30 pm. The finish line was at White River High School in Randall, WA. You finish on the track right there.”
“I learned that with every increase of distance and endurance I was always wondering am I capable of doing that? I learned that it was possible. We’re all going through struggles and I learned I had to take it one chunk at a time. I took it into small little chunks. I think I just got to get to that aid station. I learned I can actually do it. I’m so grateful for Adina and all they pacers that got me through it. That middle section is really tough.”
Would he do it agin?
“Yes, I would do it again. I’m gonna do it again next year.”
There were 160+ runners that started, and 55 dropped the race. Dave was number 35. There were 70 runners that came after him.
“After the race, we went and got some pizza then we went back to the hotel, I took a shower and I went to bed and slept for eight hours. Then I went back to the track in Randall and kept my feet elevated while I watched the runners finish. There were people from all over the world. I made some really good friends and saw people that really struggled and overcame it. I stayed there until 6 pm when the last runner came in.”
He said his feet really hurt for the next four to five days, and a couple of toes are numb.
He uses a couple brands of shoes: Altra and an Italian brand called Los Portiva.
“I think I need different brands to keep my feet guessing. I use Ultimate Direction for gear. I go through two to three pair of shoes at once and they last four to five months.”
“Ultra running is catching on. There’s a slogan that says 200 is the new 100. There are lot of ultra runners out there and the Pacific Northwest is the best place to run with all our trails and varying terrain. People come from all over the world to run here.”
Ultrasignup.com is where you go to sign up for these races, and search for Bigfoot 200 to learn more about this particular race.