There’s a new beast in the Pacific Northwest ultra-running world, and it’s waiting to chew you up. The Teanaway Country 100-mile run offers more than 30,000 feet of elevation gain to crush your spirit, then 30,000 feet of descent to take out your quads. The elevation chart looks like a cardiogram of someone having a nightmare. We met up with Brian Morrison, the Teanaway Country 100 Race Director to discuss the 2017 inaugural running of his masterpiece, as well as what’s in store for runners next year.
First, What Is Teanaway? What Should Runners Expect?
While the course description on UltraSignup jokingly refers to Teanway as “a walk in the park…a very, very hilly walk in the park,” let’s be clear—Teanaway will challenge you. It will try to break you. It will very likely F you up.
“It’s amongst the handful of hardest 100s in the U.S,” Brian said, comparing it to Hardrock 100 in Colorado.
On the flip side, Teanaway is fully stocked with 13 aid stations, 4 bag drop spots, and more volunteers than runners, ensuring you will be well taken care of. Also, the course offers vistas to color your dreams for the rest of your life.
“I would put it up against anything I’ve ever seen in terms of beauty,” Brian stated matter-of-factly.
The out-and-back course begins and ends in Salmon-La-Sac, with a small lollipop loop at the turnaround point. The breathtaking views include Iron Bear Loop (at the turnaround point) and Lake Anne, which Brian described as “the prettiest spot on the course” and “like something out of the Rockies.”
While the views atop the various Cascade Mountains are bound to dazzle, runners must also remain aware of the course markers, and some general navigation knowledge may come in handy. Brian related that when he and a friend originally scouted out the course, there were many times they could not locate the trail without a GPS because “The trails exist only on green maps. The forest has taken the trail back in many places”—particularly in the first and final 15 miles of the race.
Brian said a lot of the old-school runners in the race this year praised the course, while some of the younger and newer runners described those miles as “f‑ed up.”
As the Race Director, Brian identified course marking as “above all else, the thing I wanted to get right.” He described the delicate balance of ensuring there are enough markings so runners do not wander off course and end up needing search and rescue, yet “I want runners to feel like they’re out in the woods. Nobody wants to see a freeway of ribbons down the trail.” Brian admitted that balancing the expectations of the older-school runners, who are accustomed to minimal course markings, and the newer generation of runners, who expect the reassurance of markings in regular, frequent intervals, is a challenge.
This is one of many reasons Brian opted to keep the out-and-back style course, when the original plan was one large loop. The shape of Teanaway changed after the Jolly Mountain fire in Easton, WA in 2017 burned parts of the course, and the USFS insisted the race be re-routed until they could properly survey the damage to the land. This change also reduced the number of land permits needs for the race to just one; another reason Brian plans to keep the new shape of Teanaway.
This Looks Pretty Damn Hard—It Must Be For Experienced 100 Milers Only:
While this course is not to be taken lightly, Brian insisted that it could serve as someone’s first 100-miler if the individual is properly prepared. There is actually a certain advantage to newbie naivety—so long as that newbie is well-prepared, trained, and mentally tough as nails.
“There were plenty of first 100 milers out there who had great days,” Brian said about the inaugural Teanaway running, before his smile grew and he added, “Just ask Brandon Benefield. It was his first 100—and he won.”
76 runners started Teanway this past September, and 51 people finished for an impressive finishing rate of 67% considering the unrelenting course and challenging weather. “The people who were finishing noon and afterward on Sunday experienced rain, snow, and wind at the high points,” Brian explained. The temperatures were in the low 30s—cold enough for snow skiffs—in the higher areas of the course. September in Washington is a wildcard for weather, with possibilities ranging from heat in the 80s to snow.
What lead Brian to Creating Teanaway Country 100?
Teanaway’s history is woven tightly together with Brian’s personal running history, which stands out even in the eclectic niche of ultra-runners. The climax of Brian’s running career occurred at Western States. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It is the oldest 100-mile trail race in the U.S., and some argue in the world. It is the race all ultra-runners dream of and few ever get the chance to participate in.
Brian won it in 2006. Kind of.
Brian was leading the race by more than ten minutes when he stepped onto the Placer High School track to run the final lap and score a win that would inevitably launch a professional ultra-running career. In the final 100 meters, however, Brian collapsed. He got up under his own power, but collapsed almost immediately once again. “I felt like my legs were just….gelatinous,” he told me, his eyes getting bigger as he searched his brain to recall the experience. Brian said he blacked out at that point and doesn’t remember anything between falling the second time and coming back around in the tent after the finish line. He had been helped up by his pacer and wife, and the three of them walked across the finish line—still in first place.
However, having not crossed the line under his own power, Brian was disqualified and did not go down in the books as the official Western States 2006 winner. Brian’s gut-wrenching experience with Western States is documented beautifully in the running film entitled A Decade On, by The Ginger Runner, Ethan Newberry.
Brian returned to Western States with a vendetta in 2007, but ended up dropping 30 miles in due to illness. “I had a virus going into it, which was probably due to overtraining.” In 2008, he showed up again ready to duke it out, but the race was cancelled due to a forest fire. In 2009, Brian made it 62 miles in before dropping due to stomach issues. It seemed it just wasn’t going to happen.
In 2010, Brian stepped away from Western States and running 100-milers to focus on his store, Fleet Feet Seattle, and start a family with his wife. It would be 7 more years, 10 years after his seudo-win, before Brian returned to Western States. In 2016, Brian finally completed the race under his own power, although the race had not gone smoothly and it was a long walk to the finish. “Feeling that Western was off my back, got me excited about the 100-mile distance again.” Brian was starting to think about putting on his own race.
While Brian’s running career started in his early 20s merely as a means of getting in shape in order to summit local peaks Mount Rainer and Mount Stewart (you know, the small WA peaks) with his Uncle Bill, he soon realized there may be something to this running stuff. “I was more into climbing than running, but I was better at running,” Brian laughed.
Summiting Mount Stewart in 2002 was Brian’s introduction to the Teanaway region. His uncle had a cabin in the area, so Brian started visiting more often, climbing and running in the Teanaway region. Over the next few years, and after his multiple Western States disappointments, Brian “was just feeling burnt out on that distance. I was in love with the notion of a 100-mile race, but felt like I needed to pull back from running it myself.”
By 2010, Brian had decided he wanted to put on his own 100-mile race—and he knew just the place. At his uncle’s cabin, Brian started studying green maps and piecing together a potential loop course. “When you look at a map, there was a giant chunk of land south of the Enchantments that was not being used for anything,” Brian explained. The Teanaway region is mostly State land, operated by the Department of Natural Resources in conjunction with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The project got shelved when Brian’s son was born later in 2010, but his finish at Western States six years later revived his motivation to make Teanaway Country 100 happen. In the Summer of 2017, “I decided to do everything necessary to get Teanaway done by 2018,” Brian said.
Great! How Do I Sign Up?
Teanaway is open now for registration via UltraSignUp for September 7, 2019. Requirements of the race involve 8 hours of proven trail work, as well as some ultra-running experience. Racers must have completed at least one 100-mile race ever, or one 50-mile race within the past three years. These qualifications are pretty generous, Brian admitted, stating he may tighten the timeline on the 50-miler in the future. Acknowledging the extreme elevation gains and losses of Teanaway, Brian said he is also willing to consider long-distance hikers who have not completed a 50 or 100 mile run in the past. If someone with extensive hiking experience wants to try the race, they can contact him to be considered for entry on a case-by-case basis.