My loving wife made me some hard boiled eggs to eat on the drive, she rules.
Fair warning - these reports of events that are momentous to me tend to ramble on a bit… I guess I want to get all my emotions down on 'paper' because I will otherwise forget the details. So grab some coffee or a glass of wine and relax.
I was excited! For sure my nerves were WAY more under control than two days ago but this was a big deal to me. It was going to be my longest run ever and it was a race. And I was heading up with a van full of pretty fast guys.
Of course the entire drive was non-stop banter (Bill was in the car after all) but I just tried to chill and only occasionally interject a quip. And it worked - I stayed calm. We arrived at the start one hour before the gun and got in the check-in line just in time before it ballooned. Nice.
Did I mention that it rained the entire drive up? And that about 20 miles from Fairhaven the rain turned to snow? HEAVY SNOW? Oh yes, we were all trying to psych ourselves up for an epic outing. Or maybe that was just me. :(
With our numbers in hand and 45 minutes to spare we steamed up the van by pinning numbers and changing clothes. Then Justin and Bryan went for a warm-up jog. Brad, Bill and I stayed in the car. I felt relatively loose and saw no sense in getting wet early as I was planning on starting out mellow anyway. Plus, I'm still so new to this that warming up for a 50 km run seems sort of like puling the trainer out prior to starting STP. Not. Gonna. Happen.
ASIDE - speaking of starting, because of the much higher number of entries this year runners were let go in waves. To determine your wave they asked what your fastest marathon time was when you signed up and being the running n00b that I am I said 4:30 as that was roughly my time at the ONLY marathon I have done which was a pretty difficult trail run marathon. The result? I was the only guy in our car in the second wave. Bummer. Hopefully this would not result in a long and lonely run.
I was all dressed and had decided to take my vest with me as someone said it would be windy up top and then at the last minute Justin had a wardrobe crisis. He was debating whether or not to wear his vest (a Patagonia Ultra Running Team jacket - complete with massive logo on the back - with the sleeves cut off) or not and finally decided against it. My vest is old school and made for cycling and has a high collar and when I saw him throw his vest back in the van I asked if I could wear it and he said yes. Bingo. Suddenly I looked totally PRO.
I went to the start to see off the crew and was amazed that I recognized some ultra running faces, among them Hal Koerner, dressed in nothing but a freaking tank top! I was predicting hypothermia.
Off I went… at a very moderate pace. As soon as the trail leveled off I was checking my watch pretty frequently to ensure I did not go too fast. Which was hard - I was feeling terrific! I was resolved to keep my pace between 7:30 and 8:00 for the first 10 km as I had been advised to run this first flat trail portion at a speed that I could maintain on the way home and my optimistic guess of what I could do coming back was 8:00 pace. Because of my restraint about five guys slowly started to ease up the road. One of them I recognized at the start from the Grand Ridge Marathon, it was Chase M.
In anticipation of needing all the motivation I could muster I took my iPod Shuffle along today but was resolved not to use it until necessary.Silence for now.
After about three miles the front four or five guys from my wave were out of sight but I was slowly reeling in one person. Because I caught him so slowly it seemed to make sense to run together and we did. He was about my height and weight so I was hoping we would be compatible for a while at least. About five miles into the run there was a break in the trees to our left and when I looked up you could clearly see the stark snow line roughly 500' above us. It looked impressive! At the time I was in front and pointed to the snow and my companion let out one of those uber enthusiastic whoops which only lacked the accompanying arm pump. My hopeful companion sure was motivated.
Just as I was starting to 'feel' the first aid station approaching I saw a couple of people up the road and just before we pulled into the aid station we passed them. I casually glanced down at their numbers (the first wave had green numbers and the second wave had red) and saw green… No way! My mind was way to amped to do the math and figure out what it takes to make up 10 minutes in 6.5 miles but it seemed incredible to me. Either I was going faster than I thought (not likely) or these folks were in for a loooong day. And how the hell did they get in the first wave in the first place?!
I had told myself to eat and drink at every aid station so dutifully I pulled in and took stock of my supplies. I had barely touched my bottle as I had been hydrating all the way up to Fairhaven and my three gels that I was carrying were for emergencies so I grabbed one gel from the table, sucked it down while noticing that my companion had blown right on by without stopping. Damn… I grabbed a handful of Shot Bloks and took off.
From aid station #1 the trail goes up to Fragrance Lake. It's not wicked step but for some people it already meant hiking. Justin had told me that these switchbacks were not so bad but get a little steeper at the top so I resolved to at last try and run in the beginning. While choking down bits of Gummy Bear-like food I tried to find a comfortable pace.
After two or three switchbacks I had finished the Shot Bloks and I could see my earlier companion up the trail. It was here that I started to blow through traffic. I was amazed by the number of people I was passing and 99% of these people were from the first wave. By now I was laughing at my earlier fear of running alone.
Maybe one mile up the hill I caught my companion. I had to push just a little because this guy was NOT hiking at all. But he also was not surging and so far this pace felt good so once I caught him I just stayed behind him. We ran together up into the snow and around the lake and down to the aid station #2.
I stopped again and this time in addition to eating a gel and grabbing a handful of Shot Bloks (hey, it worked once…) I also drank a couple of cups of electrolyte drink. I heard someone say the next aid station was only three miles away so since my bottle was still half full I think I did not top it off. Boom.
Justin had told me that this bit was on the road and climbed all the way to the next aid station. Once again it was not supposed to be very steep in the beginning but it would get steeper toward the top.
ANOTHER ASIDE - Justin had given me several well-intentioned tips the night before this run. At the time I was smiling thinking that no way was I going to remember them all and that they were really tailored to someone that had done this race before but now I was surprised at how many were coming back to me. A nice surprise for sure.
The road was all covered in snow. It had been packed down where a car had driven up and the leaders had run in the tire tracks so that is what most of the people around me did as well. I did too until I started passing people. What…?! That's right, I was having a stellar day and had yet to walk a single step. My pace must have been appropriate for my fitness and I was thinking how easy it is to go just a little too fast trying to keep up with someone that is better/quicker and then you and invariably you end up paying the price. I was still hoping that was not the case today and that I had gotten it right.
Going up the road I found that the snow in the middle was not deep enough to slow me down and it frequently offered better traction so soon I was running wherever I wanted and just taking the shortest line around corners. Oh yeah, on this section I left my companion behind. Rats. But I was in the groove! My pace still felt awesome.
At aid station #3 my bottle was empty so in addition to gulping two cups of electrolyte drink I filled my bottle. Then I had the usual gel and seeing there were no Shot Bloks I had another. Then I spotted some cubes of chocolate brownie-like stuff with coconut so I grabbed dour of those and took off down the Chuckanut Ridge Trail.
I had been warned by several people that I should exercise caution on this portion of the run. I had been told it was going to be cold, that there was exposure, that the footing was sketchy and that there were lots of short, sharp ups and downs so I should not be afraid to walk.
Right away the trail got technical and when I say 'technical' I mean FUN. I am by no means a wizard when it comes to running gnarly singletrack but on this day and on this trail I was doing VERY well compared to the people around me. So well that I just kept right on passing people going down and up. There was about 4-6" of snow on the ground here and a 10" wide muddy trough down the middle of the trail. Usually it was best to stay in the middle but frequently I would run in the snow for extra traction or just to get around someone and it felt fine. I did have to walk some short ups, especially when I was caught behind traffic, but I was still in the groove and still feeling fine. I kinda sorta hooked up with another runner here. I felt he was fitter but I was descending faster and so after I passed him I noticed he stayed with me and we ran together for a stretch.
It was here that I got the first of what I shall refer to as a 'vest comment'. I don't recall the specifics of them all but I think I got four on this day.
Remember, I was wearing this full-on team Patagonia vest and as I passed one person they said, "Justin…?!" I laughed to myself and answered, "Nope, just a friend of Justin." Later on the ridge someone else said, "Are you on the Patagonia Ultra Running Team?" As much as I was tempted to make up an elaborate story about how I was on the team and how I was coming back from some massive injury - hence my second wave start - I opted for honesty and said, "No, I just wanted to feel important today." Too funny. To me at least.
At the end of the ridge we took a hard right and were first on N Lost Lake Trail followed by S Lost Lake Trail. All of this was a huge traverse and was the muddiest section of the run. My earlier companion had told me he was up here just one week ago and that it was, "Shoe suckingly deep." Nice. Luckily it turnout out not to be so bad. I think the first wave had displaced lots of the mud and here I was again able to run in the snow on the side of the trail at times avoiding the worst of the slop. Not always, but most of the time.
Here I started to experience fatigue for the first time. It has been said that in every long athletic event you will experience highs and lows and that athletes who do well simply acknowledge this and deal with and work through the lows better than others. I guess I was trying to steel myself.
It was also on this section that I finally stopped to take a leak. OMG, I had been holding this in for freaking ages! Why? Because I am an idiot. The urge to pee first hit me at about mile 10 but I was so worried about letting people get away from me that I knew I could run with that I waited and waited. And waited. The straw that finally broke the camel's back was a guy I was running with stopped. I continued on, got a good gap and then pulled over too. Laughable.
Going into the traverse there was a pack of about six runners in front of me. They had perhaps a 100 m lead and so I focused on that and tried to shrink it. For a while nothing happened. Then suddenly the pack started to splinter just a bit and slowly one then two guys drifted back to me and I went past him. Finally (it took several miles!) I caught up to these two guys on the same team (they had on matching shoes, shirts and hydration packs anyway) and fell in behind them. And here is where I started hiking.
There were stretches of uphill that were pretty sloppy here and traction was far from ideal so instead of wasting energy trying to run and recovering from the inevitable slips I walked. Walking meant I slid less and wasted less energy and probably did not slow down any. It just so happened the two teammates in front of me walked every time I did so we got to the next aid station together.
Chainscraper time! I had been told this was the hardest climb of the run. Not ready? Too bad. The only problem was I did not know where I was…
Having just run a stout section of trail I was looking under the aid station tent for something slightly more substantial than gel and found it in some doughnut holes. I stuffed three in my mouth, chased it with a quarter of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a gel, topped off my bottle and headed up the trail. That's when I saw the Chainscraper sign. Nice.
Most of this climb was a hike. But looking around others were hiking all of it so I felt pretty good. I was still amazed to be able to jog the flat sections and to transition to running pretty instantly when the trail leveled off. How long was this going to last? I had tried to be careful/methodical about my pace but you still have doubts and I could not shake the feeling that this pace was going to cause me to come crashing down and reduce me to that classic guy who goes out too hard and then totally implodes. I found myself saying to no one in particular, "Please let it not happen to me this one time…"
And then I was at the top. How did I feel? Still really good! Holy shit.
Almost as good, I remembered yet another bit of advice from Justin which was I was about to hit a massive descent and that it was not technical. Fly!
YET ANOTHER ASIDE - at this aid station (#4.5 I guess as the course map only shows five) I saw Rory M from BuDu Racing. They were providing the timing for this event and once I said hi and he recognized me a woman ran past me while I gulped yet another gel and two more cups of electrolyte drink. "Don't get chicked!" he shouted. Too late.
'Not technical' is right, I was on a dirt road so let 'er rip. The course went down maybe one mile of road, took a sharp left onto a wide trail (I was still flying) and then after maybe one more mile was back on road. I had passed another three or four people on this descent including the two teammates but on the second section of road I was becoming acutely aware of my quads and how much I was pounding them. Running downhill 'easy' is a super valuable technique and it's one I have not mastered so I opted to pull in the reins just a tad and tried to walk the thin line between braking too much and letting loose too much. Bottom line is I had to slow down or I would have been wrecked at the bottom.
I had passed the woman that run by me at the previous aid station but then I had to take my second nature break towards the bottom of the road descent. By this time I did not care too much about losing or making up ground and besides, it seemed like other than this woman there was a pretty big gap in front and of me and behind me. She had obviously not been too far behind me on the road and when I stopped she went roaring by.
By the time I got to the bottom of the road my legs were pretty toast and my stomach was a little upset from all the food that I had consumed at the top and then bounced around all the way down. Since I was feeling pretty full and since my bottle was mostly full (and since I was still carrying my original three gels) I only stopped for two small cups of Coke at the last aid station. Justin had told me to shorten up my stride toward the bottom to ease the transition to the flat and I thought about it but could not/did not take his advice. Not sure which. As I turned right through a paved parking lot and got on the gravel path that led back to the finish slowing from what must have been sub six minute miles on the descent to whatever that first half mile was felt like my speed got cut in half. Ouch.
Oh yeah, then I remembered I had music! As I tried to coax my leg speed back to something reasonable I reached down and clicked on my iPod. Wham. Instantly I was transported to another world. In this other world my legs were still full of concrete but my mind suddenly cleared up significantly. It was really nice.
One last nice surprise was that as soon as I got onto the trail I saw the woman that had passed me on the descent in the trees. I guess she had to pee too and this time I ran by her.
Here I started looking at my watch again and the first time I saw something like a 8:30 or 8:40 pace. After a bit I saw 8:20 and then I saw 8:10. I tried to coax myself under 8:00 but it was just not happening. On the upside, before I started I would have bet money on me walking some of this trail and so far I was not feeling defeated enough to resign from running. Plus, I knew if I walked once, it would be MUCH easier to justify more. So instead I focused on just keeping the legs turning over. And over. And over. You get the idea.
I won't say this was easy, far from it. But for the first time in my life I was able to dial in a kind or auto-pilot and thank GOD that auto-pilot was set to about a 8:10 pace. I also still had the presence of mind to attempt some mental math and perhaps one mile into this section of trail I suddenly realized that finishing in under five hours was possible. Wow.
Prior to the start I had told myself that I would be happy with 5:30. After a casual pre-start chat with Bill he guessed I could do 5:15. Unless I had a major melt-down, 5:15 was going to be well in hand and so once again I tried to coax my legs into speeding up.
There was some guy in front of me with a took on. No shit, it was complete with ear flaps and the string that no one ties but is supposed to go under your chin. By now it was much warmer than up on the ridge and I was casting a shadow. I considered taking off my hat and gloves (and maybe the vest too) but then decided against it because 1) stripping would cost time and 2) I was not over heating by any means, I was just a little warm. So instead I focused on trying to reel this guy in. It. Took. For. Ever. But I did it. And then I left him behind.
At this stage I know I was not running any faster, but I was not slowing down which is sometimes all you can ask for.
There was one more guy within sight. He was easy to spot because he had on white compression socks but it looked like I was not going to manage this gap.
And then we hit the dips.
Overall I would describe this trail as flat but there are some big dips that take you down to a stream and then back up the other side; there are perhaps four of these on the way home? Climbing the first dip I went straight to the granny gear (but did not hike!) and at the top when I looked up again white socks seemed like he was closer. He also seemed like he was running with really stiff legs… After the second dip he was closer still but on the flat I could do nothing. The third 'dip' has the biggest climb and after the first short stretch in the woods you pop out, cross a road and head up an exposed path. About 50' up this path white socks cramped so abruptly that he almost fell down. Yikes! That was the last I saw of him.
Where the hell was the finish? I had totally forgotten that there were mile markers on the road and when I looked at my watch it said I had covered about 29.5 miles so even though my GPS is usually a little short I knew I was close. C'MON FINISH. Man was I tired.
Then I was finally crossing a bunch of paved roads - this meant I was really close. Was I going to make five hours? EXCITEMENT. What was hilarious was how little I could do to affect the outcome.
And then there was a person standing in the trail telling me to turn left and that the finish was only 500' away. I looked at my watch and it said 4:58.
Instantly the suffering melted away. It's amazing really, one second you are absolutely on the edge at your limit doing all that you can just not to slow down and the next you are speeding up. It really is all in your head.
Objectively I probably did not speed up that much but I did my best. And it was not that ridiculous all-out sprint that you see at some marathons which make you wonder how much the person who is suddenly doing a six minute pace for the last 100 m could have bettered their time by if they had milked that effort just a little out on the course but instead a slow, steady acceleration to the line. It's all about style baby. Hearing the announcer call out my name - and pronounce it correctly - was such a thrill.
As I crossed the line and stopped my watch it was almost exactly five hours. So what if that was moving time (which I had totally forgotten about), I had hardly stopped on this day and I was on cloud fucking nine.
Who should I stagger into after crossing the line than Marlis. Thanks Marlis for 1) keeping me from falling down and 2) for all the nice things you said.
After stiffening up and hobbling around I found the food and drink tents. Hello warm soup, you are my friend! After hooking up with Brad, Bryan and Bill and since the finish was at least a half mile from the start we had to walk back to the van to clean up and change clothes. If not for the sun this would have been miserable but Mother Nature cooperated for once. After changing we drove back to the finish, had more food and I wandered around listening to all the competitors and friends of competitors spin yarns and rehash the memories that always get rehashed at athletic events. Today was also brad's first 50 km run so we got a picture.
Euphoria is a funny thing. It kept me going for most of the rest of the day.
Here are all the pictures.
|Breakfast||4:15 AM - banana, applesauce, 1 scoop protein powder, walnuts|
5:30 AM - 2 hard boiled eggs
6:00 AM - large bottle w/3 scoops Perpetuem
|Workout Food||I started carrying a bottle w/1 tablet Nuun and 1 scoop HEED and 2 gels… I think I consumed three bottles of fluid, a few small cups of electrolyte drink, 2 small cups of Coke, about 20 Shot Bloks, about 8 gels, 3 doughnut holes, part of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some yummy chocolate/nut/coconut cubes.|
|Time of Day||8:10 AM|
|Weather||40 and drizzle at the start, lots of snow and mid 30s up top, sun and dry and mid 40s at the finish|
|Results||Men 40-49 - 16th (out of 107)|
Overall - 83rd (out of 550)
|Distance||50 km (31 miles)|
|Equipment||Hoka Combo XT|
|Clothing||shorts, Craft short sleeve undershirt, Patagonia long sleeve shirt, Patagonia vest, Patagonia gloves, SmartWool hat|