19 September 2015

Crystal Mountain Sky Marathon

Ouch... so close.

Last year when I ran the Crystal Mountain Sky Marathon I fell around mile 11 and sliced open my right thigh. Pretty dramatic looking stuff but luckily not debilitating and I finished, pretty well considering. This year my goals were 1) not to fall, 2) run healthy/injury-free and 3) to see if I could better my previous time.

ASIDE - #1 was also one of Shelley's goals for me.

[Thanks to Jodee Adams-Moore for these very cool (and kinda hippie) finisher medals!]
Technically I did fall but it was on super soft ground and I only got dirty so we'll fudge a little and say that I accomplished #1. And I did beat my previous time so #3 gets a checkmark as well. But my damn left hip flared up on the first descent (around mile 5 perhaps?) so every running step after that was accompanied by either a little or a lot of discomfort. Boo.

It was so lame how it happened, I was just turning a corner going downhill and strained my hip. It was not a dynamic move or a large step or anything that would be an obvious cause; evidently my body is not 100% healed up yet.

Luckily hiking and steep descents were not painful so I channeled my efforts into those activities and made up as much ground as I could on the really steep sections to hopefully compensate some for my sucky running sections.

Blah, blah, blah... honestly my glass is half full as I was able to push myself and considering my up-and-down fitness this year I should be elated with my result. And I am. And the pulled pork at the finish line BBQ was superb so bonus!

The gear.


Start time was 8:00 AM so there was no ridiculous alarm time required. As long as you don't consider 4:30 ridiculous. Since I usually get up then anyway it didn't mess with my day. I picked up Mitchell Burbick and we headed out.

To Tacoma. Because like an idiot I missed the turnoff to Hwy 18. Maybe I should start drinking coffee?

No crisis, at 5:30 there isn't much traffic so a quick u-turn and a 5-mile detour was all it took to get us on the right route. And we still pulled into the Crystal Mountain parking lot before 7:00 AM.

Let me just say that Skyrunning is where it's at. I have always enjoyed scrambling and descending, toss in a little bit of fitness for the climbs, a dislike for long flat running sections, a dash of adrenaline junkie and bingo - Martin loves these kinds of courses. Not only are Skyrunning courses steep and rugged, they are frequently not even on an official trail! These races often take the most direct route from point A to point B whereas a trail might switchback up or down to ease the grade. Cool stuff.
We started right on time - thanks for that Scott McCoubrey - and promptly headed up the first section which is a climb from the base of the ski area to the top of the Mt Rainier Gondola. The sky was blue, the clouds were sparse and the view of Mount Rainier was AWESOME!

On this climb I felt like everyone and their dog was passing me. Yet I didn't feel like I was dragging that much... Someone more focused on time would have perhaps written their splits on their arm or something and since that is not me this was just a gut feeling. But I knew from running this course last year and from running The Rut 50k that on climbs like this it does little good to push beyond your fitness because you will pay the price and the result is net negative.

ASIDE - it would seem like a totally basic thing to carry the nutrition that works best for you, right? But come race day people want to travel light and so choose to rely on whatever the event is serving up or they make stupid decisions and decide to experiment with whatever the event is serving up. Make no mistake, I have done both but especially after running The Rut 50k and experiencing the excellence that is having an event serve you exactly what works for you (Hammer Nutrition in my case) I am slowly coming around... Today I carried everything I would need for the entire run.
Seeing as I started with two full bottles and seeing as one can only drink so much on a 3-mile climb when your heart is racing and seeing as most of the course between aid station #1 and #2 was downhill all I had to do was round the cone at this first aid station and keep right on going. Nice. As I jogged away from the aid station I sucked down my first Hammer Gel.

This next section is FUN! You run across the top of the ski area and then drop off the top right into a black diamond run. And just like that there is no trail.

You are bounding down a grassy ski slope and are running from flag to flag. Last year Casey Bates and I almost made a wrong turn here because I mistook a red bush for a flag. This year I was all Mr. Eagle Eye and as I approached one flag I would look up and spot the next one. I managed to pass some of the rabbits on this slope even though it is pretty short.

It was on this section of the descent that I tweaked my hip. A little history, my left hip is weaker than my right. I originally hurt it doing a track workout. I then proceeded to rest it which just made it even weaker. Turns out the best thing for my hip is specific strengthening exercises and I guess I have not yet done enough.

This descent has a small 'bump' in it but then it's MILES of wicked fast, quite soft, banked-corner-having singletrack. Go! And here is where experience paid off again. Last year I bombed this and in hindsight went a bit too fast for my fitness. This year I held back just a bit but I still caught back up to Patrick Halferty and Dave Miller and we ran to the second aid station together. I also got stung by a yellow jacket on this descent but luckily it wasn't so bad. Especially with the endorphins flowing.
My running was so hobbled that on the flat, .125 mile approach to the aid station both Dave and Pat pulled away from me and I simply could not keep up.

But efficiency is key and as I approached the aid station I pulled out my packet of Hammer HEED, dumped it into my empty bottle and all I had to do when I arrived was fill it up and I was walking. As I walked away I gulped two Endurolytes and ate my second gel.

From here it's up a short section of trail and road and then another long descent that essentially parallels the Crystal Mountain Road but on the other side of the valley.

Pat was already down the road - he had spent even less time at the aid station than I but on this stretch of the course Dave caught and passed me and then Phil Kochik (who I had passed on the first climb) caught and passed me too. A bit further down the road we ran past an outhouse and who should pop out but Mitchell! I managed to rally somewhat when I pulled up next to me and we ran together to the end of the road.

From here it's just a short trail up the the third aid station and when I got there Mitchell was gone. I didn't know this until after I finished but right at that road to trail transition Mitchell rolled his ankle something fierce and he had to drop. Rats. On this little bit of trail that was still quite runnable two more people passed me.

Once again I was in and out of the aid station pronto. All I needed here was to get one bottle topped off and while a volunteer did that I at a gel and swallowed two more Endurolytes. I screwed the top on as I walked away and then it was on to the big climb of the course.

From here (mile 14.5) to the next aid station (mile 21) is mostly a hike and I made good use of it. I caught and passed Phil, the two guys that had nipped me just before the aid station, three other random people and eventually squeaked past Dave and Pat. But it's not all a hike and once you get off the first section of steep stuff it's a very gradual (and beautiful!) run across the ridge and here Dave and Pat hauled me back in. Just before the last steep climbing section I caught Martin de Vrieze (a good friend and excellent runner).

The last steep climb to the top of the ski area is hard. Especially if you have put in too much work on the previous steep section. I was feeling okay but simply could not accelerate any more and from here to the finish my position didn't change.

It's on this penultimate, steep climb, just 100' from the summit where Glenn Tachiyama hangs out. No doubt seeing people in their last death throes results in great drama. Not sure why but hearing his camera motor fire off a dozen shots as I hiked past gave me a tiny lift. Plus he seems to know everyone's name and calls you out - that's awesome.


At the top of the climb I saw Heather de Vrieze who also wished me well, that was another nice boost. She had done a shorter run that morning and was now cheering on her Martin.

I shuffled down the stone road, hiked up the last climb to the top of the gondola and 'ran' to the aid station. By now my hip was really pissing me off. :(

During my approached I dumped another envelope of HEED into my other bottle and as a volunteer filled it up I sucked down my last gel, popped two more Endurolytes and I was off.

As I was trying to leave the super polite aid station volunteer was trying to ask me if there was anything else he could do for me. I must have been slightly tired as I didn't really understand him at first. And then when I did understand and tried to reply my mouth was full of gel and it was hard to utter anything intelligible. Our conversation went something like this.
Volunteer: "Can I get you anything else?"
Me: --- [No doubt accompanied by a 1,000 yard stare.]
Me: "Oommmphgh..."
Volunteer: "You're doing great, I think you are in the top 20!"
Me: "Grruuumphgh..."
From experience I knew that if you have any reserves left here you can make up a shitload of time in these last five miles. Conversely, if you have blown your wad by the time you arrive at the last aid station I know you can lose a shitload of time between here and the finish. For a change I was feeling quite reasonable considering the effort I had put in so far and so the peaceful stillness and tranquility of the Cascades was frequently interrupted by me cursing my hip on this last descent.

There is a not-insignificant 800' climb right in the middle of this descent but it was not sufficiently long for my hiking to make a difference. I limped down to it, hiked up and over it, and then tried my best to run to the finish. I guess I did alright but it felt like I was crawling along. Make no mistake, I was NOT feeling fresh as a daisy but on this day I had metered my effort very well and nailed my nutrition/hydration so I could have gone a little faster with no injury.

As I left the last aid station I glanced at my watch and thought I would be lucky if I beat my time from last year (5:12). As I topped the last climb I saw 4:40 and started to contemplate a sub 5:00 finish. As I crossed under the chairlift just above the finish arch I saw 4:57 and twisted the throttle as best I could. And I made it. Whew.

I was worked.

But what a thrill to get everything out of yourself that you have to give on that particular day! Rarely does plain water and watermelon taste so good. Here I am trying to keep warm after the run.


Did I mention that Heather handed out large bottles of beer after her Martin rolled in? She is so nice. They went swimmingly with the post-race BBQ.

Thanks to Hammer Nutrition, Brooks, The Balanced Athlete and the Seattle Running Club for their support. Thanks to the amazing volunteers that make EVERY trail race happen and thanks to Mother Nature for the weather window as the blue sky was all gone when I finished and we even got a few sprinkles later on.

Sleep 5.75
Waking HR 45
Body Weight
Body Fat
Breakfast nothing
Nutrition 1 Hammer Gel 10 min before start
2 large Water Bottles each w/2 scoops Perpetuem and 2 Endurolytes, 2 bottles w/Hammer HEED, 4 Hammer Gels, 8 Endurolytes
Recovery water, watermelon
Injuries my left hip flared up around mile 5
Time of Day 8:00 AM
Workout Type race
Weather upper 40 at start, upper 50s at finish, perhaps a bit warmer during parts of the race
Course 4 climbs, 4 descents, plenty of steeps, off-the-chart views
Results 1st - Men 50-59
4th - Masters Men (40+)
23rd - Overall
official results
Time 4:56:31
[According to my watch all the times are about two minutes fast but as long as it's everyone...]
Distance 26.2 miles
Equipment Brooks PureGrit 3, Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0
Clothing Injinji Trail 2.0 Midweight Mini-Crew, Brooks Infinity 3" Split Short, Hammer Nutrition Short Sleeve Running Shirt, #NoStoppingMonday hat, Brooks Pulse Lite Glove II [Which didn't even last all the way to top of the first climb.]

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