Tuesday, December 15, 2015

There Will Be Adventure: Race Recap of the Deception Pass 50k

Being blown down the trail near the start.
Photo from Glenn Tachiyama.

Heading in to the Deception Pass 50k, I wasn't feeling entirely confident. I had trained, yes, but life being what it was, I would have rather done just about anything than run a 50k that day. Since I knew the weather was going to be challenging, and I knew it wasn't going to be a fast (for me) day, I came up these three goals for the race: to remain present, enjoy the journey no matter the weather, and stay under the cut-offs.

The day started with a 4:30 a.m. alarm. I headed north from Seattle and arrived at Deception Pass in the pitch black. The weather was already threatening: lots of wind, but no rain yet.

After checking in and getting my bib (lucky #7!) I hunkered down in my car and arranged my things, waiting for the race to start. Once it got close to go time, I joined the crowd of runners at the starting area -- an unmarked spot in the parking lot. The race director, James Varner, gave the pre-race announcements along with some news: he might cut the race short at 11 miles. Strong winds were moving through and making for a potentially dangerous situation. I'm not going to lie, after how exhausting the previous week was, I did a small prayer that the race would be shortened. Despite standing in the group of runners it still hadn't sunk in that I was about to run a 50k. I eyed the sky as I hoped my rain jacket would hold up, my hands would stay warm, and that I made the right decision in donning shorts.


Then we were off! I stuck near the back and moved slowly. Since my Garmin no longer holds a charge for longer than about 6 1/2 hours, I decided to wear it simply as a watch instead of turning on the GPS. I have no idea what my pace was at any point during the race. Instead, I ran by feel. This worked out well... I never had a single moment of panic because I never knew my pace! 

The trails wound through Deception Pass State Park, which was absolutely breathtaking. Sometimes we ran under under thick tree cover, sometimes out along the water. In the trees I couldn't really feel the wind, but once out in the open it hit hard. Mostly I didn't mind it. In fact it cooled me down a bit since I was pretty warm in my rain jacket. The only time I found the wind downright awful was when the course took us over the Deception Pass bridge--twice. I held my baseball hat in one hand and kept my other hovered over the railing, ready to grab on whenever I lost my balance a bit. I couldn't even look up to see the view!

Course map.

As I passed through the aid station at mile 7.3 I asked a volunteer how close I was to the cut-off. He said I was 45 minutes under so I was cautiously excited. I was doing well, but there was a lot of race left. I grabbed some snacks and Gu Brew at this aid station and moved on. 

The first half of the race was so much fun. I loved the trails, which weren't too muddy and held a lot of fun climbs and sweeping views. The climb up Goose Rock might have been my favorite part-- steep switchbacks and views for miles. I felt great and my effort level remained comfortable.

During the race random songs kept popping in to my head, including one of my nine year old's favorites: "Stitches" by Shawn Mendes. "And now that I'm without your kisses, I'll be needing stitches . . . ." echoed through my brain. It made me laugh. 

I ran with others who enjoyed chatting a bit and there were several spots where we crossed paths with runners coming towards us. Almost everyone said some version of "good job" and it was nice to feel this sense of community. I even had the chance to meet some folks who I had only previously known on social media and that was really great.

Eventually I realized the RD wasn't calling the race short and a bit later I passed by him on the trail. He asked me if I was having fun, to which I replied "Yes, I am!" And I truly was. In that moment, at least, I was very happy to keep running.

Elevation profile. I think almost 5,000 feet of elevation gain?

Once I hit the aid station at about mile 15 I was finally starting to feel the effects of the hard work. It was so great to see some friendly faces, awesome ladies from the High Heels Running Group, working the Cornet Bay aid station. I grabbed some snacks and drinks and headed out to do my first of two big loops. 

During the first loop things got difficult. My outer left knee started throbbing in pain. I knew the feeling: the dreaded IT band. I hadn't felt it in a few years, so was confused why it was showing up now. The trails in the loop were much more difficult than the first part of the race, with lots of puddles and some difficult ups and downs in solid mud. We were shielded from the wind down on the trails, but the tall trees swayed violently overhead. There were many trees down on the trail, as well, turning the race in to a bit of an obstacle course. Over or under? Sometimes I was crawling, sometimes I was hoisting myself up over tree trunks. The rain was fairly constant most of the afternoon, but thankfully I never felt completely soaked. 

I spent the last few miles of that loop in a very low spot. I had no idea how long the loop was and just kept thinking: "it has to be over soon, I've been out here forever!" I went back and forth in my head, wondering if I needed to drop out because of my knee. I walked for a while, contemplating my foolishness for thinking I could even consider a 50 mile race next Spring when I was falling apart this far in to a 50k. I ran my fingers along the hem of my Cascade Crest 100 shirt from volunteering last summer, which was serving as a reminder of my ultimate goal of finishing that race. It felt completely out of reach in that moment. Finally I decided to make a plan for the aid station: first, figure out where I was on the course and how long that damn loop was and then grab some ibuprofen and swap out my wet buff from my drop bag in hopes of helping my body feel better.

After situating things at the aid-station, I was still ahead of cut-offs (though I assume just barely) so I semi-reluctantly ventured back out again. I decided my knee would hold, and so there was no solid reason to drop out. There was really nothing to do but finish the darn thing. 

On the way out of the aid station I came upon a runner I had previously seen at the top of Goose Rock. We chatted and walked together and she mentioned she was struggling a bit. Not feeling too great myself, I appreciated her company. We decided to stick together and it made the idea of doing that loop again much more tolerable. 

With some walking, some running, some chatting, and even a bit of laughing, I was surprised at how fun that second loop was, especially after the significant amount of dread I had going in to it. My knee felt a little better, good enough to keep moving at least. I repeatedly reminded myself of my three goals. Despite a small rough patch I was "back in the game," nearing the end, and hitting each goal. 

My new friend and I came through the aid station at about mile 28 and were told we were the last runners out on the course. This was shocking news; I knew we had fallen back in the pack but there were still several runners that I knew had to be behind us. Apparently they weren't allowed to head out to do the second loop because of the strict cut-offs. I felt simultaneously sad and excited by this news-- "last?! How in the world?" And also: "We weren't cut off!" After that aid station it was up the road for a bit before ducking back on to the trails. We came upon another runner and landed in a great spot to take a commemorative photo:

This was the only photo I got with my phone all day.

We kept winding around some technical trails trying to figure out exactly where the finish line was. It felt like it would be "just around the corner" but over and over it wasn't. Since I didn't know the mileage I kept asking my friend where we were. Finally we heard the cheers from the finish line: we were close! We dropped down on to the parking lot from the trail. Through the parking lot, wondering where exactly we needed to go, a volunteer directed us towards the finish line. We turned the corner on to the gravel path and, as we approached. I heard someone shout my name. I don't know who it was, but it sure felt amazing to hear! High fives to James and with that the race was over. 7 hours, 48 minutes and 27 seconds after I started. Like, whoa.

The smile was not forced!
Photo near the finish by Glenn Tachiyama.

I went through just about every range of emotion out on the course and finished feeling strong and happy. Joining friends for a beer and food in the shelter after the race was icing on the cake. It felt perfect.

Driving home after the race pretty much sucked, my knee was not thrilled. But I had a smile from ear to ear and certainly increased my level of badassery a notch or two. 

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