Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Sun Mountain 50 Miler: Go Get It

Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama

I made no secret of my pre-race nerves: the impending Sun Mountain 50 miler was basically scaring the crap out of me in the final few weeks of my training. Excitement was over-shadowed by doubt, and my naive "hell yes!" withered in to "OMG WTF."

Fortunately my naiveté prevailed, and on Saturday May 21st I finished my first 50 mile race.

This is the second year my family has made a long weekend vacation of trekking up to the Methow Valley for a Sun Mountain race. Last year I ran my first 50k on those same trails! It's such a fun trip for all of us.  

My husband, our girls and I settled in to our cozy cabin in Mazama (same one as last year!) on Thursday night, then ventured in to Winthrop to have dinner at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery (same as last year!). Making sure to get a picture of the girls in the face cutout photo stand outside (same as . . . you guessed it). Traditions in the making!

Photo credit: my husband Matt

On Friday morning I laid out all of my race gear then we ventured in to Winthrop after lunch. First stop was to the Chickadee Trailhead, where the Sun Mountain races start and finish. We decided to walk the ~one mile Yellow Jacket trail out to where the Homestead aid station would be, which calmed my nerves and shook out my legs. After the walk it was time for a mandatory trip to Sheri's Sweet Shoppe for candy and ice cream, then we threw in a rousing round of mini golf for good measure. Finally, we headed back to the cabin for pasta dinner. And an early bedtime.

The early bedtime didn't matter one lick. I could hardly sleep at all. 

Wide away at 4:00 a.m., I gave up on sleep and snuck out of bed to start getting ready. As I sat in front of the fireplace eating breakfast and drinking coffee I seriously considered bagging the whole stupid idea and tucking myself back in to bed. Sitting there I couldn't shake the feeling that I was in way over my head.

But instead I just simply moved along as planned, and then it was time for everyone to pile in to the car to drive to the race. My stomach started doing flipflops like I have never felt before. Once we were at the start line at Chickadee trailhead it was an easy check in process and we found the tarps for my drop bags. I swallowed my nerves, nervously smiled for photos, and then it was go time.

This is how I swallow my nerves. Photo credit: Matt

Don't think, just go.

My Garmin doesn't hold a charge for long in GPS mode, but I decided to turn it on until the mile 17 aid station. I wanted to make sure I didn't start too fast. The entire group of 50 mile runners started out pretty fast (same as last year!!!) and I stuck near the back. Despite the weather being drizzly and cool I got warm fast and peeled off my rain jacket and stuffed it in to my pack a couple of miles in. 

I ran alone for a bit until I came up behind my friend Callista. She had already decided to drop early, so was just out there to have a little fun and enjoy the first part of the race course. It was nice to hang with her and chat for a while. This is my least favorite section of the course, a lot of it is a long slow climb. Callista and I said goodbye at the Thompson aid station at mile 8.6, which was where I met another runner, Keli.

First climb up to Thompson aid station. Photo credit: Callista.

Photo credit: Ross Comer

Keli and I continued on together towards Homestead aid station at mile 17. The trails in this section were funny, many of them were obviously put in very recently, but were right next to the old trails. I have no idea why! We hit the aid station just a couple of minutes before the time I asked my husband and daughters to meet me there, and was so happy they were there! It was comforting to see them, as well as the familiar faces of the aid station workers. Those guys were all on it, helping me re-fuel and checking to see if I needed anything swapped out.

A quick kiss and hug for my girls! Photo credit: Matt

I call this "can't talk, gotta run!" as Keli and I head out. 
Photo credit: Matt

It took Keli and I a bit to move out of the aid station, but then we were off towards the mile 25.2 aid station at Patterson Lake. This section boasts gorgeous views of the valley, but also holds the little thing known as the "climb from hell". Well, I called it that last year because the switchbacks up to the back of Sun Mountain Lodge were awful in the heat. This year the climb was completely bearable, as it was overcast and cool. Once we got to the top, we did an out and back on the other side of the lodge, then came back down the same switchbacks. That was different from last year and I didn't like it as much. 

We made it down to Patterson Lake well under the cut-off. It really wasn't until that point that I began to feel comfortable with my time. I also was feeling good enough that I started thinking I might want to push my pace a bit. Keli and I had been taking it easy, which was smart for the first half of a long race, but I love steep climbs, and knew it was a good spot to try and see what I could do. We climbed a bit together until we got out in to the open and I bid farewell to Keli. I pushed very nearly as hard as I could up Patterson Mountain and made it to the top with what felt like much less time than last year. A quick photo at the top and back down I went.

Chillin' on the step ladder that we had to go up and over on our 
way up Patterson Mountain. Photo credit: Keli

View from the top of Patterson Mountain.

At this point I looked at my watch and was absolutely shocked when I realized that if I booked it back to the Chickadee Trailhead, which was our mile 31 aid station, I might meet or beat my 50k time from last year! So down I went. As I passed Glenn, the race photographer, I decided I would try my first ever jumping shot (photo at the top of this post).

Oh, hey, don't fall! Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama

Down, down, down, then across the road and up the trail, I pushed harder than I probably should have, and was shocked I actually managed to come in to Chickadee a few minutes under my time from last year! Matt and the girls were there waiting for me, and I definitely needed them! I plopped down in to a chair and began to answer their questions. Did I need new shoes? No. Did I need new socks? Yes. Did I need ibuprofen? Yes. Did I need a new buff? No. Etc, etc. I changed the tape on my foot (damn blisters!) which ate up the biggest chunk of my time at the aid station. After getting my socks and shoes back on I leaped up from the chair, knowing every second more I sat would increase the chances of my muscles seizing up.

Coming in to the mile 31 aid station to hugs from my girls!
Photo credit: Matt

Hugs, kisses and waves goodbye, I was back out. I had previously warned Matt, multiple times, that I would likely tell him I needed to drop at Chickadee. I would be tired and hurting and done running. His only job was to kick me out of there (unless, of course, I was actually in serious pain). Thankfully that wasn't the case on race day. Adrenaline was still surging and I was so excited to get back out on the trails and finish my race.

The way the course is laid out the 50 mile runners do the entire 50k course then head back out and do the first 17 miles of the course again before heading two miles back to the finish line. As I chugged along I realized my "A" goal of finishing in 12 hours was very attainable by that point, so I had five more hours to go. My watch was only showing me the time of day, and I knew I made had previously made it to mile 17 in 3 1/2 hours, so I used that as a gauge to measure my progress.

Hello dreary skies.

The work of climbing up, up, up to Thompson aid station was even more tedious the second time. Not getting to do it with a friend just meant it was quiet and boring. My stomach decided it wasn't too happy, so I focused on breathing deeply, and keeping from getting to worried about how I was feeling.

Distracting myself by taking photos on the second pass through.

Finally at the Thompson aid station, again, I only grabbed some Sprite to drink. No food. I decided the end was near enough to gamble with not eating very much more at that point. I had spent the earlier part of the day eating all sorts of goodies out of my pack as well as two Oreos and a handful of Ruffles from every aid station, so I definitely felt well-fueled. 

Upon leaving the aid station I became a bit disoriented. I was climbing a dirt road, but felt almost certain I had missed the turn-off to the trail. I kept turning around, no one coming up after me, and was worried. Finally I found it. The trail ascends sharply, and for the first time that day, I had to stop. I put my hands on my knees and bent over in the middle of the climb. "God-fucking-dammit" I repeated out loud. Yep, I'd reached the swearing out loud portion of my race. Quickly I decided music would help, so I turned on LCD Soundsystem on my phone and played it out loud from the pocket of my vest. I consider this terrible trail etiquette, but as they say, desperate times call for desperate measures. Luckily I only passed one person on the trail and turned the music down as I did. The music energized me so completely, it was almost like I was running on fresh legs! I flew down the trails, smiling and singing out loud (hey, it's better than swearing!) and made it to the Homestead aid station by the end of the album. Shockingly, I beat the amount of time it took me to run to Homestead the first go-round by several minutes! 

On the section of trail, from Thompson to Homestead, shortly before Homestead, I passed another runner. He wasn't in the race, but he looked extremely familiar to me. I saw him twice that day and still can't place him, it's driving me nuts! But as I went by he said to me: "go get it".  

At that moment, his words really struck me. I was at about mile 47 at this point, had been running for about 10 1/2 hours, and while overall my day was going quite well and I was happy about how things were playing out, I never felt really empowered, like this was my day and I am out here to crush my fear, my anxiety, and my doubt about whether or not I accomplish this goal. But not only was I doing it, I was exceeding every (ridiculously low) expectation I had set for myself. I hadn't been truly embracing my race, I was just moving through it. But I thought about the words "go get it" and decided, hell yes, I AM going to get it. I am going to get my finish, I am going to get my day, I am going to get this huge accomplishment that I deserve after all of (literal!) blood, swear and tears I put in to it. 

So, I ran up to Homestead aid station, beaming from ear to ear, and I heard my friends there shout my name as I approached. It was so thrilling to be back all of those hours later! They asked what I needed, which was only some ginger ale. I looked at my watch and actually worried that if I kept moving at the same pace that I would beat my family to the finish line (oh! just like last year!) as I told them to be there at 6:00 to get food and wait for me. It was about 5:40 at that point. So I lingered a bit, taking a moment to pause before heading out.

Go get it.

My legs were slowing down a bit, so I started walking fifty steps then running fifty steps. Then I came to the part of the Yellow Jacket trail I saw the day before on the walk with my family. I could hear the the finish line from there! I turned the corner, ran down the road a few steps, then turned back on to the trail. Then I slowed to a walk. I knew the finish was just up ahead. There was someone waiting by the trail.  I stopped and said "I have to wait until I hear my daughters' cowbells" (they had been ringing them at the aid stations they came to). That was how I knew they were there. Right then I heard the cowbells and I sprinted forward. As I came up to the finishers' chute I heard my girls call out that they saw me coming. I threw my arms in the air and pumped my fists before high-fiving James and throwing my arms around my family.

No finish line photos as my family was barely ready for me, ha!

Belia, Wendy and I at the finish line. Photo credit: Matt

It was so great to see my friends at the finish line, they had just finished the 50k! Belia ran her first 50k and crushed it! 

My wonderful family.

I finished in 10:57. More than an hour faster than my wildest dream of finishing in 12 hours, and mostly had just hoped I wouldn't get cut off because I couldn't make a 13 hour finish. This day couldn't have played out how it did without all of the support I received from my family. A bottomless pit of thank yous to Matt and the girls. They were a stellar crew, and I know will rock their crewing duties at my first 100 miler (some day!) But it wasn't only that, they were amazing at allowing me to be incredibly selfish with the huge amount of time it took for me to do everything I needed to do to train for this race. Eternally grateful doesn't even begin to cover it. 


  1. Fantastic job!!! Well done, truly (and a great write-up). And I definitely relate to the "God-Fucking-Dammit" moment. A key point in ultras, for sure. :-) Happy recovery!

  2. WOOHOO!!! such a great day. I totally related to it all, from the doubt to the accomplishment, from the amazing family to the swearing - you perfectly captured what a race feels like. But I can't imagine the amazing sense of essentially running back to back marathons! I am so in awe and impressed and inspired by you. Also it seems I need to do some trail speed so I can keep up with you at Squamish ;-) miss speedy pants

    1. Thank you Tara! And my "trail speed" just equates to power hiking with my freakishly long legs, haha.

  3. Great job Sybil! Amazing time! Congrats!! Maybe we can get in a trail run this summer once you've recovered :)


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