Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Yakima Skyline Rim: Racing the 25k

Last weekend, April 16-17, I volunteered at the Buffalo Road aid station for the Yakima Skyline Rim 50k, and then raced the 25k the next day.

In a word, the entire weekend was amazing

My experience volunteering Saturday absolutely fed in to my energy for the race on Sunday, but I'll get in to that in another post.

The race started at 9:00 am, which felt fairly late for a race. The plus side was that it allowed me the luxury of waking up at a decent time and stop for coffee before making my way through the Yakima Canyon to the start/finish line at the Umtanum Recreation Area. Having spent time there the day before as a volunteer helped calm my nerves-- I mostly knew what to expect.

After saying some hellos --and chatting for a bit with Gunhild Swanson!-- it was go time. Race director James Varner warned us of rattlesnakes (and probably other stuff, but that's all I heard) and sent us on our way.

I started in the way back with my friend Belia. We followed the crowd through the gravel parking lot and then waited to cross the swaying Umtanum Bridge over the Yakima River in single file line. Then came a quick duck underneath the railroad tracks before the climbing began.

Oh, the climbing. One of the most incredible parts of this race is the elevation gain:

4,500 feet of elevation gain in 15-ish miles. No joke.

We fell in to single file line, climbing. And climbing. And while the trail wound around a bit, it wasn't switchbacks-- it was mostly just straight up.

Straight, no switchbacks. Hi Belia!

The fragrance of the sagebrush along the trail was intoxicating. I repeatedly ran my hands along the leaves to cover my fingers with their scent.

In the long conga line I was maintaining a perfect, comfortable pace, which was a good place to be that early in the race. I overheard someone behind me explaining uphill technique to another runner and made a mental note of the advice.

When we finally hit the top of the ridge the trail opened up in to a jeep road and the line of runners quickly spread out. It felt very good to finally begin running!

It was a gorgeous day-- expected to be quite warm, up to 80*, but the breeze was fairly strong, so I never felt too hot. On top of the ridge we had views of Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams-- and even Mt. Hood way off in the distance. The Yakima River was way down below us.

Heading out on the ridge.

Somewhere on the jeep road I realized that I was in absolute heaven, and was having one of the most enjoyable race experiences of my life. My body felt strong and like I was made for that course. As the trail began winding back down the ridge I felt like a little kid jumping down the trail. Since the course was an out and back, the front runners were coming back up the trail, so we did a little jockeying moving past each other. Eventually the trail went what felt like straight down and there were a few moments were I had to stop and figure out how exactly to place my feet to continue moving down it.

Finally at the bottom, there was an aid station right next to the river. It was awesome to see the previous day's 50k female winner, Kaytlyn Gerbin, cutting up watermelon for the runners! I grabbed some watermelon and oreos, topped off my water bladder and headed back out.

Saying hi to Belia as I left the aid station.

My biggest annoyance on race day was how completely uninterested in food and drink my stomach was. Every time I ingested anything my stomach began making audible "glurping" sounds with every step. It sounded, and felt, very unsettling. Ultimately it meant I didn't eat or drink nearly enough during the race. It was a gamble that ended up paying off, as I fortunately had high energy the whole day.

The climb back up the ridge was tricky. Every time there was a bit of a break in the elevation I thought "that was it!" and, well, that wasn't it. At the top of each climb was another climb! I power hiked as strongly as I could and began passing many people on that section. With every person I passed I said a quiet prayer I wouldn't see that person again on the downhill. While I can power hike all day long, downhills are my kryptonite.

I felt amazing and just. didn't. stop. Climb, climb, climb, run when I could, then climb some more. Sometimes my hands dropped to my knees to help power my legs up.

There were a few moments where my mind went to Gunhild Swanson, and I thought about her ascending this last section of her 50k. I hoped to channel even a fraction of her strength!

(Will take a moment here to reflect on "tooting my own horn" so to speak. My last two races I finished waaaaay at the back. I ran what I had in me on those days, but when you are at the back from the start or at the back because you are passed so many times, that isn't the most fun. So to be in a spot in this race where I felt really, really good and knew I was moving up in the field-- well, it made me feel just short of invincible.)

I ran the jeep road section as hard as I could and suddenly it occurred to me: I might finish under four hours. Four hours was my absolute "A" goal, something I thought sounded good, but was likely unattainable. Once the trail turned back downhill I knew there was about two miles left. I stopped to text my husband that I was going to beat four hours, took a photo, tucked my phone back in my pack and set my head around bombing down the trail.

Heading back down.

Despite being a downhill weakling, I was extremely proud of myself on this section. I pushed as hard as I possibly could and my mind wandered towards advice I had recently read from Kilian Jornet: "Go down as if you are dancing."

My only mishap occurred as I came around a tight corner, and ran right in to a sagebrush plant that took a chunk of flesh out of my knee. I quickly assessed the damage, uttered a few swear words, and continued on as the blood ran down my leg. It certainly wouldn't stop me!

At the bottom it was time for a sharp turn to duck under the railroad tracks before dashing across the wobbly Umtanum bridge. Then the only thing separating me from the finish line was the loop around the parking lot. I repeatedly glanced at my watch knowing the only way I could get under four hours was to sprint across the gravel. Unfortunately my legs were suddenly done, and I walked briefly a couple of times before rounding the corner to the finishing chute.

High-fived James Varner at 4:00:41.

While I didn't get a sub-4:00, finishing in four hours was a massive accomplishment for me. There was no coming in second to last that day! In fact, I was in the top half of all female finishers.

My husband, daughters and mother-in-law were at the finish line to cheer me in. It felt amazing to have them all there.

We spent the next two hours eating, relaxing, visiting, soaking in the Yakima River (okay, that part was only me) and listening to the music.

My family relaxing in front of the Pine Hearts.

It was the perfect end to an ideal race.

Cannot wait for next year, I will absolutely be back for at least the 25k. Not sure if I will be strong enough for the 50k (the cut-off is nine hours) but maybe!

Post-race, there is a bit of carnage: my feet have more blisters than I had ever seen and my knee is scabbed over. 48 hours later and my quads can barely lower me to a sit, let alone do any running. All good reminders of a hard-fought race, though, so definitely worth it.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Regretting That Run

You will often hear the saying that you only regret the runs you don't do. Or something along those lines.

Well, I finally did it. 

I did a run I regretted almost immediately.

Somewhere along the way when I was writing my training plan for my 50 miler I made some decisions that looked good on paper, but didn't turn out to be the best for me on the day of my scheduled run. Most of the time I am able to make the choice that is best for my body and either scale back on or change my run, but sadly, not always.

Saturday was one of those days.

I was nearing the end of three really big weeks of training, each bigger than the last. Build, build, build. Last weekend I ran the Deception Pass Marathon, this weekend I was to run 28 miles, or seven hours (whichever came first).

From almost the get-go my hip/butt issue (from the marathon) wasn't super happy. It wasn't super pissed, either, so okay, I thought, I'll just go with it until my body rebels completely. My legs felt heavy, I couldn't get my legs moving, and my hip/butt soreness was keeping me from feeling loose and strong.

My friend Belia, who ran the marathon with me last weekend, wasn't in to it, either. After the first seven mile loop our chatter centered around ending this foolishness early. I had all but decided to call it done at 21 miles, which was Belia's limit. Then my inner chatter started going to "quitter", and "if you can't do this, how can you do 50 miles?"

I had to circle back to the car with Belia so that I could refill my bladder-- first time I have ever ran out of water on a run!-- and my car was singing a siren song. So very much wanted to climb in. But no! Instead I had some cold cantaloupe and coconut water from my post-run lunch cooler, refilled my bladder, and said goodbye to Belia. Just try for 75 more minutes, I told myself. I started a loop. It hurt. A lot. I had it in my head I wanted to take a picture of the cluster of trilliums we passed earlier. No lie, that cluster of trilliums kept me alert and moving. I needed to find them again!

There was hobbling. Even a bit of limping. Some whimpering, and hands-on-knees slogging up hills that I have run up in the past. My hip/butt finally rebelled completely.

Though I did find the cluster of trilliums!

Trilliums on the Deceiver Trail on Cougar Mountain.

When I got back to the car and sat down, I didn't feel accomplished. I just felt stupid. I immediately realized I pushed myself way too hard. It was something around 26 miles, and 6 1/2 hours.

I ate my lunch, then drove home. My awesome husband had filled the backyard kiddie pool with ice and water so I could take an ice bath. It felt awful/amazing, like ice baths tend to do.

The rest of the evening, as I shuffled around the house pretending to be a useful member of the family, I was mentally kicking myself. There was no need for back-to-back weekends of marathons that left me in that condition. What if I sabotaged my training by being so foolish?

So far, the silver lining is that after a good night's sleep, I felt 100% on Sunday. No hip/butt pain, no other soreness, nothing. Even the blisters (story for another day) I developed on Saturday were all but gone!

Even though I felt okay I ditched the planned 10 miles, hung out with my family, walked with my my daughter, and napped. It was a good extra recovery for a stupid decision.

Looking forward to two weeks of significantly lower mileage, and Yakima Skyline 25k this weekend!

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Random Thoughts on the Deception Pass Marathon

On Saturday April 2nd I ran the Deception Pass marathon, as a training run, with my friend Belia.

Here are my random thoughts, in a somewhat chronological order:

Waking up at 4:30 to drive almost two hours to a race isn't that much fun.

Being able to park close up, and walk right in and get your bib because only 40-some people are running is nice.

It was exciting to think about getting my first ever medal for a marathon (or farther!) distance race.

After "Go!" the marathoners were off like a herd of . . . really fast runners. Belia and I were in the back of the pack before we even crossed the start line. 

Photo by Takao Suzuki.

I thought the course would closely follow the Deception Pass 50k course. It did not, though many of the trails were the same. 

Climbing Goose Rock early on was actually extremely fun and was one of my favorite parts of the race (as it was during DP50k).

I picked up an unopened Hammer gel packet off the trail on the back side of Goose Rock and decided to keep it. 

Seeing Ras and Kathy Vaughan volunteering at aid station at Cornet Bay (miles 6.75 and 13.25) was so cool, as I really admire them. 

Getting the seven mile loop around Hoypus Hill out of the way in the first half was relieving, as this loop was downright awful during DP50k.

Right in the middle of the trail. Yes, it really was that big!

Finding out we were at 13 miles when we came back through Cornet Bay aid station was amazing. Belia and I both felt like we were running strong and I was glad that I was far ahead of the arbitrary time goal I had set for myself! 

This is where I should point out neither Belia nor I were wearing a watch that was tracking our race (we only knew the time). We never knew exactly how far along we were until we asked at aid stations. 

While coming back up the back of Goose Rock we hit an intersection that wasn't marked. I was convinced we were off track and made Belia stand there while I attempted to pull up the map on my phone. She said we needed to keep going straight. I didn't think so. She was right. She didn't smack me.

Running across Deception Pass bridge while dodging runners and sightseers was pretty annoying. I wished we had done that section earlier in the race.

My favorite food in the world became Ruffles at the Pass Lake aid station (miles 17 and 18.8). And they had blue Gatorade, which is pretty much the best drink in the world. 

Being told we were only at mile 18.8 as we came back through that aid station seemed impossible. How did it feel like we ran approximately a thousand miles since being at mile 13??? 

But hey, there was going to be medals at the end! Woo hoo!

The two "lollipops" out to two different points were insanely gorgeous. 

Photo by Takao Suzuki.

My right butt/hip hurt. Way more than it should have.

Miles 18.8 to the finish felt like they took an eternity.

I began cursing my laziness the day before: I was trying to find single serve bottles of Fireball to bring in my pack. After striking out at three stores I stopped looking. Belia and I agreed we would have enjoyed a little sip at that point.

While heading up the trail I got to meet someone in real life that I follow on instagram! 

Chasing Belia out on one of the lollipops.

Double fisting Oreos and Ruffles each time I went through the Bowman Bay aid station (miles 21.25 and 23) was simply the best.

Engaging in a sport where it's okay to shuffle down the trail double fisting junk food is hilarious.

Coming back across the Deception Pass Bridge and encountering even more sightseers was more annoying than the first time. And not because I felt like we necessarily had the right-of-way as runners, it was more that people were just hanging out and we had to dodge them to even get through at all.

We were close to the finish-- and to our medals!-- at the end of the bridge. 

After a short push over the trails, it was a quick shuffle through the parking lot to the finish line.

We passed by a fellow runner, one whom we had seen in passing several times on the course, hanging out at her car. She gave us the bad new: they were out of medals.

Belia and I crossed the finish line. They really were out of medals. 

Photo by Takao Suzuki.

Someone tried to offer us a mug, until someone else said "no, those say half marathon on them!" 

Um, so we didn't get medals or mugs as marathoners?!

They will apparently mail the medal.

I will wear that damn thing when it arrives.

My official time was 6:34:59. Belia's was 6:35:00, which I find far too funny, as we ran together the whole time and the race wasn't chip timed. Only one runner finished behind us.

The post-race burger and beer absolutely hit the spot.

So did the Oreo S'mores blizzard I got on the way home.

The end.