Note: This is pretty long…feel free to skim. Also, sorry about grammatical errors, I’m leaving for Italy
tomorrow and I just don’t have the time to proof-read this.
This being my “ultra debut” of the season I was not exactly sure how my fitness would hold up against the intensity of this race. This was definitely a “rust buster” to get the season started. The problem was that generally speaking you don’t really want to be busting your winter rust against the best runners in the country. I would have definitely preferred to have tested out the ultra legs prior to this race but no other races really made sense so this was it. My training for this race consisted of a marathon on January 15th, then two weeks down time, followed by consecutive weeks of 70, 80, and 90 miles, ending with a taper week. I ran more hills than I ever have with most of my 16-24 mile days consisting of 4000-6000ft. climbing.
I conned my mom into accompanying me to Bellingham, WA to serve as a one-woman crew. She has this role down and I can’t thank her enough for her support and help. I’d hate to have to go at these things completely alone.
Packet pickup was held the night before at a beautiful hotel along the bay and this is where the reality of this race really hit me. I walk into the lobby and see Bryon Powell of irunfar.com chatting with some folks. Me being an expert ultra running blog/website stalker even the sight of the man who interviews all the great runners gets my heart racing. I then hear a feminine Scottish accent off in the distance and go on to see Ellie Greenwood working her way through the packet picket room chatting with race director and professional ultra runner Krissy Moehl. I’ve watched many a Bryon Powell irunfar interview with Krissy and Ellie from the comfort of my far-removed home in Bend, Oregon. This experience definitely had some twilight zone vibes going as I tried to maneuver my way through the packet pickup line while in their “presence.” I know these are just normal human beings but from my perspective, this was like a Kobe Bryant and Shaq encounter to your die-hard NBA fan. Little did I know that this twilight zone vibe feeling would only intensify as the weekend progressed.
We arrive at the start the following morning with just enough time to check in, use the bathrooms (one critique…double the amount of port-a-potties for next year…although I’m sure Krissy is already on this as this race was INCREDIBLY well run and organized…she knows what she’s doing), and did a very short half mile warm up. The weather was pretty awful but at that point I had accepted my fate and was really prepared for anything. I run over to the start line and glance at the front line and it’s literally a who’s who in the ultra running world. A short run down, Dave Mackey (2011 ultra runner of the year), Hal Koerner (2 time Western States 100 champ), Tim Olson (2011 100k National Champ), Chap Campbell (Canadian 50 mile record holder), Mike Wolfe (2011 TNF 50 Mile Champ), and really the list goes on and on and on. Some have said it was the most competitive race in the United States since the 2010 Western States race. So there I am, lining up with the big boys, feeling very very small. Although, honestly, this is what I wanted. Beneath all my admiration and schoolgirl nervousness, I desire to run with the best and see where I stack up. Someday I’d like to be on equal ground with these guys and be able to hold my own.
The gun goes off and I just sort of start running with all strategy going out the window. My plan was to use my marathon speed in the first flat 10k to get off to a good start. However, it seemed like everyone was doing that so for some reason I just switched to a more conservative position. I decided to hit the climbs after the first 10k wanting to feel as if I hadn’t run a step. I figured that maybe I could move well later on and hit the last flat 10k hard instead of the first. I settled in to about 30th place and really just cruised the first 10k, my first 6 mile splits being: 6:42, 6:20, 7:49, 6:33, 6:29, 6:40. After running a marathon at 5:57 pace in January, I figured those miles could hardly of taxed my legs, I was ready for the hills!
We hit the first climb and the fun began. I chose the slow and steady route, ran everything, but was staying very comfortable. I picked off a few guys who were already gassing, I feel bad for those guys, train on some hills of you are going to run a hill race, it’s only logical. I finish the first climb feeling good. I knew I was far behind the leaders but I really wasn’t all that concerned. I actually was just running fast enough to hold off Ellie Greenwood and some other girl who were just a few switchbacks behind me at this point. The course then kind of rolls for a few enjoyable miles and then you start another big climb on a dirt road. I again put my body into an easy gear and just started to climb, the grade being far more manageable than what I have been training on. It was about half way up the climb that I began to think, “Hmmm…I’m feeling pretty good and why are these other guys slowing down?!” I pick off a few more guys on this climb and reach the top thinking, ‘Wow, that climb was really not that bad!’
Here we start a 9 mile technical rolly section on the ridge trail. This is where I sort of transitioned to race mode. The more guys I passed the more momentum I built and it just seemed like I had to keep cruising and passing guys until the race was over. On this technical piece of trail I probably passed like 5-8 guys. I couldn’t believe how conservative some of them were being with rocks, and turns, and bumps. I don’t know if it was fatigue or if they were just used to poking through technical sections but the guys I run with in Bend take that kind of stuff hard so it only seemed natural to run fast in this section.
At the end of this 9 mile ridge piece, I know I am having a good day, I’ve passed maybe 15 guys since we hit the first climb, and my legs were still feeling pretty perky. I knew the Chinscraper, about a 1 to 2 mile steep climb, was coming so I was still holding back a bit to make sure I didn’t totally blow my wad there. I hit the hill and another twilight zone experience occurs. I pass Hal Koerner. I know a lot of ultra runners have the ‘nothing to lose’ mentality and go out hard which sometimes leads to a blow up so it wasn’t like, holy crap, I’m doing so good! But it was definitely a trip to go by him.
Another odd thing happened though, I passed another 3 or 4 guys going up the Chinscraper! I thought for sure that the steeper climbs were going to wreck me and absolutely be my weakness, apparently not because somehow, there again, I was moving well.
At the top of the climb I was still feeling pretty good. Phew, got through all the climbs, now it was just 3 miles steep downhill and the flat 10k back to finish. I think I was a bit naïve in thinking that the rest of the race was going to be smooth sailing. True, there were no more climbs, but those last few miles turned out to be pretty dang brutal. I pass a few more guys right at the start of the descent and then go by the 2012 Way Too Cool champ a bit further down. We exchanged a few words, he seemed like a really nice guy. I couldn’t believe that just the weekend before he set the course record at Cool. Back to back intense 50k’s seems crazy but he was still moving well.
I hit the last aid station, filled up the water bottle and took some gels. My nutrition for the day consisted of about 4 handheld water bottles full of water, 12-14 gus, and 5 S-caps. I tried to take another S Cap down late in the race but gagged on it and projectile’d it out of my throat almost bringing on a puke session. Screw that, let’s just get to the finish line! I was lucky to have a carrot out ahead of me on that last flat 10k. About half a mile ahead of me I saw a guy in a blue and white jersey cruising along. I thought we were moving at about the same pace but every time I looked up it felt like maybe I had just gotten a tiny bit closer to him. I was now relying on my marathon legs and felt like I had some good turnover going on this flat section. My last six miles were 7:10, 7:03, 6:47, 6:37, 8:18, 6:35. I felt pretty good about this after the quad pounding descent and all the climbs. So anyways, I continue to inch closer and closer to the guy ahead of me. I saw him take a few peaks back at me and I could tell he was pushing a bit harder as I got closer. There was a mile of two there where he maintained the gap of about 100 meters and I was unable to close anymore. As we approached the last mile I knew that if I didn’t make a move he was simply going to maintain his lead and beat me. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t FINISH IT and make a last good push to the finish. I went by him with about a half mile to go and was surprised to hear him say, “nice surge.”
I cross the finish line in 4:00:25 for 12th place feeling pretty good. I mean, don’t get me wrong, those last 4 miles or so were brutal, just as brutal as any other 4 miles I’ve ever ran, but I still crossed the finish feeling strong. The guy I had passed turned out to be North Face sponsored Mike Wolfe. He most likely had an off day because he can run with anyone in world on a good day but this was still definitely a ‘holy crap’ moment for me. It hit me that I had had a really good day and that I had beat some really good runners.
After the race Krissy Moehl came up to me and asked if I’d be in a picture with some of the “top finishers”. Here’s that photo:
Talk about crazy. That I could finish up with some of these guys still blows my mind. I hope this is an indication of good things to come but for now, I’m totally happy and satisfied with what I accomplished in this race. Such a great day! Thanks to Krissy and all the fantastic volunteers and other competitors for making this such an incredible experience for me.