We had an absolutely perfect fall day for the Baker Lake 50K.
When we got to the race start, it was chilly and foggy, but perfect running weather. We also spotted a few of my friends from the High Heel Running Group. Always nice to have familiar faces out on the trail with you!
The actual start to the race was rather low-key. There was a short trail briefing to give us a lay of the land, although with an out-and-back course like this one, it’s fairly straightforward. After that, we all grouped up and headed out – there was no official looking start line or anything. Very casual.
The first part of the race is on a paved road that then goes over a dam. In the morning fog it wasn’t anything interesting, but it was much more visually appealing at the end of the race. Then we continued up on a gravel road, with a sizeable incline. Many people (including ourselves) started walking the hill. No need to burn out right away, but we knew the descent on the return would be welcome.
Next, we hopped onto the Baker Lake Trail. The beginning is lovely. Classic Pacific Northwest with moss and ferns everywhere, and with the added bonus of some colorful fallen leaves. The first few miles were wonderfully runnable, and felt great. After not too long we came across the 5.5 mile “aid station”, which was really just a water drop. We were supplied for the full 15 miles until the turnaround, so we pushed on.
At this point we started to see Mount Baker through the trees, and eventually caught some great views. Wow. Baker Lake was calm, and the mountain was reflecting beautifully. To me, this is a huge reason why we run these crazy distances – just so we can see gorgeous scenes like this one.
The trail was mostly singletrack, with rolling hills and scattered with ankle-rolling roots and rocks. There were also countless little moss and leaf covered wooden bridges over creeks and little waterfalls. Rather slippery, but really quaint in this idyllic setting.
It also was mostly green everywhere until one little section we came to – the morning sun shone through the autumn-kissed trees and made it a sea of golden light. Beautiful, but I wasn’t able to capture it on camera.
This race was special for a number of reasons, one being that it was Adam’s 32nd birthday. A charming coincidence of 31 miles to celebrate the previous 31 years! I teased him about adding an extra mile to make it 32, but oddly enough, he didn’t seem too receptive to the idea… To mark the day, though, when his watch would beep a mile, we exchanged memories of that year of life. We started it around mile 7, “what’s a standout memory from 2nd grade?” It was a fun way to celebrate his birthday and learn new little stories about each other.
There was one other exchange that sticks out in my mind, and still makes me giggle. Adam is a wonderfully even-keeled type of guy – it takes a lot to ruffle him. He’s also fairly optimistic, which is at odds with my more pessimistic (I say ‘realistic’) attitude. As we were going along, he was saying how we were handling the trail really well and how he thought we’d finish with no problems. I mimed knocking on wood, “I don’t want to jinx it!” I said that I agreed with him, but didn’t want to tempt fate by getting cocky. He laughed and said, “your optimism is fully equipped with an Anti-Lock Brake System, huh?” Lol, YES!!!
The plus of an out-and-back race like this one is that you get a chance to see everyone. By now we had been seeing many of the faster folk already coming back towards us, and we knew the turnaround wasn’t too far. We crossed a big suspension bridge, and came to a nice, flat, wide-open trail. At the end of it was the aid station – hallelujah! We had decided not to utilize the drop-bag option, but still enjoyed some food and beverages there. Adam had some Coke – a drink he’s always craving at the end of a long run, and an ultramarathon classic.
“The way back is always quicker (in your mind) than the way out, right?” Adam jokingly asked me, as it seems to work that way hiking. “Umm… yup. Sure.” NOPE was my actual thought, but he didn’t need to know that. Since all the racers were extremely spread out by this point, we put on a favorite podcast (Stuff You Missed in History Class) to occupy our minds. After finishing one, I noticed our energy was starting to flag a bit, so I switched to my trashy pop playlist – it always helps! We were able to keep steadily moving forward, with only occasional stops to stretch out a bit. Nothing terribly remarkable until…
The grouse incident. On our way out, we saw this grouse on the trail. She looked like a camouflaged chicken – only a little more football-shaped. She was a bit perturbed by our presence the first time. However, by this point in the day, she was clearly FED UP with all these people lumbering by, far too close to her nest (I’m guessing by her protective attitude). Adam walked by her just fine, and she only puffed up a bit and made noises at him. I paused and he said, “Oh, c’mon, just walk on by her. What’s she going to do?” She was right in the middle of the trail, so I hugged the far side of the tree-lined trail and tried to walk by. However, she lowered her head and charged me. I thought she was bluffing but I moved a bit quicker. She kept chasing me down the trail. She chased me about 10 feet and was about an inch away from pecking me, but I managed to get away unscathed. Note to self, don’t piss off a momma grouse – she means business!
Shortly after our wildlife encounter we came upon the water drop and knew we only had about 5 miles to go! We knew the trail would be more runnable so we were able to move right along and get some miles beneath our feet. I hesitate to say “running” at this point because it was more like a drunken shuffle, but we were still moving forward. We hit the gravel road and knew we had less than 2 miles to go! We crossed the dam (this time displaying a commanding view of Mt. Baker), and could hear the faint sounds of cheering from the finish.
We crossed the finish line holding hands. A bit romantic for us, but we ran the whole thing together so it seemed very fitting. 🙂 AND we got medals! A rarity in the ultra world (at least in the US), so hooray for some hardware for our accomplishment.
Some quick numbers:
Finishing time: 8:03:59
Elevation gain: 3,400 feet
Calories consumed: ~900 (7 Glutino Oreos, 2 small red potatoes, 2 bags Welches fruit snacks, 1 onigiri, 3 Portable pumpkin cakes, 1/2 Portable sweet cream grits)
Post-race Adam consumed a cheeseburger and I had the Hawaiian pizza we brought. Sooooo good. Then we topped it off with cupcakes from Cupcake Royale to celebrate his birthday and his first 50K finish!
It was a great day, and could not have been better. The weather was perfect and we finished strong and injury-free. While I was definitely feeling the 50K I did two weeks ago (oops?), I was pleased I could still keep up with Adam and finish well. He enjoyed being out there and said he would do this race again. Hmmm… 🙂