Running from sunrise to sunset – Rainshadow Running’s Sun Mountain 100K was quite an experience! This was a new distance for me, so I had a few… okay… A LOT of anxieties about it. Due to the very fine coaching of Jess Mullen, I knew intellectually that my body was ready. I really was feeling stronger than ever. But anyone who has run ultras will tell you that the longer the race, the more your mind plays into your success (or failure.) What if my hip pain flares up? What if I can’t keep any food down in the heat? What if I can’t handle the extra mileage? What if a Sasquatch clubs me over the head and drags me away to its lair a la Wampa style in Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back? Spoiler alert – none of that happened and it was a successful day. 🙂
I ran the Sun Mountain 50 miler two years ago, so I was at least somewhat familiar with parts of the course. I knew to expect beautiful balsamroot, heat on the exposed sections, stunning mountain views, and a challenging out-and-back on Patterson Mountain. The 100K was two loops of the 50K course (which Adam was running that day), so at least I’d know what to expect for the second half of the race.
On race day, after a quick briefing by Race Director James Varner, we were off into the early morning light. Running in the mountains at 5:30am is a rare treat, truly. The beautiful scenery seems to be all your own, unspoiled, and the day is filled with possibility. The beginning of the course is very runnable in the woods and alongside Patterson Lake. The runners around me were focused and moving along at a good clip (for an ultra!), and there wasn’t too much chatter (yet). Due to my nerves, it took me about an hour to calm my mind and really settle into the race. At about that time we began to get some beautiful peekaboo mountain views with the balsamroot facing the morning sun.
I was moving along nicely, and doing my best to eat every 30 minutes in an attempt to get ahead of the inevitable calorie deficit. All was well so far! I whizzed through the Thompson Ridge aid station (mile 8.6) without needing to stop.
Then we hit some trails that were being heavily worked on… for mountain biking. I’m certain that if I was a mountain biker, I would have appreciated the “upgrades”, but…eh, not so much. LOTS of bumps, banks, steep descents, some jumps and extra twists and turns. I’m sure it’s a blast on a bike, but as it was, it really broke up the groove for us runners. At this point, however, I was near a few folks, and everyone had settled and we began to exchange names and race histories. Here I met Anne, Rebecca, and Kate, all from Portland. We had approximately 13 more hours left to go, so might as well get to know your neighbors! 🙂
Next up was the Homestead aid station (mile 17). I stopped here to visit my drop bag to pick up a few things (and slather on some sunscreen on my pasty Seattle skin.) So far, I was feeling pretty good! I knew the next 14 miles would be the most scenic, but also the toughest in terms of elevation gain. After a pleasant and very runnable section we got to the Sun Mountain Lodge out and back. It was steep, and the trail was kind of a light obstacle course because the center of the trail was a bit washed out by runoff, and we also had to move aside for faster runners bombing down the singletrack.
At the top of the hill, we continued on past the very comfortable looking Sun Mountain Lodge on to more singletrack for quite awhile until we found the “Runners Turn Around Here” sign. Anticlimactic, but a welcome sign nonetheless. On the way back, I encountered a grouse on the trail. Thankfully, it was not aggressive like the one from the Baker Lake 50K, but just trying to find some peace and quiet!
On the way back down, a quick stop at a drinking fountain by the lodge provided some exquisitely cold water to splash on my hat and arms and it was fantastic. I love how little things become extravagant luxuries during an ultra! The way down into the Patterson Lake aid station was very runnable and somewhat shaded. Another quick stop at my drop bag and I was on my way to another climb. This section has lots of bushes nearly overgrown on the trail, yet hardly any trees, so it’s a hot, steep, and scratchy section. Then we came to the out and back up Patterson Mountain! By this time I was with Stacy from Seattle and Brandon from Spokane. Lots of chatting kept our spirits up on this climb.
Back down and I knew we weren’t far from the Start/Finish. Just about halfway done, so I slapped on a grin for photographer extraordinaire Glenn Tachiyama!
There were loads of people at the Start/Finish, all cheering and clanging cowbells. It was the best, so thank you, spectators! It was additionally awesome because I actually PR’d the first 50K loop with a time of about 6:57! I was really psyched for that as I hadn’t felt like I was pushing very hard, but clearly had made good progress on the fairly runnable course. An hour ahead of the cutoff for halfway – yay!
After a quick stop, and some delicious ginger ale, I went back out with a smile on my face. I was feeling good!
That lasted for about a mile or two, lol. Then it got hot, and it sort of dawned on me that I still had a marathon or so left to go. Again, intellectually I knew that, but my mind was yelling at me, “Wait! Where are you going?? You already got to the finish! Wtf?!” I got to the mountain biking section, which seemed like a great excuse for some walking. This was when my legs began to feel that deep muscle ache while walking or stopped that happens to me only during really long runs. I was a bit surprised (and pleased) that it took so long to kick in, but there it was. <waves> Hi there, old friend! I eventually got running again, which thankfully (and oddly) dulls the pain.
I got to the Thompson Ridge aid station, but this time instead of whizzing through, I stopped for a snack, some sunscreen, and a brief sit down and cheerful chat with the fabulous volunteers. Then… onward! From Thompson Ridge (mile 39.6) to Homestead Aid Station (mile 48), I was completely by myself. It was a lonely, lonely section. I thought about putting on a podcast, but really wanted to save that for truly dire circumstances (so not yet.) Just relentless forward progress would have to do! I began to feel a massive, knife-in-the-foot blister on the outside of my big toe. Considering the distance run, who’s surprised? I was unsure of how to deal with it. I had no new socks, but I did have some slightly-too-big backup shoes for me at my Homestead aid station drop bag. Hmmm… However, when I reached the aid station, I noticed that my toe no longer hurt, and that could only mean one thing. Pop goes the weasel, eh? 🙂
It was wonderful to come into Homestead Aid Station to see a friend volunteering! Tamara and her husband filled my water, and gave me a cup of the most delicious ramen I’ve ever had. After some encouraging words, I shuffled on out. (I may also have used the porta-potty, not out of desperate bodily need, but merely so I could have an excuse to sit down for a minute, lol.)
This next bit became my toughest section. It was hot, but thanks to a well-placed cloud, not unbearable. Food was having less and less appeal because I was feeling nauseous, so I could only eat in small bites. Oddly, my Glutinos were not working for me this race, and boiled potato with salt was the big winner of the day. Typically Glutinos are my savior when my stomach gets wonky, but this is just more proof that every race is different!
I saw some (now) familiar faces going up the Sun Mountain Lodge out and back, but it felt very painful, lonely, and pointless. I tried focusing on the beautiful scenery… nope, not helping. I tried remembering my injury last summer, and how lucky and grateful I was to be running ultras again… and that helped a teeny bit. I tried giving myself a pep talk aloud, “Legs, we’ve got this. You’ve trained for this. It’s all fine.” Then this cartoon popped into my head and made me giggle:
Okay, so the wheels weren’t really coming off, so I had no need to be so melodramatic. But I was exhausted (shocker, I know), everything hurt (no way, Ana, after 50 miles???), and I just wanted it to be over. I’ve always struggled about 75-80% into a race, and this time was no different. At one point I sat down at a fortuitously placed bench, and another runner I’d met earlier, Stacy, sat down with me. I’d reached my typical low point where I’m a hairsbreadth away from bursting into tears because of being so tired and sore, and I wonder why the hell I run crazy distances. It was Stacy’s first 100K as well, and she was feeling it too. After allowing ourselves the brief luxury of a sit down, and acknowledging our bodily pain, we agreed that it would absolutely suck to be so close to the end (still 11 miles to go) and not finish. “I’d feel like garbage if that happened, wouldn’t you?” she said. “Yes, you’re right. I absolutely would. Okay… let’s do this.”
At the Patterson Lake aid station (mile 56) we sat down for a few minutes and I had as much of a snack as I could stomach. We were also treated to a wonderful distraction in the form of Riddick, the dog. He was very polite, cute as could be, and just wanted to play fetch! How could we say no to that little face?
We were only 6 miles from the end! We had left the aid station 30 minutes before the cutoff, so knew we had it. We just had to endure one more big climb. We weren’t going fast (at ALL), but it all seemed to go a little quicker since we had each other for company. In every 50+ mile race I’ve done, I’ve always connected with someone in the last 15 or so miles, and the camaraderie between us has gotten us to the finish line together every time. That’s one of the many things I absolutely love about these races, and Stacy was “my person” for this race.
When we started up Patterson Mountain, I thought we needed some serious jams to get us up the climb – cue my running playlist that contains Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Adele, and Aretha Franklin (to name a few.) It got us up to the top. “I’m on the EDGE… of GLORY, and I’m hangin’ on a moment with you…”
The view was amazing – alpenglow on the mountains on one side, with rays of light shooting into the valley on the other. STUNNING.
3 miles to go! Down, down, down we went, trying to shuffle as fast as our battered feet would take us. We crossed the road, and then we were in the woods, with the daylight gone. We popped on our headlamps, and headed to the finish, listening for any sign of people.
“I see some lights!” We heard the announcer say. “What are your numbers??”
“45!” I yelled back, whooping. “And 22!”
We ran across the line, high-fiving Race Director James Varner as we went. Stacy had the best response to finishing, “Oh, I’m going to have emotions.” 🙂
All in all, it really was a great day. I had no catastrophes, and only the standard ultra challenges of light nausea, blisters, and tiredness. The course was exceedingly runnable, with very little in the way of technical trails. As always, the volunteers were fantastic, my fellow runners were great, and the views were amazing. What more could I ask for?
Some quick numbers:
Finishing time: 15:39:10
Elevation gain: ~10,000 feet
Calories consumed: ~1,500 (5 Glutino Oreos, 1 pouch sweet potato/apple baby food, 2 boiled red potatoes, 1 ham and cheese tortilla, 1/2 navel orange, handful of oyster crackers, cup of ramen, cup of ginger ale)