A Lovely Little Run at Deception Pass State Park

It’s been a few weeks since my last post, and like many people, I’ve been swept up in all of the insanity extra things that the holiday season brings. More fun social events, more obligations, more excuses to eat cookies, less daylight, and the slightly dazed feeling that you’re on a sparkly, carol-blasting, cookie-driven ride out of your control. (No? Just me? Okay.) 😉

I’m also still treating some hamstring tendinopathy (with a great PT at Real Rehab in Seattle), which is holding back my running a bit. It’s a bummer because running is generally my pressure valve for busy times.) I’m exceedingly grateful that I still can run at all, but it’s what I call “normal people mileage” – 15-20 miles a week. (Versus “crazy/ultrarunner mileage” which is in the 40+ miles a week range.) It’s tough to train for an ultra on such low mileage, but it’s certainly better than nothing. Also, I’d rather take it easy to get better so I’m solid for next year’s adventures! Anyway, I’ve been doing easy runs at Green Lake, mostly early morning or evening… so in the dark, and on the road. Not my favorite, but again, I’m happy to do it at all.

This past weekend I volunteered at the Deception Pass 50K. It was a very brisk morning, with frost on the sand and driftwood on the beach. Perfect day for the racers!

Beautiful, crisp morning!

We’ve had a beautiful week of cold, but clear weather – quite the difference from the gray, wet, blanket that usually envelopes the PNW this time of year. Anyway, following my volunteering stint, I went for a little run with some friends – Chris, Bernhard, and cute Jane dog!

Just a pano at the park 🙂

Chris, Bernhard, and Jane – taking in the view from the bridge

It’s been the first real trail run that I’ve had since Javelina Jundred! The first few steps on the trail were wonderful and I felt a rush of gratitude and contentment. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed being out on the trails!!! It was such a contrast from the dark road miles I’ve been doing lately. It was beautiful out, with frost on everything, and the clear winter sun coming through the trees. Amazing. I was so happy.

Jane is such a sweet running companion!

Bowman Bay

We went just 6 miles, but it was wonderful. I really wished I could do more, but knew I shouldn’t push my hamstring. I was very grateful for the miles that I had gotten out there with friends!

I’m not sure what my hamstring will have in store for me in the next few weeks, but I’m hopeful it’ll continue to improve so I can really get back out on the trails. Because they’re the absolute BEST. ❤

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Reflections and What’s Next?

Typically, my blog posts have been race/trip reports with lots of pictures, and a smattering of posts are about tasting whisky. Today I’m mixing it up with a more personal narrative. It’s been just about a month (!) since my Javelina Jundred, and I’ve had some time to reflect on my experience. I wanted to write a little bit more about what my DNF at Mountain Lakes 100 and finish at Javelina Jundred meant to me. (If touchy-feely real talk makes you squirm in your chair a bit, skip on down to the What’s Next? portion for your regularly scheduled ultrarunning race-related content.) 🙂

Running on the Dipsea Trail in California this October

Reflections

You know how sometimes you don’t always believe that you can do something until you’ve actually done it? You need the faith and support of friends that you’ll succeed to carry you through to your goal. I’ll admit that even though I had a wonderful coach, solid training, and the intellectual knowledge that I physically could run 100 miles, I was still insecure enough to believe that I couldn’t do it. My brain would ask very helpful questions such as, “Do you really think you belong here, with these badass ultrarunners? Who are you kidding?”

So, my first attempt at Mountain Lakes that ended in a DNF was really a self-fulfilling prophecy, despite the fact that conditions were exceedingly tough and out of my control. It made me feel as though I wasn’t strong enough, clearly I wasn’t cut out for this sort of thing, and I had wasted everyone’s time and money with my delusions of grandeur. The crummy conditions simply gave me the opportunity to make it feel like it wasn’t my fault that I “failed.”

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Type 2 (or 3) fun at Mountain Lakes 100 this year – photo by Teri Smith

I had put a lot of pressure on myself for Mountain Lakes, and I was determined not to do that for Javelina. I tried to adjust my mindset to count everything as a learning opportunity versus success/failure. That did not mean I wasn’t a bit worried about the race. I knew that despite it being a very runnable course, the heat was the main challenge, and being a Seattleite means I’m a total baby when it comes to heat. So I expected an absolute shit show that my pacer would have to drag me to the finish kicking and screaming. And it wasn’t. It was tough, yes, but also epically awesome. And my pacer, Tara, got to enjoy it (I hope) instead of being a glorified babysitter. (Okay, OKAY there were a few babysitter moments, but not as bad as I had anticipated.) Anyway… now, I believe I can run 100 miles, and I’ve got the buckle to prove it (to myself.)

So what does that mean to me? A number of things. Firstly, I cannot state enough the immense gratitude I feel that I have the health and means to pursue this crazy hobby. Not everyone is so fortunate. I also am exceedingly lucky in having an invaluable coach, supportive husband, and great friends who have all helped me in my journey. As much as running can be a solitary sport, you still really need support from others. It makes it easier logistically, of course, but it also makes it a far more enjoyable experience overall. A quick high five on the trail, words of encouragement when things are rough, sharing a laugh at the absurdity of it all… it all helps. No one needs to sit in a mental pain cave by themselves. I could NOT have completed my race without those amazing people, so I only hope I have the opportunity in the future to help them in the same way!

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My amazing support at Javelina! ❤

Superficially, finishing Javelina also means when window-shopping on ultrasignup, (admit it, you do it too!) I no longer automatically dismiss races because they’re so long. I now have faith in myself (and my coach’s training) that I could do those. I’m not saying that the ones at elevation (who needs to breathe anyway), or the ones with 25,000+ elevation gain (crunchy knees are fun, right?) don’t still make me nervous. Now, however, there’s at least a shred of possibility that wasn’t there before.

And even if I didn’t cross the finish line of any of those new challenges, it’s really a learning experience. You don’t learn anything if it all goes perfectly! (Not that it wouldn’t be nice now and then.) I learned a lot when things went sideways at Mountain Lakes, and I learned more yet at Javelina when my guts rebelled. Besides preparing me for the next time, I’ll quote my dad here, “it builds character.” (See, Dad, I did listen! 😉 )

For anyone who hasn’t been insecure, this may all seem a bit stupid and somewhat juvenile. Well, good for you for having a healthy self-esteem! For all of the rest of you, I assume some can relate to a deep-rooted fear of failure and feeling like an imposter or wannabe. In my “regular” life, this doesn’t really come into play that often because, frankly, the challenge isn’t as immense. But when you’re at the starting line of a 100 mile race, any self-doubt you might harbor tags along for the ride, ready to party at mile 70+ and kick you when you’re down.

I’m someone that is a bit obsessed with preparation and being in control. (To be fair, logistics and planning is my career and my brain is naturally wired that way, just ask my poor husband.) Of course, running ultras is about preparation, but attempting to be in control all of the factors is downright laughable. You need to be flexible to deal with whatever comes your way. (I can hear my coworkers laughing from here. 😉 ) Not my strong suit, I’ll admit, but what a way to learn that skill, eh? Crazy weather, aggressive flora, annoyed wildlife, disgruntled digestive system, etc, etc, etc. But all in the company of great trails, beautiful views, and a wonderful community of like-minded yahoos out there to enjoy the challenge.

Javelina Jundred

I had hoped I would learn a lot from my 100 mile experience, and in short, I did. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I liked how a 100 miler stripped me raw emotionally (and sometimes physically – hello blisters and lost toenail.) There was joy out there, as well as a bit of despair, and sometimes a complete numbness/doggedness when all you can do is focus on moving forward. I also gained a new appreciation for this body of mine, and that it accomplished such a feat. I know every 100 miler is different, so I expect each race to teach me something new. Even if it is just how to survive and still succeed when everything goes wrong. I doubt I’ll ever have the magical experience like my first 100 at Javelina again, but that’s okay. I’m exceedingly thankful for it. It was a great way to further my passion for these physical and mental challenges that continue to intrigue and inspire me.

What’s Next?

The question I’ve been getting most often now from friends and family is, “what’s next?” You mean after all the rest, and the eating, and enjoying a dram or two? Everyone seems disillusioned that I don’t immediately say something insane like, “I’m going to do a 2,000 mile race in 4 days!” Sorry to disappoint you… I guess?

My immediate focus is to deal with some high hamstring tendinopathy that’s been dogging me for awhile. Shockingly, running 100 miles didn’t cure it! Weird. 😉

After that, however… I enjoyed Javelina so much that I immediately looked at the other races put on by Aravaipa Running. I signed up for the Black Canyon 100K in Arizona in mid-February, and it should be really fun. (It’ll be a great respite from the rainy Seattle winter, so hooray for that.) My friend, Ellen, will be joining me for her first 100K. I’m really looking forward to going back to the desert!

After that, I’d like to run the local Chuckanut 50K in March for the third time. It’s a classic race, and I’d like to improve my time, now that I’m familiar with the course in good and bad weather (see what I mean in the race reports from 2016 and 2017.) Fingers crossed for no hail this year!

I’ve got one ticket in the lottery for the Western States 100 in June, but my chances are basically less than 1% that I’ll get in (i.e. snowball’s chance in hell.) How crazy would that be?? Otherwise, though, I still haven’t decided on any races for June/July/August.

Late summer and early fall, though… I’ve got big plans with friends. I love adventure runs, and we’ve got some awesome trips in the works. We’d like to do the Wonderland Trail (~93 miles around Mt. Rainier) in three days. It’ll end up being sort of a stage adventure run with stunning views galore. I’ve run a few sections of the trail, and running all of it has been on my bucket list for years.

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The view from Panhandle Gap on the Wonderland Trail

Additionally, we’d like to do the Zion Traverse (48 miles across Zion National Park) in one day. I absolutely LOVED the portions of the trail I ran this past April (check out our runcation day 1 and day 2), so this run has been on my mind ever since.

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My favorite view on the West Rim Trail in Zion National Park

As for 100 milers… I absolutely want to do another one or two next year, but I just haven’t settled on one yet. TBD!

Whatever I end up doing, I look forward to being out on the trails with friends (i.e. my favorite like-minded yahoos), and sharing the experience with you. I can’t wait to see what these races and runs will teach me next! 🙂

Javelina Jundred 100 Miler Race Report

I finished my first 100 miler!!! I can’t believe it. It feels incredibly surreal. After my disappointing DNF a month ago at Mountain Lakes 100, I decided to get right back on the horse and try again. My coach recommended the Javelina Jundred (not a snowflake in sight!), and it turned out to be the perfect choice. Despite having to fly to Phoenix to get there, the logistics for this race were considerably simpler than Mountain Lakes. It was relatively close to civilization (our Airbnb was 10 minutes from the Start), and crew is only allowed at the main headquarters (“Jeadquarters.”)

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Course map, courtesy of Aravaipa Running

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Total Elevation Gain = 7,900 feet

The course for Javelina is 5 loops at the McDowell Mountain Regional Park, run “washing machine style,” which means loops 1, 3, & 5 are run clockwise, and 2 & 4 are run counterclockwise. I’d never run a course like this before, but because the trail was wide enough, it wasn’t too crowded and really nice to see everyone multiple times. The trail was very runnable with only one rocky section and no huge climbs. Also, this race was big compared to most of the others I’ve done. 535 runners started the 100 mile distance, and 209 the 100K distance! Generally I don’t like huge races, but this one changed my mind. It was a fantastic community of people who all turned out to support the runners and have fun!

Loop 1 – Mile 1-22.3    Loop Time: 4:25, Total Elapsed Time: 4:25

At 6:00am sharp we headed out into the desert, and because Javelina is such a large race, it was slow-moving conga line on the trail for 20 minutes or so. It was a good way to ensure you don’t go out to fast. Right away some guy started shouting, “I’m SO. EFFING. STOKED to be here!” I think it summed up everyone’s feelings fairly accurately. 🙂

Two very distinct memories come to mind about the first few miles: The fine dust in the glow of our headlamps, and the stunning beauty of the sunrise behind the foothills that put all of the saguaro cacti in silhouette.

Sunrise on the first day, with some runner’s headlamps in the distance

I went through the Coyote Camp aid station (mile 4) very quickly as I really didn’t need anything yet. Next up was the first round of the technical part of this trail. Roughly three or so miles of rocks with a section lined with jumping cholla and prickly pear cacti. Ugh. But at least it was just a few miles, and most importantly, no frickin’ snow! (Some context: 20 miles of unexpected snow killed my first 100 miler attempt due to a missed cutoff.)

At the Jackass Junction aid station (mile 10.5), I joined all the other runners in dumping ice in every possible place to stay cool. Hearing the click of ice in my sports bra became my new favorite sound, lol.

What much of the trail looked like

As the day heated up, and we all settled into our pace, I started chatting with another runner near me named John. He’s from Wisconsin too – how crazy! We ran together for awhile, and it was nice to have the distraction.

The last part of this loop was longer and a section we only did once. The sun was beating down on us, and I felt a bit worried for the afternoon. However, it was great to come back to Jeadquarters (start/finish). Some friends of ours, Meredith and Therese, kindly offered to share their pop-up tent alongside the route so Adam would have a place to store things, hang out, and meet up with me to restock supplies. I was looking forward to seeing familiar faces!

I spotted Jess Mullen, my coach, right away. I’m glad that I did because she pointed where I needed to go (you have to go through a mass of tents to tag the timing mat, and then back again to start the next loop.) Shockingly, I’d run the loop so fast that Adam wasn’t there yet! However, Jess was fantastic and immediately took charge of me. She filled up my water, and helped me with grabbing food since I couldn’t replenish from my personal stash. And then she drenched me in icy water and it was the best effing thing ever. Ice in my bra, buff, and sleeves – time to go!

Loop 2 – Mile 22.3-41.7    Loop Time: 5:17, Total Elapsed Time: 9:42

I’m so glad I got a pep talk with Jess before the second lap. She reminded me I was good on time, and that it was incredibly important to take care of myself in the heat and not get completely wrecked. I could pick up the pace once the sun went down.

The miles to the Rattlesnake Ranch aid station (mile 26) were lovely and runnable. Continuing on to Jackass Junction, though… Whew. Hot. I heard someone say it was 92 degrees. That’s one way to melt a Seattleite.

Sonoran desert

I decided I needed to get my head in the right space for when it started to get really tough in the heat (and at night), so I kept telling myself, “I am strong. I am determined.” My mind is quite skilled at spiraling negatively when the going gets rough, and I wasn’t allowing that today.

It being Arizona, the air was super dry so I felt constantly parched (yet I was drinking lots of water.) I tried sucking on a hard candy for awhile, just to keep my mouth moistened. It helped a little bit – definitely not a challenge I’m used to with the PNW’s damp climate!

Back at the Jackass Junction aid station (mile 31.2), I spotted a friend, Sean, at the ice bucket! He was part of the group that ran the Grand Teton and Yellowstone half marathons back in June. We headed out on the trail together, and it was great to have some company!

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Sean and I! Photo thanks to Howie Stern

The next three hours (with a brief stop at Coyote Camp [mile 37.7] for more snacks and ice) were great mentally for me. Even though it included the three miles of technical trail, and it was hot, it was made better with Sean’s easy demeanor and cheerful attitude. During this part, we also spotted many runners in costume (a common thing for Javelina), and one in particular that struck me was a guy running in just a thong. I don’t think I was hallucinating, but I wouldn’t swear to it. 😉

We rolled into Jeadquarters (mile 41.7), and there was Adam! After replenishing everything I needed, Sean decided to stay for a bit to cool down. I was a bit bummed to lose his company, but knew I’d see him again at some point (and hopefully soon).

Loop 3 – Mile 41.7-61.1    Loop Time: 5:35, Total Elapsed Time: 15:17

At the start of the loop there was a volunteer dressed as a Tusken Raider, and being the Star Wars geek that I am, I had to get my picture with him. What a perfect outfit for the location!

“Sand People always ride single file, to hide their numbers.”

Back out on the trail, it was still bloody hot, but sunset was a mere two hours away (I couldn’t wait). I met up with John from Wisconsin again, and it was great to have conversation to distract us… although we were trudging a bit. Of course we talked about our past races, and the future races we’d like to do. (Seriously, only ultrarunners talk about wanting to do challenging races in the future, while in the midst of one.) After we’d gone through Coyote Camp (mile 45.7), and as sunset was beginning, Sean caught up!
He was reenergized and John and I did our best to keep up. Sean was running with pure joy, and as the sun dipped beneath the hills he said, “What a privilege it is to be out here!” He was so right, and his mood was infectious. His burst of energy jolted me out of a death march mindset and it was great.

Sunset in the desert!

Silhouetted saguaro

After the sun went down, we heard coyotes howling and yipping in the distance. It was one of the magical elements of experiencing the desert at night. The only other wildlife “encounter” was a little Arizona pocket mouse sitting in the middle of the trail that we had to jump over. No snakes and no scorpions. (I’m not disappointed we missed them!)

Sean and I ran 15 miles together, and had some excellent conversation, but I honestly can’t remember any of it. Ha! We came into Jeadquarters in good spirits, and I was really looking forward to picking up my pacer and friend – Tara!

Loop 4 – Mile 61.1-80.5    Loop Time: 5:41, Total Elapsed Time: 20:58

Tara was to be my second pacer at Mountain Lakes 100, and it was a real bummer that the race didn’t end up working out. However, she graciously agreed to pace me on this race, and I couldn’t be more grateful! She has a bubbly positivity that is quite the juxtaposition to my own more cynical outlook. I treasure friends like her that allow me to bask in their sunshine! Anyway, she was excited to pace and I was psyched to have her.

Nighttime shenanigans

After checking in with Adam and eating some chicken and stars soup (yum), we grabbed Sean and headed out into the night. As we ran back out on the trail we saw Jess pacing her friend Adrienne, who was finishing her 100K. Go Adrienne!

Because this loop was all at night, and we’d been going so long already, I only remember flashes of things. The moon was incredibly bright and we watched it set behind the hills. The stars were also stunningly bright and it felt like you could touch them. At one point we even saw a shooting star, and we all agreed that it was good luck!

As we moved through the aid stations we had a solid routine. I typically grabbed chicken broth right away, maybe a bite of something else, ginger ale, and a caffeinated gel. While the night wasn’t really that cold (I only needed a long-sleeve over my t-shirt), it got chilly just standing there. After eating, then walked a bit to digest before getting back up to speed (relatively speaking!) I was so impressed with the volunteers and how they were assisting all of us filthy and woozy runners in the middle of the night. And Jackass Junction (mile 70) was an absolute trip at night. There was a disco dance floor complete with Xmas lights and tiki torches, and music blaring. Quite the party atmosphere (with a random cheerful drunk or two, handing out glowstick accessories.)

Jackass Junction

As we continued on, I do remember our conversation getting a bit loopy. While I can’t remember the details, Tara told me about one instance where Sean was waxing philosophical about fonts and letters and I followed up with some related story about a children’s book. Then apparently I stopped in the middle and said, “I don’t know what I’m saying. None of the that was true.” LOL.

Even though we had run so many miles so far, and still had some distance to go, I started to believe I might actually finish this thing. I am strong. I am determined. Even though we still had one lap to go, it was fun to say, “this is the last time we have to run it in this direction!”

I was pumped when we came back to Jeadquarters. They gave me a green bracelet to identify that this was my last lap. YES!

Loop 5 – Mile 80.5-100    Loop Time: 6:43, Total Elapsed Time: 27:41

LAST LAP!

I had originally found a second pacer to take the last lap, just because I didn’t want to ask Tara to run 40 miles just for me. She told me ahead of time that she was going to come prepared just in case, and we could play it by ear. Thank goodness she did because my second pacer ended up getting tied up with her first runner, and we were also ahead of my predicted pace. Tara graciously said she’d do the last lap with me, and I was thrilled. Sean was feeling good and said while he enjoyed hanging with us, he really wanted to push the pace the last lap. He’s a much faster runner than I am typically, so I was just grateful for all of the hours we had together. Go get it, man!

With the first four loops I honestly didn’t have any big issues. I felt a bit nauseous, but nothing debilitating. I knew I had blisters, but again, nothing bad enough to stop my race. Sure, my legs hurt, but nothing that I couldn’t tolerate. I was incredibly lucky! However, on this last loop, my gut had finally had enough and let me know that it was done with this nonsense. I began to get cramps that caused me to slow dramatically. I had suspicions that my gut distress was due to the many gels I had consumed, but had no real way of dealing with it besides taking the Pepto-Bismol pills in my pack and begging my guts to hang in there for just a little bit longer!

I knew we had lots of time, so I wasn’t worried. However, this course is very runnable, and I wanted to enjoy that! At the same time, I was extremely grateful that my gut began its tantrum when it did and not earlier in the race. As the cramps continued, I was worried about having to run off the trail for some… ahem… relief, but didn’t want to end up with an butt full of cacti. After all, this isn’t the PNW with its far less aggressive flora!

After Coyote Camp (mile 84.5), it was the last time for those three miles of rocks! Tara suggested we listen to some music as a distraction, so I cranked up my playlist. Who doesn’t love some rockin’ tunes at 4am?

Even though I stayed surprisingly awake through the night, I began to get sleepy around 5am. However, as soon as the sun began to rise, our spirits did too. Truly, sunrise in the desert is magical. We began to look in earnest for Jackass Junction (mile 91)… and there it was! For breakfast they had mini pancakes with maple syrup to dip them in. YUM. Chewing had become quite the chore, but it was really lovely to taste something different. And now only 9 miles to go!

Love this photo!

Does YOUR pacer have motivational cards pinned on her pack? Mine does. ❤

We began to see other users of the trails again – like mountain bikers. For some reason, that touchpoint of civilization (and “normal” people who sleep at night instead of run through it) was somewhat startling to my sleep deprived brain.

Photo by Tara!

After sunrise, the temperature began to rise rapidly as well. At Rattlesnake Ranch (mile 96.2), it was back to dousing myself in icy water and stuffing ice everywhere again. At this point, it became clear my gut wasn’t going to bargain with terrorists and was more insistent with its displeasure. (There may have been a fair amount of groaning/cursing when cramps hit.)

Without seriously oversharing, everything came to a head at approximately mile 98 or so (so close to the end!!!) It involved me dashing off the trail and while I didn’t get a butt full of cacti, I did get my shorts full of some other sort of prickly flora. And I inadvertently mooned my fellow runners. Oops. (To be fair, there was that guy running in the thong, so I don’t feel so bad…) This just highlighted that there is nothing dignified about running 100 miles!

A bit after that incident, we spotted my friend Wendy on the trail, heading out to run in her friend, Ross. She gave me a high five and some final encouragement. So lovely to have so many friends out there!

A quarter mile from the finish there’s one last turn on the trail, and there was a guy there who pointed towards the tents in the distance and said, “there it is!” I immediately started crying and Tara hugged me. The man said, “you’re not done yet!” Yes, we know, but let us have our moment! 🙂

One last little lap to go through the tents. I handed off my pack to Adam, and started crying again when I saw Jess, my coach. High fives from Therese, and cheers from the countless people in the tents as Tara and I went by. One group lined the trail, arms up to make a tunnel and cheered – it was awesome! Tara grabbed my hand as we crossed the finish line, AND IT WAS AMAZING. I’m struggling to articulate what I was feeling in that moment, but I will never forget it.

The finish!

Tara’s parents, Adam, and Jess were there to greet us, and my tears continued to flow. I feel compelled to state that I’m not typically a crier, but doing an event like this strips you raw in the best way. Tara’s wonderful mom had the presence of mind to take some photos, and I’m so glad she did. Immediately after finishing, I felt tired, but lucid. Apparently I was slurring like a drunk, but I felt shockingly okay.

DONE

Jess, myself, Tara, and Adam!

The buckle!

Finishing time: 27:41:04

Elevation gain: ~7,900 feet

Place: 247 of 346

Calories consumed: Not a damn clue, but I ended up using more aid station food than my own. A bit unusual for me, but it worked out mostly fine! (Bar the incident at mile 98.) It included bites of tortilla with refried beans, oranges, pancake, chicken broth, ginger ale, sweet potato/apple baby food, a ham and cheese roll up, Glutinos, and the aforementioned gels! (I have long avoided them following intense nausea during past road marathons.)

Final Notes:

I’m still processing this entire experience, but I can safely say I feel immensely grateful and humbled. I had a really good race and was lucky that my body did so well. I chalk this up to the spectacular training of Jess Mullen for the past ten months. Not only did she have me put in the miles, she also had me put in some serious sauna time in preparation for the heat. I’m certain it saved me from serious implosion. My body was ready.

I’m also exceedingly grateful for the many people that helped me on this journey, but especially Adam and Tara. I couldn’t have done it without them. It was also a joy to have so many friends around either supporting the race or running it. The encouragement from friends far and wide was also wonderful. These words appear inadequate to express the depth of my gratitude, but seriously, THANK YOU.

The last takeaway for me was unexpected, but probably the most life-altering. After the race, I felt (probably for the first time in my life) complete contentment with my body. I ran 100 miles – how effing amazing is that?! If you’re lucky enough to live without insecurities, it may sound like a silly statement. However, the gratitude I feel for my body, and its strength and endurance, is something I sincerely hope to carry with me going forward. We are always capable of far more than we expect, and this was a glowing example of it for me. I AM strong. I AM determined.

This was an amazing journey.

And yes, I’d totally do it again. After some more naps. And food. And a dram of whisky. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

 

 

Mountain Lakes 100 – DNF

Ultrarunning has a way of keeping me humble, and this weekend’s Mountain Lakes 100 was no exception. A course mostly on the PCT, with less than 11,000 feet of gain and full of autumn’s beauty – it sounded perfect for me. I had a great nine months of training and an amazing summer full of running adventures, so this was to be my penultimate event! <disappointed sound> Alas, it was not meant to be.

Race morning was an early start (we left our Government Camp Airbnb at 4:45am, oof) to make sure we got to the start in time for bib pickup. After getting my bib, shirt, socks, and new pair of Nikes (!!) in the swag bag, we had time to burn. We grabbed some photos of the beautiful sunrise and alpenglow on Mt. Jefferson, and then waited in the car for warmth.

Olallie Lake sunrise, with Mt. Jefferson in the back

After handing off my drop bags, I spotted a friend, Gwen, my physical therapist who helped me through my injury last summer. She had gotten in off the wait list just two weeks prior, but is super experienced (and ended up crushing it!) It was great to catch up with her before we headed out on the trail.

At 7:45am we got our pre-race briefing from the race directors. It all seemed straightforward until they said, “for all of you folks who start too fast, there’s some snow out there to slow you down.” One of the RDs then said, “oh, it’s not that deep, about here” and she gestured above her ankle. The other RD replied, “it’s not that much snow if you’re from Alaska.” Everyone laughed. In ALL of my pre-race worrying (and there was a lot), I never even considered snow! Unfortunately, it turned out to be the biggest contributor to my failure. Two weeks ago they were worried about having to cancel the race since all of Oregon seemed to all be ablaze, so… really, snow?!?! Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Start line

Because of the aforementioned wildfires, they’d had to reroute the beginning 26 miles a bit. The first three miles were forest road running, and while not scenic, was a nice way to ease into a long race. The start of trail races can be frustrating to start out with 100-200 people on singletrack, so this allowed everyone to settle into their paces without that frustration.

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Some lovely fall colors!

The Horseshoe Lake aid station (mile 3) appeared quickly, and after a brief pause, we hit the snow. It was a little deeper than ankle-deep, but the faster runners had packed it down a bit. However, it still was the consistency of wet mashed potatoes. The first section of this wasn’t great traction-wise, but at least there were pretty views.

Reminds me of Colorado!

Not bad, eh?

When I rolled into the Scorpion Aid Station (mile 14) I unexpectedly saw Adam! We didn’t think crew would be allowed until mile 26, so it was great to have that mental lift.

Heading out from Scorpion!

Our first real climb was out of Scorpion. It seemed to go on for awhile, but really wasn’t too bad (especially as there wasn’t snow on it.) But then…back to snow. As the morning turned to early afternoon and the temperature rose, this snow became churned-up slush, and because this part of the course was an out and back, it was a VERY slippery, slushy mess. I, shockingly, only fell twice, but it was a chore to stay upright. Forget running, walking was hard enough. I felt like this guy:

Guy falling for 9 seconds while trying to shovel snow - Imgur.gif

I’m sure that all of the flailing about to avoid falling (and extensive use of four-letter words) was quite the entertainment for any squirrels in the vicinity.

One of the MANY lakes we passed in the course

The trail is on the left. Ugh.

Seriously, this part of the course was awful. Every step was slick and foot-drenching, and especially treacherous on the descents.

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Tough moment

When I finally rolled back into the Horseshoe Aid station (mile 23), the nice volunteers asked me how I was doing. “Well, I see you have a toddler there, so I can’t tell you what I really think about the snow!” 😉

Nearing the Olallie Lake aid station

I was never so happy to see a forest road! Firm ground again! The run back to the start/finish for the aid station (mile 26) was pleasant. Adam and my friend, Kath, were all ready for me. They were such a fantastic crew! I changed my socks and shoes, ate a bit of food, got my headlamp and grabbed another layer before moving on. I knew I’d see them in another three miles, so that was my last chance before seeing them again at mile 55. I also knew I was behind my projected time (by about an hour) but I chose not to dwell on it, assuming I’d make up some time in the more runnable sections.

The next three miles were wonderful. My dry socks and shoes made me feel like a new woman! The PCT is nicely worn in this section, so I could just get in a groove and run. I arrived at Olallie Meadows (mile 29) in short order, and had one quick rendezvous with Adam and Kath before heading back out.

FINALLY some trail to run on!

My jubilation of being done with the snow faded, and it really dawned on me how many miles I’d be doing before picking up my first pacer, Ellen. Well, at least it was runnable! What I hadn’t counted on was how tired I was from fighting 20 miles in the snow earlier in the day. I felt like I was making good progress, but I knew I was behind. However, I just focused on getting to the next aid station – Pinheads. One thing that woke me up from my running trance was flushing a grouse in the brush. At least this one didn’t charge me like the one at Baker Lake 50K a couple years ago, lol.

On my way to Pinheads, a non-racer was out for his evening run and cheered all of us along on his way by. It was great! “I just wanted to see your smiling faces – good job! See you at Pinheads!” Little things like this make such a difference when you’re out there for so long by yourself.

I got to the Pinheads aid station (mile 37) just before dark. Some chicken broth (YUM), and some handwarmers for my gloves, and I was ready to go.

Last light of the day…

The sun was setting as I left the aid station, and then the temperature began to drop more. I stayed just warm enough if I kept running, but if I walked at any point I got cold. Hey, good motivation to keep moving, right? Here’s where it got tougher for me. I started to fall asleep while running. Already. This concerned me because I knew I’d have a long night ahead of me, I couldn’t fall asleep now! Some of it was adjusting to the weirdness of running in the dark with my little circle of light in the quiet of the falling night. I’m sure it was also related to my falling body temperature and some exhaustion from the effort of the day thus far. I needed something, so Hamilton to the rescue! I am not throwing away my shot… I didn’t bring earbuds, so my apologies to fellow runners and critters, but I hoped they enjoyed it too. 😛

Warm Springs aid station (mile 44) came up suddenly for me and thank goodness it did. I gratefully popped into their warming tent and put on a dry long sleeve with my sweat-soaked long sleeve and short sleeve shirts over it, with a Houdini jacket to top it off. I was freezing out there, so I hoped the additional shirt would do the trick until Clackamas, where my next drop bag was located. Warm Springs is also where the magic of chicken broth, followed by a mini Snickers really did the trick. It woke me up and I felt loads better. I had been eating foods from my pack every 45 minutes or so, but there’s something about the broth that really did something special. It was a salty and amazing ambrosia.

As I left Warm Springs, I thought it was possible that I could still make the extended cutoff time of 12:30am at Clackamas Ranger Station. However, getting to Red Wolf (mile 50) was much slower than anticipated. I don’t even know why. I was used to the dark by this point, but it seemed like ages before the aid station appeared. With my headlamp it felt like being on a weird natural treadmill with glowing mosses, fungi, and super reflective course markings appearing now and then. The only other thing to break up this trance-like state was the occasional gray mouse darting across the trail.

Slightly (personally) discouraging was that the fast runners were now on their way back south (they were at about mile 76). Awesome for them, of course, but not exactly helpful for my mental state as I thought that most everyone else behind me had already dropped (based on aid station chatter.) Anyway, I got to Red Wolf just a little bit after 11pm, and was not feeling optimistic about my chances. I should have been able to cover the miles in the time remaining before cutoff, but it appeared that my night running was slower than I had anticipated. I again had some broth and a candy bar there. One of the kind volunteers asked how I was doing and I told her my back was spasming a bit, but that everything else felt normal (for this distance.) Knowing it was a bit futile, but trying not to resign myself to failure, I left the station. I was just aiming to get to Clackamas and get new warm clothes and see what happened from there.

I’ve run this section of the course before (Mt. Hood 50), I knew there was a turn or two at the end before reaching the road. I saw my watch turn over 12:30am, and I felt disappointment wash over me. When I finally got to the road, Adam and Kath were waiting for me right at the trailhead. A few more steps and I had finally reached Clackamas Ranger Station (mile 55.) I walked up to a someone with a clipboard. He opened his arms for a hug and ruefully said, “Welcome to Clackamas.” My race was over at 12:45am.

My friend Ellen was right there and she gave me a wonderful hug, “I’m so sorry!” Then we both agreed that who needs races anyway, our unsupported running adventures this summer were so much more fun! I did my best to hold in my tears for later. Adam, Kath joined in on our team hug. I felt so bad they had been waiting for me in the freezing cold for three hours. I wanted to get home and get warm, but was also hungry. I wandered over to the food table and said, “well, now since I don’t have to worry about throwing up later, I’ll eat whatever the eff I want.” Grilled cheese? Waffles? Pierogies? Bring it on. They all tasted amazing. After a short drive, we were home, and I got another hug from Tara, my second pacer. Finally, then, I could get warm, dry, and get some sleep.

I learned later that the 20 miles of snow severely affected lots of other runners as well. One poor woman even dislocated her patella and tore her meniscus. There were 152 starters of this race, and only 81 finished. I wasn’t alone!

I think every ultrarunner (unless they’re exceedingly lucky) knows the disappointment of a DNF. It sucks. I’ve DNF’d once before, my first 50 miler (Mt. Hood 50.) Weirdly, it’s on this same trail! Bad luck for me I guess. Anyway, this one was a little different in that it wasn’t my conscious choice – I missed a cutoff. My twitchy back aside, I was okay physically to go on. Yes, I was tired, and things were sore, but I had no blisters and I’ve felt worse. It was all par the course for that distance, I was still moving fine, and I knew I was trained for it.

Besides missing out on the actual finish, I was disappointed that I didn’t even get to the part of a 100 that scared me the most – overnight running and the mental grit needed to overcome the exhaustion felt in the later miles. I believe that ultras reveal a new piece of your raw self every time, but 100s are something special. I wanted to test myself and see what I was really made of, and I knew I had the best pacers ready to see me through the ups and the downs of the journey. It just didn’t happen this time. I know there’s always another race, but everything had seemed aligned for success at this one. It just reinforces that nothing is certain, and 100s never come easy! As Gwen so aptly stated that very morning, “100s are always a big deal.”

It takes a lot to even get to this point, and I am grateful that I had the resources and health to do so. Lots of training, of course, (I have the best coach – Jess Mullen!) but the logistics and manpower (crew and pacing) is no small undertaking either. Luckily I have an amazing husband and really great friends who were willing to give up a weekend for my goal. While I can run with them anytime, I was disappointed that I was unable to share this special journey and accomplishment with them. (I mean, who doesn’t want to expose their friends to an exhausted, whiny, hallucinating, and possibly vomiting person? LOL.) But for everything they did to get me even to this point – thank you, Adam, Kath, Ellen, and Tara!!! ❤

So what did I learn?

  • It became abundantly clear that I really need to work more on my core and trunk stability (to avoid back spasms in unstable conditions.)
  • I need to work on being more comfortable with going faster than I was at night (to avoid losing time on runnable sections.) Judging speed at night is weird, and I need more practice with this (and doing it safely.)
  • I also need to work on better coping skills with race anxiety, especially with a big race like this one. All week prior I had trouble eating and sleeping, and I can’t imagine that helped me in any way.
  • Lastly, race conditions are out of my control (obviously, as I don’t think I have any latent divine abilities.) I can only adapt as best I can, and sometimes even that isn’t enough. And that’s okay. Frustrating as all get out, but okay.

What went right? Quite a few things, actually.

  • My lighter pack felt great – it never bothered me during the 55 miles. (A first for me.) My coach astutely said, “you shouldn’t be carrying your drop bag on you.” I have a tendency to do this, lol, so this was a new thing for me.
  • I got no blisters at all. I tried a new technique (on race day – *gasp*) that seemed to pay off: taping my toes with KT tape and using 2Toms blister prevention powder in my socks. Changing out of my drenched socks/shoes (and reapplying the tape and powder) after the snow and slush helped avoid trenchfoot and blisters.
  • My stomach did well. I think this likely has more to do with the low temperatures than anything I did, but hey, I’ll take it as a win! Also, I now know that chicken broth followed by a mini candy bar is fricking magic.
  • Generally, I’m pretty happy with how I dealt with things mentally. When it got crappy, I was frustrated, but reminded myself it was temporary. I smiled when I saw my crew and joked with them, doing my best to stay positive. When it got dark and I got slower, I just focused on moving forward, at any speed, and tried not to dwell on the negative. Not to say that there isn’t room for improvement here, because I’m not known for being a ray of sunshine, but it could have been worse!
  • I didn’t injure myself, and that’s no small feat. I’m very happy that I came out of this healthy and walking (mostly) normal!

So what’s next? Great question. I know I’ll be reflecting and dissecting this race for weeks, but I’m not sure of my next steps. Besides eating all of the things –  I did still run 55 miles after all. I would hate to end my season on such a disappointment (it will surely bother me like a rock in my shoe until I do something.) However, I’ve also had a really great year of successful races and adventures, so this one shouldn’t spoil it all. I am allowing a little bit of wallowing in self pity (whisky and cupcakes are welcome), but then it’s onto the next goal, whatever that may be!

We shall see…

Beat the Blerch Half Marathon 2017 Race Report

What would a September be without Beat the Blerch?? It was our fourth running of this really fun race, and it’s always a great way to cap off a racing season. Of course, my biggest race of the season is next week (exciting/terrifying), but nevermind that.

If you’re already saying, “Lady, you’ve lost me. What is Beat the Blerch?” It’s a silly and fun race (with 10K, half marathon, and full marathon distances) that was dreamt up by The Oatmeal. He wrote a multi-page web comic that explains what a Blerch is, and there are many things in the race that are a direct reference to the comic. I also thoroughly enjoy their tag line of: “Let there be agony. Let there be cake.” 😀

I look forward to this race every year, and I naively thought my taper had begun and I’d be able to take it easy. When I cracked open my Training Peaks last week, I saw my coach had written “Please run this half hard.” What? But…but… cake and couches at the aid stations! :-/ To be fair, I can enjoy cake and a couch at any time, and coach knows best because she’s awesome, so… running hard was the order of the day!

Adam was there, of course, running casually, and our friend Jessica was there to run her first half!

Ready to run!

It was a chilly morning, but perfect running weather. While we waited at the start, a Blerch was chucking marshmallows at the crowd, much to everyone’s amusement. One guy even caught one in his mouth from a distance of at least 20 feet, so gold star for him.

Waiting to start with a Blerch “motivating” us

 

Blerch!

The start of the race was the expected herd of people attempting to find their own pace. The race starts out on paved path, but quickly switches to larger gravel. Not the easiest on the feet, but it’s short-lived. After just over a mile, over a concrete bridge and then onto the Snoqualmie Valley Trail. This course is a very straightforward out and back, and while very nice, there’s not much to share in regards to scenery or challenging trail.

The 3 mile aid station came up quickly, but I had no need to stop. I had a handheld water bottle, and a few Glutinos – all I needed for a race this short! There were a few people around me that I kept yo-yo-ing with, but otherwise it was an unremarkable first half.

At the turnaround (after the mile 6 aid station), there was a person in a… kangaroo? costume giving high fives. I will say an entertaining part of this race is the number of costumes on the course. A yeti was hiding in the bushes at one point. I also saw someone running in a blow-up sumo suit, with a pigeon head mask (which turned out to be The Oatmeal himself, lol.)

Not too long after the turnaround, I saw Adam! He reached out to give me a high-five, but I awkwardly had a half-eaten Glutino cookie in hand, so we air-fived instead. 🙂 A little bit later I saw Jessica and was able to actually high-five her! After a fairly quiet first half, it was energizing to see all of the people running and enjoy the vibe.

After the 10 mile aid station, we encountered all of the 10Kers, and boy, there were a lot of them. The previously wide open trail became an obstacle course consisting of runners/walkers of varying speeds. People dodging isn’t my favorite, but everyone is out there to have a good time, so it’d be stupid to get annoyed at such a little thing.

One thing I had forgotten about for this race is the second half is slightly downhill, and it’s fantastic. I was able to keep a slightly quicker pace without having to up the effort, which was excellent. My unofficial goal was to run sub-2 hours, and I hoped to beat my half marathon PR (1:58:08), which I thought was doable. My coach has had me running tempo 5K and 10Ks lately, and while sometimes it’s a bit of a grind, I can tell you they totally paid off!

With two miles to go, I knew I’d beat my time, and since I was close, I decided to push it. Again, lots of people dodging, but I was able to come in at 1:50:35! I’m no Paula Radcliffe, but for a back-of-the-packer ultramarathoner like me, I am very happy with my new PR.

 

My well-earned post-race Borracchini’s Bakery cake!

Adam and Jessica both finished strong, and congrats to Jessica for completing her first half marathon! I wonder if I can con her talk her into trying out longer trail runs… hm… 🙂

We beat the Blerch!

 

UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge Owyhigh Lakes Loop – 36 miles

Two years ago I did my first UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge of 32 miles, and it was a very fun, challenging, and inspiring experience. I’ve been itching to go on another, and was so tempted by another loop near Mt. Rainier that I was able to work it into my training this year. My friend Ellen joined me on this epic journey that was full of highs and lows. Literally and figuratively. 🙂 (Read her blog post about our day HERE.)

Elevation courtesy of Ellen’s watch that didn’t die like mine.

I took an inordinate number of photos, so I tried to slim it down to a reasonable number for this post. What a great problem to have. 🙂

The route is Summerland Trail, Cowlitz Divide Trail, Eastside Trail, Grove of the Patriarchs, Eastside Trail, Owyhigh Lakes Trail, Sunrise Park Road, back to junction with Summerland Trail.

We started just before 7am at the Summerland Trailhead off of Sunrise Road. This section is part of the Wonderland Trail, and illustrative of the beauty found on this trail.

Here we go!

With that early of a start, we basically had the trail to ourselves. A lovely respite from city life.

Early morning light

This late in the season, the wildflowers were long gone, which is a bummer as it’s a highlight of that climb to Summerland. However, once at the top, you’re rewarded with some great scenic vistas!

View from Summerland

We continued past this idyllic spot up to Panhandle Gap. I’ve been up there twice, and both times it was cloudy. I never knew the views that were hiding…

Why hello there, Mt. Adams

I will admit to squealing and jumping around a bit when Mt. Adams came into view. THIS is one of the many reasons trail running is awesome.

Past this point we had several snowfields to traverse, some steeper than others. I’d brought my Yaktrax, but Ellen kindly lent me one of her awesome poles (which saved me time from taking the Yaktrax on/off). I’m not too steady on snow, despite my Midwestern upbringing, so the pole was a great help.

Me on a snowfield – thanks for the photo, Ellen!

 

Ohanapecosh Glacier

Here Ellen and I separated a bit. She’s awesome at descents, so while she was cruising I was slower going down (and easily distracted by scenery as this is my favorite part of the trail.) I was running down the trail towards Indian Bar, all smiles, when at mile 8.2 I spotted a black bear. Right next to the trail. Um, okay. #*%!, what do I do? He was happily munching away on the blueberries, but I didn’t want to test his patience. So I backed up a few feet and just kept saying, “HEY BEAR” firmly and loudly. He heard me, and slowly ambled his way down the bushy slope. When I couldn’t see him any longer I continued on down the trail, heart racing. It was a positive bear encounter, but since I was alone at that point I kept yelling “hey bear” for awhile, just to make sure I didn’t startle one during his lunch. Hopefully I didn’t sound too much like a lunatic, lol.

At Indian Bar I found Ellen filtering water and snacking. She was bummed to have missed the bear, but we had a long day ahead, so who knew what wildlife we’d find?

The climb out of Indian Bar is tough. Our early start allowed us to get through the exposed trail before the afternoon, however, it was nearing noon and really heating up. The climb was a bit of a trudge, but we did get some great views on this section!

Mt. Adams peeking out on the left and Mt. Rainier to the right!

We finally began to descend and found the intersection for the Cowlitz Divide Trail – hooray!

Cowlitz Divide!

This trail is less than 5 miles long, but I’ll admit it wasn’t my favorite. (To be fair, following the beauty of the Wonderland Trail is a tough challenge!) We descended the whole time, but the trail was rougher and clearly less used. The shade was welcome, but it was stuffy and hot. We really looked forward to getting through this part. (To pass the time I sang the Hamilton soundtrack under my breath for entertainment.)

Once down, we saw the hoards of tourists checking out the area. It was rather jarring after 6 hours in relative solitude. Here we stopped to have a snack, used a real toilet (what a treat) and get water from the drinking fountain instead of filtering from Silver Falls. (I learned from a time-sucking error during my first UltraPedestrian run, lol.)

Then… onwards. I’ll admit I was dreading the Eastside Trail a bit. My memory of it wasn’t terribly positive, so I had very low expectations.

Here we go Eastside…

However, it surprised me. It was remarkably runnable and best of all – shaded (blissful on that hot day.)

We came across some stunning old-growth trees, and I found it difficult to capture their magnificence. We found one blown down that gave us a bit of perspective on their size.

An Ellen for scale

There were definitely some brushy spots on the trail, but overall it was pretty good.

A little overgrown in spots, right Ellen?

We crossed quite a few bridges with thundering waterfalls below. They were all that beautiful turquoise blue of glacial melt that looked so inviting on that hot day. Tantalizing for a swim, and unfortunately, unattainable in the moment.

We saw lots of waterfalls, and I’ve never wanted a swim so badly.

On the Eastside Trail there are no sweeping views as a reward, so it’s just a put-your-head-down-and-go kind of trail. After less than 7 miles we reached Deer Creek Camp. Here we filtered water one last time and had a solid snack before our final push. It was cool by the water and I really didn’t feel like leaving. A quick dunk of my hat in the cold water, and we were off.

Just 8.3 left (plus almost a mile on the road.)

Onto the Owyhigh Trail. It was a steady (but not brutal) climb back up. It shouldn’t have been too bad, but the heat of the day had finally gotten to us. There was hardly anything for scenery either, so it felt a bit neverending. (We had gotten really spoiled with the views on the Wonderland Trail section.)

PNW perfection

A silly Ellen – my favorite!

Here too is where things got really tough. Heat + ultrarunning = very grouchy stomach. I didn’t feel top notch, but luckily it was fairly mild as far as these things go. However, Ellen’s stomach was throwing tantrums, so it became a bit of a sufferfest for her. I think all ultrarunners experience this now and then, and this day, unfortunately, it was Ellen’s turn. However, she was an absolute champ and kept battling through to just get this thing done.

As it was later in the day it finally started to cool off a bit, so while no one felt great, at least we weren’t hot anymore. We also got through the majority of the boring parts of the trail to reach Owyhigh Lakes. We paused to look out at the lakes and then we heard an elk bugle! Ellen spotted them actually standing in the lake. Apparently they wanted a swim in the lake as bad we did in the heat!

Elk in the water!

The took off shortly after their frolicking in the lake, so it was really special that we caught them when we did. This is the second time I’ve heard elk bugling while on an UltraPedestrian run – how lucky! (As a sidenote – while a cool sound, it does sound a bit pathetic. C’mon elk, no girl likes a desperate guy, lol.)

Governors Ridge reflections

After this point we descended down back to Sunrise Road. It was a few miles, and by then the sun had set so we popped on our headlamps. (p.s. My new Petzl MYO is awesome and super bright!) Even though Ellen clearly was feeling less than stellar, she really impressed me with her strength and focus in finishing. We were never so happy to see the reflective paint of a road!

Back to Sunrise Road and DONE

As we walked along the road to the car we both noticed how HARD the road felt to our battered feet. But huge bonus, no roots or rocks lying in wait to trip you. 😉

Wow, what a day!

Full route

Finishing time: 13.5 hours

Elevation gain: ~8,100 feet

Calories consumed: ~1,300 (3/4 stick pack of Tailwind, 1 ham & cheese small tortilla rollup, 1 sweet potato/rice/black bean burrito, 1.5 small purple potatoes, 1 Portable baked banana rice ball, 1.5 sweet potato/apple baby food pouches, 7 Glutino Oreos)

SUCH a full pack!

Of course, doing an unsupported run means you really need to be prepared. My pack, a Salomon 12-set, was stuffed to the brim (and HEAVY.) However, I think I chose wisely with my “just in case items” because you really are on your own out there.

  • Garmin inReach
  • 2 liter water reservoir + 1/2 liter soft flask (for Tailwind)
  • Green Trails Map
  • Chapstick
  • Kleenex
  • TP/wipes
  • First aid kit
  • Handwarmers
  • Space blanket
  • Petzl MYO Headlamp
  • Bandana/buff
  • ID
  • Small pocket knife
  • Tiny rewetting eye drops (for those times when you get bugs/dust in your eyes. Seems to happen to me a lot.)
  • Tiny hand sanitizer
  • Seat Saver Anti-Chafe Cream
  • Patagonia Houdini jacket
  • Water filter
  • Yacktrax
  • Extra socks (could be used as gloves if cold)
  • Sunscreen
  • Mini roll duct tape (when is this NOT useful?)
  • Salt Stick FastChews
  • Extra Tailwind, and a little more food than I expect to eat, “just in case”
  • And, of course, all the food!

Can’t wait to go on another adventure!

Sunrise to Mystic Lake – now with (a bit) more mileage!

Another fantastic day running with friends on the Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park! 20 miles, stunning views, and excellent company. All of my favorite things in one day!

First off, Ellen, Tara, and I left Seattle in the very early hours, but that meant we got a cotton candy sunrise (complete with alpenglow) on the way to the park. Not too shabby.

How to start a morning in the PNW.

Since I’d done this run 18 days ago, I generally knew what to expect on the trail, and was looking forward to all of the views without wildfire smoke and excessive heat. Conditions were very different this time around: it was a brisk morning, and a little windy, so we had to utilize our PNW layering skills to combat the chill. Quite the change from all of the heat we’ve having lately. (Or fall is in the air, but I’m in denial. It’s fine.)

Some scenery in the beginning..

We headed up the trail from Sunrise Visitor Center with hardly anyone else around. Beautiful views from the get-go, and a hint of climbing to get your heart going and remind yourself that you live at sea level. (Sunrise Visitor Center is at 6,400 feet.) The first part we did in good time, despite frequent pauses to ogle the views. It was remarkable that in just 18 days, almost all of the wildflowers were gone, and some of the flora was already beginning to turn colors. (Nope. Still in denial about autumn.) As for fauna in this part, we did spot an adorable pika and a marmot, but both were too quick for us to grab a photo.

Also, after a farewell to the alpine, we began our descent into the trees. The trail was chockfull of roots, so I was jokingly (and not jokingly) reminded to pick up my feet to avoid a fall. 🙂 Both Ellen and Tara have watched me faceplant on the trail, so I can legitimately always use the reminder, lol! (I didn’t fall today – yay!)

A few miles in and enjoying the views!

After losing about 2,100 feet in 3.8 miles, we crossed Granite/Winthrop Creek and began a gradual climb back up to Mystic Lake. The lake itself is nice, but today we wanted to keep moving to gain just a bit more mileage.

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Mystic Lake

One of the neat finds up at the lake was some blooming Mountain Bog Gentian flowers. (Can we get a better name, please?) With most of the lupine and paintbrush gone, it was nice to still see some flowers.

Mountain Bog Gentian flower

As we continued up some slopes with a nice view of Rainier, we also came across some blueberries! We stopped for a quick snack, and we were so excited about the berries that we didn’t even bother to look if we had interrupted a bear’s lunch or something. (Spoiler – we didn’t.) The berries were so flavorful!

Blueberry snack time!

We were about a mile past the lake, and the trail started to steeply descend. At that point, our watches turned over 10 miles, so we decided to turn around to get an even 20 miles.

Beautiful ladies with a beautiful mountain.

The way back down this section went much quicker than I expected, but we enjoyed being able to run after hiking. We still paused for a few photos, though!

More scenery – ho-hum

After we got back down to the foot of the Winthrop Glacier, we spotted a mountain goat out on the rocks, grabbing a drink from the creek. I didn’t get a great photo, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. 🙂

Then… we went up. It’s under 4 miles, but that gain was a decently steady climb. Such good training! Finally we were back up above treeline with mountain views, and a car full of snacks beckoning us to finish.

Ellen being silly Ellen – my fav!

We powered through the last few miles, and then encountered the masses of tourists. I’m glad that so many people were out enjoying the park, but it sure is nice to have the trails to yourself earlier in the day. 🙂 A good reminder of why getting up early has some excellent benefits! Also…

Moose Tracks spotted at Wapiti Woolies!

On the way home, we had to stop at Wapiti Woolies for ice cream and milkshakes. That’s just how it goes.

It was a wonderful day spent in the mountains, and I could not be more grateful for my health and good friends that make awesome days like this possible. We’re also lucky for being spoiled for choice with trails in the PNW. Every time I go to Mount Rainier National Park, I fall more in love with its charms, and can’t wait to see what the next visit will show me!

Night Running

This weekend I had the new experience of trailrunning at night! A friend of mine, Ellen, (of the Image Lake adventure) is going to pace a runner at Cascade Crest, and I’m training for my first 100 miler. Neither of us had trail run at night before, and we figured it probably shouldn’t be a new experience on race day. 😉

We chose an area we know well from all of our runs with the High Heel Running Group – Cougar Mountain. There’s a 7 mile loop we know and decided just to stick with that a few times. At 8:20pm, with the sun setting, off we went into the woods.

Only pic of this adventure, since, you know, it was dark.


 I can’t speak for Ellen, but it definitely felt a bit weird to go out on the trails at that hour. My mind was experiencing some cognitive dissonance with wanting to train and not wanting to get up close and personal with an elusive PNW predator of the ursine or feline variety. I’m used to running in my Seattle neighborhood in the dark, but I’m not worried about the threat of bear or cougar there (just creepy transients.) 😬 Anyway, we kept up a steady stream of chatter, and that definitely helped my comfort level.

At the end of our first loop, we were merrily running along until… crash, down I went. Caught my toe, belly flopped, and skidded on the trail, again

I’ve got to keep my reputation of grace in action going, lol. Thankfully no real harm done except some scrapes, so onward!

During the second loop we both started to get sleepy. <yawn> It was definitely past our bedtimes, and while we needed to stay fueled, neither of us felt like eating much at that hour. We continued to tick off the miles, though. Before we knew it we were near the end, and it surprisingly started to pour rain on us. (It hadn’t rained in Seattle for 55 days, so the rain was very welcome.) We ended our run at 12:30am, and we both felt pretty good about our accomplishment. During both races we’ll be spending many more hours in the dark, but this run gave us a good taste of it. No one slipped on a slug or had to wrestle trail snacks from a bear, so I call that a win!

Night running takeaways:

-Always bring an extra light source and batteries. (We had an issue with one of our three sources, so something to keep in mind for the future!)

Pick up your damn feet. (Seriously, Ana, pick up your feet.) Depth perception is way off with the limited light source so pebbles look like boulders, and gnarly roots look smooth and flat.

-Talking helps with the nervousness of being out in the dark – even if it’s just nattering on about something inconsequencial. (I happen to be decent at this skill…just ask my friends, lol.)

Happy day or night trails, everyone!

Sunrise to Mystic Lake

You guys, today was THE BEST. Taking a personal day from work to go run in the mountains? Highly recommended. My friend, Heidi, was crewing for two of her friends running the Wonderland Trail in three days (!!!), and she asked if I’d be interested in a run at Mt. Rainier National Park.

You know, meh.

I love that park, so YES, I was totally game. We settled on running from the Sunrise Visitor Center along the Wonderland Trail to Mystic Lake and back. It’s nearly 20 miles, with some elevation, but nothing crazy or too technical.

Ready to run!

We headed out at 8am from the Visitor Center (also with another friend, Wendy, who was doing a little less mileage due to recovering from an injury.) There were hardly any people out on the trails yet, and that’s my favorite time of day. The first part of the trail I’ve seen a number of times, but it’s still beautiful, and with all of the wildflowers and scenery, we stopped for photos often. Nobody complained. 🙂

A little hazy from fires in BC, but still beautiful.

We couldn’t get over all of the flowers!

In addition to seeing wildflowers, we also saw some wildlife! My favorite was a pika on an early rocky section. He was dragging what appeared to be a chunk of bush with him, and he paused in the middle of the trail, like he was trying to camouflage himself. We laughed, but he ran away before we could snap a photo. We also saw six marmots in the morning! I’ve only really seen them sunning themselves on rocks, but these fellows were very active, and running around a lot (looking derpy and cute.)

Hey buddy!

Around Skyscraper Pass (there’s a spur trail to Skyscraper Mountain) we encountered a patch of snow! It was very welcome as the day was already heating up, so we dropped some in our hats – very refreshing.

After this, we headed down into the forest and started to go down, down, down. At this point it dawned on us we’d have to come back up, but that’s a concern for a few hours later! We began to meet plenty of backpackers on the trail, and everyone likes to talk routes and destinations – the language of the trail. 🙂 Here Wendy begrudgingly turned around, in deference to her healing injury, but it was great to have had her company for awhile!

So. Much. Lupine.

Heidi and I shared fantastic conversation today, which made the beautiful miles melt away. At one point we got on the topic of whisky, and she asked great questions, and I very happily told her much of what I learned from our Scotland trip last year. Besides running, whisky is my favorite topic (if the title of the blog wasn’t a clue!), and I was thrilled she was interested to learn about it (or at least appeared to be, lol.)

Mt. Rainier 🙂

Then we came to a roaring creek (maybe Winthrop Creek?) that was full of murky snow melt in a hurry. I was very grateful for the sturdy log bridge!

This looked more intimidating in person, I promise!

The remainder of the miles to Mystic Lake were mostly pleasantly shaded. We stopped there for a snack and observed that the bugs were out in force. So bring bug spray if you’re headed that way.

Mystic Lake

Our way back went quickly. It had definitely warmed up, so we were sweating buckets. Anytime we encountered a stream, we soaked our hats and bandanas in to cool off. Also visibility was terrible due to smoke from the fires in British Columbia, but thankfully it didn’t seem to bother our breathing at all.

Can a place be too idyllic?

I will also say that snow wrapped up in a bandana around the neck is heavenly, and snow dropped down your sports bra is equally refreshing. At least on an 83 degree day. 🙂

Snow is the BEST on a hot day.

All smiles for a great day!

Obligatory shot of dirty shoes!

We had a blast today, and I’m so grateful Heidi invited me to join her on this run. I absolutely love casual long runs like this one where I can truly enjoy the scenery, and today was perfect. I’ve now completed roughly 26 (of the 93 total) miles of the Wonderland trail, and can’t wait to explore more of it!

Pacific Crest Trail 50K

This past Saturday I ran a wonderfully casual Pacific Crest Trail 50K that’s part of a training weekend for Cascade Crest 100. However, many folks running it were doing it just for fun or general training (like myself), and not specifically in preparation for Cascade Crest.

It’s a point to point, so we carpooled to the trailhead at Tacoma Pass, and headed north on the PCT to Snoqualmie Pass. There were roughly 30 of us on the trail, following the PCT blazes.

Why hello there, Rainier!

I’ll admit that in the beginning I felt out of place. Everyone seemed to be super experienced, and know each other. However, in the first few miles, I settled into a steady pace with a lovely woman named Doerte. Her husband was one of the guys organizing the race, and he was the sole proprietor of two (very welcome) mini aid stations. Doerte was incredibly nice (as was everyone else), and I really enjoyed chatting for nine-ish miles with her. We covered all of my favorite topics – races, cats, travel, etc. (Note to self – look into small trail races in Germany… they have cake at the end!!)

Loving the lupine!

We rolled into the 11 mile aid station, and she ended her run there due to a nasty blister. I was sad she couldn’t continue, but so grateful for her cheerful company in the beginning! She set me at ease, and I was looking forward to the rest of the day. I left the aid station in good spirits.

I never tire of seeing Tiger Lilies on the trail

I was alone for a few miles, and feeling good as I hit some very runnable sections of trail and got in a groove. As it got rockier, I was just about to blast some tunes so keep my mojo going, and I heard a voice behind me. A new running partner – Joe! Joe is an experienced ultrarunner and great company. Lots of stories, and he kept me pleasantly distracted on some slightly more technical trails.

Thanks for the picture, Joe!

Before long, we reached Mirror Lake. It was very pretty, and I adore the color of alpine lakes.

Mirror Lake

At this point, we met up with a couple (Ryan and Genia) who had just taken some time for a swim in the lake to cool off. We headed out together and they cruised right along. We swapped race stories and I enjoyed the challenge of trying to keep up with them (it didn’t last, despite their best efforts to slow down for me, lol.)

Genia at the top of a pretty stretch of trail

We ran into the 22 mile aid station, with Mike smiling from a camp chair and chilled beverages and snacks at hand. (Cold grape juice is really good on a hot afternoon run, FYI.) We didn’t have too far to go now, so onwards! I’m glad we were able to refill our water when we did because it was definitely warm. Every patch of shade was momentary bliss.

Wildflowers

Before too long, Joe and I came into an open meadow with a ski lift and I-90 in the distance. A lovely cruise down the trail, with a pause to admire the view, and we were done!

I thoroughly enjoyed cooling off in the South Fork Snoqulamie River post-run

I really loved spending the day on a famous chunk of trail with some really wonderful folks that made the day go by quicker than I had expected. I didn’t fall (which is notable since I’ve taken two good spills in three weeks), so it was a success! I became acquainted with some lovely runners that I’ll hopefully see more of out there on the trails, and I got to enjoy wildflowers and mountain views. What more could you want?

Finishing time: 8:35

Elevation gain: 6,100 feet

Calories consumed: 1,000 calories (1 small pack of Tailwind, 1 ham and cheese roll up, 1/2 sweet potato/bean/rice burrito, 1 purple potato, 4 Glutinos, 1/2 sweet potato/apple baby food, handful of tortilla chips)