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.

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.

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



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.


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.


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)

Image Lake via Miner’s Ridge Trip Report – 31 miles

WOW, what a fantastic day on a beautiful trail!

Spoiler alert – our view at the top!

My friend, Ellen, is training for her first 50 miler (yay!), and both she and I needed some big mileage for training purposes. She heard of this runnable route up to Image Lake, boasting great views, and it was exactly what we needed. 31 miles and 4,400 feet of gain? Sign me up.

It’s a 2.5 hour drive from Seattle (but totally worth the drive), so we started before 5:30am. The trail begins at the end of the Suiattle River Road.

Date… name… purpose? Awesome views, of course!

The first 9.4 miles is shaded, lightly rolling, and very runnable. We ticked off the miles quickly, and saw some charming campsites that were perfect for backpackers. (I took note for a possible future trip.) The vegetation was classic PNW – ferns and moss galore. There were some manageable creek crossings, and a few bridges over the bigger river crossings. Despite the early hour and lack of people in the area, the only wildlife we saw was a frog by a creek. (However, there was substantial odorous evidence of equines on the trail. 😉 )

Lovely way to start the day, no?

We saw about a dozen people in this section, and all of them appeared to be backpackers. One group was heading to Glacier Peak with climbing gear in tow, and said they were jealous of our small packs. Ah, well, it’s one of the perks of being a trailrunner! (Don’t worry, we still carried the Ten Essentials!) There are only a few turnoffs to other trails, so it was very easy to navigate. Before too long we were at the turnoff to head up to Image Lake.

Turnoff for Image Lake

Here the switchbacks up Miner’s Ridge began. They weren’t terribly steep, but it was a steady climb that didn’t really let up until the top. We joked that if we were in better shape we could have run up instead of powerhiking with occasional jogging, but hey, we can’t all be Kilian Jornet. Thankfully it was still mostly shaded, so we didn’t bake in the sun despite the increasing temperature. This area was even less populated than the Suiattle River Trail – we only saw a handful of people (who seemed shocked that we were running the whole thing in one day versus three-plus days of backpacking.) Our hard work on the ascent began to bear fruit of peek-a-boo views of Glacier Peak and the surrounding mountains. The flora began to change on this section as well, and we started to see Indian Paintbrush, Spreading Phlox, Tiger Lilies, Bunchberry, Lupine, and other wildflowers on the side of the trail.

A lone Tiger Lily


Once we reached the top of the ridge, we decided to take the optional side trip (less than a mile, roundtrip) to the Miner’s Ridge Lookout.

Lookout spotted

For anyone else hiking this trail – GO THERE. Ellen and I were both squealing with excitement at the stunning 360 degree mountain views.

Me, psyched to be here! (Picture taken by Ellen)

The lookout is a little rickety, but who cares when the view is this awesome?

We snacked while admiring the majesty of Glacier Peak, and then headed over to Image Lake.

It’s not very far, and you still see the mountains all around you on the way. The lake itself is in a little bowl, and quite small. It’s the beautiful turquoise of higher elevation lakes, with fragile-looking landscape surrounding it. There were still a few patches of snow around, but everything was mostly melted. The lake is fed by a few waterfalls, and here we filtered our water to refill our packs. It was wonderfully cold and refreshing! It was also a great test for my new MSR TrailShot which worked like a charm. We walked around the lake, and enjoyed the serenity. There were a few backpackers that were gloriously napping in the sun, but otherwise beautifully quiet at the lake.

Image Lake

We really wanted to just hang out and lounge, but the return trip awaited us! The hard uphill work was done, so I was hopeful the trip down wouldn’t be too bad. We were really able to cruise the 5.5 miles down the switchbacks, especially since it wasn’t too steep. Ellen in particular was rocking it on the downhill. At one point, maybe a mile down, I caught my toe on something, and totally biffed it. I slid down the trail on my hands and knees. (Not a recommended mode of transportation down a trail, by the way.) When I finally stopped sliding I just started laughing. Clearly I am perfect example of grace in motion. <eyeroll>

Putting the first aid kit to use

Luckily, I was not seriously injured, and just had abrasions on my knees, shins, and a little bit on my hands. I was doubly lucky that Ellen was prepared with a stellar first aid kit (prepped by her husband – thanks, Mike!), so we took some time to clean me up. A long cut on my shin wouldn’t stop bleeding, so we utilized some gauze and an ACE bandage to keep it in place. Trailside medical ministration complete, it was back to the switchbacks!

Once we finished the switchbacks, we kept moving on the Suiattle River Trail. Even though the trail is runnable and lovely, it felt like forever to finish the 9.4 miles to get back to the trailhead.


Waiting for the elves to come out

I didn’t take many photos of this section since we had already run it, and we just wanted to be DONE.



It was a perfect day. We had beautiful weather, a VERY shaded and runnable trail, with the perfect payoff mountain view at the top. What more could you ask for?


A homemade reward for 31 miles completed!

A note about safety in the backcountry: since we were out in the wilderness for the whole day, we borrowed a friend’s DeLorme InReach so our husbands could track us throughout the day, and we could send an SOS if need be. (Thanks, Jen!) Based on my experience with some concerned family during a similar adventure run a few years ago, we really wanted peace of mind just in case something happened. The InReach worked very well, and I felt much safer carrying it. Time to invest in one for myself, I think!

No, I’m not wearing socks with my sandals. LOL.

I feel incredibly lucky that I had the opportunity, health, and fitness to go explore a new area in the beautiful North Cascades. An unsupported run with a friend is a different challenge than the organized ultramarathons I typically run, but the things I absolutely love about them is the enjoyable company, lack of race-day stress, and beautiful views. These runs seem to renew my mind and spirit, and this trail was particularly inspiring. More of this, please!

Finishing time: ~9.5 hours

Elevation gain: ~4,400 feet

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

Last view of Glacier Peak!

Grand Teton and Yellowstone Half Marathon (Grizzly Double) Race Reports

What’s the Grizzly Double? Great question! It’s a pair of half marathons held by Vacation Races within a week of each other – Grand Teton Half Marathon and Yellowstone Half Marathon. I heard about these races from some of my friends in the High Heel Running Group (a fantastic trail running group for women in the Seattle area.) Anyway, Adam and I signed up for these races to use them as an excuse to get out to the two national parks for an early summer vacation. I’d never been to either park and was psyched for the opportunity! These races plus our Zion run-cation make it the year of National Park exploration. 🙂

Additionally, Adam’s parents decided to join us for the first part of our trip, and his mom also ran the Grand Teton half marathon (her third race in three weeks, mind you!) It was really great to have them with us for this fun adventure.

Grand Teton Half Marathon

This race was much bigger than the races I normally run – about 2000 runners! It was also the first race I’ve done in ages without a hydration pack – what a luxury! Just a handheld with a few Glutinos in the pocket for mid-race sustenance. Despite it being June, it was quite a chilly start, but thankfully we warmed right up once the sun came over the mountains.

Just having run a 100K two weeks ago, this race felt wonderfully short in comparison! A half marathon is a very respectable distance, of course, but it’s all about perspective. Two hours running versus fifteen was fantastic. The only downside was that I’d forgotten how running on the pavement feels… it’s definitely a little rougher on the skeleton.

Adam and I at the start!

The course itself wasn’t too remarkable in the beginning. We began outside of Jackson, and ran along the main highway for a bit until getting on a paved bike path. Despite the multi-wave start, it didn’t thin out until nearly three miles in, and then everyone had settled into their sustainable race pace.

After crossing over the very high Snake River, we saw one of my High Heeler friends, Ellen! It’s been awhile since I saw her, so it was great to catch up and discuss past and future running adventures. All of us sea level folks were feeling the elevation (~6,200 feet), but the race generally still felt good.

After six miles we turned down a new road and was treated to this very fine view…

The view alone is a reason to do the race!

As we ran along this road for the next six miles, the view of the Tetons continued to get better and better. If it weren’t for the mountains, it could have been a bit of a drag since you could see all the runners for miles ahead of you (that always seems to remind you how far you have to go.) Really, though, I couldn’t stop staring at the mountains!

After crossing a bridge over the Gros Ventre River, we crossed the finish line, which was at a golf course. Which also had an amazing view of the mountains.

Proud finishers with a stunning view!

After receiving our sizable and beautiful medals, we were handed a snack box…

Post race snack box

Pretty good treats!

Even though this was a “fun run” for us, and with an additional challenge of elevation, I was very pleased with our time: 2:08:33. After the race, we had a week of exploring ahead of us…

A Brief Hiking Interlude

We had a week between races, and so much to explore! The snow level at Grand Teton National Park was quite low, so it limited our hiking choices. However, we still managed to hike and explore all day everyday for four days!

One of my favorite shots from Grand Teton National Park

We also had our very first bear experience on the trail. Thankfully, he didn’t get pissed, and we didn’t get mauled. A win all around.

My we-didn’t-get-eaten-by-a-bear smile!

Then we spent three days at Yellowstone National Park, and what a unique landscape. I’ve never seen geothermal areas like that, and with such a uniform forest surrounding it. (Fun fact: 80% of Yellowstone’s forest is lodgepole pine.)

The Artist Paint Pots – one of my favorite spots in Yellowstone!

Yellowstone  Half Marathon

After all of our hiking in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, it was time for another half marathon! It wasn’t a road race like Grand Teton, but mostly trail. The course began in West Yellowstone and was mainly on a forest road in Gallatin National Forest. Some of it was fairly rocky, but no singletrack. A decent trail for road runners looking to make the switch to trails.

We didn’t get to the race start as early this time, mostly because it was hailing when we left the hotel. (Again, it was June, lol.) A very chilly start, with a bit of rain to start us off! However, since we’re Seattleites, it was really quite normal for us. 🙂

I felt pretty good for the first few miles, despite the slightly higher elevation (6,700 feet.) I had intended on actually racing (versus “just running”) this half, and was feeling proud of how well I was handling the altitude. Annnnnd then at mile five we hit a hill. It wasn’t a huge hill (only 300 feet of gain), and it was stretched over a mile, so it was gradual. However, even little hills at elevation kill me. Where was all the oxygen? Who was holding a pillow over my face?? Oi. I started to feel a bit light-headed, so I walked a bit. Nothing like high altitude to keep your ego in check!

Eventually we began to go down, which was a welcome relief, but I had lost my racing groove. The trail got a bit rougher, and I was grateful for all of my previous trail experience. There wasn’t much for scenery, just endless lodgepole pine. Quite the opposite of the Grand Teton race, with the exception of this lovely river spot.

A pleasant scene for a brief stop

After mile 11 I started doing the race math in my head and figured I could still beat my Teton time, but only if I pushed. So… I pushed. Or tried. I dug in for what felt like a strong finish (and thankfully, no stomach pyrotechnics as a consequence!)

My finishing time on this race was 2:06:14. Only two minutes faster than at Grand Teton, but it was a more challenging race, so I earned every second!

At the end, we received the now familiar snack box, medal, and then an even bigger medal for doing both races. It is, hands down, the most impressive piece of hardware I’ve ever earned! (We guessed it could also be used as a bottle opener…or in a pinch, a weapon against marauding moose. It is heavy.)

My High Heeler ladies and a few of our favorite men – all Grizzly Double finishers! 🙂

The hardware!

These two races were very different, and I’m glad we had the opportunity to run both of them. Both were well organized with good swag (and the most detailed race guide I’ve ever seen.) Of the two, the Grand Teton race had better scenery, no question. (I’m a sucker for a good mountain vista.) But the parking and logistics of Yellowstone was a bit easier. Regardless, it was a fantastic vacation with races bookending our enjoyment of some truly incredible national parks. I may have to check out more of these races in the future…

Sun Mountain 100K Race Report

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.

Sun Mtn 100K map

Course map from Rainshadow Running

First Loop

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.

So much balsamroot!

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.

I promise it was much steeper in person!

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.

View from Patterson

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!

Sun Mountain 100K

Photo by 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!

Second Loop

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.

In true Rainshadow fashion, we went the “hard” route, lol.

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? 🙂

Service berry, I believe?

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:

This is Fine.jpeg

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?

Rainshadow always has the best aid station volunteers!

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.

Climbing a ladder on tired legs is always an entertaining feat.

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.

This view took my breath away. That, or the previous 59 miles. Stunning view, though, right??

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)