The Sun Mountain 50k was a perfect weekend road trip with my buddy Kim...so amazing to be there with her for her first ultra experience and to celebrate the gift of running together in such a beautiful place! A BIG congratulations goes out to Kim for completing her first 50k race...and making it look easy! She didn't even look tired at the finish line after 6hours and 15 minutes of running! You did amazing Kim!
I have to admit that for an 'uber' Type-A, Kinesiologist/coach, I was 'uber' unprepared for this 50k race. Up until the weekend before the race I think I was in a bit of denial, actually. After a very challenging year of illness, I had not been planning to 'race' anything this spring/summer until my body felt back to 'normal. I have been joining Kim on Sundays for her long training runs since late winter and we have helped each other in the process. I have helped her navigate through the challenges and unknown waters that come with running beyond middle distance. In return, she has helped me run easy and let my body heal and adapt gradually. Joining her has kept me out of trouble by shelving my training/competition mode and to enjoy running without a 'goal':)
I decided to sign up for the 50k at the last minute after successfully logging some long runs with Kim and feeling like I was returning to my normal (read: hyper) self again this April. I signed up so late, in fact, that the race was already sold out when I finally got over to the website to register! I was lucky enough to sneak my way in at the last minute by taking the final volunteer spot and agreeing to stay to help 'take down/clean up' race central after the event;) As for race day prep, let's just say I had saved my first look at the course map for the weekend beforehand, lol.
Once I had a peek at the course map and stumbled upon the race promo video it all started to become real...I was going to run an ultramarathon again...finally! After nearly 3 years of cautiously limiting my running endurance following that bizarre OCD ankle fracture c/o the Canadian Death Race...I was finally going to do a trail running race again!! I have had an amazing time mountain biking and adventure racing over the past few years but man, was I excited to finally wear a race bib during a trail run again! Hurray for the human body...and good old fashioned time:)
The Sun Mountain 50k was a lovely surprise in many ways. I was surprised by the beautiful scenery, surprised by the awesome race experience and surprised by what my legs were hiding from me:)
Methow Valley: Magic
We were treated to 'supernatural' scenery on our long journey from mid Vancouver Island to the Methow Vally, WA. After the usual 5 hour trip from the Comox Valley to the Mainland, it was another 5 hours down to Winthrop, via the Cascades scenic highway. We could easily have been driving through BC and I was continually caught in dejavu land while thinking of my many adventures working similar terrain as a Rapattack Forest Firefigher... The terrain changed from Hope like foot hills to epic Revelstoke-ish peaks and finally opening up to the familiar rolling hills of my many summers spent based in the Okanagan Valley...grasslands, sage brush, blue sky and sunshine!
Winthrop, WA, was just like they told me it would be...step out of your hatchback and step into the Wild West. The wee town was a combination of Dawson City 'tour-history' and Nelson 'mountain-town-adventure-energy'. Wooden sidewalks and false front buildings disguised shops filled to the brim with heaps of tourist 'stuff', high end adventure gear, fair trade espresso and craft brews;). It was a cross roads for yuppy road bikers, geared up mountain bikers, leather wrapped hog riders, real life cowboys and trucker-hat-high-sock-wearin trail runners. Winthrop, you got it goin on;)
Rainshadow Running: Cult-ure
If you are a trail racer you have likely eyed up one or two of the Rainshadow series events over the past couple of years. This series seems to be exploding with 7 locations and 14+ events on the 2014 calendar this year. You may have heard about Orcas Island in the San Juans, where the race tees are screen printed, second hand pieces from the local Sally Anne;) Or perhaps you have heard of the epic Angels Staircase run that takes you UP into 8000 foot plus terrain, making it a perfect fit for the new North American Sky Running series. You probably looked at the map, considered the travel time and opted out. Well...I suggest you reconsider;) These guys have created a sweet trail race culture and one that you should check out...if you can get in before their events sell out that is!
Sun Mountain 50k: Let's run
My plan going in was to simply finish the course and cover the distance at LSD pace, adding on 10 kms to my longest run with Kim. I hadn't trained at any intensity. I had just overcome months of suppressed immune function. I was secretly concerned how my previously fractured ankle would tolerate the distance.
Well that went out the window pretty quick! I got all excited at the start line! I just couldn't run long slow sunday run pace... I had to stretch out my legs and RUN! I turned over my feet, kicked up the dust and got caught up in a full on 'running of the bulls' moment after the countdown. Wooops! It felt so good...too good in fact that I ended up running much too quick a pace out of the gates and ripping along with the front pack for the first 15 minutes of undulating single track lol. It felt easy and it felt awesome to let the legs spin out after tapering and sitting for days. Once the trail began to turn upwards, I had a little chat with myself and created a new race plan. My new goal was to follow my own coaching advice and race the distance in 1/3rds. Using my perceived exertion to pace the distance: run too easy for the first 1/3, doable pace for the middle 1/3 and work hard for the final 1/3.
I calmed down and found the 'too easy' pace, choking back my ego and allowing more than a few heavy breathers to push themselves past me on the climbs. I needed to go 'too easy' until I reached the top of first of 3 main climbs on the course which corresponded with approximately the end of the first 1/3 of the course. I know from experience that heavy breathing, burning legs and anything but pure aerobic threshold is not only unsustainable for 50k but also a recipe for a slow and painful ending. I dug into my plan, pulled on the reins and slowed down to focus on enjoying the journey. I stopped to pick a few wildflowers and even chatted with other runners on the trail (fyi I NEVER talk during races- not to be rude but I am always just way too deep into my head;).
The scenery made it just a wee bit easier to sit back and settle in to the easy pace. Knee high sunflowers and purple lupin reached as far as the eye could see. Super runnable, buttery singletrack flowed over rolling hills, wrapped around lakes and opened up to epic mountain backdrops. We wove in and out of Ponderosa pine forest, getting much needed shade and reprieve from the fantastic 20+ degree sunshine. It was a perfect mix...just when you were ready for shade, the forest appeared, just when you wanted a break from the climbing the trail pitched downwards.
Aid 1 was a blur, I didn't stop, just carried onward with my slow and steady quest to reach the top of the first summit. The one thing I did do was grab a cup of 'water' to pour it over my head - only to realize that it was lemon lime sports drink. Sweeeeeet. Going through Aid 1 I noticed that 14k had only taken me 1hour and 20 minutes and that was the first moment I knew I was running faster than anticipated - even while I was running 'too easy'. A few metres of trekking and there it was...a seemingly endless dowhill that carried us nearly all the way to Aid 2! Hurray for downhill singletrack! Photographers popped up between wildflowers and even they seemed giddy with sunshine and sunflowers. 'Enjoy the flowers! It's called Shangri-La!' one hollered back at me as I leaned forward and chewed up the descending singletrack in yet another endless meadow...arms flying wide...with a flower in my hair...
Aid 2 was at the half way point on the course and I checked my watch for the second time...2:25...'huh...not bad' I thought. Checking my watch was completely observational- I had no idea what pace I was going other than by using 'perceived exertion' for each section on the course.
It was getting hot. I refilled my bladder and noticed that I hadn't even consumed 1 litre of water yet. I downed a few extra cups of water but I wanted liquid calories. I couldn't stomach my regular 'Oskri Apricot Bars' that seemed so yummy on cold long training runs. It took me an entire hour of mini bites to choke down one bar and I was done! So I walked on the wildside and I shot back a dixi cup of coke. Gasp. Yick! I quickly realized that I still don't like pop! The brown death almost came right back up and in fact I almost wish it had cuz the high sugar concentration combined with gas bubbles created a monster in my belly that had to be delt with one way or another. Luckily we hit a forested section again quickly and after a quick pitstop I was running belly ache free again;)
We had a wee hill to climb in the middle of the course after Aid 2 but it was nice and steep at the top. Up up up we climbed to the Sun Mountain Resort and it was time for me to lean over and push hands on knees. I was in 'doable pace' mode and trying not to shy away from a bit of fatigue during this 2/3rd of the race. I saw a friendly face on the way up- Island speedster, Andrew Pape-Salmon was cheering and taking photos on the course! A little Island love helped me finish up the climb and at the summit, we encountered a long set of stairs. Never quite the right fit for my stride, at least stairs are a nice distraction from the monontony of miles of footsteps and I was up and over the top in no time...feeling strong!
It was downhill for a while before repeating a section that created a little loop on the course. I felt great, leaned forward and tried to pick my feet up as quickly as possible on the downs. I forced myself to transition into 'hard' pace for this final leg of the race. Two long legged mad men roared past me at the start of the descent with woops and hollers of downhill bliss. I consider myself a strong downhill runner but these dudes passed me like I was standing still! Sadly I am pretty sure that I ended up passing both of these wounded soldiers who were dragging their bodies through the final 10k of the course:(.
Aid 3 appeared at 3 hours and 50 minutes and I had somehow already run close to 40k! That distance had taken us 5.5 hours during our training runs! I was on the homestretch and I knew I could do it! We had studied the course profile the night before and knew we had less than 10k with our final climb of the day to tackle from that point onwards. My plan was to save my music for this final 10k as it would be new mileage for the body and new limits of endurance beyond our training. I filled up my water half way (had managed to drink less than a litre again), popped in my earbuds and cranked up my race tracks. Thank you Mr. Mikey Da Rosa! You have no idea, but your beats have motivated me to dance my way through endless sections of relentless singletrack over the years! And it worked it's magic once again...I found myself pumping my arms and legs to the beats, full of energy and joy and piss and vinegar all the way to the top of that final climb:) OK, maybe the espresso GU that I gagged down had something to do with that too;)
Turn around and down you go! It was all the way back down the summit and then about a km? of gradual, but steady climbing to the finish line. I paced my way in- with the goal of running all the way in after the initial climb up. It was tempting to walk...I looked over my shoulder and saw a few runners steadily moving towards the finish along with me. I heard the crowds! I saw the clearing! And then the gal behind me cranked into a full on sprint and blew by me on the homestretch! I cheered her on- 'way to go! nice finish!' she was looking like she had energy to burn! It never even crossed my mind to try and stay ahead of her. I hadn't felt any hint of competition in my brain on that course- I was hi 5ing and cheering on peeps as they passed me or vice versa all day long. Funny thing is...that gal ended up taking first place in my our category, and it turns out I had been the 4th woman overall until that final hundred metres!
I crossed the line, got a hi 5 from the race director and put my hands on my hips. My first thought was " Wow. That was harder than I expected." I had screaming calves from the suprisingly 'runnable' course. I was a wee bit sunburned. I was thirstyyyyyyyyyy. I couldn't have sprinted to beat that gal to the finish if I had wanted to. I had followed my plan and paced myself to the end. I was perfectly done:) I slowly walked away from the finish line crowd for a cooldown while taking it all in and thoroughly enjoying my post race satisfaction. 5 hours and 2.5 minutes for 50k. 23rd overall, 2nd in my category and 5th woman across the line. I can't complain about that;) STOKED to be healthy and running wild and free again!
We spent the afternoon stuck in our lawn chairs, soaking up the sunshine, watching the remaining racers cross the line, drinking wine, eating pizza, listening to the funky folk tunes of The Pine Hearts and helping clean up race central when it was nearly all said and done. Best run all year!
2-2.5litres of water
1 fruit bar
1 Oskri bar
5 Margarita Cliffe Shot Blocks (dropped one;)
1 Espresso GU
1/2 cup coke (yick)
A BIG thank you to the race organizers and endless smiling volunteers on course! You created a wonderful race experience and I will be back for another race soon! Need to get my Rainshadow Trucker Hat!!
Photos c/o Glenn Tachiyama
Kim and I full of post race bliss:) YAY! Congrats Kim!!
A week has gone by...I am starting to think there will be more of these 50k runs in my future...;)