Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sun Mountain 50k 2014

Sun Mountain last year was my first 50k and I was the second or third to last finisher. The cut-off was 8 hours and I finished in 7:59:04. I had met someone (the lovely Monica Bloom) on trail around mile 20 who was my trail angel and got me through the race. She would have carried me on her back if she could have -- it was a tough day for me. I wanted to quit but I didn't. Crossing the finish was a sweet, sweet victory.

Since that race I've become stronger, but still always placing towards the back of the pack of races. It takes time, effort, and determination to become a stronger runner. I run trails mainly because I want to enjoy running and I don't really have a race gear yet for ultras. This year I hoped to come back to Sun with my course knowledge and have a better race mentally and physically. I had a stretch goal of besting my time by an hour but that seemed like a tall order as it'd be taking almost 2 minutes per mile off my pace. I didn't tell anyone this goal though because I felt like it seemed ridiculous -- and I also never know how I'm going to feel going into these races and this goal was for me. I didn't want people to try to make me feel better if I didn't hit some arbitrary time because I had a bad day.

Over the past couple months I've been logging less weekly miles but they've all been quality. I've logged a few ultra distance runs, with quite a few miles in the Gorge, which are technical, rocky and have a lot of elevation gain. They're slow. I powerhike almost all of the steeper uphills and run flats/downs. I've done an overnight end to end on the Wildwood trail in Portland (30 miles) and I've pushed the speed a little on a few shorter trail runs recently. Over the past two weeks I've gotten back to a couple quicker track miles or speed intervals, but really nothing to write home about. I did a pretty technical 20 miler the weekend before Sun Mountain and though I relaxed the pace slightly, I wouldn't really call a 20 miler w/6k feet of gain a taper run.

At the start of the race I felt charged up and ready to go. I had slept fairly well the night before and dropped off my two drop bags filled only with Tailwind and one with a vegan power cookie. The first couple miles are a nice downhill and you coast along until you start to run by Patterson Lake. The weather was cooler than in 2013, but as we hit an exposed section it started to feel pretty hot. I watched as someone smart took their hat off and dipped it in a creek.

Around mile 3 on a few rolling climbs I walked quite a bit. I walked more than I should have. I asked myself why I do this. Why do I run these longer distances? It seems like wanting to quit at some point on every race is part of the race for me. I have come to accept it, and I haven't listened to that voice yet, but it's there. I reassured myself that I was still doing fine and moving about the same pace as last year and let myself walk and be towards the back of the pack. Some of the quicker 50 mile runners came by and I perked up and chatted with a few. I met one guy who was struggling a bit and we ran for about a mile and even though he thanked me for pushing him on the uphills I don't think he knew that he was pushing me too. Again, more confirmation for me that running is a mental journey. I left him with about a mile to go to the aid station and felt refreshed and super!

Coming into Aid #1 I saw Ras and Kathy whom I had been following on their amazing thru-hike of the AZT over the last month. Though I don't really know them, it made me feel good to see them and congratulate them briefly. Last year I lost a lot of time at aid stations (almost 10 at the first one) and I cut that time down to 2:45 this year. I'm much more efficient. I filled up my bladder, dropped in Tailwind powder and left. I walk out of aid stations and walked up the road after this one, but I was moving.

The rest of the race really went by smoothly for me. After climbing trails like Ruckel Creek and doing Dog Mountain repeats, then tackling part of the Yakima 50k course, that brutal exposed climb up to the Sun Mountain lodge wasn't so bad. Sure it is steep and hot, but it was short. I slowed down but kept up with everyone else. I was thankful the water station up there this year wasn't a cooler under the nice shaded tree though -- that's what got me last year!

It felt like there were a lot more downhills and runnable trail on the course this year! There weren't, it was the same course, I'm just obviously a little stronger. Ha ha! The flowers were incredible too. Maybe they were just as incredible last year but I was able to enjoy them more during the run this time. Running more towards the middle of the race wasn't lonely at all. I met and chatted with a ton of people and I loved it! Being a back of the packer is usually lonely and I do a lot of singing or counting to myself. I even saw a pretty big gopher snake and was completely calm. For those that have been around me when I shriek after encountering a garter snake should know this is a pretty massive accomplishment!

Here's a picture of the snake I saw (or one like it) taken by someone else. I swear it looked much bigger on the trail!

My elapsed time into aid #2 (mile 17) was 3:08 and since I knew the second half of the course was a bit slower due to more climbing, I doubled my time and added 10 minutes and realized I'd definitely break my 6:59 time goal unless I bombed. Anything is possible though. Around aid #3 I was still feeling really strong and decided I'd see if I could break 6:30. The wind picked up on Patterson and though my pace was a slow 18 minutes on the climb, I made up for it on my descent.

I had told a few people my story about last year and they were all so encouraging. One woman said, "um, you know you are completely crushing your time this year, right??" Another lady, Christy, running her first 50 miler that I finished right behind, told me I was like her trail angel this year. It was very sweet of her, though we only really ran together for a short while. I can only hope to be able to bomb the downhills as quick as her on my trail 50's.

When I hit the road, with less than 2 miles to go I think the elapsed time was about 6:08. I didn't push myself, I walked a bit even though the road was flat, and that was okay. I caught back up to Christy on the trail and we walked some of the uphills back to the start. Surprisingly, I wasn't even that tired. I just don't have that darn race gear, I knew if my mileage guess estimate to the end was right I'd come in around 6:30 which was already a huge achievement, and I was already celebrating in my head. I was soaking up the last mile. As I rounded the corner and saw the race clock at 6:28 something my legs picked up and I booked it across the finish and got my coveted James Varner aka Rainshadow Running victory high five. My official time was 6:28:50. A 90 minute course PR never felt so sweet.

The after party is always a good time. Delicious pizza, smiling people, and good music. I wasn't as hungry as usual and was in that happy cloud 9 space and just walked around smiling in a bit of a daze at the crowd. I am starting to slowly recognize more people. Since I was out there on course chatting a bit I saw a few other runners I had run near and also got to watch a few others I passed finish strong with smiles and cheer them on. I mention this only because it's so rare! I got to cheer on Kevin and give him a hug as he finished his 50 miler. He had hoped to catch up to me somewhere on Patterson but I'm pretty glad he didn't. Turns out he hit a pretty big low mid-race but came back strong and I'm proud of him. Deb crossed the finish at 7:17 with a very sweet almost 30 minute (non-course) PR and she even had a nasty head cold. We all had our own victories out there.

Beyond this race being my first 50k, therefore it's always going to be a special and significant race for me, it really is a lovely course. The 6 1/2 drive from Portland is a little brutal but being able to run on trails I wouldn't have known about otherwise and visit a new area (to me) is always exciting. My only regret is that I never really take pictures so these blog entries aren't as exciting. (My long post from last year has a few though!) I have a few of us goofing around and likely a race photo I'll post eventually, but I didn't take my camera on course again.

I don't like to take people's photos, but here is a gorgeous one shared by Rainshadow Running taken by Bill Johnson. It captures the flowers and area really well.

The Methow, and that drive over the North Cascades, seems to really perk me up. Travel incites the desire to continue moving forward in search of more single track and areas to explore. My next race is the Timberline Marathon then I'm off to Idaho for the Scout Mountain 60k. Idaho has been on my short list to visit, so I'm pretty excited about the trip! I've taken quite a long hiatus with blogging and now that some of my races have picked up I'm hoping it'll keep me writing and let my family stay in touch with my life out here in Oregon a little better.


  1. Wow. What a huge PR and amazing to see how much you changed in a year!

  2. Congrats on a great finish time! It must feel great to have done so much better this year. I used Tailwind in the last couple of trail races that I ran, too. Now that it comes in smaller packets, it will be easier to race with.