I won't go into detail regarding the days and then hours leading up to the start of Cle Elum because after having such a successful race it will only sound like sandbagging and that's the last thing I'd like to be known for. After a lengthy border crossing on the Friday night we did not arrive to the camping area at the race's start until 12:25 in the morning. It was 1am before we were set up and asleep and when the alarm went off at 6:30 the next morning I hit snooze one too many times, which left us scrambling to get ready for the 8am race start.
The Co Race Director's were stalling for a few minutes at 8am to allow the early 7am starters exactly one hours headway. This is to let people who may push the official cut off times for the race an an extra hour to complete the full 50k.
As I looked around I did not recognize a single runner, which was a good thing as I really wasn't sure how the day would go at that point. As the RD's were stalling for time someone asked what the course records were.
They replied, "Umm, not sure exactly..."
I blurted out, "4h17m men's William Emerson, 5h10m women's Krissy Moehl...uhhh, off the top of my head..."
"3, 2, 1, GO!!!"
As we set off I did what I do best which is start slow and let the front runners go. I fell back to 11th place at the first turn that would lead us into our 25km climb to the top.
(The front pack leading it out)
I waited twenty minutes to pass anyone and forty minutes before I started to open it up at all. I was surprised at how I was feeling on the climb, light and fast, a very good combination to be feeling in a race! On the few descents that break up the climb however I noticed that I wasn't leaning into them like I normally do. I was tentative as to how my IT and knee would react and it wasn't until I had a short internal conversation with myself that I was able to fully open up on our third steep downhill section. It was all or nothing on the day, I was out to try and win and if my body held up I thought I would have a good shot at it.
(Easing my way into the race)
Before the race started I couldn't help but notice who the outright favorite on the day was. He was garnering so much attention and respect from those around him that I knew he'd be the front runner once the race began. Sure enough he shot to the front and lead it out into the first climb. He disappeared from sight shortly thereafter, but I knew I was tracking a guy in a red shirt, wearing a visor and with very long hair.
The hardest part about starting slowly and working your way through the field is that you have to let the leaders go and stay fully confident in your own race plan. My thought was that anything under a five minute gap by the top of the climb should allow me time to catch the front runner's before the finish line.
The course was beautiful and the weather could not have been any better! temps hovered in the high twenties with low humidity and a slight breeze. The 50k was almost entirely single track, although there was not a single technical step involved in the entire race. The terrain was a soft packed dirt-dust that also doubled as ATV trails. As we knocked off the elevation the views grew ever more impressive out to our right over the North Cascade Mountains. On more than one occasion I found myself staring at the views for a second too long as I'd start to veer off trail a bit.
I was counting my way through the pack but the 7am starters were throwing me off and I was at a complete loss as to where I now stood in terms of placement. I do remember looking at my watch at 2h20m in and thinking,
'WOW, I'm already half way home, this is flying by!"
Since my previous race was my first ever 100 miler, my perception of the 50k was skewed towards it almost being a sprint race!
I thought for sure my body would start hurting by 2hr, but as I crested the top of our climb, at 2h38m I was pleasantly surprised at how good I was feeling. The mind games had begun however. The forest we were running through was very open and sparse and it somehow reminded me of a fairytale. The leader I knew I was chasing had long hair and a red shirt on...which of course led me to refer to him as 'Little Red Riding Hood', making me 'The Big Bad Wolf'! Hey, whatever it takes to keep ya motivated out there right!
The only problem was that 'Little Red Riding Hood' was pretty damn fast and I was not catching any glimpses of her...err, him at all. If you look at the Course Profile it basically looks like you've stepped off a cliff on the downside of the run, however, there was A LOT more flat running involved than the profile would suggest and as the kms ticked away I started to think that the race for first might be outta reach for me, in fact I didn't even know where I stood in the field at all, although I was assuming and hoping it was top three.
Immediately before the final aid station at mile 21, km 34, you have to run across a river and perched on the other side is famous trail photographer Glenn Tachiyama ready to snap pics of people splashing water all over the place...and probably awaiting a fall or two throughout the day as well!
I saw him and yelled out, "How many guys in front of me?"
"You're gonna see him at the aid station!"
My whole race changed in an instant. I was starting to suffer, my one toe had a very painful blister on it, I was starting to tire and I had been running solo for ten km.
As I hit up the aid station 'Red Riding Hood' had removed her shirt and was very obviously never going to allow me, or anyone else for that matter, to refer to him as 'Little Red Riding Hood'!
I knew at this moment however that if I played my cards right I could indeed pull out the win. Red Riding Hood was actually James Varner, Race Director for the Orcas Island 50k and obviously a talented and experienced trail runner. He did not look over his shoulder before departing the aid station though and I started to wonder how he might react to someone catching him that he had not seen at all to that point in the race.
I ate a 1/4 slice of banana, downed three small cups of coke, refilled my two handheld bottles and was off. I knew what I wanted to do, I knew what I had to do, and had a plan as to how I intended to pull it off. I caught up to James after about 2km of running, 36km down with 14km to go. I kept my distance however, as I didn't want him to know that I was just back from him. I didn't really feel like I had an outright fight for the finish in me on the day, so I wanted to try and end this thing as early as I could.
I caught my breath and awaited the next decent climb, which would inevitably lead us into a downhill as the course gained 6000 feet in the first half and then lost it all in the final 25k. I put in a push, pulled up along side, and James turned to me and simply said,
"Awesome running man!"
"You too bud!"
I pushed over the climb and let loose on the downside. I could sense that James was hanging on, which was the last thing that I wanted, so I upped the pace and didn't slow it down until I knew that I had my gap. I kept a solid pace for about 2km before relaxing at all, and even then I was fully aware of the fact that there was still 10km to go and anything could happen.
I felt solid up until 45km. I had stayed on top of my fluids, my calories and my electrolytes, but my energy was starting to wain and my stomach was yelling at me for real food. The last thing I said to Jackie before the race started...
"I'm still freaking hungry!"
In our mad rush to take care of everything before the 8am start I was only able to consume 1/2 of my normal pre race food, and I was beginning to feel the effects. I really suffered over the last 4km of the race and was shoulder checking from time to time to see if James might be catching me again. I even told myself a few times that I could see him just back from me on the trail, even though I knew I could not. It was a feeble attempt at tricking myself into going faster!
I had to hold on, I had to keep my head down, and I had to stay focused to pull this one out. I would not forgive myself if I blew up in the final 4km of a race and ended up falling back to second place or worse.
As I approached the final, unmanned water station of the race, the km marker was hanging right above it. Two and a half km to go. I know I can ignore ANYTHING for 2.5km and I ran like I hadn't in over an hour. Down the final section of the trail and I could see the start - finish just off to my left. I let out a hoot to tell Roxy I was on my way in and as I popped out of the trees my dog came running up to join me across the line, 4h31m, first place!!!! James wasn't far behind at 4h37m and together we had posted the 3rd and 4th fastest finish times in the ten year history of the event, behind only trail legends William Emerson and Ian Torrence...I'll take it!! Full Results Here
I'm definitely feeling the pain today, but as you can imagine, it was all worth it!
My nutrition and gear:
Montrail Streaks, I only love them more with each and every race!
Helly Hansen Lifa Boxers
Helly Hansen Trail Wizard Shorts, keepin me dry all day long!
Carbo Pro 1200 x1 (split between four bottles)
Thermolytes x14 (yup, fourteen! Again, my first ever year of cramp free racing and it's all come down to my electrolyte intake, which is way higher than I ever would have imagined necessary)
Clif Shot Bloks x1
This formula has been working to a tee for me lately, one bottle of 1200, one pack of shot bloks and as many thermolytes as my body demands on the day. Hey, if it ain't broke...
Jackie was also racing and she laid down a very solid 6h19m, which on any other year would have landed her a top four, but in this years female field she ranked 8th, which is still a great finish in just her fourth ever 50k!
I left Roxy at the finish area leashed to a tree, spoke to a few volunteers and told them that if they would like to take her off leash and play with her then she'd love them forever. By the time I finished my dog knew everyone in the camp ground and I must've heard "Your dog is beautiful" ten times...damn dog always showing me up!
The race course was absolutely gorgeous, in fact when I crested the climb I actually ran off course and towards the views without realizing it. Someone behind me eventually started yelling at me as I was chasing the snow capped peak in the distance! The organization was top notch and you could camp at the start for just five bucks!! It was an awesome experience with incredible people and I'd highly recommend people adding it to their 09 race schedule. Just remember, it's capped at only 100 runner's so get in early next year!
Thanks to everyone involved, especially the volunteers who make each and every event possible.
Next weekend, the party of the year...after the race of the year of course, MOMAR Cumberland here I come baby!!
And thanks once more to Glen Tachiyama for allowing me to post his incredible race photos to my blog!