We're sorry. Dale can't come to the computer right now. He's utterly exhausted. Please try again later. Like maybe tomorrow...
Wow, what an experience. My first race (heck, my first run) beyond the marathon distance, two weeks after a pretty hard marathon run at Yakima, and I tried to go into this race with fairly minimal expectations. First, I wanted to finish. Second, I figured a sub-9 hour finish was completely doable and a sub-8 hour finish was possible. Third (and maybe most importantly), I wanted to see what this ultra stuff was all about, whether I'd enjoy it, and whether I'd be any good at it. Last, if I did enjoy this, I've been considering signing up for the White River 50, another 50 miler but much hillier (heck, mountainous) and competitive.
So the Saturday I spent trying to setup 2 drop bags. Aside from additional GUs I figured I'd need since I could only carry about 6 or so at a time, drop bag packing was a crap shoot. I wound up putting anything and everything I thought I might need, none of which it turns out I used. That night despite trying to get some sleep (to bed by 9), I tossed and turned and really didn't get much sleep. Too nervous (excited?). Up at 3am to eat some oatmeal, make some coffee, and hit the road for the 1.5 hour trip up to Snoqualmie, WA. Got there just in time for the early start, which quite nearly confused me at that hour and sucked me into starting with them. Consciousness reigned and I figured out what was going on and set about to prepping myself for the real start.
So at 6 am the start arrived and we were off. My game plan was to start running at a comfortable pace, make sure it wasn't stupid fast, and just settle in. I was going to just walk the aid stations and run the rest until I couldn't run anymore, then shift to a run/walk scheme. I settled into a nice easy run pace and headed off.
The Mt Si course is pretty forgiving. Only 1400' of total elevation gain/loss is advertised, the steepest being a 400' 5 mile climb from North Bend to Rattlesnake Lake, as advertised on the race website. Okay, that's not entirely true. The roads we ran on in Snoqualmie had a couple of very short but steep uphill sections before dropping us down a staircase onto the Snoqualmie Valley Trail headed towards Fall City and Carnation. Having beaten my legs into submission on 20 mile hilly training runs, I took these small hills (up and down) extremely easily.
Once on the trail, I was in 5th place and just enjoying the early morning run. Still pretty cool and the day was just beginning, so it really just felt like a nice enjoyable trail run. I did have people in front and just behind me, but we were all running alone for the most part. Hit the first aid station at 5.9 in 46 minutes and I stopped to refill my water bottle, letting the 6 & 7th place runners pass me as they didn't stop. Headed off within about 15 seconds to continue down the trail, made a brief pit-stop part-way and hit the first turnaround in 1:18, refilling the water bottle again.
Broke rule #1 of running.....never try something in a race you haven't tried in training. Well, okay, I didn't just break it, I stomped it into the ground. I bought some S! caps and really had only used them once before to make sure my body didn't violently reject them, so I started popping 1 at every hour mark, to keep the electrolyte levels up. I was also pushing back a GU about every 45 minutes. But the biggest violation of the rule was the food I was grazing on at the aid stations. Cookies, boiled potatoes, whatever looked good when I arrived, I did NOT want to wind up at 30 miles not having eaten enough, knowing that a nutritional deficit would be difficult to overcome. Fortunately, I pretty much got away with it and so got to enjoy an excuse to eat cookies while racing.
Hit the 14 mile aid station in 1:52 and wound up stopping here for 2 minutes. Issue #1.....my drop bags were pretty tightly packed and digging out my GU and stuffing my long-sleeve top into the bag proved problematic. Finally got things sorted out and continued on. Still feeling very good, catching early start runners periodically which helped break up the mental tedium. I was carrying my phone for listening to some tunes, but had decided early on to postpone listening as long as possible, figuring I'd need the mental boost late in the race. Also started seeing some of the relay runners headed out on their 157 mile relay by this point. It was nice to watch them straining at their fast paces, while basically just out for a nice jog :). Back up over the staircase, down the road, hit the porta-potty for a quick stop, and wound up gaining ground on both the 5th and 6th place runners.
Hit the 20.4 mile aid station in 2:45. By now, I was very conscious of the fact that I was well on my way to a sub-7 pace, but since I was only 20 miles into a 50 mile race, still leaving a longer distance than I'd ever run continuously, I was trying to make my competitive brain focus on just enjoying the run and continuing on at a decent clip. We'd also merged in with the 50K runners who'd started at 8:30 and headed up the north part of the Snoqualmie Valley Trail towards North Bend and Rattlesnake lake. 24.3 aid station in 3:18 which is also about where the trail starts the gentle slope upwards towards Rattlesnake lake. I caught and ran with the 6th place runner here, and discovered we were both running our first 50 miler. He said that he runs marathon's primarily but he's run some 50Ks in the past. A nice distraction for a while, but I left after I saw a really slow mile and realized I was bleeding time and effort on the uphill with the chatting.
Hit the 28.9 mile aid station and bag drop #2 in 3:57, and spent a minute here rooting around in my bag for some more GUs. The sun was finally starting to come out and things were starting to warm up a bit, so I was putting away the water a bit quicker now. This helped, because lugging the hand-held water bottle was really quite tiring....my shoulders were beginning to complain. By this point, my legs were tired with the effort, but I wasn't crashing and didn't feel too badly. Amazing what a focus on nutrition and electrolytes can do. In most training runs past 20 miles, I'd be fried and crashing by this point.
The stretch from Rattlesnake lake to the turn around started getting rough. Mentally, I was really ready to turn around and start the home-stretch. Heading uphill was getting old too. Not knowing exactly where the turnaround was didn't help either. I'd made up a card with the aid station mileages on them, had waterproofed it, and had forgotten it in the car....Oops. Saw the eventual winner hauling down the trail (he went on to finish well under 6 hours...amazing). Up and up and up.......until the trail sign pointed to a left fork that headed down a rocky gravel spur....steeply. Now that's just mean. Headed down the road at a....don't know how to describe it. Faster than a walk, slower than a run, more like a drunken marionette, trying to appease hamstrings that were screaming, trying not to get depressed that I was going to have to run back up this stupid thing. Hit the 34.4 mile aid station/turn around in 4:46. Had to dig a rock out of my shoe in addition to the water refill and food grazing, so this was a 1-2 minute pit stop.
I'd like to say I power-hiked back up the hill, but when two women chatting non-stop pass you like you were standing still, it's not really power hiking, is it? Okay, time for some tunes....Thankfully the painful stretch was short and I got back into a nice rhythm on the gentle downhill grade, now enjoying some distracting tunes. Unfortunately, by this point, I was also being distracted by some mild nausea and the knowledge that I would need a bathroom break that might take a minute. Despite running in the wilds on the trails, there really wasn't any place to hide for a potty break, so I just kept moving to try to make the next aid station where I remembered seeing a port-a-john. This officially commenced the hard part of the run.
Finally hit the 39.9 aid station in 5:33 and of course, there was the port-a-john line. Got my water and food needs taken care of, and was able to dig into my drop bag again (beat the 12:30 cutoff before they disappeared) for a couple more GUs, so I didn't have to wait long for the potty, but the aid station did take about 3 minutes before I finally got back underway. The sun was starting to take a toll here, and I increased my S! cap consumption to every 45 minutes and upped my water consumption. It was probably here that I started math gymnastics, really feeling like I could finish under 7 hours if I focused and the wheels didn't come completely off. Spend the next 10 miles computing, recomputing, dicing and slicing my time and mileage left, trying to figure out how fast I needed to be going to make that goal. My pace had slipped a bit, but I did manage a couple of sub-8 miles on this downhill stretch.
Hit an extra water stop at 44.5 in 6:13, just in time. The official water stop had closed and packed up, but I was out of water and fortunately they'd kindly left a full water jug behind, so I half filled up (trying to think of the poor souls suffering in the heat of the day behind me) and continued on. Approaching a crowded relay checkpoint in the distance, I spotted a wild man running toward me. David! 45 miles into a 50 mile race, it's amazing what a boost a friendly face will give you! A high five, me spouting something about trying to sneak under 7 hours, some encouragement from Dave, and the moment was past. Still, can't quite say what a boost that was....thanks Dave!
Then there was the relay exchange a short while later. It was pretty crowded with people milling about, and about halfway through, one of the volunteers said something about 50 miler coming through, and next thing I knew, everyone started clapping and cheering. Wow, again, what a boost right when I needed one. Throughout the race, the volunteers were simply amazing. I can't tell you how many times I heard my name being called, usually by a volunteer with a clipboard looking at my bib number, providing encouragement along the way. I tried to return the favor by thanking all the volunteers at each aid station I ran through along the way, although I'll admit that late in the race I began to forget. But they all deserved our thanks, what a great crew. Hit the water point at the far end of this aid station at 46.7 miles in 6:32 for a final refill.
The final 3+ miles was a slog. I knew if I could just maintain my pace in the low 8s, I should make it, but I was a bit worried that the course might be a smidgen longer than 50 miles and I couldn't afford much extra, so it was all about keeping my legs turning when they wanted to just quit and walk for a bit. I think if I hadn't been on the sub-7 pace, I probably would've whimped out and taken a walk break. Hit the stairs descending from the bridge on the upper Snoqualmie Valley Trail, did something resembling walking down them using the handrails liberally started pushing on the final road segment to the finish. My final full mile was in 8:03 and the last 0.15 was at a 6:33 pace as I gave it everything I had not wanting to get caught a few seconds short. It's only happened a couple of times in races, but I'll admit I started feeling pretty emotional on that final stretch but managed to keep it together and finally saw the clock up ahead clicking thru the 6:59:30s and realized I was going to make it, in more ways than one. 6:59:41, fifth place overall, 3rd in the Open (under 40) category, and my first 50 miler. What an experience.
Post race, I ate and drank and hobbled for a while until I realized I needed to head home so I'd make it before completely crashing. Aside from a blood blister on my right foot big toe, my feet weren't too bad. During the run, I did have some of that reoccuring outside/bottom left foot pain (early on, which was worrisome, but it disappeared after the 14 mile aid station which took a couple of minutes....not sure why). Later on the drive home, I had to slip out of my shoes (which I hadn't changed) when my feet really started hurting...I realized that the shoes I'd raced in were regular width (a pair I've had a while and only wear occasionally, my only pair of "trail" shoes) and I'd switched to wide shoes a while ago. Once released from the confines, they felt much better, so note to self: get wide trail shoes! Made it home via Quiznos (a sub which I only half ate as some nausea hit again) and wound up eating only salty foods the rest of the day, so evidently the sun and heat took it's toll. Made it to 9pm before crashing for the night.
So a successful outing at the 50 miler distance. I'm still pretty amazed that I had such a good race. It was a lot of fun and actually pretty pleasant through about 30 miles or so, when it finally started getting hard. I feel much better than I thought I would the next morning (Monday). Now I really, seriously, absolutely must take some down time over the next couple of weeks to let my body recover and heal from the fairly continuous training its undergone the past several months. And yes, I'm now seriously considering the White River 50 in late July!
Postscript - I almost forgot. The strangest thing I think I've seen in a race happened yesterday. I was headed on the final return, about 8 miles or so from the finish, headed down the gentle grade on the trail, when I looked up ahead to see......horses and a dog. Yup, about 5 horses trotted out on one of the dirt driveways that periodically crossed the trail and all turned up the trail and just kinda stopped and milled about. My first thoughts were, oh crap, I'm hallucinating, not good. Once I was convinced it was real, my next thoughts were, uh oh, how the heck do I get by them? The dog with them almost looked like it was herding them for a minute, but then it just stopped and stood next to one.
As I got closer, I realized the dog wasn't a dog, but rather a.......goat. So, here I am faced with 5 horses and a goat blocking my way, 42 miles into a 50 mile race. As I approached, not breaking pace, I slowly started moving to the left side of the path and sure enough, the horses all moved over to the right side, allowing me to pass without being trampled (or spooking the horses). I could almost hear my wife in advance of me telling her about this, wondering who's horses they were, etc, and I ever so briefly thought of stopping to alert the owners, but not having any clue where they originated from (there was a gate on the left and a long drive on the right that headed downhill towards some paddocks and whatnot, I selfishly decided to continue my race and hope that they didn't get too far. So my apologies to the horse (and goat) owners for not rounding them up for you.