BQ at Cascade Super Series Marathon

"If I don't BQ here, I am done running marathons." - me, right before this race.

I went into this marathon knowing that if I couldn't qualify here, I probably couldn't do it anywhere. The course is mostly downhill, and is on a rails-to-trails crushed limestone trail. Basically, the easy footing of running on a road without the suckiest parts of running on a road. The scenery is gorgeous: old railroad bridges, mossy forests, and a 3-mile-long tunnel. The weather was ideal: 50s with a light rain, perfect for running fast and staying cool.

That said, the course was also... kind of boring. I'm SUPER biased and spoiled and sound like a brat (I KNOW, OK?!); but I have had the great privilege of running on some of the most beautiful trails in the PNW, with sweeping vistas, soul-defining hills, waterfalls, and fucking volcanoes. So yes, I know I sound like a snob when i say that this (very beautiful) course was boring. But I'm very glad I decided to bring along my headphones and iPod shuffle to keep me entertained. 

Start line: low clouds and anxious runners, ready to roll.

Start line: low clouds and anxious runners, ready to roll.

The day started off chilly and cloudy, and after a quick briefing from the RD, we took off. I started off with the 3:30 pace group thinking that I would see how that felt and try to decide if I could hang on at that pace. The first section of the race was a 2 mile out-and-back on a very flat portion of the course, where we were able to lock into our pace. I felt really comfortable hanging with the pace group, and our pacer had a funny little song he would sing at every mile marker that ended with:

"WHERE'S THE LAST MILE?"
(we would yell) "BACK THERE!"
"WHERE'S THE NEXT MILE?"
"UP THERE!"
"WHERE'S THE BEST PACE GROUP?"
"RIGHT HERE!!!"

It was super fun. I shouted the refrain as loud as I could and was generally having tons of fun, which was my number one goal for the day. At one of my last road marathons (Victoria, 2015), I had gone out too hard, ended up totally bonking, and got really pissed off about the whole thing. Mark was shocked to see me along the course; I was absolutely seething. He told me later how awful it was to see me like that, and I told him how awful it was to feel like that, so I determined that I never again wanted to get to that point. If I'm not having fun, what's the point?

Where's the best pace group? RIGHT HERE!!!

Where's the best pace group? RIGHT HERE!!!

We got to the tunnel just after mile 5 and the pace group had pulled up ahead of me slightly. I grabbed one of the mini flashlights from the volunteers and headed into the pitch-black tunnel and realized: holy shit, it is dark in here. The last time I ran through this tunnel, I had a headlamp, which did an awesome job of lighting it up - this dinky flashlight was barely enough to see where my foot was about to fall. I saw the pace group up ahead and realized my best chance would be to sprint up to them in order to take advantage of the group light. So I started flinging my flashlight around wildly in order to give my brain a better sense of what the inside of the tunnel looked like. I sprinted, praying I didn't eat it, and caught up. Our combined light was enough to run comfortably, and it also meant I got to keep yelling that we were the best pace group (BONUS!).

Cruisin' along behind the pace group before the tunnel.

Cruisin' along behind the pace group before the tunnel.

THUMBS UP! HAVING FUN!

THUMBS UP! HAVING FUN!

After the tunnel, the course starts to pitch downhill ever so slightly. If you're on the course, you can't even see the slope of the trail, but the elevation profile on Strava afterwards says that it was CLEARLY downhill. And while I couldn't see it, I sure as hell could feel it. My legs were like, "you got to GO, girl." 

I took off at a slightly faster pace than the group and started to gain on a woman in a Oiselle jersey up ahead of me. I think she noticed. She took OFF and I... let her go; I wasn't sure how long I could keep this pace going, and honestly, I was running my own race. I wanted to BQ, and was on track to do that, and didn't want to risk it by trying to race someone else and then bonking.

One of the railroad bridges, and also a good idea of just how alone I was for most of the time.

One of the railroad bridges, and also a good idea of just how alone I was for most of the time.

Miles 12 through 20 took forever, as usual. I was alone the entire time, so I was jamming. out. to my iPod shuffle music mix. I'm talkin' full-on lip syncing with hand gestures. I had forgotten how many fun songs I had on there... I should pull that thing out more often.

My hydration was good, I had a Gu at one point that went down easily, and I passed a few people here and there. Oiselle was way up ahead, but still within sight.

Somewhere around mile 23, I realized I was massively gaining on Oiselle all of a sudden. I checked my watch - I was still maintaining my same pace, so she must have been slowing down significantly. Earlier in the race, I had mentally channeled to her, "get it girl, don't worry, I'm not gonna try to catch you;" but now, all bets were off. I kept up my pace, caught up with her, and we gave each other shout-outs as I passed. Not 5 minutes later, another woman came flying past me. I thought for a moment that I should catch her, but she seemed so intent on beating me that if I had pushed it, she would have pushed harder, and probably would have beat me anyway. So, power to her for passing me in that final stretch.

The very last .2 miles of the race, the course leaves the main trail and takes a few short switchbacks down an actual hill and into the finish chute. At this point, I heard some heavy breathing behind me. I didn't know who it was, but thought it might Oiselle trying to regain her lead on me. Downhills are my jam, so with this actual downhill to my advantage, I pulled out all the stops. My last .1 mile was an all-out sprint to beat whoever was trying to pass me at the last second (one of my pet peeves, BTW. Like, really??). Turns out it was some dude, and he cracked up when I beat him to the finish line, clapped me on the back, and thanked me for the fun final sprint. He was such a sport about it that I couldn't help but laugh along and enjoy the moment.

WOO HOO! Excited to be done. Also, OOF, a clear decline in running form by the end. 

WOO HOO! Excited to be done. Also, OOF, a clear decline in running form by the end. 

My competition-rapidly-turned-new-friend.

My competition-rapidly-turned-new-friend.

I stuck around for a while to see all the people finish that I had run with earlier. They had grilled cheese at the finish line, which was *heaven*, and they were taking some pictures with "PR" and "BQ" signs. I grabbed both, because I crushed both. Boom. I think my general giddiness in this picture about sums it up.

Buzzing

Buzzing

STATS

Needed 3:50:24 to PR; 3:35:00 to qualify for Boston

Finish time: 3:25:47
25/118 overall
6/65 female (must be my lucky number this year!)
2/13 age group (F 30-34)
7:51/mile

Shoes: Brooks PureConnect 4

LESSONS LEARNED

I learned that I can run fast, but I have to pay for it for days after. I had wanted to do another running event (for funsies) on Sunday, but was pretty wrecked. I pushed it harder than I should have, and possibly made things much worse, and now need to take some time off to recover. This race also confirmed my love for trail running, and now I feel like I can leave this road-related goal of mine behind and focus on my trail skillz.

Thanks to Mark for meeting me at the finish line with some Snickers, and for always believing I can do better than I think I can. Thanks to all the friends and training buddies for a solid season so far. I'm super excited (and also partly terrified) to see how the rest of the season will go!

2017 Sun Mountain 100k

Well, that was unexpected.

I went into this race feeling very under-prepared. And actually, after the race I still feel like I was under-prepared. But what I lacked in preparation, I made up for in determination. So at least there's that.

For about three weeks in April, I was battling a host of injuries during my training plan's highest mileage weeks. This stressed me out so much that I thought about not even starting the race - luckily, some friends convinced me that was dumb (thanks, Dana and Ian!), so I showed up to the incredibly beautiful Methow Valley with a stretch goal in mind of 13 and a half hours for my finish. In the back of my mind, I knew that was a bit cocky at my training level, so my backup goal was to PR at the 100k distance (my current being 14:17 at Gorge Waterfalls last year).

The night before the race, I'm not gonna lie: I slept like a baby. I guess my subconscious was just like, "fuck it. It is what it is. Nothing you can do about it now." The weather at the 5:30 am start was cool, but promised to heat up quickly, so I stuck with my decision to wear shorts and a tank top, the first time wearing such attire in months, and coincidentally NOT the same attire I wore with my new running pack this winter (doofus!).

The course is a 50k loop, the 100k runners completing it twice. James Varner, Race Director, gave us a hurried intro to the course before counting down and sending us on our way. The first half of the loop is deceivingly easy to run, and a group of us settled into a quick and steady pace, chatting and generally enjoying ourselves. In this race more than any other I've done, I would end up running with the same people over and over, leapfrogging our way to the finish.

Running along the lake (I'm actually in this photo!). [credit: Glenn Tachiyama]

Running along the lake (I'm actually in this photo!). [credit: Glenn Tachiyama]

Around mile 20, there is a long, exposed out-and-back with some brutal hills. It was here that I started seeing some of the women ahead of me making their way back along the trail. I counted four ahead of me, but did some math in my head and figured there were probably a few more that had already completed the out-and-back that I hadn't seen. Still, maybe I could be top 10 if I held on? A girl can dream.

I finished the first loop hella strong, a few seconds under the 6 hour mark. At that point I took stock: my muscles felt amazing, but the heat was getting to me. I needed sunscreen. But worst of all was my pack, which was chafing the bajeezus out of my clavicle and neck. Mark sprayed me down with some sunscreen and I involuntarily gasped/screamed when it hit my raw skin. I didn't have another good option for hydration. Shit. I had to keep it on. I took some food and filled up my water bottles to full capacity and headed out on the second loop. I needed the full bottles due to the heat, but now, the pack was really bouncing around, continuing to rub my skin raw, and also now bruising my rib cage with the bottles at every bouncing step.

I took off with a few guys who were about my pace, and we settled into a nice easy slog and chatted away the first stretch. It took two hours to get to the first aid station, where my first loop it had taken 1.5. I panicked a bit - I didn't want to be out there for an 8-hour loop, so I kicked it up a notch to get to the next aid station. Mark met me there and kept trying to convince me my math was wrong, that I was doing great, AHEAD OF SCHEDULE! But I knew I was only slowing down as the day went on, and his logic wasn't making sense to me at the time. The temperature soared into the 80s and I stopped at every glacial stream crossing for a blast of shockingly cold water to my face, neck, and hands.

Spent many hours wishing I could roll around in that snow. [credit: Glenn Tachiyama]

Spent many hours wishing I could roll around in that snow. [credit: Glenn Tachiyama]

The second time on the out-and-back section... sucked. It sucked so hard. But it was also fun to see friends go flying past and to get some blasts of energy at seeing them completely crushing it. At the beginning of the second loop, another woman had run with me a bit and then passed me, so now I was counting five ahead of me, still assuming there were others running faster than all of us. After the turnaround, I kept an eye out for the next woman runner and estimated she was about 15-20 minutes behind me. Too close for comfort at mile 52. Time to pick up the pace! I ran the downhill as hard as I could, knowing that my uphill skills leave a bit to be desired, but my downhills could usually make up some time. There was another massive climb on the way, and I wanted to bank some time in case she started to gain on me.

Up to this point, my stomach, nutrition, salt, and fluids had been ON POINT. I was thrilled at how well I was feeling, especially considering my nutrition PTSD from Cascade Crest 100 last year. It wasn't until after the last aid station that I started feeling slightly iffy, but by then I knew I only had about an hour and a half left. I had taken some bacon from the last aid station and stuffed it in my pocket, but only made it through one bite before thinking "hm... my eating might be done for the day."

On that long, long, brutal, exposed, final uphill, there were only the briefest moments of shade. I would usually take a moment to pause, cool down, and catch my breath, one time pulling out some Tums to coax my stomach into holding on for just a bit longer. Come on, buddy! You can do it! The second loop had been slower and hotter than the first, and I had been draining my water bottles well before each aid station. I knew I was probably slowly getting dehydrated, and my stomach finally had enough. Sorry, tummy!

Feeling good! [credit: Glenn Tachiyama]

Feeling good! [credit: Glenn Tachiyama]

The home stretch. I had been calculating and recalculating my finish time all day. Sweet baby Jesus, I could actually make it in my stretch goal time! I bucked up and slogged to the top of the last peak, tagged the turn around point, then ran like a she-devil down down down down down the last, never-ending hill. My running buddy from the beginning of the loop came out of nowhere and blasted past me, yelling something over his shoulder about being in his "pain cave" - well done, dude. Damn. I was smelling the barn, and did the last five miles in almost the same split time as my first loop.

The very last 1.5 miles of the race is along a rolling, wooded uphill. Damn you, James Varner. I knew it was coming, but had forgotten just how soul-crushing it was. One of my water bottles was tucked into the back of my pack and kept sloshing around, and every time I heard it, I thought it was footsteps behind me. I'd freak out: Oh no!! That next woman is catching up!  RUN, BITCH!! I'd run a bit, look back, realize there was no one in sight, and fall back into a slog. Finally - FINALLY - the last fork in the trail, which I vividly remember from the first loop. Only about 50 yards from the finish. I ran my little heart out, got my Varner high-five, and my Sun Mountain 100k finisher pint glass to go fill with beer. I finished in 13:23, beat my original goal of 13:30, and was thrilled to be done, and to have done well.

Then, the kicker: Mark came over and told me I had finished in 6th place! ... whaaaaat? Turns out, there were no phantom women that I had never seen on the out-and-backs. Everyone within my reach at the finish line, friends and strangers alike, got a high-five to celebrate this unexpected turn of events. And the woman behind me? She finished strong, looking awesome, 20 minutes behind me, just the same as she had been 10 miles back. Whew.

This is only the second year that Rainshadow has done the 100k. I don't know if the course changed, or if it was just the weather, or both, but finish times for the male and female winners were 1.5 - 2 hours slower than last year. So in a way, that makes me feel even better about my time - I had estimated my goal based off of last year's stats, so maybe in reality I did better than I realized? Sure. I'll keep telling myself that. 

[credit: Glenn Tachiyama]

[credit: Glenn Tachiyama]

Thanks to all the runner buddies and team7hills gang that helped me through the day and weekend, and congrats to all of them who did so freaking well out there, at all three distances (25k, 50k, and 100k). A million thanks to the volunteers, who kept me as hydrated as possible and fed me bacon, and thanks to Rainshadow for yet another stellar event (James, just joking about all those complaints, it really was an incredible course). Thanks to Mark for taking care of me, even after he decided to do his own long run that day, and for the friends who cheered me on at the finish line and were a great support all weekend. Y'all are the best.

Stats, if that's your thing:

Finish time: 13:23:00
Distance: 62 miles
Elevation gain: 10,800'
6th female finisher (21 female finishers, 30 starters)
28th overall finisher (71 finishers, 114 starters)
Shoes: Altra Lone Peak 3.0s
Pack: Salomon S Lab Sense, soon to be ritualistically burned for its betrayal

Ouchie mama! Chafing from my pack. Not the right one for me, obviously.

Ouchie mama! Chafing from my pack. Not the right one for me, obviously.