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.
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.
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!
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.
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