Monday, April 23, 2012

Yakima Skyline Rim 50K Race Report

Relentless climbs. Steep descents. Rocky trails. Hot weather. Beautiful vistas.

I drove down to stay in Ellensburg the night before this race, not being keen on the idea of getting up at 3:30 a.m. to drive out to the race. The race was through the Yakima River Canyon, and offered some beautiful views of the snow capped Cascades along the ridge lines. The course had somewhere between 10,000 and 11,000 ft of elevation gain. This gain was comprised in four major climbs, with some portions of those climbs being extremely steep. This ended up being a 'satisfying' race, as I was able to finish an extremely tough course, and learn some physical and mental lessons. I also debuted my first non-Vibram footwear, breaking out my Vasque Mindbender's after a couple of weeks training in them. 114 started, 89 finished, and I ended up in 26th.

credit to Rainshadow Running

First 10 Miles

Kilted bagpipers should be mandated for the starts of all races. It just sets a certain tone, one that I think is perfect for tough trail races. Forget hip-hop, grunge, or GaGa. Just bagpipes. Thus began the race.

We hit the trails, and then begin with a serious climb that goes up at least a couple thousand feet, over just a couple of miles. This initial climb reminded me of taking a ski-lift for the first run of the day, the budding anticipation, the views of ridge tops becoming more clear, the realization that the day was about to begin. But I wasn't seated, I was power hiking. I wasn't going to make the mistake of even trying to run this section, except for the flats, as the race had just begun, and the climb looked like it was going to go on forever. The climb culminated with a section so steep, I almost contemplated just putting my hands out and crawling up. Probably good to note that all conversations with other runners seemed to cease at this point, until we reached the ridge-line.

The climb then flattened out for awhile, and steadily started to go downhill. We were treated to some amazing morning views of the snow-capped Cascades, and the Yakima River Canyon. Conversations with with some fellow runners were had, discussing when we hoped to finish, marveling at the views, and getting to witness some explosions on the military testing grounds (tank shelling?) in the distance. All the makings of what would end up to be an extremely challenging day.

Per the chart above, we got a steady downhill from miles two to eight. "You'll catch me later on, don't worry." I uttered, as I passed some other runners who let me go ahead. Maybe it's the shoes, maybe its lack of experience in this sport, but I can't stop myself from going fast down hills. Once I get going, it's hard to stop. I figure I'll learn over time how to evenly distribute my energy, but this time, I wanted nothing but a fast descend down the first hill. With the new shoes, I finally have the real opportunity to 'bomb' a descent, even one that is covered in rocks. I decide this is going to be fun, even if it negatively impacts me later on, and decide to start enjoying a moment of flying down some trails.

This works well, even into the second climb, as I'm able to maintain a fairly aggressive hiking pace up to about mile 10. I even find myself leading a pack of people hiking up a climb for a short while. I descend well enough to mile 12 (some people caught up to me), but I then start to slow as I have a small climb (some people pass me) before the descent into the mid-point aid station (some more people passed me).  

Miles 10-20

The invaluable encouragement from other runners is something that has really latched on to me in this sport. About half a mile from the mid-point (turnaround) aid station, one of the runners coming from out of the turnaround, stopped, stepped off the trail, and began clapping his hands and encouraging me to stay strong into the approaching aid station.

"It's right around that turn! Keep it up, stay strong."

Just awesome. The act of completely stepping off the trail, and vocal support, ended up being a welcome, and unexpected, boost into the aid station. But its not just that, its how that small show of encouragement reverberates throughout the whole race. This isn't just you, there are others on this course, some cruising, some struggling. Everyone could use some encouragement. Help someone else. Pass it on. I don't know if everyone would react positively, as I assume that there are some that would rather be left alone, but that shouldn't stop one from making an attempt.

I hit the midpoint turnaround at about three hours and five minutes (I think), and head back up onto the third climb. Words of support are exchanged by both sides. But I'm tiring. Hiking is becoming labored. Less efficient. Runners pass me. Sun is getting hotter. Runners coming down the mountain are no longer getting consistent words of encouragement from me, just an appropriate fist pump or infrequent 'good job'. The climbing is getting relentless and the thought crosses my mind - why not quit?

Screw that. I decide fairly quickly that I'm not quitting. I'm hot, yes. My legs are tired, yes. But I'm doing alright. I'm not having stomach problems. The views are fantastic. I think I'm in the middle of the pack. So I just stop, and stand on a ridge-line, and enjoy the view and think. Is this just purely a race to some? Why do people do this? For the challenge? For fun? To discover things out about ourselves, or others? Or does it blend a little of each together? I tell myself to smile, and realize I'm pretty much already doing just that. I don't need to tell myself to enjoy this, because for reasons I haven't completely identified or expressed, I'm already enjoying it. Thinking of how fortunate I am to be able to do this (I'll solve the worlds' problems tomorrow), I get back to running and realize I want some freaking food.
photo credit Takao Suzuki

Miles 20-31

I've been going hog wild on gels, water, and some Clif Shot Rocks, but I want to eat something more. I hit the 4th aid station and consume about three or four Clif Shot Blocks, and a small handful each of gummy bears, jelly beans, M&M's, and two cups of Coke. I pick up a potato, look at it, and decide that it doesn't sound good (I think I put it back - runner foul?). The chewing does it, that's what I needed. My legs are still tired. But it's a good tired, and I get the third downhill. I'm able to get some of my energy back there and progress to the final climb (it was hiked) where I only get passed by two more people. I then transition into the final two mile steep, steep, steep, descent.

The descent was steeper than I expect, and my quads were doing all they could to keep me upright and in control. I wanted to go faster, but truly couldn't, as the course had so many narrow turns, and slim trail, I really couldn't get up to speed. As well, the last thing I wanted to do was trip, tumble down some embankment, and seriously injure myself a mile from the finish line.

About a half to quarter mile from the finish, I come upon a runner that had passed me somewhere after mile 20. He's moving slow, but upon hearing me approaching he picks up his pace. I quickly decide not to push it and pass him, because I seriously don't see the point in gaining one spot. As well, he's now moving at a nice cruising finishing speed. After crossing the finish line he came up to me and said, "Thanks for coming along back there, you prevented me from slogging through the finish."

Congratulatory handshakes. Ever-present smiles. Lot's of  'Holy sh** that race was hard'.

Pre Race Meal: Pancakes w/Peanut Butter & Maple Syrup
Pre Race Music: The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and Chevelle...and the bagpipes send off.
Post Race Food: Handful of Turkey, Three Bowls of Carrot Ginger Soup w/Bread, Four Cookies, Half an Apple, One Shock Top Wheat Ale, One Root Beer Soda, Four Cups Water.

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