It's 10:30 and I've just driven through Ahtanum, WA. My windshield is covered with the evidence of the insect massacre that accompanies any summer sunset drive through eastern Washington. It's pitch black, and I'm now heading up a dirt forest road, looking for Tree Phones Campground. I'm following a van with four bikes attached to its back. After driving four miles UP the road, I start to second guess my way. I decide to turn around and head back to an earlier campground I saw (I figure I can ask for directions from someone there). Back down the road, I find three helpful campers enjoying Bud Lights and cigarettes. They let me know that the campground, is in fact, up the road I was going. However, it's about seven miles up the road.
"Why are you going up there?"
"There's a run there tomorrow"
I get back on the road, and halfway to the campground I find the same van I had been following, barreling back down the forest road. I'm now doubting that anything is up this road, mostly due to the fact this van obviously didn't stay up there. I pull to the side and roll my window down, hoping to ask the driver a question. The van lurches to a stop, the window rolls down, and a slightly large bearded man, with thick plastic glasses, sticks his head out.
"Hi, I'm looking for the campground for the run tomorrow, are you too?"
"Run? Um, no. I'm just driving around. I just like to drive around this time of the year. I just do this for fun."
"Okay, well, is Tree Phones Campground up this road?"
"O yeah, there's a campground up the road, about three more miles. There are people there, I'm not staying there though, I just like to drive at night, and stuff. Uh, this is just what I do for fun."
"Okay, cool, thanks, have a good night."
SPLENDID! Who's ready to run 31 miles in the woods now??? I know I am!!
When You Don't Have It
The race doesn't start with a gun or anything of the like. The race director simply gives a brief speech and then tells us to follow him as he starts running to the trail-head. After five minutes of ascending the first climb, I don't like my pace, so I slow down, and roughly 12 or 15 people pass me running up the climb, and go out of sight. I'm alone. I don't know if it's the heat (already hot at the start of the race), the starting elevation (4,000 ft), sleeping in my car (I was too tired and it was too dark to put my tent out), or just being in the midst of some hard weeks of training and mileage, but I don't have 'it'.
I let everyone go on the climb and decide to intermix power hiking with some light running on the flatter sections of the climb. I also decide that if this isn't going to a good day, I need to focus on what I can control (hydration, nutrition, running form, and just trying to keep a consistent pace throughout the race). I also may just take a little longer to warm up.
Warmed Up and Warming Up
The course is an out and back of three climbs and descents. After cresting the first ridge, which gave a beautiful view of Mt. Adams, I descend back down to the first of three aid-stations. I think I came in around 80-90 minutes, and was surprised to see my first glimpse of any runners since the first 10 minutes. Heading up the second climb, I pass a couple of these runners right away. About halfway up, I get to another couple of runners and pass them. I'm power hiking and running the flats and feel warmed up.
As I approach the top of the ridge that offers a spectacular view of Mt. Rainier, I get in with another runner for awhile and then the leaders of the run come flying by us after they have hit the turnaround. I run along a somewhat flat ridge to the second aid station now feeling better. Many of the runners that have passed me earlier are on their way out of the aid station, some running, some walking. I enjoy the views of Rainier...and notice that it's getting hot. The forecast called for upper 90's, and while it's only 10 a.m., I can tell it's going to be a hot run back.
Coming out of the aid station I know I have two downhills and one uphill. Pure joy, as I love to run downhill. However, a lot of this course is technical single track with lots of rocks that get in the way of my big feet. I pass by a fair number of runners now, a couple miles past the aid station, some of them walking.
(Free Tip - someone asks me what kind of gaiters I have on. I tell them Dirty Girl, and to just Google 'Dirty Girl Gaiters'. A runner I'm with cautions to not just Google 'Dirty Girl'. Sound advice.)
I get a surge of energy on this downhill, and am able to pick up speed. I make sure to stop at every creek and dunk my hat though, as it's getting really hot. I pass a couple of other runners about halfway down, and coast into the final aid station. Then the final climb begins.
I get about five minutes into this climb, and then start attempting to power hike. Maybe I pushed too much on the downhill, I'm not sure, but I'm barely shuffling on the flatter portion of this uphill. The heat is very apparent, my legs are pooped, and my mind starts questioning everything. I just want to finish. I finally get to the top of the ridge (resisting the urge to sit down in the patches of snow at the top), drink a water bottle from a volunteer, and do my best impression of a really slow downhill run into the finish.
I finish. 6th place with a time of 6:22:00. It's hot, but they have catered BBQ chicken at the end, and a creek that runs through the campground has ice cold water to soak my feet in. I talk with some of the other runners, eat some food, soak my feet, and then head home.
Pre-Race Food: PB and honey sandwich
Pre-Race Music: Mumford and Sons
Post-Race Food: BBQ Chicken, Cookies, Cake, Bud Light, 7-up, Squirt.