I had no idea how this run was going to go. I wasn't confident in my fitness, my head was all over the place all week long. So much crap. So little me. Should I go? Or should I not go. The internal argument raged on within myself leading up to this day. What if 7 miles in I just didn't feel like running anymore like has happened so much recently? 24 miles away from my car in 45 degrees and rain is not how I want to spend any day. So after a very tumultuous week I decided to go - I guess the final decision was made on the Thursday evening.
Friday, the day before race day. Everything is good. I had a very good day leading up to the time I was to leave. And then about an hour before I was to drive south I decided to re-do my stupid Phone. It turns out that sometimes modern technology is painstakingly slow. I plugged my phone into the laptop at 2:00, figured I could leave by 3:00, 3:30 at the latest. Wrong answer. Beeeeeep. Try again please. OK, How about 4:00? Wrong. Shit! I was so stressed as I knew I was going to be stuck in traffic all the way through Tacoma now. (Insert lots of expletives at this point). It was almost 5:00 by the time I left my house. Yes, my phone took that long to update itself - but now I can text photos. Sarcasm coming up…. You got to be kiiiiddddiiiinnngggg me? WTF! Heading southbound my mind quickly starts to wander on missed opportunities. On my drive I pass "A" that makes me think of "B" then I pass "C" that makes me think of "D" and then my mind starts its roller coaster of internalizing and then luckily I run out of letters in the alphabet. I then pass the airport and finally…finally…I can clear my head. It's all good stuff from this point forward. Did that make sense? It does to me : )
The drive down was pretty uneventful overall. My iPod is busted again, yes, that is 3 busted iPods in 3 years. And one lost iPod. So I only had one CD, Pandora radio, and whatever was on the actual radio. And of course telephone calls but other than one quick call to get updates on all the sick, broken, recovering, or just had a baby relatives of mine throughout the country I just spaced out. Sometimes that is easier. Sometimes that is best. As someone I know pretty well likes to tell me far too often, "Mike, stop thinking!"
I didn't plan on making many stops on the way there. I did stop at Dairy Queen near Great Wolf Lodge to get an ice cream cone because for some insane reason I wanted one. I know I can't ever become pregnant, but I am assuming this is what a pregnant lady would feel like when she wakes up at 2:30 in the morning and wants to eat pickles and whipped cream - together. Don't most people have those the night before an ultra? Why the hell not right? Considering most of us are flux capacitors with Mr. Fusion's attached - our G.I.'s are usually a bit more resilient than the average person - mine usually is for miles 1-60 anyway, after that it's a whole new ball game, but that game wasn't being played this weekend.
9:00. Pull into the campground, get the gate open. Find a place to park. Since there are only 14 campsites in the area, most were full at this point. I just drove around, found the day use area, pulled back into there, and parked. No one within a couple hundred yards of me as far as I could tell. I still had email service, so took care of some of that stuff, made my bed in the back of my truck. Read my kindle. Relaxed. Meditated. Cleared my head. And slept. Pretty much all night too.
The next thing I know it's 6:00 a.m. and time to wake up. My body is stiff and achy as I slept like a contortionist, but after moving around, blasting the heat to get my core temperature back up to something close to normal, I felt OK. I drive my truck to where everyone else is about 1/4 mile from where I slept. Find a place to park, get my number, go back to my truck and blast the heat, put some running clothes in, look at the dime size blister on my heel that hurts like hell, decide not to wrap it or anything, pin my number on, fill my bottles, and then hop on the school bus for the little trip to the start.
The drive on the bus was relaxing. Luckily I inadvertently chose a seat with a heater, because all the windows on the bus were open about an inch, which let in the frigid air. Once we got to the start, I quickly noticed there was a line of about 50 people for the 2 porta potties. No way in hell was I going to wait in that line. So I find a place to set my bag down, and go for a quick run down the road. I need to warm up a little bit anyway, especially since the race started with a 2 mile climb with 1500 feet of gain - two things taken care of it once. That is being efficient!
Then it's time to race. Or run. Or play on the trails. Or trip and catch myself. Then trip and stumble. Then trip and fall. Repeat for 5 hours. Off we go…
The climb starts easy enough. The trail is actually paved for the first mile. My blister on my heel is already hurting like helll, but at least that gives me something to fixate because I am scared to death of this run. My fitness was a giant question mark to say the least. One run over 20 miles 3 weeks before the race is not exactly ideal preparation. I haven't run all that much elevation either. So I run with the usual suspects I always end up with in these things. And there were also quite a few people that I didn't know. But it's an ultra - most people start off way too fast, and I usually end up passing a bunch in the waning miles - I was just hoping that it wouldn't be me getting caught this time. Once we reach the top the trail quickly points down. And it's steep. And super rocky. Lots of quad killing switchbacks. Nothing that will lend itself to easy fast running. I would accelerate, slam on the brakes, accelerate, slam on the breaks, this repeating process had me worried about what the state my legs would find themselves in another 15-20 miles down the trail. Even when the trail flattened itself out it was hard to go fast with the rocks. Very technical - especially since I haven't been running trails much as of late.
My first fall happens somewhere around mile 8. I catch my foot on a well camouflaged rock and tuck and roll on my right shoulder. I also break water bottle strap # 1. My shoulder takes most of the impact and I can feel that I landed on it, but it's all part of the day. Carry on. My legs feel like crap anyway - so it is giving me something else to think about - as I am always thinking, fixating, and over analyzing every aspect of my life as it is. So for once it is just nice to tell my mind, "Just shut the fuck up and run." I do. And slowly, ever so slowly, my legs start to wake up.
Running from the while Polar Bears from the TV show "Lost."
Miles 10-20 were a blur, I don't remember much as I finally reach my Zen running state which is always my peak of blissful happiness. Alone in the woods. No soul around. Just keep following the well marked course. Listen to the rain. Gasp at another beautiful waterfall and enjoy the wakening legs as I run up another climb. Beautiful. This is what I need in my life at the exact time I need it. Then SNAP! Fall again. Break water bottle handle # 2. This time in one of the many rock gardens. And I was ever so careful of this fall to make sure I landed on every single rock that my 5 foot 11 165 pound frame could cover. There is nothing like the sensation of falling on 15-20 softball sized pointy rocks all at once. That hurt. Ouch. I actually took a seated 8 count as I gathered my wits. My left forearm was definitely hurting. Instantly I thought back to my mom that broke her arm years ago XC skiing and then proceeded to ski out so she could go to the hospital. But it wasn't quite that bad, so I just got up and continued my run. Mom is still tougher than me.
Then the trail starts to climb yet again. Who told me this was supposed to be a fast course? Grrrr!!! But it has felt that way all day. Between the downhills that were too steep to or had too many switchbacks to take advantage of, to the abundant amount of rocky terrain, this has to be ranked up there as one of the toughest 50K runs I've ever done. But I would also put it right alongside Baker Lake as one of my favorites.
Finally I get to a little clearing and I see some girl standing there and she tells me, "4 miles to go." And best of all there is some good fast downhill running to take advantage of. I finally can open up the legs and let them free; to me this is always the best and most fun part of running trails is when late in a race you can haul ass downhill, where for some reason I can always run faster than I could a 5K. I ended up covering the last 4 miles in a shade over 24 minutes. My legs which started off so poor, came back so strong, almost as if they were missing this sensation as well and were so afraid to commit to my mind as I haven't let them free like this in months. Sorry legs. But we are back now, back together, and we are going to have a good year.
The post race party was great also. Lots of people I haven't seen in months. It was great to see Gaby and trade potty stories about kids with Pam S. Had some great burgers cooked up by neo-BBQ master Kevin, re-connected with a lot of others and talked a bit more with Matt as he is one of my Mukilteo friend's good friends, and also a fellow native of New York state. Good times. Great memories. Lots of fun. Thanks to James and crew. I and my legs will be back