Monday, May 23, 2011
Clearing: Sun Mountain 50km Race Report
The sound of the rain is rhythmic. Hunkered in our tent, I feel sheltered yet immediately exposed to the natural elements. I shift and turn seeking to find the comfortable spot amongst the undulating surface we have situated our tent on for the evening. The rain persists, and I find myself continuously disturbed from my slumber by the changes in its ferocity. A steady drizzle, a sudden downpour, each evokes its own sensations.
After a restless night I awake to the stiffness and peculiarity that sleeping without any sort of pad or comfort provides. The grass was my bed and my body is reminding me how foreign of a notion this is in our modern age. My girlfriend and I spend the early hours of the morning packing up our things and seeking the requirement of a strong cup of coffee. Successfully, we enjoy this within the warm confines of a local Coffee Shop in the quaint town of Winthrop, Washington.
The race cannot come soon enough. I have been ready to go since 6:00am when I first awoke an hour early. But alas, the 10:00am start means I am merely killing time. We meander the foothills of the Methow Valley as the sun momentarily breaks through the overcast skies. Things look promising but the clouds are threatening. Looking at the singletrack carving through the slopes, I am soon eager about the 50km of running that lies ahead. I seeded this notion the previous afternoon when my girlfriend and I enjoyed a nice mellow run on the first part of the course. The forgiving, non-technical terrain is a welcomed relief from the usual scree-slopes, roots and step-ups of the North Shore trails.
Finally, we are off and in my opinion the only way that an ultra should, a quick 5second count down by the RD. It is a fast start, and not surprising, as the 25km runners join us for the first 9+miles of the course. I tip-toe my way through the early sections stepping around various runners who were a little ambitious out the gates. The gradient steepens as we make our way on to some doubletrack. I feel sluggish and lethargic, my body wants to rest. But my mind wanders, I am distracted now. The beauty of the surrounding landscape captures my attention. The shadows created by the morning sun are pleasant; just looking, a sense of ease emanates through my body. I forget that I am even running a race. In fact, in that moment I wish I was not. I would love to stop and take in my surroundings and continue to explore these foothills. A passing runner snaps me out of these thoughts. I have become lazy.
We hit the first aid station where I quickly refill my handheld and empty the trash I have stored in my pocket. It is just past this point where we deviate with the 25km runners and I am surprised at how many there were. Few make the turn up the slope to continue to the apex along the 50km course. Juxtaposed to the initial climb, the descent requires my full attention. It is tight and winding single track and due to the previous evening’s rains, there are many precarious points. I catch myself a few times as I slip and slide through the mud. Dry socks no longer. I continue to yo-yo with a couple other runners. We seem to work well together, taking the lead at various points.
Time elapses quickly. It always does when on foreign terrain. I have never been in this area nor run trails as groomed as these. I enjoy not having to watch my footing and hop-step my way up the slopes. Plodding along. I roll into the 17mile aid and quickly restock my waist pack with the necessary calories to carry me through the final 13miles and two substantial climbs. It is warming as we near mid-day and the exposure of the mountain is catching up to me. The first of the two climbs to the top of Sun Mountain catches me by surprise. It is a fairly steep gradient and I soon fall into the dreaded power-walk. Perhaps saving something, I juggle with the thought of grunting up the hill or reserving for the final stages. Mind games. I choose the latter and simply continue my forward progression up the slope mixing between walking and running. Lazy. Once again, the descent breeds life into my legs and I am soon passing runners I noted ahead of me on the climb. The singletrack cut into the side of the slopes wreaks some havoc on my hips and feet as I rarely find a flat spot. Thankfully, these are switchback so it balances out well.
The final aid station cannot come soon enough. My bottle has been empty for the last 20minutes; I have misjudged. With the 24mile aid in sight, I sprint along the quarter mile stretch of road, the only road we encounter the entire course, desperately seeking hydration. Quickly, I refill my bottle and down a couple cups of water. Relief.
The final climb waits for us across the road. The open terrain and cutting single track weaves up the mountain. Stark and barren, it sits in front of me. There is nowhere else to go. I continue to pick off runners as I climb. Each time feeling more and more motivated. It is arduous but doable. Inevitably, I reach the top and retrace my steps down the slope. Precarious at first and attempting to regain my legs, I eventually open up on the descent feeling the best I have all day. Is this race really going to end now? Nearing the bottom of the mountain my girlfriend awaits and tells me that I have less then 20minutes. Buoyed, I run on pushing the hardest I have all day but reminding myself of the slight uphill finish to the course. I take a quick glance at my watch and realize a sub 4:45 is out of reach so I resolve to a steady pace as I cross the line in 4:48. My legs feel fresh and my mind clear. The sensation is overwhelming. I cannot wait to do it again.