Sun Mountain 50 miler – race recap

Late in the race - faked a smile :).  PC: Glenn Tachiyama

(photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama)

Where do I start? Perhaps with our drive up the stunning North Cascades highway. One of the highlights was Diablo lake. We were greeted by glassy green waters, snow – capped mountains and we took many photos.  As we wound our way up the highway, I could audibly feel the tension drain from my body.

The Methow valley was incredible. Lush fields, valleys and mountains.  Seeing the Methow Valley for the first time was like stepping into another time and place. Words and photos can hardly capture the beauty  of this place.

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Diablo Lake

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Our little cabin was in Mazama, just outside of Winthrop, Washington.  The name of our cabin was “A – cute – cabin” and indeed it was.  Old fashioned skates hung in the entrance. A white cabinet filled with giant red mugs and polka dotted cereal bowls. Wrought iron bed and a porcelain white bathtub. Fire place and couches, and a back deck with a bbq.

The cabin

The cabin

Cottage style country bedroom

Cottage style country bedroom

We had dinner, and made a grocery run to the local IGA.  Relaxing in a hammock, drinking white wine and soaking in the beauty of our surroundings.  It was a very laid backing evening. We met Laura, who was also staying in the same, cabin and was running 50km the next day.  By 10pm, we were all in bed.

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Pre – race ritual.


The Race

Race morning dawned early with 5 am wake up a call.  I ate half a bagel with chocolate peanut butter and we drove the 1/2 hour to he start.  A hint of light rose over the mountains,  and a deer flitted across the road.  I felt a wave of contentment wash over me.

Pre - race photo.

Pre – race photo.

The race was definitely an experience. Having not run further than 35km this training period, and having not run further than 50km, ever, I set out to enjoy this race.  I had heard many good things about Sun Mountain, and Sun Mountain did not disappoint.

The day turned out beautiful, albeit hot!  We started at 7 am, and within an hour I  could feel the warmth especially since the course was exposed with very little shade. But the beauty of the Methow valley was undeniable.  A lake, lush valleys, meadows bursting with wild flowers and stunning vistas of snow-capped mountains made for an incredible day.

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Playing in a meadow of wildflowers early in the race. Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama

I didn’t have any particular goals for this race, except to cross the finish line. I stopped to take photos  and chatted with fellow runners.

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Wild flowers abounded…

 I felt reasonably decent heading into the 20 mile aid station   I had left a drop bag here but didn’t take anything. Volunteers refilled my flasks, and I crammed food down, chips, gummy bears, fruit and a lot of coke, pb and j. sandwiches.  For some reason, the coke sat well in my stomach.  It was also at the 20 mile aid station, that a fellow runner I had been running and chatting with at the beginning of the race caught up to me. After a few words of encouragement, he pulled out of the aid station.  I never saw him again – but looked him up –  he ended up finishing an hour and forty minutes ahead of me. He told me his strategy had been start very slow and then pick up the pace. Pacing anyone?

It was 7 – 8 miles to the next aid station, and I was warned a climb was ahead.   I focused on putting one foot in front of another, and making it to the next aid station. That made the race more manageable in my head.  The thought of 80km in one go was a bit overwhelming.

Selfie part way up a hot and steep climb.

Selfie part way up a hot and steep climb.

Being such a long day on course, I also had plenty of time to think.  I chose not to run with music, so when I wasn’t chatting with fellow runners or admiring the surrounding beauty, I was inside my own head.   I realized I was so mentally tired (not from the race).  I was carrying burdens that weren’t mine to carry.

And as I made a conscious choice to let go, I felt a weight lifted off me.  As I was recently reminded, by someone very dear to me, we only have so many moments in life, and we might as well enjoy each one.

Besides running further than I ever have (I use “run” loosely), the race took me to places mentally I have never been.  Between mile 27 – 36 were probably the toughest as distance wise. And temperatures continued to rise.

At the 27 – 28 mile aid station a kind volunteer held out my drop bag. I changed my tank top, slathered on more screen, ate more chips, fruit, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and grabbed a few gels for the journey in between aid stations.

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Mountain views abounded on a very scenic course.

Shortly after leaving the aid station,  I felt a blister on my foot. I debated turning around and heading back to the aid station but decided against it.

Somewhere between mile 27 – 36 mile included a lot of walking, with some “running” thrown in. As long as I kept moving, I figured I would be okay.    I was passed by a lot of people and stung by a bee. But the scenery was stunning, so that made up for it.

At the 36 mile (ish) aid station, I consoled myself by telling myself there was “only” a 1/2 marathon left.  I left the aid station and was greeted by none other than more climbing.

We hit 40 miles ish after a climb to the Sun Mountain lodge. I was not pleased to have to climb this late in the race. We had tried to descend the trail initially – and the volunteers kindly but firmly told us – that if this was our first time around we had to climb up the mountain. The lucky runners heading downhill were 50km racers.  Coming down the mountain hurt too – but seeing the volunteers the second time and going downhill made me feel slightly better. It’s too bad running wasn’t an option – I walked, shuffled along and then ran a little.   We were told the last aid station was 44 – 45 milesish.  Those few miles took a long time and I was hungry.  I was delighted to discover a fruit leather stuffed into a pocket of my hydration vest.

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Somewhere on the course – can’t remember where in the race I took the photo

Catching sight of the last aid station filled me with indescribable joy.  At the last station I found a running buddy volunteering. Seeing a familiar face late in the race was oh so sweet – the first familiar face I had seen all day.  He refilled my flasks, and snapped a photo as I ran off. Thanks for the help 2.0.!  He and another volunteer kindly told me the next 5.5 miles could be done in just over an hour.

I wasn’t so sure but I had my illusions.  After refueling and stocking up at the last aid station,  we pulled out and more climbing ensued.  And it was still hot. (The day alternated between heat, stifling heat and at times the weather would taunt us with gentle breeze).  We reached a ladder.  The ladder seemed cruel so late in the race. A group of us encountered a suffering 50k racer. We offered salt pills and then proceeded to do a group climb (sort over) over the the short ladder over a barbed wire fence.  And then we kept climbing. Surely, it must end.   We caught a tiny reprieve, and then the climbing resumed. I could see faster runners ahead, ants in the distance, across a higher ridge.  There couldn’t be more climbing. But I suspected there might be.

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More climbing.

We reached the ridge, and I was dismayed to see runners ahead, winding their way up a steep hill.  I almost cried, but kept marching up wards.  Runners making their way down called out encouragement. We were less than 5 miles from the finish line.  One foot in front of the other.  And as I finally crested the top and turned around. I felt relief.  I started to run downhill, but my quads protested and it became more like wobbling down hill.  Of course, hidden somewhere in the meadows was Glenn Tachiyama, photographer extraordinaire.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what my race face looked like.

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Late in the race. It was hot. I was tired. Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama

 I was alone at this point and I kept my eyes peeled for pink flagging.  I felt as though I had gone awhile without the tell – tale pink flags. I started to re – trace my steps uphill. Three steps up, I ran into a fellow runner with whom I had been sharing miles. We decided we  hadn’t come across any turn offs and continued on our paths. Finally, a pink flag appeared on a shrub.  As we gingerly descended the trails on trashed quads and blistered feet, I felt a wave of emotion wash over me.

We exited the trails and crossed a road onto another set of trails. Seeing the Chickadee trail head on which we started, I was certain the finish was just around the corner . But every time we rounded a bend more pink flagging awaited. Those last few kms felt like the longest of my life.

Finally, I heard a volunteer, and then another who told us  200 yards. I had to be close. I willed my legs into a feeble run.  I saw Alan just before the finish.

As I ran into the finish area I could hear screams and cheers of finishers and spectators. The trail running community is so tightly knit.  They cheer for friends and strangers alike.

I came to a halt scanned the finish area and I found J. off to the side, snapping photos.  He had arrived 10 minutes before I crossed, based on my own estimated finish time.  I handed him my hydration pack and peeled off my trail runners.

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Done.

11 hours later…80km done.  It dawned on me 80 km was kind of far.  At some point during the race, I swore I would never do this again but I’m already contemplating the next race. 100km sounds reasonable to me…

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Exploring a park the next day. He decided to carry me, because it was quicker than waiting for me to walk :p.

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