Lots of terrific racing planned for the coming weeks, possibly doing five marathons in the next six weeks, starting today. Each race is different from the others and today is something new for me. My first real trail race. The Light at the End of the Tunnel was a trail but it was all gentle downhill and on more of a dirt road than trail. I do not know what to expect for today. It has been nine weeks since my last marathon, with only two longish runs since then (18 milers). So my goal today is just to have fun and not get lost. Finish time does not matter....or so I try to tell myself.
Easy drive to the Redmond Watershed Park. Small race put on by Northwest Trail Runs. Low cost and no frills. No shirt and no medal. Three times around a complicated loop of 8.7 miles, with an aid station at the start of each loop. I could send a water bottle out to the far end of the loop, but with my water/fuel belt I am sure I can run a loop without running out of fluids.
Just prior to the start we get a briefing from the race director. There is a 5 mile and 10 mile race also happening and they will use some but not all of the same course as the marathon. He goes on about following pink ribbons if you are a marathoner. Follow the pink at turns, the orange and white ribbons are for the 5 and 10 mile races, don't follow those.....unless you see only orange and white, then you should turn there....huh? And there will be "confidence ribbons" hanging from trees after turns so that you know you did make the proper turn. There will be a short out and back or loop to start, then a longer out section followed by a double loop....turn left the first time you take this loop, then turn at the second left when you complete the loop again....huh? You will do this double loop every time you do one of the larger loops that we do three times? Still with me? Too bad I do not have a map to follow. We will start two minutes before the other races start.
Loop 1 - 1 hour 26 minutes
I meet a couple of maniac folk just before the race and we talk about staying together so as not to get lost. As we start though there is only room for two across with no room to pass and I am just thrown into the thick of the pack. I can't take a wrong turn here unless everyone does so I just trot along. Left turn and down a steepish very rocky track. I had forgotten about another important goal; do not trip. Soon we turn off into the woods, then loop back to the uphill. A couple of faster runners did it as an out and back and I am surprised to see people who were ahead of me now passing me. This would become a theme all day long. I would continually be surprised at finding myself ahead or behind someone.
Mile 1 - On to a better trail for footing and I pass a few runners. Difficult to get into any kind of groove. Lots of up and down and sudden turns. I finally settle into a pace about 9:30/mile, slower than I would be on the roads, but it seems right for this trail.
Mile 2.5 - Ouch!! Bee sting on my right side. See a small swarm on the side of the trail. Fortunately just one sting and the pain goes away in a few minutes.
Mile 3 - Open area, alder regrowth. I am running at the back of a pack of seven runners. I have found my pace, feeling warmed up and running relaxed. I could pass these guys but I think I will just settle in here for a while.
Mile 4 - Older second growth Douglas fir. Lots of sword fern but little under story diversity. Baseball-size rocks on the trail. More level than the previous ups and downs but still lots of turns and small dips.
Mile 6 - Quick crossing of a residential street, then a short way to a turn around. Still hanging with my pack. This is great, they are going at a nice pace and I do not have to think about the course, just follow along behind them.
Mile 7 - Back through the bees and the guy in front of me gets stung. Immediately the two in front of the pack declare that we are off course, we never should have returned past the bees this way. Two others know the trail system here and say that if we continue on we can connect with the proper trail and it will be faster than turning back. This will add at least a half mile extra to this first loop. So much for just hanging with the pack, I should have carefully watched what we were doing. There is comfort in being with six other wayward souls however. We head on and up and up some more and I know that the pace is quickening. The leaders just want to get back on track and maybe they have sped up without even realizing it. If I was on course I would let them go, we really are cruising too fast right now, but I can not let them slip away or I may be lost forever! Finally they seem convinced that we are on course....I have no clue where we are but stay with them. We arrive back at the start and my GPS which reads short on trails, is reading 9.2 miles. At least a half mile extra.
Loop 2 - 1 hour 24 minutes
Our pack split up at the aid station. Some are ahead of me, some behind. I am behind one runner now. Little first mile loop, then the long out.
Mile 2.5 - I know that the bees are coming and we try to run fast past the spot. My companion gets stung once, I manage to avoid them.
Mile 3 - I pass the other runner and strike out on my own. There are some people coming the other way every now and then, but I can see no one in front of me. Lets see if I can follow the trail markers.
Mile 5 - Starting to tire a little. Two hikers (not part of the race) are staring and pointing at a tree. I have to slow and ask them what they are looking at. "Caterpillars" one replies. That is cool, but not worth stopping for. Dark in the woods, bright sun and warmth in the clearings.
Mile 6 - Longer out and back, on my way back I see M111, which makes no sense. He should be well ahead of me. And I should be even farther back with my wrong turn. Maybe my little group was not the only one to get off course.
Mile 7 - Larry Macon and Takao Suzuki sighting. This is very confusing. They are slower than me, but not so slow to still be on their first loop. I ask and they say they are on their second loop. In a moment it all becomes clear; I am now on my second loop of my second loop, they are on the first loop of the second loop. There is a large overlap on the course and suddenly this course is making sense. Maybe I will really understand it by the third time. I finish loop two, tired but confident that I can do this.
Loop 3 - 1 hour 45 minutes
Rocky, gravelly up and down is wearing on me. Warm in the open sun.
Mile 2 - All alone. Walking on the uphills. Round a bend and see a small downy woodpecker in the middle of the trail pecking furiously at the ground. I get to within three feet of it and it flies up onto a tree at the edge of the trail. Now it is at eye level, no more than three feet in front of me. This is worth stopping for. Beautiful bird, unafraid of me. I break contact before it does and shuffle off.
Mile 2.5 - Saved a little energy for the bees nest. I run through and do not see anything. During the first two laps I had no trouble holding a 9:30 pace, now for this lap I can not get the average under 12 minutes per mile. Fading fast and hurting. Well no really bad pains, just tired and overall achy. Try to relax and take energy from the scenery. Toes hurt from the rocks. Bottoms of feet are worn from rocks. Legs are OK, but not lively. Abs hurt and this is unusual. Walking breaks help and I will finish this thing, but it has become much more difficult.
Mile 4 - Walk and jog, keep the pace under 12:30. I can't believe that no one is passing me. If this were a big city race runners would be streaming past me and it would be so discouraging. What happened to my pack from the start and the other runners who were not so far behind?
Mile 6 - Almost at the turn around on the loop. I sense a runner behind me and approaching fast. He catches me right at the turn around and I see that it is Maniac Kurt. He looks in good form and I do not mind at all being passed by a runner of his talents. I would have expected him to be far ahead of me by this point anyway. No one else on the out and back, but I do start to see a woman up ahead going just a little slower than me. I lose sight of her on the many turns but gradually catch up. I am also very thirsty and my water is almost gone. I take a small swig and ration the rest. When I hit that junction at mile 7, where others dropped extra fluids, I will drink that last of my water. Hot in the blazing sun in the clearing.
Mile 7 - Catch M374, introduce myself, and learn that she is also finishing the race soon. We run and chat together. Amazing how much easier the last mile goes with a little company. No problem running the trails and walking up the steeper hills. Pleasant conversation and before I know it we are crossing the finish line. Nice to have alone time running today and good company at times. Tough last loop, but I kept in good spirits and very much enjoyed the day. I would run this one again. No mud, but a lot of dust, as evidenced by my dirt tan after the race.
Marathon or ultra#36
11th place of 34 finishers