I couldn't have asked for a better day, or better course, or a more satisfying race as my first ultra. Partly cloudy skies breaking on the early drive up from Seattle, a cup of coffee and banana for the ride, just a little chill in the air, and an easy check-in (and two open bathrooms) right before the start. For the most part, the rest of the day went just as well, and I finished in 4:45:06, 15 minutes faster than my estimate (which wasn't based on much, I have to admit). Most importantly, I had a blast.
So on to the report, if you like details:
I started back in the pack to rein in that first 10k. Saw some friends during the first mile and spent time chatting with Walter, then moved up a bit and fell in with a guy named Ron. Ron was aiming for 4:54 and had a good theory on how to run the opening 10k, so I stuck with him. We talked biking, complained about lousy drivers, had a Clif shot, and reached Clayton Beach aid station at 48 minutes exactly. Perfect 8/min. pace to start. I ran through the station a little quickly and missed grabbing a new Clif shot, but I was packing a few so I wasn't too worried. Saw my parents there (they happened to be in town and were able to watch that part of the race) and I was feeling pretty high at that point.
Moved up the first incline pretty well, left Ron and started making a few passes on the single track until I was chasing two guys toward Cleator Road. I stayed right behind them until the aid station there. (One of them, I forget his name now, would go back-and-forth with me for the rest of the race, which was fun and encouraging. He did beat me eventually.)
Downed a Clif shot and Nuun at Cleator, and headed up the hill. My goal was to just keep a steady pace on the climb to the next aid, and try to hit the Frangrance Road gate in less than 60 minutes from Clayton Beach. I felt really good heading up and reeled a few people in, finally finding someone my pace and sticking together up to the Ridge Trail. He was a Fairhaven Runner and had some good advice on the course, so that was fun. Hit the gate aid station at 54 minutes, so I was looking good at that point, and I hoped not *too* good.
At the turnoff to the Ridge that *too* good tapped me on the shoulder. I was trailing three guys at the fence and lost them after, oh, twenty steps. That was a bad sign, and the beginnings of cramps and fatigue in the calves freaked me out. I slowed the pace and pounded a Clif shot and bar, trying to get something back into my system. But it was a slog through there, and that's a fun part of the race. One thing kind of cool was I was completely alone up there, nobody around at all until we started down the last 150m or so. I tried to keep focus because the footing is really tricky, but even my mind was reeling some. It all made me a little worried, since I was at 2:15 at that point and knew I had at least twice that to go.
On the way back down hill I started to get my wits again, the fuel must have kicked in. Hit the bottom of the ridge and there were a few others to chase again on that gravel road. I focused on just maintaining a pace and aiding through that part so I'd have something for the muddy climb ahead. Once my legs loosened up I actually got a pretty good pace going again -- running with that guy I traded with, it was his turn now -- and was pulled along by a couple until they let me pass up the muddy hill. Then there were two others that kind of worked as a team up to the crest. I hiked the last portion, maybe 200m, knowing I was ahead of the ballpark pace I had set for myself -- and -- knowing Chinscraper was looming.
Tried to open up my legs somewhat back downhill, and hit the Chinscraper aid station in alright shape. I was tired, but not cramping as badly. I fueled up on nuun and more gels there, planning to suck a few down while hiking up Chinscraper. I was at that aid station 15 minutes ahead of my planned pace, so I felt good about things despite the foreboding feeling in my calves and quads.
Hiked a good pace up Chinscraper, leaving one guy behind. I didn't want to kill myself on that stretch, so I was careful. Maybe 3 minutes slower than a week ago, which was fine. Coming off the hill, however, was brutal. The calf cramps hit again at the parking lot up there, and when this guy named Adam went by me I just jumped in with him to try and get my mind off the cramps. So we're chatting, and he's feeling bad too, and we come around a corner to see a friend of his. This friend, Scott McCoubrey, happens to own the Seattle Running Company, and I hear his name a lot. Scott asked us how we were doing and we told him, and then Scott reaches into his pocket and pulls out a bag of salt tablets. Handed me two and said I'd be alright. I'd never had them before during a race, but at that point I would have stuck a caterpillar in my ear if you told me it would have helped.
He was right. There's a 3-mile downhill stretch there I was really fearing, but the tablets backed off the cramps again and I was able to make it to the aid station at the bottom. My feet got pretty beat up on the downhill, but that wasn't the foremost concern.
At Clayton Beach, which is a 10k from the finish, I was at 3:50. So I knew, even with the cramps and sore feet, that I had a 70-minute window to finish at 5 hours. Good sign. I spent two or three minutes aiding there, letting a few others go by, but just making sure I was hydrated and fueled. Stretched a bit, which helped, then gritted my teeth for the last haul.
The first mile was tough, but then my legs and head put it together and just pushed on. At 15 minutes I took a 60-second walk/stretch, to pull myself together. I watched two guys 150m ahead or so for awhile, but didn't gain much ground. When we hit the single-track again, maybe 2 from the finish, I got a little wind and stretched my legs, but that last gravel switchback made me pay for it. I walked 60 seconds or so, just to hold off the cramping, then cranked it up for that last mile. As I saw more volunteers I knew I was close, and just kind of squinted and tried to give it as much as I had up and down the last little hill. Felt great to see the finish and know the end was near, and I ran across with a smile on my face at 4:45:06.
Other than just finishing and really enjoying it and savoring the experience and views (there were a few spectacular, especially of Mt. Baker up on the Ridge), the biggest win was to overcome the cramps. I've never been able to manage through that problem during a race, and I've crashed and burned a few times. I think I'm learning more about fueling and what my body's needs are. I lose the salt quickly (anyone who saw my white crusty face after the race knows that), so I need to focus on replacement. But to fight that for 2.5 hours was something I'm proud of. And, remarkably, I'm not sore this morning. My body is tired, and I tweaked my right knee somewhere (really felt it during the last 10k, but told myself to forget it at that point, and there's ice on it now), but other than that not much to complain about. Even my feet feel fairly healthy and strong, and they took a beating. (Maybe I should have run faster, eh?)
Anyone out there thinking of an ultra, I recommend this one. Beautiful course, a few types of terrain, fun group to run with and some great energy after the race fellowshipping with the others. Simply excellent in a lot of ways.
brooks cascadia -- 204