Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Apex Predator of GPS Watches: Coros Apex 46 mm

I only recently heard of the brand Coros. They are a quiet, but strong contender in a market dominated by Garmin and Suunto. Coros offers two GPS watches: the Pace and the Apex. The Apex comes in two sizes, 46 mm and 42 mm. The larger watch boasts a 35 hour battery life in full GPS mode. The smaller one 25 hours. I bought the big one. When I say big one it still looks small next to my Suunto Ambit3 Sport and it is very light on the wrist. You can adjust the GPS accuracy downwards to go up to 100 hours, but it can be charged while recording so I will opt to charge on the go with an Anker and maintain higher accuracy when that situation arises.

Yesterday I took the Apex out in the Chuckanuts for a first run. I was having a bad day and went slow and took lots of breaks that I paused it during. It ended up recording 10.0 miles on a route my Suunto had previously recorded as 11.4 miles. I ran the Strava app on my iphone as a control and it clocked 12.0 miles. They were both wrong in opposite directions and I wasn't sure what to think. Everything else was awesome on the Coros so I was nervous. I wanted all of its positive features, but I didn't want a watch that measures short.

Today I decided to test it head to head against my Suunto that has a pretty accurate history with mileage (just tends to get pace very wrong when synced to Strava lately and loses map segments at random.) My thought was that comparing them under the same level of cloud cover, atmospheric pressure, temperature, and other possibly influential factors would better ascertain if Coros measures short. I will pretend I picked the route to offer 6 miles of largely open urban trail and 4 miles of technical trail with elevation change under tree cover to test them in two terrain scenarios simultaneously. In reality, I haven't really felt like running this weekend and this was the laziest route available to me.

For equality I decided to not pause either watch the entirety of the run and count on each watch's auto pause to adjust out the various photo taking breaks, one pee stop, and one quick convo stop when I ran into a friend. The Apex knocked 9 minutes off when it synced to Strava which sounds about right for my lazy day. At the end of my run the Coros read 10.47 miles and the Suunto 10.49. Not a material difference at all! That was all I needed to see to be 100% sold on the Coros. Side note, it sells for a very reasonable $350, notably less than Suunto or Garmin watches with equivalent features.

The Apex provides a lot of data, both while in use and in the Coros app once synced. It has wrist heart rate, tracks cadence, provides average stride length, gives current elevation, total ascent and descent and I caught it taking my skin temperature the other day. It likely has a lot of other features I am not aware of as today is Sunday, it was delivered to my office on Friday, and we have only had 20.5 miles together so far.

It syncs crazy fast which is fun for the impatient runner wanting immediate post run stats. I was taking the photo of the two watches together immediately post run when a Strava notification popped up in the corner of the camera. It had synced that fast. Meanwhile the Suunto made it to the Movescount app awhile later, but has yet to make it on to Strava. Don't worry, if it ever gets there I'll delete it to not double count my mileage :)

I wanted to regain heart rate tracking in my training in my quest for a new watch. My Suunto came with a chest strap that started malfunctioning 6 months in. I had it replaced under warranty and the second strap went bad within 4 months. Beyond the reliability issues chest straps aren't very fun to wear with sports bras. The wrist HR on the Coros was appealing. The app provides average, high, low, and time in each HR zone in addition to some nice charts. Also charted were my cadence, pace, and elevation. Based on what my average HR used to be when my Suunto strap still functioned the Coros HR data seemed reasonably accurate.

It also comes with multiple straps for color variety and a huge variety of digital watch faces can be used. The operation is two button, feels simple in a good way, and I like how the back-light will come on from purposeful wrist movement rather than requiring a button. I have a 50k coming up late this month and am excited to have the Coros with me for the race. I will be in the mid-pack per usual but my new watch is an Apex predator amongst the GPS crowd for certain.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Oregon Coast 50k

The Oregon Coast 50k/30k might be my favorite Rainshadow Running race. In spring of 2017 I was down with a stress fracture so I registered for the 30k hoping I could run again by October. It was beautiful, but I was jealous of the 50kers and their six mile beach run to start the race. In spring this year I excitedly registered for the 50k edition and talked Bethany into doing it too. The race weekend coincided with her "50k Birthday" making it a fun way to celebrate.

Between April registration and the October race quite a lot changed in both of our lives so while I love Yachats I fully expected to not go to the race for awhile. So much so that I last minute registered to go run a 50 miler in California by myself two weeks prior to Oregon Coast. My intent was in place of, not in addition to. As fate would have it I ended up on my way to Oregon to celebrate the birthday of someone I love very much after all. Running 50k just two weeks after 50 miles was not a wise recovery strategy, but I told myself it was my last race this year so downtime after was available if I hurt anything.

The morning of the race we had a quick foggy drive from Waldport to the Adobe Resort start in Yachats. The lawn of the Adobe is the start and finish of the 30k and the finish of the 50k. To start the race the 50k runners pile onto school buses and head six miles down Wakona Beach. The weather was gorgeous. Sunny and warm enough to make shorts and tank tops viable. James made sure to "apologize" to us for the weather.

I got to see my friend Vern who I have not seen since I met him at my first White River 50 miler in 2015. He's run Oregon Coast every year since race inception. I understand why. It is my late season favorite as well.

I took it easy for the first 6 flat miles of beach running, the 2 or so on the road, and settled in to my usual pace once on the trails. The 50k utilizes a different loop near Cape Perpetua than the 30k so at that point I experienced new to me trail. It was beautiful, but steep and one section had heavy sun exposure. I was grateful when at last the descent began. Earlier, on the Amanda Trail 11 or so miles into the race my right ankle had begun to bother me. I started to notice the pain with most steps, but made a decision to ride it out for the next 20 miles and finish. When I stopped at the last aid station, 6 miles from the finish, I asked them to tape my ankle for me. Less than a half mile later the stiffness of the tape was bothering me more so I stopped and took it off.

The rest of the race went smoothly. I was just ready to be done. Once I hit the road I knew I had less than 2.5 miles to the beer and pizza, err I mean the finish line, on the lawn of the Adobe Resort. I mostly use Spotify for music now and I decided to find something new to distract and motivate me through the last 20 minutes. I ended up with Chop Suey by System of a Down on repeat. I really have no explanation for that one other than it completely hit the spot. I knew Bethany was already done, right about an hour and a half faster than me as I'd predicted to her that morning.
She'd surprised herself (not me though) and took 8th woman overall. This was her 3rd 50k and my 10th 50k. I finished in 7:03:12, my usual back of the mid-pack at 46th woman overall of 75 female finishers. If not for the ankle tape indecision I might have finally cracked 7 hours, but it wasn't a priority that day.

The finish line brought local beer, wood fired pizza, and chilling on a blanket with Bethany and Vern. Walking the beach and soaking our feet in the milky froth of the waves later was perfect.
I'll just start assuming that whatever goes wrong or right each summer, both in life and races, that this beautiful fall race will wrap up my seasons. My birthday is almost as close to the race date as Bethany's is and a weekend away in peaceful Yachats has been a gift every time I've visited there.
Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.
Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.
Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.

The Amanda Trail.

Oregon Coast Trail.
Cape Perpetua Visitor's Center.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Overlook Endurance Runs: 50 Miler

I pulled into the Overlook parking lot at just past 4 am. The finish line hub was aglow with lights, friendly runners made their way to the drop bag tarp, and the stars above shone bright in the navy blue sky. It was chillier than expected so I made a last minute decision to carry my shell after all. A low of 53 and high of 72 were predicted, but the dawn had a crispness to it that gave me pause about departing with only a tank top, shorts, and the obligatory never intended for use emergency blanket in my pack.

My breakfast of Greek yogurt and oatmeal had taken place at 3:30 am. I’d intended to bring a banana on the shuttle to bridge the hunger gap, but lost it somewhere between the car and boarding the school bus. We took off promptly at 4:45 am. Our driver was having fun querying our run habits and our fear level over bears and cougars. As we pulled out of the lot she asked if any of us tended to get carsick. She then told us to tell her before showing her if queasy and to grab the hat off the runner in front of us if necessary. She was a character and before daylight on a Saturday no less.

Once arrived at the start at Foresthill Elementary School we picked up our bib numbers and scurried off to the bathrooms. The race started promptly at 6 am and we ran down the road for a bit before connecting with the Western States Trail. Sunrise was close to 40 minutes away so the trail and train of feet in front of me were lit by a procession of headlamps. The trail was super dusty for the first 3 miles and so many runners close together created a haze of dust in the air lit by our beams. It was beautiful though. We were descending single track switchbacks so coming down each a glowing row of moving lights, shining like over-sized stars in the dusty haze, could be seen just above. We slowed down to cross the slippery rocks of two tiny creek crossings and then the smell started to hit me. Bay leaves. Continuing on the bay leaves brushed against my arm off and on while their pungent scent flashed me back to childhood and how my mom always wanted me to bring bay leaves back to her for cooking from my summers in California at my dad’s house.

By about 6:30 am there was enough light that I put my headlamp away. A peaceful sunrise appeared through the trees on our left as the runner train continued along the single track. The group had spread out and I was the caboose in a pack of six runners. Our pace was governed by the front runner who was averaging 11 minutes miles. I’m no speedster, but this was the main downhill section of the course and I wanted the freedom to run my own race and do 9’s. I didn’t want to be 'that person' trying to pass a big group on the most slender of single track either though. Finally, around mile 5 I heard a man passing another runner back behind and catching up to me. Once he did I said to him that if he was going to pass I wanted to follow him. Sure enough we managed to clear the group and a woman came with us. It felt so good to run free. She and I chatted for a bit. After finding out I was from out of town she expressed that had she known I’d have been welcome to stay in her guest room. She kindly offered that I was welcome to in the future should I ever come to Auburn again. She had run Western States before and we were on a section that had been tough in that race for her. I enjoyed hearing about it and her upcoming Rio De Lago 100 miler. Later I’d come to find that many more of the runners I’d talk to were also racing Rio and using this as a long training run for it. 

The downhill in this section was really fun and the first aid station came up fast. It was marked as 8.25 miles and I was pleased to see 8.43 on my watch, reasonably close. I refilled my water, had bananas, watermelon, and ruffles and checked out thanking the volunteers. The fun downhill continued and intensified for another two miles or so and I was having a great time and a good pace. Our descent was leading us to the American River where the course would then continue along next to the river in the depths of the canyon before eventually crossing at Poverty Bar. The second aid station, Rucky Chucky, appeared after a stint along the river. By now my watch was measuring almost a mile long versus the course at 15.5 versus 14.5. Runners around me were saying the same and the volunteers rolled their eyes with a half smile having heard it all morning. Rucky Chucky had a great spread and the first pickles of the day which I happily grabbed with my fruit and Ruffles. Between there and Poverty Bar the trail turned to thick fine sand with frequent bear scat. The crowd had thinned out so I was alone for the majority of this section and found myself daydreaming and contemplating how it’d go if I found myself in front of one of the frequently spotted black bears responsible for the fresh scat dotting the trail.

Shortly before Poverty Bar the landscape opened up in a wide field and the sandy single track snaked through it like artwork. I saw four other runners up ahead. The wind kicked up and the sky became overcast. I chuckled to myself in the humor that it was suddenly cooler right when we were about to wade through the cold water. The aid station was on our side of the river so I refilled water, had some carrots with ranch, and a handful of salted nuts. Upon asking for a glass of coke I noticed the Jameson. They smiling volunteer offered me up a shot. At first I said I was tempted, but had better not since it usually results in me slowing down. Then she asked about a “small shot.” I decided sure why not it’s not often (or ever) that I get to have a shot of Irish Whiskey and then immediately wade through a cold beautiful river up to my waist at 10 am. They had a big inflatable flamingo which must have been the emergency raft noted in the race email. Every volunteer at the aid station was wearing neon rainbow gear of some variety and it couldn’t have been more festive. I downed my shot of whiskey and coke chaser and stepped into the river. Two volunteers were stationed in the river directing runners down the two rope holds. Both wearing neon rainbows of course. The first rope only took me to mid thigh depth so approaching the turn to the second rope I asked the volunteer if he’d mind snapping my picture. He kindly did. Moving along past him it was advised to hold any electronics above our heads. That’s when it dropped off and I was now submerged to belly button / bib number depth. It actually felt pretty great on my legs that were only 19 miles in, but had had enough downhill quad banging to appreciate the ice bath.

Climbing out on the other side a third volunteer was all smiles and I was sorry to have to leave such a cheery aid station. I was also soaked. Pulled your clothes out of the washer before the spin cycle soaked. I had spare shorts and socks in my pack, but was feeling surprisingly energetic so I just wanted to keep moving. Running in soaking shorts felt awkward and it was uphill anyways so I started at a brisk walk while trying to wring out small sections of my shorts. I was with a group and it was good to have company again. Many in the group were registered for Rio De Lago, a 100 miler coming up in November. They were using Overlook as a long training run. I ended up feeling like I was getting to join a bunch of cool 100 mile runners on a group run. It created such a good vibe for the race.

Between there and the Auburn Lake (23.5 mile) aid station I felt lucky to be traveling with some local fellows who were giving me the historical tour and moving at a chill pace I much welcomed at that mileage. One monument was Barb’s Bench. The story of the bench is one of my big fears as a runner and it made me so sad for her and her family. The bench is a memorial to her untimely death in 1994. She was a runner and was out along on the trail on a quiet weekday when a cougar mauled her to death. Cougar attacks are so rare, but they create a special kind of fear that doesn’t care about statistical probability. I found myself grateful to be sandwiched between my two tour guides and much motivated to stick with them while I thought about Barb's story.

By the time we hit the aid station everyone’s watch was still measuring a mile long so the secret extra mile early in the race was the hot topic of discussion. I refilled my water and took a glass of Coke and handful of Ruffles for the road cognizant of my insecurity around wildlife and wanting to leave with other runners. The section between there and Brown's Bar at mile 29 aid was uneventful, a mix of up, down, and flat and a good time to be on autopilot. Just a quarter mile before aid I came upon a guy in his 20’s limping awkwardly along as we descended a hill. I asked if he was alright and he said no, that his knee was gone. He had blown it out on a rock. I told him I was so sorry and he smiled and shrugged. His attitude was as good as is possible for an injured runner heading in to drop. I told the aid station about him only to find that everyone in the last few minutes had already. We runners are good at looking out for one another.

This aid station was the first to have pickle juice so I had a shot of that along with my usual choices. My watch was at 38 % battery life so I took out my Anker to recharge it while moving. I knew there was some climbing upcoming and that would be a good time for it. I was excited to get to the Cool aid station at mile 35.5 because my drop bag was there, it was the first of three cutoffs and to me only 15 miles left would signal easy street to the finish. We ran along the river and then hit the highway 49 crossing. This was the best road crossing setup I have experienced in a race. They had a flagger on each side of the road and a state patrol car. The flagger waved me ahead without any wait and the patrolman drove forward blocking the road. His window was down so I cheerily yelled, “thank you officer!” He then reversed back to the side of the road. I watched from the hill I was now climbing to see him drive forward and reverse for every runner who passed. It was a sweet safety setup.

I was climbing the hill to Cool by way of Olmstead. This section was tough for me. The initial climb offered some tree cover and I enjoyed it. I was alone here as the runners near me were in the 50k and the courses had split off in opposite directions just past the Highway 49 crossing. Coming into the open golden fields of Olmstead was gorgeous in the dazzling sun, but the sun exposure coupled with flat or gently ascending grade trail was a struggle for me. I was tired and I was feeling it. I arrived at the mile 35.5 aid station and grabbed more Skratch Labs Chews from my drop bag. I had extra shoes too, but didn’t feel I needed them. I loaded up on water, Coke, pickles, watermelon, bananas, and Ruffles. I also cleaned my dusty sticky hands with a wet wipe which felt awesome.

I left at 3:02 pm, 2.5 hours ahead of the cutoff. Except I left walking on a section I could physically run, but mentally had no get up and go for. I was so tired of my pack. It was a good deal heavier than usual with my shell, shorts, socks, headlamp, charger and cables, way more gels and chews than I should have been carrying, and 24-45 oz. of water at any given time. My legs were fine, but my upper back and neck were aching a lot and I was allowing that to be an excuse to feel weak and whiny. The next aid station was only supposed to be two miles away so I gave myself permission to walk with short run intervals to not get too comfortable with walking. A friendly man caught up to me and asked how I was. I told him about my back and neck and asked how his legs felt. He asked me if I ever do yoga stretches. Thinking he meant in general I said a little. He told me he had one to help my back and then there we were paused in the middle of the trail, feet wide apart, bent at the waists arms hanging long to the ground in a deep stretch to relax the discs. We held that for a bit and then I tried to better motivate and keep up with him for a bit. It was such a nice zen moment when I was having a hard time. It also warmed my heart because ultra runners are the very best when it comes to that adage about the kindness of strangers. Shortly after, I ran into Scott Rokis capturing video and stills of runners and the landscape. He does some of the most stunning race photography I've seen

As it turned out the next aid station was farther than two miles away. When off from a course I am not usually inclined to trust my watch, but seemingly everyone’s watch was getting the same results that day. It was the best aid station though. I had been baking in the sun for too long at that point and they had a big huge sponge and bucket of ice water they were offering to squeeze over anyone interested. They also had a big cooler of ice and were filling people’s hats. I took them up on the sponge soak and then dumped my hat full of ice down my sports bra. It was grand. They had all my favorite snacks from earlier plus a tub of Red Vines. I had some of everything and departed with a fistful of the licorice feeling somewhat re-energized. I’d complimented their aid station enough that one woman had joked that I still had to do the loop despite the compliments. This aid station would be used twice, Olmstead #1 and Olmstead #2, with a 4.5 mile loop between. The loop turned out to be hands down the hardest part of the entire race for me. Thankfully I spent most of it with one of the kind tour guide minded runners from earlier. Had I been alone I would have probably cried before I made it back to aid.

My new friend pointed out bits of trail history to me. He was using Overlook to train for the Rio 100 Miler. The downhills on the loop were steep, rutted, and hard on tired legs. We ran some and walked some. Then we got to the uphill. The grade was gentler, but it was endless and the sun beat down the hottest it had all day long, or so it felt. He told me about how the area had been slated to become a reservoir until it was discovered that it sits on a fault line. He also told me about how grateful he was we had missed the 100 degree temps from just days prior and how hard training in that, and especially on that trail is in those temps. The rock walls that would have been used for the reservoir reflect back the sun and it just bakes you he said. As the hill got steeper and continued to refuse to end I knew I needed to slow further and told him I’d see him at the finish. Awhile later I could see him and another runner around the corner up in the distance ahead. As they turned out of sight I started to worry about the never ending hill, at what mileage on my watch the aid station would actually reappear, and I started for the first time all day to worry about getting cut off. It would have been about 4:45 pm and No Hands Bridge, roughly 5.5 miles from me had a 7:30 pm cutoff and the finish line, 4.5 miles beyond that, had an 8:00 pm cutoff. I should have taken solace in basic math, but exhaustion has a way of defeating the mind. So I texted my best friend, thankful to have signal there unlike the majority of the course, and told her I was crashing. I’d gone from feeling ahead of the game and strong at mile 35.5 and 2.5 hours ahead of cut off to wondering if I could finish fast enough to officially finish. My earlier ‘only 15 miles left’ logic was flawed because they were the most brutal miles of the course in terms of terrain, grade, and sun exposure. She called me and built me up. I told her my breathing wasn’t normal because I had breathed in too much dust earlier and was hacking it up, I was tired, and the sun exposure was too much. She asked how many miles I had and I said 43, but was expecting my watch to finish the race at 52 and didn’t know if there would be more or less. She reacted with, “43?! That’s amazing! You are so strong and you can do this.” She knew what to say to uninvite me to my pity party. About a mile later I at last arrived back at Olmstead aid. I was so happy to see the volunteers and have another cold sponge squeezed over me and dump more ice in my sports bra. I took some Red Vines and Ruffles for the heck of it, but was so over food. Drinking water made me a little queasy and I never wanted to see, much less eat another Skratch Labs chew again even though I normally love them. The volunteers were encouraging and pointed me up the trail. It was a rocky section with an upward grade and it was hard. Little downhills would keep me guessing, but it felt more up than down. I was surprised to pass a few runners here whose day long energy was also fading. After a bit I arrived at a very steep descent, the final downhill of note on the course. Known as the K2 training hill to locals it was a special kind of steep. The grade qualifies it as a quad banger, but the technical rocky terrain took it up an extra notch on the difficulty scale and most were walking down it. I saw my new friend up ahead and chatted again. He told me the background of the hill and how locals use it as part of a loop. He said it was the first time he’d descended it. While up it would be brutal, down was much harder on the body.

I was relieved to turn left on a gentler downhill and pop around the corner on the right to spy the No Hands Bridge aid station. The volunteers were robustly cheering us and the runners who were just leaving and it felt really good right then. There were only 4.5 miles left to finish, but my watch already read 47 miles and more felt like forever. I passed through without taking any more water or food as I felt I had too much of both and wanted neither. I told my new friend he’d probably catch me soon. I was right. After catching up he told me the history of No Hands Bridge. How it used to have no guardrails and equestrians would bravely ride their horses across with no reigns.

The route to the finish was a mix of short climbs and stretching flats. He was run / walking the the flats in intervals and hiking the climbs because his quads were shot. I was not feeling well and hoping to keep up with him. Dusk was falling and it had occurred to me that I was on an unfamiliar trail in an unfamiliar place among strangers not associated with the race, among wildlife, and that soon it would be dark and I’d really rather not be alone. While keeping up with him I learned about Robie Point and how the last miles of Western States go. It was pretty cool to learn so much from a local during the race. With about 2.5 miles left I began to feel incapable of keeping up with him because my stomach had started to feel queasy. I told him so and that I didn’t want to slow him down. He offered me a ginger chew which I thanked him for. A short time later another man caught up to me and asked how I was. I told him not feeling great, but excited to finish. He told me there were others back behind me moving slowly forward and to just keep up the same. Shortly after I got out my headlamp and held it as a flashlight rather than wear it. A woman who I had leap frogged with earlier caught up again and I was glad to have her company in the darkness. As we came around a switchback I saw a bobcat running up the trail ahead and it startled me. Of all the catlike creatures in the forest a bobcat is my choice to see, but it created a feeling of being in the animal’s world. We both wondered if it would be curious and wait for us around the corner, but we never saw it again. My companion was a bit ahead of me until she took a wrong turn. The course was marked in blue ribbons for wrong way and pink for right way, she missed that in the dark and followed the blue. I saw her about 100 feet ahead in the wrong direction and called out until she realized.

I came around a final turn on single track to two volunteers in lawn chairs in the dark writing down numbers and radioing in to the finish line. They pointed me up a final steep short climb and told me it was right there. I was so grateful to be done. I had no sprint in me like at other races. Just a relieved half stumble across the line. The smiling faces of those welcoming me warmed me and I was handed a finisher’s cup, escorted to the carne asada burrito bar, and checked in on. Even though I was at a race far from home where I knew no one the ultra-running community did what it does best. It served up friendly faces, kind words, and genuine care. It was a treat to adventure off to this race by myself. I loved it all. Even the brutal last 15 miles. I highly recommend it. Point to point 50 milers are too few and far between and this one is awesome. Plus you might get to meet Ann Trason. Either at packet pickup, like I did, or dressed in a unicorn costume at the finish line like many others did. This race is gold and the locals getting ready for Rio Del Lago 100 Miler that you’ll simply be going on a long training run with are the gems that make it sparkle.

Friday, August 10, 2018

White River 50 Miler - It Wasn't About Me

Leaving Sun Top. To quit.
I regard signing up for an ultra race as purchasing a span of time in which to imagine I am on the same life path as others. We all head down the trail together. We spread out and go at our own paces, but our end goals are one and the same. If I could register for an entry into a life race to travel the same path as the majority of the population I might. But I can't, so I run these races instead.

I call the White River 50 miler my favorite race. It has strong competition sure, but there is something special about White River. 2018 was the 26th running of it. Scott McCoubrey and the Seattle Running Club put it on and it is a rarity for streamlined affordability among ultras at only $100 registration that even includes the shirt, pint glass, free camping at the start/finish, and a meal with a beer after. It was the second 50 miler I ever ran: I finished it in 2015, trimmed 42 minutes off my finish in 2016, had to rescind my entry in 2017 due to my tibial stress fracture, and after that two year absence thoroughly surprised myself in 2018 with a voluntary DNF that was in no way about me.

White River 2016. Photo Credit: Glenn Tachiyama.
I normally regard the ultra as the ultimate "me time." It is a break from life, from responsibility, from obligation, from the indoors, from putting others before oneself. To me the ultra is the best selfish treat. When I have time off from raising my son, by virtue of him having two households, or the ability to leave work early on a Friday I dig into these ultra treats like others dig into ice cream.

I registered many moons ago when it first opened and was looking forward to running White River after missing the 2017 race against my will. There were still spots available in the last weeks before the race this year though which lead to two unexpected twists. B Girl, my best friend, wanted to spend that weekend with me, but upon finding out it was my race weekend asked if there was a shorter distance available so she could run too. It is a purist 50 only so she decided to throw caution (or reason, however you wish to frame it) to the wind and sign up with the thought that if she spurred injury she could quit. I should preface that she's an amazing runner. Much faster and full of far more grit than I, but she just only first tried the 50k distance this spring and put in two strong finishes, but not without IT band pain. Before that she had never raced farther than a half marathon. Admittedly, it was a little soon to try a 50 miler. She was a mid-field collegiate soccer player though and, at least in my limited experience, those are the toughest athletes out there. We also had a crafty plan that if she just went my pace she'd be less likely to hurt herself.

Our friend, Ali, was supposed to be running the SOB (Siskiyou Out and Back) 50 Miler in Oregon the same day and had been experiencing FOMO about us and other Bellinghamsters all being at White River. SOB ended up being canceled due to forest fires and Ali was able to register for White River as an alternative just before registration closed. Now there were four. Marty, Ali's boyfriend and crew person extraordinaire, would travel down with her and we'd all camp together.

Shrimp piccata at the Alpine Inn at Crystal Mtn.
The night before the race we setup a simple camp and headed off for dinner at the Alpine Inn nearby. I broke my heavy dinner before a race rule and had the shrimp piccata over pasta, but it was really tasty. I normally do well to follow the heavy lunch and light dinner approach. The one and only flaw of the free camping at Ranger Creek State Airport aka the start/finish (yes, we sleep next to a rarely used landing strip) is that not all campers there come for the race. As such, we had the bad luck of ending up with a loud large group sitting up past 1:00 am next to us taking shots, playing music, and carrying on about what felt like the most asinine topics with our 4:30 am alarm clock pending. Ali and Marty were cozily sequestered in his SUV setup for car camping and didn't hear them, but B and I were in a tent and spent a few hours that would have been better spent sleeping plotting the demise of our inconsiderate camp neighbors. I always condition myself that night before a race sleep is a bonus and not to be counted on, but 3.5 hours kind of sucks.

Race morning came quickly and so did the starting time. We woke up tired and flew through a breakfast of Spark and granola with bananas and almond milk, picked up our bibs a hop skip and a jump away from the tent, suffered last minute outfit indecision (wait that was just me), and lobbed the loudest of firecrackers into the center of our inconsiderate neighbors' camp just past 5 am for reparations. Just kidding on that last part. I mean I wish I wasn't kidding, but I am. I found Kelly and Nichole at the start, but couldn't find Sabrina or Erin. A lot of awesome runner women started White River this year.

Ali had made a detailed pace chart in Excel for her goals and to facilitate Marty crewing her. She had three pace columns of fast, medium, and slow AF. I debated making it known that her slow AF column was only 8 minutes slower than my fastest WR50 on record. Ali may train my pace, but she also has a much faster race pace, which I encouraged her to keep up. B had debated running her own race, but was afraid of going out too fast on a distance her legs had never before carried her and crashing and burning. As such, I'd promised to stick with B. Ali wanted to stay with us too rather than run the race she was trained to do and capable of. We set off in this way and somewhere between miles 8 and 10 I got pretty grumpy about it.

Gazing back to the start/finish from the cliffs above.
The pressure of not running my race for me only was bothering me and my selfish set in. I had come into the race with a lot of heaviness on my mind in need of processing. I wanted my 50 miles alone in the woods to work through the weight of a recent breakup with the person I'd called my Alligator for longer than the four years I've been running ultras. I never ran an ultra without him before and I wanted to know that I still could. That his presence didn't define my running. I also felt a compelling need to dissect the ball of joy and fear in my mind around the catalyst that inspired me to finally exit what had long been an unhealthy relationship for me. I probably needed 100 miles alone in the woods, but I wanted my 50 and my selfish set in. I convinced Ali and B to just not wait for me if they got ahead up the trail. I had a lot of guilt about this because I'd promised I'd run it all with B. My promises were what got her registered to begin with. Ali is awesome to run with and would stick with B so I told myself to take B at face value when she said it was ok.
Just before our trio split off around mile 10. You can see back down to the airstrip that is the starting line from here.

I relaxed a bit after we all started running our own races. There was a relief in not worrying about my impact on anyone else's cadence. I also found myself completely over the race. I got lost in this fantasy idea of how ultras don't make any sense anyways and that I was burnt out. I had myself pretty well convinced that I should take a solid year off of ultras and just go on runventures and focus on the rest of my life (which is mostly just work, but it sounded good at the time).

Ali running through the scene of last summer's forest fire.
Coming into the Ranger Creek aid station at mile 11.5 I was surprised to find both Ali and B. B was already hurting and stretching to mitigate it. Ali was in good spirits. I encouraged them to both skedaddle, leave me to the plate of nutella and graham cracker sandwiches with coca cola, and not worry about seeing me again until the finish. Between Ranger Creek aid and Corral Pass aid at mile 16.7 I passed Kelly looking strong on the out and back section. She told me I wasn't far from aid. It was really really hot in full sun there and another round of watermelon and cold coke sounded truly good. A woman I was leap frogging with off and on mentioned experiencing queasiness from the heat on all the uphills. I felt grateful to not be experiencing the same. 

B on Blister Recon.
A few miles out from my return to Ranger Creek aid at mile 22.1 I finally started feeling good again and running. I started passing all the people I saw (not many, 5ish). It seemed everyone near me on the course was feeling wiped out from the nearly 90 degree weather and pulsing sunshine. I was just excited that a good portion of the switchbacks were pointing downward at last. I felt great as I looped down the last bit of trail into aid. Things were finally good. Except not for everyone. I was surprised to find B and Ali at mile 22.1. I hadn't thought I'd see them again until it was over. B has a super talent for getting blisters. She can get one on a 6 mile run. She was doing her best to tape and bandage the ones she'd accumulated and put out the hot spots waiting to add to the trouble. Both her and Ali were starting to chafe. I grabbed water, talked briefly with them, and continued on to the fun downhill switchbacks that drop Ranger Creek aid to Buck Creek aid aka the start/finish line at mile 27.2. After a short bit of solo running I heard Ali and B on the switchbacks above me and they caught up shortly after. We split off and on for a bit, but eventually just a mile or two out from Buck Creek B began to slow from IT band pain and frustration at not wanting to quit. Ali was just a bit ahead at this point, excited to see Marty after missing him at the first aid station at mile 3.7. I tried to talk B into dropping at Buck Creek so near our tent. It was the original 'out' for her when we had planned the race - to drop when the course passed back through the start / finish line. She wanted nothing to do with it. She was really mad about the idea of quitting. Angry tears mad. It was somewhere around there that I decided however this race was going to end for her I'd end it with her. I knew her big uber competitive spirit was really upset right then about the idea that of all her friends there running she was the one whose body wasn't up for that many miles. It didn't matter that there were good reasons for that so I quit trying to reason with her. I just told her I'd made a choice and not to bother arguing. If she quit I'd quit with her, at any mile. If she finished I'd finish with her. I wasn't going to leave her again. It's not really something I can explain, but of all the people in my life B is the one who I find myself inherently incapable of choosing to disappoint. 

Buck Creek Mile 27.2. Photo by Marty.
We arrived at the Buck Creek aid and found Ali and Marty. Ali was trying to fight off thigh chafe with her go to anti-chafe product, but the humidity was wreaking havoc and nothing was working. Marty was happy to see all of us, in good spirits, and B & I thought he had crewing experience based on his pro sunscreen spraying skills. Nope, just a natural. I tried to gently see if B wanted to drop and said I would join her, but she firmly did not. I said well let's try for the White River 50k then because the next aid was mile 31.7 Fawn Ridge. She agreed and was excited to start climbing again because it felt better on her IT bands. Having finished White River twice previously I was quite familiar with the second of "only two hills on the course," as Scott McCoubrey likes to say, and not that excited to climb it in the hot sun. Handily, I was able to stuff my sports bra full of ice cubes at Buck Creek. That helped briefly until they all melted. The race manual is a great one and my favorite line in it is about this section,"After a nice flat 2 mile cruise through the woods, and a lap around the airstrip, you will start climbing up the Sun Top trail. Don't worry, it's the last hill on the course and it will only last 8.5 miles." Yep, that's a good summary of what happens. I don't think B had read that. She was looking forward to it. 

My watch was at 22% despite the big promises Suunto makes about a 15 hour battery life in the setting I was using. That's ok though. I'd come prepared with my new Anker charge on the go system. We walked a lot between Buck Creek and Fawn Ridge which made charging easy. If you need to extend your battery life without pausing your watch I strongly recommend the Anker. 

Ali was up ahead at this point while B and I leap frogged with a young guy who was just miserable. It was his first 50 and he'd heard good things about White River, but the heat was french frying him. He was using a big wood walking stick and when we eventually saw him finish later he still had it with him. At one point when I ran B told me I was going too fast and to slow down. That's how I knew she was about done. She's the fast one, never me. Her calling me that is like a hare calling a tortoise that. I slowed, but told her we'd do little run intervals and walk in between. I told her, and our new friend with the stick, to expect tropical fish soon.
The fish always signal Fawn Ridge aid just before it appears. It's a fun aid station, luau themed. We found Ali there dealing with really bad thigh chafe. B asked me to check her back to see why it hurt and sure enough she also had two big patches of raw chafed skin there. I personally was just excited to change into my regular socks because I was so over my compression sleeve socks from the heat. I was also pretty excited to stuff more ice in my bra because it was just that hot out. Nichole's husband, Eric, was volunteering at Fawn Ridge and building everyone up. I was glad to hear Nichole's race was going well. We told Ali to not wait for us again. I had accepted at that point that it was unlikely we would finish and I didn't want Ali to lose her finish with us after already throwing away her pace chart. I had a small hope that we could carry on past Sun Top and reach Skookum Flats, but it was quite small. It was the underdog thought though and everyone always roots for the underdog's success.
Bra ice - so refreshing when it hits 90 degrees.

That's her done face. Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama Sun Top AS.

We were going very slowly as we left Fawn Ridge. The climb to Sun Top is hard if you feel good and B didn't. I was watching our ability to make the cutoff time slip away, but was semi grateful knowing that if we didn't it would make our decision for us. A few miles before the top the Sun Top trail crosses the road. I had told B about the road. It's hard packed dirt, steep and unforgiving. It's a twin to Cleator Rd. back home and it drops 6.4 miles from Sun Top aid to Skookum  Flats aid at mile 43.4. It's pretty much the worst possible thing you could run on if your IT bands are messed up. We crossed the road. I told her that was what we would run down and she was over it right then in that moment. We would drop at Sun Top aid mile 37. I pointed out that no matter what we would complete all the climbing (about 10k of elevation gain) and we were going to get to the top of the second hill. She mainly just wanted coke. That craving was the main thing driving her to the aid station. I knew we'd see Glenn on the last switchback taking race photos. I told B she should move to the front. I told Glenn it was my first drop photo of his and then called out to the aid station volunteers to confirm we were a few minutes past the 4:53 pm cutoff. Except they said yes, but to hurry and they'd let us through. Shit. There went the easy drop. I told B whichever answer was her right answer I'd stay with her. Then the volunteer said they'd be driving down the road shortly and could always scoop us up if needed. B thought it'd be nice to round up to an even 40 miles for her longest run ever. So we walked away together. Every step was hurting her at that point. My legs felt fine and I love downhill and I crave making up pace on it after slow climbs. I struggled with it on that walk knowing I could get her safely to a volunteer and run to the finish. I am not a person who knows how to quit. The funny thing about that though is she is who I could not quit that day. I could quit on me and I could quit the race, but I was incapable of leaving her. 

After my watch hit 40.1 miles we found a spot to sit on the side of the road and waited on cars. When a maroon Subaru came around the corner I flagged it down and explained us to them. We hit the jackpot on the ride lottery. Jennifer and April are both Search and Rescue volunteers and complete badasses in general. They rearranged the fully loaded car and we sat on the still folded backseat touching the ceiling. They told us so many awesome stories of their adventures and we shared ours and I cannot remember any of the details now, but they perked B's spirits right back up and it was perfect. Partway down the mountain we saw Ali limp walking and pulled up to check on her. She definitely did not want to join us in the car, but we told her we would see her at the finish. As we passed Skookum Flats we pulled up and told Marty where she was and that she had a knee issue. We were worried, but hopeful that she would make the Skookum Flats cutoff at mile 43.4. She did and finished strong. It was good to see her finish and Sabrina and Nichole too. Kelly had finished much earlier and looked great. It was an uncomfortable feeling to not finish the race. It is still bothering me that I quit when I was fine, but if you threw me back there right now I'd quit with her again. Ultras usually surprise me in terms of ability to finish hard things. This year White River surprised me with a new ability - to recognize finishing was not the most valuable thing that day. White River will be there next year and I'll register for the 5th time. It is, after-all, my favorite race. B might run it again too, but her own race. She says she would train next time :) 

40 miles is still 40 miles and a great excuse to eat eggs benny the morning after the run.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Wy'East Wonder 50 Miler

The Wy'East Wonder 50 miler is a brand new point to point race staged out of Parkdale, Oregon. It also offers a 50k distance and is orchestrated by GoBeyond Racing. Due to various injuries I hadn't raced a 50 miler since summer 2016 so I was very excited to take part in the inaugural Wy'East Wonder.

We arrived at the Red Barn Park at 4:30 am to check in. GoBeyond Racing has some pretty stellar bib numbers. They feature a landscape photo, the race logo, and your first name. They also featured chip timing which is uncommon in trail races.The shuttles (aka school buses) were supposed to depart with us at 5:15 am, but were running behind. As it turned out one of the three buses broke down so John ended up really glad I'd hauled him over to get in line early as in the end a bunch of runners had to stand in the aisles to all fit. There was a married couple in the seat in front of us who kept cuddle napping on each other. I thought they were pretty cute so when I ended up running with them early on in the race I told them so. It turned out they have four kids. Four kids and still finding time to get out and run 50 miles together. I think that's pretty dang romantic.
Sardines on the school bus :)

It was a novelty - the buses climbing elevation up the mountain roads instead of our legs. We arrived 5 minutes past the planned start time and it was announced that we would be given 15 minutes. The race would start at 6:20 am instead of 6:00 am. Myself and some other slow folks were concerned and asked if the two aid station cutoffs would be adjusted Thankfully the race directors said yes they would get word to the volunteers. Nichole and Eric are a couple I met in Winthrop last year after the Cutthroat Classic. I knew this was Nichole's FIRST 50 MILER and I was pretty excited for her. Eric would be running the 50k starting two hours later. Nichole and I have similar paces so we ended up running the first 3 miles together climbing a logging road at a gentle grade. At a point where we were briefly hiking the race photographer popped up. Race photographers have a knack for catching me walking. We startled into a run pose. He said don't worry I'll see you again at mile 27.5, but we never saw him again, nor did my faster friends also racing. At the time I didn't understand why he was photographing us on the logging road. A few teaser photos have been released since and I laughed hard realizing we were simply facing the wrong direction and that Mt. Hood was hovering over us, a stoic foggy mountain beauty photo bombing us.

A view of Wy'East (Mt. Hood) at about 5,800 ft. on Gunsight Ridge.
Between the first and second aid stations I began leap frogging with a group of 10 or so runners who I'd see again off and on through the remainder of the race. One of the prettiest views of the day was just off the trail at mile 6.5 or so, the gunsight view of Mt. Hood, for which the ridge we ran along was named. In this section I got to chat with another Runner of the Wild who had come all the way from Boston for the race. After a bit I let her go as I noticed the altitude getting to me and my pace slowing. The majority of the first 15 miles was at 5,500 - 6,000 feet. I'm usually not affected below 7,000 feet, but it is early season and I haven't been in the mountains much yet this year. When altitude affects me it generally makes me feel a bit loopy, inebriated even. I also have a harder time feeling like I am getting enough air and my fingers swell. These factors and the baseline stress in my mind about the mile 20.5 and mile 40.1 cutoffs made for a strange mental combo as I ran along the ridge. My inability to process basic math is how I first realized the altitude had gotten to me. I was 7.4 miles in and just under 1 hour and 40 minutes had elapsed. I started freaking out that the average pace on my watch was in error at 13:21 average per mile thus far because 8 miles in two hours is 15:00 average and 7.4 miles was less and thus slower than cutoff pace. My "math" was completely backwards my watch was just fine, I just wasn't, ha. It took me 10 minutes to determine that. Perhaps only 3.5 hours of sleep the night before did not help either!

Coming into the High Prairie aid station  there had been some light mist, but I had the luck to have ducked under the structure just prior to a major downpour that soaked everyone not under cover. I opted to stay a little longer than planned to avoid getting soaked so early on. It was here that my obsession with Frito's corn chips began and lasted throughout the race. I haven't seen them as aid station fare before, but they absolutely hit the spot. In fact, I want some right now. I also ate PB&J sandwiches, pickles, oranges, bananas, and watermelon and drank Coke from the aid stations to supplement my Skratch Labs Raspberry energy chews and Muir Energy molasses based gels.

The Aquaduct aid station was almost 10 miles away, but the journey there began with a fun downhill that lifted my spirits. I knew I needed to push and keep my pace up to make the 11:20 am cutoff at mile 20.5. The Auquaduct aid station is the start and finish of the 20 mile loop that differentiates the 50 mile course with a lollipop middle. Meanwhile, the 50k simply borrows the first 20.5 miles on Gunsight Ridge and the last 10 or so on Surveyor's Ridge from the 50 mile course. I was excited to get to my drop bag at Auquaduct and restock on my Skratch Labs chews. I came in, refilled my water, ate some real food (Frito's and fruit), burrowed in my drop bag and departed 11 minutes prior to the cutoff. Aquaduct felt ominous to me because it boasts a tight 10 hour mile 40.1 cutoff as well.
Clearing the mile 20.5 cutoff with just 11 min. to spare.
The course description had promised a trail called the Super Duper Connector after leaving Aquaduct aid. This trail was fun and it reminded me very much of Mole Trap and Lost Giants on Galbraith Mountain at home. Please don't tell anyone I said this, but the Super Duper Connector would have been way more fun on a mountain bike. Fun fact, the majority of Wy'East was run on mountain bike trails and Wy'East was the first running race to grace them.

Next up was the Bottle Prairie aid station at mile 24.8, aka almost halfway, in a little woodsy area in the middle of nowhere. The volunteers working it just seemed incredibly extra kind and encouraging. They also had a really well stocked table of food. Big bowls of watermelon, oranges, bananas, quartered PB&Js, pickles, candy, Ruffles, bottles of Coke and Ginger Ale, and my precious Frito's. I'm so used to aid stations down to slim pickings because I am a back of the mid pack runner so this felt rather luxurious. From here I headed out on a 6.4 mile loop on the Eightmile Trail that would return me to these lovely volunteers once more. This section was beautiful and took us on many switchbacks with mountain views eventually returning along the creek.  As mile 27.5 came and went I wondered where the race photographer was and got grumpy briefly over the thought that he had probably already left because I'm a slowpoke. Later, talking to John, who finished an hour and 43 minutes faster than me, I found he never saw him past mile 3 either.

I came back in to the Bottle Prairie aid and was in a really interesting mental state. The course mileage was 31.2 miles at this point. One would think a truly easy mindset to fall into would go like this, " I just ran an entire 50k and you're saying I have to keep running? 19 more miles?! 2/3 as much as I just got done with? Seriously? No thank you." Except my mind did not go there at all. I never even really thought about 50 miles. The only thing that really mattered at all all day, other than frequent access to Frito's, was the mile 40.1 mark and it's ominous 10 hour cutoff at 4:20 pm. All that was in my mind at that point was that I had 2 hours to get through those 9 miles or my race was over. I left the aid station strong, determined, and fearful.

Strong and determined didn't last that long. Fearful really took over and brought sad along for the ride. I was upset because I was on track for my usual 50 miler pace of 12.5-13 hours, but the cutoff said my pace could very easily be inadequate. In the end there were 26 DNFs. I don't know how many were voluntary and how many were caused by the cutoff that I was fearing. Cell signal cut in and out often on the course, but I sent texts about my fear to three of my close friends I run most with: Ali, Heather, and Bethany. Ali and Heather texted me back strong encouragement that picked me up and Bethany was out running and chose to run longer to be with me from afar and sent me a video building me up in her own special way. I train with my tribe and even though they are not there I race with my tribe too. I love these ladies a lot (and hope Ali and Heather don't mind the screenshot.)
My tribe <3

The route back to Aquaduct was similar to earlier in the day, traversing the Knebel Springs Trail back to the Super Duper Connector. I crashed on energy and walked more than I meant to and thunder came and went with light rain showers and gloomy skies as I impatiently hoped to be on the Super Duper Connector miles before I reached it. For me the Super Duper Connector was the trigger that the aid station was at last near. My watch ran long, showing over 42 miles before the mile 40.1 aid station. Between that and my loopy altitude mind and tired body I had no sense of when I would make it back until I hit that trail sign. Once on the Super Duper Connector I passed two runners. One man was walking with his poles, said his legs were shot, and that he had given up. I said some encouraging words about you never know, maybe you will get it back and then added on about winning lotto tickets for us both as long as we are wishing. That last bit was the altitude loopiness talking. A half mile or so later I saw a woman running up ahead in a way that illustrated my own feelings. She would run then walk brief intervals as if they were truly all she had to give in that moment. I passed her and offered encouraging words of hope that we could both make the cutoff despite my growing fear that my own chances were shot. There was about a mile left, but it felt like more.

As I descended the last bits of trail that would drop me into Aquaduct aid my watch clicked over to 4:20, 4:21, 4:22 pm. I was officially past the cutoff. I had been pushing with all I had at that point with the knowledge that not doing so would end my race and giving it everything could possibly save my race. My mind did a funny thing. It kept saying to me, "it's in God's hands now" on repeat. I'm spiritual, not religious, and prone towards making references to the universe, not to God, so those words were quite out of character for me. They comforted me though and in the back of my mind I reassured myself that if forced to quit at least I'd eliminate the very very faint possibility of getting zapped by lightning associated with the thunderstorms. I came running down the road where all the volunteer's vehicles were parked. A child sitting in a truck with the door cracked told me "you're doing great" like they meant it. I felt like a sham, but made a choice to be positive and come in strong because in my mind my race was ending then so this was the only finish line I'd have. That's when the Wy'East Wolf Pack spotted me. I love this group. Their energy and good spirits are palpable and will pick you up if you are down. They worked an aid station at the Oregon Coast 30k last fall where I wasn't struggling at all, but they raised my spirits that day too.

I wish I knew the name of the Wolf Pack guy who first spotted me. As soon as he did he turned to the other runners and declared, "we have the last runner!" This perplexed me very much. In most races the cutoff is stringent and in some races the volunteers have some discretion. I had planned to respectfully make my case that I didn't need water, I could just be on my way with a handful of food, and that I felt good and on track for my target time of 12.5-13 hours, but he didn't give me a chance. He just took one look at me at 4:23 pm 3 minutes over the line and declared me the last runner. I must have been staring at him like a deer in headlights because when he addressed me directly he simply asked me, "are you good?" Yes! Yes, thank you so much I said and shook his hand and began spouting off about that I didn't need water. Another Wy'East guy shepherded me to the food table to load up a few handfuls to go. That's where I spotted the single croissant and asked if I could have it. They gave it right to me and a kind woman appeared and started handing me Swiss cheese slices from a bag. I took a few banana chunks and grabbed one vanilla Gu as a just in case. Just before leaving I asked the second Wolf Pack guy, noting that it was silly, but could I take a quick picture of them. He declared it was a selfie occasion and leaned in. If I ever move to Portland, Oregon I'll be joining the Wolf Pack. They're a wonderful crew on the pulse of what makes the ultra community tick. Those guys made my day by recognizing so fully that 3 minutes was not material to 10 hours and I'll never forget that moment.
Wolf Pack Happiness at Auquaduct.

Mmm croissants & Swiss cheese. Thanks guys! :)

Once I left Auquaduct I felt an immense weight lifted off of me. The intensity of cutoff pressure throughout the first 40 miles had prevented me from running my own race freely and suddenly there was nothing in the world that could stop me from running 50 miles. I felt so free and light of heart. I passed 2 people between that point and the Gibson Prairie aid station at mile 44.8. At this point we were on Surveyor's Ridge which is supposed to have great mountain views, but it was pretty foggy. I did not care one iota. I thought it was refreshing and felt unstoppable and free. Arriving at Gibson Prairie I was once again truly impressed by the volunteers. They were attentive and kind and had lots of snacks laid out in full bowls. That was well above what I am used to at the back of the pack and I was one of the last 3 runners they would see that day. I stayed only long enough to thank them and take a PB&J with me.
Foggy views from Surveyor's Ridge.
Lush greenery in the last 5 miles.

It was time to go to the finish line. The flowers and lush greenery were beautiful over the next 3 miles and I both ran and walked as I felt able to. Then I reached the sign for the Oak Ridge Trail and got EXCITED. Why? I'd been waiting all day for this section because it was promised to drop nearly 2,000 feet of elevation in less than 2.5 miles. Have I mentioned that I AM A DOWNHILL RUNNER AND THAT IS THE TERRAIN I LOVE? :) No, well consider it mentioned. This part was awesome. It was rocky switchbacks with bits of shale thrown about and the trees reminded me so much of where my family lives in Northern Cali.
Capturing the steepness of the last 2.5 miles.

Almost done.
I got excitable in this section and passed 3 more runners, only 2 of whom I count. The third was a dear friend of mine who had an injury flare up less than 10 miles into the race, but stubbornly and with a bold heart refused to quit even when she was reduced to only walking downhill from heavy pain. I was so shocked to find her and hug her 2 miles from the finish as she'd normally finish a race like this 3 hours faster than me. A quarter mile or so from the finish I was running with a woman I'd leap frogged with much of the day and I wanted to really fly. I told her I'd ask to pass, but it seemed unfair to do so so close to the finish. She disagreed and said to go for it so I did and flew in at my best fun downhill pace. When I bounded in through the timing gate there was John patiently waiting since his own finish an hour and 43 minutes prior. He was a tad purple and slightly shivering as he'd stubbornly avoided the shuttle back to the start for warm clothes in favor of waiting and not wanting to miss my finish. We were both really happy right then. Back at the start line they still had pulled pork, burgers, potato salad, and beer waiting. We found Nichole and Eric. She had come in about 20 minutes ahead of me and I was so happy to hear she finished her first 50 miler strong.

I am not sure if I will run this race again next year or not. I will absolutely recommend it to my friends who are faster than me. The race has a beautiful fun course, great swag, fantastic volunteers, and fun extras like chip timing that boasts finish line videos. For those my pace or slower I hesitate. Cutoff pressure really stressed me out for the first 10 hours of my 12 hour 43 minute 40 second day and that's not what I run for. I run 50 miles to unwind and relax, not to turn into a big stress ball. As it was the inaugural year I would suggest the race directors loosen the cutoffs slightly, but I recognize that their business model is one of tighter cutoffs. My one and only DNF is one of their races as well (the Mountain Lakes 100 miler with a 30 hour cutoff). Tighter cutoffs keep permits on track, get volunteers home sooner, and are economically viable because there are enough fast ultra runners to sell out races such as this without a need to target market the slower runners like me. If you run 50ks in 6.5 hours or less and want to try a 50 miler do this one. If you run 50 milers in 11.5 hours or less do it. You will love it. If you are slower consider any of the Destination Trail races. They are built for runners of all paces to enjoy the cathartic scenery without cutoff stress negating their trail joy. If you want precisely 50 miles run the White River 50 miler. I'm going to run it for the 3rd time next month and while it has cutoffs at the last 4 aid stations and the finish line (14 hours) they are not at all stressful for my pace zone despite the race having more elevation gain. If you are fast, run Wy'East. If you are slow and daring run it, just hope that the Wolf Pack will find you and have your back :)

The Apex Predator of GPS Watches: Coros Apex 46 mm

I only recently heard of the brand Coros. They are a quiet, but strong contender in a market dominated by Garmin and Suunto. Coros offe...