Monday, June 24, 2019

Fragrance Lake 50k

Climbing Cleator 2 miles in. PC: Ross Comer.

This race is a steep one. It was the third ultra I’d raced in a span of 28 days and it definitely felt like the hardest, despite not being the longest. A short description could be "uphill both ways." If it’s a steep trail in the Chuckanuts this race runs up it. It does eventually go downhill for the last 3-4 miles or so :)

To lull the runners into a false sense of ease the race begins with 1.7 flat miles on the interurban headed north from Lost Lake Parking to Cleator Road. After a brief climb on Cleator we climbed the switchbacks of Two Dollar to Fragrance Lake and then headed up Lost Lake Trail to the prehistoric beauty and extreme steepness of the Rock Trail.
The aptly named Rock Trail. PC: Ross Comer.

Not feeling out of shape enough on a regular climb? Here try some wood stairs cut into the ground at a steep tilt.

After reaching the top of the Rock Trail we headed over to the Ridge Trail and the first aid station at mile 7.5 or so. Local BTRC runners, Alicia, Sabrina, and Chris, were running the aid station and all volunteers were decked out in unicorn costumes. They also had donuts along with usual aid station fare like fruit, chips, pb&j, coke, ginger ale, and red licorice. I was glad I'd come back by later when it would become aid station 4 at mile 27 or so. 

After leaving unicorn aid with half a pink sprinkled donut it was time to traverse the entire Chuckanut Ridge. A reprieve from steep ascent, but highly technical with some slick spots and intermittent short climbs this trail is never speedy. It is about 3.1 miles long and 2.3 miles in splits off with the lower ridge trail where the signage pointed half marathon runners down Dan's Traverse and 50k runners straight to finish the ridge. I've run the Fragrance Lake Half Marathon four times and I was jealous because I knew the sign meant they got to go downhill to the finish already.

Sabrina & Alicia's Unicorn Aid Station.
The last 0.8 miles on the ridge went pretty quickly and led to a quick right turn onto Lost Lake before a left onto Raptor Ridge. After a bit more climbing it was time to descend, but the chosen trail was Salal which is quite technical and when my legs aren't rubber from a bunch of uphill and a 50 miler and 50k in the last few weeks can be quite the fun downhill. I felt sluggish and was annoyed that I was doing 12 minute miles downhill that should have been 9's. Then I rolled my ankle. The same one I had rolled in March and had to rehab while training for Sun Mountain. It was my signature outward roll and I felt a terse yank on my peroneal tendon. I kept moving and about a half mile later my ankle slipped off the side of the trail under a big bushy green leafy plant. I managed a dual slip off the trail and ankle roll all in one. This time I yelped out loud from a sharp shooting pain in the outer back soft tissue adjacent to my ankle bone. I was not happy because I was only 11 miles into the race, I have never DNFed the 50k distance, and I never plan to. This was my 12th 50k and one thing I can tell you about the distance is that for me personally it is too short to offer legitimate cause to DNF, other than not making a time cutoff. Thus I knew my plan was to run another 20 miles on a pissed off ankle, but that worried me because my purpose in running the race was BigFoot 200 training. I'm trying to push myself to a level of overcoming discomfort strong enough to train adequately for BigFoot, but not push so much as to get injured for BigFoot. Sometimes finding this fine line feels very clear and other times blurry.

Fried rice - a fave salty trail snack to pack.
I continued grumpily down Salal, eventually popping out on Lost Lake and descending the first non technical downhill to Hemlock and the second aid station at mile 12.5 or so on California Street. I grabbed some coke, water,and pb&j and continued down to the Chuckanut Falls Trail before, you guessed it, more climbing. This section was a climb up from the falls and then continued up Hemlock and Huckleberry till it intersected Raptor Ridge. Then I headed along a welcome flat bit of trail towards the most infamous of Chuckanut Mountain hills, Pine & Cedar. Some of the race leaders were heading towards me already on the out and back section, off to Lost Lake and eventual downhill. Descending Pine & Cedar was fun because other racers were ascending and it allowed me to see that I was not that far behind the bulk of the pack.
Raptor Ridge Trail.

Once arrived at the bottom of Pine and Cedar I was quite happy to see the young family who was running the aid station. They had a warm welcoming vibe going and a nice assortments of snacks laid out. The woman was wearing a Cle Elum Ridge 50k shirt which led to talking and finding that it was both her and I's first 50k. Their daughter was stretched out over two chairs in a half nap pose. I complimented her on her set up and got a big 4-year-old grin in return. Another runner was sitting in the camping chair looking conflicted. I asked him if he was continuing on and he said that he wanted to so I smiled and waved saying, "come on then!" That's when he said he was experiencing disabling cramps in his legs. He had just taken a bunch of salt in hopes of feeling better so I wished him good luck and began the two mile 1,600 feet climb back up so fondly known as Pine & Cedar. I power hiked 70% of it and was briefly disappointed to attain flat ground again around the lake and with it the obligation to run. Eventually Raptor Ridge brought me back to Lost Lake.
Chinscraper. PC: Ross Comer.

This time we traveled in the opposite direction on the trail until arriving at the bottom of the final climb, chinscraper. This trail ascends around 700 feet in less than a mile and shares it's single track climb with the many downhill mountain bikers. A large group of mountain bikers was descending despite the race being well publicized. This created a few more breaks off the side of the trail than I would take purposefully. At the end of the climb I was once again back at the unicorn aid station. The donuts were long gone, but a rainbow of other snacks remained as did a ton of good cheer. I had some coke and watermelon and gratefully began the descent on Cleator Road before turning onto the Connector Trail to the Fragrance Switchbacks.
Departing Unicorn aid for the finish.
PC: Alicia Jenkins.

I was feeling the miles of the day in my legs but so grateful to be almost done and all done climbing. The switchbacks are technical, but I didn't catch my tired feet on any roots or rocks. A right turn onto the Interurban and a quick cross of Chuckanut Drive found me running down to the finish on Larabee Park's main lawn. I caught a woman I'd been leap frogging with a lot and opted to not pass, but ran in just adjacent and behind her. We were both really happy just to be done. This race is definitely type 2 fun :) 
Happy to be done and proud of my girl for
finishing 3rd place female overall.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Sun Mountain 50m/50k

50k finish line 1 week after my 50 mile finish.

Sun Mountain 50 Miler - May 11th, 2019

Sun Mountain is one of my favorite races.  It was my first 50 miler, back in 2015. It had a differet course then. It felt like a first again this year because I hadn't raced at all since October 2018. I've been dealing with sciatic nerve pain caused by a bulging disc in my lumbar spine since November. It's impacted a lot of basic daily things like bending to put on my own socks, the ability to sit without pain, or sleep for very long without waking, but it has not hurt my running. Running is when I feel whole and normal still. If anything it is causing me to run more. I started the race with fear though. Fear that 50 miles would be too much for my back and running would be taken from me.

Starting line smile
It was 6 am and the day would only get hotter, but we had a good laugh at the starting line as James explained if anyone were to get eaten by a cow they should make sure to report in as DNF. At one point we would be running through a field of cattle. We headed out with a half mile on the paved road and quickly funneled onto the trail up Patterson Mountain. I made sure to start front of the mid-pack to not get too delayed on the crowded single track climb. Normally I am social, but the day found me looking for my zen and listening to the conversations around me. A man and woman behind me were chatting. He was explaining that he had started the race with a broken toe, in case it wasn't going to be hard enough already. He had kicked his bed frame the night before apparently. The woman was not the slightest bit phased by this. She had been talking about her love of Cascade Crest 100 and added on that of the eight times she ran it one year she broke her foot one week prior, and ran it anyways. As I listened, smiling to myself, we summited Patterson and I caught my right foot pitching forward, but catching myself in a ricochet move. Normally that sort of movement causes a painful nerve zinger from my left hip to my calf and throws me off for awhile. No zinger. This and the crazy, but lovely, conversation around me felt like a good omen on which to begin a long day.

After descending Patterson we took a right onto a fun flowy trail called Black Bear. It would lead us to one more big climb before the first aid station. Less than a quarter mile before the left turn onto Moose there was a split in the trail and the group in front of me headed down the hill as I headed up it. The group of four saw me veer and called out, "no, this way!" Group think and not being awake got me. I know these trails well and I knew better, but in the moment I just thought it was nice they made sure to correct me and I followed them. A short bit later the wrong turn was obvious and we headed back up for about a half mile of bonus trail before rejoining the course. I had been pushing hard and was frustrated with the delay. My watch, the Coros Apex, tends to measure noticeably shorter than Garmin and Suunto so I reassured myself that maybe I'd need that extra mileage later for Strava.

Back on course we took a left onto Moose, a steep climb that eventually pops out via wooden stairs to the back side of Sun Mountain Lodge and the first aid station, on the lawn at mile 6.6. I blew through quickly grabbing a pickle, watermelon, and refilling my reservoir with what I thought was water, but later turned out to be Nuun. I always want to like Nuun. I like the idea of Nuun. But it always messes with my stomach. My stomach feels this way about most liquid electrolyte products. As soon as I realized I'd mistook which pitcher was which I quit drinking it. I'd hydrated well so far and could afford to not drink till aid two at mile 11.2.

Aid two was a bit of a tease in that I thought it was closer than it was. It was located at Chickadee Trailhead which used to be the course start and finish in prior years. We ran through the woods hearing happy voices and the joyful clamor of aid volunteers, but first had about 1.5 miles to loop around up a hill and back down before arriving at the aid station. A festive group of costumed crew were out cheering us before the Magpie loop. I almost asked the one dressed in the rabbit costume to snap a pic with me, but reminded myself I had pace goals it was too early on to disregard. My watch read 12.0 miles at the 11.2 mile aid. Despite the bonus half mile I was surprised and happier with my Coros than usual. I'll take a long course over a short watch any day. I grabbed Skratch chews, Honey Stinger chews, and a pack of olives from my drop bag. I ate the olives, pb&j tortillas, watermelon, and banana and drank Coke from the aid and replaced my Nuun with fresh water.

Aid three wasn't until mile 18.5 and had a big climb around Overland and Inside Passage before arriving at Thompson Ridge. On this section I started doing a lot of what I call intervals: run when it feels doable and do something else when it doesn't. Repeat. Frequently. By the time I arrived at aid it was getting hot out. I loaded up on watermelon, banana, pb&j tortilla roll-ups, took a shot of pickle juice and coke, put on more sunscreen, and stuffed my sports bra with ice before a much welcome bit of downhill to cool me.

Before arriving at Meadowlark, aid three at mile 25.8 we swayed through many switchbacks in open sunny fields awash with bold blooms of wildflowers. Running this area in late Spring is not unlike running through a vibrant painting. Some of my mid-pack cohorts were starting to melt in the heat and full sun and walking more. I passed more runners than I expected to in this section with my run walk intervals. There wasn't anything crazy steep in this area so I was constantly challenging myself to mostly run and walk just a little to break it up. Meadowlark aid was on a little shady spot under some trees cut into the hillside like a mirage in the wildflower desert. They also had a view and chairs under a tent that drew a few weary runners. Not me! The next aid, Elbow Coulee #1 at mile 31.5 would be the first time I'd seen Bethany since the 6 am starting line and the first I'd seen Charlie awake that day so I was feeling motivated to get there. I made good time descending Rader Creek before cutting right into the neighborhood to run along the gravel Elbow Coulee Road. Soon the aid station was in sight and I was emotional to see my people and grateful to be feeling good with 50k of the course done.
Elbow Coulee Aid #1 Mile 31.5

Charlie popped out and ran me in. Aspire Adventure Running was working the aid and my friends Kelsey and Alex were there volunteering. It was such a good aid station with hummus veggie wraps, bacon, lots of help, and all the watermelon, coke, and pickle goodness I'd been enjoying at previous aid stations. I left the aid with more ice in my sports bra and all 60 ounces of my reservoir full hiking up a steep hill to the cattle zone of the course. My pack is distractedly awkward that fully loaded so I made an error. I took it off to drain some water. I drained too much by mistake leaving only 24 ounces headed out on a fully exposed ridge line for 12 mile in high 80's heat with intense sunshine smiling down. There was supposed to be a water only aid station at mile seven of the loop, but I kept stressing myself with worrywart fantasies that it would be out when I got there and I would be in trouble. I slowed down a lot. I hoarded my water and fantasized about drinking it all in one gulp. There was a lot of climbing in this section and it was really hot. We had also been on the course for eight plus hours already. It was understandable to feel some fatigue.

Maybe two miles from the water only aid I started feeling pretty out of it. I think I was showing early symptoms of heat stress. The high that day was 89 degrees. Descending towards Frost Road other runners and I spied the water only aid. I was expecting a plastic table with big blue bottles unmanned on the roadside. Instead, a magical dream appeared. There was a big shaded canopy and volunteers. A car pulled up and coolers full of ice were being unloaded. A warm kind man with the kind of shirtless deep tan that speaks to being outdoors as much as possible was ushering us under the tent to sit and load up with ice and water. He had small micro fleece towels he was dipping in ice water and draping on our necks. It was so nice. It saved the rest of my race and did the same for many others. I stayed in the tent with the group for 10-15 minutes. When I got up to leave I told the man who'd been taking care of us that he was my hero and I needed a selfie on my way out. Later on that led to my learning he was Doug McKeever, co-founder of the Chuckanut 50k. No wonder he was so adept at restoring us. I felt silly for not knowing who he was in the moment.
Doug - Our Ice Savior at Water Only Aid Mile 38 or so.

Immediately upon leaving the aid we were faced with a steep single track climb. Possibly the steepest yet. It was beautiful. The trees on it still showed char from a past wildfire and the vegetation was lush, full, and healthy. It was soooo steep. It sucked a little bit. It wouldn't have worked if not for Doug fixing us first. It was on that climb that I met my swearing friend. I didn't get her name, but she was a pretty blonde woman whose daughter's birthday was that day. It was her first 50 mile race. Rather than a hello she said something along the lines of "can I swear right now? I'm so fucking over this." I said, "by all means yes please. That is the appropriate reaction right now. It would be improper not to." I told her it was a tough day and not to blame the mileage. Between the weather and the new course she had landed on a tough 50 miler for her first.  After the hill was over we leap frogged back and forth climbing the seemingly endless ridge line and I learned she had a son Charlie's age and it was her daughter's 14th birthday.
My 'swearing friend' on our climb.

The wind on the ridge wanted to steal my hat so I had to take it off and hold it for awhile. It felt refreshing and exhausting all at the same time. Shortly thereafter Glenn appeared for the second time that day. It had been nearly eight hours since he'd first snapped our pictures on the Kraule Trail after the first aid station. It was good to see him again.
Photo Credit: Glenn Tachiyama Mile 41ish.

There were finally downhills to be had again. I picked up speed as I started to realize how much time I'd lost on the ridge. As I passed other runners I got a lot of "good for you" and similar shouts. I kept explaining that my son and my partner had never been to one of my 50 milers before so I had to finish it for them. That is what made me run again. I was worried about the math. I'd expected a 12.5 hour day, but was now worried about the 14 hour finish line cutoff. Kelsey was running up to check on people after they had someone in late stage heat stress at the aid. I was happy to see her and told her I felt good. I just had about a mile and some cows in between me and the second pass through Elbow Coulee aid. The cows were on a flat grassy road. One was staring me down from the middle of the road as if I was a problem. I slowed to a walk and looked at the ground. It walked off into the grass and I picked up pace again gratefully. It would have been a real shame to have been eaten by a cow and had to report by own DNF from the afterlife with 43 miles run and only seven left to go.
Cows on the course.

I had told Bethany and Charlie I understood if they didn't stay at the aid station so I was unsure if I would see them as I descended the hill back to aid. They were still there! This made me really happy. They were pretty fried though, they'd been there for five hours and my preteen was boooored, so I encouraged them to hit the road to the finish where the lake and pizza awaited. I had a two mile out and back from the aid and asked Alex if I was required to take my pack. He said no and went an extra step lending me a handheld to take with me in the heat.
Descending to Elbow Coulee Aid #2 mile 43ish.

This was great except about a quarter mile away I realized two things. My earbuds were in my pack and this was the one spot all day I wanted to listen to music. I also realized my Suunto Ambit 3 was still in my pack. I am really emotionally attached to 'collecting' my miles and because my Coros usually measures short I brought my old watch too. This is a neurosis I've decided to quit judging myself for and just own it. I am a Strava addict and I am not ready to change. I also thought 50 miles was a nice distance to compare the two watches on. In that moment I realized my Suunto would now be missing two miles of the course and it was time to let go and fully embrace the Coros. When I returned to Elbow Coulee aid for the third and final time and traded Alex back his handheld for my pack I did leave the Suunto recording. I was curious if it would still measure longer than Coros despite being benched for two miles.

I was pretty excited that my next destination was the finish line. The two miles of flat gravel road before the lake trail was mentally tough though. I stuck with Caitlin who I had met on the course that day for a mile of it. It was her first 50 miler and she told me some pretty cool stuff about injuries she had overcome to get this far with her running. She was feeling more energetic than I was and I encouraged her to go for it and finish strong. She did.

Once I hit the lake trail I was excited. I love that trail and have run it many times. I also knew it meant less than two miles to the finish! I ran everything that was flat or down and walked the little rolling uphills. There's a little dip in the Patterson Lake Trail as it turns a corner just before rising up to meet the Cabin Trail. I teared up there with the emotion of being about to finish 50 miles for the first time since sciatica took over my life and in the fresh memory of being there two weeks prior. Bethany and I had gone on a 27 mile training run and when we passed by that section I caught a root with my right foot and fell, landing on my back. My right leg is my good leg and when I catch it like that it sets off a zinger in my bad leg. From my low back down my left hip to to where my calf meets my foot. It sends tension through the whole nerve like a taught wire electrified and I can't move briefly from the intensity of the pain sensation and then it triggers sharply localized when I first try to bend again to pick myself up. It is jarring. On that run I had experienced one of my worst zingers, except my angel wouldn't let me get up. Bethany had stood over me calmly whispering, "don't move J. Everything is going to be okay." I acquiesced and stopped trying to get up right away. I am just so used to taking care of myself and forcing toughness that the gentleness got to me and I just started sobbing in her arms when she helped me up as she promised everything would be alright. It was the fear below the surface that I would lose running coming out in me that day because when the pain takes over like that I become deeply afraid of losing my freedom, Now here I was on that same spot two weeks later just about finished with the 50 miles I had feared I was so longer capable of. My angel was a third of a mile away at the finish line with my son. Her words were again right. Everything was going to be alright. I ran my best pace with my heart beating in my ears and met them at the finish 13 hours and 18 minutes after the race began.
All done with 50 miles in high 80's heat.

Even my Coros read long at 50.8 miles. The Suunto in my pack read 55.0 miles which felt inaccurate, but many others said it was a long course. Around 60 of the 240 runners who started the race DNFed that day. The heat made it harder. I didn't feel any sciatic nerve pain until Monday night when I tried to take an Epsom salt bath. Sitting posture in the tub set it off again. The race Saturday until Monday night is the longest break I've had from that pain since it began. It seems the longer the run the better I feel. Which leads me to the Sun Mountain 50k one week later.....

Sun Mountain 50k - May 18th, 2019

I started to write this race report from the contrast tubs at Prime because I thought concerted recovery tactics wise after a 50 miler and 50k one week apart.

Despite signing up for the 50 miler two months out I had not been able to talk myself into selling my 50k bib. I think maybe I subconsciously wanted to run both all along. I had been going to crew Bethany instead of run, but then she told me if I didn't run I needed to volunteer. She DNFed her last 50k, Deception Pass in December, while in pain with Achilles issues when I crewed her and she didn't want me available for an easy out at this race. I decided about two days after the 50 miler that the 50k was a go. Firm decision in place I was unsure what to expect. I started running two flat trail miles each morning before work the Monday after the 50 miler to have a sense of my recovery, stay loose, and I suppose taper. My body felt very good all considered. I had some right shin swelling that I’m familiar with healing from and leveraged compression and ice throughout the week to be smart about it.

I knew come race day that if something felt terrible I could DNF, but I also knew in my heart there was no way I would. When we parked race morning I gave my much speedier Bethany the car keys deciding there was no way I’d need them before her.
50k starting line. Race ready. 20 degrees cooler!

I lined up in the back of the upper third of the pack knowing we only had a fast half mile on the road before we’d be single file climbing Patterson single track. Uphill is my weakness so, just as the week prior, I mentally conditioned myself to push that 1.5 mile climb above my pace grade to not get bogged down below my pace grade. Others see it as something to offset later, but I feel behind and incapable of catching up if I begin below my average pace. Once we started climbing I surprised myself and passed a few people in the last mile up feeling good. I had a full body and mind tired feeling, but it put me in a sense of being on autopilot and just moving forward without thinking.

I had a little scrap of paper I’d printed cutoff times and 14 min pace times on for the aid stations. I surprised myself coming in under my targets at the first and second aid stations and within 5 minutes of target by aid three despite mileage reading longer on my watch, as it also had in the 50 miler.
Photo Credit: Glenn Tachiyama.

As the race continued I felt good all day. I was in my zone. I was definitely tired before taking a first step, but I felt capable. I also felt unnerved by a consistent feeling validated by my watch that today could finally be my day to break seven hours. Yes, this was my 11th 50k race run and I have yet to crack seven hours. It is just a number, but it means something to me. It was helpful to me how familiar everything was. The first 28ish miles of the 50 miler exactly mirror the 50k. Once you descend Rader Creek you simply turn left on the lake trail to the finish line and skip that whole Elbow Coulee hot sunny ridge-line with cows for company section that the 50 miler adds.

The best trails.
I slowed down a little bit between aid three and four. It was exciting that aid four was the last stop before the finish line. A 50k feels really short a week after 50 miles. I kept intervaling and I kept the mental pressure on about my seven hour target. I began to be at war with myself a bit. Questioning my “why” of running. I don’t do it for impressive times. I'm not capable of those. I don’t do it for specific paces. I have a pace zone I feel proud of and one I feel disappointment in, but I’m always going to be mid-pack. Often I’m back of the mid-pack. I run for the mindfulness and peaceful joy the time on trail gives me, the experience of heavenly natural beauty too few people get to see up close, and for the community that comes with being an ultra runner. I don’t really do the pain cave my fast friends do. I could probably push harder than I do, but it would directly cost me some of the lackadaisical joy I get floating along comfortably smelling the flowers (or photographing them.) So here I was fully knowing I was within reach of seven hours if I just pushed harder and I was torn. I came into Meadowlark aid and saw Doug again. It was 20 plus degrees cooler than the 50 miler so he had a shirt on this time. He didn’t recognize me right off, but noted by BTRC tank and said he was from Bellingham too. I thanked him for saving my race the prior weekend. Ali was there waiting for her friend Britt, a first time 50ker, to come in. I brought up my seven hour conflict. I think I stayed an extra few minutes purposefully trying to sabotage away the possibility. I don’t like running with pressure even if it is only internal.
Close, but not quite done yet.

I felt good leaving Meadowlark and walked uphills, but ran everything else. I knew I’d see Glenn once more on the lake trail and was looking forward to it. While still on the lake trail my watch hit 31 miles at 6 hours 55 minutes. The race wasn’t over yet though so it didn’t count. Many said it was a long course, just like the 50 miler, but who really knows with how much variation there is between different GPS watches. I’ll happily take a long course over a short one.
Photo Credit: Glenn Tachiyama. Mile 49ish.

I felt good coming into the finish and picked up my pace glancing around for Bethany. I couldn't find her anywhere. My friend Vern appeared right away though and was super chatty. It was good to catch up with him as he lives in Idaho so I only see him at races.

Eventually I found Bethany at the finish line. She had only beaten me in by 57 minutes when she usually beats me by 90 minutes. She had a strong day and placed where she typically does in the pack so this felt great that I was improving. In the end 104 women finished and I was 57th. For me, that's a strong finish. For perspective Bethany was 16th. I don't ever expect I'll become fast, but I do want to go farther and farther. A successful 50/50 training block gave me the confidence to push forward with this summer's big adventure. I'll be running the Bigfoot 200 in August. It's my favorite race distance times four with an equal number of days to complete it in. To me a 200 with sleep stations and wide cutoffs feels far more approachable than a typical 100 miler. Stay tuned :)

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.

Fragrance Lake 50k

Climbing Cleator 2 miles in. PC: Ross Comer. This race is a steep one. It was the third ultra I’d raced in a span of 28 days and it de...