I went up to Crystal Mountain (race HQ) the day before the race and planned on camping out with other runners that night. When I stepped out of the car at the resort, I was overwhelmed by the smell of the evergreen trees. It reminded me of Christmas. I’ve never had such an overwhelming scent of evergreen in the outdoors. It was awesome! I collected my race schwag and started to head to the car. A very kind gentleman came up to me and said “hey, you look like a good runner.” I was flattered, that’s about the best thing a woman runner can hear! He and I started chatting, I told him about my upcoming 100 and he started giving me some great advice. Eventually it occurred to me I didn’t know this man’s name. When I asked he nonchalantly said “David.” I continued to talk his ear off and soak up his advice for this race as well as the 100. I really started to wonder who this guy was and I made a joke that he was probably the race director and I didn’t even know it. (a peril of being an ultra newbie and also new to the area) Then he told me a few things about himself and I realized I was talking to DAVID HORTON! OMG! I almost fell over. I am a HUGE fan and I couldn’t believe I was standing there talking to him! I unabashedly became a total “fan” at this point and asked if I could take a picture with him. I know it’s cheesy, but I was in the presence of greatness! David and I spoke several times over the weekend and I couldn’t be more blessed to have met such a humble and wonderful runner. I hope he will allow me to continue to learn from him as I develop my ultrarunning skills.Race morning came early – with a clear sky that was barely beginning to change color when I woke at 4:35. I opted for the early start because I knew I wouldn’t be sleeping very well in my tent. (and I wasn’t) I also planned on taking the race nice and easy… fueling myself well and focusing on running strong and controlled the whole way. I wanted to finish knowing I could go twice that far in a few short weeks. I figured the early start would get me going and help me get home (a 2 hour drive) afterwards at a decent hour. The race basically consists of 2 huge climbs – and two huge descents. I think about 10 miles of the course is rolling – the rest is either up or down. The course offers close to 9,000 feet of climbing and equal descent, so it’s not for the faint of heart.
The race itself went well. I stuck to my race plan of running conservatively and staying strong. On the rolling section before the first major climb I ran with several people and chatted the time away. One guy didn’t want to pass me because I was “his rabbit,” which I thought was pretty funny. My friend, Josh, warned me about the first climb and said it was steep. So when the climb started in earnest I made sure to walk when necessary and stay within myself. One section was particularly steep early on and it really made me wonder whether the whole climb was going to be like this. That extra steep section ended with a staircase of the steepest steps I’ve ever seen. The climb went on for about 10 miles total, but the worst of it was definitely that first section. My stomach was a little upset for this climb, but I was able to cope with it fairly well. Towards the top of the climb we were treated to amazing views of Mt. Rainier and as I said out loud several times “This is why I run mountains!” Traveling along the ridge was cool – lots of great views of Rainier as well as the airstrip below where we’d started. (I couldn’t believe how high up we’d come)Shortly after the major climbing had ended, we began this out-and-back section to Corral Pass. This is where we encountered snow on the course. I was worried about the snow, but it really wasn’t too bad in the end. Mostly because the race director saw to it that the section got some attention pre-race. Volunteers had shoveled large steps into the snow and even laid out some ropes for us along the steeper sections. It made for pretty smooth going. Having people coming at you was a little challenging at times, but ultra folks are very patient and we all know how to yield. It works out okay if you’re just patient. And it was really fun to see the leaders! After this section we had about 8 miles of downhill. That was fun! I am still working on my downhill skills and this was a great test.
After the first big climb and descent the course comes back to the starting area before heading out for the second major climb. I was at the aid station at Buck Creek with several of the female leaders, including Krissy Moehl. That was awesome! Doing the early start gave me a good advantage during the whole race. Since I constantly had people passing me who were faster than me, I had great bait to pull me along. I’d try to stay with the faster runner for a while before they left me. I found this really helped me during the second climb to Suntop. I also met a guy named Zach who ran with me up Suntop and down to the finish. He was doing his first ultra and his first trail race and was great company. I ran this second half of the course in a training run (see earlier post), so I was able to help Zach know what was coming and when we could expect to reach certain spots. It was a big mental boost to know the course like I did and I’m convinced that I need to go and run the end of Cascade Crest so I have that confidence in the 100 as well.The race finishes up with a 6 mile downhill followed by a 6 mile stretch of rolling trail along the river. I felt strong and was happily revising my projected finish time as I went along. My thoughts were interrupted along this trail once by a mountain biker warning me of bears ahead. Bears? He said “Yep, there are 3 of them.” Yikes. The last thing you want to hear at mile 47 of a 50 mile race is that there are bears coming up. That said, I was still excited – I’ve never seen a bear before in the wild! I did see one black bear – I think it was an adolescent because it wasn’t huge but it wasn’t a cub. He was climbing the hillside and traversing fallen trees when I saw him. He looked at me and then kept on climbing. We were both happy to continue on our way. I looked for others but didn’t see them. But still, I saw a bear! Exciting!
In the end, I finished in 10:22. My son’s birthday is 10/22, so it’s a fine time by me. I was the 13th woman. Not bad for a challenging race I didn’t rest for and ran on tired legs. When it comes right down to it – I love pushing my body and proving to my mind that barriers do not exist. I love living in the moment on the trails – the great things in life keep you going and everything else melts away. Ultras have become my “running party” – and I can’t wait for the next one.