Deception Pass 50k – December 12, 2015

Back in December, I did a thing. A big thing. I had worked on it all summer and all fall and I was scared and ready and uncertain and excited and terrified and confident and wanted to quit and skip it and dominate it all at once.

I ran my first 50k. Months of training…endless miles and countless hours of trail time lead to the last thirty-one on that rainy Saturday. I knew I had to be really brave. I had to tell myself that Jesse had been here a dozen times and I shouldn’t be so nervous…that I wasn’t the only “newbie” to the ultra scene that day…that I had to trust my training. But above all else, I had to enjoy it. That’s the point, right?

“The race always hurts. Expect it to hurt. You don’t train so that it doesn’t hurt. You train so you can tolerate it.” –Mark Rowland

And that’s the truth. I hurt, but I loved every second. It was beautiful, and awful, and awesome, and hard, and painful, and so rewarding all together. The love of distance running I managed to acquire culminated that day.

It was a crazy stormy weekend in the Pacific Northwest (i.e. a typical winter’s day). I also have a knack for choosing races that are far away – this one was northwest of Seattle on the Puget Sound at Deception Pass State Park and was put on by the popular Rainshadow Running. Months prior, I set my alarm for midnight to be able to secure a spot on opening day (it sells out ridiculously fast) and Jesse decided he would join me. We didn’t run it together; it was important that it was my own race, but I was sure glad he was there with me.

I was dressed in a ridiculous amount of layers compared to others at the starting line (short shorts and tank tops were featured.) I had two layers of merino, my heavy rain jacket, gloves, and a headband. I didn’t know what to expect and knew I could always drop stuff at an aid station.

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Our race briefing included a warning of 60 mph winds (“Don’t push anyone off the cliff edges and be careful on the bridge”). It touched on us runners being sheltered for most of it (“…but be aware of falling trees around you!”), and if things started getting really sketchy, we’d all be cut off (“…after the bridge we’ll send you back, making it a 13 mile day, instead of 31”). “Awesome”, I thought. Thirteen miles sounded way better than 31…but wait! I had trained for this! This had to happen! Please don’t cut me off!!

And then it began. The course was a series of a thousand lollipops, so I often got to see Jesse as I was headed out and he was on his way back, which was fun. I found a good pacer early on (she was training for a hundred miler…go figure) and some other lovely people to keep me company for a while. I soared past aid station #1, feeling strong. I tried to look brave for the photographer, hiding my windblown misery. I stopped briefly at aid station #2 for a cup of Coke and took off again. I wore my heart rate monitor and tried to use that as my guide for pace, knowing my sustainable heart rate for long runs is around 175-180 bpm. It was consistently in the 190s or above; I couldn’t get it down without walking, so I gave up on that pretty early. Race-day adrenaline? Under-trained for all the hills? Too late for that nonsense at that point…

After leaving the aid station, I was by myself for a while, crossing the bridge for the second time alone. I never saw Jesse again, but I caught up with a few other runners on the other side and we chatted the miles away (one guy, also from Portland, and a woman from BC). We then had a serious climb to do. It was not runnable, it was a slow hike. I was again alone and starting to get pretty mentally exhausted from the slow progress. A woman caught me at the top, we exchanged some comments about the vertical challenge, and then I left her behind, eager to embrace the downhill.

The course popped out of the woods and onto the road briefly, coming into aid station #3 (which was also #4 and #5). I stopped for more Coke and some oranges, and debated losing some layers. Throughout the run I was miserable on both sides of the spectrum, outrageously overheating and shockingly cold, often within minutes of each other. I ran in all my layers for the whole thing. This first stop was at mile 14-ish and I felt pretty spent already (this course boasts about 4,500 ft of climbing overall). The rain had picked back up and I was needing to dig deep at this point.

I walked over to a spectator and pet her dog for a minute, psyching myself up for the 7 mile loop ahead of me. I walked a lot of this loop. I was alone a lot. I wanted my headphones…I wanted Jesse…I wanted the finish line. It was a muddy, sloppy mess through thick forest; I had to navigate some downed trees and had to remember to eat something (I had some Gu chews during this loop, which was my only nutrition besides the Coke and a few orange slices from earlier. Note to self: eat!). I finally made it back to the aid station and I just kind of stood under the tent, arguing with myself about quitting. The woman who met me at the top of the hill earlier, Sybil, showed up and we began chatting again. “Do you want to run the rest together?” she asked. “YES PLEASE!!!” I could have hugged her. We ran the 2nd seven mile loop (actually ran it!) and having her as my running buddy saved my first ultra. I will be eternally grateful for her company (you can read her blog post about the event here).

We reached the aid station again after those 7 hard miles and realized we were last. They were already picking up the course behind us. My spirits dropped. “But you made the cutoff!” the volunteers told us! We were going to finish. We were last, but at least they didn’t pull us from the course like they had to so many others. Which meant only 4 more miles to the finish line.

Those 4 miles took years, it seemed. My whole body was screaming. My shoulders hurt from my pack, my hips were sore, my feet were spent. We ended up catching up to another guy and even paused for a photo op with the bridge in the background. We’d been running all day, what’s a few extra minutes to capture the moment, right?

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I whined to Sybil that I needed it to be over. We felt lost and so far away, as the miles ticked off and we couldn’t see the end in sight. We could hear cowbells and cheering, but couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Pretty soon we ran into the photographer again (both surprised and thankful he waited for us!). We ended up with a “sprint” finish (whatever that means after 30+ miles) and we found the end.

Finish time: 7:48. Second to last and proud as hell. The cutoff for the event was 8 hours. I had done it. I didn’t set any records, but I had just become an ultra runner. I burst into tears.

It was almost dark at this point and Jesse emerged from under a tent (near the pizza, of course). He was soaking wet; I was surprised he hadn’t changed into dry clothes. “I didn’t want to risk missing you”, he said and my tears of joy flowed harder. Then I turned to hug Sybil and to thank her for the support and company. I certainly hope to run with her again in the future; at an event or just for fun. She’s super inspirational!

We went into the hut for the after-party. There was a live band and infinite food: sandwiches, pizza, chips, cookies, fruit, beer, Coke, hot chocolate…whatever you wanted, they had it. It was an awesome spread, so many stoked runners and volunteers, and warmth. I was shivering…but I was elated.

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You can see the professional photos by Glenn Tachiyama of me here, here, and here. Jesse’s are here and here.

Jesse and I drove to our friend’s house in Seattle where we stayed for the night. I peeled away my socks and the beautiful white tile became speckled with mud. I laughed to myself and then showered for what felt like hours.

My legs didn’t function for days. I avoided stairs and tried to move as little as possible. I (surprisingly) didn’t have any blisters, though a few toenails turned black, as expected.

Everyone asks “So, when’s the next one, crazy lady?”. I now respond with: “July”.

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San Diego – 12/6/15

One of my best friends has lived in San Diego for over a year and I had yet to go visit her. Granted, I was halfway around the world for a good chunk of that, but still. The time had come. I needed to go.

So in early December I left my boys at home and flew to sunny San Diego for a fabulous girls weekend of diner breakfast, hiking (and post-hiking milkshakes), running, refrigerator maintenance, movies, Christmas tree decorating, new car mischief, and, my favorite, girl talk. It was the best of times.

I still have trouble with warm weather, sun dresses, and outdoor seating when it’s December, but I was happy to escape the cold and rainy Pacific Northwest for a few days. A favorite memory of mine from that weekend will be the street tacos, chips and salsa, and Christmas decorations on the patio. So delicious…and so bizarre. (A close 2nd memory of the weekend is forgetting to bring money for our hike and having to park a mile away from the trailhead in a residential area.)

I didn’t get pictures of most of my time there because we weren’t up to much, adventure-wise. But on Sunday morning we hiked to “Potato Chip Rock” – which was perfect for photo ops. Here are some of the highlights:

 

Our matching outfits were an accident, I swear!

Looks great, right? It was, and while I maintain both are beautiful, I’ve concluded I prefer lush green forests and snowy mountain ranges to the beautiful beaches and desert-y boulder fields. But to continuously appreciate one, you must visit the other sometimes. I won’t say no that!

Winter Wonderland(s) – Dec 2015

Last year at this time we were in New Zealand of course and we completely missed “winter” in the Pacific Northwest. We didn’t get to snowshoe or ski and we certainly didn’t take in any sledding. While our second summer of 2014 was certainly enjoyed, I’ve been a skier since forever and I was missing that part of the year. Few things are as refreshing as the crisp mountain air, clean snow, and being simultaneously hot and cold on a chairlift!

This year, we have been (and still plan to) make up for it and have our winter wonderland fun.

It started with a “snowshoe” trip to Mt. Hood. We ended up not needing our snowshoes and just wandered around the mountain in our running shoes…but nevertheless… 

   
Our second round of winter fun was when we were in Idaho mid-December for an early Christmas with my family (and a big pack of dogs). Jesse was a bit mischievous with the girls as they stood under snow covered trees..!

  
  

We took in some sledding on the back roads…

  

And when we were too tired to continue walking up the hill, we had a few extra sledding runs in the yard!

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Over the long Christmas weekend, we joined our good friends for a day of actual Mt. Hood snowshoeing. With the dogs in tow (wearing booties and all), we conquered the Trillium Lake loop. It was a gorgeous blue bird day and we soaked in all the views of the mountain we could.

    
   
  

 
We had a few days of treacherous freezing rain around Portland, which basically shuts the city down, but we’re now back to a “basic” Portland winter of gray skies and rainy days. I’m looking forward to additional snowy mountain adventures in the next few months.

A Tour of the Pacific Northwest – Nov 2015

The day that Jesse returned from Germany was also the day his sister, Hanna flew in to Portland to visit us. She lives on the South Island of New Zealand and we were excited to show her a bit more of Portland and the greatness of the Pacific Northwest (she visited us before, many moons ago now it seems).

Jesse and Hanna spent the first weekend of her visit in Vancouver, BC…sadly I had to stay behind this time. The following weekend we all traveled up to Seattle to take in some Space Needle / Pike Place Market / Great Wheel and other Seattle-y goodness. Unfortunately for Hanna, she missed out on the wonder of the Gum Wall – it had been cleaned off just days before for the first time in 20 years!

Later they joined some friends for a tour of the Boeing factory and I ran a Thanksgiving themed 10k event at Green Lake on a whim (my running buddy for this one was a 4 year old; but he was in the 250m dash! Look at him go!)

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Finishing time – 55:54

We concluded the weekend with a hike up Mt. Si with our friends and respective canine family members.

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My first hike up Mt. Si was was with Jesse on one of our first dates. I remember it being snowy and I was hurting. I put on my bravest face and tried not to be sad about it, but I remember struggling to find footing on the ice and to keep up with Jesse; my leg muscles screaming all the way to the [false] summit. After many slow hours, we reached the turn around point, built a tiny snowman and headed back for the descent. This time? It felt like an easy walk right up to the top, with a sweet rock scramble to the true summit (I had even run a 10k earlier that morning!). I took a moment to reflect on how far I’ve come with my fitness and how much more enjoyable these adventures are when I’m not frustrated with the limits of my body. I felt proud just then.

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We watched as the sky turned from blue to pink to black as the sun went down over Mt. Rainier and Seattle in the distance. The three of us shivered through some selfies (while our friends stayed behind with the dogs) and began our downclimb. We then hiked back with headlamps and flashlights, embracing the downhill. It was a fantastic afternoon – I know Jesse was excited to share his beloved Mt. Si with Hanna.

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img_1237 A few days later, Hanna and I enjoyed a Trailblazers game (although they lost to the Bulls). My parents arrived to spend Thanksgiving weekend with us and on Black Friday Hanna caught her plane back to NZ.

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It seems like so long ago now, but it was a very busy and exciting November!