Inaugural Appletree Half Marathon – 9/16/18

Appletree

Back in September I ran the inaugural Appletree half marathon and the day was my perfect combination for running – gray and cool, sometimes rainy; perfect PR conditions!

For an inaugural event, there was a sizable crowd but the course started with a cruise-y downhill, so finding a place in the pack was quite easy. The course had an incredible amount of water stations, cheer squads, and motivational signs along the route, it was easy to keep spirits up! We ran past the garden, past Pearson Air Museum, along the stockade, past the Old Apple Tree Park, then along the Greenway Trail with a beautiful view of the Columbia, and eventually through Marine and Wintler Parks before turning around and going back, crossing under I-5 and running along the Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Plaza, through downtown, then back to the finish….WHEW!

Around mile 9 the weather turned from slightly damp to full-on downpour. Given our lengthy dry summer, I was stoked to be running in the rain; the soaked-to-the-bone type where there’s no avoiding it. It’s just the best.

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The after party at this event was easily one of the best I’ve ever been to. I crossed the finish line and was given my medal, walked about 15 feet and had a chair to sit in. There were dozens of chairs available (which never happens)! If I had an energy gel for every race finish where I had to sit on the ground, I could fuel my next 50 miler. There was also an incredible amount of food; whatever you fancied. Pulled pork sandwiches, bagels, fruit, cookies, paired with your beverage of choice: bottled water, Deschutes Brewery beer, cider, kombucha, or wander a bit and find coolers full of Red Bull, vendors with other energy drinks, and I’m quite certain a full on Farmer’s Market booth. There were massage tables, and more swag to fill your bag! I embarrassingly had so many goodies in my arms that I dropped a drink can on the ground and sprayed myself. No bother – I just wandered back and grabbed another one.

After hanging out for a bit, it was time to meet my friend for brunch so I enjoyed the walk along Officer’s Row back to my car. Another 13.1 was done and I was pleased to have been part of Appletree’s inaugural day!

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McCall Trail Running Classic 20M – 7/14/18

This was one of those whirlwind weekends where everything happened and I want to remember it all. I look back at the photos and think “what even was that!?”. It all started with my best girlfriend wanting to run the McCall Trail Running Classic in Idaho. Immediately my answer was “yes” and we registered, booked a hotel, and then promptly forgot about the entire thing until just a few weeks out, panicked at the lack of training and planning, threw it all together, giggled our way through the entire roadtrip, ran it, and then somehow it was over.

Friday morning we packed up the car, made a pit stop at Fred Meyer and the bank because some things can really only be sorted out at the branch, and then we drove 7 1/2 hours, stopping only once. My favorite memory was the crazy rolling road into a tiny town and the cars under the carport with no cover on it. Oh, how we howled with laughter!

The “mandatory-ish” race briefing was Friday at 6 PM. We rolled into the parking lot at 5:58. What can I say? If you’re not 5 minutes early, you’re late, amirite?

We picked up our packets and listed to as much of the race briefing as we could stand, then went to check into our room / find some food. We hauled all of our gear up the stairs, opened the hotel door and realized someone else is in our room! After some finagling, we ended up in a different, lesser room, with my sweet friend sleeping on the fold out couch. I felt awful! She insisted, so eventually we both took a mental shrug and walked up to the diner for some pre-race breakfast-for-dinner and made a note to return when the Christmas shop next door was open!

As always, race morning comes too soon and we dressed and were out the door for our 8 AM start. Timing chips on, we lined up (near the back of the pack) and took off up the hill! Pretty soon we hear super heavy wheezing behind us – before we even passed all the cars in the lot – and a very winded woman dressed head-to-toe in pink came shuffling up behind us. We soon realized she was part of the race and we were both a little worried about her ability to complete it. Humbled, we were leap-frogging with her for a little while and eventually she passed us for the last time (and finished a good 40 minutes ahead of us).

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I really do recommend this event – the views are really stunning and the singletrack is dreamy and runnable. There are some good hills to climb, but some equally wonderful downhill. There are water crossings and meadows, and the aid stations were top notch (bacon & pancakes? yes please!)

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We had no goals for this race. The cutoff was the same for the 40M (so, basically, 12 hours) and we were in no hurry. I was all about stopping for photos, emptying my shoes of rocks and water at will, walking the hills, chilling at aid stations, and just enjoying it. We drove a long way to be in this race and I sure as heck wasn’t going to be miserable doing it.

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After a wonderful day of adventuring, we crossed the finish line and to my surprise and delight, my parents were there waiting! That never happens! They drove 3 hours from their town in Idaho to catch us at the finish line and so super sweetly brought Oreos and Coke for us! My entire life they’ve been my #1 fans and my running career in my adulthood is no exception, but this was my first proper race finish they’ve been able to witness. I could have cried with happiness. We all took advantage of the post-race baked potato bar, hung out under the big tent to watch more of the 40M finishers come in, and eventually parted ways. My friend and I were headed to their house the next day, so it was a quick day trip to catch up and talk running. After they left, we headed to the shores of Payette Lake and sat in the chilly water in our camp chairs, drank our Coke, and let our shoes and shorts get sandy af while we relaxed. It was the best after-race experience to date. A couple of quick showers and we were back at the lakeside at some cute outdoor restaurant for dinner at sunset. It was a good day.

Sunday, we were back on the road. A quick stop off at the Christmas shop, an ever quicker stop to get fuel, and we made the 3 hour drive to my parents’ house, arriving just in time for lunch. I spent the better part of 8 years in Central Idaho and don’t think of it fondly, so as we were driving through the area, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as my friend “oooohed” and “aaaahed” at the landscape. Perhaps seeing it through an unbiased lens is what I need to appreciate it’s special kind of beauty?

A wonderful BBQ at my parents’ house with my niece and all the dogs and life in rural Idaho on full display, I adored having so many people I love all together. My parents own a small business and since we were still making our way north, my mom asked us to make a quick detour to deliver an order to a customer on the way. With her hand-written directions, we tried our best not to use technology to guide us and the hilarity that ensued was just too much!

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At long last, we arrive at my friend’s vacation home in Northern Washington. It’s a beautiful spot, right on the golf course, and we spent the evening on the deck with a wonderful meal, catching up with her husband, and really relaxing. In the morning, breakfast, a tour on the golf cart, coffee, and a golf lesson (note: I was not immediately excellent at it).

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I did a tiny bit of work and then made my way back to Portland – leaving my friend behind, as she was spending the week there and would drive back separately after her vacation. It was mid-July and the temperature was rising relentlessly as the day wore on.

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I have only good memories of that entire weekend; it was one of my favorites of the year, in fact. There are times when I know I have to do the work of running alone and I accept that. But with a friend like mine and memories like these, I’ll happily give it up to have her with me.

Ultramook 50k – 7/08/18

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I’m a self-described mountain person as opposed to a beach person. Give me forests, timberline, rock scrambles, and singletrack. Alpine lakes and waterfalls, pine needles, views worth the effort. That’s not to say I hate the beach – the ocean is a magical place and I appreciate all it offers – but given the option, I’ll pick the mountain any day of the week and twice on Sunday. So, needless to say, we don’t visit the Oregon coast very often.

I had an opportunity to race the Ultramook 50k and 30k on July 8th and since I’m always keen for an inaugural event, I was hoping this race would change my mind about running at the coast! It’s certainly not a fast, on-the-sand, type of event and with over 6,000 feet of elevation gain in the 50k, it was anything but flat.

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I do love running in Tillamook State Forest but have always been on the east side. Up and over the range, just outside of Tillamook proper, the Ultramook started/ended at the Hydrangea Ranch. My favorite thing about the entire day was that the finish line was just on the other side of a river! Wading up to your thighs (or wave to stop your time and just plop right on down) after hours of running through the woods was the most spectacular feeling! But that meant to start the run, we had to go the long way around to avoid soaked shoes before the gun even went off. So around we went, the 3/4 mile walk. Groggy and obstinate, we all walked, starting us about 10 minutes late.

Both distances took off together. Each had a small field on their own, so starting off simultaneously gave a bit more community through the initial miles. Down a gravel road for a bit, then veering off into the woods, we hit AS1 and were all a bit confused by the mileage – all the watches read 2.5 and the AS sign said 3.5. Shrug. We had a few big hills to climb and I was sure the discrepancy would sort itself out as the course went on. Trail running distances and GPS signals are often taken with a grain of salt.

Miles 2-6 were grueling, gaining about 2,000 feet. AS2 was at the top and had the usual, beautiful ultrarunning spread. Chips, cookies, gummy bears, oranges, potatoes, PB&Js, water. The works. I was hoping for Coke, but seeing none, I opted for the Gatorade. They were in medium-sized bottles for the taking, which was a bit awkward, so I just dumped some in my extra handheld and took off. A small climb on soft singletrack was a nice break from the rocky 4-wheel drive track we just came up and then a steep downhill section was a fun way to start the next section.

After a few more rollers, we detoured quickly upwards to Top of the World for our earned views (damn, socked in. typical of the coast.) then down again and onward we ran.

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After a while another detour to Top of the World 2 (more fog? wt actual f, Tillamook?) I found myself alone. I made up some time on the breezy downhill, then entered what I believe to have been Alice in Wonderland’s Down the Rabbit Hole tunnel. Overgrown raspberries, tall grass, and uneven terrain made for some mentally frustrating miles.

I watched for the plentiful, yet often-too-subtle green course marking ribbons carefully. I caught up with two girls and felt relieved that I wasn’t lost. At the end of the long bushwhacking section, we hit an unbearably steep downhill. Grab-onto-trees-for-stability type downhill. It was short but challenging! At the end, it was more downhill, completely runnable, into AS3 (or the finish, for 30k-ers) and the start of loop 2 for the 50k. Back on the same gravel road, back to the same AS 1 (now 4), but this time our climb was along the creek, rather than the rocky road. It was beautiful in here, with numerous water crossings. I took every opportunity to dip my hands; the cold water refreshing and helped to ease my frustrations with my progress. Because it was such a small field of runners, I was pretty certain of my placement, but I was moving so slowly I expected someone to surely catch me. Reaching the top of the ridge, I popped out at AS5 and got my bearings about what was to come. I was back on the original course now for the same bushwhacking and the same steep downhill. I pressed on.

The second loop didn’t require the detours to the viewpoints – as tempting as it was to see if the fog had cleared, my legs didn’t want to extend the effort of those climbs. Back in the rabbit hole, I came upon another runner. Excited, I had been running alone for hours now, I was keen for some solidarity! He was from Texas and the hills were testing him. He was great company and it’s always fun to chat about running while running with other runners. We’re a special kind of people, aren’t we?

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Back down the grassy downhill, onto the gravel road, dodge right to the river, and wade across to the finish line. It was over. I raised my fist triumphantly, completing my first 50k in over a year, and couldn’t wait to stop my watch. Just under 28 miles. I guess it didn’t sort itself out. It’s hard to know if the course was short or the GPS was off, but either way it’s an ultra and I’m proud to have done it! That cool, breezy, foggy Sunday at the coast gave the best of both worlds: mountain and beach.

There were pulled pork sandwiches at the finish, along with beer and Gatorade. I sat in the grass with some other finishers, all of us giddy, yet exhausted, dreaming of a Coke and some Oreos – my favorite post-race fuel. The Hydrangea Ranch is a beautiful spot and I wished I had brought a blanket or lawn chair to hang out on for a while.

Twenty points to Gryffindor if you can find me in the photos. Also, the upside of such a small event is that I was the 2nd place female!

Wild Rogue Relay – 6/15-16/18

Oregon is home to many relays and our good friend likes to solicit Jesse and me for his team(s) for Cascade Lakes and Wild Rogue. Jesse and I have both retired from Cascade Lakes (Jesse ran it 3 times, me just the once), but I was open to running Wild Rogue – with promises that it’s not as hot and a bit more scenic. Plus, I love the teammates all so much, I signed up against my better judgment and let the lure of ultra team experience draw me in.

As always, we had to start incredibly early at a spot incredibly far away. We spent the night in a hotel and saw our first runner off while it was still dark. That’s generally how they begin.

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The majority of teams race with two vans and 12 runners, with everyone running 3 times. To make this multi-day event a bit more epic, we had just one van and 6 runners, so we all had to run 6 times…meaning you’re either running, eating, supporting your team, driving, preparing to run, rinse and repeat. There is little time for sleep so invariably the result is a messy van with exhausted runners at the wheel. This can’t be a good idea, right!?

Until it’s your turn to run and you get incredible views.

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It’s also breakfast burritos at 3 in the morning and it’s the best thing you’ve ever tasted, the sunrise after 24 hours of running, all-you-can-drink free Dutch Bros, and your team captain in a Donald Trump clown mask.

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To be sure, there were moments of discomfort, pain, annoyance, and fatigue. Our team finished, not last but close to it, but a finish is better than a DNF is better than a DNS. In the last few legs, we were all on our last legs. Some were trying to stave off an injury, some were pelted with wind and sand, some battled incredible hills, all in an effort to make it to the finish line to pick up a rental car because Sunday was Father’s Day and some of our team had a long drive ahead.

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At the finish line, we enjoyed some quick food, had our van-emptying party, and said good-bye to half our team as they made their way north. We had a night of camping planned and I was looking forward to a proper sleep. In the morning, we were spoiled with pancakes and eggs, then started the very long journey, still in the van, home. Driving up the coast (without the pressure of running coming up!), just chatting and debating and laughing, was one of the highlights of the long weekend. I am grateful for such friends, willing to do crazy stuff. All with the radio off.

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Mt. Angel Oktoberfest 10k – 9/16/17

Jesse and I (and some friends) ran the Mt. Angel Oktoberfest 10k last fall and enjoyed it enough to return again this year (with the same friends!).

After fluffing around for 45 minutes, we were finally ready to line up find our places in the pack. The 7:00, 9:00, and 11:00 minute mile pacing placards were strangely close together so it was hard to know where to be. It seemed everyone just squished in and we could sort ourselves out down the road. It was a non-issue, but we giggled about it up front.

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The course starts with a little uphill and then a longer, cruise-y downhill before flattening out. A high school band serenaded us at the bottom of the hill, along with a water station and the eventual 5k turnaround. Some wonderful volunteers at a busy junction made us all laugh with their direction signs (“Sexy ones to the left! All others to the right!”) and we made our way out to the country roads by the pumpkin patches and pastures of sheep. Like last year, it was the perfect running weather and the miles ticked by easily.

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After the race, we wandered over to the food and drinks for some local apples, banana slices, and granola bars. A booth with some tablets was set up to get your results instantly and one friend came in 2nd in her age group and my last ditch effort at a sprint finish got me 3rd in my age group! We each got a ribbon, which was a highlight!

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After a quick pit stop at the car to change clothes, we headed over to the rest of the festival (and to get our pint glasses and free beers!). With our glasses filled and our bellies empty, I snuck out to get some sausages and we feasted with the other runners.

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We wandered around the rest of the festival, checked out the vendor booths, saw some dancing, ate some ice cream near the glockenspiel, and hit up the petting zoo on our way out!

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Pikes Peak Ascent – 08/19/17

Pikes Peak Ascent will always be a bittersweet memory for me – I’ll start with the sweet and if you make it through this novel of a post, you’ll find the bitter.

This event entry was my birthday present from my parents and I was eager for the challenge. I spent all summer hiking with my friend (whose great idea it was to begin with and signed up first) to prepare for the relentless climb, torturous early mornings in the altitude room trying to acclimate to activity in the thin air, and months of excitement of conquering my first 14-er.

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I boarded my flight to Denver on Friday morning, landed and picked up my rental car, enjoyed the 75 MPH speed limit on the Colorado freeways, and found my way to the race expo in Manitou Springs. I picked up my packet (which consisted of a bright orange plastic bag and my bib. End of list.) and then headed out to the Colorado Springs airport to pick up my friend. We hurried back to Manitou Springs to pick up her packet and then wandered the streets and found a cute bar for our pre-race grub. The entire town was ready for the race and I loved how supportive everyone seemed.

Our hotel room for the night was a hilarious, “cozy” place – you just had to like leopard print! Our bizarre, yet helpful front desk clerk showed us the place and we called it a night; 5:30 AM would arrive soon enough.

We hurried through our early morning continental breakfast and threw our stuff in the car. We had about a mile walk to the starting line as our “warm up”. We bid the Harley Davidson gang adieu and took off. The race officially started at 7 AM, but runners were sent off in waves every couple of minutes. We were going to start around 7:20. I met up with a friend from Denver briefly (she would be running the full marathon the next day), had a little photoshoot, and at long last, we began our race! (P.S. See all my race day photos here!)

The golden summit in the background is the destination!

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Course from Google Earth / Pikes Peak website

It was a slog right from the gate. Funny enough, one of the steepest sections of the entire course is on the pavement right in town. It’s known to be one of the world’s toughest half marathons, and it proved that to be true early on. We slow jogged as far as was sensible, then the hiking commenced. As expected, once we hit the singletrack it was a bottleneck. It was hard to pass and also hard to be passed. My friend and I didn’t talk much – we just listened to the complaints of other racers, took in the increasingly beautiful view, ate and drank as needed, and just…were. The trail was truly stunning and made me fall even deeper in love with Colorado.

The minutes ticked by and seemed to quickly turn to hours. We were leap-frogging with a few runners, which eventually became mentally exhausting. We also were typically by-passing the water stations, as they only had water or Gatorade. No food.

We made it to the first cut-off point (Barr Camp; 10,200 ft; mile 7.6). We were supposed to be there by 10:30 AM and we rolled in around 10:25. Eep! Here they had grapes, Goldfish crackers, bananas, oranges, pretzels, and a few other food items. Plus more water and Gatorade. And Search & Rescue. And, we discovered, a helicopter. Really, there was no way to get off the mountain save for a medical emergency. Everything had been hauled up by horses or humans, which is impressive. While I lament the fact that there was no Coke (because I am a spoiled ultrarunner now), I can appreciate the difficulty in providing aid stations for this course.

Note the time on the clock..!

After a few minutes, we left the aid station to carry on. We had to make it to the next cutoff (A-Frame; 11,950 ft; mile 10.2) by 11:45 AM. Here is where the going got really rough and I had to have the conversation with my friend about how we’d continue. We both accepted that I would carry on without her, so after a brief check-in about supplies and planning, I took off. I had to hustle and my anxiety carried me up the mountain. I passed so many racers; some walking hands-on-knees, others sitting on rocks looking defeated, others giving it their all. I felt great, but it was warm and the trail was steep. Unfortunately we were nearly above tree-line and we could hear the finish line announcer, despite having 3+ miles to go. It was a total mind-fuck.

Eventually I came up to the A-Frame aid station and was shooed away by the volunteers. “You can’t stop here!” “Keep going!” “There’s no time!” “Just 4 more switch backs – you only have 5 minutes!”. I was both accepting of the fact that I didn’t have time to stop but also miffed that the timing chip wasn’t before the aid station. It seemed ridiculous to turn runners away (honest and encouraging, sure, but it was poor planning). I dug as deep as I could and ran those switchbacks, desperate to make the cutoff. I passed an older gentleman digging deeper than anyone, shouting in agony, and I burst into tears for him. The intensity of that moment was so much, and so pure as we both raced toward the technology that would determine our race fate. I crossed just in front of him and slowed to a walk to assess what was next. I looked to the top of the mountain and could see the building at the summit. I could hear the announcer. And I could see the steady stream of racers inching their way up the mountain. So close, yet so far.

Tuning back into my own surroundings, I noticed dozens of runners sprawled across the rocks just after the timing chip. Clearly they dug deep enough they needed to rest before the final push. Feeling fine, I took a mental shrug and joined the single-file line to the top.

From here it was straight up on the left, straight down on the right, switchback, and reverse. I could see Manitou Springs and the beauty of Colorado beyond it. We were all going slow enough, it was easy to snap photos and enjoy the view.

The only way to pass others was if they sat down. It was a bit of a lost cause to try to squeeze around someone because the next person was just as slow. We passed more Search & Rescue volunteers, another aid station (with food and at this point I was obsessed with eating green grapes and couldn’t get enough), some kazoo players (whom I didn’t care for, but appreciate the light-heartedness of the moment), and scrambled over endless boulders. At some point, when it became necessary to start using my hands to help with the scrambling, I began to notice blood on all the best hand holds. I was equal parts concerned and annoyed, as it added an additional layer of difficulty to the task. Finally, the infamous Golden Stairs (i.e. the 32 switchbacks to the summit where every step is literally a step). I heard the announcer say “Just 4 more minutes until the official timing ends!” and I panicked. I could make it, but not behind the slowpokes in front of me. I picked up the pace and my “On your left”s held an aggressive edge. I “sprinted” to the finish line and collected my medal. What I later learned was that the finishing time cutoff was 6 hours and 30 minutes from your start time, so I actually finished with 15 minutes to spare, but at the time, I was certain I was cutting it close!

The finish line was lonely for me. I didn’t get to cross with my friend, as we had planned for months. Jesse wasn’t there, and I knew no one else around me. It was such a big event that there was no race director to shake my hand, no volunteers serving food to joke around with, no one I recognized from the trail for a moment of solidarity. There was no finish line music, the food was just MnM’s and grapes (and more Gatorade) and the line for the shuttle bus was 13.1 miles long, so I just quietly took in the accomplishment. I physically felt great, like I could just run back down had it been marathon day. I enjoyed the views from 14,115 feet, had some kid push sand on my head as I rested against the building in the shade, and ultimately just collected my drop bag and stood in line for my ride back down.

The first 1/4 of the drive was in a 10-person van. With 8 other sweaty runners and an overzealous driver, I started to feel sick. We were soon at the drop location and I boarded a school bus. The infamously winding road was beautiful, but I had to keep my head down so I could keep my grapes down. I watched the altitude on my watch drop until I felt better: ~9,000 feet.

The view from Pikes Peak (on the other side)

Back in Manitou Springs, I texted my friend that I had arrived, hoping she would be ready to meet up and recap the day. Still feeling a bit queasy, I found a shady spot in the grass to lie down. After about 15 minutes I moved to the adjacent park with still no word from her. I was distracted by a deer family for a few minutes and texted Jesse about the race. At this point I’d been back in town for about 30 minutes and after some mental math, realized I hadn’t seen or heard from my friend in over 4 hours. I tried to call her, to no avail.

I wandered over to the race tent and found two ladies with radios and a list of runners. I asked how I might go about finding my friend, whom I was certain did not finish (DNF). They suggested she may have just returned to the hotel room, which I found to be an utterly useless answer and was extremely frustrated. As I continued to explain why that was unlikely, my friend sidled up next to me, asking what the problem was. “Oh, thank GOD!” I said, hugging her. “What the hell?”. “I just got down…” she explained. Confused, I asked what she meant. She told me that she made it to the A-Frame aid station (mile 10.2) but not within the cutoff period and they wouldn’t let her continue to the summit so she had to walk back down. Instead of a 13 mile day, she had a 20+ mile day. I couldn’t believe it. In hindsight, I can understand the reasoning, but to this day I am still baffled about how such a huge event is so unprepared (and subsequently how runners are taken by surprise) for those who do not make the cutoff.

The icing on the cake is that in order to receive a race shirt, runners must cross the finish line, get the coveted “black Sharpie X” on their race bib, ride the shuttle back down, and pick it up at the expo tent. I got my X at the top and picked up my shirt back in town without a 2nd thought, but as they turned my friend away at the aid station, she received the “red Sharpie X” and therefore could not receive the shirt that she not only paid for, but also deserves. (Note: the shirt does not say “Finisher”). To make matters worse, the shirt could be purchased in the gift shop tent. I was blown away at the audacity. They did, however, give her a token for her efforts.

All in all, I am proud of my accomplishment that day (and my friend’s. My goodness). I hope to return to repeat the course with Jesse one day – but not for this particular event; I found it to be completely elitist. Perhaps I am being overly defensive of my friend and a bit unfair to the event, but for an expensive race on public land with basic aid, a lackluster finish, and withholding race tees to those who DNF, I’d argue that if you’re not on the podium, the race doesn’t give a shit about you.

We took off from Manitou Springs and headed to Colorado Springs to my friend’s sister’s fabulous new house. We got all cleaned up and re-capped the day with each other and everyone else. After a beautiful dinner, we spent the evening relaxing and called it a night.

Sunday was spent with more family and my friend’s mom so sweetly saved the Sunday newspaper for me – my name was featured as a finisher, which was fun.

On Monday (eclipse day), before I left for the airport, we took in a hike at the Garden of the Gods and I got to see a rattle snake in-person for the first time! Have I mentioned how beautiful (yet terrifying) Colorado is? Colorado Springs stole my heart with their pink highways, red rocks, cute and clean city…oh, and their affordability! PDX, I love you, but I also may have to leave you.

We took in a bit of eclipse viewing (which may arguably be my favorite memory from the entire trip) and then I took off to meet up with some friends in Denver before finally flying home.

I wish I had a more diplomatic view about this race. My experience was exactly what I expected from such a large, internationally known event where I was a solid back-of-the-pack-er. And I can appreciate that events like this are not designed for the last place runners. But as the day unfolded, the way those who did not / could not make it to the summit were treated rubs me the wrong way. “Get yourself off the mountain” – fine. Tactless placement of “funny” signs as they were coming back down – OK.  But give ’em their damn shirts.

Fueled by Fine Wine Half Marathon- 7/9/17

As you know, I am a trail runner through and through, which means I typically gravitate to the woods, to the mountains, and to small-time races. I walked up to the Fueled by Fine Wine race feeling out of my element, as almost 1,000 runners gathered in the small park in Dundee. I had been hemming and hawing about bringing my own hydration and my friend encouraged me: “You may benefit from it. Those hills...”I have my own hill challenge on my schedule in August, so I’ve been filling my weekends with power hiking and my weeknights with hill repeats. I brushed off his comment, feeling full of myself. Before I even hit mile 5, his words were on loop in my brain. “Those hills“. Indeed.

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 8.07.30 PMIt’s been a warm summer in Oregon already and the race started at 7 AM from a park and it warmed up quickly, as we immediately ran up a pretty good incline. Running through vineyards is not exactly shady, so the sections of road in the trees were coveted.

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The first aid station was right at mile one and I zipped by. There was plenty of aid throughout the entire course (as well as port-a-potty access), with water, electrolyte drinks, gels, and at one point I saw some gummy worms and Reese’s peanut butter cups! The volunteers were all so happy, helpful, and encouraging and I wish I could thank them all personally. We ran quite a bit on paved roads, which was a nice way to make up some time. Though the hills never quite let up, it’s much easier running on pavement than through lumpy grass amongst the grapes! Mt. Hood and (I believe) Mt. Jefferson watched us all morning long. When the downhills arrived, I greeted them with gusto! Arms outstretched like a 5-year old, I sprinted down (while secretly hoping I wouldn’t crash and burn). Perhaps my favorite part of the run was at the Lange Estates Winery. We just ran up a grueling hill and came into their aid station, where they had a sprinkler running! I wasn’t the only one who lingered under that puppy! It was a refreshing way to gear up for the hill ahead: 10% grade!

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This was the last of the major climbs (this was from mile 8-9, approximately) and we were generously met with another aid station and a sight for sore eyes:

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The sign was a bit premature, as we had a few little climbs to make yet, but essentially, it was time to pick up the pace. The race ended on a downhill, so I mustered a sprint finish, grabbed a bottle of water, and headed toward the shady grass to relax with some post-race snacks and to enjoy the rest of the morning before the hot drive back to Portland.

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Mary’s Peak 50k – 6/17/17

The 50k distance has become my standard distance, so I was excited to get a free entry to the Mary’s Peak 50k.

It was graduation weekend for many schools in Corvallis, so I didn’t bother trying to find a hotel to stay in the night prior. I just woke up at 4 AM and made the ~2 hour drive from Portland to Blodgett that morning. I arrived around 6:45 AM (the first shuttle bus was leaving at 7:10 and the second/final was scheduled to leave at 7:20). I had plenty of time to pick up my packet, run my swag back to my car (after the volunteers graciously let me exchange my shirt for a more appropriate size), use the porta potty, chat with race director Mike, and relax in general. I took the 2nd shuttle bus, which was running just a few minutes behind schedule.

I chatted with two guys on the bus about the Portland Marathon controversy and how they came upon Mary’s Peak as their first trail event. About 15 minutes into our 20 minute shuttle, we came to a game of chicken with the first bus coming back down the hill. Our driver had to do some anxiety-inducing maneuvering to make it past (meanwhile, the 50M runners were trying to run down the same road and had to navigate around the buses). We all made it in one piece, but we had a bit of an adventure before we even made it to the start line! The poor runners on the first shuttle bus had been waiting in the chilly forest for us for almost 40 minutes at this point.

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Once we all arrived, the RD gave us the course breakdown, provided his personal cell phone number in case anyone needed anything at all, and impressed us with his knowledge of the forest. Soon, we were off! The first section was a lovely downhill on the forestry road we just ran up and it was tempting to sprint, as downhills are my favorite. We made our first turn onto gorgeous singletrack and I could feel the day beginning to warm up already.

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The course was muddy and slick and the singletrack was rolling with a net gain. After a few miles, we popped out onto the forestry road again for our first aid station and had a good 7 miles of uphill ahead of us to the top of Mary’s Peak. It was grueling and after a few minutes of breaking away from the pack, I found myself alone for most of it. No sign of any other runners, no other hikers or bikers, no photographers, no volunteers…just me.

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Eventually we turned onto singletrack again after a forestry road gate and the true hill climbing began. The trail was stunning; the trees and underbrush were thick and lush, the switchbacks relentless. A few of the 50 milers were on their way down and I was greeted with “good job!” and “keep it up”, which always feels nice.

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After many slow uphill miles, we popped out onto a meadow and finally saw some volunteers. A man with a dog told me “Just that way, then you’ll circle back to me in about 6-7 minutes.” “Challenge accepted!” I told him (for the record, it took me exactly 10 minutes to make it back). Mary’s Peak would have given 360 degree views of the coast range and valley, but sadly we were pretty clouded in. There was also a radio tower, loads of wildflowers, and an empty picnic table. I didn’t linger.

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After passing back by the volunteer, it was less than 1/4 mile to the aid station. Here, I grabbed an Oreo, a few chips, and a cup of Coke – standard ultra fare. The 50 milers went south and I headed north into the woods. This section was easily the best part of the race. It was singletrack perfection in the moody forest. The temperature was cooler in the fog and the switchbacks provided a nice mental challenge. I picked up the pace and booked it for miles. Eventually I caught another runner and thought “I’m so glad to see another 50k-er!” She grunted and let me pass, making it obvious she wasn’t up for chatting. Shrug.

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The course popped out at the very first aid station and then backtracked along the first singletrack section we ran up initially. It seemed to be uphill both ways, to me. From here, I ran with 2 other ladies who were up for some company. We hit an intersection of forestry road and another girl joined us. From here, our group was enjoying the solidarity as the course continued it’s rolling nature. Although it was net downhill, any sort of uphill was rough and [for me] unrunnable. I felt like I power-hiked most of the course. We were all vaguely aware of the cutoff time and at our next aid station, we inquired about what time the cutoff was and if we were at the proper aid station for it. No one seemed to have a clue what we were talking about, which was a bit disappointing. We weren’t in jeopardy of missing it, but it seemed reasonable that the volunteers would have this information. I grabbed another Oreo, poured myself another cup of Coke, ate a few more chips (I was wishing for some refreshing orange slices at this point in the day), and we all took off again.

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We came up to a section of the forest that was clear-cut and we found an unmanned water station. The day was starting to really heat up, so we all refilled out bladders and bottles and caught up with a guy who had clearly taken a bit of a fall earlier in the race. And then there were 5.

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Winding through the forest, we took turns who was pacing, who we were chatting with, and who jumped at the snake(s) first! I was grateful for the company. As our various strengths became obvious, members of the pack went on ahead and/or took up the rear. I ended up finishing the last bit of seemingly endless forestry roads of the race with a girl my age from Albany and I enjoyed getting to know her more. We came into the final aid station, joking and cheery! The volunteers told us we had about 4.5 miles to go. I looked at my GPS watch, did some calculating, thanked them all, and we took off. We ran down a pretty gnarly section of forestry road (dried mud ruts) and eventually came to the infamous “gate”. “Good, only about half mile to go!” I said as I photographed the wildflowers. After a few more steps, we came upon a depressing sign telling us there were, in fact, 1.7 miles to go. Disappointed, we discussed whether it was my watch that was horribly inaccurate or if we were given misinformation from the aid station. In any case, we plodded along, laughing at the noisy rooster, cooing at the barking dog, and curiously looking at the strange castle/church/mansion in the middle of the forest.

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Because Mary’s Peak doesn’t mess around, the final stretch was uphill. We “sprint” finished and were treated with finisher pint glasses, watermelon, all-you-can-eat spaghetti, all-you-can-drink soda, massage chairs, and general relaxation at the finish line.

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I hung around for about 45 minutes, laughing with other runners, enjoying the beautiful afternoon, and watching the other racers (in both the 50k and 50m events) come across the finish line.

 

Capitol Peak 50M – 4/29/17

“So don’t you sit upon the shoreline

And say you’re satisfied

Choose to chance the rapids

And dare to dance the tide”

–Garth Brooks, “The River”

Well, I did it. My first 50 mile race. I was never confident that I could run that far – not on the day I picked out which event it would be, not on the day I finally registered for it, and certainly not on race day. And yet, somehow, my legs and my lungs proved my brain wrong. Probably because my heart wanted it bad enough.

As we do, Jesse drove us up on Friday night to Capitol State Forest (near Olympia, WA) and we slept in the car. We arrived late to the camp site and backed in next to the river, trying to be careful not to shine our headlights at the others tents, while simultaneously trying not to run into a tree. We found a flat enough spot and rolled out the sleeping bag. I didn’t sleep a wink. I promise you, it wasn’t nerves. I was calm and legitimately tired, but I couldn’t warm myself up. I listened to the river rush by all night, clawing at Jesse’s warmth, wondering what the next day would bring.

The alarm went off at 5 AM, though I was already awake. It was dark and the car was foggy. I pulled out my baggie of questionable muffins (“these are easy enough to make and bring to the start line!”, I thought, and proceeded to fail miserably at making them). I ate two. Jesse awoke and I awkwardly pulled on my running clothes in the front seat. We drove the .02 miles to the start line and I immediately stood in the porta potty line. I’ve gotten better about that.

I set my drop bag down on the confusing staging area (“Where is aid station 3/5, from the map?” “Um, not sure.” **thinks to self, “Isn’t this your f**king race?**). It was too early for this. I set it down, knowing I wouldn’t need anything from it, as it only had my old trail shoes in case mine got soaked, a roll of Oreos, and an extra jacket because why not? Sigh.

Jesse joined me and we chatted to some other runners while I ate half a bagel. It was cold, but not miserable. The race director started his briefing and of the approximately 50 runners, he asked who the newbies were. Me + 2 others. I felt even more unprepared. I kissed my love for good luck and took off at a snail’s pace down the trail.

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There were some dogs, some old people, some young. The typical gamut. I ran with a young guy, Kyle, for maybe 20 minutes. He was training for the Bigfoot 200. Of course he was. I ran with another girl (Colleen) for a few miles; it was her first 50M as well. She wasn’t super keen to chat with me, but I appreciated running near someone. I stopped for a photo of the sunrise and she continued without me.

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Eventually we started up hill #1 (Capitol Peak) and a man joined me from behind (Glen); he had started late. He gave me some advice (“Jog the flats, even if it’s only 10 yards. In a 5k, it won’t matter, but over this distance, it could save 15 minutes or more! Like this, you should be running!”). I needed to run my own race, so I politely let him pass, but I logged his advice away. Power hiking up the hill, I caught another woman (Kim) and commented that I was jealous that she had sunglasses. We chatted about various summer events – she was training for her umpteenth 100 miler. Of course she was. She ran into her friend, who was in some sort of pain, and she stopped to chat. I carried on up the hill.

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Aid station #1 came quickly at 5.5 miles. I enjoyed a few Oreos, some watermelon, and some Coke. I thanked the volunteers and continued hiking up to the radio towers on hill #2 (Larch Mtn). The view of Rainier against the sunrise was breathtaking. This is why we do it.

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I enjoyed some glorious downhill by myself here, and then traversed on some incredible singletrack before joining a logging road and ascending Larch Mountain.

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Here Kim caught up to me and we power hiked together. At the top of Larch Mtn, we were instructed to take an army man, to prove our ascent. We paused to enjoy the view, then took off running on the way down. We both professed our love of downhill running and picked up the pace.

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Kim & I maintained a decent distance behind another group of women (ultra runner princess Jill, Christy, Colleen, and the girl in pink). We were chatting up and down the logging roads, matching our pace, and enjoying the run. We reached the same aid station again (#2, the half marathon mark), dumped our army men, and took off through the forest, joining the woman’s group. Every now and then we’d hear gun shots from people target shooting. It was a little unnerving and eventually Christy explained that was why the race shirts were fluoro yellow – an inside “joke” about gun safety in the forest. Makes sense!

We all stayed together, for the most part, leapfrogging as we all took our turn off trail for bladder relief, kindly passing as we found our place in the pack on the varying hills or descents, chatting about everything and nothing all at once. The miles flew by. I was so happy.

A tiny downhill into aid station #3 (mile 17-ish) was a nice intro to the hill to come. I had a few chips, an orange slice, and an Oreo for the road. I refilled my front pocket bottle with Coke and we were off again through the forest. I was just behind Christy and saw the photographer on the side of the trail, clicking away. With no one behind me, I asked if he was ready and gave him my best jump! Classic race shot, both mouth and hand filled with Oreo, and we thanked each other. I’ll cherish that photo and that memory. See it here.

I ended up power hiking with Christy and Jill, talking running, up and up the hill, while the water ran down. Jill stopped for a break and eventually it flattened out enough to pick up the pace. I was out in front, on flowy singletrack with lush, vibrant ferns all around. Pretty soon Colleen and Kim are behind as well. Jill eventually caught up and asked to pass (“I want to be going faster”) and I pulled to the side. No one else joined her, so I took the lead again. This would be my position for the rest of the run (and I heeded Glen’s advice about running the flats. Maybe it helped).

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This section was 13 miles out to the far aid station and back again (making a full marathon). It featured views, dense forest, logging roads, clear cut, and, finally, the lead runner. Obviously hours ahead of us, we were impressed. But he didn’t look to be in good shape. He was in the lead by a good margin, but did not appear to be having a very good run. We came upon the “unmanned water station”, and we kept on keepin’ on. I would stop to take photos, and my pack stopped behind me. I offered to give up the pacing position and was assured I was doing a fine job. Christy, Colleen, Kim, & I were in it together at this point.

We started passing groups of runners on their way back and finally one girl said “It’s almost 1:30, you better hurry!”. Oblivious to what she meant, we confusingly chatted about the vague notion of a cutoff. We reached aid station #4 (mile 30) at 1:32 PM. The volunteer said the cut off was 1:30. Whoops! He looked us all intently in the face and asked how we felt. I shrugged and replied “Good…hungry”. I ate 1/4 of a PB&J, an orange slice, a few chips, and, you guessed it, a few Oreos (Colleen took off with half a picnic in her arms). He let us go, but only if we “hustled back”. No problem.

We ran for maybe 15 minutes and saw pink shirt girl sprinting down the hill in front of us and then she was gone. “Didn’t we pass her ages ago going the other way?” We all agreed she was either horribly lost or out of her mind. We never caught her.

We came across a woman who was clearly in the event, walking (with poles) and we stopped to consult with her. We told her the last aid station was still a few miles away and that the cutoff had come and gone. About 15 minutes later, we ran into a volunteer, asking about her. “She went thataway!!” I all but said. I felt bad for her (and him).

Here was where Kim & I parted ways with Christy and Colleen. It was unspoken, we just suddenly realized that they were no longer with us. We didn’t want to linger and decided to continue on, but I felt conflicted about leaving them behind. I reminded myself to run my own race.

The rain started and I got cold. I put on my headband and we re-entered the forest. We came upon a young couple who we saw just before the last aid station and they were asking about the distance left. We urged them not to drop out, but it seemed inevitable. We carried on.

We reached aid station #5 (mile 43) and huddled under the tent. I pulled out my ultralight jacket to help preserve the heat, as well as my gloves. They were out of Coke, so I took a swig of Mountain Dew, something I’d never tried before during a run. Screw it. They also had tiny pulled pork sandwiches and since it actually sounded appealing, I had a few bites. It was going to take too long to eat, so I tossed the rest, grabbed a few chips, and we took off again.

Reckless Kelly’s “Eight More Miles” was playing in my head (“I can’t decide, if 8 more miles, is the top of the world, or the end of line…”). Kim & I talked about anything and everything. It was mostly downhill and we ran it in. I started to hallucinate a little through this section (“Is that a man with a cowboy hat on?”) and had to really focus. “Ready for lap #2?” she asked, insinuating it was a 100 miler. “There’s no way! I could not…” I replied. “That’s because you know it’s only 50,” she said. I know she’s right. Eventually your body will do what you ask it to. It’s just up to you to mentally make it.

At mile 45 my GPS watch beeped – low battery. Shrug. We passed over beautiful bridges, ran next to raging mini waterfalls, sloshed through the mud, and at one point, it looked identical to my beloved Forest Park. I was amazed.

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At mile 49, my GPS watch beeped again – ‘saving activity’. It died. I laughed. The cutoff for the entire event was 13 hours and we were toeing that line, but my watch just couldn’t hold on. Nearing the end, I said “Kim, did you see the beautiful mugs for the category winners? Maybe they’ll have an extra one I can have for being in last place”. She humored me and replied “Maybe!”

“Kim, I see the finish line! OMG!” We sprinted. Kind of. Jesse was waiting sweetly with a chair as I doubled over, elated, out of breath, and exhausted. I hugged Kim and we laughed at the ridiculousness of having just run 50 miles for fun. The race director said “We have a mug for you!” and I was thrilled. I didn’t earn it for last place, though, apparently, I won my age category! “The other person dropped, didn’t they?” I asked. “Hey. A win’s a win” she told me. I’ll take it. Funny, because I’m the most proud of that mug. I wanted it so badly.

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I ripped off my pack and sat down. A volunteer handed me a package of Oreos and a cup of soup. And a La Croix (I took it, but where’s the freaking Coke!?). After about 15 minutes, Christy came sprinting in. Colleen had to DNF, but Christy booked it to the finish line. I was so happy for her!

In all honesty, it was the best I ever felt during a run. I was never sad or on the verge of tears. I never once thought I wasn’t going to make it. My legs were fatigued, no doubt, but my heart was happy. I enjoyed every.single.second. That is no lie. Because let’s be honest. The race is a culmination of my entire running career – it just happened to be the last 50 miles of hundreds of hours on the trails. Countless training days. Endless podcasts and music streams. Good days and bad. A DNF was never an option: I didn’t come this far to only come this far.

There. The gritty details of my 50 miler. Almost 6 weeks have passed and I have more on my docket, but that event is so, so special to me.

My incredibly large blister has healed:

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My little toe turned black (not just the nail, the entire toe) and is now back to normal, though the nail did come off.

I’m back to running, climbing, hiking, and all my normal activities. I was in an incredible amount of pain the following day and spent the day napping and watching videos of the late Ueli Steck.

In the 12 hours and 45 minutes that I was running, my incredibly supportive husband ate breakfast, took a nap, ran the 25k and rocked it, ate lunch, and volunteered at the finish line until I was back. I adore him.

“That’s amazing!” is the standard response to my 50 mile achievement, followed by “What’s next?”. Stay tuned!

Green Monster Duathlon – 3/4/17

Inaugural years for events can be hit or miss. As race directors work out the kinks in logistics, they can be the awesome event we’ve all been waiting for or it can fall flat and a few years have to go by before anyone is brave enough to return.

The Green Monster Duathlon was close to the former for it’s inaugural year in 2017. I happened upon this random event on Ultra Signup and immediately recruited Jesse and our good friend to join me. Jesse was keen to do the middle section, the mountain bike, and our friend took the final running leg, leaving me to start us off.

None of us had ever been to Green Mountain before – it’s west of Seattle, across the bay, just outside Bremerton, WA. We drove up the night before and stayed at a hotel, waking at 4:30 AM to make the rest of the drive to arrive by the suggested 6 AM time to ensure parking. We had the option to camp, but given that there was frost on the ground, I was incredibly grateful for the warm bed at the Hampton Inn (and the wi-fi, as we had a hilarious time sorting out the recommended mapping app).

When we arrived at Horse Camp, we were greeted by the race director and were told we could park just up the road from the starting area. This was ideal, as we could then hang out in the warm car until the sun came up. We had 2 hours to kill until the start time, so we meandered to the camp fire, socialized with the volunteers, and just generally relaxed, digesting our hurried and desperate McDonald’s breakfast.

At long last, the leg 1 runners were off. I was battling a horrible, awful cold and was running with what felt like only 25% of my lung capacity, coughing all the way. My leg was called “The Miserable Loop” – about 7.5 miles with 1,350 ft of climbing. I settled into the run, walking the hills when I couldn’t breathe, and making friends left and right.

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Everyone there, I gathered, were locals and most seemed to know the race director so it was interesting to hear about the history of the town and the trails (being some of the only out-of-towners, we were in somewhat of celebrity status up there). One girl I was running with was celebrating her 30th birthday that day and she was in the best of spirits. I enjoyed running with her all morning.

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At the aid station, we were told to continue up to the vista (might as well, we’d come this far, right?) and then rip a page from a book corresponding with our bib number, then head back to the starting line. The view was beautiful and I had a strange experience with a guy wanting to video my running shoes. I sure hoped he was part of the event!

My running buddy and I enjoyed the lovely downhill back to the starting line / transition point where Jesse was waiting on his bike to begin leg 2: “The Slaughterhouse Onslaught”. A quick kiss and he was off.

I was soaking wet and starting to shiver so I headed to the car to change my clothes. Afterward, I enjoyed fistfuls of Swedish Fish, oranges, and pretzels, washing it all down with my favorite trail running beverage: Coca Cola. Our friend and I sat by the camp fire…it was incredibly chilly on Green Mountain!

Eventually, Jesse came rolling in and our friend took off for leg 3: “The Fire Swamp”. Within minutes he was back, looking a little lost. This seemed common among the leg 3 runners; the course was marked in pink and orange ribbon…but so were the logging roads on the mountain! Not ideal.

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While our friend was out running, Jesse & I took in the spectacular burgers from the Grub Hut food cart that had rolled in. We, per usual, bogarted seats by the fire, devouring our well-earned lunch.

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After a little while, we headed down to the finish line to wait for our friend. It was raining and we stood under the tents, watching other team members finish and celebrate. Some badass athletes did the entire event solo and they were quite inspirational as well. One particular team, a couple also from Portland, got engaged right at the finish line! As he finished the last run, he knelt in the mud and proposed. Teary-eyed, she said yes! Unfortunately, I am in the background of nearly every photo of the moment (as seen on Facebook). Sorry, friends!

Our friend came in, looking strong. We returned to the firepit, food in hand, and hung out for the raffle. Many of the competitors left right after finishing, so the group had dwindled and our chances of winning were looking quite good!

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The raffle ended up being the best part of the race. It was laced with hilarious commentary and embarrassed multi-winners. Our friend won a massive jug of electrolyte powder (“add some water so it forms a paste and layer it on!”). The event had some inspiration from the Barkley Marathon, hence the books / tearing of the pages, and aptly named leg titles: “Misery” by Stephen King, “Slaughterhouse Five” by Kurt Vonnegut, and “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman. I, ever so fittingly, won a book signed by the race director and volunteers. I was thrilled!

My winning ticket was the last to be drawn so with book in hand, we piled in the car and headed for home.