Mt Si is a little mountain near Seattle. If you watched the weird show Twin Peaks, you saw Mt Si. This 50 Mile ultra (and the accompanying 50k and 57 mile relay race) is not held on the mountain itself... you actually run a couple out-and-backs on rails-to-trails paths nearby. But the mountain is always there watching you. In my case it watched me sternly. For a very long time.
I have run 34 miles previously, several times. It always worked like this: run a marathon, rest, go back out onto the course, and run in with friends. That's been awhile. The most I've run recently was Chuckanut, a 50k I did last month, but that included a whole lot of walking up monster inclines, falling into ferns, and losing my shoe in mud. On the other hand, it also kept me on my feet for almost 7 hours, and that seemed like good training for a 50 miler. I also recently completed a "double" - a marathon on Saturday and another on Sunday. I felt great after those.
I was still a little worried, though, at 5:30a as we all got ready to head out. I certainly haven't done anything quite like a 50 miler. And, as I learned later from the accomplished ultra runners, it turns out that Mt. Si is deceptively hard because all 50 miles are "runnable". There are no climbs-that-must-be-walked. 50 miles. Of running.
As I mentioned, the course is a rails-to-trails deal. These are always good news/bad news propositions. The good news is that a rails-to-trails trail will always be wide and generally have a nice, even running surface. Not at all technical. And these trails will never have steep ups or downs because trains don't like steep hills. The bad news is that the gentle elevation gains and losses can really add up. A gentle hill might go on and on and on for 3, 6, maybe 10 miles.
Essentially, the 50 miler is a 19 mile out-and-back along a section of the Snoqualmie Valley Trail (SVT). There's a bit of road running at first (and therefore after) before dumping out onto the trail. The road contains a significant-but-brief hill. After this first out-and-back, the course utilizes a different section of the SVT as well as a short piece of the Iron Horse Trail in order to create a 31 mile out-and-back. This is basically the 50k course... and yes, it was weird running 19 miles and then thinking "ok, let's do a 50k now." There's also a 57 mile relay that has a couple different starting times and utilizes slightly different trails in sections. This means that all day long, runners whiz by you and exit/enter your path at odd times.
Did I mention that I was a little worried about running 50 miles? I was. I knew the trail was "easy" as ultras go, but I didn't really factor in the whole "it's runnable the whole way" impact. I was hoping to beat 9 hours, with a secret goal of 8:30.
The course starts and finishes at an elementary school. I got there in time to use the little boy-sized potty, talk to friends, and realize that I was getting kind of freaked out. I put together a couple drop bags (one for M14, the other for M29). My drop bags? Two white trash bags with some perpetuem powder and kleenex. Which, btw, was an awesome last minute addition. Other drop "bags" included rubbermaid bins of various sizes, backpacks, and all kinds of cool stuff. I felt like Axel Foley checking in at the Beverly Palms with his sad little bag.
At 5:59a, right before the "go", one of my ultrarunner friends made fun of me for holding my watch so I could press it right at the "go". Yeah, I don't want to be a second off during a 50 mile run. Heh.
6a. Off we went. No bands. No spectators. Not a lot of runners. Not quite dawn yet. It was pretty cool. I went out too fast... which I knew I would do... and I tried to settle down by talking to people around me. Several other people were doing their first 50; most were not. I ran for awhile with a lady who taught me about the Canadian Death Race. Nice name.
The aid stations were anywhere from 4 to 7 miles apart and seemed to offer typical ultra fare. Which is to say, junk food, fruit, and potatoes. The potatoes (grab a hunk with your hands!) kind of weirded me out, but everyone swore by them. I went with pepsi and sugar wafers.
We hit the turnaround around M9.5ish, and that's when I knew I was in trouble. Stomach pains. I ignored them for a little while. I kind of remembered some portapotties back at the road, M19ish?, so I played mindgames trying to think of anything except for the incredible urge to... well... you know. Well, let me say this. "Stomach pains" is entirely inaccurate. That would imply a need to puke, which I did not have. YET. No, this was that other thing. The thing that a bear does in the woods.
At M14, we hit the aid station with the drop bags. I asked Aid Station Guy if there were indeed potties at M19ish. He said no. I fished out kleenex from my drop bag :-). I also learned that the glory of drop bags isn't always about what you can get from them; it can also be about what you leave behind. The day had warmed up and it wasn't raining, so I ditched my coat. And I was off.
Remember my bit about rails-to-trails being good news/bad news? I learned another piece of the bad news. This particular railroad had been cut into the side of a hill. This meant that there was an embankment on one side and a big dropoff on the other. Not a lot of options for potty privacy. So I ran. I ran so far away. I was 100% sure that there were portpotties back on the road, so I went back to the mindgames. I talked to my friend Arthur (who would wind up finishing almost an hour in front of me... that tells you how much too fast I started). Around M17, like the holy grail beacon shining down at Sir Galahad, there it was. Another trail! Into the woods! I bid Arthur adieu and took a side trip into the unknown.
Skipping forward a bit.
I felt better, but unfortunately not that much better. And guess what was about another mile away? Right. The road. And the portapotties. HA. Oh well.
More SVT... and finally we cut over onto the Iron Horse Trail. Now, it was clear that Iron Horse had also been a railroad, but the up grade on this part was a bit steeper. Out and out we ran. I ran a little bit with my Maniac friend Linda. I chatted with MM Hippo. I ran with Canadian Death Race Lady. I played leapfrog with another Maniac, Barb. I ran by myself. The fast folks, the early start folks, and all the 50kers were coming back the other direction. This was M30-33ish, and I was really starting to hurt. Not coincidentally, this matches up to my longest runs ever. My stomach hurt. The other part of my digestion hurt. My head hurt. My legs? Petrified. The worst was (were?) the balls of my feet. Oh my. It hurts just thinking about it six days later.
Sam Thompson, the guy who beat Dean K to 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days, went screaming by in the other direction and shouted loudly for me. That was... weird... but it was very nice too.
Onward. Right before the aid station turnaround at M34ish, there was a significant hill that kind of stunned me. I was not expecting this at all in my little rails-to-trails adventure. It was down to the aid station. And then it was back up. I walked this section... maybe a quarter mile. From here allll the way back to the finish, it would be a nice gentle downhill or flat. On normal days, this would have been ok. But I am still a poor downhill runner, and at M35, I was a molasses runner anyway. But I ran.
The rain started. Not hard, but definitely annoying. I kept hearing airplanes that my brain processed as thunder. Actually, my brain processed them as "OH HELL! THUNDER!" But no. Jus' planes, bruddah. Jus' planes.
Around M40, I ran through the first of two crowded relay exchange points. Relayers were headed both directions from here. And wouldn't you know it... gal-with-ipod took the handoff and sprinted right at me while looking at the ground. "Look up! Look up!" She didn't hear. So the man with the molasses legs pulled a matador move on her. Not that she ever noticed. The good news was that the rain stopped around this part.
I swallowed a bug somewhere around M43. It made me cough. Coughing made me puke a little. Puking a little made me want to puke a lot. I didn't. But it was here that I realized that my stomach felt weird. I was pretty sure that I wasn't truly digesting those sugar wafers, bananas, cookies, pepsi, and perpetuem. It was all right there.
M46.5, I hit another relay station and the last aid. Every part of me hurt.
M47. 48. 49... we had to walk down steps off the trail... OUCH... back through town. M50.
Robert Lopez, Seattle Washington. 9:20:51.
I missed both goals, but I did finish my 50 miler. Factoring out 20 minutes of aid station and potty action, and factoring out about 15 minutes of walking... I ran for about 8 hours and 45 minutes. I ran for probably 48.8ish miles. Slowly.
I can't think of anything I've done solidly for 9:20. Not one thing. I certainly haven't been on my feet that long without sitting down.
Six days have passed. I waited this long to write up this race because I wanted to think about it long and hard. There's something still funky about my digestion and/or my kidneys. Not enough that I think I should go to the doctor... but certainly enough to tell me that recovering from a 50 miler is not exactly like a marathon. Not that it should be.
I didn't really have a lot of fun. I'm supposed to do another 50 miler in August. I may switch to the 50k. Ask me again in a month.
Next up: Tomorrow's Eugene Marathon. Gonna be a slow one. I'll see you there.
BTW, if it matters, I do not think Mt Si is the hardest race I've ever done. I felt like crap for most of it, but I never seriously considered stopping. The hardest race remains the Leadville Marathon.