For the first weekend of November, I decided to run my longest double of the year... a 50k on Saturday followed by a marathon on Sunday. The Autumn Leaves 50k (and 50 miler) is held on a 5-mile loop course at Champoeg State Park, just south of Portland, Oregon. I won't say that it is "easy" because running 31 miles is not an easy thing, but it provides perhaps the least challenging, mildest, and best supported ultra course in the Pacific Northwest. iUWR stands for "In Unity We Run", and it is a very small -and free- local marathon held every year on the same day as the New York Marathon. The course is essentially flat. Consequently, even though this was my longest double, it did not turn out to be my hardest double of the year.
I almost didn't get to do it. If you've been reading my reports all year, you may remember my little dog eating his 6' leash back in February. I skipped both races that weekend, and luckily he was able to... uh... resolve this without needing surgery. The same dog got incredibly sick on the Thursday before this weekend. He had to stay at the animal hospital, and I wasn't sure I'd go to Oregon. By Friday night, they still had not figured out what was wrong with him, but they didn't think it would involve surgery. Since they wanted to keep him under observation anyway, I decided to run the next morning.
I've only run one 50k. Back in March, I ran the Chuckanut 50k. It was a very technical course and the crummy weather made for a brutal day. I knew Autumn Leaves would be an easier experience, but I wasn't sure how much easier. The answer: lots - several orders of magnitude easier. If you are ever looking for a PR 50k or 50 mile course, this is it. After a quick out-and-back mile to make the distance right (well, sort of... I'll come back to this), the course started into a 5-mile loop. For the 50k, runners did the loop six times. I have to admit that by the 4th loop, I was kind of zombied out by the sheer repetition. However, it *was* a very pretty loop. About 3 1/2 miles were wide, paved bike trail. The last 1 1/2 mile were unpaved trail, but the trail was wide and because it was dry, the trail was easy. The loop was somewhat roly poly, especially the unpaved section, but much of it was flat. There were two aid stations, one of which runners passed twice during each loop. So, 3 chances for aid and potties every 5 miles. Times 6 loops. And the aid stations were well-stocked in that ultra way: junk food, coke, and regular aid station stuff. Pampering!
Race morning started cold - 35 degrees. However, there was no wind, and once the sun was up, it was bright blue skies. The only issue was fog. This made for a slightly interesting first loop navigation-wise, but it also made for some gorgeous views. When the fog disappeared and it warmed up slightly, the weather was perfect. My goal for the race was simply to put in a bunch of good miles and to try to run the full 31 (allowing for a couple junk food stops and potty).
The 50k and 50-miler started at the same time, but they had also offered a two hour early start. Coupled with the fact that we were all running multiple loops, I was never alone. It was nice being able to check in with folks as the day progressed. At first, it was a little weird not being able to tell who was in what race and where they were regarding loops... but after awhile, it became a really fun mental distraction trying to figure this out. About two hours into the race, a 10k was held. They only ran one loop, and this was the only time that the course got busy. It was most interesting to see the two aid stations go into "race mode". For the 10k, the volunteers stationed themselves next to the path with lots of cups to give to the speedsters. For the rest of the day, they sat by the fire while the ultra-types helped ourselves.
Aside from recurring bathroom issues... and this was a good course for a person having those issues... my day went fairly well. I kept good information on my watch regarding my splits for each lap, but I unfortunately deleted it all before I wrote it down. I recall that all my loops were fairly consistent between 47 minutes and 52 minutes, and some of the deviation was caused by various lingering aid/potty stops. I slowed a bit on the 5th loop and a bit more on the 6th loop, but I finished the day strong. I had a great time. I didn't "race", and unless I was seriously determined to run with the pack of front-runners, I don't know how I would have raced it anyway, what with people starting at different times.
I finished at 5:08. After the first loop, I knew that if I kept my pace steady and ran the whole 31, I'd finish somewhere around 5. Close enough... I did slow a little in my last loop. Now, one would think that this would be my 50k PR. It was certainly faster than Chuckanut and it was only my second 50k, so PR. Right? Nope. A couple days later, the race director emailed everyone to tell us the course distance: 30.4 miles. Fooey. If it had been long, I'd count it as a PR. But not short, and it was a little short. Oh well. I don't feel "rooked". It was a low-key run and it was still longer than 26.2. I'm fine with it; it was fun. Just not a PR.
Driving back from Portland, I noticed an exit for "Toledo Vader Road". Toledo Vader? Ah, Darth's little brother. Pool hustler.
Dude owes me money.
And that brings us to Sunday. iUWR (In Unity We Run) used to be called UWR (United We Run), but that name is apparently trademarked and so the run got renamed. Barely :-). Each year, this very low-key affair is held the same morning as the New York Marathon. Using the Green River Trail, runners go from Renton up to Alki Beach in West Seattle. For a free race, it is organized very well: aid stations every 3-4 miles, a marked course, and timing. It does not, however, have mile markers. I've gotten better at knowing my own pace, but I still like to have mile markers to check against. Also, although the course is well marked with spray paint and some cardboard signs, it does make a few tricky turns and it is possible to get lost.
Last year, I ran this race. It was my second marathon after my extended cancer-related layoff. I got lost twice and struggled to the end at 4:17. It was a slow day, but it was still almost 15 minutes faster than the first post-layoff race I had run two weeks prior. Fast forward one year and almost 60 races later. I was in much better shape. I decided to try run as evenly as possible, and I wanted to beat 4. Beating 4 on the back-end of a double feels good, and it would be extra nice to do it after a 50k and on a course with no mile markers to guide me. I'd need to run by feel. And not get lost.
The weather race morning was interesting. It started out crisp and overcast. About five minutes into the race, it started drizzling. By the 30 minute mark, it was raining steadily. This lasted for the first 2 1/2 hours. It wasn't as miserable as it could have been, mostly because it didn't start raining until AFTER we were running and I was already warmed up. Plus it wasn't supremely cold... just kinda chilly... and the wind wasn't strong. The rain fogged up my glasses, though, and I couldn't see much for a very long time. I was blind in the picture at the top of this page... that was about the 10 mile mark.
In that picture, you see a woman running just in front of me. I ran with her for the first half, and then she pulled away slightly and acted as my rabbit for the second half. I was calling her "cool tattoo chick" during the race. This is funny because I've used this identifier before. When I ran my PR at the San Juan Island Marathon, I acted as a rabbit for another person I called "cool tattoo chick" until she caught me towards the end. That cool tattoo chick tried to turn the wrong way at M25.8, and I got her back on track... and she came in 3rd female overall. And I PRed. It was a good day for both of us.
Guess what? It didn't click until the next day, but this iUWR cool tattoo chick was the SAME cool tattoo chick. Her name is Anntoinette, and I didn't recognize her because she changed her hair. And she didn't recognize me because, well, I'm not that memorable. Heh.
Anyway. The course was better marked this year, and I had run it once before, so I never got lost nor really felt like I might be getting off course. And I kept Anntoinette in sight the whole day.
I felt like I was keeping a pretty consistent pace for the entire race. I stopped briefly at a couple aid stations to fill my bottle and chat with a friend. At each aid station, I'd ask where I was mile-wise, but the answers were always "somewhere around
The final stretch around Alki was very long... probably 2 to 3 miles. It kept going and going. At the very end, I could see Anntoinette pass someone who had been far in front of us earlier in the day. I didn't catch the person before the finish, but that's alright. Final verdict? 3:53. Huh. Well, I beat four. I felt good, though a little chilly. None of my friends were at the finish. I gave Anntoinette a meek little smile and decided to leave - a large group of protesters was setting up near my car for a very big day protesting stuff. I wanted to get out before the traffic got really awful. I later found out that all my friends were in the restaurant across the street. Whoops. Oh well. I'll see them again.
Next up: The Richmond/Harrisburg double. As it has already happened, I just say for the record that I skipped the Richmond race. I was deathly ill. I recovered enough to run Harrisburg, though, and I'll write that up RealSoonNow. Perhaps "deathly" is a bit of an overstatement.
As of iUWR, I'm at 54 for the year. Looks like 69 or 70 is out of reach, but let's see what I *CAN* do.
As for my dog, it turns out he had a digestive system full of giardia. Yuck!