One of the nice things about living in the Pacific Northwest is our system of interconnecting trails. Up in the mountains, down in the city, and all points in between... we have trails, tons of trails. Everything from hardcore single track to wide, easy asphault bike path. Many of these trails were formerly railroad tracks, and some of the trails are quite long. One, the John Wayne Trail (also known as the Iron Horse Trail) is hundreds of miles, cutting all the way across Washington State and into Idaho.
The 20th Century 100k utilizes a small portion of the Iron Horse Trail as part of a point-to-point course starting at the obscure location of Easton, Washington down to North Bend. Here, the course turns onto another rail-to-trails conversion called the Snoqualmie Valley Trail and finishes up in Carnation: the original home of contented cows. 62 miles of mountain views, trees, waterfalls (including Snoqualmie Falls), high trestles, a golf course, and even a tunnel.
Now, I have no desire to run 62 miles. Lucky for me, the race organizers offer a 50k too, which they call the WIMP. I don't mind being wimpy. The WIMP starts at the halfway point of the big race... and for logistical reasons, it starts at noon - 5 hours after the big race starts.
This year, snow still covered part of the trail and the tunnel in the higher elevations of the 100k course, so that race got changed to something more like an out-and-back. The WIMP, however, stayed the same.
Rail-to-trails conversations retain the original railroad grades. Trains can't negotiate steep inclines and declines, so most of these trails never have ups or downs more than 2%. Unfortunately, the tradeoff is that the gentle ups and downs can be ridiculously long. Miles and miles long. This is certainly true about the 20th Century course.
It just so happens that the 50k WIMP involved a lot of gentle downhill. Most of it was down or flat. No up, except for a parking lot at Snoqualmie Falls. Hmmm. Sounds fast, huh?
Maybe for you. I am not a fast runner, especially on unpaved surfaces. And like most trail ultras, the WIMP would not have mile markers. It's hard for me to pace a course without markers. Actually, I'm stretching the truth a bit. The first 8ish miles on the Iron Horse Trail had really interesting mile markers. Whoever set up the rail-to-trail conversion decided to keep all the mile markers indicating how far one was from Chicago. That's where the train used to go. So it was easy to pace this section. The last 23 miles on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail had no such markers. The race orgainzers did mark each 10k. That was nice.
Nevertheless, the course was a downhill course, so I decided that my goal would be "beat 5". The closest I've ever come to 5 hours in a 50k was my 5:08 at last November's Autumn Leaves 50k. And that course was about half a mile short :-).
Given that the race started at noon on the last day of May, I suppose it could have been possible for the weather to be sweltering. But aside from a single day two weeks before (the 95 degree day I ran 51 miles in 12 hours at WP12), we've had a really cold spring here. As we got ready to start the WIMP, the weather was good for running. 50 degrees, overcast, not much wind.
As we waited at the start line, a few 100k folks came through. Not many, though. The WIMP was a small race as well, and as we got underway, I was running by myself almost immediately.
The first aid station was at 7.9 miles. Most of the aid stations would be 4-8 miles apart, which is fairly generous for an ultra. All were well-stocked with typical ultra junk. I carried a bottle full of good stuff (Perpetuem) for the whole race. But I lost my brain at each aid station. Coke! Oreos! M&Ms! Just what a focused runner needs.
I had gone out fairly fast. I knew exactly how many people were ahead of me, and into the first aid station, I was in third place. Really. Two people were ahead of me.
This didn't last. For one, I had to linger at this aid station because it had a nice potty. For two, Van Phan was just getting warmed up. She had been behind me. She left the first aid station ahead of me... and that's all I'd see of Van for the day. She finished a full half hour in front of me. Go Van. A few other people went by me as I lingered. Oh well.
At this first aid station, we said goodbye to the Iron Horse Trail. Hello Snoqualmie Valley Trail. The SVT offered better footing, but the views weren't quite as wonderful. Still cool. SVT also brought some rain. Blah.
Onward. 4 miles later, and aid station #2 in the town of North Bend. I passed a couple people heading into this aid station. I wasn't racing, so I didn't much care, but it was something to mull over in my mind.
The SVT cuts through the Mt Si Golf Course, which is sort of a bizarre experience if you aren't expecting it. As I stumbled into the golf course, I realized that I had run this section of trail in other races, including the Mt Si 50 Miler that almost killed me last year. Aid station #3 and the halfway point of the WIMP (3/4ths for the 100k) was at the far end of the golf course. I chatted with the volunteers, ate more junk, and headed out.
This section was wonky. Apparently, some of the SVT had washed out, and so the course was routed through the town of Snoqualmie. To find our way, the organizers marked the roads with flour and little signs stating "LOST DOGS". Hee. I hate getting lost, and I was pretty paranoid that this would happen. It didn't. I found my way... slowly... though the town and the neat railroad museum/tracks, over to the parking lot of the Salish Lodge and Snoqualmie Falls.
It was raining pretty hard and my legs were unhappy with me. I had raced in serious heat on both of the previous two weekends. It was obvious that I hadn't recovered yet. I tried to do some math in my head to see how I was doing on my "beat 5" goal. I seemed to be on track, but I wasn't really sure. It was clear that I was NOT way ahead of 5.
At Snoqualmie Falls, runners had to navigate various parking lots and a steep uphill to find a nondescript single track trail (remember, LOST DOGS) disappearing into the woods. I am terrible on technical trail, but this offered a nice diversion from the rest of the course. Somewhere during the single track, I caught up to a 100k runner. He was really tired. We spent the rest of the race leapfrogging.
The single track only lasted a few miles, and then we were dumped back out onto the SVT.
Aid station #4 finally appeared around M23. This would be the last aid station. I lingered. More junk. An entire can of coke. Off I went, still leapfrogging my 100k buddy.
I knew that we had about 8 miles left, but I had absolutely no idea how fast I was running, nor how close to the end I was at any point after the aid station. The miles went on forever. Luckily, the rain let up.
Finally, the course cut under the highway that I knew led to the park where the finish line was located.
"Cut under the highway". Yeah. The highway bridge was about 4 1/2 feet above the trail. Then the course followed a road for bit. A long bit.
Finally, a little LOST DOGS sign pointed into some high grass. There was a single track trail hidden in here. I still had no idea where I was, but I decided to sprint. Occasionally, I could see through the grass, and I realized I was running along a river.
Pretty soon, there was a suspension bridge. Up and over... and... FINISH.
The time? 5:00:42. DOH!!!
I managed a 4th place finish, 3rd guy. As I wrote above, Van managed to blow by me early on and gain 30 minutes. The next day, she'd run the San Juan Island Marathon (where I PRed last year). I slept in :-).
So, I did not make my goal. I did set a 50k PR. I could have beaten 5. A little less lingering at the aid stations would have done it. Plus, now I know the course... if I do it again, I'll have a better feel for where I am at any given time. I don't think those last miles would feel like a death march next time.
I definitely had fun, but man, my legs were tight. Not sure when I'll do this race again, but I will. It's the same weekend as several other wonderful races. It has some great advantages though: it's local, it's cheap, and the course is beautiful.
Next up: already happened. The North Olympic Discovery Marathon, better known as "NODM". It would turn out to be an absolutely horrible day, though not for the reasons you might guess. More on that soon!