The 40-Miler

I have no intention, no desire, no dream at all to run anything more than a 50K. But, if other people have that goal, I will support them. I will never understand them, but as a runner, I sort of get it.

Bryce trained throughout the spring into July for his first 40-mile race. This would be his longest distance after completing a few “lesser” ultra distances. The race was around Mt. St. Helens in mid-July. I went with him but wasn’t sure how I was really going to spectate since I couldn’t run.

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I ended up just watching him start and finish the race. The hours in between? I drove an hour-and-a-half to Portland (and back) to meet up with my cousin who lives in Salem. We did a lot of walking and market-hopping and eating. It was time well spent because even though Salem is “a short-ish drive away” from Seattle, I hardly see her.

I wanted to make sure I timed my return right so that I would be back at the race to see Bryce finish. He anticipated he would be done in about eight hours. When I arrived back to the race, slightly over the eight-hour mark, I was worried that maybe he was already done.

Nope, only two runners had finished thus far.

I sat around waiting with other friends and family who were waiting for their own runners to finish. Finally one man came sprinting — yes, sprinting! — through the finish. He was yelling a woman’s name. I assumed he was calling for his wife or girlfriend. No, he was looking for the race director.

Apparently there was a runner down who was not doing so well. (I overheard someone say the race number and was relieved that it was not Bryce).

And, it was the same scene when runner after runner finished. They all gave an update on the fallen runner. Someone said he had checked the runner’s pulse. Someone else estimated how far away on the course he was. He was coherent but probably dehydrated and needed help. It was touching to see how all these people who freaking just ran 40 miles were all concerned about this other runner. Before they even went to get a drink or sit down or anything, they were all talking to the race director and updating her.

Trail runners are a good people.

A few runners even stayed with the runner, I later learned.

It started getting cooler — after being in the high 80s all day — and I had no idea how long I’d be waiting for Bryce. But when he did show up, I couldn’t have been prouder or happier.

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He looked strong. He was smiling. He did it! The first thing he said to me was an apology for being late. Usually I’m annoyed when he is late for things, but not this time.

He was on time in my book. He finished in one piece!

I’ve always felt that road races are my bread and butter. But, the more time spent at trail races — even if I’m not running — and the longer I’m injured, the more I think maybe I’ll totally convert to trail running when I’m healed.

Trails are easier on the knees, after all. But, enough about me.

Huge congrats, Bryce. What’s the next race?

 

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Chuckanut 50K: My first ultra

IMG_5113It’s been six days, but it feels like the race was weeks ago.

I was pretty nervous and anxious going into the race. Bryce was also racing the Chuckanut 50K so he was there to keep me cool, calm and (sort of) collected. I was overwhelmed by support and words of encouragement from family and friends who texted and tweeted me the night before race day — and even up until when I was literally standing at the start line. Since I was running with my hydration pack, I was able to see those up-to-the minute well wishes.

I felt the love. I felt ready for my first ultra marathon.

The beginning

This race, which starts in Bellingham, draws about 300 runners. Bryce and I settled in the back since we didn’t want to get tripped up in the front and we didn’t care to start out fast. The course really funnels into a narrow trail at the beginning so we were going slower than I would have liked (10 minute pace) but I knew that the 6 miles of pretty-much-flat into the “Chuckanut mountain area” was my time to just take it easy before the steep climbs ahead.

I ran into another Oiselle teammate, Elisa, about two miles into the race. We didn’t know each other prior to the race but it was nice to meet another teammate who was also doing her first 50K race! We continued along at an easy conversational pace and passed the first aid station at mile 6.3 without stopping.

The beginning switchbacks weren’t too bad for me since Bryce and I had practiced (most of) the course. I separated from Elisa and up and up I went. (She would later find me at the halfway point looking very energetic and strong and continuing on!) By the second aid station at mile 10.5, I stopped and took some electrolyte drink (I only carry water with me because I like plain water with my gels) and some pretzels. I knew that up next was the gradual, and very long climb up the forest service road. While this section of the course seemed to take “forever” when I practiced it, it wasn’t so bad race day. Since it was still early on in the race, there were a ton of other runners around me. Several seasoned ultra runners started chatting with me. We, of course, talked about running. We walked when it would get super steep and run when it leveled out a bit. I was happy to know I was among other motivated, fun and friendly people!

By the third aid station at mile 13.4, I knew that the ridge run was next. The Chuckanut Ridge was the hardest part for me when practicing because it’s pretty technical terrain with lots of rocks, roots, etc. A few times throughout this part, I voluntarily let runners behind me pass by. I wanted to go at my own pace without feeling rushed. I didn’t want to trip and fall. It was good to see Elisa again, looking strong. I, on the other hand, was feeling, uh, uncomfortable — because I had to pee.

The middle

I just felt like there was no good non-open area to pop a squat on this part of the course. I carefully continued on the trail. The ridge was also easier than I remembered from before. I think it had to do with the good trail conditions. It hadn’t rained the several days before, so there was hardly any mud and the rocks were also dry. I was able to traverse this part quicker than when I practiced!

Finally around mile 16 I was not only uncomfortably running because I had to pee, I also started getting a very painful sideache. I hardly ever get sideaches so I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew I would probably feel better after relieving myself. I was off the ridge now and another runner caught up to me. I asked him if anyone else was nearby. “In front of us or behind us?” he asked me, looking confused. “Oh, behind us. I have to pee but this is kind of an open area.”

“I’m not sure,” he responded. We continued running on, with me right behind him.

After running for less than five minutes together he says, “That looks like a good spot,” while pointing to a log with a lot of brush surrounding it.

“Ah, yes, good call,” I replied. “Thank you!”

The silly thing of it all is that if this man hadn’t suggested a location for me to pee, I’m not sure I would have gone. I mean, I would’ve had to have gone eventually on the trail, but I probably would have waited it out until I found a completely “secure” place. None the less, I took care of business and no one saw me.

Onward I went. I felt like a new person! No side cramp! I was ready to rock and roll!

I only felt this way for a short while. I was faced with another steep climb and began walking. Even when I walked, I made sure to always go at a steady pace and that no one else passed me while walking. (They didn’t).

I really would like to give the play-by-play for the rest of the race but it’s all starting to blur together. Plus, I’m probably boring you by now. Here’s the rest that I recall.

I was very thankful for the supporters who created their own aid station for us around/just before mile 20. It was at the bottom of the last “big climb.” A volunteer asked me if I needed anything and when I said I wasn’t sure, he helped me take off my pack and checked the bladder of my hydration pack. “I’ll give you a little more so you make it up the hill!” he said. He poured in more water and helped me put my pack back on. I took a shot of cola and continued into the unknown.

You see, this was the only part of the entire 31 miles that Bryce and I didn’t practice. We didn’t do it on purpose. We couldn’t find the trail to this part because it’s one of those side trails that is pretty hidden. When we realized we had missed the turn, it was too late to go back because it would have gotten dark on us. (We started the practice run in the afternoon in February). Anyway, once I started climbing up — walking the entire way — I sort of laughed because we had skipped the hardest part of the race. Welcome to Chinscraper!  I guess it got its name from people, uh, scrapping their chins from falling? It took me about 15-20 minutes to make it the whole way up. It was only about a mile, but also about 700 feet up. After the race, Bryce told me that as soon as he started this part, he thought: Kristin is not going to be happy with this. (He was correct).

The struggle

When I arrived at the second-to-last aid station at mile 20.5, I wanted to just stop and hang out with the volunteers. I took more time than I had at any of the other stations. My main reason was because I didn’t want to continue along the course alone and the other runners who were stopping were not in any rush. It wasn’t that I was afraid I would get lost. We were on the downhill of the course now, basically going back part of the way we came! But, my body was hurting. Every step I took, I could feel a blister forming on each foot. Any company, even if it was just for a little while, I needed.

I was hurting but my spirits weren’t too low. When I returned to the switch-backs, now going down, I “let my body fall” and flew down the mountain. I passed several runners going down. Hikers stood to the side to let me go by, cheering all the while. I felt good. I had a nice endorphin kick, maybe. My splits were faster.

However, that on-top-of-the-world feeling ended once I returned to the Interurban Trail, you know, for that last six miles back into town. Being on a flat concrete trail was doing nothing positive for my mind or body. When you can’t see the end, and the trail looks like it goes on and on, you don’t feel very good. This is where I felt like every runner passed me. Also, my Garmin died so that made matters even worse. I knew going into this race that there was a good possibility that my battery wouldn’t last because I have the most basic of GPS watches. I didn’t want to invest in a brand new expensive one since I wasn’t sure if the ultra distance is something I will continue with in the future.

With about five miles left of the race, I had no sense of time. This was the lowest point for me. I brought my iPod shuffle along and decided to listen to some music. Taking off and on my pack to get my iPod was a struggle in itself. When I swung my left arm, I tweaked it and had an excruciating pain in my upper arm. Thankfully, the pain only lasted for about 10 minutes and disappeared.

If anything could help me now, maybe Beyonce or Taylor Swift would.

I trudged along. I knew I would finish. But, I was hurting — a ton. I started to question my reasoning behind wanting to do this race.

But, I thought about Natalie, my main motivator for running marathons. I thought about my friends and family. I thought about my teammates.

As other runners passed me, it wasn’t the same friendly atmosphere like it was at the beginning of the race. No one said anything to me now. No one wanted to chat. Any onlooker probably thought we looked like zombies heading south for the spring. (Although, we were heading north, I’m pretty sure).

Finally with about two miles to go, we got a few nice little hills. I jogged up them and went by a few racers who decided to walk up. I knew that if I started walking this close to the finish, I would want to walk the rest of the way back. Among the folks I passed were a few young guys.

“Nice job!” one of them yelled as I continued on.

I caught up to another woman who looked to be about my age. We approached the last hill of the race together and started to walk. (This was one of those ones that was too long to jog up at this point).

“Did that volunteer say we have three miles to go?” I asked her.

She replied that it was two miles.

I was relieved. Two miles I can do, I told myself.

Once we got to the top of that little hill, this woman and I continued to run together, side by side. We slowly started passing a few other people. I don’t think we were going that fast, but we had definitely picked up the pace from the speed I was doing by myself the few miles prior.

We chatted a little bit; where we are from, our next races, that sort of thing.

“Thank you so much for running with me,” she said while we were not more than a mile out from the finish.

“Oh, thank you for running with me!” I replied. “If we weren’t together right now. I would be wayyy back there.”

With about 400-600 meters from the finish line, I kicked in everything I had left. Back when I was a zombie when my Garmin died, I didn’t expect to be able to have a kick at the end. But, somehow there’s always a little left in the tank, right?

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Once I came out of the trail, there were spectators along the road cheering. I saw Bryce and smiled and sprinted to the finish. (Thank you, race organizers for that slight downhill finish. It was a Godsend!) I heard my name announced as I crossed the line.

I did it. I was done. I finished in one piece without any falls, cuts or major breakdowns.

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I thought I would cry when I finished, but I didn’t. I was in too much pain. Walking was just as painful now that I was done.

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Photo courtesy of Elisa, on right

I found Elisa and congratulated her, we snapped a photo together, and then Bryce and I headed back to our hotel. I was too tired to stick around. My entire face was covered in salt. I needed a shower ASAP! When I took off my shoes and socks, not only did a lot of dirt and pine needles fall out, even a few small rocks!

That night I still was kind of in shock that I did it.

But, if you set your mind to something, you can do anything.

I texted my mom and told her I didn’t die and that I completed my first 50K! The week prior, she had lovingly told me I was going to die. If that’s not tough love, I don’t know what is.

2016 racing has officially begun. Ultra marathon: check!

Night before my first ultra: thoughts, many thoughts

There are now less than 12 hours before the Chuckanut 50K — my first ultra.

I have a lot of thoughts rolling through my head.

Will I finish? is a big one. Deep down I know I will finish, but whenever you embark on doing something you have never ever done before in your entire life, doubts start to creep in.

It also doesn’t help that my mom told me I wouldn’t make it to the finish. Her exact words, “You’re going to die!” (Sometimes it’s kind of hard having an Asian mom …)

I know it’s going to be painful. I know it will be rough at times. I’ve practiced the course (twice) so I know what to expect. But, this means I also know that I can do it. (Because I already have!)

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So, what exactly am I nervous about?

Having to go to the bathroom, perhaps. I am first and foremost a road runner. I’m used to have portapotties on the course for road marathons. I’ve had to use them mid-race on a few occasions.

And, it’s not like I’ve never peed in the woods. I’ve hiked and backpacked (once) and gone on trail runs before. But, it’s never been with a lot of other people around! This race is expected to have ~300 runners … what if someone sees me??

When I brought this fear up with Bryce, his advise to me was to just step off the trail “and go.” He says no one will care because they will just be running by and focusing on themselves. (I feel like it’s easier said coming from a guy!)

Anyway …

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Don’t get me wrong, I am excited for the race! I’m looking forward to doing what I love in one of the most beautiful places in the entire world! I’m ready to do something I have never done before. I’m thankful to have Bryce there too, he may be running the race ahead of me but it’ll be nice to know that he is also out there with me. I’ll be thinking of my Oiselle teammates who have wished me well on my race. I’ll be thinking about my friends and family who have been so supportive throughout this training cycle — yes, even my mom! (Her telling me I will be headed toward my demise is her special way of saying I can do it!)

I’ll be doing a lot of thinking out there on the trails tomorrow.

I’m nervous. I’m excited.

But, it’s time to take my own advise* and just run!

 

*Trust in your training

 

 

Ultra training: Last long run before the real run

I had been coming off of a cold / jet lag / return-to-normalcy-from-vacation / orienting to Daylight Savings time / fatigue — or to sum it all up, a funk when Bryce and I ventured out for our last long run before my first 50K.

We did a little more than 13 miles. It was supposed to be the 10K out-and-back of the actual race course, but we either accidentally added a bit or my Garmin is just way off. I’m hoping it’s the former.

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This run took place Sunday.

For those of you who live in the greater Puget Sound area, you know what the conditions were like Sunday. People lost power from the windstorms. Some meteorologists were comparing it to a hurricane. It was rainy. It was grey. It was gross.

And, I was overcoming from being in my funk …

Bryce was kind and tolerant to run at my pace. For the first mile or so, that meant 9:45 pace. This felt like a hard 9:45 pace to me. I was using all my energy and effort on a more or less flat part of the course.

Luckily when we first started running, the rain had temporarily stopped.

Luckily when the rain started up again, I was too preoccupied with trying to catch another pair of runners in front of us to care.

I gained a little bit of self confidence once we passed the other runners. I pushed us to an 8:17 mile for that fifth mile because of it. And the crazy thing is that my effort level didn’t feel like it was at 8:17 minutes per mile.

Like I said, trying to kick the funk …

The “back” part of the out and back wasn’t very fun for me. I kept telling myself that during the actual race, I will be coming off of running ~24 miles so I should just suck it up. It did not help.

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The wind started swooping in.

I felt like it was getting darker, although it was impossible since um, daylight savings time!

When we made it back to the car 13.65 miles later, I was relieved. I gave some sighs of relief and grunts as I walked with my head down.

“How am I supposed to do the race when this was so hard??” I said.

Bryce said something encouraging. I almost got knocked down by the car door that didn’t want to stay open because of those high winds. I was more than ready to go home.

Three days since that run, I feel good that I did it.

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With this run, and the other one last month, I’ve now experienced the Chuckanut 50K course in its entirety.

I just have to complete it all in one sitting standing, er, running!

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(Oh, and I run commuted home today in the sweet sunshine and I think it’s safe to say that I have finally diminished my funk!)

Trail Running: Practice Makes Practice

I’m a city girl learning to become a trail runner.

I have 20 half-marathons and seven full marathons — all road races — to my name.

Now that I’m in full-out-ultra-training mode, running the Anchorage Marathon in June seems like a piece of cake. (Yes, please quote me come April/May!)

Despite “being a runner” since high school, I am terrified for my upcoming race, my first 50K. It’s a trail race north of Seattle near Bellingham. The Chuckanut 50K. It’s a well known one within the trail running community of these parts, so people tell me.

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Last Sunday — yes, on Valentine’s Day — Bryce and I decided to test out the course. We ran 18 of the roughly 30-mile course together. (These 18 miles are the hardest part of the entire race. The other 12 are more or less flat on an urban trail into/away from town).

We did complete it so I guess it’s safe to say that I can do it. But, it wasn’t easy. Some parts we walked for a long while. A few parts of the trail were so technical (for me) that I had to tip-toe my way around/over large rocks so as not to slip off a ledge. And the rain from the past few days left for a lot of mud everywhere.

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You race like you practice, right?

We averaged our run at 15 minute pace. If I run the entire 50K at that pace, it would clock me in just under 8 hours — which is the race cut-off time.

This will be interesting.

Practice makes perfect, right?

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So, on race day, I will perfectly hop over logs and maneuver smoothly between large rocks. I won’t get lost. I’ll know when to push myself on the downhills and when to save my energy on long stretches.

At least, that’s what I’m hoping for.

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I practiced, but I am still pretty terrified. On race day, I won’t have my valentine with me, encouraging me every step of the way. (He’ll be there, but racing at his own pace).

If this felt like the hardest run I have ever done, what will the actual 50K feel like?

I’ll let you know next month! (Eeeeeek!)

Volunteer sweeping the Orcas 25K

I wasn’t sure what to expect as a volunteer sweeper for the Orcas Island 25K.

My first experience sweeping a trail race: so much fun!

Phyllis and I volunteered to sweep the 25K Saturday with another volunteer, Ben. The three of us had a lot of fun running, chatting and making sure the runners weren’t getting lost.

Runners at the start

Runners at the start

The race started at 9 a.m. but the three of us didn’t head out until a little after 9:30 a.m. to give the slower runners a chance to run the course without us breathing down their necks. I was excited to get started since it was my first time sweeping and my first time on Orcas Island! (Camp Orkila in 5th grade doesn’t count!)

We ran a good 5-ish miles until we caught up to the last runner. She was a fighter and made it to the first aid station, which was placed at mile 5.6.

Climbing up Powerline

Climbing up Powerline

After the first aid station, we started to do a lot of climbing. We headed up the Powerline Trail, which is one of those trails where I didn’t want to look behind me for fear of “falling back down.” It was pretty muddy. I slipped a few times. When we got to the top, we noticed a little snow on the ground.

Up and up

Up and up

As we continued up higher, it really started snowing. I was thankful that I brought a warm headband as well as my cap. After all, in this moment we were mainly just hiking since the last runner was just ahead in our eyesight.

Magic Orcas Island

Magical Orcas Island

The four of us were hiking in a winter wonderland. It was peaceful. It was beautiful. In the moment it made me rethink why I even do road races!

When we arrived at Mt. Constitution, the snow was coming down and we tried to hurry at the second aid station so we could get a move on. We were now at 10.7 miles. On a nice clear day, we would have had a beautiful view of the Sound and the surrounding islands — and even Canada. But, on this day it was just a big ominous cloud. We couldn’t see anything past the falling snow and clouds. Ben and Phyllis double-checked runners’ race numbers on Ben’s sheet with the aid station volunteers to make sure no one had gotten left behind.

I stuffed my mouth with as many potato chips at the aid station as I could. And then we were off!

The runner we had arrived into Mt. Constitution with had to drop out of the race because she had missed the cut-off time. With all of the big climbing behind us, the three of us flew down the trails to try to catch the next runner. As we got lower, the snow began to clear up. We found ourselves among tall evergreen trees with rays of sunlight beaming through. We eventually caught up to the last runner — I’m not sure at what mile — and the four of us more or less walked the rest of the to the finish.

Some sun beams

Some sun beams

It was a pretty great feeling to be right behind the runner at the finish. She came through with a smile and her friend gave her a high-five followed by the race director. Did you know the race director is right at the finish line giving high fives to every single runner who completes the race?? So awesome.

Going into this, I knew I wasn’t going to be running the entire 25K. But, it was still just as fun. You don’t have the pressure that comes with racing and trying to hit a specific time. You just go with the flow. And, get some good training in!

When we were done, I just wanted to eat. And, sit.

I got to hang with a puppy at the after party!

I got to hang with a puppy at the after party!

It was a fun hanging out with other volunteers we had seen at the aid stations, and just other trail runners.

“Thank you guys for volunteering and being out there today!” one of the aid station volunteers enthusiastically said to Phyllis and I as we stuffed pizza into our mouths.

“Thank YOU for volunteering!” I replied mid-chew.

Trail runners are the best.

Now I’m even more excited to take on my first 50K in March!

Getting ready to sweep at Orcas

Phyllis and I are expecting to come in last place at tomorrow’s Orcas Island 25K.

It’s not that we aren’t motivated. It’s not that we are out of shape. (I’m sure we could be in better shape, but that’s another story).

We’ll be volunteer sweeping the course.

This means we are at the back of all the runners and make sure no one goes off course, gets lost, etc.

No runner will be left behind on our watch!

I’ve never swept before but Phyllis has and she says it’s a lot of fun. So, I’ll take her word for it.

I have no idea what to wear since rain is in the forecast and we will probably be doing more walking than running for a race than I am used to. So, I have packed EVERY clothing option.

I’m not sure what to expect but when you’re running and with your main girl, it can’t be any less than totally awesome, right?

Oh, and I hear Orcas Island is pretty scenic, so get ready for some Instagram’ing overload!