Marathon Month: a tale of two races.

After the Rut in Montana I hustled back to the the PNW to jump back into grad school with both feet.  This semester I’m TAing two classes and finishing up my Masters course work which means lots of hours in the dungeon lab as I try to get my thesis proposal approved. Needless to say, I’m trying to ride that sweet spot on the Stress:Productivity curve.

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As I start the final prep for trail World Champs in Portugal I’ve been fortunate enough in the last two weeks to get in a couple of race efforts on some of my favorite trails.

Crystal Mountain: Who put this hill here?

Two weeks ago I headed south to Crystal Mountain, for the second fall in a row at the Crystal Mountain Sky Marathon. Scott does a great job with this race, getting us stellar views of Mount Rainer, utilizing elk trails, and putting us through a world of pain!

It’s crazy two think how much a year can change things. This time last fall the Crystal Mountain Sky race was my longest race of the season…This year?  …it’s my shortest!

The weather was decidedly “fun”, meaning over dinner the night before we placed bets on the two conflicting weather reports for the next day and ultimately went to bed listening to rain pelting the roof.

Armed with a belly full of golden grahams and in several jackets I headed to the start area under a gray sky. From the gun we started the first big climb of the day, from base area, to the top of the gondola.  For coming in just under 26 miles this race still manages to squeeze in just over 9,000 feet of climbing!  Trail runners beware, vertmonsters know how to have some fun!

Although I knew a bunch of the guys racing I didn’t know how the women’s race would shake out and was nervous to be leading from the gun. One thing I have learned over the past year is how to gauge my effort, and although I knew I was racing well within myself, I was paranoid to be out front by myself.   I yoyo’d back a forth with a group of guys but ultimately spent the first half of the race getting dropped with bathroom breaks and post scree field shoe maintenance stops.

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After making it through the first off-trail section, a wooohoo filled single track descent, and the never ending dirt road descent I was thrilled as we approached my favorite part of the course.  A 5 mile climb with roughly 4,000 feet of vertical ascent. The bottom half of it is virtually unrunable due to the grade.  A power hikers dream!  I quickly found my rhythm and put my head down. Pushing off my quads I slowly picked off one guy at a time, jokingly proclaiming, “Who put this hill here?” as I moved up the trail. By the time we reached the gondola dock I had passed 6 guys moving from 13th to 7th overall. I high-fived the brave crew manning the upper aid station, grabbed chunks of watermelon, and barreled off the summit. I slipped and slid down the single track and through the fog as we descended down the mountain. I was greeted at the finish with blankets, tea, and the best assortment of rain jacketed supporters of the other runners!  After a warm shower and putting on all the dry clothes I had brought with me I was happy to share some beer and an assortment of BBQ before driving back North to the calling of the dungeon lab.

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Birkie Trail Marathon: The Hilliest Flat Course

After a week at home, some North Shore adventures with Stephen, and helping to pace the  4:00 hour marathon crew a the Bellingham Bay Marathon I jumped on a germ tube and sent it for the midwest, arriving in the the homeland this past Thursday.

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I was immediately greet by our gigantic 8 year old cat Ringo. He purrs like a jet engine, and I’m convinced he was conceived by a bobcat.  (See photo for size)

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I had a day to get my feet under me, to run from the Fish Hatchery trail head that I have run, skied, and biked from so many times before. The fall colors are popping here in the northern corner of Wisconsin.  With a little more red than we get in the west and a little more yellow than is currently in Vancouver (still have yet to confirm that fall doesn’t just drown in BC).

Saturday morning was cool and clear. After waking up on Central Time to left over pasta and coffee I headed further North to Seely and the North Ridge trailhead to the start and finish line for the Birkie Trail races. After about 6 bathroom breaks, prancing around in wet grass, getting free Skratch Lab gummies (thanks dude!), and hugging people I handed my jacket off to my Dad and got in the start shoot behind the front row of guys.  After one of those really long “One minute till start!” waits we shot out of the starting shoot and headed across the field to the Birkie trail.

The men’s field formed a pretty nice pack off the front and I found my way in behind two guys who were running a pace that I liked and settled in. After about a mile I saw Tammi, the women’s winner from last year as she came up on my shoulder, and I left my two guys and followed her.  We exchanged leads, she was moving much better than me on the flatter bits, and swapped chuckles about the race, the trail, and what lay ahead.  A little after the 3 mile mark Tammi pulled up short on an uphill, and after getting word that she was okay I carried on with Jim Kelly as we headed towards OO.

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My dad was waiting at the OO turn that sent us back the way we came on the Classic Trail. It turns out he was in a clutch spot as several guys tried to run straight through. I thought the course was really well marked, but you all know how well our brains work in race mode!  At the next aid station I grabbed a gel without really looking at it. Big mistake, they had diligently opened all the gels… this is great, until you try to put the salted caramel Gu into your pocket…. I spent the next several miles licking gel off my hands as I chased my way up to the next guy. We rolled through some flowy single track winding back and forth to the point where we had probably ran a mile but hadn’t really made it that far as the crow flies. I fell into step with Kyle as we hit the Birkie trail again and shared a really sticky high-five.  After several fast miles of chit chatting Kyle fell back on an uphill and I plugged on ahead and alone.

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This next section of trail was a little bit of a struggle for me on a combination of Birkie trail, North End trail, and single track. I tried my best to keep moving at the same effort, but kept finding myself getting distracted looking for mushrooms in the pine forrest. Oysters, chanterelles, boletus, and coral mushrooms springing up everywhere!  I’d ease off the gas on this personal mushroom scavenger hunt and then realize I had become lost in thought and accelerate again. I was so happy to see the 5 mile to go marker and tried to keep driving as I told myself, “Don’t worry it’s a downhill finish.”

We climbed winding single track back up to the Birkie trail.  At this point the half marathon course merges into the marathon course and shortly after the merge the top two marathon men came blowing by me at a speed I couldn’t quite comprehend, getting startled by both of them as they passed.  With a little over two miles to go the Trekkers merged into our course as well and I cheered for each and everyone of them, trading between “Looking good trekkers!”, “We’re almost there!”, and “How’d they fit all this uphill into a downhill finish!?!?”.

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That last statement rang in my mind.  Every corner we went around came another uphill… The hills on the Birkie trail are punchy. It rolls and rolls without a lot of flat relief. …and as a local, this should not have come as a surprise…

My “downhill finish” never came but I fought through the last two miles and tried to find speed where ever I could. Finally I crested a little rise and saw the clearing in the trees, we were entering the final field and I was flooded with happiness knowing I’d be across the finish safe and sound soon.

It was wonderful to come across the line into the arms of my mom and our good family friend Barb Klippel (who won the 80+ division in the 5km and I want to be when I grow up).   I made it through the finish sneaking under my goal time of 3:30 and got to spend the rest of the afternoon hanging out with old friends enjoying a great fall day!

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I’m excited to have a few more days to play in the homeland, run in some fall colors, and find some squeaky cheese before I head back to the PNW. Fall is a real treat around here, and I’m hoping we get a few more weeks of indian summer before the snow starts to fly.

 

 

 

 

 

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