Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cle Elum 50K

We ran Cle Elum 50K yesterday. We got up at 4:30 AM to make it on time for the 8:00 AM start. I was recovering from a respiratory allergy episode and was not sure of whether I would be able to run. I decided to start, and 'play it by ear.'

Just before 8:00 AM, the sun came out from behind the clouds, the air felt clean and fresh, and we all gathered up at the race start. Trail race starting lines are not like road race starting lines. Most of the time, there are fewer runners, it is quieter, there are no balloons, few spectators, and no loud music blasting off powerful speakers.

The first mile is on a paved road, and then there is a left turn that leads to an uphill trail. The next 18 miles are pretty much all uphill, with a few short downhills.
Cle Elum has very dusty narrow trails that are often used by motor cross motorcycles. This makes them very hard on the ankles. It is a good idea to try to run on the side of the trail whenever possible.

The first 12 miles up to the first full aid station went well for me. I was breathing easy, and my legs felt strong. Our friend Laura Houston was volunteering at the 12th mile aid station. She told me that Eric had ran by the station about 30 minutes ago. I filled up my bladder with sports drink, since it was getting warm and the next full aid station was 9 miles away.

I knew there were 6 miles left for the uphill part of the race, so I just tried to focus on this distance; I would think about the next part of the race when I got there. Long distance running can only be approached like that, one section at a time, otherwise, you just get overwhelmed with the distance. The temperature kept rising, and later I found out that it was about 75 degrees, which is warmer that what I am used to.

The scenery was amazing. It was really clear, so you could see the mountains far away. By this time, the runners are pretty spread out, and I was running by myself most of the time. Some parts get very steep, and you can't really run them. I just hiked them with short quick steps.

When you reach the peak, the scenery is just beyond words. As I marveled at the view, I felt somewhat reluctant to keep going. I knew the the next section of the race was the most challenging for me. Downhill running is not my strength. I decided to concentrate on running two more miles to the 2nd full aid station. On the way there, we crossed a creek that you just have to deep into, there is no way around it. The cold water felt great on my tired feet. Alison Hanks and James Varner were volunteering at this station. My bladder was completely empty, so I filled it up again. There were 11 miles left, and I still felt good, although my recovering lungs and throat were getting irritated with all the dust from the trail.

I ran good for the next 4 miles. I was really trying to lean into the down hill, and using my core for stability. When I reached a 25 mile marker, I had been running for 5 hours. I calculated that I could run the last 7 miles in about one hour and 10 minutes (thinking back, this was pretty ambitious, 10 minute-miles on the trails is actually a fast pace after running 25 miles -for me).

After running about 20 minutes more, the mental struggle started. I practiced some tricks I have learned from my Yoga class. I tried to decouple my mind from my body. Even if my body was hurting, I was trying to somehow relax my mind. I softened my gaze, like we often do in Yoga, and I payed attention to the sound of the breeze, the creek, and the leaves. I tried to control my breathing by making it deeper. It worked. Once more, I was enjoying the run.

But then I got to the switch-backs. The last 4 miles have a repeating pattern of going uphill towards the right, and then downhill towards the left. There are 14 of these, and if you are not familiar with the course, you feel like you are having a deja vu over and over again.

I ran into Barb Blumenthal, she and I used to train years ago for marathons. I thought we had about 1 mile left. She told me we had 3. This messed up with my mind, and from that point on, it was a real struggle. It turned out we had 4 miles left. I am not sure why I thought we only had one mile to go, I guess I decoupled my mind too much :-)

At some point, you reach an intersection, you turn to the right, and there is a steep, wide, and rocky downhill road. You know you are almost there. You can hear people cheering. You cross a paved road, and you can see the finish.

Eric was waiting at the finish line. He had been waiting one hour for me. We both had a hard race. I walked around a little, got into dry clothes, and got in line to get some much needed food.

One of my favorite parts of a race is to hang out at the finish, talk to other tired and dusty trail runners, and eat cookies. Although I finished 20 minutes later than what I had expected, it turns out I was the 3rd woman to finish. This made me feel good, but to be honest, I was surprised and happy that I finished.

While driving back, my throat started closing up, and I knew I would suffer the consequences of punishing my body a little more than what it deserved. Oh, but it was so worth it.


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