This race marked a couple of firsts. For everyone involved I believe it was the first trail race on Tiger Mountain, or at least the first on some time, and for me it was my first 50k trail race. Tiger Mountain is a state park 20 minutes drive East of Seattle on the I-90. It forms part of the Issaquah alps and has a network of trails where you will find hikers, runners and on the South side mountain bikes. Many people from Seattle will know it for Poo Poo point, a launch site for paragliders, which offers views North over Bellevue, Lake Sammamish and Seattle. The point isn’t named by someone who relieved themselves while taking in the view but instead by the sound the whistles on the logging trains made when the area was logged in the 19th century. For runners the area is most famous for the 12 summits course, an out and back route which visits each of the peaks in the park 2 times, covering about 54km and 10000ft climb. My race was a less fearsome endeavor, the course covered 50km which 6350ft climb.
I decided to enter the race about 1 month out, having not done a race over marathon distance, nor having run at Tiger. My priorities for training were to get time on my feet, log vertical meters and familiarize myself with the trails. I didn’t know the course until just over a week from the race. It turned out that a brand new trail made a 20km loop from the start and back possible. My last trail run before the race was to run this section just as I wanted to in the race, at a fairly relaxed and hopefully sustainable pace. My taper week consisted of light sessions including running, core and the rowing machine, with two fully rested days before the race.
The morning of the race I kept my routine as normal as possible. I’d already done my packing and gear checking so it was a simple matter of fueling up and getting on the road. For breakfast I had my usual smoothie with protein powder, almond milk and fruit; a slice of toast with hazelnut spread and a cup of coffee. We got to the event 90 minutes before the start which was plenty of time to register and make any final preparations. During this time I nibbled away at a honey waffle and sipped Nuun. My warm up was very simple, I got all my race gear, bib and vest on and then put a sweatshirt over the top and jogged for about 5 minutes, doing some strides and checking my heart rate was at expected values, i.e. to check the monitor was reading correctly. Soon enough it was time to toe the line. As it was my first 50km I hadn’t really thought much about race strategy in terms of racing other competitors but instead about pacing to get myself around the course feeling strong throughout the race. At the very start of the race the pace was slow which is to be expected but I felt like I had to slow out of my rhythm to stay with other runners. Instead of doing this I settled myself into my own rhythm and tried to keep my heart rate steady as we worked our way up the first part of the course which consisted of an easy gradient climb up toward East Tiger.
Throughout the climb I say about 30m indent of the next two. My plan had been to refill a bottle at aid 1 and run through aid 2, however I hadn’t quite got through the first bottle when I came to aid 1, so flipped this plan around. Throughout the climb my heart rate had been 5-10 beats higher than it had been in trading. I put this down to the stress of racing and thinking about other runners. To combat this I did my best to put the race out of my mind and relax into the long downhill section. This worked well and I was able to drop my average beats/minute down by 5. For the rest of the first section I stuck to a comfortable pace. At aid 2 I filled up my first bottle that I had already prepared with tailwind, and along Timberline trail I worked my way through a gu. Along this last part of the first section a runner came into view about 50m behind. I picked up the pace slightly to hold the buffer and ran through my plans for aid station 3. At this aid station we had drop bags and I had Celia to help me get through quickly. I had tailwind pre-mixed in bottles that I could use to refill my race bottles. Other nutrition I needed was packed into a zip lock bag so that I could grab exactly what I needed quickly and then distribute the items to my race vest while running. I had over half a bottle left coming into the aid station so we filled one, grabbed the nutrition bag and I was on my way in about 10 seconds. As I was leaving I saw the second place guy come in to the aid station. Thinking that he would also have a fast turnaround I settled into the gravel road section, thinking about being as efficient as possible. Somewhere along here I got something in my shoe. It was small but hard and wouldn’t budge from right under my heel, and was causing me to have a slightly abnormal stride. As I came to the where the course joined the trail I decided to stop and get my shoe off and sort it out. After a bit of fiddling I got the shoe back on, and as I started to head up the trail I saw 2nd place coming down the road. I pushed the next small section a bit, bring the heart rate up 10 beats and keeping myself running on the gradual uphill. I knew there was a steep uphill to take me up to Tiger Mountain Trail coming up and I would walk this section and recover from my effort.
At this point we were 27.2 km and things must have been starting to hurt a bit. Coming up to the next aid station I didn’t have both my bottles ready with powder, so ended up making one bottle at half strength, so my nutrition plan wasn’t completely dialed in. There was some fast straight track and then a big downhill so I wanted to use this to keep some speed up, I would sort the nutrition up on the next uphill. I wasn’t feeling particularly fast on the downhill, maybe my legs were tired and I couldn’t get the turnover I expected to keep up the speed. The next section was mainly uphill toward the Tiger No.2 peak. For the most part I maintained a steady power hike on the steep sections of trail and would run the rest. I took in a couple of Gu’s and felt like having jerky but didn’t want to eat it, so I just sucked on pieces and then spat them out. At around 38km I got a feeling in my legs as if they were about to cramp which was annoying as I had envisioned this part of the course being a fun gradual downhill descent to finish off the race. At the aid station I grabbed some of those fish cracker things and sucked on them, trying to get some extra salty flavour in my mouth. I was careful with my stride here, not taking any long strides or small leaps that I may usually do when running on trail to help avoid the cramps coming on in full. I made my way down to the last aid station with about 3km to go, I thought it was only 1km to go, whoops. Filled up bottles again, just in case. There was a short forest road section before getting onto Iverson Rail Road for the final stretch. Just onto Iverson on probably one of the smoothest bits of track for the day I managed to stack it and the cramps poured in. I managed to get myself up and moving rather quickly, maybe the short time laying on my back looking at the sky was all I needed. Sorry to the hikers on this part, they didn’t get much warning or thanks, just some loud breathing. Eventually with 500m to go I could hear the parking lot and I deemed it ok to open up the stride and not worry about the cramps. I crossed the line 1st in 4:56:17.
All in all I was happy with my race. I felt comfortable with my pace the whole way and never felt like I was overly exerting myself. I didn’t want to push into something that I wouldn’t be able to recover from during the race. The downside was the cramps, I think I could have shaved a few minutes off my time if I had been able to keep the pace a bit higher for the last 10km. Unfortunately my watch stopped recording GPS points after 31km so I don’t have the pace information for the end to be able to analyze it fully. Thanks to Eric and his team at North West Trail Runs for putting on the first Tiger Mountain race, DNR for getting the trails ready and letting us run, and Celia for being awesome, supportive and getting me through the aid station quickly.
- Avg heart rate: 166bpm
- Normal Gu’s – 1 per hour, 100 cal
- Tailwind – 1.67 scoops/500ml – 167 cals
- I aimed to get 200 calories of tailwind per hour, I think next time I will mix it a bit stronger, I had to stop to pee twice.
- Tailwind was packed into serving size beadophile bags from Amazon
- Aimed for 300 calories per hour
- Some jerky. I also carried a Justin’s hazelnut butter and a honey waffle but didn’t use these.
- Altra Lone Peak 2.5
- Ice breaker sock
- Trimtex Extreme TRX O-pants
- Nike top
- OR Cap
- Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 5 pack + bottles
- Garmin 230
- Leading up to the race Celia and I had listened to a lot of podcasts and watched videos on YouTube about ultra running and I think this helped a lot with learning lessons that you would otherwise have to learn yourself (the hard way) and helped with getting my mindset right. Some links if you’re interested: