After my first 50k at Tiger Mountain Celia and started looking for our next race, which would be Celia’s first 50km. After realising that lots of the races sell out pretty quickly we choose this race in the South of Washington put on by Rainshadow Running.
The 50km is two laps of a 25km figure of 8 course, there is also a 25km race on the same day which is just one lap. Each loop starts with a short run down a road and then up a gravel road to a trail head. From there you head up some double track toward Hardy Ridge. This is the first major climb of the course and covers 600m in 5.7km for an average of 10.5% gradient. Most of this is on very runable double track, with the last 1.3km on single track. From here you descend toward the second climb, passing the aid station location on the way. The second climb takes you up Hamilton Mountain covering 380m climb in 2.5km. It’s steeper (15.2%) and more exposed which gives you better views than the first climb but also means there are more hikers. By the top of this climb you are about 15km through the loop. The last 10km is mostly descent, hitting the aid station again with 5km to go to the start/halfway/finish.
After Tiger Mt 50k I wanted to make sure I got some consistent training in before my next race. My main goal was to get more endurance time on my legs in the form of long and back to back runs. I planned out a full program for the lead up to Beacon but early on I fell in training injuring my knee. I took a few days completely off but wasn’t making much progress, so I got in touch with Kinetic Sports Rehab to get a professional opinion. I was quickly diagnosed with a pinched meniscus and also identified some imbalances in strength between my legs, as well as areas that weren’t as strong as they could be. Kinetic is a great sports rehab provider as they focus equally on treatment from the Chiropractic Doctor, and exercises to make sure I develop the strength and mobility to prevent my injury from recurring.
A bit more than a month before the race we took a Sunday to drive down to Beacon rock and check out the course. The goal was to do one lap of the course, and I was going to cut off some distance depending on how my knee felt. I ended up getting a good chunk of the course covered. We started at the Equestrian trail head which meant we didn’t have to do the first short road section. I went up both the climbs and took some short cuts on the way back to save some distance on my knee. Getting down to do this was well worth the effort as I found I could go pretty fast on most of the down hills as they weren’t very technical, the first climb was mostly runable and the second climb would be mostly hiked.
Due to lost training time because of the injury I ended up dropping the training plan and fitting in the right workouts where I could. My key workouts were a 2x3km tempo session, 3x2km track intervals, the Beacon scouting mission, and a 3 hour long run. The 3 hour run was a bit of a debarcle. The first time I tried to do it I postponed it due to illness, the second time there was a thunderstorm so I had to cut my run short. I finally managed to get it in one day when I got completely blocked at work, so left at about 2pm and went out to Tiger Mountain and completed 2x15km loops each with about 75om climb. By the time I did this I sort of thought it was too close to the race but afterwards I felt a lot more confident in my preparation. The weekend before this run I had kicked my foot into a branch at orienteering. After 3 hours on the trails this swelled up a bit so I took some rest days to let my foot heal forming the beginning of my taper. I used the extra time that I had with no running training to get lots of core exercises in.
In the week leading up to race we checked the forecast to find that it would be hot, really hot. The high was forecast as 38°C (100°F). Luckily a lot of the course is shaded by the forest, and the climbs go up ridges which had some breeze. I was a bit worried about the heat and to make matters worse I got some kind of short term stomach bug which blessed me with diarrhoea on Wednesday and Thursday before the race. I knew the combination of heat and sickness would affect my race but due to a lack of experience I wasn’t sure how much, however I did know I could still trust in my heart rate. My original plan had been to run the first hill, which I did in training with my heart sitting between 145 – 160bpm. I started off the race trying to run this section, but as I watched my heart rate sit steadily above 175bpm throughout the climb I realised that this wasn’t going to cut for the whole 50km. I started walking most of the uphill, in these temperatures I could sit at about 160bpm walking. I would incorporate jogging on short flat sections or very low gradients. This would pull the heart up to around 170bpm, so between the jogging and walking I was averaging around 165bpm on the uphill sections. Switching to this method meant that the main part of my nutrition plan was a large slice of humble pie. Plenty of runners passed me, so I had to stay disciplined to keep my own pace. I also chose to take plenty of time at aid stations to get exactly what I needed to stay strong through out the race. Wy’east Wolfpack manned the aid station and they did an awesome job of taking care of the runners. Each time I filled up 2x500ml bottles which I had tailwind powder in, at all but the first and last aid stations I also ate watermelon and drank some Coke. The pack I use has a kangaroo pouch on the back for extra storage. At each aid station I had this filled up with ice which would melt, dripping down my back and keeping my shirt wet. This strategy of slowing my pace and keeping cool started to pay off on the first climb up Hamilton Mountain where I started to pick off some of the 25km (both races started at the same time) runners who had gone out fast. The climb was also a good chance to drop some banter with my fellow runners. At the second time through the aid station I was delighted that the crew remembered what I wanted, so I hardly had to say anything and got through with everything I needed that much faster. Going back toward halfway I had a chance to count my place as we went past the lead runners who were starting their second loop. 1st through 3rd-ish had a big lead of about 10-15mins and then there was a group of us close together. I sat in 6th or 7th leaving the halfway aid station. To note; because of the heat the Race director welcomed 50km runners to drop to 25km if they weren’t feeling good and still have their time counted for that race. This meant there may have been some of the runners who were passing me on the first hill who pulled out at halfway.
With the start of the second lap it was time to get super serious. People might still be dropping or blowing up and slowing down. There was less traffic on the course as the 25km runners had finished. I was feeling strong. I still walked the first up hill but I felt efficient with my stride. During this climb a lady was walking down with a cooler bag and she asked me if I wanted a sponge. Initially I was confused and then realised I should just take it. I squeezed it over my head and as the cool water dripped down my back I called back to her, “Oh you legend!” My stomach was starting to feel a bit churned, at some point I had a Tums chew and started to nibble away on a piece of candied ginger. During the climb I went past one runner and had another in my sight about 30 to 50m out. One down. I continued to reel him in, this was a guy I had had a good chat to on the first loop, and at the top he offered to let me past so I could lead the downhill on single track. I opened up as much as I could and put a decent gap on him straight away. Two down. Through the aid station, ice, water, coke. Keep moving. There is a stretch of single track before the Hamilton Mountain ascent. I knew I had put some distance on the guy behind me on the previous single track section so I figured I should again use this to my strengths. I opened up and pushed this section. Heart was elevated but it didn’t matter, I could recover on the ascent. At the bottom of Hamilton Mountain is a course Marshall and I asked what place I was in, “5th, 4th isn’t far off.” Awesome. I started my ascent eager to hunt down another place. As I climbed my heart was still high, so I had to tell myself off to get it down a bit. Half way up I caught my man. We exchanged a few words “Want to pass?”, “Cheers, keep it up” and I kept climbing. My stomach still wasn’t feeling too great, I got down half of an unflavoured Gu, and kept sipping on my Tailwind, being careful to have small sips to optimise hydration. On the downhill from the top I tried to keep an efficient stride and stuck to my heart rate as usual. I was please to go through the 40km mark without cramps rearing their head. I was now in 4th and knew there was a decent gap to cover if I was going to pick up any more runners.On the section heading back to the aid station a couple of creeks cross the trail. I used this to wet my hat,buff and sponge. I also used my race cup to pick up a bunch of water and dump it down my back. Soon I was back at the aid station. One of the crew there was surprised to see me so soon, “You’re back!?” Efficiency was key this time was it was just water in the bottles and ice in the pack. During the downhill I see I guy walking in front of me. I guess I was a bit confused from the heat at this point as it didn’t click that this guy was the 3rd place runner till much after the finish. I asked if he was ok, and he said he was cramping. I had spare gels which I offered and dropped one on the trail in front of him. By now we had about 3km to go and I started to feel some cramps but I could move through them. I had one bottle of full strength and one of half strength tailwind. This was by design, I felt half was more relieving for hydration and used the double to alleviate the cramps. And that was my race. Back through the road section, then a run in through the car park. A decent crowd was gathered enjoying pizza and beer and it was great to have their cheers as I came in. A high five with the race director, James Varner, on the finish line signified the end of my race and I was informed I had come in 3rd earning a sweet Beacon Rock growler. “Not 4th?”, I asked, “I don’t know where the guy who had been 3rd is then.” Of course we know this was my cramping Gu friend but I didn’t put these facts together.
All told it was another awesome race. I was stoked that my strategy had panned out to get me up to top three. It could easily had not worked if the runners in front of me had also paced well. Maybe the better take away, rather than a placing, is that I had a strong race and coped well in the heat, through pacing and cooling.
Thanks to the Rainshadow Running crew for putting on not only a great race, but an awesome weekend. The pizza, beer and live band made for a great atmosphere to hang out and meet new people after the race. Also big thanks to Wy’east Wolfpack for manning the aid station, it would have been a pretty bad day with out their help!