Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cle Elum Ridge 50k race report

When I signed up for the Cle Elum Ridge 50k in August, I knew this course profile fits me more than any other race around (maybe as much as Western States). 16 mile long dowhill, I was going to kill it!

Cle Elum Ridge 50k (33 miles, 7000 feet of gain)

Of course I made my homework reviewing the list of women signed up on the website. I didn't see any names that could make feel worried.

However the closer the race day was getting the more my expectations were falling. First of all my mileage has declined dramatically since May-June (from 70mpw to 40mpw). Then Nikolay has broken his leg (3 metatarsal bones in the right foot) and I started climbing gym workouts to increase strength (just to hang out with him more, because he couldn't climb, but could do all the pull ups and ABS, etc). This almost immediately affected my climbing abilities and I started progressing fast in bouldering for the first time in the last almost 3 years since I started climbing. I felt lots of psyche for climbing that of course took some off my running. I still managed to run 4-6 days a week on a lower mileage, and had few long and slow running weekend adventures including getting lost alone in Alpine Lakes Wilderness, hiking out on a different highway, hitchhiking for an hour in the darkness and getting my ride to that campground in the police car. Lots of summer fun :) I originally planned to train for the run to the top of Mt Si (4 miles, 3500 gain), but I actually only visited that trail once since Western States, that of course didn't affect my performance at that race positively and I placed 6th out of 11 females, that made it my worse placement ever. Female winner time was 0:59:49, against my 1:11. I told you I suck in uphill running, didn't I?

Fortunately for me Cle Elum Ridge is a very different race than Mt Si, it is not only very long uphill, it is also a very long downhill! Of course it is just a 50k and there's  always a bunch of fast ladies, who can do it better than me just because of plain leg speed. I always pass people at the end of the races, the longer the race is, the better I place, and 50k may not be just long enough. Well, I show up and we see how it goes, that was the plan.

We as usual decided to camp at the race start location, drove there Friday night to find a campground full of RVs, dirt bikes and empty beer cans in the firepits. This location apparently is a very popular motocross destination and it promised us a lot of dust, mud and bad breathing conditions during the race and very probably a very bad sleep the night before. However the bikers who camped near us were not even close to being that tough as they first looked like. They listened for some soft rock not very loud, drank their Budweiser near the fire, and around 8pm got into their RV and left. Till 1am apparently, but I haven't heard them coming back as I was sleeping. I had a good sleep between 8pm and 6am.  Taking a warm sleeping bag was definitely a good idea, the night was cold but I was very comfortable.

The morning was cold, Nikolay who cancelled his race (obviously because of still being in the cast), traditionally announced that he is not too jealous that I am running and he is not and continued to sleep, while I was getting ready. Standard procedure: apply Asics Chafe Free on my feet, apply Bodyglide on the bra area (to avoid bloody bruises caused by chafing), get dressed (though it was super cold and the forecast was for 30% rain I decided to run in RaceReady shorts and white short sleeve Scott shirt, but use warm Asics arm warmers for the first part of the race and drop them at the first aid station), had my morning coffee, chocolate and avocado rolls, picked up the bib, left the drop bags, and was ready. I didn't warm up, though usually I do before short races. As usual all my pre-race anxiety was gone completely, I was psyched, and ready to race. The only difference with my normal pre-race morning was that I decided to run with the iPod, I usually use iPod only in one race in the whole year - during Seattle Marathon that is the only road marathon  and actually the only road race I do. Nikolay woke up in his sleeping bag, said that I should win this one (I wasn't so sure about that), or at least place top 3. The race start wasn't too far from our tent, but the distances feel different when you are on the crutches. So I headed to the start alone, figuring that I was late for the pre-race briefing done by Candice Burt, the RD.

Missing that briefing was the reason I did not realize that the start was common for both 25k and 50k, I only noticed that all the bibs were red, and decided that probably 25k will start in a different wave (usually different distances have different colors of the bib numbers assigned). Later I realized that the start was common and only after the finish Nikolay pointed out that 50k bibs started with 7, and 25k with something else. I lined up in the third people line from the beginning, noticing only one girl starting ahead of me. Not competitive race, here we go.

First we had to run for about half a mile on a pavement to spread before going to a trail. It was pretty funny, because I actually led the race for about 1 minute or so after we started. The girl ahead of me backed off immediately after the start, and leading the race from the most beginning felt weird. But it didn't last long. Soon women started passing me, and though I counted 3 on the pavement, after we moved on the trail and the uphill started women were passing me again and again, so I stopped counting. After 5 miles or so I finally warmed up and started passing people. In events like that one (small, not competitive, easy to get in) there are usually many inexperienced runners, either running their first trail race or first ultra, who start out too fast and back off soon. I passed many, and figured that now I must be in the top 10 women for sure (reminder to the readers that both 25k and 50k were running together at this point). The uphill was not steep, there were many runable sections and amount of hiking I've done was smaller than usual. Also tapering (like for real, not like before the White River) made good for my uphill legs.

First aid station was at mile 9, and there was a girl ahead of me who was very persistent in not giving up her position when we were climbing steep uphill huffing and puffing. I was surprised seeing that kind of stubbornness in ladies racing for the top 10 spot (and it's not even Western States ;)), myself I didn't care much. It was still a very beginning of the race, and I was moving steep uphill. I was sure I can pass her on the downhill, and maybe few other girls. Top 5 seemed a very reachable goal, top 3 possible too. My iPod died before I even reached the first aid station, just after 1.5 hours since I started it. Since I never run with the music it didn't bother me much, and I dropped it at the first aid station. I started with two water bottles, but decided to only fill one starting from the first aid station, as two were definitely too much. I kept the empty water bottle with me for the whole time, just in case it gets much warmer (and it didn't). I also dropped my arm warmers here, and picked up several honey stingers from the drop bag. The next drop bag would only be at the mile 25, and since I eat nothing but honey stinger chews I needed to carry all my food with me. I saw that stubborn girl leaving the aid station like a minute or two before me. Whatever. I used the bushes for the first and only time during the race (thanks to my guts for getting stronger!) and kept going. I soon started seeing that girl again, but wasn't worried about passing her. We reached the ridge soon and the terrain flattered, but the trail was not nice. I was very rocky sometimes, sometimes it had a deep ditch in the middle made by water flows, and in many segments it had a lot of holes made by motorcycles sliding in place. I didn't like the trail, but I am a good technical runner (when the trail gets bad), and I can do well on rolling terrain if I find a rhythm. Somehow I found it. And I didn't let it go till the most end of the race.

Steep uphill started, and soon we entered the second aid station at mile 14.5. I topped my water bottle, saw the same girl leaving ahead of me again, but stayed longer to get rid of the trash in my belt pockets. Soon I was running again, and though I've never lost the sign of that girl for long starting from before the first aid station, that in about half mile from the second aid station I finally passed her. She looked tired. I felt great.

Not longer than in another half a mile I saw another girl - tall skinny in a long pink socks, she was running with some guy with the hiking poles (he was either training for some European races, or made a really bad choice of the race to try his new poles). I passed them quickly, but only 5 minutes later or so they both passed me back. Fighting for top 5 position, nah. Whatever.

I've almost always seen them both ahead of me. And then finally at about mile 16 the downhill started. It was awful - steep, technical, super rocky, slippery and dusty. I saw the girl in pink socks being visibly uncomfortable, running very carefully and slow. Her friend with the poles looked even worse. Well... They had no chances on that downhill for sure. I passed them like babies, and disappeared in the dust =)

The steep downhill wasn't very long, but I passed a lot of guys on it. No sign of a single woman. At this point I was pretty sure that I am already top 5, and very possible fighting for the podium position. When I reviewed the list of women running I haven't seen many familiar names. But I saw one local woman in the list who is a very strong runner, especially on a shorter distances, like 50k (and runs road marathons pretty darn fast), I also saw her passing me on the first uphill about 3 miles into the race, and I never seen her again. I knew she was signed up for the 50k, so she definitely was ahead of me. _At least_ she was ahead of me, I was not sure how many other women I miscounted.

I kept running fast, the downhill wasn't steep, it was flat or rolling terrain, but I found my rhythm, so I was flying. I passed some guy, but he decided to keep up with me and when I asked if he wants to pass me back, he declined and said he liked my pace, he said it was comfortable and fast at the same time. Soon we reached water only aid station at mile 21.

- You are in first, aren't you? - he said.
- No way, at least [that local fast women] is ahead of me.
- Weird, the girl you passed before, volunteers said she was in first at the first aid station. Probably they miscounted.
- Yeah, they surely did.

That talk gave me a boost, and now I knew what my next goal was. I needed to catch and pass that girl ahead of me  :)

In just a mile from that aid station we passed a river crossing and Glenn Tachiyama. Getting feet completely wet reminded about Western States. They've never been dry there for the first 60 miles.

Creek crossing, mile 22-ish.

We kept running with a good pace, hiking only the steepest and running all smaller uphills. Soon I heard the last aid station and saw people cheering. One of them called my name, and I saw Gavin Woody (he is incredibly fast and does all the various crazy running, biking and climbing shit I can only dream about). He looked very surprised!

At the last aid station I got honey stingers from my drop bag and left very fast without waiting for my companion-pacer. He soon caught me again, asked how I felt. I said I that I was feeling great and only little bit worried about last uphill that was still waiting for us. He was still not sure that there were other girls ahead of me, and now I started being suspicious too. We had 8 miles to go.

We passed many guys, and still no sign of a single girl. It was weird, because I was moving really fast, I must have caught someone already. Unless they were moving even faster. Or unless.. I was leading the race. At some point we passed another guy who was walking and visibly struggling. He was very disappointed to hear that I am running 50k, not 25k, seems like he did not expect to be passed by a girl at this point. It was even more suspicious. I turned back to him and asked:

- Have you seen any other girls ahead of me?
- No, I think you are in first.
- OMG.

That was an interesting feeling. I've never led a race before. I've never won a race before (unless we count Tiger Fat Ass 25k as a race, but we don't). I changed the gear and dropped both that guy and my pacer immediately. Being chased for the win was new for me. It made me eat more honey stingers for the distance than ever ;) But I felt great. My legs were super strong. And I was running uphills now.

This last section felt very long. There wasn't a big steep uphill, there were many little ups instead. Every time when I wanted to see a finishing downhill, there always appeared another hill. I knew my watch wasn't right about distance, and I knew the race was longer than 50k, so I wasn't sure when I should expect to see a finish line finally. I was passing slow 25k runners now, they all cheered on me, especially women, who said  "first lady, way to go!" and stuff like that, that was very inspiring. I was sure I built I good gap on that girl in the pink socks considering how non-confident she was on the technical downhill, but I didn't know how good she was in the rolling to flat terrain. That's where I suck, not as much as in uphills, but still a lot comparing to pretty much every good marathon runner. So, I was trying to run away from her.

After what felt like a marathon, but wasn't really more than 8 miles since the last aid station I finally reached the dirt road that I guessed was my finish line. And it was. I made sure to trash my quads on that last section flying, and soon I crossed the paved road, saw many people cheering and the colored flags, turned to the bridge, and past the finish line. I finished in 5:55, 1st female, 10th overall. Second place woman finished in 6:11. The fast local women I was chasing all the second half of the race finished 4th in 6:33. No ideas when I  managed to pass her.

Nice medal for the overall win of women's race

I wasn't tired at all, my legs were still feeling great. I was amazed how good I felt and how easy walking seemed comparing to other finishers. I am definitely a 50 to 100 mile person ;)

Winning the race is awesome. I clearly realize that the race was not competitive, and even comparing with 2011 performance of the female winner Shawna Tompkins my win is still a very average result (in 2011 my time would still be good for the second place female, but Shawna finished in 5:12! that is the whole 43 minutes ahead of me!!). I am happy that now I am able to be competitive in the local races, but I can easily count at least 3 girls only in WA state that I have no chances of passing in any race ever. Local races usually attract runners from BC and OR, and here I am completely screwed as especially Oregon is known for producing super human mountain runners including the whole US 100k team.

I decided to close year 2013 of trail racing on this positive event of winning my first trail race.

I am going to concentrate on bouldering competitions season in next few weeks. Then my main goal will be beating the 3:20 time mark at Seattle marathon on December, 1. I feel that 3:30 is a very possible result for me, but I want to work my ass off in the next two months, that's why the official goal is 3:20. Yes, it means lots of speed work... :)