This quiet little unassuming race, tucked away on one of the San Juan islands, is the Medusa of ultras -- beautiful but lethal! Its steep climbs turn your legs to stone and the plummeting, never ending descents leave you wishing the rest of you would turn to stone so you could just roll down the hills.
Tom and Dr. Kevin picked me up at my school Friday afternoon and were lucky to escape with their lives after being mobbed by my unruly class who descended upon them with poking fingers, awkward questions and pinned them to the blackboards. (Lecture given Monday morning on how to make new adults feel welcome in the class...)
The weather this year was perfect ... sunny like last year but warmer and no snow. I didn't sleep too well (although apparently i was snoring at some point) but one of our cabin mates was thrashing around all night as though he was being eaten by a school of piranhas or something...
Last year i wore a pack to carry stuff. This year i decided to wear a bike jersey with pockets in the back that i could fill with grub and carry two bottles. Worked pretty well! Food is secure but easy to get at and the bottles can be filled fast.
At 830am we were off. The trails on this course are fantastic! Beautiful single track and really nice soft double track lined with vibrant green moss. Not very technical either. A real treat to run on.
The course has three big climbs and three big descents where you pretty much lose all you gained in the last climb. It's exasperating! You just wanna cry sometimes.
Anyway .. last year i didn't train much and also had a bit of an injury which took care of a two or three weeks and was still around a bit for the race .... so my time was around 7 hours. I enjoyed it more though i think... going slower : )
This year i trained more and smarter (although still not as diligent as i could have been) and i hoped to come in around 5:30 and beat Tom of course. Hmmm.....
I lost sight of him about 10 minutes in and ran for another 30 minutes or so without seeing him anywhere ahead of me. This had me cursing at myself that i couldn't be that much slower - heck i'd pretty much done the same training! Where the hell was he?! I pressed the pace a bit but tried to remind myself of the hours ahead of me. Then finally ... contact! I saw him going up a trail toward the top of mt pickett. I don't think he saw me and i tucked in behind trees and got out of sight but pressed a bit more to close the gap ... he was maybe 200m ahead. Doesn't sound like much but OMG!! is it ever hard to close it! I would round a corner after the trail levelled off thinking i'd see him ... but gone! poof! What?! Then i'd see him again .. almost at the top of mt pickett now and i was maybe 150m behind.
We descended the long winding double track down mt pickett. Tom always either out of sight or briefly in sight on a switch back below me .... each little maddening glimpse causing me to accelerate a bit. Then he disappeared as we neared the first aide station. But as i turned a sharp corner i saw him about 80metres ahead of me ..... walking! Haul in on the reel while i get the bat ready to beat him over the head with when i pass him! But then when i got to the spot where i thought for sure he'd be within clubbing distance i see him disappearing down the trail in the forest ahead! God damn it! I knew this pressing the pace to close was going to cost me later on but i wanted to catch up. As we started to drop into the first aide station i saw him below me again and he saw me out of the corner of his eye at which point the gig was up and i yelled "ooooooh yeaaah!!' to let him know i was right there.
At the first aide station Tom had filled his bottles and was on his way out as i came in. I wondered if he'd stop and wait ... but no .. he took off ... gloves are off when it's a race. I filled my bottles quickly, grabbed some grub and went after him as he disappeared off the end of an open field 150m away. I don't know if it was right to push at this point or how much it would cost me later but i wanted to catch up. I saw him look back as he went into another trail ... this time only 50m ahead and i knew he was thinking "damn!!" and started to push a bit himself.
The powerline was coming up. A one mile climb pretty much straight up that you pretty much have to power hike. I really wanted to catch Tom on this climb and felt the burn in the legs but i also felt pretty strong and i put some effort into closing a maddeningly small but persistent gap. I could see him checking back and knew he was a little worried and pushing hard himself now.
But as i crested the top of the climb i looked and the gap had blown open. i couldn't see him and i knew there was a long descent coming and that he was better at those than me. Going into that descent i kept looking as far ahead as i could see ... but nothing. Same for the loop of the lake where some of the leaders were running back against the grain .. wrong direction. I maintained a decent turnover around the lake but was feeling the ache and it was a little disheartening to have lost contact with the Creakster ahead of me.
I hoped to catch sight of him on the big climb up mt constitution but i couldn't see him. The first half of the climb is punishingly steep and my calf muscles and achilles tendons were screaming. The second half levels off a bit and you can run some good sections and see out over the ocean to mt baker and the snowy coastal peaks. The sun felt warm and my spirits were raised a bit by the views and the sun and the prospect of food and coke at the summit aide station. I reached the top and left (after a sandwich, some coke..and a few more pins in the tom craik voodoo doll... use silver pins next time ) at around 4hrs:07. Tom had left about 7 minutes earlier... not that i knew at that point. But a 2 minute gap had now become 7.
It only got worse though. The trail drops steeply off the summit and i ran gingerly down and then ascended quite well back to the powerline and crossed it to begin the pounding descent to the lake and the last mile or two. Again i was painfully slow going down the steep trail and only managed to find some speed and turnover for the last loop of the lake to the finish. 5hrs:40. The 2 then 7 minute gap had turned into 22 minutes! Tom had blasted the downhills and everything else in the last 12 miles to give the old jedi a butt kicking.
He is a more dedicated and whole (nutrition, recovery, stretching, strategy) runner than i am (i like my donuts, sticky buns and chips too much) and this dedication compounds the time he beats me by the longer the race gets. He has earned his victories and continues to make inroads against some of our community's better known runners. Look out! If you see a guy behind you with chocolate all over his face and a witty line in both holsters ... it's likely him! He never forgets a face or a name ... and you'd be wise not to forget his..
Meanwhile ... i'll try to give him a race over the shorter distances where i can hang on better ... up to 30k.