"Everybody, just follow Uli!"
With those words SM, the RD for the Cougar Mtn Trail Series, began his pre-race talk.
"Yeah Right!" I thought.
Here I was, with 190 other runners getting ready for the third race in the series, a 10-mile trail race, after running a very pretty but brutally hilly 16 the day before out in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area. What was I thinking? (You know you are asking this too.)
I was thinking this would just be a fun 10-mile "run" through the woods but it didn't turn out that way actually. Coach T was right, there is no way that I can't race during a race.
Here is the bottom line:
Official Time: 2:01:56
Official Place: 119 out of 190 total runners
Gender Place: 88/101
GPS Tracks: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/342855
Official Course Map: http://www.seattlerunningcompany.com/Events/Cougar/05pix/Cougar10MileCourse.pdf
Number of Gels Consumed: 2
Number of Electrolyte Capsules Consumed: 1
Race #: 15
Number of Blisters: 1 (left side of left big toe! I'll spare you a photo.)
Race Firsts: First time wearing my backpack during a race (mine is an older version)
Fun Factor (Scale of 1 to 10): 8
And the blow-by-blow:
Got to the start early (as always) in enough time to claim a prime parking spot at the trail head, updated my Twitter, listened to the news and checked the weather. People started trickling and and I immediately noticed a big difference from the 5 and 7.6 mile races—even more tanned greyhounds than in the past and A LOT less people who looked like me. "Bumble Bee Man" was missing as was " Short, Jingly Keys Woman" (she came out for the 7.6 miler though). Instead, people seemed harder in aspect despite the jovial mood at the start. Something serious was about to happen. I enjoyed listening to all the race strategy talk as I thought about what I was going to do (run it easily). The only other person I knew out there was BB. We had a little time to catch up but not much, she had not run the 7.6 (turned out for it but felt ill and so ran later in the day).
I wandered out and away from the start for a bit into a grassy field and came across a rather large Garter Snake sunning itself on the freshly mowed "hay". Watched it for a bit while soaking up the sun, marveling at the clear blue sky, and breathing the fresh air. I've seen a number of Garter Snakes over the past few weeks, more than I remember from years past. The snake took off after a while and I walked back to the start area to do a very easy and short warm-up and some stretching. There is nothing like doing Yoga in the sun is there? The grass was a little itchy and slippery though.
SM called everyone over to the Port-a-Potty line to do the course briefing. Everyone, except those otherwise occupied, could hear. :-P
This briefing was a bit different. Same marker types and so on but with an added discussion of the new aid station at the 5 and 7 mile (this had to be wheelbarrowed in) and then, it was time to go.
Starting and Trotting:
As I was feeling a bit tired from the exertions of the previous day I decided to run fairly easy and see what happens. At 9:08 or so we were off and people just started sprinting up the road. I ran a 9:15 pace for the first mile and felt quite comfortable. Some people passed me and I passed some others. Lost Beagle Trail is where the climbing really begins and I managed to hit the same two trees as I did during the 7.6 race. They are just too close together! No bruise though. Gonna have to work on that.
The pack really thinned out fast during this race and I found myself running behind a few folks who were walking up Lost Beagle. Passed when I could and was passed by some others (the story of my life). My legs were feeling quite strong and my knees were not complaining at all. The woman running ahead of me was really scaring me or, rather, I was scared for her. She was fast but kept on tripping on the many roots and rocks that are on the trails. She eventually took off although I caught up with her at about the 7.
The Anti-Aircraft Peak Trail section of the race went by very quickly, unlike during either the 5 and the 7 events. There was more room to maneuver and I fell in behind some folks at a respectable 10:32 pace. Quick shot of water at the three and onto Mine Shaft Trail, past the covered mine shaft and out and around a deep pool of black water that I have run around zillions of times but thought was something else (a water-filled quarry perhaps) as I went round. Mine Shaft changes into the flattish, rather windy, and wide East Fork Trail and I sped up for that mile running, mostly alone and loving every minute of it when . . .
A Flash of Orange:
All of a sudden I hear footsteps and heavy breathing behind me.
"Passing" a Greyhound in an orange shirt breathesOff he goes, down a straight away, around a bend and then . . .
"Go ahead" says I
"Cheers" says he, "Good going . . ."
"Ta" says I
Orange Shirt Greyhound has managed to surprise someone on this rather wide trail and she has gone down. He stops, her friends are there trying to get her up, I stop. She is up, obviously in some pain and trying to put weight on her ankle, and says "He came by so fast!" Her friends tell us to go (I saw her at the finish and she seemed just fine) and so we do down to Fred's Railroad, down to Shy Bear, and then to Wilderness Peak.
The Race Begins:
I am alone again. On occasion I can see a flash of color or the white of someone's shirt but otherwise I am quite alone. Shy Bear is pretty hilly but I've done it before. Wilderness Peak, however, is just up (and I have done this before too). Pretty soon I catch up to some runners sort of running and sort of walking up the trail and I can hear a faster group of runners coming up behind me (at least the seem faster). I am now seeing more hikers too. Most of them are Koreans and they stand aside to let us through. I greet them with a cheery "Hello" and "kam sah hamnida" (Thank You)—some seem surprised at this (I had a Korean girlfriend once, yes folks, I have a past).
The Race on Hiatus:
Up we go, a tighter little group. Very steep walking. I stand aside to let the faster group go in front of me and keep on climbing after them. It seems faster to walk than it does to run. I am feeling well actually and time slips by so quickly that I am surprised to find myself at the summit, having caught the faster group again. We all turned on to Wilderness Cliff Trail for a descent of a little over a mile in which we lose about 743 feet. If I've done my maths right, this averages out to about a 10% grade overall but with some 18 to 20% sections. Very steep.
You would think I would be bomb this. So would I but the faster group turned out to be not-so-fast on the downhills. Why? Lots of reasons. Mostly, they were all wearing road shoes and at every turn and steep area would stop and be careful because of the steepness and slipperiness of the dirt. Can't blame them really. I remember my first time on this trail too. Took it very easy here until I had an opportunity to pass and then I was off.
The Race Begins (again):
My turn to surprise someone as I took advantage of a tree that divided the trail in two. The slower-faster group went right, I said "Passing", and went left. Two other people went with me, I heard "Thank You" and off we went.
I was flying! Wish I could say that I was efficient though. I wasn't. I jumped what I could, swung around trees to help me around corners, and otherwise bombed as straight a line as I could. By the time I got to the bottom and onto Wilderness Creek Trail I could tell that my legs were tiring and had to back off. The two runners who came with me passed (I caught one at the finish, the other, who knows). More climbing and still more climbing to the 7 and the aid station. Had a quick swallow of water and my first ever Electrolyte Capsule and off I went to the Long View, Deceiver, and Shy Bear Marsh section of the course.
The Race on Hiatus2
The Long View/Deceiver/Shy Bear Marsh section kicked my butt during the 7.6 race. I was out of fuel and needed water, over heated, sweating, and had massively fogged glasses so I could not see anything. This time it seemed easier and, oddly enough, I could not recognize anything. It was as if I was running on a completely new trail. Really bizarre. I did some walking but mostly trotted and managed to catch up with another group with whom I stayed with for the remainder of the time, spending a lot of time staring at the tattooed ankle of the woman in front of me. It was quite old and had faded and blurred so I can't tell you what it was.
Got passed on an uphill by two people in 2008 Vancouver Marathon shirts, they were sweatier than I. Left on Shy Bear towards Fred's Railroad where the trail opens up and becomes flatter and downhill and it was time to pick it up. I wasn't tired and felt like I had a lot left in me so I poured it on. Passed the Vancouver Marathon T-Shirts and stayed with the people I had been with for the last couple of miles.
Traffic jam at Bypass Trail and I had to wait until the bottom (the beginning of the uphill) to make a passing move. And move I did. Poured it on, up the hill and was dimly aware of someone coming behind me and of one of the runners asking a hiker how far away from the finish we were (just over a quarter mile). Everything felt strong and I did not feel at all like I was going to have problems sustaining the sprint. Left on Old Man's Trail and to the finish. Crossed the line running a 7:16. Heard x:01:59 as I went past . . .
Went straight to get water, Nuum, watermelon, and some potato chips. Standing around drinking, eating, and trying to to stumble over an "accessory dog" that was worrying my legs (I didn't even see it and actually stepped on the poor thing). Tried to do some stretching too BUT everything was cramping, and I do mean CRAMPING. I could not hold anything for longer than a few seconds without serious pain. Wonder why? I was well-hydrated.
Then something happened to me that has never happened to me after a race. People I did not know came up and started talking to me:
German Sounding Woman (GSW): "What happened to you? You just took off . . "
Me: mumbles something about "Afterburners" and grins
Me: "How was your race?"
GSW: "Mine was good but I cannot believe you had that much left in you to finish like that!"
GSW: "I thought you were going to make it, blow up, or have an MI. Wow!"
We chatted for a few more minutes and then Visiting Floridian Runner (VFR) came up to me as I was getting more watermelon.
VFR: "That was some finish."
Me: "Thanks. And how was your race."
VFR: "Good but this was first trail race here. I am from Florida and we don't have anything like that there. It is all flat. This was really challenging but I had fun."
Me: "Well, you have the heat and humidity that we don't.
We chatted for a few more minutes and the SM started giving out the prizes.
The results are out and I came in 88th out of 101 men and 119 out of 190. Not able to stay in the top 50% but at least I am in the top 63% (with rounding).
And how did Uli do?
1:15:16 and that was WITH stopping to retie some of the course marking ribbons . . .
I have a lot of work to do . . .