Garmin Time: 02:09:10
GPS Tracks: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/8553760
It was such a pretty day for a run. I woke up at 5:00 to the sounds of neighborhood bike riders going down to the start line for the STP Classic (two days, two hundred and two miles, over hill and over dale). The sun was out and I could tell it would be a scorcher.
Busied myself with race prep, dog walking, pet feeding, and reading until 7:45 when PT and Sj came to pick me up. PT and I had convinced Sj to come race instead of the group run on the Iron Horse Trail—a long, steady, exposed, uphill slog from Rattlesnake to McClellan Butte that is important for building endurance. It didn't take much. :-P
Got there in plenty of time to stretch, check in, etc.. PT headed off for a short warm-up and I hung out.
This year there were changes to the course. SM, the Race Director, explained the circuit around field at Sky Country and then the immediate turn off of Clay Pit Road onto Coyote Creek instead of running up to Klondike Swamp to get to Lost Beagle. Same basic distance as last year but the new course (an older course that was resurrected) would help spread out the pack. There were a number of questions about the course: "What is the elevation gain on this course?" "What are the last three miles like?" "Hard and Hilly" was the response to a fair amount of moans. I am really glad to have done this before and to have spent a lot of time on these trails in all sorts of weather.
At 9:11 SM shouted "GO!" and we were off. My plan was to run conservatively because of what I learned last year on this run (see my 2008 run report) and I am only two weeks out from the marathon. I was trotting along in the middle of the pack. PT jetted off to get out ahead of the main pack and I lost contact with Sj immediately on the start. The grass was really dry and made a "swish, swish" noise as the pack went over it. People were chatting, mostly about how uneven the ground was under the grass, but it just seemed very quiet.
The turn onto Coyote Creek took me by surprise. Not sure why. It was pleasant to be off the road so quickly and I just settled into the line. It has been really dry here in the Seattle area of late and there was a fine dust in the air from all the boots going along the trail. This went on all the way to Lost Beagle, the first significant climb of the day. It is not particularly steep or long (.7 miles) but it always transforms the run from something of a lark to a serious trek. It is here that the inexperienced folks who go out fast find themselves walking and/or stepping off the trail to let others pass. It is certainly a wake up for me too because now I have to work AND avoid running into the same pair of trees I always manage to hit, brush against, and otherwise impact (someday I will get a picture of those trees). I did a little walking but mostly running.
If anything my mind was off thinking about the climb up Wilderness Peak and the corresponding drop down Wilderness Cliff. I just concentrated on not tripping and keeping my pace as steady as possible. There was a woman running about 30 feet ahead of me and a guy behind me at 50 feet (he took a header on Anti-Aircraft but was OK) but I really felt alone.
I walked on Clay Pit Road after we popped out on Cougar Pass and ate a gel, drank some from my pack, and took a cup of water from the aid station and then headed up Mine Shaft to East Fork. There is some climbing but the trail generally heads down the hill. Running is complicated by many roots and lots of random rocks and bricks that maintenance crews have used to build up the trail. Easy to roll an ankle here. Dropping East Fork towards Fred's Railroad I was passed by a whole train of runners taking advantage of the wider trail and the downhill section.
The fun really began with Shy Bear, an up-and-down and twisty trail that goes out to Wilderness Peak. I was running well, leaping over big roots and exposed rocks. I could hear people ahead of me and soon started seeing the colored shirts of those folks who had just passed me. Shy Bear is more difficult than it appears and I had been thinking about running evenly on this section since the start. It worked.
Wilderness Peak is the second significant climb of the day, 250 feet or so of climbing over .4 miles. I just decided to power walk this section and found that I was actually covering the distance faster than had I been running. I gained on a Really Tall Guy (RTG) who was trotting the section and he let me pass. Almost caught another runner just after the summit before the 1.3-mile, quad-burning descent down Wilderness Cliff. THAT was fun. I didn't bomb the drop as I have previously but heeded the advice of my coach about running hills—hammer the uphills and recover on the downhills—because this was such a technical descent and very easy to go out of control. RTG passed me on the downhill and we chatted a bit. He said that his legs were a real asset on descents but not so hot on climbs. We traded off back and forth for a bit. About half way down I heard laughter and cheering. A hiking group had given up trying to ascend against this tide of runners coming down and had parked themselves on some logs next to the trail. They seemed so happy that I couldn't help but smiling as I went past.
By this time my quads were beginning to bark a bit and I was developing a side stitch. But I worked through both and was soon at the bottom when another train of folks went past. Some of the same people who had passed me previously and who I had caught going up Shy Bear and Wilderness Peak. I stepped aside as we transitioned onto Wilderness Creek, let them pass, and then fell in behind them. Their tail-end charlie immediately started walking and so I began the process of working my way through them again, walking up the hills and running the flats and downhills. Almost collided with Head Phone Runner 1 (HPR1) because she couldn't hear my passing call and wouldn't get out the way. I finally managed to get past her but surprised her in the process. Pretty soon I was back out in front, caught and passed RTG, and then headed out. It got pretty quiet behind me as I flew down Long View and out to Deceiver.
I came up behind Head Phone Runner 2 (HPR2) as she was futzing with her iPod. She looked a bit done in, noticed that I was coming, got out of the way, and then fell in behind me for about a mile. Turns out I was just what she needed to get going again and she went out ahead of me as I walked a climb. She thanked me as she went. More hikers too, and they looked a bit surprised to see runners everywhere along with orange tape, cones, and course markings.
Two miles or so to go and I knew what to expect. The Train was nowhere that I could hear (I know this oddly phrased but that is the way it is in the woods). Fred's Railroad was just a blast. I heard voices behind me and kicked it up a gear or two to power out the end as much as I could. Caught another runner on Old Man's Trail and then another walking out the last bit of the course. Came around a corner and there was this runner cheering everyone on and saying only 150 yards left (he was the overall winner with a time of 1:15 and change). I kicked in my afterburners, high-fived SM's kids, and heard PT yell "Go Robin!" as I swept towards the finish line. HPR2 was in the chute just as I came in and we shook hands and she told me I had set a good pace for her.
Then it was time to drink everything in sight, stretch, and to carve up some watermelons while we waited for Sj to finish. I think PT's first question after "How was it?" was "Did you get stung?" Uh, no? Did you? Yes. Apparently a whole bunch of folks did but the bees had cleared by the time I got there (Yikes! I mean, ah, err, Thanks Guys! Sometimes it pays to be in the middle of the pack. :-P ).
Sj finished in about 2:40 with a BIG smile on her face! A great ending to a great race.
I cannot really compare this outing to last year's because of the changes in the beginning of the course BUT I can say that I felt much stronger and also smarter than last time. Power walking helped keep me much fresher as did the experience I have gained over the past year. Having just run the marathon also helped as I am still benefiting from that training base. I certainly feeling strong. Now I have to work on speed.
Couch surfing? Well earned!