Sunday, August 24, 2014

Cutthroat Classic: Scones, Stings & Scenes

Having been in the northwest for almost two years now, we are just starting to explore beyond the Cascade’s boundaries.  Two weeks ago we went up and over Washington Pass to check out the course for the Cutthroat Classic, a race organized by the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA). Ever since moving here I have been asked if I have run this race for “the most incredible views” that are at the top of the climb. Indeed the views atop Cutthroat Pass are unbelievably beautiful and I am glad I was able to run the course beforehand to be able to enjoy the landscape—something I am never able to do while racing.

The Methow Valley has been hit hard this summer. That is an understatement. From extreme devastating wildfires that scorched a quarter-million acres (an area five times the size of Seattle!) to now mudslides caused by relentless rains and flash flooding, the Valley cannot catch a break. The camaraderie of the Valley’s people and businesses is moving; everyone is helping to support each other during this particularly hard time. This was obvious during my short visit.

You can’t help but be drawn to the allure of the Methow Valley.  Despite the disasters, the vibe is positive, welcoming and relaxed. Do not let Mother Nature deter you from experiencing some of the best trails, food and people in Washington. It is only a hop, skip and a jump away—a perfect weekend vacation that will not disappoint.

I was anxious to get back to Mazama for the Cutthroat Classic. I was particularly looking forward to the Mazama Store, a charming market and bakery with some of the best scones I have ever eaten in my life. Fortunately for the runners, the store opened early on Saturday morning for fresh coffee, breakfast sandwiches and baked goods to fuel our efforts. Tad and I were joined by our good friends, Al and Mark. Though they like to tease me and give me a hard time, there is no better company for trail adventures and I love them dearly.  

I was up and out of the tent by 5am to eat and gather my belongings for the race. The four of us—and 300 other runners—went to the Mazama store for coffee and then headed up the pass to Rainy Lake Trailhead. The race started with wave 1 of 5 at 8:00am. Thinking I had plenty of time, I started my 2 mile warm up at about 7:20am. When I finished, the bathroom line was forever. There was no way I was going to make it to the start on time if I waited. So I jumped in the bushes. Unbeknownst to me I squatted right over a hornets’ nest and when I felt the sting I jumped up in full Forrest Gump fashion and yelled, “Something bit me!” I ran out (never having gone to the bathroom) holding my rear end in disbelief of my stupidity. I was shaken up and still had to go to the bathroom with 5 minutes to race start. This is a runner’s nightmare. I ran to the start and decided to try again with two minutes to go. I rushed to the line having done no strides, no stretching, no pre-race mental preparation. I felt unfocused, discombobulated and my butt hurt.

Photo credit MVSTA

I lined up, coincidentally beside a group of guys all wearing La Sportiva shoes. We were off and in a quarter mile were on tight single track. The race starts at 4800 feet and climbs 5.5 miles to 6800 feet before crashing 2200 feet down to 4600 feet at Cutthroat Lake Trailhead for a total of ~11.1 miles. I felt bad on the climb. Part of it was physical; part of it was mental. I went into the race tired. The week prior, we bought a house, I started a new job, there was a creature in my current house running around eating my produce and I was running a lot and did not back off for this event. Mentally I was totally distracted and out of sorts.  I didn’t get it together until the top of the pass where a switch flipped and I finally went into race mode and worked together with a fellow racer to bomb the descent. This was probably my best downhill performance. My body verifies that this morning (hip flexor pain). I floated over the scree and scrambles and never faltered. It could have been the stability of my Bushidos, but I think I am really getting a lot better and more confident with descents.

I managed to pull off the women’s win by 11 minutes with a 30 second course record and 9th overall in a time of 1:26:12. This was far from my goal time—as inscribed by the splits on my arm—but all variables considered it’s not bad. Full results here.

Though my pre-race warm up was far from perfect, it was good practice for the future…because you know something like that is going to happen again. It may not be a lack of access to the port-o-potties or a sting in the buttocks, but a perfect pre-race preparation is not a guarantee and I need to be able to bounce back from adversity, re-focus and be in the moment.

Thank you to Danica Ready, MVSTA Program Director, volunteers and local businesses for a flawless event. The burritos made by the Methow Valley Nordic Junior Team were delicious. I look forward to coming back to Cutthroat next year and returning to the Valley this winter for some fun on your many acres of cross country ski trails.

For the record, MVSTA did include a warning in the race packet regarding Yellow Jackets (ground hornets) active along the course. They weren’t kidding! At least I get to go around in my best Forrest Gump accent and tell people that I got stung "directly in the buttocks."

*Thanks to Al Coyle for the pictures!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Steeplechase Showdown: Mountain Cup Finale

Course map and elevation profile.
A big lesson was learned the last time I went to Park City, Utah for the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase, the final race in the La Sportiva Mountain Cup: stay in a hotel with air conditioning. Last year the combination of a hot hotel room, laboring lungs and a constant nosebleed didn't leave me much to desire to return to this event. But this being the culminating race in the series, I couldn’t resist returning to get the opportunity to hang out with the La Sportiva crew and my fellow competitors who have grown to be great dear friends. Also, having only run 3 races in the series, I needed an extra race in order to place in the most competitive top 5 finish in the history of the series. The race itself –albeit a challenge for this sea-level girl— always brings a great sense of accomplishment and is a rewarding experience.

So off to Salt Lake City Tad and I went.  I have been traveling back and forth to races the past 6 weeks so I have got into the mechanical pattern of coming home, washing my clothes and then putting them right back into my suitcase. Luggage has become a permanent fixture in the hallway. We drove to Park City Friday morning to stun the lungs with a little shake out run on the course. As seems to be the norm lately, we serendipitously ran into Megan Deakins and David Roche at a cafĂ© for lunch. We must share the same eating patterns as we see them every time we go out for a meal at races. Megan and David have had busy summers racing as well and will be traveling to Italy for the World Mountain Running Championship this September. After a long chat we parted ways to nap and continue preparation for the next day.

Sarah and I scramblin'.
For dinner we met Sarah Kjorstad, her husband and adorable little boy for an Italian dinner and a glass of red wine to, you know, quiet the nerves. There is such a calming effect to be around someone who is about to go through the same experience and shares the same pre-race fears. They may not be the same fears (Sarah fears coming in last whereas I fear getting lost, falling down the mountain, getting stuck in a crevasse and not having a tourniquet for when I have to sever my leg off), but they are concerns nonetheless.

LOVE this animal-like pic of Megan Deakins!
We came to the starting line, calm in each other’s presence and at the count of one, two, three, were off. An immediate start up a steep service road had us going a blistering 9ish minute pace. Megan Deakins led the way for the women, with Megan Kimmel close behind, followed by local Salomon tri-athlete and Xterra National Champion Emma Garrard, myself and Sarah. I worked together with the men around me to stick as close to Emma as I could until I reached the clearing to begin the battle up Jupiter Peak. I took a moment to look up at what I was about to ascend and it was truly remarkable. A line of racers studded the path ahead of me with hands on knees. At the point when I had to start using my hands to pull me up the final lip of the peak, Sarah came by with an encouraging word and took off to the second “steeple.” When I reached the climb to the top of Tri-Peak, I saw the Megans, Emma and Sarah all right there. This was a race! Unfortunately, by the time I got up and over the peak, their head start on the downhill was enough to gap me to the end. Fortunately though, I had a guardian angel with me the whole way down. Mark Christopherson, where ever you are, thank you for your encouragement, support, offers of food and water and cheers. You are one of the reason I love trail running. Never will you meet more genuine, kind people. I stuck with Mark as we came down the final 7 miles at 6:20 pace until the last mile.

Last Km to the finish.

I crossed the line 5th woman, 19th overall in a time of 2:08:33… 10 minutes faster than last year. What an incredible race for the ladies! The top 5 woman were within a 5 minute and 35 second spread! The 6th place woman was La Sportiva teammate and ultrarunner Jennilyn Eaton. You can read her humorous account on her experience as to how a “short fast distance” differs from a 100-miler on her blog. Full results here

150Megan DEAKINSSUNNYVALE CAF 20 to 24002:02:58.100:00:00.0007:41.1
2108Sarah KJORSTADJACKSON WYF 35 to 39002:05:11.400:02:13.3007:49.5
3107Megan KIMMELSILVERTON COF 30 to 34002:05:58.900:03:00.8007:52.4
469Emma GARRARDPARK CITY UTF 30 to 34002:06:19.000:03:20.9007:53.7
547Maria DALZOTF 25 to 29002:08:33.900:05:35.8008:02.1
655Jennilyn EATONSANDY UTF 25 to 29002:27:37.100:24:39.0009:13.6

Congratulations to Megan Kimmel for winning the 2014 La Sportiva Mountain Cup. This makes the 6th year in a row that Megan has been victorious. She is truly one of the best on and off the course. Cheers to Ryan Woods, La Sportiva teammate for taking home the stein mug on the men’s side. I ended up 4th in the series by one point. While that is disheartening, it is hard to be disappointed in a good performance and 10 minute improvement from last year. With such a competitive field this year I needed that 5th race to score more points, but it is what it is. Final Mountain Cup results here

Thank you La Sportiva, Everett and Ian for the support you have given me this year and for being such a prominent figure in the growing niche of trail running. Thank you to the Mountain Trails Foundation of Park City, Utah for allowing us to play on your trails and appreciate the beauty of the Wasatch Mountains. Much love and gratitude goes to my support in the Northwest- Bogg’sTrail Butter, Terrain Gym and Align Chiropractic.

Top men and women finishers in the La Sportiva Mountain Cup.

I am going to take some time now to reflect on the past 3 races; determine what I did right, what I can do to improve my physical and mental training and write down the many lessons I have learned so that I can continue to grow as an athlete and a person. It is time to put the luggage away and pack the cooler for some mountain adventures in my own backyard. Let me know if you want to join the fun.