Saturday, December 8, 2012

My First 25k, Longest Race to Date

There are so many trail races to choose from here in Washington, it’s dizzying. But one race that particularly stuck out was the Deception Pass 25k, a sold-out race that takes place in Deception Pass State Park on both Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands, which are beautiful pieces of land nestled in the Puget Sound. The 15.5 mile course is a mixture of dense forests, mountain tops and beach fronts.

Fortunately, with the help of race director, James Varner of Rainshadow Running, I was able to enter. So, three weeks before the race, we plugged the course into our Garmin and went to check it out. One of the allures to runners is the famous Deception Pass Bridge which racers have to run over twice. There is a narrow strip of sidewalk and a thin metal beam that separates you from the rushing tidal flow and whirlpools 180 feet below. To tell you I was terrified is an understatement. I have an intense fear of bridges, whether it’s walking, running, biking or driving over them. Our first trial run was a particularly windy day and crowded with tourists. Since this was my first time running over the bridge, I was very anxious. I grabbed hold of Tad’s arm/shirt with my over-sized mitten and shielded my eyes with the other hand. It is very difficult to run with no arms and no vision in single file while holding on for dear life. Tad was getting frustrated because I was knocking him into the railing. The more he yelled the more freaked out I was. Eventually we got over it. Whew. Longest quarter mile of my life.

The course covers pretty much every inch of the park in six “lollipops” and loops.  After several wrong turns, backtracks, and a cliff scaling, we figured out five of the six loops with the help of fellow Bhamsters who happened to be out on the course (Thanks, Al and the gang!) and left markings on the trail that directed us where to go. The last four mile loop left us scratching our heads and exhausted so we gave up and decided to try again another day.

We like knee socks

The second attempt went much smoother. Accompanied by my good friend and ex-Mountaineer teammate, Stephanie, we came up with a much more humane approach to crossing the bridge. Positive self-talk and the proper hand-holding technique got us over safely without causing too much of a scene. We nailed the first five loops, but we got lost again on the last loop.

Steph's First Trail Run
 On our third visit, a week before the race, Tad and I did a 4 mile up-tempo run on the last loop of the course. No bridge crossing needed. Three times is the charm. We jogged the loop first and finally got it right. So from the bridge we averaged 8-minute pace for four miles which felt close to race effort. Now I felt as prepared as I was going to be. Time to race!

Ever notice the night before an important race your mind and body is ultra-heightened to the senses? I swear I could hear every WWU college party last night from five blocks over. My bed was so uncomfortable no matter my positioning and I was constantly itchy. Ah well, I guess that’s why they say it’s the night before the night before’s sleep that counts.

We arrived at the race shortly after 7:00am for an 8:00am start. It was just starting to get light out. I picked up my number, made a couple of bathroom stops and had time for a 1.5 mile warm-up. I decided on my Inov-8 F-Lites because I knew the rocks were going to be slick and the course wasn't going to be muddy. The F-Lites are perfect due to their low profile tread. On the starting line, James Varner cautioned all of the runners that this was the most confusing course, but the most scenic, but the most dangerous of all his trail races. We took off on the roads for a mile before turning onto the singletrack. I went out in 7:30-something, which felt much better than the cross country race two weeks ago! The three miles leading up to the bridge was uneventful and Tad was faithfully there to hold my hand as we crossed. Then I jumped the guardrail to start a series of out and back loops. At this point, there was one woman in front of me that I was running with.  I passed her on the first of the 4 loops. As I entered the second loop, I turned to see that the trail of people that were just behind me were gone. WTF moment #1. I stopped, waited a bit, thought it was very strange because I knew I was going the right way. I asked the leading men as they were coming back for reassurance. They said I was on course and I ran that whole loop alone. When I got to the first water stop at loop 3, someone yelled “Great job; you’re the second woman!” WTF moment #2. How did I get in second if I wasn't passed? As I was contemplating this, the woman who I had passed on the first loop had already done the third loop before I even got there. At this point I was really confused because I couldn't understand how this could be. My miles were right on and I was running hard, under my goal pace. I then saw Tad and was ready to explain to him that I didn’t know how I got so far behind, but he said that she missed a loop and as I was heading back from the third loop, she was backtracking. I figured she must have realized her mistake and was going back to fix it. Ok, justice is served, things are fine. I proceeded for the next couple miles picking my way through the men, feeling really strong on the steep ascents. I met Tad to go back over the bridge and then I was able to have fun and race without the fear of the bridge crossings on my back. 

Finishing in 2:18.54
With about 4.5 mile left, I confidently ran the loop that we just tempoed the week before. That is, until I got to the top of the biggest hill on the course where men were running in circles around the same spot Tad and I got lost practicing the course. I followed a man down a trail that was overgrown, clearly not the right way so I whipped around straight into a low hanging branch. Surprised, but not unconscious, I scrambled back up to where I started and like a guardian angel, Tad was there directing the way. After that, it was smooth sailing to the finish. I crossed the finish line and saw the same woman who had gotten off course and ahead of me earlier in the race standing there. WTF moment #3. Apparently a group of runners took another wrong turn, cutting off a large portion of the course. I was excited about my performance and expected a big hug and kiss from Tad, but instead he was trying to help clear the misunderstanding. After some discussion, it became apparent where they missed the course.  Regardless of the confusion, I was happy to win and break the previous course record by about 15 minutes.  I will be able to take several minutes off next time, not just because of stopping and hesitating, but because I started out a little more conservative than I needed to. This was my first stab at a 25K so the future looks promising for this distance and beyond.
Fantastic Glenn Tachiyama photo!
Thanks to Rainshadow Running for showcasing some of the world’s best landscape in a twisty turny gnarly trail race. I’m excited to start preparing for the Fragrance Lake 20k on February 17th…after a good meal and a big nap, of course. 

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations, Maria. I have a big smile on my face!