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!


  1. Yikes!! Congrats on the win. It was hard-earned..
    Hornets and yellow jackets have me concerned right now too.
    Sounds like it did not react to cause problems for you. That is fortunate!

    Way to overcome being rattled to secure a win. Thats a valuable skill. Recover well !

    1. Thank you, Raina. I appreciate your thoughtful comment!