Sunday, July 31, 2011

White River 50

The weather for the White River 50 was amazing. Summer visited the northwest for a day, and I was there. Clear skies, with movie star views of Mount Rainier from Suntop (Mile 37) and around Corral Pass (Mile 16 or so). In the morning, the sun bouncing off the mountain forced me to squint. In the afternoon, the mountain looked as if it were something not of this world—just spectacular. These were the best views I’ve ever seen of Mount Rainier when doing this race. Climbing the mountain is increasingly a priority for me.

The bad news is I had a horrible run. For the first 10 or so miles, I had something going on with the digestive system. But the trouble really hit when my left hamstring started locking up. It’s been giving me problems for the last couple months, and I’ve sort of ignored it, figuring I’d blow through it. It was really frustrating. The hips would not engage, and one leg was working harder than the other, and so it goes. I was resigned to a shuffle/walk for long sections of the race, even though I had more aerobically. I’m going to have to give my body a rest, maybe some professional attention.

No regrets though—terrific trail, a finish, a good day with friends. 4th White River finish. Each has its own special story. This just becomes the injury year, with the amazing views.

I love Skookum Flats. Wait. No I don’t! Why does THIS part of the course capture the White River experience for me? For the uninitiated, Skookum Flats is the last 6.5 miles of trail, along the spooky White River. It is beautiful, rooty, and never seems to end. The White River course, from start to finish, is a classic. But with all the elevation gain and loss (8000+), it is ironic that the Skookum Flats section lurks longest in my memory about this event.

One of the benefits of finishing near the back in this race is the big cheer from all your friends when you finally do cross. That was amazing, to see all the smiling faces of my friends, in that 100 yard stretch. What a lift! And so many friends came up to me afterwards, getting my food, chattering. I love the after-race vibe of White River. Thank you ALL! (:

Congrats to all finishers. It never stops being amazing. Seriously. Running a 50 miler is a big deal. So, in particular, I was really happy for my friends Chris, Craig and Justin, who had never ran this distance, and who all knocked this one out large. They were thrilled, and Craig raised a bunch of cash for the Washington Trails Association in the process. And a special congrats too to Shawna, woman’s winner, another Skagit Runner and friend!

Volunteers—wonderful! THANK YOU! Especially you Rich, Jeff, and Laura. And Glenn is amazing too with his photos—really looking forward to seeing those this year, with the mountain looking as it did!

I got to drive down with Dan. Very glad he was there for me, to drive us home. It’s a good 2.5 hour drive from Mount Vernon. And also of note, I got in some terrific trail time with Scott K going up to Corral Pass. Too bad I couldn’t have stuck around for his tailgate party afterwards.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Neil's 50th

My cousin Neil hit his 50th birthday this past week, and celebrated in fine fashion, as noted above, exiting from the Bouncy Castle. Huge barbq with lots of family and long time friends at his homestead. An absolutely wonderful time, on a beautiful Saturday.

I first met Neil in the early '70s, on a family trip to the Northwest to visit. He taught me how to catch frogs, jump off houses, and take the training wheels off a bike. He is the older brother I never had, and I eventually lived in his house when I moved out here. We backpacked and camped as teens, as a family and in youth group. Tonga Ridge, Teeanaway, Potholes, Whidbey Island, Crescent Bar, Moran State Park-- lots of marvelous outdoor places, where I sometimes now find myself returning via trail running. 

Although I see Neil and others in the family on holidays and other occasions, it's never enough. "Don't forget your family!," my aunt clearly reminded me on Saturday.

I've been climbing Chinscraper a bunch in the past week or two. I think it's going to be an all hills diet for me for the next couple months, with some really big hills lined up for September. My ankle isn't 100%, but I decided to sign up for White River, because....well, everybody plays the fool. I'm sure it'll be ok--10 miles at a time, and a fine barbq at the finish.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Surprise Creek Trail Work Party with WTA

For whatever reason, I had a tough week of recovery from Knee Knackering. Very tight achilles, still tender ankle. Looking at the calendar, I realized I needed to get my trail work* done for Cascade Crest 100 in late August, and this Saturday was the best window. 

In case you're reading this and don't know, many 100 milers require a day of trail work as prerequisite for starting. It's a good thing. I've been putting in a day of trail work every year for the last few years, and it's ALWAYS rewarding.

The Washington Trail Association (WTA), one of my favorite charities, had a work party scheduled at Surprise Creek. I try to do my trail work with them, because they are just so cool. I was excited to check out Surprise Creek, as I hiked this trail over 20 years ago--a couple times--and I thought it would be fun to go back and see what was familiar. Back in the '80s, I used to hike Highway 2 and I-90 quite a bit. As it turned out, I did not remember much, in terms of landmarks. I do recall I liked the hike more than most on Highway 2, that there was a lake and a pass, and there were bugs up high. Also, a day trip to the pass was reasonably tough.

The drive up was terrific. I've been sitting on Bruce Springsteen's The Promise for some time now, and this was the drive to finally check it out. The album is an unreleased album from the '70s, with rave reviews. I was soaking it up on the drive to the trailhead, listening to Bruce and the E Street Band, just like the old days when I did this hike before. I used to listen to the Boss a lot on my way to all sorts of places--Yellowstone and the Tetons come to mind. On cassettes, held in wood racks. Clarence Clemons recently passed away--another reason for the renewed listen. Rest in peace, Big Man.

The trailhead for Surprise Creek is about 8 miles east of Skykomish, near Stevens Pass, at a bit of an odd turnoff.  We had a small but able crew of Forrest, our WTA trail crew expert, along with Nathan, Craig, Lauren and myself.  We hiked in about a mile on a really pleasant trail, with many boardwalks, to our worksite, which was just across Surprise Creek. I carried a culvert all the way in--awkward though light.

We spent the whole day working on a fallen Silver Fir. Most of the morning was spent just trying to cut one section of log and move it about 100 yards. Since we were in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, all our tools were old school--an eight foot crosscut saw, the helpful PV, the pulaskis, loppers, grubhoe, et al.  We managed to drop this 750 lb. log in a hole, and then figured out how to skid it out of it. Towards the end of the day, we made real progress with the rest of the tree, cutting it up, skinning it, and moving the logs.

We saw a few hikers go by during the day. They all came back, turned around by the snow. I don't think any of them made it to Surprise Lake, the first of two lakes. There's just a whole lot of snow still up there. I suspect this might impact White River and even Cascade. It's not like it's sunny this weekend.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Knee Knackering

On Saturday I did the Knee Knackering Trail Run in North Vancouver, a 30 miler aptly described as the “gnarliest” trail run in Canada. I’ve also heard it said that it is the best trail run in Canada, and the "hardest 50k I've done." I’ve known about it for a long time--this turned out to be the year, finally. It was a great experience, despite a challenging day.

The course is a point-to-point, moving west to east on the Baden-Powell Trail, atop and along the mountains that overlook Vancouver--those same mountains which hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics. The first half of the course has some very steep pitches, with even some rock climbing, to the tops of Black Mountain and Cypress Mountain. The second half is not quite as steep, but there is still more climbing than I anticipated. It also seems like the second half has more roots and rocks, while the first half this year had miles of snow. They said this was the second biggest snow year ever.

The course is technical. TECHNICAL. This is what they mean by “gnarliest” race. One friend described the course as “a piece of work.”  I found it was always something, even in the final miles of the course—stairs, bridges, rock scrambles, roots, rock, ropes, rock fields, rocks. Also, some rocks. I had to always watch my feet. It  can be kind of fun, if you’re ready for it, and have the right attitude.

There is also lots of climbing, with over 8000 feet for the day. Roughly the same amount of footage for descents too, but notably, Knee Knacker descents are tough, with non-stop roots, rocks and stairs. Not good for a guy with a weak ankle, which was my situation. And it is on the downhills that I always mess up my ankle. I found myself very protective of said ankle throughout the day, rarely getting any speed going.

The views are extraordinary, of saltwater, islands, big city, even Mount Baker. Hundred mile views, from the top of Black Mountain. Even the finish has a view, of Deep Cove and its pleasant little marina. And the weather was perfect, with blue skies, and enough sun later in the day that I had to pull out the sunscreen. And the volunteers were always so encouraging, and the runners too.

I did not run well. Oh well. I rolled my ankle pretty bad about a week ago, and it is still tender to touch. I also have been really sick—sinus and throat stuff. I left work early a couple times during the week. I had to walk a bunch to guard the bad ankle, and I had no energy to pull from. This isn’t the kind of course for these sorts of issues. But I really wanted to do the race, and I figured I could get through it and take in the Baden-Powell trail and long views from up high. For this, I did endure some moments of misery in the final ten miles.

I spent much of the day in the proximity of friends Marlis, Steve, and Chris. They were awesome and encouraging, despite my tough day, and just brought the right attitude. I also got to hang out with Mike C. on the way to the start. Mike graciously picked up my number the night before, so that I could drive up morning of the race. Not the wisest of strategies, with the just-wrong 1:45 AM alarm, but it worked out well.

Afterwards, I attended the banquet—very worthwhile—and was impressed by the number of 20 and 10 year finishers. Also, I heard there were 250 volunteers for the 200 runners, and they were so supportive during the race. The event is clearly a passion for many. This is a race that’s been around a long time, operates like a well-oiled machine, and has life long supporters. Very glad I finally got to run it, even if I wasn’t up to snuff. I couldn't have asked for a better day to check it out.

A few pics below; more here at this link.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Off The Run, On The Couch

No big 4th of July runs to report. Last week I was running around the back trails of Lake Padden, and crumbled when my ankle rolled on a half-buried pebble. Total roll, going downhill. It doesn't take much. Then, I got a tetantus shot on Thursday, which was perhaps the wrong time, as I was feeling the first symptoms of a sinus infection. Whatever the case, I didn't feel up to running this weekend, because of low fevers, sinus issues, and the ankle. I did manage to spread three yards of gravel in the front and back, and give the homefront some other much needed attention.

Next weekend I have Knee Knacker in North Vancouver. That should be terrific. A big run at the end of the month. Then, Cascade Crest at the end of August. But looming larger for me is an even bigger plan for the fall. In all, feeling a bit overbooked, and so think I might try to get even more off the race calendar next year, but who knows. Have to avoid hazardous pebbles.