(March 3, 2018)
As I have stated before, the Pacific Northwest is filled with numerous jewels for trail racing. I stumbled upon this inaugural race on a trail which I thought was just for families. I signed up and then about 3 weeks before the race had a chance to run the full loop. After the 2 – 2.5 mile trek mostly uphill to the lower, middle, and then upper Wallace Falls (all with decent views), there is a quarter mile extension – beyond the warning signs – which leads you up to a fire road. It extends about 2.5 miles to an intersection. One trail takes you out to Wallace Lake and Jay Lake behind it. The road veers back to a trail which loops back to the start via the Greg Bell trail, longer and an easier descent than the trip up. It took me nearly 3 hours to do the full 13 mile route as I hesitated at some intersections and also stopped to take pictures and eat some lunch. All in all a gorgeous circle and had me pumped for race day. The 50k would be one full circle and then two limited circles out to Wallace Lake (9 miles each).
On race morning it was a bit cold but the skies were already blue as the ~25 runners lined up to hear the instructions. Mostly younger runners and a few friends as well. There was a 22 mile and 9 mile variation which would start later in the morning. I took it very slow the first time up to Wallace Falls although there is actually quite a bit of runnable trail while you climb. Once we got close to the top we began seeing small snow drifts and as we made our way past Upper Falls we were running on snow and ice. Surprise! As we made it out to the road there was a bank of snow a foot deep covering the easy going course I had flown through just a few weeks earlier. Not today. There was a narrow (18-24″) path which other runners had made. I was close to a few other runners and we followed suit and began our way. The views up top were tremendous but unfortunately it was important to keep your eyes on the path ahead, lest you veer off. We hit the intersection and made the right turn which got us more onto a trail but it was also covered in snow. After a short distance we hit the aid station which was perfectly placed and staffed with cheery, ultra-savvy crew.
This first loop had us going out to Jay Lake which was a lollipop of about 4 miles. Again, on normal days a wide open flat crushed dirt trail which you could fly on, but today a bit of a struggle to get any speed going. Plus, runners were now coming back at us making for some quick side stepping into mounds of snow. Some of this snow was packed tougher and it was possible to run on top of it. There were a few creeks to jump over and some short icy bridges to carefully step across. Finally, we made it to the turnaround and slowly plowed our way back to the aid station.
There were a fair number of runners together here but as I left the aid station and made my way over to the Greg Bell trail it became more isolated. Greg Bell was snowy but runnable and while there were plenty of curves and switchbacks, nothing too dangerous. Still, you had to be careful, especially the first time as you just didn’t know what was ahead. After about a mile the snow/slush began disappearing and it was just dirt. Now the fun began and it was possible to pick up some real speed. Not too many roots to avoid. I was passed by 2-3 of the younger crowd. It was nice having run the course before hand as I knew what to expect. I made my way back to the start where an aid station was set up. I had done the 13.1 mile loop in 2:45. I grabbed some chips, ginger ale and then realized that I had not taken any gels the first 3 hours of running! Amazingly, I was still pretty fresh – there is something about running slowly in snow (see Mountain Lakes 100) as it doesn’t seem to burn fuel at nearly the same rate. Anyhow, as I headed back out for my second loop, a shorter 9 mile effort, I quickly downed a vanilla gel.
The crowds on this beautiful day were now forming and we had passed some impressively sized groups on the way to the trailhead. We now had to figure out how to skirt around them in the climb back up Wallace Falls. Somehow, they seemed to break into smaller groups and it turned out to not be a big deal as people here were polite and let the runners slide by. More on that later.
I made my way to the top with one other guy just ahead of me. I was finding some good tunes and as I looked over to my left to see mountains and valleys it occurred to me that I really needed a pic of this view. Note to self to grab my phone after loop 2. I kept a nice steady pace through the snow gap that had been created, eventually passing the runner ahead of me and got to the aid station in decent time. Oranges, bananas, chips – a nice layout of goodies for the quick stop. I jumped back onto the snow for the connector piece back to Greg Ball and started making some decent time. And then proceeded to fall.
It wasn’t too bad as I caved into the middle of the trail onto the snow. I could feel my knee get skinned by the crust of ice that I fell over. The laughter here was way more than the pain – no one around, I picked myself up and headed over to the Greg Ball trail, plowing down it with a nice pace. No one passed me this time. I got into the aid station at about 5:05, slightly over my target but really enjoying the day. I switched out to my backup Zune and grabbed my phone, also stopping to chat with the race director and folks at the base aid station.
The third loop, also 9 miles, was a bit slower going up the trail – walking more sections than before, but still very much enjoying the day. I stopped to grab a few pictures one the snow road and walked a short bit to get some food into me. Otherwise it was another steady loop with no breaks, and no falls.
I was making my way over to the aid station and saw a couple ahead – the husband 30 yards ahead of his wife. Both had dogs with them. I came up to the woman and as normal, I commented “one behind you”, or something like that. She didn’t move. OK, I stopped and then started walking onto the middle of the path, my feet sinking into the snow with each step. She kept walking beside me so we were side by side for about 10 seconds. She clearly didn’t want me to pass her or was dumber than a doornail and didn’t think to stop. She said something like “Oh well” and I went back behind her for a few steps, stewing a bit and figuring out what to do. I then found another gear and went beside her again, this time in full sprint trying not to fall and said “Thanks for nothing” as I raced by. Her husband stepped into the middle section and let me pass by, per normal protocol. (Of course his mean looking man-eating dog stayed in the path which caused another slight delay).
After sharing my story with the aid stations dudes, I bounced back to finish off the downhill. I checked in at 7:34 which is pretty slow for a 50k but given the snow an acceptable time. The 8 hour time limit had been extended to 9 hours but even then nearly half of the group had to downgrade to either the 22 mile offering or stop after the first 13 miles. It was a good test to my mental strength to tackle an unexpected challenge without losing confidence or fortitude.