As we were driving back from the Cougar Mountain Trail Series Race #4, RPD said I'd had a great summer. Surely he is right.
It was the final event of the series. 13.4 miles by my garmin with 6700 feet of climbing although RPD evidently found some shortcuts because he only climbed 6100 feet.
I was rather nervous about this event. That is a long way to go on tough, technical trails. The night before I suddenly realized that I'd not had a long run in a rather long time as my focus had switched to shorter, faster stuff with Ragnar. I'd not run over two hours in months. Oh well! My main goals were 1) finish, 2) not fall and 3) not get stung again by wasps. Well, two out of three ain't bad.
Fortunately, our ridiculously hot weather left and it was replaced with ridiculously cool weather for August. Cloudy and 60 degrees is perfect for a long run however. There seemed to me many more people gathered for this race. That is a good thing for me because I like the camaraderie which develops out on the trails.
We took off for the loop around the grassy meadow to spread the field out before the first turn onto trail. And before I knew it we were climbing Lost Beagle. Having no shame, I quickly started walking up this hill. All I could think about was the next 12 miles to come. My legs had felt very stiff during warm up and this week I've been tired. Once I was settled into that first hill, I started to feel better.
the course had changed from last year's 13 miler but I had not realized that until late the night before and had not had a chance to study the maps all that much. I was happy to see we took a right onto Cougar Bypass to go downhill. Nice. I had been right behind a guy setting a very steady pace for the past miles. He asked if I wanted to pass but nope, I was happy to hang out. The first water stop came quick at 3. I did stop and had water and a gu and watched about 10 people pass me. No biggie. I passed most of them back eventually.
The climb towards Wilderness Peak was the usual. I start walking soon. I was right behind a young gal and her dad who were obviously going to be sticking together for the race. They chatted with me a bit as I heard them huffing about the uphill. The climb towards Wilderness goes on for a while but compared to the climb up Wilderness Creek, it's not bad and I knew the end of this race would feature the climb up Quarry and I warned them about it. I noticed the dad was starting to trip a bit on the uphill and I was concerned he was going out too hard. At the finish of the race, the young gal came up to me and thanked me for warning them. :-D They did finish together.
Soon the bombing downhill on Wilderness Cliffs Trail began. I slowly began catching people here. It's a mile long downhill and pretty steep in places. I passed one gal I've seen at the series and we ruefully laughed at how challenging it is. She said she was really having to talk herself through some negative thoughts. What a surprise and a revelation that was to me. I was thoroughly enjoying myself.
It was right around here that I caught up to flapping arm guy from last race. We had traded back and forth the last miles as I passed him on downhill and he passed me on uphill countless times during that race. He runs with his hands down by his sides and his hands flap as he runs. This totally puzzles me how he can even move forward without falling over. Eventually I worked up the courage to ask if his name was "Proper First Name" as I'd heard him cheered for at the last race. It was! So we chatted some more. Yep. Camaraderie is fun on the trails.
In a feat of dedication, the water stop was at the high point on a remote trail at mile 7 and staffed by a local high school xc team (supplies were pushed in by wheelbarrow). I chugged some nuun, some water and grabbed another gu. My legs had been aching on the uphill which I recognized as fuel depletion and I took my second gu earlier than expected shortly after taking an electrolyte tablet. I thought I might need more calories than I had expected.
At 7, the fun downhill began. It was pretty quiet out there and I could hear some voices ahead of me of a couple guys chatting. I passed them fairly quickly. I was more than halfway done and feeling good. Last race, I had seen a couple of people take falls in front of me in this area so I was careful. I knew I was getting tired and it wouldn't do to trip here.
Suddenly I felt a sharp stinging at my ankle. I thought I had kicked up a blackberry branch and ignored it. The pain started to get worse and worse and I stopped to look in horror at the angry wasp which was on my sock and stinging me. I flung it off and started running again slightly concerned about allergic reaction. I'd been stung last time and had an annoying reaction. I know reactions can build with repeated exposure and I was about as far away from any trail head at that point as you can be.
My ankle felt like fire and I was starting to change my stride a bit because of it. Just run. Just run and then I felt a sharp stinging on my hip. F@#$%! I'd had another hitchhiker which finally got pissed enough to sting me. That one hurt even more and made me concerned that I still had more of the freaking things on my clothing. Oh well. Just run. I'd not been stung anywhere near my face so the liklihood of a big reaction was slim and either way, I needed to keep moving.
I made the turn to Shy Bear Trail and contemplated the fact that a bear and cubs had been seen on this trail a couple weeks ago. At this point, if I saw a bear I was turning around and calling myself done! No bear showed up, just a long steady downhill and then the turn onto De Leo Wall Trail. It has been years since I've been on this trail. It was mostly uphill and I slowly passed a couple people walking. One was an older woman who had come up from Portland to run this. She'd never run at Cougar before and was impressed with these trails.
During this section, I emptied my water bottle and was getting thirsty and hungry. I had taken a gel around mile 8 and knew I'd need another with more water. at 10, I came to the last water stop and the guy kindly half filled my small handheld. I had more nuun and hoped that would be enough. I took the last gel as I was leaving. marshall Trail was suprisingly flat and easy to run. I chatted with arm flapping guy for a while. Portland Lady showed up again and we chatted once again as I passed her on the uphill. She was very good on the downhill however.
Quarry was coming. Even Arm Flapping Guy was expecting it now. it was in here where I figured out how much stronger I was. Even two years ago, I'd have had a hard time with this run mentally if not physically. I was in a good spirits, working towards reaching the final downhill and looking forward to being done. Yes, my legs were aching adn the stings were still burning and I was starting to tire but there was no question I would finish.
I know I need to work a bit harder on developing my uphill skills. My calves and hamstrings fizzle out and I'm afraid to push it too much. A more even effort on the uphill and downhill will probably serve me well. yep. There's a lot of time out on trails to consider things.
Finally I hit Fred's Railroad and was a mile from teh finish. Yeehah! I felt good and just kept it steady as there was no way my aching legs were going to push that hard. The XC team was cheering at 12.8 as I made teh turn onto bypass and the downhill that I know very well. This was the fun part I thought. Then my left hamstring started this odd quivering. WTF? I guess this was the beginning of a cramp. I've not had this before and wasn't sure what to do. I tried changing up my stride a bit but then my right hamstring started the same thing.
So it wasn't quite the strong finish I had hoped for. I had to walk a bit the last half mile and got passed by three people. The little uphill on Old Man Trail was better for my hamstrings and I was happy to see the finish line. No sprint left, but I ran it in with a big smile on my face.
I immediately went to get some electrolyte drink and watermelon. Ahhh. I figured RPD would be in shortly and sure enough he was. I chatted with the various people who I'd developed trail camaraderie over the past miles. I even asked Arm Flapping guy what was up with his lack of arms when running. He knows! I told him flat out that he would be a lot faster if he worked on his form. :-)
what was up with the hamstring? I'm guessing that the lack of long runs hurt me on this. And, I was totally craving salt after I was done and even my foot threatened to cramp as we were getting ready to go to the coffee reward place. So that may have been part of it too.
It's been a great summer (and not just for running). The inaugural Seattle Rock n Roll half, Ragnar and now the completion of the Cougar Mountain Trail Series. I'm 8 out of 23 in the females of the series runners and pleased about that. My fitness has been building this summer and that shows in my ranking which moved up as the races have gotten longer. I'm not sure I'll maintain that placement with my slow finish but we shall see.
the summer isn't over yet. :-)