Sunday, November 17, 2013

Evergreen Grand Ridge Trail Half Marathon

Notice the dirt marks on right - wipeout!

I'd signed up for this race a couple months ago thinking it would be nice to get a supported long run in on trails before the goal 25k one month later. Grand Ridge Trail is one of my favorites - easily accessible, usually pretty quiet and nicely runnable.  

Then a good friend of mine contacted me asking if I were free this weekend. She was flying into town for a meeting and was hoping we could meet up with her.  Of course! this friend doesn't get out to Seattle too often.  We had ballet tickets saturday evening as well so it was no trouble to get another ticket.  Her flight landed early afternoon at SeaTac and she was staying downtown. Lightrail is a great way to get downtown and she'd never taken this one. It would be great if i could meet her at the airport and sheppard her back to her hotel.  It would give us a chance to catch up.  

Oh yeah. That race. I checked previous half marathons on trails and figured I'd be 3+ hours if I were just running this course very easily.  But the previous trail halves were on more challenging courses (Cougar Mountain and Soaring Eagle) and I thought i could be finishing right at 3 hours.  THAT would work. I could get back home, shower and eat and head out to catch bus/light rail to the airport. 

And I looked up the course before the race and realized there was more elevation than I expected. 3 hours? I suddenly got very nervous thinking I'd really have to push the pace to be done on time.  All the logistics of the rest of the day (meeting up for dinner with K and my mom and then heading off to the ballet) started to make me anxious.  Would it work out?

With a race start at 9 am, i had time to sleep in, get breakfast and get off to the trail head with plenty of time. I'd prepared clothing, my running pack and post running gear the night before. I'd planned to be there before 8:30 figuring parking would be pretty tight. I didn't want to have to park too far away.  After I finished, i needed to be gone quick!  The weather, which had been spectacularly crappy the day before, cleared. It was cooler (40s) but not raining. It was breezy but we were mostly protected once up on the ridge.

We started right on time and I breathed a sigh of relief about that.  I'd done a half mile easy warm up.  We start on a slightly downhill rail trail before turning onto the brutal uphill trail. A little more of a warm up before starting that would only help.  I'd really planned to take this first uphill easily. No passing people and just staying easily moving up.  I'd started fairly far back too so that worked well. It was a comfortable pace climbing and soon we were onto the long downhill losing all the elevation we'd just gained.  I did make sure to pass people in here jsut stay at an even effort.

4 gels and 3 baked rice balls + 20 ounces of water
I'd read a great account of one woman's quest to conquer the Cascade 100 and was really struck by her fueling strategy of eating every 30 minutes.  And when things weren't quite feeling right, she upped that to every 20 minutes. The thought of a gel every 20 minutes makes me want to hurl but hey, if that is what your body needs, you do it.  I'd brought some of the handy dandy Feed Zone Portables baked rice balls and my usual favored gels.  I'd planned on eating a gel at least every 50 minutes and supplementing with a rice ball as needed. I carried 30 ounces of water.

And at 30 minutes, i was already feeling i needed something so i got out a rice ball and worked on eating it.  I was also testing how these worked if not fresh. I'd made a batch last week and froze the extras.  Freezing them does change the texture and frankly makes them harder to eat in a race situation. It would be fine for a training run but not for a race. 

At mile 3, i was really questioning continuing. It's a tough start with this course and I debated how hard i was working for pace. I was maintaining under 13 minute miles and started trying to the do the math.  13 miles at 13 minutes per mile equals what? Give me a piece of paper and a pen, sure i can figure it but can't in my head.  I passed the turn off to the shorter distance race and decided I would check this figure at the aid station coming up at 4 miles.  It's fun running in here anyway. We'd finally climbed up to the ridge and were starting my favorite section on a long out and back.

At the aid station, i pulled out my phone and opened the calculator app.  13 mpm times 13 miles equals 169 minutes divided by 60 minutes equals 2.8 hours.  YES!  The course would probably be a bit long on my watch and my pace at mile 4 with the worst climbs and drops done was at 12:45. I could do this.  And i started back up having grabbed a couple potato chips at the aid station and felt more relaxed.

The miles went pretty quickly. I had the rice ball at 30 minutes, a gel at 50 minutes. Rice ball at 1:15 and another gel at 1:30. Conditions were pretty good. We started hitting the returning runners for the 50k/marathon and eventually the half marathoners.  The trail is fairly wide but it did require paying attention so as not to impede any incoming runner plus maintaining a good running line on the sometimes rocky trail.

I got behind a gal who was running very steadily this long downhill before the 7.75 turnaround.  I tried not to crowd her as i didn't want to push here.  The trail drops off pretty quickly and I knew the climb back out would feel impossible if I ran too hard now.  Plus we hit a couple areas where the mud was really, really slick.  Soon enough the turnaround came abruptly into sight just around a turn.  it was just a sign saying "turn around" and a couple jugs of water with little cups.  No table and only self serve for getting water.  There would be no room to put any table anyway.  I laughed at this and took myself and my running pack with water right back around.  The gal i'd been pacing with never caught back up.

The back towards the finish went quickly.  I felt strong and kept moving and monitoring eating and drinking. I'd walk sections of up but would still pass the occasional person doing this.  I had my last gel at 2:20 and figured i was just over 2 miles away from the finish. I wanted to make sure i was fueled for the last steep downhill mile.  I was pretty happy here as I knew I'd be able to be on my way back home by noon.

that last mile is always pretty amazing.  We'd climbed up this same trail but in a line of trail runners hiking steadily. It always looks completely different running quickly downhill.  It's rocky at times but a very runnable downhill and just when i saw the last tiny section before it connects to the rail trail, i tripped.  ARrgh!  My calf threatened to cramp so I bolted back up and started right back running. I also took a bow for the dad and kids waiting around here.  No need to pretend it didn't happen. It surely did but that's ok.  Falling is part of trail running but I failed in my second goal.  No falls!  Next time then, I'll get that goal.

It's a slight uphill back to the finish for a half mile and always seems to go on forever. I could see the marathoners heading out for their second loop and was really happy that was not me.  One gal heading towards the finish was limping along very badly.  I checked with her if she was ok and she assured me that she would make it.

I hit the finish line at 2:44 and was delighted. I got a quick bowl of chile, chatted with someone who'd said "Hi Axxxxx" to me along the trail which caused some puzzlement as i'd not recognized him and headed to my car happy and satisfied.

I ended up 8th in 10 year age group. 3rd if you factor in the 5 year increments.  I'm delighted. Only a couple of minorly bruised knees and slightly bruised hands from the fall.  This upcoming week is a rest week and that will be good. 

And it ended up being a wonderful rest of the day meeting up with the friend, dinner and then ballet.  I'm really glad i got to do the longer distance at this trail race. It's a fantastic event. 

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