Sun Mountain Race Report
Without further ado… Our race reports from Rainshadow Running’s Sun Mountain 50 Miler in Winthrop Washington. Big thanks to race photographer Matt Hagen. Not only for the great photos, but for making us laugh along the way.
“Fun” Mountain 50!
“5! 4! 3! 2! 1!!!!!!! ………..the other way! Go the Other waaayyy!!!!!”
Three months ago it was it was three months away! But alas it was 6:00am morning of the race and Matt and I were doing the usual pre-race, stuff everything in a bag, triple check your gear, pull it all back out to check again, attempt to stare it into cooperation, then admit defeat and ensure you at least have shoes, shorts and a water container.
I would really like to give a serious shout out to Glenn Newman for being a real champion and picking us up LONG before he had any business being awake and driving us to the race start.
The start of the race was surreal, a large log cabin wreathed in imposing Ponderosa pines, cool late spring air and well groomed trails leading in all directions…. the latter of which would prove to be overwhelming for the race starters…
With drop bags sorted and race briefing complete the count down started, 5! 4! …I noticed I was still wearing my coat and hadn’t even tied my shoes, apparently more taken with the atmosphere than I had realized. By ” 2!” I had looped, swooped and pulled and by ” 1! ” i had my jacket over my head, emerging just in time for ” GO! ”
As I skipped across the line with the back of the pack someone started yelling ” The other waaaay!! Go the other waaayy!!!” In the excitement, no one had actually pointed out which of the many well groomed trails was to be followed and this small hiccup gave me the chance to take the lead! For about 11 seconds… when everyone caught up and I was never to see the race leaders again…
Matt and I fell into a quick but comfortable rhythm, knowing that to go out hard at first was folly, there would be many miles in which we could make a move if we felt inclined. The course carried us through valleys and fields as the trails began to narrow and wind their way slowly up through the hills to expose the many snowy ridge lines, stunning and proud in the distance.
The temperature was perfect, the course was beautiful and sites were breathtaking. Matt and I exchanged exclamations about the incredible stoke we both felt from this race. We were both beginning the longest race we’d run to date and it was feeling great!
In this first 10 miles or so I got very caught up in my surroundings ( which was fast becoming a habit) and had not properly hydrated or fueled and within 15 miles of the start I was feeling the beginnings of muscle cramping in my right calf. This meant I had fallen behind on nutrition an that meant I was in for a wild ride. The rest of the run was spent consuming absurd amounts of electrolyte pills, gels and drinks to bring my cramping muscles back to life and managed to keep it under mostly under control and kept my mind focused on forward motion and quizzically wondering at the colour of the many different birds that sang along the remote and simultaneously bustling countryside. I was caught up to and eventually left behind by a couple fellow runners but did manage a nice conversation with a very experienced and accomplished ultra runner and generally friendly fella named Bill who informed me that the woman running just ahead of us was the women’s 100k world champion and that as long as we kept her in sight we were doing okay for ourselves. Shortly after I lost sight of both of them. But was more determined to keep it together enough to finish than get caught in their personal race strategies.
At just beyond the halfway point a familiar face from Victoria, B.C. was among the wonderful volunteers taking care of the runners who passed through. Dan’s encouragement and smile was just what a person needs at about 36 miles in. He mentioned how far Matt had made his way up the field which was great to hear, he was striding along in 4th!
I won’t lie, I was a little reluctant to leave that happy little aid station in the woods but it was time to practice the art of overcoming the mental limitations that often keep us from discovering our physical potential. Well fed and watered, I headed back onto the trail and was struck by a sudden wave of runners coming by me like i was standing still, fresh faced with plenty of pep in their step I was incredibly relieved to realize this was the gait of the 25k/50k course runners overlapping the 50 mile course.
The seemingly boundless energy of these fresh runners became a bit of inspiration and jolted me me out of what was becoming a low point at about 35 miles, into a quickened pace and a realization that a little packet of pineapple flavoured sugar and a splash of water can really lift a persons moral!
More familiar faces and warm support came at about 8 miles to finish when the course sprang out onto the road around Patterson lake and took a sharp and final climb up to our final summit and…… oh wait, not just another little climb annnd…oh wait okay ONE more little… so that went on for awhile until I almost couldn’t take anymore. Then I caught sight of Bill and the 100k Champion only about 10 mins ahead of me on the trail and felt a renewal.
I decided i was going to run the fastest 5 miles I had ever run. Can’t say as i believed myself, but run I did and working my way through now wooded trail to the finish line, I could here in the distance the cheers and welcomes for what must have been Bill and Amy the 100k champion.
Somewhere, lurking in these woods, was a finish line and I aimed to cross it. When I rounded that corner into the place where I had left from, what seemed like days ago, there was Matt’s big ‘ol grin, James the race directors high five and two kegs of beer. I navigated my way through the first two to aquaint myself better with the third.
Matt had been at the finish line for more than 15 mins already when I came across the line in a time of 7:35:06 but we spent the next 4 hours mingling with all the other hard workers who had put in such a great effort that day and all whooped and hollered as the rest for the field strode proudly across the finish line one by one and in pairs, some elated and some haggard but all Champions of the day.
Matt’s Race Report:
I’d like to start by congratulating all the awesome runners from our Victoria trail running group. A friendly, generous and tough-as-nails group of individuals. You are an inspiration! A very special thank you is in order to Lynn and Glenn Newman who drove these two grubby, always hungry runners to and from Winthrop. Glenn saved our bacon on race morning by driving us to the start line after we realized no one else in the group was running the 50 miler! Thanks guys, you are two of a kind. On to the race report!
I knew better, but I did it anyway. I Broke rule #1 of racing. Never wear new shoes.
It didn’t slow me down much, but it hurt. I was left with some savage blisters as souvenirs from the Sun Mountain 50 Miler. The new Salomons performed quite well on the course but my feet just weren’t ready for the new pressure points. Lesson re-learned.
The course was, in a word, FANTASTIC! Running in such dry, open country was very refreshing after months of more technical and soggy trail running. James at Rainshadow Running hosted an exceptional race as usual. Perfect course markings, awesome volunteers, a wonderful bounty of treats at each aid station. Sincere thanks to everyone who made it happen.
Dave and I ran together for the first 20 some-odd kms. We made a point to hold the pace back as this course starts on very run-able terrain. Easy to get carried away and pay for it later on. This would also be the longest distance either of us had ever run. We couldn’t stop talking about the amazing scenery and how lucky we were to be out there enjoying it.
We split up at the “Frost #2” aid station. I think Dave was raiding the M&M’s as I shuffled out of there and up the first significant climb of the race. I was feeling great at this point in the race, albeit a little tight from an overly enthusiastic (100% my fault) Hot Yoga session on Thursday (Thanks to our awesome sponsor Bikram Yoga Saanich!)
The course doubled back on itself and completed the first loop. After this it was some long gradual climbing on logging road type trails. This section seemed to drag on for quite some time before finally reaching the approximate halfway point aid station. I found my drop bag and swapped out my handbottles with new ones, fresh and fully loaded with gels, salt pills and larabars. Nutrition was right on schedule, though my stomach had been uneasy for a while. I continued on through what would be my lowest point in the race. My stomach just wouldn’t settle down. It was full of air and kept cramping. I finally realized that my sports drink was completely frothed up and this was causing the issues. I stopped drinking it and continued with the salt pills, water and gels. At the next aid station I dumped the sports drink and filled both bottles with water. It seems odd but it was Coke and watermelon at the aid station that seemed appetizing. My stomach started to settle and I was coming back to life with about 25km to go.
It was around this point that heaviest climbs on the course began. Despite all the salt pills and water, I started feeling some leg cramps coming on (the bane of my Ultra existance) I was massively fatigued and slogging up these climbs was taking every ounce of focus and determination. On top of some of the big ridgelines I could see Dave and his white hat down below. This gave me a boost and at one point I actually yelled down to him and we waved to each other.
I made it to Patterson Lake aid and knew I had about 10k left in the race. At this point I was just putting one foot in front of the other. My pace hadn’t dropped too much, but I was in for a huge fight to finish the race. I began the last and biggest climb of the course. I fought off the cramps with tons of salt and water, but things were still locking up. After the final out and back on top of a ridgeline I was out of water, salt and gels. Just had to hold it together on a final descent and then the finish would be near. My calves were cramping but it never stopped me in my tracks as in previous Ultras. This final descent made it clear that my blister situation was really bad. After the descent I passed fellow Victorians Silvia, Fergus and Brent who were hanging out at the Patterson Lake turn. I was happy to hear it was 3k to finsh… This was a long 3k!
I crossed over the finish in 7:17 which was good for 4th overall. Now that I’m running ultras it seems that every race I do is the “new” hardest thing I’ve ever done. This race is no exception. It beat me up pretty bad, took everything I had and then some.
Congrats to Dave for running an awesome race, the whole time with a smile on his face. Inspirational to say the least. Next stop on the road to Leadville is the legendary Kusam Klimb, June 23rd, Hip Hop Hooray!