A couple of years ago, I set out to run a 10k on the trails in a park just northeast of us. Got off to a great start, and was pretty sure I was in the top 5 overall. About a mile from the finish, I took a turn back into the woods, and noticed I was running by myself after a few minutes. Then I spotted three runners up ahead – paused at a fork in the trail. “Ha – maybe I can finish in the top three!” I thought. It turned out that those other runners also used to be in the top five. We’d all taken a wrong turn, and ended up finishing a 9 1/2 mile 10k together, swapping stories and laughing together.
I enjoy that story more than I would have enjoyed a top five finish. And this was my introduction to Lord Hill Regional Park, just outside Monroe Washington.
Remembering the twists and turns, and the long climbs, I arrived at the park this past Saturday with no expectations of going particularly fast. It was supposed to be warm and sunny, and we’d been advised to “hydrate hydrate hydrate” ahead of time. Nearly 75 of us hit the trail to run the 20 miler and 50k at 8:30 on the morning of 7 July.
The course began with a short stretch of flat trail, and a little creek crossing (nothing like the adventure at Taylor Mountain a few weeks back). Then we began a steady climb, with a respite of flat trail. A few minutes later, we rounded a corner, and looked up at Lord Hill. It was just a few hundred feet up, but much steeper than the first climb had been. As I climbed the hill, I couldn’t help but think my two remaining visits to this hill. Hm.
After that hard climb, it wasn’t so bad. Lots of rollers, but nothing too steep. And this spelled out the course. Three times around this 10 mile loop, starting with some hard climbing, followed by rolling hills through some nice shaded woods. I ran much of this on my own, and felt fine about it. Nothing but the sound of footfalls and birds. I settled into a steady pace, and let my mind wander a bunch. It was nice.
The loop finishes with a steep downhill. I tried to focus on proper Chi running form – straight column, slight forward lean, soft/short stride. I tried to lean over my feet, which is challenging if you worry about falling on your face too much. I admire runners who take the downhill without fear. I;m not one of those yet.
I took a short break between loops and replenished a bit before starting on my second. As I approached the creek crossing, a couple of volunteers were cheering us on. I looked up to wave, and caught a rock with my left foot, and sprawled forward.
It must have looked pretty dramatic, because people seemed concerned that I was hurt. “Just clumsy” I assured them. But as I started to run, my left big toe felt pretty unhappy – liked I’d sprained it (if you can sprain a toe). I wondered how the next 21.1 miles would feel.
I took the hill more slowly this time. We were spread out by now, so it was pretty quiet out there. I navigated the second loop without a problem, and came in for another replenishment break before heading up the hills again.
The third trip up Lord Hill was hard. I stopped looking up at the hill, focusing on the ground directly in front of me. I crested the hill, and ran past a couple on a day hike with their dog. I wondered what they thought of the runners chugging up the hill instead of taking things in stride as they were.
By the time I rolled into the aid station halfway around the loop, I was pretty cooked. And just before I headed out, another guy came in – and I was pretty sure he’d been well ahead of me earlier. He’d made a wrong turn, and ran four and a half bonus miles! He seemed just fine, although a bit frustrated about it.
A short while later, I’d wandered down a hill, but because my mind had drifted, I wasn’t sure I was heading the right way myself. After a few minutes not seeing any ‘confidence streamers (Roger and crew put these up to let you know you’re going the right way), I decided to double back to be sure.
About a minute later, I saw another runner approaching – it was the guy who I’d seen at the aid station. He assured me that we were going the right way, and we stuck together for the next few miles. Neal was good company, and he was wearing a cool propeller cap. I asked him what the significance of the cap was. He sort of shrugged and said it was just fun. Neal and I talked about running and life and enjoyed the rest of the third loop together. We pounded down the steep hill together, and then set out on the short 1.1 mile loop which would round our distance out to 50k.
Just before starting that final loop, Neal launched into midair to click his heels together. I’d not seen someone do that after running 30 (actually 34) miles.
We kept a good clip on the flats, but I slowed to a walk when we started to climb again. Neal dug in and loped up the hill, a braver man than I am. I ran the flats, walked the hills, and tried to take the big downhill as fearlessly as I could – just a little forward lean, short stride, and use my feet to keep me from falling. How hard could that be?
Lungs spent, quads spent, I came in for the finish in 6:48:22. Not a bad way to spend a day in the woods. I visited with friends for a while at the finish, and soaked up the sun. As we climbed the hill (again) to get to our cars I smiled about doing my seventh long run of the year, four of them ultras. Those trips up Lord Hill had earned me a little pride.
pictures by evergreen trail runs and jerry “missing link” gamez
charts and graphs for running geeks
My splits here are interesting academically, but given the terrain, you can’t do much with them. Yes – I slowed down significantly over time, but that’s what I was going to do without a stricter race plan.