One of my goals this year was to do more trail events. My rationale was that trail running is more beautiful than hitting the road, less pounding on the body, and can be more challenging in a good sort of way. So coming off of the Fort Steilacoom Marathon several weeks back, I registered for yet another Evergreen Trail Runs event – the Grand Ridge 50k.
My training mileage volume this month had been okay, but the quality had been a bit sub-par. My motivation was low, and I’d been feeling a bit restless. The curtain of fall had come down pretty hard on us – the days were getting short again, and the rain was pretty constant. I’d been pushing to reach some running goals too – I was getting closer, but there was still some work involved in hitting them. And that can be hard, particularly under a gray Seattle November sky.
enjoying mile 24 of the Grand Ridge 50k – photo by Steve Sanders
When we lined up at the start of the Grand Ridge 50k, I wasn’t sure what kind of a day it would be. My hill work had been sparse – not what you’d like heading into an event with 5000’ of ascent involved. And I was likely to do most of it solo. I didn’t have any close running buddies to lean on this time around. The good news is that Evergreen really knows how to put on an event. They’re great at keeping things simple and low-key, while providing the support you need.
We started just about on time, with the weather dry and balmy for November. I took things a bit briskly until we hit the first hill, a nice long climb up to the ridge. The course was pretty straightforward – we’d do two half-marathons, followed by a five miler. I let my mind drift pretty quickly, so didn’t really get to know the course that well the first time up. This was a good thing to do, as the climb might have loomed larger in my mind (we’d do this three times).
We hit the aid station at Grand Ridge Drive four miles in, and then embarked on a nice downhill stretch on the first part of the out-and-back stretch for the half-marathon course. Where there were hills, they rolled. This made both my legs and spirit happy. This was a nice course. The next six miles flew by, and I returned to the Grand Ridge aid station to down a peanut butter and banana sandwich, washed down with Nuun and Cytomax. Not fancy weekend brunch fare, but it works well when running trails.
On the shorter route back to the start, we flew down the hill, careening around switchbacks. Note that when you’re flying early, often you’ll crash later.
I hit the turnaround at the start at about 2:41 – about what I’d expected. The course was still dry, but it had gotten chillier. So I downed more fuel, and headed out again pretty quickly.
The second time around the half marathon course was tougher. I did more walking on the initial climb, and found that out and back stretch on the other side of Grand Ridge drive, just a bit longer than before. On the trip back in, I fell in with a group of younger guys who were doing their first marathon. The late mile glumness had set in for them, and when I remarked at how nice the course was, they responded “Yeah, I’d like to come back here sometime when I’m not running a marathon so we can enjoy it”.
They were clearly faster than I was, but weren’t used to the distance or the hills, so I passed them. I traded places a couple of times with one of them – name was Jared. We talked for a while. He asked me how many marathons I’d run – and was surprised at the answer (this was my 48th marathon or ultra). We talked for a while about how he’d already done the most difficult part (getting to the starting line), and how he could be really proud of this. I shared some of Scott Jurek’s writing that I’d found very inspirational – “I run because I can” and “this is what you came for”. And then a few minutes later, when we hit that downhill stretch off of the ridge, he rocketed past me – clearly feeling better.
By the time I hit the turnaround again, the rain was coming down pretty hard. It was cold, and my own motivation was waning. The second half marathon had taken me about 3 hours. This was a twenty minute positive split, and was also the same amount of time I’d spent walking the Seattle Half four years ago. Amazing how these hills can slow you down. And just as my own inner whining started I reminded myself that “this is what I came for” too, and headed up the ridge one last time.
That final five miles was some plodding. I walked much of the climb up the ridge, and thought that the turn that took the five mile course away from the half would never show up. When it finally did, I felt great – knowing that the hard part was over, and that I could glide back downhill now.
definitely not gliding on that last downhill – photo by Steve Sanders
Well – gliding wasn’t really how it felt. My turns on the switchbacks were tentative, given my fatigue. But when I hit the final stretch, as the trail exited out to the forest road, I tested myself a bit and pushed the pace. I still wasn’t gliding, but felt good that I could muster a decent pace after traveling thirty plus miles.
I crossed the line in 6:52:20, gathered my stuff, and went to get warm. By the time I made it back to the car, I was so cold and wet that it was a struggle to get my dry clothes on. I cranked the heat on, downed a nice fish burrito, and caught the end of a board game gathering at my younger daughter’s school.
Reflecting on the day is pretty nice. I’d gone out and challenged myself nicely, while still keeping it fun. And at the end of the day I was able to enjoy reentry back into real life. Nice day on the ridge.
evidence that GPS devices do indeed lie sometimes. the numbers should be mile splits – and that big zig-zaggy stuff was not me teleporting.