Flying Ninja Kicks and Getting Lost: Sun Mountain 50m Race Report

I originally signed up for the 50k (31m) because I thought I might be running with an old friend who has never tried an ultra. But after he had to bail (thanks academia), I started questioning…why not the 50 miler? Saner voices in my head argued that I had not run anything longer than a 50k since last July and my body and mind were just not ready for ~10hrs of running in the mountains. The Yakima 50k last month kicked my ass. I was completely finished at the end and the idea of tacking on 19 more miles would have made me laugh, cry, and then fall over.  But other arguments crowded my thoughts, why not try? It was a beautiful course and I had been shirking longer runs for too long; if I end up figuring out the right logistics for my Kilimanjaro circumnavigation in July, it will be a ~100 mile continuous run. I can’t scale up from 31m to 100m. That is too much of a jump. So time to test the waters and I decided to just jump in…
The run was in the Sawtooth Wilderness perched above the beautiful Methow Valley which is a semi-undiscovered gem about 4hrs from Seattle. The plan was to head out of town in the early afternoon on Friday to escape traffic. The only catch was that some crack heads had sawed the catalytic converter out of the bottom of my truck. And I live in a pretty nice neighborhood. Go figure. A temporary and quasi-legal fix by the best mechanic in the world (also the foulest mouth) had us on the road on time and that night we found a nice camping spot on the Lost River near Mazama. The next day we explored the valley a bit, perplexed by the wild west theme of Winthrop and wondering how much of it is authentic, before finally camping at the race start. I ran into Candice and James, both focused on the logistics of putting on the next days race, and both generous in saying there would be no problem if I wanted to upgrade to the 50 miler. Nichole unfortunately had a really bad cold and decided that it was not her weekend to run.
James warns us about cows and rattle snakes
At seven in the morning we were ready to go. While James went through the course briefing people milled about, adjusting drinking tubes, gel packs, beeping watches, and other accoutrements that seem necessary (but often are not) to running big distances. I looked around and thought it was a relatively small turn out. For some reason (maybe because I didn’t do my homework), I thought the 25k and 50k runners were also starting with us….for such a beautiful course it seemed like a small turnout with only ~50 of us milling about. But I am happier with a smaller venue and without much more thought, we were off and running across amazing meadows, ridges, and valleys.
I ran with Terry Sentinella for a few miles near the start before losing him around a bend. This guy is tough, two bad waters under his belt, almost 200 marathons or ultras, and he is prepping for the grand slam of ultra running this summer. And I think he is 8 years older than me.  I simply couldn’t keep up (he ended up taking 5th, nice job!).
The scenery was incredible and, opting for something safer than a suicide flip, I tried to ham it up a little for Glenn. My spirits were good, the day was young, and practicing a flying ninja kick in a meadow seemed apropros.

But all good things must come to an end. Shortly after losing Terry, I ended up taking a wrong turn with about 10 other people. After a while you start realizing there are no streamers or signs marking the route and you start seriously questioning what to do…but you have the sunk costs incurred since the last ribbon you saw and the imagination or re-tracing your foot steps only to realize you were right all along. And it is self-perpetuating, you assume the people in the distance in front of you have seen a course marking and so you continue, they look back and think the same. There were jokes about the day becoming a 100k (62m) run, but fortunately our wrong route looped us back on the correct trail after about 2-3 miles of angst and we arrived at the ~20 mile aid station, back on track but roughly 30 minutes behind. 

A couple miles later (?) our route joined up with a trail that was teaming with fast runners. I had a vague memory of the trail splitting off for 50 milers after only a couple miles from the start. These runners looked so fresh, and they were not all spread out like we were. I was completely confused but slowly started piecing it together. Only the 50 milers started at 7am. After about 3 miles we had gone out on a unique ~18 mile loop before coming back to the main trail. The 25k and 50k runners had started at 10am. They had only been running for about 30 minutes. I tried to keep up with them but I had merged in with the relatively fast people and they kept passing me by until my pace finally meshed with a slower demographic.

At the ~27 mile aid station I found my drop bag and started chowing down some energy chews. I had been eating some magical chocolate chip cookies over the miles, but I needed some electrolytes pretty bad. I’m grateful to PROBAR for supporting my adventures and so far I have nothing but admiration for all the organic ingredients and great taste. I just wish I had packed the whole food bars along with more energy blocks. Next time!

I ran for a while with Lars Larson and queried him about how I might go about writing a book. Thanks for the insights and the company Lars! When I reached what I thought was the 38 mile aid station, I was told that I only had 5.6 miles left. Somehow I had lost track of time and miles.  This should have given me a huge second wind. But I had also unfortunately forgotten to drink or eat anything while in the rabbit hole.  The day had gotten hot and I had salt streaks all over my clothes. I had become incredibly uncoordinated and at one point I stubbed one of my toes so hard I thought I had broken it. Random benches appeared with the most stunning views, they called for me like sweet siren songs with sun worn boards and gentle back rests.

What should have been an easy final few miles down to the finish became really difficult and I had my first real bonk (?) on a trail run. Leaning over because my legs were unstable and cramping, I could feel the sky closing in on me and the start of a slow fall down to mother earth. A guy with long hair and a funky watch from the 80’s was coming down the trail in the opposite direction. He put a hand on my shoulder, told me I had less than a mile, and encouraged me to take my time. With a few tentative steps I was able to manage a shuffle and then an amble and then a slow run. Thanks Mr. Watch-Dude. 

The finish never felt so sweet but my body was pretty much a wreck. My time was ~9:09, a PR and considerably faster than the other 50 milers I have run, even with the bonus miles and the Bermuda Triangle.  This was another run with no watch on so perhaps my ‘ignorance is bliss’ strategy is really working. The last few miles were not what I wanted to experience in a trail run, but overall it was an amazing course with really pretty mind-blowing scenery and great people.  A few days later I am finally ready to ditch my bike and start running again, albeit gently.

Huge thanks to Nichole for the company and driving my sad ass home yet again. And, as always, a big thanks to Rainshadow Running, all the great volunteers, and to Glenn Tachiyama for the pictures. Congratulations to friend Adam Hewey for winning the 50 miler in 6:49 and also to all the other winners and people who just had fun running their own pace on Sunday. Very cool.

Next up: Figuring out how to run around Kilimanjaro

One Response to “Flying Ninja Kicks and Getting Lost: Sun Mountain 50m Race Report

  • Way to crank it out and persevere through the low patch Seth. It’s a tremendously beautiful trail isn’t it? Strong performance for someone who bonked so hard. Wish I had known you guys were there so we could’ve shared a beer or pizza or something. Next time!

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