I have a great running partner in Mary Hanna. I met Mary a few years ago in what is now our Saturday morning training runs in Maple Valley. Mary had done her first marathon in 1981, The Avenue of the Giants. I’m not sure what her time was, but it was not anywhere near what she runs now. But when I met her, she was running 5Ks to ½ marathons. No marathons. She finally tackled her 2nd marathon in Portland in 2004, with a time of 3:06! Now a 3:03 marathoner, her recovery or easy run days are perfect for my training runs. While she was honing her skills at becoming speedier, I found that I usually did better the longer I ran. So I started tackling ultras and now have run 32. When Mary started hinting about even considering doing her first ultra in 2006, I knew that Bridle Trails would be perfect. How could it not be with a 5.2 mile gently, rolling loop in which you did not have to carry much?
I have this kind of sickness. Somehow, I get great satisfaction at hearing, “you’re gonna do what?” after I tell someone about my racing plans. Frankly, I’m addicted to it. So when the idea of running the Nookachamps ½ marathon in the morning and Bridle Trails 50K in the afternoon presented itself, I had to take it on. The harder the challenge, the more likely I want to try it. Besides, I’ve done harder things, like running a 50K one day and a marathon the next. How hard could it be?
Mary had been waffling about what to do with Bridle Trails. By mid-week, she decided to run the ½ at Nookachamps (since she was the defending champion) and pair up with me at Bridle Trails by running the second half (I was given permission by the race director to participate as her running partner and still continue the run to get credit for the solo race). But on race day, we found out that the ½ was re-routed due to flooding and therefore not certified any longer. Mary decided to run the 10K, which was still certified, and allow her to consider doing the whole 50K at Bridle Trails. She won the 10K race. I still ran the ½ in an all out fashion to see where I was as far as times go for that distance. The one thing about ultras is that you “learn” to run slower to allow you to go longer, which tends to affect speed. At least that’s the excuse I use for my slower times. I ran it in 1:34:something, and my PR is 1:33. So I haven’t completely fallen off the charts. However, I had a sharp pain in my right, lateral, plantar foot that left me hobbling after the race. Not a good sign for the afternoon.
We arrived at Bridle Trails and Mary was still unsure if she should sign up for the whole thing. With the encouragement of everyone there, she did. I had a headache, probably due to dehydration from the morning race, as aid was minimal at the ½. Not a good way to start an ultra. But the Ibuprofen took care of my headache and sore foot in 20 minutes.
On this day, the Seattle area was experiencing it’s 27th consecutive day of measurable rain, on it’s way to breaking the streak of 33 days of rain set in the 1950’s. Fortunately, it did not rain on our morning race, but it rained at Bridle Trails. Too bad it was not the other way around. It was raining from the start of the race and never stopped. Not showers, not sprinkles, but soak-you-to-your-bones rain. The temperature was also dropping, down into the mid 30’s. Because the ground was already supersaturated, shoe-sucking mud and large puddles (or should I say ponds) overtook the trails. By the fourth loop, one 30 foot stretch had become knee deep. And because the race started at 3PM, the last four loops were run in the dark. There are three short but steep hills each loop. Generally, they are runnable, but they become increasingly difficult the more slippery they get and the more loops you have done.
By the end of the third loop, many had become hypothermic. Because of the poor footing, it was hard to keep a good enough pace going to stay warm. Seeing that conditions were not improving, some reluctantly stopped, which would have been the sane thing to do. But I had not yet experienced a DNF and refused to stop. By the end of my fourth loop, I could not stop the uncontrollable chattering of my teeth and shaking of my body. The hot water that I was trying to drink was sloshing all over the place. Mary was also cold but she was smarter and started out with a little bit more clothes than I did.
More people dropped after the fourth loop. I was now starting to consider it, but I knew that if I could just get some dry clothes on, I would still be able to finish before the 8 hour cut-off, even if I had to walk the last 10 miles. So instead of telling the RD that I was quitting, Mary and Tony Philippi accompanied me to her car. Tony was abundantly helpful in getting the key out, unlocking the car, and getting us our dry stuff, which was next to impossible with our frozen fingers. Mary told me later that if I had said the word, she would have quit with me. She was able to continue by putting on another dry shirt over her already wet shirts and change into dry gloves. That seemed to make the difference for her. I stripped off my completely drenched shirts (no peeking TP!) and put on a dry tech shirt (the same shirt I had worn for the half and thankfully dry since it did not rain that morning-just stinky), a heavyweight fleece shirt, heavyweight fleece pants, a rain shell, and dry hat and gloves. I was dressed to go snowshoeing! In the process of trying to pull on my fleece pants over my mud-caked shoes and legs, my left calf cramped. I stretched out my leg immediately and was able to avoid a full blown Charlie-horse.
Mary and TP thought for sure that was the end of my race when I cramped. But I started walking my fifth loop and eventually was jogging again. I had to roll my fleece pants up to my knees in preparation for the knee deep puddles. But I kept them on for the rest of the race to keep my legs warm. Our 25 minute aid station stop between the 4th and 5th loop were just what Mary and I needed to be able to continue. I told Mary to go on without me, because she clearly needed to run faster to warm up. I passed a few people on the fifth loop, who told me they were done after that. I ran the 6th loop all by myself.
Mary finished her first ultra in fine fashion in 5:27, 4th overall female and first masters female. The race had a 36.7% finisher’s rate, very low for a 50K. I was able to dig deep and complete one of my toughest challenges yet. My initial goal of trying to beat my 5:05 time last year was re-adjusted to “just finish” to a “sub-6hr” time. I was able to finish in 5:43. So much for an “easy” ultra. When I asked Mary about joining me for another 50K in a month on our way home, she told me to ask her later, “tonight is not the time to ask me.” Mary is planning on becoming a Maniac this year, so be on the look-out!
The next day, there was not enough measurable rain to continue the streak. Figures.