Running Local: It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Hitting the ground hard, I was now suddenly both awake and surprised. I had tripped on the frozen, rutted mud only 2 minutes into my 31 mile self-supported training run. I had no choice but to shake it off, my right knee and elbow now skinned. I was due to meet my friend and running partner Shona Hilton and there was no time for delays. She would join me for some middle miles on this day of running. She lives just 5 miles away at the other end of the dirt road I live on with my husband Ras. This road is called Dry Gulch and it goes through quite an array of conditions throughout the year. The area is the Okanogan Highlands of North Central Washington at 3,500 feet in elevation.
Right now, we are experiencing spring break-up. Snow has been covering the ground for months and now the temperatures are warming. Dry Gulch is great for driving when its compact snow and ice, manicured regularly and sanded by the snow plow driver. It then goes through a muddy stage when the snow melts, where even the best 4-wheel drive has to be fought with to keep on the road. After the mud dries, it leaves deep ruts, freezing at night in the early spring. During the day it becomes dust, referred to by locals as “moon dust”. Next comes the crazy “washboard” a wavy, rutted road surface which causes you to fishtail if you get up to even 30 mph.. The road is then horrible for running. A passing car kicks up more dust than is safe to breathe. The grader works to repair the washboard throughout the spring and summer, but dust is always there.
On this day, the conditions were actually great for Dry Gulch. Frozen in the morning, the mud would be soft by mid day. Enough of the road had dried out that I could choose whether or not to run in the mud. My plan was also to get off of Dry Gulch for part of the run. I would enjoy some time on the forest service road that neighbors the 40 acre piece of property where Ras and I live in a rustic lodge we caretake. There is wonderful running, biking and cross-country skiing on this road, which doubles as a section of the Pacific Northwest Scenic Trail. Locals head up the road in the wintertime on snowmobiles. This makes a great pack for running or skiing. I was looking forward to running on it after some dirt road miles, knowing it would feel softer on my feet and be awesome to get away from any possibility of a passing car. Unfortunately, my favorite trails were still too snowy for running.
Earlier in the week I had been looking at my Bryon Powell Training Plan for a 100 Mile Race. I noticed that at the end of Week 14 ,which I was currently in, I would need to run a 50k distance. Not being signed up for an official 50k race, it would be up to me to put together the route and run it on my own. Ras would be busy working his job as a carpenter, so he would not be able to join me. Pigtails Challenge 100 Miler around Lake Youngs in the Renton area, my first 100 mile race, was happening Memorial Day Weekend no matter what. I was determined to stick to my plan. It was actually fun to brainstorm all of the possible routes I could run to reach that mileage goal. I knew my biggest challenge would be to stay motivated for all of those miles on my own. Mixing up the terrain would be key to keeping it fun.
The morning was cold and quiet as I ran. I soon saw Shona up ahead, moving towards me as we had planned and that made me smile. She called out “Good Morning” in her cute, Scottish accent. We kept on running to the end of Dry Gulch and then turned alongside a little creek, now visibly flowing after being covered in a layer of ice all winter. In the summer, cows range freely in here, mucking up the creek. It begins to smell like cow pies and the creek water is greenish brown. Right now, the water was looking clean and fresh, running through the snowy banks along its sides. This area would change drastically in only a few months.
Shona and I could see Bonaparte Mountain off in the distance and we chatted about the Bonaparte Ultra Ras and I are putting together for the weekend of July 6th. What distance will we run? We should do hill repeats to train for the big climb to the lookout. We can run it faster this year with another season in us. Isn't it cool that Van Phan and Deby Kumasaka want to come run it? (Huge inspirations to Shona & I, Deby ran seven 100 milers last year and Van won the Washington Grand Slam & the women's division of the Pigtails Challenge 200 miler) They'll love it! . . . . Ultra runners often spend at least some of their time running talking about other ultra runs they want to do and other ultra runners. Its pretty normal.
We were on a 3.2 mile out n'back section. Then Shona would run back towards my car/aid station with me on Dry Gulch, to her turn around point. We could see the hardy neighbor ladies up ahead, regular walkers no matter what the weather, both in their early 70's. It took a while to gain on them and I was impressed with their pace. Nothing goes unnoticed in a country neighborhood and sure enough one of the ladies had seen me run by solo earlier and wondered why I now had a partner. One of their dogs was pretty unfriendly towards me, so Shona and I said goodbye and went our separate ways.
|M.O.N.T. member and training partner Shona Hilton|
In less than a mile, I was back to my car. I drank half of a refreshing Red Bull, one of my indulgences during endurance efforts, and then decided to get my dog Jesse from the house. He would be fun to have along for some miles, but he was getting too old to join me for all 31. He was very happy indeed and we took off to run the other end of Dry Gulch road, a 4 mile out n'back section. We passed by Eden Valley Guest Ranch in its idyllic setting and another creek, flowing swiftly with snow melt. When I got done with that 4 miles, it was time to hit the snowy forest service road. Jesse loves this kind of running, so it would be fun to keep him with me. I'd completed a little over 15 miles at this point in my run.
I spent 2 ½ hours in the forest, running on the snowmobile pack. Sometimes the snow was too soft and one or the other foot would sink down up to my knee, “postholing”. This would sometimes catch me off guard and I would fall. I actually enjoyed this though and settled into the idea that my traveling was now quite a bit different than it had been before. The sun was shining. I felt warm and comfortable. I could see young, bright green pines coming up in the old burn area where I was now running. Off in the distance, the rugged and rocky face of Haley Mountain was towering over the scene. I wondered about an access trail to the summit. I was moving towards its base and would then turn, running a 5 ½ mile lollipop trail through forest service land. Some of this trail is a part of the Highlands Halloween Hundred Trail Adventure Run (H3) that Ras and I hold Halloween weekend in October. I took a short break in here, nibbling on a nut mix.
The snow continued to soften as I ran. By the time I got out to Dry Gulch again, I was postholing on almost every step. I welcomed the road. I was happy with how my Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes were performing in these mixed conditions, transitioning easily from helping me keep good traction in the snow & mud, to giving me the support I needed on the hard pack dirt. I ran ¼ mile or so to get back to my car again. Each time I got there, it was easy to change out water bottles or clothing layers, have something to eat, and resupply my Nathan running vest with Cliff Blocks, nuts and new Perpetuem bottles (a liquid, vegan nutrition drink I can easily sip while running, made by Hammer Nutrition).
I felt just right all day in a hat and gloves. I dried my sweaty gloves out in the car between visits. A merino wool sweater with a thermal running hoodie was necessary, even though the sun kept poking through. There was enough of a breeze to keep it a little cool all day. Now it was time to run Jesse back up to the house. The driveway was muddy and snowy. Intermittent puddles made for creative footing. This was the most technical section of the run! Our driveway is ¼ of a mile long, so this would add a half mile onto my route. Jesse was ready to be done and he went inside to lap up some water and lay down on his cozy bed. I was off for more running.
Now I would repeat the 4 mile section of Dry Gulch. I felt good and relaxed, the benefits of so many hours of running through nature. With the spring melt, birds were returning to the highlands and I had seen my first robins and mountain bluebirds of the season. A bald eagle was perched high in an aspen, watching for the afterbirth the cows had been leaving behind. The sweet melodies of meadowlarks were nice to hear throughout the dirt road running. The mountain chickadees were singing their tunes also, preferring the forest with its large fir & tamarack trees.
I needed some more mileage after my 4 mile out n'back, so I went back up the snowy road into the forest service land. I felt grateful to be able to mix up the terrain I was running on and enjoy the quiet peacefulness that I felt as soon as I entered the forest. I ran up the road for ½ hour and then turned around. Back at the driveway, all that was left of my adventure was to check the mailbox ¼ mile away, run up the messy driveway and back down the final ¼ mile to the car.
The calm of late afternoon was surrounding me now. I felt a stillness in me like this time of day has, when activity comes to a close and dusk has not quite settled. The remaining daylight brought with it a sense of everything being just right. I had finished my self-supported ultra training run. It had been really fun and not as challenging as I thought it would be. During this same season, 2 years ago, I was just beginning trail running. I would steadfastly refuse to run the driveway at the beginning and end of runs for some reason, no matter how much Ras gently prodded. Now as Ras pulled up, finishing his work day, he was just in time to see me come running down the muddy driveway, a coincidence we could not have planned.
Done running for the day, I could now go in by the woodstove, warm up and cook a delicious meal of tofu scramble. Its really awesome being able to put together my own ultra distance run right out my front door. Turns out, staying happy and engaged in a run in my own neighborhood is not a problem after all.
My Ultrarunning Gear/Favorite Stuff List:
- Nathan running vest (I have 2 sizes, depending on the distance & support available)
- Nathan hand bottle with a spare bottle (or 2) filled & packed in my vest; if I will be filtering water, I bring a Sawyer water filter
- Nathan 10 ounce flasks with Hammer Perpetuem, each flask holding a 2 hr. supply
- Justin's nut butter pouches; baggies of nuts or seeds; peanut butter sandwich on sprouted grain bread; homemade peanut butter & dark chocolate energy ball; avacado
- Clif Blocks (although I'm currently switching to Gu Chomps for the amino acid benefit)
- Injinji toe socks (completely prevents blisters for me)
- Altra Lone Peaks trail running shoes (zero drop design has been great for ankle stability & healing)
- Smart Wool quarter zip, mid-weight merino wool sweater (perfect for layering, year round)
- Brooks Thermal Running Hoodie (awesome warm outer layer with pocket for mp3 player)
- KT brand kinesiotape (taping on both ankles has been giving me great support & confidence after having been prone to ankle rolls)
- Black Diamond Z Poles (for runs with lots of climbing)
- mp3 player loaded with Raggae Dancehall mixed tapes