The Kulshan Campground had a familiar feel as we pulled up on Friday evening. Ras, our daughter Angela and I were all going to run along Baker Lake the next day. I was excited to be sharing the experience with Angela of running her first 50k. I would also run the 50k and Ras would run the 100k, starting at 6:00 a.m.
Earlier that week, I had gotten a late night call from Angela who was trying to make her final decision about running Baker Lake. I had first mentioned it to her in the early part of summer. Ras had then brought the idea up to her again, after hearing about the 15 hour cut-off the race directors had just announced. Angela had worked all summer long for the Forest Service on a trail crew. She was used to spending hours on the trail, either working hard with heavy tools or carrying a 60 plus pound backpack with all of her supplies in it for a nine day stint in the back country. Ras and I both knew she was up for the challenge. We offered to cover all of the expenses involved with running the race, including picking her up from the University of Washington campus, where she is a student in her junior year. We said we'd drive her back to Seattle after the race and take her out to Pizza Pi, our favorite vegan pizzeria.
As the idea sunk in that Angela would be running her first 50k, I began to brainstorm how this would change my packing for the trip. I had offered to set her up with any gear she might need to borrow. I wanted to make sure I gathered up anything that would help her succeed in her first ultra marathon; her first running race of any kind, for that matter. I also wanted to bake some vegan chocolate chip banana muffins and cook up a big tofu scramble to reheat in our camp after the race. This is a nice tradition I've developed and I like to have a good meal like this after a long run. Home cooked food, was part of what enticed Angela to decide to join us at Baker Lake this year, the third year in a row for Ras and I. This is where I had run my first 50k in 2011; now it was Angela's turn.
After setting up our camp and getting our running kit ready for the next day, Angela went off to her tent to get a good night's sleep. She was fighting off a cold and hoped to be feeling better by the morning. Runner friends started trickling in to the camp and a fun and lively conversation ensued. Tim and Angel Mathis camped next to us. Adam Gaston and Broeck Jones were also part of the camp. Adam Hewey, who ended up placing First Male Masters, joined us for the goofy stories we all shared about tooth “fairies” and eccentric artists, before heading off to our tents.
Angela and I said goodbye to Ras as he headed off into the darkness to begin his run, pre-dawn. It was fun to see other friends briefly, by headlamp, before they began their journeys that would last all day and into the dark again. There was still 2 hours to go before the 8:00 am race start for the 50k. Angela and I kept warm in our tents for a while and then we got up to have coffee and a light breakfast. I was impressed with Angela's calm demeanor on her first ever race morning. I showed her how to prepare her bib, ultra style. She looked the part as she stood at the starting line, all ready to go. I knew she would be faster than me and was prepared to watch her take off ahead, but also ready to help her set a pace if she needed it. Race director Terry Sentinella sent us on our way. As we crossed the Baker Dam and headed up the Forest Service road, my suspicions were confirmed. She peered back at me over her shoulder just a few times, and before I knew it, she had disappeared off down the windy single track. I would not see her again until half way across the suspension bridge that spans the Baker River, just before the 15.5 mile turn-around.
My friend and running partner Shona Hilton and her husband Steve were also running. She took off ahead of me up the wide road. I didn't even see her in the distance after the race start. I settled into a relaxed pace, keeping a calm mind and wanting that to transfer over to a calm stride. The trail had some roots and rocks, but over all was fairly smooth and non-technical. I had rolled my ankle twice during this race last year and had somehow remembered the trail to be covered in little obstacles ready to trip me up at any time. I was determined to run the trail this year with focus and mindfulness. Having told myself this from even before race day, by the time I hit the course, my body was in tune with my vision. I felt strong and light as I ran along, comfortable with where I was in the pack and content at being alone in the forest. I almost had to pinch myself to make sure I was not dreaming; that it was possible to feel this good during an ultramarathon.
I was wearing my Ultimate Directions Peter Bakwin pack for the first time during an ultra. I'd used it for unsupported runs a number of times already and I really like many features of the pack. The fabric and structure of the pack is very lightweight. I like the way the bottles are easy to grab out of the front pouches and put away after sipping. I also like the sip bottles themselves, which are easy to use. I like the easy access to snacks while running. Behind the side zip pouches is an opening where you can tuck other things and velcro it closed. I like to put my perpetuem 10 ounce flasks in that opening. There are lots of little places to put things - more so than in any other pack I've tried. There is lots of room in the main zip pouch in the back which zips open on one side. The other side of the pack zips open to reveal a smaller pouch that is on top of the main pack compartment. I like that there is only 1 zipper per pouch for access. The size might have been more than I needed for a 50k, but its what I have. I like the front features a lot for even a 50k, supported distance, but they hold enough supplies for longer, all night trips as well. The versatility is nice and saves money. I heard feedback that the smaller Anton Krupicka model of this pack has less accessible side pockets. The AK's size isn't large enough for unsupported adventure runs, which I like to do. I would recommend the PB model.
Kevin Douglas was running the final aid station, which was well stocked. I snacked on a few grapes, pretzels and chips. I made sure I had enough water for the final 5.5 miles. The First Place Male 100k runner quickly passed through on his way to the finish. It was fun to see him take off, headed for the win. I took off from the aid station with fresh energy. I knew I would stay feeling good for the final miles. I had reached a point in my running where I didn't bonk during a 50k. I pushed through the single track, looking forward to hitting the final 1 ¾ miles on the Forest Service road. I passed an older man on the final stretch of single track and then I hit the road. Ahead I could see a female runner and by the way she was moving, I knew I could pass her as well. I took off running fast on the open road, with no obstacles to worry about. My legs still felt good and it was easy to push myself. Then up ahead, I could see a familiar looking blue Camel Back pack on a female runner. There were little blond bunches poking out of a running hat. It was my running partner Shona. She was making some adjustments with her pack and was walking when I saw her. I hooted to her to catch her attention. She looked back at me and I excitedly thrust my fists in the air. I was really happy to see her and I continued the “sprint” I was in to catch up to her. It was a blast finishing the race this way. I caught up to her and we were both happy to push to the finish together. We had about a mile to go. We shared a few words, but mainly just good vibes and a feeling of comfort to have somehow had this serendipitous meeting. We had run many training miles together-the 15.5 mile , 4th of July Ridge Trail that encircles and summits Bonaparte Mountain, gaining 3,800 feet in elevation ; and into the Pasayten Wilderness to the 6,000 foot high Sunny Pass for our last training runs the week prior to this race. We really didn't know how race day would go for either of us, but we couldn't have imagined meeting up just in time to cross the finish line together.
We crossed the finish line in 8:24:23 and Terry was there to hang the cool medals around our necks I had beat last year's time by 28 minutes. Angela was there, all smiles from her great run with a finishing time of 7:36:11. She had an awesome first 50k. Two large tables were filled with cookies and chips, hot soups and grilled burgers~ even veggie!! Coffee and soda were available, 80's music was playing and the after-race area was a place to relax and enjoy the company of other spent and endorphined-out ultrarunners.
Ras finished his 100k with a time of 16:20:26 and had stories of a bad headlamp battery mishap. He was mainly happy to see Angela and let her know how proud he was of her awesome performance and finishing time. We went back to our camp and shared stories of our days running along Baker Lake. I heated up the tofu scramble and roasted potatoes I had made at home. Angela went off to her tent, feeling tired and happy about a run “that wasn't that hard”.
I awoke the next morning to what sounded like rain drops on the maple trees behind the tent. The tent itself was sopping wet with heavy dew. I stepped outside into the damp morning air and realized what I was hearing was the dew drops landing on the trees. The air was filled with a heavy mist and it was a perfect way to wake up. Slowly, everyone in the camp awoke and gathered around the picnic table for coffee, muffins and more laughs. The friendships gained through sharing these endurance runs is very special. Each time we gather and hit the trails, whether running together or apart, our bonds grow stronger and our stories we share are more meaningful. We dream up ideas of future runs we'd like to share. Then we all go off to live our separate lives, running on our local trails, until the next trail adventure brings us back together again.
"If I objectify the race it becomes my opponent. If I simply run the race full-heartedly with gentleness, it becomes my ally. Gentleness allows us to utilize all the aspects of what is happening in the environment and to build a positive base around it."
-- Sakyong Mipham, "Running with the Mind of Meditation"