Wednesday, June 11, 2014

2014 Echo Valley 50 Mile Race Report

Sun, Sand, Dust & Determination:
The 2014 Echo Valley 50 Mile Trail Race

By Kathy Vaughan

     I awoke early and the camping area at the Echo Valley Ski Resort above Lake Chelan was silent. It was only about four in the morning, but I had 50 miles to run that day and I was apparently ready to start my preparations. I was able to use the warm bathroom in the quiet morning while everyone else was asleep. I appreciated this very much and helped make my race morning very relaxing. I went back to the tent and crawled into the warm sleeping bag, pulled the cozy wool afghan over the top of me and changed my alarm clock so I could doze for another 20 minutes. I began to visualize the start of the race, the climb up the dirt fire road and the turn onto the single track. I was excited and ready.

     When my alarm did sound, I was in a calm state of mind. I had my race gear in the tent and put everything on while I stayed inside the warmth of the down filled sleeping bag. Ras slept beside me, not needing to get up quite yet. The air outside was cold, but not uncomfortable. I pulled my down jacket on over my race outfit and walked over to the check-in area inside the ski lodge. I was immediately greeted by Roger Michel, the race director. He was friendly and showed me how to sign up in exchange for Ras' volunteer gig he would be doing while I ran. I got my bib number, picked up some fun freebies (a sample of Flora oil, a fruit leather and some Irish Spring sports wash), and headed back to camp. I then set up our Coleman camping stove. I wanted to make coffee and have a bite to eat before the start of the race.  

     I laid down a soft towel in front of the stove so I could sit down and feel the heat of the propane flame as I prepared the coffee. The grass lawn was soft underneath me and I felt comfortable. I had my pack beside me so that I could make the last minute preparations I needed to make and filled my water and Hammer Perpetuem bottles. Now it was time to enjoy my coffee until the pre-race briefing. 

photo by Ras / copyright

     The camping area was still quiet since I was taking the six a.m. early start while most runners were taking the regular start or running a different distance. Only about 12 runners were at the start area when Roger called us all over to explain some important details about the race. Ras had gotten up with me and packed up our tent. He walked to the race start with me and would take my puffy jacket and coffee cup off my hands when it was time for me to start running. I liked having his company at the start and it felt good to have his support.

     I knew or recognized a few of the other runners. I was one of only three ladies and I knew there were only a few others taking the regular start. I had a chance of finishing in the top three in my age group or over all. This was kind of exciting for me. Taking the early start, this wouldn't be official; just a statistic that I would be aware of and a chance to have this happen could only occur in this type of situation: a small field on a hot day with lots of miles ahead of us.

     Roger said “Go” and we unceremoniously started our 50 mile trod through the trails of the Echo Valley Nordic Ski area. I felt relaxed and calm as I got going.  My gear and layering felt good and I wasn't distracted by any immediate discomforts or mistakes. I was ready to take this on. The front of the pack put a gap between myself and some other runners, but I still had a few folks behind me. I didn't want to put too much energy into worrying about my place in the back-of-the-pack yet. The race started with an immediate 1,000 foot climb. I power hiked up the hill and cut onto the single track, mixing in running on the gentler sections of the climb. I passed one if the other women, Shelley, who had hiked strong in front of me from the start. I liked that I felt in a good groove so early on in the race and had strategies and plans flitting about in my head.

photo by Ras / copyright

     I had run this course two years ago and had some familiarity with where it would take us. After the initial climb, I knew there would be some nice, runnable trail for several miles until I got to the first aide station. Ras would be volunteering there and I was looking forward to seeing him. I knew he would give me a hand with whatever I needed and lots of encouragement as well. I didn't know the exact mileage, but I thought the aide station was about five miles from the start. I pushed hard on the good trail, in the cool of the morning.

     When I got there, it was fun to see him. I had a couple of snacks while he refilled my water bottle. I took off pretty quickly as I had lots of miles ahead of me still. I had gotten there in 1:03 and I was happy with that.

     I thought Roger had explained at the pre-race briefing that we would run the loop that leaves the aide station twice. This was confusing for me and I hadn't remembered doing that the previous time. I knew that once I got around this loop and back to the aide station, I would get it all straightened out. It seemed to take a while and I wondered at one point if I had missed a turn. I went by a water supply point and decided I didn't need any quite yet. I thought it was cool to have the water there though and it reminded me of my recent thru hike on the Arizona Trail where water stashes were part of how Ras and I had water to carry. Trail stewards would set these out for thruhikers in remote locations that they could access by four wheel drive.  We were very grateful for these water supplies left by local, kind volunteers so that we could enjoy the trail.

     When I hit the aide station again Ras explained to me that I would run the loop another time only when I came back around for my second 25 mile loop of the race. Now I understood. I had wasted energy in those miles wondering and worrying about whether I was doing the right thing or not. It gave me renewed energy to know that I was done with that loop for now. I took off in the right direction and enjoyed the rolling single track trail for about seven miles. It then dropped down to soft fire road for a mile run into the next aide station where my friend John was working. 

     I was happy with how the race was going so far. I had lots of energy, was running well, staying well fed and hydrated and enjoying my reggae music on my mp3 player. I ran up to John's aide station and had some delicious, juicy watermelon. He was impressed with how I was doing compared to my first year and this gave me a good confidence boost. There was a four mile loop to run from this aide station that would bring me right back around to it for a second time. Then I had a 2.5 mile descent to the main aide station & start/finish/turn-around area. I enjoyed this shorter loop after the long run that was near the other aide station. There had been a burn through some sections of this trail and other sections were fragrant with bright green foliage and grasses. It was about half uphill and half downhill as I made my way around the loop and before I knew it I was back at the aide station again. I snacked on some more watermelon and took off for the fun trail downhill to the turn-around. I knew I wanted to change into my Altra Olympus at this point and take advantage of the max cushion comfort, now that my feet were feeling the miles.

     There were tons of people around the area now as shorter distance races were in progress as well. Finishers from the 10k and half-marathon were flying by me and running into the chute. I came through and got cheers, although most folks were completely unaware that I had another 25 miles to go. I grabbed my drop bag and changed into my Olympus. My Altra Lone Peaks had been great so far, but I was ready for some cushion. I quickly changed out a few things in my pack and went to the table to fill my bottles and have a snack. I grabbed some Clif Blocks and put my drop bag back, used the sani-can and went on my way. I was on my own now for the climb up the road. The other runners were elsewhere; ahead of me, behind me, in the chaos & crowd of the start/finish area. I didn't know, but I was fine being on my own and climbing away from the hustle & bustle below. I climbed quickly away from it, again being reminded of my days on the Arizona Trail. When Ras and I would arrive in resupply towns, it was always very distracting and overwhelming. We were in such remote quiet areas and then suddenly surrounded by people and noise, food scents, gasoline vapors and unhealthiness. This start/finish area reminded me of that with pizza boxes on the tables, barbecue smells wafting through the air and beer being consumed by thirsty runners already done with their miles for the day.

     The further I got away from this scene, the better I felt. I paused in the shade of a large pine tree and took in a deep breath. I had about 23 miles ahead of me and I knew I could do it. I was still feeling lots of good energy and my legs wanted to run. I kept going.

     Before I knew it, I was at the first aide station on the loop again. Ras was gone now. He would be sweeping the course, coming up behind the last runner and picking up the course markers as he went. The new volunteers were helpful. My friend Bob Wismer was here filling his water and it was fun to see him. He said he had just seen Ras on his way down the hill to sweep. Bob, his wife Amy and I had run Pigtails Challenge 100 mile trail race together the previous year. With runners becoming so spread apart on the course, it was nice to see a friendly and familiar face.

     I enjoyed some fruit at the aide station and went on my way to run that loop for the second time now. It went by much smoother since I knew what to expect. I stopped at the water station to fill my bottles and wet my bandana. I liked having the water here and I popped one of the provided  Nuun electrolyte tablets into one of my bottles to help manage myself in the hot temperatures. There was a nice cloud cover and breeze for the most part, but at times the clouds would shift and the direct sun was hot. I kept my pink Altra hat and my bandana wet and this helped immensely.

     Hitting the aide station for the second time, I now had 14 miles to go to the finish. I didn't feel overwhelmed by the distance, but I knew I had to continue to take good care of all of my needs. I stopped in the shade for several minutes and sat down to make some adjustments. I knew it would be worth investing this time now to take care of these distracting needs. I was right. It paid off. I took care of everything quickly and efficiently. I was then able to pick up the pace after changing my music, taking some supplements and having a Clif bar. 

     Staying well hydrated, consuming low fat & low sugar foods and paying attention to stomach discomforts were all on my mind. I had to consider these aspects to prevent pancreatitis from occurring. I have to do this every day as with only a partial pancreas, I am prone to chronic pancreatitis. If I want to keep running and hiking ultra distance, I have to pay even closer attention to this while on the trail.

     Clif bars and fruit are good sources of nutrition for me while running and hiking. I used both of these foods during the race. Clif bars are fortified with nutrients and about five grams of fat per bar. I need to stay at 20 grams per day. It adds up fast. I also used Perpetuem in the early miles. I forgot to pick up my resupply stash of it at the half way point, partly due to the chaos there, but I used my extra bottle for Nuun from the aide stations instead. Sipping on both Nuun and water was a good way for me to stay on top of my hydration needs and I did not have any problems. I also used Clif Blocks and Shots that were provided at the aide stations. These gave me quick energy and were really easy to consume while on the move. Bananas and watermelon were provided and they tasted good in the heat of the day. I stayed away from sweet cookies and acidic oranges and my stomach stayed strong. I had ginger chews and Tums with me in case it decided to go south, but I never had to use either. I had a few cups of Coke throughout the day as well. This helped to make me burp and release gases being built up in my tummy. I think its a good thing to have a little bit of carbonation to encourage this release. I had one Hickory Smoke flavored soy jerky which helped provide some salt and a nice savory flavor for a change. I do not take any S-Caps or other form of salt capsules, but I do like to take in some salty snacks if I'm sweating a lot on hot days.

     Back on the trail after my brief self-care stop, I felt really good. The running felt nice in the Olympus; springy and light. The downhill felt like less impact on my feet with the max cushion protection. I could easily dodge rocks. The rocker effect helped me lean forward into the hill and let gravity assist me, and seemed to encourage a fast gait for the uphill power hiking. I liked the way the Olympus felt on my feet and I feel like they helped my performance. I had no hot spots or problems from them, this being the first time I'd worn them on anything but dirt and gravel roads. Going into the race, I still had some residual foot soreness from my long, 800+ mile trek through Arizona. When I switched from my Lone Peaks to the Olympus at the half way point, it was such a good decision. I had done this on a 40 miler back in April and I liked how the Olympus felt on tired feet. It was the same during this race. They revivified my feet and encouraged me to keep going at a good pace, miles deep. When you love both shoes so much, it's a good way to take advantage of the positive qualities of both. I wanted to check out the rocky conditions of the trail in the Lone Peaks for the first half as well as what kind of traction would be necessary for the descents. When I scouted this out, I could tell the Olympus could handle the terrain fine and the max cushion would make a difference just when I needed it for the second half.

     Now having passed through the first aide station for my second time, I had a rolling stretch of single track to run. I couldn't remember much about this section from my first time through for some reason. I knew that this was the biggest remaining challenge. It would be about a seven mile stretch. After this section, I had a mile of easy fire road and then the final aide station. Once there, the 6 miles were all fun and the final stretch would feel welcome. I began to run with ease and confidence. I knew I would beat my first year's time on the course and by a good margin. I was happy and motivated. I pushed hard and greeted John with a huge smile. Jerry Gamez, Roger's co-race director, was there. He had helped me get back on course when I went off of it my first year. Both of these guys were amazed at my improvements in two years time. I smiled with glee and took off for the final time on the four mile loop called the “Outback”. I thought to myself that I would like to cross country ski on this trail sometime. I hiked to the top of the first little climb and turned left toward the start the loop. I could see the aide station down below. I only had to make my way around this loop and then down the hill to the finish. I had this.

     Just before the aide station, I had passed a young woman who had been way ahead of me for all of the race. When I got to her, I could see she was struggling. I wanted to make sure she was okay. She said she thought she might have to drop at the aide station as she was having problems from the heat. I encouraged her to take her time at the aide station and cool down. She could wet her headband and wet down her head as well. She could sit down in the shelter there and drink some cold water. She had plenty of time before the cut-off to still finish the race. I ran past her and would not know what she had decided to do. I didn't know if other runners were still behind me or if I would be last. I just knew I would PR and that made me feel good.

     I got back around to John's aide station and had a vanilla gel. I was feeling pretty depleted and I wanted some energy for the final 2.5 miles. I was really excited about being so close to the finish. John told me I was 5th woman and that the younger lady had decided to continue. This gave me the encouragement I needed to wave goodbye and hit the single track trail with the fun little dips. The tread was soft, sandy and dusty. I kicked up a cloud behind me and descended easily, now turning onto more fire road. This meandered gently through aspen forest, fragrant with wild rose bushes. Bird song came from the trees and I felt as if I were floating along. I turned up the final single track stretch that went by old ski hill equipment to the finishing chute. I could see the colorful flags and people ahead. I laughed out loud and ran with all the strength I had left. “Leave it on the course”, the saying goes. I ran towards Roger and Jerry waiting at the finish and gave Jerry a High Five. Roger said, “This must be a course record for you by about an hour!”  I finished in 12:44, exactly 44 minutes faster than my first year's time on this course.  

     Everything came together for me at Echo Valley. My thruhike fitness gave me the strength I needed to keep running for 50 miles. I had the endurance I needed. My mind was strong and used to spending hours on the trail. I was conditioned to the heat and I knew how to take care of myself to prevent issues from happening. I utilized my available gear well and was fortunate to have both Altra Lone Peaks and Olympus, provided to me by the supportive and innovative company. After DNFing (Did Not Finish) at mile 53 of the Pigtails Challenge 100 mile race only 10 days after finishing the Arizona Trail, I had made the decision to run Echo Valley 50. I knew I had enough time to get more rest and be ready for it. I would have two weeks. I wanted to test the strength and endurance I had gained from my long hike. I felt like I could run a good race and I did.  

photo by Takao Suzuki / copyright http://Runners.Photos
Kathy being paced by her daughter Angela (at right) during the 2014 Pigtails Challenge 100

     After the race, Ras posted a picture on Facebook he had taken of the six o'clock early starters. It was a little bit cool, but we all knew the temperatures would heat up and our bodies would warm up as soon as we started to climb. I like the photo and what it evokes. We are taking our first few steps of a journey of 50 miles. I watch the ground, smiling for the camera, anticipating the day's adventure. I know how the day played out for a few of us in the photo: my friend Chris (a 280 pound runner who calls himself “The White Buffalo”) dropping to the 50k distance after missing the cut-off at the turn around, pushing on for 6 more miles to have another ultra finish; the young woman in the photo being the same strong gal who continued on despite thinking she might need to drop due to having a hard time in the heat; my new friend Shelley, also opting for a 50k finish.  

     I look at myself and I see a different “me”.  I am 20 pounds leaner after hiking through Arizona. I look almost unfamiliar to myself. My childhood friend Tabby saw the photo of the race start on Facebook and said I looked “fit”. It makes me think of my high school days and how different I was then. I would never have imagined at that time in my life that I would be physically fit and mentally tough enough to run 50 miles, 100 miles, or to hike 800 miles in 35 days 5 hours and 2 minutes (establishing the Women's Fastest Known Time for a thruhike of the Arizona Trail). I was shy, soft and had exercise induced asthma. I cried easily and had spells of brooding. I was scared of balls in any sport whether it was softball, basketball or dodgeball (which I especially hated). I was on the track team in junior high school and I wanted to run the longer of the distances, 2 laps around the track. I loved it, but I was slow. I was always the last to be chosen for any team during physical education classes and I was surrounded by athletic, tough country girls. I enjoyed going for long bike rides or walks by myself on country roads, downhill skiing on the quiet slopes of White Pass, canoeing peacefully in Riffe Lake near my home with my friend Norma, or coming home from school and playing the piano by myself for hours while my sister and brother participated in after school sports. I had always liked being in nature, but I never would have guessed at that time that I would become someone who could move for miles and hours, sometimes all day and night, through the wilderness on my own two feet.

      We all have this capability. We can all make changes in our life to reach goals or become what we want to be. For me, it's been to explore ever further on trails, both my surroundings I'm running or hiking through and my own ability to push my limits of endurance. I've had life experiences that have forced me to be strong and courageous in the face of intense challenge. These have happened during different eras of my life, in my teenage years and beyond. Now, nearly 48 years old, I have the strength, endurance, perseverance and mental fortitude as an endurance athlete to handle whatever may come my way. I can even prevent some life events from feeling like obstacles or crises, instead approaching them as puzzles to solve and enjoy working.

photo by Takao Suzuki / copyright http://Runners.Photos
Kathy during the 2014 Pigtails Challenge 100

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations Kathy! I looks like you ran a great race.
    I enjoy your writing and your honesty. It really helps to hear about the nutrition, the gear and everything. Your experience make the 50 mile distance appear achievable...with enough smart planning and perseverance.