I hadn’t ever run a time limited race before. I’ve sure trained at Carkeek Park a lot though, seeing as its right on my doorstep. It is a great North Seattle park, a mini trail-oasis. Perfect to get your fix of trails and a decent bit of vert with some 423 feet per 1.93 mile loop without sinking most of a day driving out and back to a trail head. Its the urban equivalent of Mt. Si repeats; you can never do just one.
So it was with great enthusiasm that I signed up for the Carkeek 12 hour as I’d missed out on the reputably sublime Cottontail 6 & 12hr in the spring. Matt & Kerri Stebbins put on these two awesome local races in addition to all their work with the ever growing Rainshadow Running and managing their own trail stewardship non-profit Endless Trails. Knowing Matt and Kerri from Rainshadow events and the Trail Running Film Festival I had expected awesomeness, and I’m happy to say I was not disappointed. The care and time that these two put into their events is as warming and satisfying as the delicious soups that were provided by local participants and friends. What’s the best part about the Endless Trails ethos of fun and encouragement toward EPIC LOOPS? Well that would be the general infectiousness of it all. I am certainly not entirely a Halloween humbug, but I’m often hard pressed to get into the spirit of costumery. Needless to say, not only did I bring a costume to the Carkeek 12 hour but I rocked that baby for at least 2 whole loops. The jury is still out on this but I’m starting to think that a terrycloth robe might not be ideal performance wear despite rigorous testing. Regardless, the dude abides. I don’t know about you but I take comfort in that.
I guess there was some running involved and I’ll do my best to make some sense of that. In the context of the 2014 season, this race was supposed to be everything it purported to be. My time to relax, take stock and think about all the things I’ve achieved this year whilst celebrating the community that I’ve so enjoyed becoming a part of. I made a deal with myself that I would keep going as long as I was still enjoying myself and gosh darnit if I didn’t stick to that.
The race had one of the more leisurely starts in recent memory. Part of this was due to the fact that the start line was a sub-5 minute drive from my home, and another part was the relaxed attitude of the folks present. There were many that ran in costumes both from the start and for the entire duration. There was a short briefing pre-race (tips on how to not get lost in the expansive acreage) and then we were shooed out onto the trail. I was futzing with my headlamp or mug or something because I was last onto the trail. I caught myself trying to play catch up and passed a couple of people heading from the start to the first climb of note (the south ridge stairs provide one of the two (or three if you want to quibble) real climbs in the loop). I leapt up the first 4 steps and then checked my aggression at the door. What the hell was I thinking? This wasn’t the time, the place or the race to be acting so foolishly. This was to be the first of many ‘revelations’ I would have about running a timed loop course. I would sagely opine to anyone who would listen: “I figured it out, it doesn’t matter how fast you go we’re all going to finish at the same time.”
I can proudly and honestly state that after that first burst of misplaced enthusiasm I did not run another step of uphill (well alright, except for the less steep ones but shhh!). I stuck it into easy gear and cruised along as swift as my body would take me. It didn’t help that my hamstrings and glutes came pre-trashed from a perhaps ill-advised midweek circuit training boot camp with Team 7hills and the fine folks at Ian Fitness - Magnolia (a great resource for cross training and I look forward to getting strong with them over winter) but I found a rhythm that I felt I could stick with all day if needed.
The first 4 or so loops were gone in the blink of an eye. Starting before dawn will do that. I had strategized (still not quite able to let it go!) on stopping every 2 loops for the first 10 loops and then stopping every loop thereafter to feast, cavort and otherwise schmooze the aid-station table. Conditions had other ideas however. The first loop was far too warm for the jacket I’d rolled out with, the second loop was my designated feasting loop and the third was when I dropped my headlamp off. On the 4th I kind of just reflexively pulled into the aid station and managed one tortilla chip before I realized I didn’t really need anything. My plan was falling apart. From loops 4 through 10 I managed to right the ship and get on my 2-loop stopping schedule. After loop 11 it was costume time! I had made the mistake of leaving my bathrobe in the car on the other side of the parking lot. The glasses were there, Larry’s homework was nicely corrected in my North Face duffel at the aid station but I’d forgotten the bloody robe! Well I was invested now so I had to go get it from the car for the full Dude experience. I got there and saw my 2Toms Sports Shield (the best performance lube in sports IMHO!) sitting on the passenger seat. Oh crap… there’s always something that gets missed. It wasn’t a wet day, the weather cooperated superbly but still there was a nagging feeling that the humidity and my sweat level could lead to some issues. I decided to apply to the danger-zones and went out for a couple luxurious lounge-worthy loops of Lebowski-inspired loping.
Two loops in the costume and it was time to kick it a little. Grazing at the park shelter I sampled some amazing soups, partook of excellent snackage in the form of chips, bagels and oodles of leftover Halloween candy and before I knew it the 6 hour runners were starting to show up and look all clean and limber all over my sweaty gorging festival. Not wanting to be made a fool of I took off for another loop after checking in with my buddies Glenn, Chris and Sophie and I was actually pretty happy with how I was running still. Only two or three 6 hour folks managed to pass me on that first loop even though one of them happened to be grossly overweight, wearing jeans and sipping on a Coors Light tall-boy (spoiler alert: it was merely a pretty involved and expertly executed costume, I think he ran for at least 4 loops in it).
It was around this time that I noticed a tingling feeling in my thighs… ummm, I mean I had started to chafe. My absent-minded preparation had led to a deteriorating situation. Applying lube 11 laps in was too little too late. I was undone by my old nemesis once more (at least my nipples remained mostly intact). This was somewhere around loop 14 and I was developing a bit of a cowboy running gait. The next stop was a long one and I sat down and dipped an entire bagel in my Mr. T mug of soup. I was pretty content but then Vivian Doorn (she of the excellent WA ultra-pedigree and indomitable midnight Cascade Crest 100 roadside support) told me it was time to go. No question about it just ‘come on, time to go’ and to be honest I didn’t have it in me to argue. It was time to go. Sitting around wasn’t going to do me any good when I inexplicably had an arbitrary distance goal to achieve (the Stebbinses are experts at convincing you to round out your distance). I ran alongside her for a few yards then got all competitive and plowed through for two loops without stopping but the chafing wouldn’t let me be. I managed to power through the first 7 or 8 hours with busted glutes but for the next hour I was laid low by the raw force of friction. After 16 I was starting to hit that magical threshold of ‘keep going as long as I was still enjoying myself’.
Cassie turned up on her Saturday run and we chatted and shared tales of our day - hers were less repetitive. She joined me for loop 17, it was nice to have a fresh person to talk to and at some point Chris and Sophie turned up too but they were too spry for me. Cassie left me halfway, and right after I saw some park employees disemboweling salmon that had erred in their run up Piper’s Creek into shallow water I realized I was done. I recalled the sight and sound of them thrashing around fruitlessly earlier in the day. It was a 50-50 shot and they had chosen wrong. They sure kept trying to swim in inch-deep water though. It is kind of tragic in a way and I wonder if through that they missed their chance to spawn. Perhaps their gutting was an act of mercy in the end. I’m sure there’s some lesson in there and perhaps a greater philosopher than I can tease out some relevant correlation to our lives as ultrarunners or in general and the dull, pointless thrashing of a fish in shallow water. For my purposes it will suffice to just fall back on some kind of circle of life nonsense…
...where was I? Oh yes! Fun and frolicking on the trails of our fair city. Loop 17 and the fun part was transitioning from the running to the socializing. As such I was done. Matt, as it his wont, had other ideas and encouraged a ‘short loop’. This devilry is created, I presume, with the sole intention of giving the organisers a convenient way to goad tiring runners into doing just that little bit more, and so I did. 17 Carkeek loops and one short loop, I had 2 or 3 hours left on the clock but it didn’t matter. I wanted to keep enjoying the experience and the way to do so was to kick back and shoot the breeze with old friends and new. Also, delicious soup.
As proceedings came to a close it became clear that Adam Hewey’s record would stand for another year, so he sloped off to crack some champagne and slowly but surely the ranks of retiring revellers swelled to breaking point, allowing for mass goading of the leaders into short loop after short loop as the seconds dwindled. Special mention to winners Alex Swenson, Kay Allen (12 hour), Chris Barry and Abbey Hendricks (6 hour). Your Count Chocula was well earned.
So I was left to reflect on all I’ve achieved this year in my relatively short running career (if one can call it that). I’ve been busy in 2014, racing or volunteering at least 1 ultra race per month all year. I’ve bested old PRs and smashed personal distance goals but I think the lasting thing I’ve gained from it all is the sense of community that trail running folks bring to the table. The Carkeek 12 hour race experience served as a perfect microcosm of that for me and I bet the Cottontail will too. Bring your pride, bring your goals and bring your tenacity, but most of all bring your sweetest mug and your funniest costume and prepare to be supported, cajoled and fed until you just about can’t take any more. I know I’ll be back. Oh and did I mention, delicious soup?