The Improbable Ninjas have officially run their first 25K.
So, I often have a hard time blogging about things if I don't feel like I've got the right photos to accompany my stories. And as I left my camera in the bunkhouse during my actual run this weekend, I have no images to articulate how breath-taking the view from the top of Mount Constitution was. And perhaps above all, the absolutely stunning view up there is what I wish I could impart to all my blog readers who've not made it to the San Juans on a clear day...holy cow is it amazing up there! Unreal. Even in all my years in the Colorado Rockies, the various national parks in Montana and Wyoming and California through which I've hiked...I can honestly say that nothing matched the landscape that burst into view about 4.5 miles into yesterday's run. Hopefully Glenn or someone will have a picture from it I can post here at some point to at least give some idea...
Of course, it's entirely possible that the adrenaline and endorphins and caffeine all were making me a little crazy by that point. Let's rewind...
Friday afternoon, Don and I loaded up his car with backpacks, sleeping bags, and my plaid crockpot full of vegan chili that I'd spent the morning making in preparation for the evening's potluck. We made it up to Anacortes in plenty of time, saw some familiar faces from the previous weekend, got to know some new people, and caught a gorgeous sunset on the ferry ride over.
And did I mention that it was 61 degrees?
Friday night was a blast - hanging out at Camp Moran, sharing great food (and hooray! for once in my life, not feeling the only one at a potluck heaping an entire mountain of food on my plate and then going back for seconds), meeting tons of wonderful new people, watching some running movies, and just generally having a blast. Tom and his buddy Ryan rolled in to camp around 9:30 p.m. after being the badasses that they are and having ridden their bikes across Orcas from the ferry landing.
Seattle Randonnerds represent.
Also, Scott Jurek's words to Tom at the ferry landing last night: That's impressive.
Just like summer camp, we went to sleep in little wooden bunkhouses tucked away in the forest - a dozen people packed to a room, and naturally, I forgot earplugs. (Forgot, too, that people snore.) After manually plugging my ear with my finger until I was too exhausted to do so anymore, I did eventually fall asleep. Alarm clock went off at 6:55 a.m. and I woke up to Tom jumping down from the bunk above me and mentioning that he had four of those little double-shot cans from Starbucks. Perrrfect...
Downed one of those, had a relaxed morning of wandering around in the crisp, forest air in fleece and long johns, rubbing at my eyes and eating a breakfast that mostly consisted of bananas and peanut-butter-smeared bagel bits. Yum. Also took some pictures at base camp of some of the cars. Runners sure do love their bumper stickers and license plate decals.
My favorite is the one in the bottom right corner. Dorky humor at its best.
Finally got properly dressed for the run itself, laced up my Cascadias, filled my water bottle, dropped a nuun tablet in, stashed three energy gels in my waist pack, and lined up at the starting line for James, the race director, to say "All right, go!"
The run itself was just phenomenal. It was way less brutal than I was expecting; all my hellish training runs over the past three weeks paid off, because the elevation was not nearly as bad as I'd been anticipating. And the worst of it was over by mile 5. I did make the mistake of excitedly shoving a handful of peanut M&M's in my mouth at the first and only aid station (at the top of Mount Constitution) - this is something ultrarunners do, but unfortunately, I'd had no practice eating solid foods while on the run, and my stomach cramped up pretty terribly on the swift downhill right after that.
I ran through it, though, and really cruised down the steeps. There were some more minor ascents after that, but nothing major. I hiked most of the uphills to conserve my energy, and then just really gave it my all on the flats and downhills, probably averaging 6 minute miles on some of the descents. It felt amazing. I avoided my classic race mistake, which is going out too fast, and instead hung out in the back of the pack for the first few miles...being especially conservative in the climbs. But once we'd crested Mount Constitution, I knocked things into higher gear and just started catching people and passing them, one by one. That felt great - though the best part of it, honestly, was the conversations I had along the way as I ran with people for awhile, and we'd chat - with some more than others - before I'd eventually move on, run solo again for a bit, and then find someone else with whom to enjoy the run and scenery for awhile.
The last stretch was the best - just long, rolling loops around beautiful island lakes...mostly flat, and everybody was spread out enough at that point that I wasn't ever "stuck" behind anybody - I could just cruise. My energy level was great throughout - I never had a disparaging moment, or even much pain at any point. I passed one woman on one of the steeper descents who said to me, "Oh my God, I think I've burned holes through my quads - they're absolutely shot" and another guy who told me, "I swear, you women are built differently than us - it's amazing to watch you on the downhills, because you just CRUISE...I don't know how you do it!" and I don't know if it was the caffeine or the last-minute crash training or what, but my body just performed for me better, I think, than it ever has in a race. Definitely a vast improvement over the Seattle marathon!
I crossed the finish line in 2:42:09, and was floored. I'd told myself to worry only about finishing, not about racing, but having looked at the times from last year, I'd estimated I'd probably come in around 3:30 or so. So to beat that by almost an hour was unbelievable. I don't know what the heck happened to make all the stars align as they did, but the result is that I'm totally hooked on this trail running thing and can't wait to test my limits further.
The after-party was great, too. The weather was gorgeous - many runners stripped down to t-shirts and tank tops and even the occasional bare chests to bask in the sunshine while lying out on the grassy hill, downing bowls of chili, listening to a rockin Olympia-based bluegrass band, and yelling their heads off to cheer for all the runners as they slowly trickled in for the next six hours. You'll never meet a more supportive bunch of folks cheering each other on - and not in that false, fake-modesty, polite sort of way, but truly in that genuine, soul-shaking, got-your-back-100% sort of way.
Yes, the clock does say 8:28.32.
Yup, the people are definitely what I'll remember most about this weekened. I wrote about this a lot already after the work party, I know, but seriously - trail runners have got to be just about the nicest, friendliest, cheeriest, most easy-going darn people in the world. Even the official Orcas Island shuttle drivers who helped get us all from the ferry landing to Camp Moran commented that they'd never in all their years of work there had such a friendly, grateful group of folks, every one of whom took the time to look them in the eye and thank them for helping make our fantastic weekend possible.
Work party folks reunited, plus another new friend. From left: Jacek, Matt, Kelli, Don, Jordan, Myself
The would-be second and third place runners in the 50K got lost somewhere on the course and wound up running several extra miles and not placing at all, and when they finally came in, I was worried they'd be angry as all hell - but they just sort of took it in stride, laughed it off. No big deal. The guy who came in first, Alex, was one of the few I'd chatted with the previous night at the potluck, and he was just a super nice guy, also from Seattle, and someone I hope to run into at races in the future! Tom and I also recruited another Improbable Ninja for our MovNat adventures - Elodie, a personal trainer and rockin' trail runner who lives on the East Side, and whom both Tom and I ran with, independently of one another, for portions of the 25K. Basically, people are awesome.
Team REI, post-25K: Tom, me, and Ali.
And running. Running is awesome, too. Did I mention that yet?