Monday, January 7, 2013

Tiger Mountain 25k Race Recap

15.5 miles on Tiger! Actually, this wasn't so much of a race as a fun-run for Seattle-area trail runners who are in-the-know. When I first signed up (actually there was no sign up, so maybe I should just say 'committed') for this race (fun run), my Tough Mudder team from CrossFit was all in. Some of our group weren't runners at all, so it was going to be quite a challenge for them, going from zero to 15 miles in a few months. Needless to say, there only ended up being 3 of the original 6 or 7 who had set out to train. Due to injuries, families, etc. most of our team dropped out. I even dropped down from the 50k to the 25k. Apparently we are all slackers or we are all over-training. Probably the latter for the majority of us!

Anyways, after deciding to do the 25k instead of the 50 early last week, I felt a huge relief. I had run the Tiger Mountain loop before, so I knew what I was getting myself into. After my less than stellar first 50k experience, I think I made the right decision in saying no to 9 hours on a mountain without any facilities. 4 hours I knew I could handle!

Good morning! It's early and dark, but I'm ready
and roaring to run up a mountain!
We started off at 7:30 am. The actual "race" start time was 8 am, but my group wanted to get a head start so we weren't stuck behind slower runners.

We started out as a five-some: Jess, Jim, Van, Matt and I. Van, Jess and, I think, Jim are all seasoned ultra marathon and trail runners, so I was slightly intimidated. I knew, however, that Jess would never have put me in a situation that I couldn't handle, so I wasn't too worried.

Being the amazingly smart person I am, I totally forgot to bring my headlamp. Actually, it didn't even cross my mind. I foolishly assumed it would be light when we started.

We started off, and both Matt and I were lucky that everyone else had remembered lights, so they were able to shine enough light for us to run somewhat safely. Honestly I couldn't see much at all, and was terrified I was going to twist an ankle on a root or something, but I made it just fine. This was the first of several instances where I felt like I was holding everyone back.

It started getting light, luckily, soon after we started. Whew!

I wish I could tell you what trails we took, but I honestly can't remember for the life of me. I have the WORST sense of direction. And it only gets worse when I'm on a mountain. The only trail I remember taking was called the Poo Poo Point Trail, but I can't remember which part it was for the life of me.

What was great about this run was that runners had come out to "mark" it earlier in the week with holiday decorations including bows, ornaments and ribbons. It was a fun little surprise to see what we would find next. Sometimes the markers would be hanging on trees or branches, or just draped over a bush. Pretty original idea, that made the run that much more fun!

Purple ribbon! We're going the right way!
Pretty much straight off, we started heading up. And up and up and up. I LOVE uphills. They are SO much easier for me than downhill, where the loss of control is so uncomfortable for me.

Van taking the lead!
This was definitely the part of the trail that I was most comfortable with. I was following pretty closely behind the leader and was just enjoying my surroundings. This side of the mountain had lots of greenery and fallen leaves (still!), and the ground wasn't very technical. Probably why I enjoyed it so much.

Some neat arching branches. Gorgeous!
After climbing for several miles, my body started screaming at me a bit. Mostly my hamstrings and my back. I was pretty much cursing my Crossfit coach for having us row a 2k on Thursday. But we finally made it past the direct uphills!

Snow! (And Jess's elbow)
I think it was around mile 6 or 7 that we finally saw snow. I've mentioned before, but I become giddy when I see snow. This time was no different, so I obviously pulled out my camera.

Little did I know, because we saw snow almost the rest of the run. At this point, the snow was just along the side of the trail and we didn't have to run through any at all.

When you are running a trail, it is pretty imperative that you look where you are going. Even glancing up for a second can mean disaster. I made sure during this loop, though, to take my time and enjoy what was going on around me. I have the pleasure of living in such a beautiful part of the country and runs like this make me feel so grateful!

I remember thinking during the run how big the world is and how beautiful! I get caught up so much in day to day life and running on the trails helps me put my life in perspective. Your problems become so small and it's easy to escape your thoughts while you are out there. I feel like I can relate it to a yoga class where you are surrendering to and moving with your breath. Well, I always feel like my goal when I go to yoga is to get out of my head, but maybe that's just me! Anyway, while I was running on Saturday, I found myself able to let go a little and just be. T'was nice and just what I needed!

One thing I love about running on Tiger Mountain, this loop especially, is the diversity along the way. Seriously, every side of the mountain is different, so it's impossible to get bored.

Several miles after we first saw snow, it became apparent that it was only going to get worse. By worse, I mean the snow started covering the trail and we had to run (I say the term "run" loosely here) through 6-inch snow drifts.

Following Matt through the snow banks.
Eventually, Matt and I decided just to walk. It actually got pretty hysterical there for awhile. We would try to run and just get stuck or slide out. I couldn't help but burst out laughing. I wish someone had been taping us because it was seriously like Beevis and Butthead.

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree!
We started heading back uphill again, this time in the snow. Along the way, we passed the "Christmas tree". The tree is adorned with ornaments that it has collected from years of this race. It also had some lights on it. Truly spectacular looking among the snowy scene we were traversing.

Up and up and up. Just the way I like it!
The snow-scene got slightly more hysterical as we kept going up. There were several times when I broke down because I was laughing so hard after getting stuck in a several foot deep snow drift.

Jess and I. All smiles!
I was still feeling great at mile 13! I was worried about my stomach, but it was still holding out and my body was saying "more, more, more!"

Below is a picture from one of my favorite parts of the trail. At this point, you are getting close to one of the summits and you have been traversing slightly up for awhile. You can look up and see sunlight streaming in through the trees while, if you look down, it looks like a dark abyss. It's almost like daylight and darkness in one place. Very cool. If only I could run with my DSLR so I could get a better picture of it!

We finally stepped out to one of the summits to find several feet deep of snow. At this point, we started heading downhill, and I was SO scared! If only I'd known how much worse it was going to get! I took it really slow (again, feeling like I was slowing down the crew). I was amazed as some of the guys started bounding (yes, literally bounding!) down the hill. What took them 30 seconds probably took me 10 minutes at least!

By this time, my feet were a sloppy mess! Luckily it wasn't cold at all, but stepping in all the snow had left my ankles a little chilly!

Jess is wearing a t-shirt and shorts.
I was wearing 3 layers and long pants. Haha!
We finally made it through the huge snow drifts and I found myself in a place slightly more terrifying: ice!

We headed even farther down the mountain in the snow, which had become almost a solid sheet of ice. I was walking at this point, just trying not to break my neck while others were skillfully sliding down the hill next to me. Several people tried to give me advice on running down the ice: leaning slightly forward, and using small, quick steps.

Nothing helped, though. I am already a slow downhill runner, but the ice made it impossible for me. I was just getting more and more frustrated at this point. Mostly at myself because I think it was my inability to lose control (life lesson, obviously) that I couldn't get down the stupid mountain.

The farther we went, the less icy it got, thank goodness. I was finally able to keep up a bit better. It was around this time that my stomach started cramping again. I was expecting this after my 50k several weekends ago, so I guess I was grateful it held out for this long.

The last few miles were tough. Between my stomach and my knee, which had randomly started hurting, I was just putting one foot in front of the other. Every time I took a step, I felt a sharp pain in my knee. Sometimes this happens when I am going downhill, so I knew it wasn't serious, just part of the game.

3:48 FTW! Garmin looses signal in the forest,
so it only caught 13.5 miles instead of the full 15.5
We finally made it back! Almost 4 hours later. To put that in perspective, last time I ran this loop, which was several months ago sans snow, I finished a little over 3 hours. Haha. Silly ice slowing me down!

Matt and I. Matt rocked his first long race!
I must be getting stronger because last time, my legs were such a mess after running this loop. This time, my legs were fine, minus the knee pain! Jess and Jim started gearing up to head back out for another loop, and I felt a slight twinge of jealousy, but knew I would have had a very hard time and my recovery would have taken most of the week. I know I made the right decision to stick with the 25k.

The group! Matt, me, Jess and Jim.
All in all, I had a great run! I was on a running high the first 12 miles, until we hit the ice and my body started showing signs of fatigue. I was very happy, even giddy, most of the time! I feel lucky to have found this trail running community, and can't wait for more and more trails!

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