It is early May, and I’ve recently finished the BMO marathon with only a week away from the Sun Mountain 50k. My first 50k race! I would be lying if I said I am ready for undertaking the race before me. I am feeling a mixture of excitement for the upcoming adventure along with nerves and anxiety since my fitness isn’t where it should be.
It is now seven months later, and I’m looking back at this time. My memory is a little bit blurred, but I can certainly remember how I was feeling. The weeks leading up to the race were especially tricky trying to cram in as much training I could after my leg issues. I squeezed in several runs and had the marathon completed which was vital and gave me some confidence.
I had everything prepared for the weekend, but I soon discovered that there were some issues on the road I would be travelling on to get to the race. The highway through the cascades was closed for the winter still, and the reports were saying that it would be for another eight weeks due to winter conditions in the mountainous regions. With only days to go until my journey down, the road magically re-opened with some relief and it avoided quite a detour.
I took the Friday off to drive down for the Saturday race. It was an incredible journey. I dropped down over the US border from Canada to join Route 5 until a met Highway 20 where I headed east to the town of Winthrop. Highway 20 gradually climbs through the cascade mountain range with some stunning views everywhere you look and a super fun drive with a road that bends and hugs the side of the mountains. The further it climbed the more incredible it got with 2-meter snow walls either side of the road and high alpine conditions with visible avalanche activity either side.
As I dropped back down the heat began to climb, and the landscape changed into dry farmland spreading over open flowing hills. There was greenery, but it was somewhat lost on the sandy dry ground. It wasn’t the lush greenery and forest I am used to in the west.
I got myself checked into my accommodation at the Methow River Cabins overlooking the Methow River and only a short walk away from Winthrop town centre. I took a turn into town in the evening for a quick look at what appeared to be a shopping parade out of a western with its own functioning saloon. I was half expecting to see a film crew shooting a western.
I was up in the early hours on race morning to prepare myself and had a bagel and fruit breakfast. The night before I had my drop bags and the majority of my gear packed up. In each drop bag, I had a small lunch bag with jelly babies and nuts, an extra nutrition bar and a clean t-shirt and socks if I needed to change at any point. I was wearing my Salomon 12L pack and had 2 litres of water, gels and some cereal bars. I carried a small emergency first aid kit with all the necessary bits for the environment too (suncream & glide).
The race start was 15 minutes away from my accommodation, but I made sure I gave myself plenty of time for parking and walking to the check-in. The car park was an additional 15 minutes walk away from the start line, so it was worth giving myself the time.
There was a slight chill in the air once I arrived at the start line, but the rising sun was beginning to warm things up as it crept through the trees. Once runners had gathered there was a short race announcement before everyone took off at 8 am.
The race started quite well, and I got into the rhythm of other runners around the middle of the pack. I reached the first aid station with about 15 minutes to spare before its cut off. I picked up some extra gels, and my jelly babies filled up my water and set off again. It was beginning to get hot at this point, but I was feeling good and took the hills slow and steady.
By the halfway point I was finding the heat incredibly tricky, and without the training on the hills, the climbs were taking their toll on me. I noticed that I was dropping back as more and more runners began to pass me.
The heat was making it hard to consume any dry food. Everything was beginning to stick to the top of my mouth that left a raw flavour as though it took away some of the skin as a swallowed it back. My stomach wasn’t enjoying the gels either, and it was becoming quite sickly to consume any. I was trying my best to take in fluids, but I could see that I wasn’t getting enough and I began running out between aid stations.
I was still roughly 15 minutes from cut off at the second aid station and I took some time to cool off, change my t-shirt and put on a fresh pair of socks which felt amazing! The second half of the course was incredibly exposed with no shade that made it extremely hard to cope, there wasn’t even the smallest wind to cool things off. My heart rate was peaking at 170 just walking up hills! Every time I applied some sun cream, I felt the sweat just washed it away and I was burning up.
I remember seeing other runners who passed me at an out and back section of the course and looking pretty good, they were obviously prepared for these conditions. They probably looked at me thinking the complete opposite!
I reached the third and final aid station with three minutes to spare. I was moving very slowly, and I was suffering from the heat, no calories (nothing was going in) and the feeling of dehydration. The body and mind were telling me to stop and DNF while I could but I my heart told me to continue even if I had to walk the rest. I pushed through and kept going.
The last 7kms were the hardest of the race with two further climbs that I slowly made my way up. At one point I collapsed in some shade and took some time to focus my mind on the finish line that I knew wasn’t that far away. I was already past cut off at this point, and I had a little moment to myself believing it was over. All I told myself was that I just needed to get myself back to the finish and to do it safely. I knew I wouldn’t be alone as the 100k finishers would soon be on my tail.
I only had downhill to worry about, but I was feeling quite faint, and my legs were cramping so I had to take it quite slowly.
I approached the finish line, and the crowds were applauding as I high fived James Varner. When I realised I had a finish time I was somewhat surprised but all I could think about right then was water and laying down in the shade (and pizza, and beer)!
The whole race taught me a few lessons that it pays to put in a lot of hard training for these events. I indeed found the hard way what it takes to be an ultra runner.
I learnt more about myself and what it took to push me through some of the toughest kilometres of my life. I understood how my body reacts in the heat and what certainly doesn’t work for nutrition in those conditions. I think that yoghurt may have worked quite well and a sports drink mix would have been a better choice over some of the gels and bars. Above all the whole experience was incredibly fulfilling and I had a great time taking part.