It's dust and mud,
It's the roar of a Sunday crowd.
Those are lyrics from Garth Brooks "Rodeo". I had put this song on my ipod recently and and while running at the Spokane River Run 50k this song really hit home. It was about mile 23 or so and I was on a tough uphill climb. Little did I know that Gail was having some of this too.
Gail and I needed a run for April so we couldn't decide on Spokane or Sacramento. Sacramento was a marathon on pavement and Spokane was a 50k trail marathon. I just couldn't turn down the trails so off to Spokane we went. We spent the night at a hotel not to far from the start and with the 8:15 start time a super early wake up call was not required. We got to the start with plenty of time as this race only had about 50 folks doing the 50k. The 25k and 10k had hundreds and we would miss all of those crowds. As we were driving to the start we saw a guy running with a backpack and a white dog. I said to Gail "I bet that is Sean running here from Sisters. And that dog sure looks like Sascha" We drive by and look back and sure enough its Sean. We talk later and find out his parents only live a few miles away. Someday I will be a stud like that and just run to the start of a 50k!(And get 5th place after all that).
At the start we chatted with some other runners including Tim and Lisa. They both had been great in the last few weeks giving me trail reports, offers of a place to stay and what a nice course this was. You gotta love Ultra folk!
As we waited for the start the briefing from the RD was pretty simple. Follow the yellow signs, you will do one loop out then back to the start and then do another different loop for the second half. I do have to credit the folks who marked the trail. This was the best marked trail I have ever been on. I think I only doubted which way to go once. They used stakes with nailed on arrows and always followed up each turn with a confirmation arrow down the correct trail.
3...2...1...Go. That is how easy these races start. Gail and I started off down the trail. It was a nice jeep trail to start but soon we hit the single track and the rocks, and the rocks.... If you are familiar with the Spokane area you know they have lots of rocks, mostly basalt but some river bed type rocks thrown in for fun. Tree roots were not a problem on this trial. The course had very few big climbs. Most were short in being a quarter mile or less. But it still had its challenges of some areas so rocky that you had to walk over the loose basalt blocks the size of baseballs. After a few miles Gail and I split up. Soon there after I hear gunshots. And not 5 minutes later I see guys dressed in Army suits with camouflage carrying rifles through the woods. So I am thinking, "Did we take a wrong turn here somewhere?" And of course I am wearing an nice green running shirt! Yikes! I would see 3 more groups of these soldiers out in the woods this day. Made for some nice diversions.
I was feeling good. I Would catch up with some folks and have a nice talk for a mile or so. It's nice to not have to worry about ever being a winner in this sport. I can slow down and chat with anyone I want. My only competition is the clock and I can choose when to race against that.
We went through an amazing rock formation of loose rocks around mile 8. If I can find some pictures I will post them. The course had many different styles. Some nice open field running. Trails next to sharp drop offs. Pine forests, fresh burn areas, winding trails next to the roaring Spokane River. I though it was a pretty fun course as it had much to offer. It doesn't compare in beauty to a McKenzie River 50k but it did have its moments.
(Picture courtesy of Lisa Bliss)
I just kept plugging along this day. My legs never got tired early like they have done to me in the last few races. My energy level was strong so I ran more hills than I usually do. I would pass a runner every half hour or so since I started dead last I began counting to help pass the time. I turned on my music after the first hour. It was a new mix of songs that I have taken from my old albums and turned into mp3's. It makes running pretty fun listening to songs from your youth.
The course began to get more rocky the farther along we went. I like technical courses like this because my mind has to be constantly working to decide where my foot goes next. On road races you never really think about this. You just plod along thinking about your breathing or how bad you feel or "who picked this spot to run 26 miles?" I do like running road races but trails are more fun for sure.
The weather was great. Cool temps in the 40's at the start so I wore two shirts and gloves. With the loop type course I could pick up my gels and drop my gloves and shirt at the 15 mile point. Speaking of miles, this was one of the most accurate 50k trail runs I have been on. The mile markers were pretty dead on most the race compared to my Garmin and the distance was almost right at 31 miles. Nice job folks on making that all work out.
Well as I hit about mile 25 I remember Tim Englund telling me it was pretty much downhill the last 5 miles and that if I had anything left I could fly at this point. Well around mile 21 I started to get that usual tired feeling. Nothing bad but you just knew that you had been running for a long time. The course stayed technical but the climbs were not too bad. In places the trail became super soft and wide and running along the river was nice as temps had started to warm up and the cool river brought the temps down a bit. It sure is nice to run with temperature in the 50 to 70 degree range. I love summer but I sure don't do well in the heat.
I did start to push the last 5 miles as I thought I might be able to PR below 5:48. Soon that looked not possible as there were a few climbs I had to walk. But I knew if I kept it going I could break six hours so that was a nice goal to push for. I tried to go strong but its so funny at this point in the race. You think your really moving but all I was doing was just under a 10 minute pace.
As I hit the last mile I came upon a woman running, not sure if she was in the race but we came upon a big water area with no way around. She just stopped looking for a spot to cross and I just plowed through the middle of it hoping it wasn't too deep. It was mid shin depth but only for 4 strides or so. Afterwards my feet were actually thanking me as it really cooled them down. I passed a couple of women on horses and then could smell the finish. I came around a corner and there was the finish line. I looked at my watch and I had about 2:30 to break six hours. "Why me?" This always happens to me. I can see the finish but will I get my goal. Well this one I did but it was not a sure thing till right at the end.
I finished my 50th marathon or longer race in 5:59:37. The official time shows me at 5:55 but I know I wasn't that close so the chip timer is not correct. I was pretty happy and felt good as I ended up with a 11:30 pace or so. The crowds were all gone with just maybe 75 folks or so still left.
I cleaned up and waited for Gail to finish. We were catching a flight right after the race so I had to change into street clothes to travel back home. I figured Gail would finish something around 7 hours so I did have some time. As I waited for Gail to finish I began to worry a bit. She was taking longer than I thought she would. Had she fallen? Was she hurt? The course marshals said she was still on the course so that was a good thing.
Here she comes. With that steady pace she does so well. I look as she passes and there is blood down the side of her leg. "Dang it! She took a tumble" I gave her a hug and we walked around. She had fallen hard at around mile 7. It knocked the wind out of her, cut her right leg and gave her a big ugly contusion on her left knee cap. I guess she thought she was done for right there. Its is so scary when you hit so hard you can't breath. So Gail won this race in my mind. She doesn't like technical courses much. She hates falling and today she did both and she finished! She is so tough! Gail, thanks for sharing this crazy sport with me. I am so lucky!
And now maybe the lyrics take more of a meaning, it does for me this day.
Well, its Bulls & Blood
It's Dust and Mud,
It's the Roar of a Sunday Crowd.