Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Yakima Skyline 50k - Race Report

Every spring I suffer the same disease. Spring Fever.  That means it's time for an escape.

While Life in a Postcard is pretty magical, my only complaint is that winter is long.  The reality of living in Banff is that winter is 7 months long!  So, for the last 7 years, I try and take a little escape in March or April.  Usually, I pick a spring race to keep me motivated to run all through the winter.

Last year, we took a road trip to Sisters, Oregon and ran the Petersen Ridge Rumble. We hung out in Sisters, Hood River and made a side trip to the Yakima Canyon so I could explore the trails.  This year,  I was stoked to make a return trip to Yakima Canyon and enjoy those crazy beautiful trails.  I signed up for the Yakima Rim 50k and recruited Angela and Iris and Angela to join me in the fun. The promise of spring-like weather, runnable trails and sunshine was enough of a tease to motivate us to get in the car and head out on a whirlwind weekend road trip.

Last years run on the Yakima Canyon trails was a serious adventure.  I had to navigate new trails, shoe sucking mud, low cloud coverage, zero visibility, driving rain and gale force winds.  I got occasional glimpses of the surrounding scenery, but mostly I had a very challenging day out in the rain by myself.  I think I was out for 7 plus hours on tired legs.  It was still a most enjoyable day, depsite the adversity.

This year, we were thrilled beyond words to wake up to a perfect blue sky.  There was a happy dance as we got ready and we were giddy with excitement.  We were also heavily caffeinated as we zoomed down Canyon Road on the way to the race start.  I was late in noticing the police car, discreetly tucked behind a barn beside the river.  Angela-Heavy-Foot-Pierotti pulled the car over quickly, after the police car put the lights on and chased us down.  Ang was already cursing and then cursing some more when she realized she didn't have her license either.  Fortunately, when rolled down the window to greet the officer, in leans officer Hubba-Hubba.  Ang was already full of adrenaline, but she was even more flustered after seeing the good officer.  To her credit she answered the mans questions quickly and succinctly without an iota of flirtation.  After checking our details, Officer Hubba-Hubba returned with a smile.  "Y'all came from Canada to run 50km on the trail?"  Lots of smiles and nods and giggles from us.  "Well then have a great day.  And slow down.  There's lots of deer out here."  Yay!  And Hubba-Hubba.  What a nice man.  Purrrrrrr.  Men in Uniform.  That was a great way to start our day.

At the start line, there was lots of familiar faces.  It was great to see running friends Matt Hart, RD James Varner and Roger Michel.  I had forgotten how hospitable those Washington running folks are and I was stoked for the day on hand.  It was such a glorious, perfect day to be out running in this beautiful place.

Perfect Blue Sky

I will say I had a little "runners amnesia" with regards to the trail.  I had forgotten all about the elevation, the rugged trail and yes, the elevation.  All I remember was the shoe-sucking mud and rain of my previous adventure and here it was the same time of year and I had perfect dry buff trail.

As the race started and we began our first massive climb of the day up the steep canyon, I remembered how tough this trail was!  I had wondered why the finishing times were so slow.  Last year, the mens winner was 5h28 and the women's winner was 6h49.  Good Grief.  I challenge you to find any other 50k with over 3000m/10,000 feet of elevation gain (and the same elevation loss).  The girls and I mentally prepared ourselves for a long, enjoyable day on the trail. This race is an out and back with a total of 4 massive climbs and 4 monster quad-busting descents. 

It's a Good Thing I've Got Quads.

Hiking up the first climb, I could help but thinking "Holy Shit!  This is only the first climb!"  It was big and hard and intimidating.  So, I tried to relax and do my thing and get my hike-on.  Up, Up and UP!

When we got to the top, there was a nice runnable jeep track that rolled along the plateau.  It felt great to finally get running and shake out the legs.  The group I was climbing with, including Iris, quickly pulled away but I relaxed and did my own thing.  I rocked through the aid station, but quickly the group caught up to me again and passed me.

It took awhile to settle into a rhythm, but by the time I hit the first decent I was rolling along and loving it.  The views from the canyon rim were amazing and I got super excited when I realized that those were the same mountains that I would be traversing on my upcoming PCT adventure!  Beautiful.

Mount Rainier

I tucked in at the back of our little group and hooted and hollered as we descended the amazing single track.  It was a Forever Descent, that took forever to get down and in the back of my mind I'm thinking "We have to come back up this!"  But, I was lovin' it and flew down with the rest of the group. My smile was as huge as the big blue sky.

Iris descends to the Yakima River

 Yitka, Ras the Rasta and Iris rollin' along

After climbing our way out of the canyon for a second time, our little pack started to spread out a bit.  We got to do a "bonus loop" up to an aid station and again, I rolled through quickly.  We traversed the rim of the canyon, hit a little spring for another head dunk and pretty soon the traffic thinned out.  As I hit the high point, there was nobody in front of me.  I had the pleasure of letting the legs go, as we descended all the way back down to valley bottom and the half-way mark.  It was a pretty technical descent, laden with rocks big and small, but I was loving it.  I started to see all the front-runners climbing back towards us, as I flew down the hill.  I was flying!  I was surprised to see Yitka hot on my heels, she had rocked the descent as well.  We both did a quick turn around at the aid station and headed back out and back UP.  The sun was out full force, so I gave my head and shirt a good soak, before heading out.  It felt like a blazing inferno, as we climbed back up under a full hot sun.  I got to see Iris flying down, maybe a couple of minutes behind us.

Yitka latched on to me and together we climbed up and up.  It was great to have the company. I was working hard, breathing hard and wasn't my usual chatty self.  But, I was having a good time, enjoying every moment and feeling super strong.  I think we climbed for almost an hour, before I tagged the upper aid station, entertained the volunteers with a rendition of "Eye of the Tiger" and blast off.  

 Me and Yitka

On my 3rd descent back down to the river, I was truly charging.  I caught up with a women and passed her on the descent and she told me with a slightly-know-it-all tone that I should "save my Quads for the last descent!"  Lady.  I thought to myself with a giggle.  Have you seen my Quads?   At this point, I thought that I had moved into 3rd place.  I was a wee bit surprised to find myself there and decided I wanted to keep myself there and that meant actually racing.  I usually just run my own race, go my own speed, take photos and socialize.  So, this was something different and fun!

At the bottom of the valley, I stuck my head and my jersey in the creek to cool me down and then, I decided it was time to get down to business.  So, I put my camera away and focused on the task at hand.  Game-On!

Heck, yeah!  Straight Up!

 Beautiful trail and Ridge

The last climb was big and nasty, but I loved it.  I power-hiked up the hill and passed a few people along the way.  While I wasn't moving fast, I seemed to be moving better than those around me.  I do a lot of hiking in winter and ski touring and I was putting those ski touring muscles to good use with every stride.  I was missing my hiking poles.  Clearly, it was going to be a long tough day for everyone out there until the dirty end. 

Finally, I reached the top and forced myself into a run.  It took my brain a lot of power to will my tired legs to run. :)  The rolling jeep track kept climbing gradually and it was never ending.  The crowd had thinned out, but Yitka kept magically appearing off in the distance.  Although, I was running alone for most of the last 15k I was running scared!    Fortunately, I picked a guy up to latch onto at the last aid station.  A guy in a singlet and short-shorts and a mustache.  He was definitely channeling his inner Steve Prefontaine.  I kept him within my sights and his short-shorts kept me moving and grooving.

And finally!  We hit the last descent.  And it was a Monster.  The Leslie Quads were still working, but they were a little trashed.  There were random noises coming out of me and I didn't have the flow of the other 3 descents. This last descent started off super steep and I was glad when it leveled off to a manageable grade and I could let the legs loose again.  I was motivated to keep it going until the finish.  But the truth is, that last descent was tough!  And Hot.  Gosh, I was so hot.  Still, I charged to the finish line like a crazed woman.  Happy and satisfied .  What a great race!  The first thing I did was find the creek, jump in and soak my entire body.  Man, I needed that cold water, it felt so good on the legs and the brain.

When I finally looked at the results, it turns out that I was in 4th place, not 3rd. :)  Oops-a-daisy!  I never was good at paying attention and counting.  I somehow missed seeing the uber-speedy Chris and Darla Askew who ran and raced together.  Darla finished first in 6h20 well ahead of the rest of the ladies.  I would have loved to say Hi, as I met the Askew's last year at the Rumble and are Good People. But alas!

Overall, I had a great day at Yakima.  The race course was perfect for a girl like me who has been marching up and down mountains all winter.  I love a good Slog!  With the sweet combination of running and hiking, and those killer descents - I was in Leslie heaven.  I felt strong all day, but challenged myself to work a little bit harder than usual and enjoyed it.  Love, love, love this race!

Angela finished strong and was hot and bothered like me by the end of her race.  We found an immediate solution in the creek:

Iris enjoyed her day out on the trails, but struggled with the heat and the "Belly's" in the last half of the race.  That course was a beast!

After a long day in the sun and pushing ourselves, we were all tired girls.  On the drive home, I was "driving like a Stoner" and should have been pulled over for impaired driving.  Unfortunately, Officer Hubba-Hubba had gone home for the day.

Angela, Iris and Me

The weekend was just what I was looking for:  some sunshine, good company and some fabulous running around on trails.  It was the perfect remedy for Spring Fever.  Thanks girls! 

Also, Yitka also wrote up a great Race Report on her blog.  Good People Run!