Last year’s Deception Pass race was a study in misery. I was stubbornly attempting to run the 50k while poorly with what eventually got diagnosed as pneumonia. A crescendoing pain in my shoulder from a grumpy fracture and a quarrelsome collarbone plate gnawed and snarled at me as I ran. The inability to carry a handheld water bottle or hydration pack without increasing the aggravation to my irritable shoulder, exacerbated by a waist pack hydration fail, led to an increasingly thirsty death slog until I ground to a halt amongst the trees and cried “Mercy!” as more energetic and determined runners merrily galloped past me.
Yet, through the grim fog of self pity I must’ve glimpsed enough of the white capped waters swirling and crashing in the sound, the currents forceful enough to give passage to dark brooding log hulks and sweep them on unknown journeys alongside the runners two stepping their maypole dance lollipop loops along the coastal paths for the course to sink its claws into me and demand a redo.
When 2014 registration opened I was still reeling from breaking my clavicle a second time and so set myself the more modest goal of the 25k. This was fine with me. While it seemed like bit of a cop out, I didn’t have a great deal of interest in retracing my steps along the mind deadening paved road section to Cornet Bay, or of traipsing a double loop of the forested back end of the course where I ended my run with an epic sulk last year.
I would instead just revisit all the inspiring and pretty parts of the course that had reminded me so much of the South West Coast Path of home. Well, akin to the West Country, but somehow more rugged and more wild. As picturesque, but in a rawly different way, and seemingly as with all things in the States, bigger. And with a good dose of powerful doom dolloped on top to remind one of one’s insignificance and mortality as you breathe in the grand splendour of it all, as evidenced by those frighteningly big logs effortlessly rolling through the waves.
I had dithered and dallied about whether or not to bring the dog along to run with me. The distance was good, but I questioned the course and how she would cope charging headlong into runners on the narrow out and back sections of the multiple lollipop loops. Race day came and within the first miles I knew my decision was solid. She was better off at home. Despite the initial short stretch of road to spread everyone out I entered the single track trailhead, and headed into congestion. My game plan to start slow and not race meant I could be conversational and enjoy fellow Magnolian, Michael Miller’s, early company, but immediately frustrated me. Moderating myself meant being caught in the mid pack and tripping over my own trainers trying to find space to put my farmer’s feet. It also meant having to patiently wait as wet, slippery wooden gangways became bottle necks of cautiously trip trapping trail shoes.
And the out and back sections I fretted over? Great fun and energy was exchanged exuberantly cheering on the front runners, highfiving, and sharing the trail as they streamed by, but getting pushed aside into thorn thickets as I tried to make passage against the oncoming trickle of slower runners cemented my decision that Zennor would have been an ankle breathing, agitated, tangled mess.
Then there was the bridge. The iconic Deception Pass bridge. After the heart rate soaring, breath quickening climb to reach it, it’s a relief to level out and be able to stretch one’s legs and admire the view.
Except it’s an awfully long way down to the strait below. And I often find myself scurrying quickly across the piddly Howe Street Bridge, resisting the devil’s urge to be willfully blown over the side.
I once attempted to expand our running route and take Zennor across the Ballard Bridge to pastures green. It was frightening. She showed no sign of having any sense, or depth perception. She was wide eyed and skittish from busy passing cars. Trotting uncertainly at my behest on tight lead along the shoulder width concrete pathway she still alerted to the jeering seagulls alighting on the salty trawlers below and had no qualms trying to make their acquaintance by attempted leaping over the wall.
Clear and majestic views ignored, I clutched my handheld tightly and tried not to imagine my hat bounding off my head, sprouting wings and swirling away with the wind. I furiously kept on smiling wildly until I was safely all the way across, both spans. If Zennor had been by my side, we surely would not have made it.
Still, I missed my hairy black friend, my trusty shadow. At least, I did until rugged uphill toils and runnable soft rolling trail turned into exhilarating break neck technical descents. There was no need to run so cautiously and with the brakes constantly on lest I be dragged downhill at speed by an exuberant hound attached to my waist. I could let loose, remember the sheer joy of hauling down the trail and put faith in my legs to carry me safely. I caught tight hold of the spirit of being alive and gleefully ran with it in those moments.
Despite going out intending to simply run happy and not turn the race mentality fully on (exercise in sticking to a plan and not getting carried away), the run was still tough and the 15.6 miles long enough to prove tumultuous. Nerves and an early start really unsettled my tummy and I started the day having been unable to keep my breakfast down. By mile six I had mentally performed a dancing tour of happy lollipop loops around the very cheery Ian Burton as the central maypole, yelled a joyous “Good Morning!” over the cliff to two kayakers quietly navigating the waters below and turned into a noisy crow, flapping my wings and crying out “Cacaw!” to friends along the way. I was still enjoying the run heartily, but was beginning to feel really depleted and a little shaky. I’ve never been so appreciative to get to the fine folks at the aid station and be able to pick up a gel. I hate gels.
Cautiously assessing my tummy, I stickily sipped my way along Bowman Bay and around Rosario Head until I began to climb out of the depths. Another grabbed GU and positive energy from volunteers on the return pass through the aid station and returned me to an even keel, good to go again.
At some point during the first half I became aware that I had dropped Michael. While our early easy chatting had ceased I’d been running comfortably catching the sounds of my friend’s familiar footsteps following me along the trail, but now I was really running alone. The second half of the course required significantly more effort and with no lure of an aid station until the finish line the miles seemed longer. It started getting too easy to get half hearted and walk the hills. I started to focus and entertain myself by working on picking off the runners ahead of me. Staying comfortable, but single-mindedly locking in on a pink pack bobbing along in front of me I was surprised to hear a “Hey Kay!” when I passed the owner. It was my friend, Kari!
At which point the trouble started and race mentality suddenly kicked into gear. I’d actually overtaken someone I knew, and there was no way I’d be letting her return the favour. Not to mention, I now had a great challenge to see exactly how much time I could put on her, a known quantity, before the finish. I hauled my arse up Goose Rock as if it was on fire! Legs burning, I put on a big grin for the photographer lurking at the top in case it was Glenn. It wasn’t.
Then I hit a brick wall. A brick wall of long chunky gravel road. It’s not terrible, not difficult. It’s just that sort of track sucks the will out of me and I crumble. With Kari on my mind I slog ran on up as best I could, playing a desperate game of leap frog with another lady who was demonstrating her superior engine by running the whole hill without missing a beat. Curses! Secret hopes of a finish time sub 2:45 calculated in elation on top of Goose Rock were killed on this gravel death march.
My legs and joy returned quickly enough though once I hit the familiar territory of the North Beach trail and could start to taste the beer awaiting me at the finish. A final “Cacaw!” and leap for Glenn, who took me by surprise, despite getting a warning from Lars, and then into the car park for the last mad dash. Except, there were two male runners trotting along in front of me and a mid stride of hesitation. Do I chick them? Should I try to pass them? Caution to the wind and a sprint charge past to the golden high five from the ever present RD James Varner at the finish was the answer.
While I’m little deflated to see the result and placing in black and white, I thoroughly enjoyed the race and feel like I had a strong run. Yet, I feel conflicted. Yes, I mostly stuck to my game plan where this race was a stepping stone in a training plan for a longer race. Yes, it’s likely that had I intentionally raced hard I may have run out of steam on the second half and got a similar, or possibly worse, result anyway. But, would I feel better and less dissatisfied with myself knowing that I’d left everything out on the course?
Compared to last year though, I’m a total winner!
It felt really good to get home and run with my Zennor again too. She’ll be racing with me soon enough, just not this course.