Photo: Glenn Tachiyama

2015 Sun Mountain 50k

I woke up feeling wretched and not at all in the mood to go running. I’d have been quite happy to have crawled back into bed and snuggled up to a hot water bottle. My tummy was cramping something rotten and I pretty much felt like limp misery. An early gift from Mother Nature caught me by surprise and had me writhing and grumpy from the start. Wonderful.

The day was threatening to be torturously hot already so once I’d jarringly shaken myself out of bed and into my race clothes, I was glad I’d chosen to freeze a flexi-flask of water overnight, and gratefully popped it in the back pocket of my Spry running vest where I hoped it would offer me some respite from the heat. Coming from sun starved Seattle in May to the sunny side of the mountains in the Methow Valley was proving to be a bit of a shock to the system.

Awaiting the start I dithered over shoes, second guessing myself with all three choices I’d brought with me.

Merrell All Out Peak, Scott Kinabalu HS or Scott Trail Rocket 2.0?

I arrived at the race and registered while sporting the All Out Peaks, lined up ready to run wearing the Kinabalu HS, and then hastily made a last minute wardrobe switch into the Trail Rockets before we were released onto the trails. Just standing around my feet were feeling heated and the Trail Rockets were my lightest option, its mesh upper felt the most ventilated. It was going to be a hot, dry run. As I was anticipating hard packed dirt trail with nothing terribly technical to worry about it seemed a course most suited to this particular racing shoe.

Setting out it was shadier on the first section of trails than expected. I eased into the race at what I thought was a genuinely easy pace but despite this it got warm quickly and I found myself suffering early. Glancing at my hands I was shocked to note that they were already looking swollen. I put my head down and battled on, tried to convince myself into not caring and switching into “it’s just an easy long supported run!” mentality. It was hot, I felt like crap, and I wasn’t in the game. It wasn’t long before MCM caught up and breezed past me. I quickened my pace, at least I had company on the trail now and we ran together chatting for a while. My mood lightened.

When we came across photographer superstar Glenn hiding out amongst a stunning blanket of floral beauty with incredible rolling mountain vistas, of course, I cast all lingering wretchedness aside and practically skipped my way through the vibrant, intoxicating scene.

Photo: Glenn Tachiyama

Photo: Glenn Tachiyama

The flowers were incredible, but a little heady at times. Reminiscent of being kissed by an old lady, over exuberant in the perfume department. Kicked up dry trail dust added to the sensation of walking into my Nanna’s bathroom as a child and being overwhelmed by breathing in the heavily scented talc that just seemed to part of the powder room atmosphere.

I was guzzling water and my mouth felt constantly dry and thick with dust. Resupplies were no more than maybe 8 or 9 miles apart, but I found myself out of water between aid stations every time. At mile fifteen I was absolutely gasping. I’d honed into my own rhythm and inadvertently pulled away from MCM at this point and had to stop and get another runner to help retrieve my ice bottle, now very much full of unappetisingly warm and fuzzy liquid, from my running pack, only to round the next bend and find myself unexpectedly rolling into a cheerful aid station.

According to my watch this was a full two miles earlier than expected, but much welcomed. My drop bag was here! I’d tossed the option out there, but hadn’t really seriously thought I’d actually need to use it. Now I was ecstatic to be able to raid my stash and add a ready and waiting 1L hydration bladder to my race vest. Not chancing anything, I carried my handheld bottle too.

Leaving that aid station things really began to pick up. By the time I reached Sun Mountain Lodge I had kicked it up another gear and was enjoying myself. I laughed as I hauled myself over the solitary stile on the course (How English!) and was in much better spirits as I ran past Bill Sepeda hanging out on the only mini loop section of the now climbing course. It was work, but I was getting into the fun of things. I was finally really starting to pull away and beginning to pass people now.

It felt like running through an oven, an oven with spectacularly scenic views. I imagined myself a lobster slowly heating to oblivion in its pot. A surprise extra water stop at the crest of the climb to the Sun Mountain Lodge almost initiated impromptu dance party among hot and exhausted runners. A refreshing spigot waited and salt crusted heads were appreciatively dowsed in its icy water. I soaked my cool-off bandana, tied it around my neck, and perked up considerably. Onwards!

I was still chugging along on the final gruelling climb up Patterson Mountain. This was an out and back beat down of a trip to the summit. Every time hopes soared to think that the ordeal to tag the top was almost over and the pinnacle reached, the mountain would shake its head, laugh and continue to rise up ahead. Even completing the mission felt cruel and yielded no great pleasure. No accolade or fanfare, or even authoritative bib check to validate the task. All that awaited on the eventual top of the mountain was a lonely placard.

Photo: MCM (Michael C Miller)

Photo: MCM (Michael C Miller)

Well, that and more 360° sublime views, but never mind that. Heading up, I’d clocked the familiar face of Kevin Ng on his return trip from this dreadful series of fake summits. I mentally marked his back and pushed on up, then forged back down as hard as I could, giving chase at full throttle.

I was hurtling down the mountain, feeling like a demon, and having a fabulous time when I passed Glenn taking more photos on this final long descent. With no tree cover I could see exactly where the thin brown path snaked and stretched ahead into the valley, and how far away my victim was. I pushed hard through switchback upon switchback, and victoriously caught and passed Kevin at the bottom of the hill, giving him a cheer and a high five for his service.

Photo: Glenn Tachiyama

Photo: Glenn Tachiyama

From this point I was uncertain as to how far I had left to cover and the exhilaration of the rapid descent turned into a heavy legged slog to the finish. The trail popped out onto the curve in a road and I had to footstep the scrubby patch alongside a traffic barrier off road for a very short spell. A toe caught the edge of the metal rail. Really?! After all that crazy helter skelter mountain running I almost booked it there?!

My GPS was still reading short and for some reason I was convinced that I had some road miles to endure before greeting the finish line. I was very confused but spectacularly happy to find course markings immediately disappearing back onto a leafy dirt track which also offered a little shade. I pressed on, disconcerted, mentally rattled, salty, dry mouthed, and completely out of water again. To make it worse after expending all that effort haring down into the valley, the race started to obnoxiously climb again. I think the section from where I was dumped off the mountain onto the tarmac, to the finish gate was only a mile, but each step was a battle.

All that had to be done was high five James. All that had to be done was high five James. All that had to be done was high five James.

My pounding feet were so glad when I finally heard sounds of community and caught sight of race director, James Varner, his hand raised to the sun and waiting to welcome his runners home.

Sun Mountain 50k – May 16th 2015 | 5:19:52

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