We’re in the final countdown to the Gorge Waterfalls 100k, with precious few weeks left to prepare. With the last throes of weekend training in mind I’d put the Hillbilly Half on my schedule. I was looking for a solid effort two hour-ish mountain run with technical rocky trails and some good climbs to test out carrying intended GW100k supplies and get a good continuous solo run without dilly dallying and getting distracted messing around with the crazy dog.
All prepared, race gear selected, and ready for bed I set the alarm, thereby hitting play on the usual pre-race sleepless night of lying awake anticipating the beeps to sound. These fretful night time hours before the Hillbilly Half had an added bonus though, a fun twist thrown in for good measure. Interspersed throughout the night I had to roll out of bed to deal with an upset and vomiting dog, while my husband slept obliviously next to me. Earlier in the week Zennor had mistaken the kitchen compost for a canine buffet and opportunistically wolfed down some grotty looking, days old corn on the cob. This was a huge worry as the cobs can’t be digested and can cause major problems if stuck in a dog’s intestines. It was a relief when they started to reappear regurgitated without too much incident, but the timing was particularly dreadful.
Eventually the alarm did emit its chime and it was time to garb up and descend towards Olympia. I was already exhausted by the early wake up call and daunted by the hour and a half drive south to the Capitol Forest. A barely visible Seattle lurking amidst a downpour of torrential rain as I peeked outside didn’t help and I almost decided to call it and head straight to bed. Instead I armed myself with a flagon of caffeine, made doubly sure my rain coat was in my pack, and blearily embraced the wet and wild drive, hoping that maybe it wouldn’t be quite so horrific outside when I got there.
My optimism was rewarded. Upon arrival at the Rock Candy Parking Lot I was greeted by some worried looking parking attendants trying to jam cars into an overflowing car park. “This is a 4×4 right? You’ve got the last spot! You’ll be ok to get out of that later?” I was directed off road through the thick churned mud into a water swollen ditch. I had to fling myself out and over the puddle to reach solid ground, but it had stopped raining.
It was strange to arrive at a race and not know anyone. I self-consciously hung around at the front of the waiting runners scanning the gathering crowd until I spotted fellow Team7Hills team mate John Wros. Well wishes given, I then tried to dissolve back a few lines, before being grabbed by a lady runner whom I remembered beating my arse soundly when I’d run this same race in 2012 and thrust back to the forefront.
“You look like you’re ready for this! Get up there!”
Well yes, I was down at the Hillbilly Half to represent Team7Hills and was fully decked out in resplendent green and blue. My new matching Kinabalu Supertracs paired with the team kit did look particularly serious, especially finished to perfection with a new pair of lime green Injini socks. The look was surely truly speedy and fear inducing. It probably did look as though I was ready to take on the world.
On the contrary, I was still half asleep and feeling heavy legged when we started out. The race immediately climbs up a gravel road for about a mile and half. I was passed by a lot of people as I trudged up this first hill trying not to walk. I tried not to worry too much and concentrate on the mots du jour…”steady effort.” The measured voice in my head berated the competitive imp that this race was supposed to be a good continual effort run before the big dance on April 2nd and not to push it. This was rather moot as I really despise such fire road underfoot, couldn’t have cared less about pushing it and just wanted to get up the miserable thing without keeling over. As soon as my grumpy feet took me past the first aid station and onto trail proper I was hugely relieved. My outlook changed and I knew the fun was about to begin. Muddy, sloppy, dirty fun.
At first it made sense to be a princess and run around the worst of the muck, it seemed faster to stick to the well trodden and firm paths chicaning around increasingly large puddles. Once the mud got thicker, more churned up, and the puddles turned into ponds it was time to take the racing line. As soon as my shoe splashed down into an unavoidable icy puddle and my toes felt the chill I woke up and really started to run. Time to have a blast charging through all subsequent water troughs with abandon. I found myself beginning to easily pass people as I ploughed on through without care.
The puddles were impenetrably brown, like thin chocolate soup, and running through them was risky. I had no idea how far my feet would fall into each obstacles mirk, or what might lie concealed within. A particularly fun puddle went something like this:
Ok…split second risk analysis…it’s filling the trail, avoid the dead middle, it’s probably deeper there…so let’s go for the right side, looks like less of a ditch where it meets the bank.
Right foot…splosh! excellent! good contact, good call, it is shallow and firm!
Left foot…splash! hmm, can’t see my shoe!
Right foot…woah! hang on, can’t see my leg!
I lost momentum pushing against the sudden deep water, tried to lunge towards the perceived safety of the bank for its support, only to hit slick mud and slide askew, tumbling against the scratchy vegetation and ended up swimming in the drink. Smearing mud out of my eyes and spluttering laughter I regretted not bringing a snorkel.
The next few minutes were spent forging forward while shaking myself off, trying to claw back the space in my shoes by wriggling the mud out from around my toes, and fretting about whether my phone, encased in a mere snack baggie, had survived the plunge.
At the second aid station, roughly four miles in, I was surprised to be told I was now running as fourth place woman. That was a shocker. Measured thoughts of supported training run flew right off the trail and the competitive fire was truly lit.
It was two miles to the turnaround aid station on this out and back course. The Hillbilly Half is basically a grunt up 1500ft of mountain followed by a reckless fretful back down. It wouldn’t be long before the front runners would be meeting me headlong and I could gauge how much of a gap the top three had on me.
Pressing on hungrily, the longer I ran without seeing the leaders the more exhilarated I got. Despite my unfocused start, maybe I wasn’t so far behind to be out of podium contention?
“High Five!” I yelled as Team7Hills/Brooks-Seattle Running Club sponsored runner Keith Laverty came charging towards me leading the pack for the men. A steady trickle of men followed in his wake, but it was a while before I finally clocked the first woman.
Second lady, Monica Lloyd, trotted by looking comfortable as I alternated running and power hiking up another horrible gravel road climb winding upwards to a glimpse of the awnings signalling the turnaround point. Then with maybe 400m or so to go, there was lady number three, with no other woman in sight! I was indeed in fourth, and the chase was most certainly on.
I checked my bib in at the aid station and did a little run around the marshall for good measure, and to shake my legs out a touch after the uphill. Of course, the downhill would no doubt be faster for everyone, but I was ready to throw myself back down to the finish.
Back down the nemesis road and returning to the narrower trail an increasingly thick stream of runners making their way up added a little challenge to navigating the single track. I’m very sorry to everyone I careened past, mud flying and splashing up as I went. I was on a mission and enjoying the ride. I caught up to third place and kersploshed my way past.
She looked tired, but from then on I ran scared, pushing to increase my distance. Hoping to catch sight of second place up ahead. Where was she?!
At some point I was joined by a chap in blue who introduced himself to me as an ultra runner called Kevin. We were fairly matched for pace and exchanged sporadic conversation on our tumble down the trail.
Neck and neck we emerged from the trees and hauled past the first, but now final aid station. It was time for the big push to the finish. A fast gravely downhill saw me hold my own against this guy, but my legs and will buckled briefly as we came to a mischievous hefty uphill bump in the descent before my pace and enthusiasm returned on the last sprint to the finish line. It wasn’t quite enough to gain that extra overall place, I never did catch up quite enough to see the target on Monica Lloyd’s back, but I was thrilled to have secured third for the women and Team7Hills.
Unfortunately soon afterwards my feelings changed to deflated and confused.
When it came time for the awards to be presented, I didn’t register in them.
I went home empty handed, assuming I must’ve miscalculated and missed seeing another female runner pass me on the trail. Yet, when I uploaded my run data to Strava, the software picked up other Hillbilly runners including the lady I finished behind. She has listed herself as finishing second. Two messages since sent to the RD to ask for clarification have yet to garner any response and I am left not knowing for sure how I really stacked up.
Edit to add: I still haven’t had any reply to my query but with the results now online I do seem to be listed as third place woman. What I do know for sure is that I knocked over six minutes off my finishing time from 2012 and I had a riproaring time on the trail, so although I’m still stewing and grumpy there is some consolation in that.
Scott Kinabalu Supertrac: When I ran this race in 2012 it was snowing, with a combo of ice and slushy snow underfoot. I vividly remember wearing the first iteration of Brooks Pure Grit as they were abysmal. They’ve since improved drastically, but I spent the race cursing as I had a really hard time slipping and sliding backwards as I endeavoured to make forward progress. This time I was prepared and pulled out the shoe version of a 4×4. Killer lugs!
Salomon Sense Ultra Set with two flasks – one water, one Tailwind. Stuffed with HoneyStinger chews and other snacks, plus gloves and my Salomon Bonatti waterproof.
Hillbilly Half 2016 – 2:10:09