Thursday, December 19, 2013

Deception Pass 50k

So, ultra number 12 for 2013 (yes I'm counting the New Years Day Fat Ass 50 - not technically a race; and San Diego 100 - DNF, but I still ran about 50 miles). I can't say I was particularly well prepared for this race, but I didn't hesitate to sign up for it when I noticed it'd fit in my schedule. As one of James "Rainshadow Running" Varner's races, I knew it'd combine a fantastic location, great trails and an unbeatable post-run party, and somehow I'd not been able to run many of his other races this year apart from the Orcas Island 50k, way back at the start of the year.

I arrived at a house full of runners in Oak Harbour the evening before the race, having just about shaken off the hangover from the VFAC Christmas Party the night before. I'd been hooked up with this gang of runners by Alicia, who was also running the 50k in the morning. She seemed relaxed; "I've been drinking all day", she confided in me. I guess it's that time of year. Also in attendeace from BC were Tara and Meghan. I had a couple of glasses of wine, some chips, cookies, pasta; allowing myself to gorge because of the day of running that was approaching. Although to be fair, I'd been using this excuse for several days at this point, so it probably wasn't necessary.

One of the advantages of having a race in December is that everyone's already used to waking up in the dark, so it didn't seem so strange as we drove to the start line in pitch black. As we picked up our bibs, dawn gradually broke revealing a moody, steel grey sky, the wind whipping in over the Salish Sea.
Photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama
 There was one very fast looking guy doing a series of impressive looking warm-up exercises at the start line, and sure enough, as soon as race began he immediately took the lead with a brisk pace. The first kilometre was flat and on the road, so what the hell, I thought, I'll play along with this for a while and tucked in beside him. We clicked off this first kilometre in just under four minutes, before the road turned and started to climb steeply. This hit me like a slap in the face and the pack immediately bunched up as we slogged up the short rise. We were then diverted on to a trail which we hurled ourselves down as we immediately descended again. I found myself in a small group of guys near the front, going at a ridiculous pace, so when I got a chance at about two miles in, I backed off at let a slew of other runners steam past me. One of these was my sort-of-namesake Christopher Barry, who I'd first met nearly a year ago at the Cougar Mountain 50k. We'd run together for a while at that race before I dropped him. Today I was the one being dropped.

The next mile of trail took us up to the bridge that crossed the eponymous pass. The trail briefly passed over a short section of beach (bleh) then dragged us upwards with short steep sections punctuated by quick technical downhills. It was around this point that I realized that I'd only really done one proper trail run since August, and we all know how that turned out. In fact, after Squamish, I'd mostly been focusing on speed-work in preparation for the Whistler 50, which was fine, as that was what I needed for that race. After that I'd taken a break and now I'd just got back into training. What I'm trying to say here is that physically, I wasn't exactly ready for this kind of terrain. The climbs were taking a big toll.

Eventually I was up on the bridge and heading over to the north side of the course for a series of confusing "lollipop" out-and-back sections. I'd looked at the course map and been completely bewildered by the way the route snaked back and forth on itself and was convinced that I'd get hopelessly lost and off-course. But thanks to some exemplary marking and marshalling, there was never any doubt about which way to go, so I didn't have that excuse. Not long after crossing the bridge, I was joined by Jon, a fellow ex-pat Brit who I'd met earlier in the year at Capitol Peak. We chatted briefly for a few minutes, before I let him pass me on another short, steep climb.

No sooner had he left me, than a small voice piped up "Hello" behind me. It was Alicia, who was currently leading the women's race, resplendent in a Budweiser trucker's cap. She looked far too relaxed and comfortable, so I also urged her on ahead. I wasn't particularly happy with the number of people I was letting pass me so early on, but I reminded myself that we'd been promised beer and pizza at the finish line, and the only way I could justify that was if I slogged it out and finished the race. So I pressed on.
Totally overdressed.

A little later, I was caught by Tara - wearing a sparkly tutu - and Stacie Carrigan, presumably the pre-race favourite. They both eventually passed me while I stopped at an aid station to dump my wholly unnecessary jacket. This irked me a little; I had no problem with Tara beating me as she's a very talented athlete; it was more about the tutu. Come on. Have a little respect.
Photo courtesy of Angel Rossi Mathis

I had little company over the next few miles as the race gradually stretched itself out. At about 18 km, we hit the bridge for the second time as we returned to the southern side of the sound for the latter portion of the race. The first few kilometres of trail involved a steep climb to the summit of Goose Rock, before being dumped out on to a couple of kilometres of road. It was a fairly uninspiring stretch, but at least I finally got a glimpse of Tara again, a couple of minutes ahead. Spurred on by this I pushed through the aid station as we started the first of two 10 km loops. Within a few minutes, I'd caught Tara, who despite a blazing first half of the race, was starting to slow a little. Then a little later, I caught Jon on a climb; surprisingly he was hiking this while I was running in an odd reversal of our earlier race. We were about half-way through and I was finally starting to warm up.
Cameras make me focus on my running form.
This loop suited me a lot better. A whole lot more runnable and a chance to open up my stride. Repeating a mantra of "Just. Keep it. Rolling." I clicked off the miles at a comfortably brisk pace. I didn't see anyone else on that first loop, until close to the end when several of the front-runners passed me on the start of their second loop. Encouragingly, I could see that I wasn't too far behind a number of the people that had earlier passed me. A lot of the mid-pack runners were now starting their first circuit as I started my second loop. It was nice to have a bit of company out there, especially when you're running faster than they are, or as my friend Elliot described it after the race, "I pretended I was eating their souls".

Scaling the steepest stretch of this course, I noticed a flash of turquoise and ginger a couple of minutes ahead. "Go Alicia!" I yelled, unsure as to whether I was trying to encourage or discourage her. In my mind, the chase was on; I had maybe 10 km to catch her, but she was showing no signs of flagging.
The final chase!
After finishing the loop, passing back through the aid station, and on to the road, I had a good clear view of who was ahead. First I passed Christopher who was struggling, but still smiling. I think. Strung out ahead of me over the next few hundred metres were maybe half a dozen other runners including Alicia. As I pushed ahead along the road, trying to maintain a decent but manageable pace, I gradually started to reel in - and pass - a few of them. But not Alicia. With about two miles to go I noticed that she'd regained the lead that she'd relinquished to Stacie at an earlier stage of the race. We both kept pushing as we hit the last mile of technical trail, but somehow knew we weren't going to catch her. She'd put on a quite remarkable finish.

Eventually, emerging back into the parking lot where we'd started nearly five hours earlier, the finish line drifted into view. I mustered something of a sprint, high-fived James, and congratulated Alicia who'd won the race in a course record time. Myself, I'd just scraped inside the top 10, which was a lot better than I'd anticipated in the early stages of the race. Within seconds I had a cold beer in my hand and was already making serious inroads on the pizza that had emerged freshly baked from a wood-fired stove. There was yet more food and live music from The Pine Hearts inside. *This* is what it's all about.

The course was stunning, the volunteers amazing, and the whole vibe, well, just awesome. It seemed like a great way to cap off a memorable year of running. Looking forward to more of the same in 2014!

Deception Pass 50k web site
Official Results
My run on Strava
Photos by Glenn Tachiyama

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