Monday, May 12, 2008

Back to B-ham

This past weekend capped off a big block of training. I raced two 50 mile races in a four week span. The second of which took place Saturday in Bellingham, WA. My plan had been to race the Quicksilver 50 miler, but when the North Face Challenge was moved to Bellingham, it seemed too good to pass up.

I had never run a step on dirt until my final year at Western Washington University. As I began climbing more frequently and running roads to stay in shape, the notion of combining the two took hold. I really owe my introduction to trail running to the folks at Fairhaven Runners. On a whim, I showed up for a Wednesday night trail run in 2001. Yes, that's right, a night trail run. It must have been mid-November and it was dark by the 6pm start time. Therefore, all were instructed to bring headlamps or flashlights. Admittedly, I was a little nervous about running on trail in the dark, but I trusted their trail running expertise. I was hooked immediately and was soon a fixture at the mid week runs. We ran extensively on Chuckanut Mountain and sometimes even ventured further south to the trails of Blanchard Mountain. Since moving to Seattle, I only get up to Bellingham 2 or 3 times a year to run, and I cherish those few occasions.

Saturday's race was an exciting return to those trails where it all began. Due to the early start time, I was up and about by 3 am. Thankfully, I'm an early riser and was psyched to begin in the wee hours of the morning. We were required to carry lights for the first hour of the race, but I only clicked mine on in one or two places. It was so much more pleasant to run under the gradually increasing natural light of the day. I went out in front, but knowing that I was running a challenging course on hard-ridden legs, I kept things in check.

I ran alone for the first few miles until my shoe was sucked right off my foot on the descent toward Lost Lake. At that point Dan Gallant caught up to me, and we ran together most of the way to the 3rd aid station. Doug McKeever greeted me at the third aid station and told me how much I'd like the next section of trail. I believe he called it the Hush Hush trail, and it was a very pretty, winding climb up to Dan's Traverse and the beginning of the technical ridge trail.

While quick-footing it through the rocks and roots of the ridgeline trail, I was joined by Andrew Mullenix. Andrew, an Ironman triathlete and first time ultra runner, was moving quickly. For the first time all day, I started to feel a bit of competitiveness and tried to notch up the pace. I popped out at the 4th aid station just moments before Andrew and was met by my wife with two full bottles of Nuun ready to go. Wasting no time, I grabbed the bottles and took off down the trail.

Being a fairly strong downhill runner, I planned to take advantage of the next 3 miles of descent. Andrew showed no signs of letting up though, and he was with me stride for stride down the trail and onto the dirt road. Although my legs felt good, my stomach was feeling a bit unsettled and Andrew pulled ahead as the course transitioned back to singletrack. After succumbing to a quick pit-stop, I was feeling a little down but not quite out. I reminded myself that this was just another step toward my "real" goal. There would be bigger fish to fry in just over a month. As much as I believed that, it was still tough to let Andrew go.

Much to my surprise, as I ran into the halfway aid station, Andrew was just heading out. My wife was again there with a full waistpack and a couple more bottles. Feeling a little surge of confidence, I took off after Andrew, and we began the longest climb of the day. Knowing that climb could make or break the day, I pushed the pace to an uncomfortable level. Slowly I pulled away, but even as I crested the climb, Andrew was still in sight.

That was the last time I saw Andrew, but I felt he was never far behind. Having run hard up the road, I was relieved to hit the next steeply descending section of single track. My quads felt great, and I was able to hammer downhill. The trail soon opened back up onto road, and in the distance, I could see an aid station full of runners. I was now sharing the course with the 50k runners, and it provided a nice break from the monotony of running alone. There were a few familiar faces and I even stopped to give a hug to my good friend and 50k runner, Don Mukai.

The excitement of seeing so many other runners soon wore off, and my stomach again rebelled. I was nearly to the mile 37 aid station, when I bent over and began puking for the first time. It was over and done with in a timely manner, and I felt immediately better. Reaching into my pouch, I pulled out a couple pieces of ginger and ate them instinctively. All was better, at least for the time being. I rolled into the aid station and was met again by my bottle-wielding wife. A few quick words of encouragement from her and I was on my way again.

The four miles to the next aid station seemed like the longest stretch of the whole day. Knowing I needed to keep eating, even though nothing sounded appealing, I began sticking one Clif block at a time into my mouth and just sucking on it until it was gone. I figured that'd be easy enough on my stomach and at least a few calories would make their way back on board. It seemed to do the trick. Finally, I emerged into a broad clearing with an awe-inspiring view across the Samish Flats. This was home to the mile 42 aid station and the last time I'd see Andrea until the finish.

Armed with two full bottles of ice cold water, I set off downhill at a pretty good clip. I knew the descent would be short lived, so I ate a gel and took an electrolyte cap, preparing for the final, burly climb to the top of Blanchard Mountain. Almost immediately my stomach protested and again I buckled over and puked. Thankfully this was followed again with instant relief. I scratched and clawed my way up the ridiculously steep ascent to Lily Lake and breathed a deep sigh of relief. Knowing that the climbs were all behind me and feeling the magnetic pull of the finish line, I took off downward to the final aid station.

A quick sip of Coke, and I was out of the aid station just like that. With 2.5 miles to go, and mostly on dirt road, I was really able to open up. I didn't know how far back the next 50 miler was, but I wanted to erase any chance of getting caught in the final couple of miles. Knowing that there was no chance I'd blow up in the final mile, I kept my foot on the gas (by fifty mile standards) all the way to the finish. I ended up winning in a time of 7:58. Andrew hung on for second, finishing about 20 minutes later.

I'm ecstatic to have won the race, but more importantly I feel like my training is right on target for Western States. As I mentioned earlier, this was the first time I'd ever run two 50 milers in such a short timespan and with no rest in between. If nothing else, it feels good to be going into Western States with two fifty mile wins under my belt.

I hope this race happens again next year at the same venue. It was a beautifully rugged course with solid organization. I'll be the first to admit that I was very skeptical going into this race, but all my worries were put to rest from the beginning. I wouldn't mind making this an annual trip to B-ham.


Monica Ochs said...

Great job Brian! You continue to amaze me. I was also hesitant about this race but was pleasantly surprised by how well marked and organized it was. I must was REALLY hard for me! Best of luck at WS!!

Brian Morrison said...

Thanks, Monica! Great job to you as well. That was a brutal course. What's next for you?

crowther said...

Great photo of you with the monster check! It looks a bit unwieldy ... though not quite as bad as those Sunmart stallions....

adam said...

Congrats Brian! I know what you mean about running around Chuckanut. I grew up there and running anywhere near Chuckanut, Blanchard and Lake Padden brings back good old memories of high school running. Good luck next month!!

Hart said...

congrats on the win brian!.. on two 50s with no rest. awesome work. you are primed for western! it's going to be a rumble!