It’s taken me awhile to write this race recap for reasons I’ll explain later. And if that’s not a confusing way to start, then let me just say that my delay truly has nothing to do with the race itself, more just life. But more on that later.
A couple of Saturdays ago, I ran the Backcountry Rise 20 miler, a beautiful and challenging course in the backcountry area surrounding Mt. St. Helen’s. Casey and I drove up early on Saturday morning to ensure we would make it in time for packet pickup and last minute race prep before the 9 am start. The drive from Portland to Mt. St. Helen’s, while beautiful, can also be a bit windy. I’m not usually prone to car sickness but on this particular morning, it hit me pretty hard.
I was feeling pretty bad when we pulled into the parking lot and was starting to get a bit fearful for the rest of the day. I wanted to kick the nausea completely before the race started so I picked up my packet and attempted to get some fresh air. Only, it started to drizzle and I was pretty cold and ended up retreating back to the car.
Around quarter to 9, I made my way back over to the start line, connected with an old friend from San Francisco who was running with her husband and waited for the race to begin.
Once the race began, we were on a single-track trail, descending towards the lake. It was crowded and hard to move. I got stuck for a little while behind a group of people who were moving a little slower than me and had to eventually find a safe place to pass. I was moving pretty steadily but was still feeling pretty nauseous. The first five miles – to the first aid station – were rolling hills and nice buttery flats around the lake.
I was having some trouble with my hydration pack so didn’t end up needing to refill any water (mainly because I hadn’t had much to drink). My hydration pack bladder was too big for my pack, the hose was far too long, and the only possible way for me to get any water out of it, was to place my hand on my pack and push while I sucked through the straw. Made for some challenging, balance moves while running, to say the least.
After the first aid station, we started to climb. It seemed almost immediate. The first part of the climb was steep and the terrain was almost sand like. As we climbed higher and higher, the temperature had also dropped substantially. The air was crisp and cool, and even a little windy at times. For awhile, I was in a good rhythm, meaning I didn’t feel as if I was overdoing it, nor did I feel like I wasn’t trying hard enough; I was keeping a consistent pace and climbing steadily.
Around mile seven, a man came up behind me and told me he was going to pace off me for a bit. He was making some small talk as we climbed, which at first, was totally fine. After about a half an hour or so, he started bitching and moaning about the climb, and then saying over and over to me, “good pace. Great pace. Keep it up…” It was driving me bananas and I knew I needed to ditch him. I really didn’t need his negativity as I was having even more issues with my hydration pack and trying to stay positive despite the fact that the top of the bladder – which has ribbed edges – was now tearing into my upper back. I dug deep and started to jog a steep and technical portion of the climb, which actually ended up feeling good, given how cold I was starting to get.
Once I had put some good distance between us, I got back into a steady rhythm to continue my climb. I was by myself for quite some time, enjoying the sweeping views, while also carefully watching . my footing on the very steep and sloping single-track trails. Somewhere around mile 9, I managed to miss a turn and found myself climbing on the side of the mountain, practically slipping off the side. I made it to a fallen tree and couldn’t see anything in the future that actually looked like trail and realized I probably needed to turn around. As I made my way back carefully the same way I had come, I saw a woman approaching. I yelled to her that I was pretty sure I was going the wrong way and she back around to look for a potential missed turn.
She motioned to me that she had found it and I followed her lead back on to the course. I managed to get passed by quite a few people when I went off course so decided I would have to pick it up a little to account for the lost time. As we neared what seemed like the top of the climb, the views got increasingly more beautiful. The lake was beaming at us in the distance and the almost other worldly landscape below and around us was starting to take shape.
Around mile 11, we started to level out a little and were able to enjoy some rolling hills into mile 12 – aid station # 2. At the second aid station, I scared down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the wonderful volunteers tried to help me with my hydration pack. Unfortunately, there was nothing anybody could do about it – it was just not the right fit for my pack or for me. I thanked the volunteers, took a few sandwich quarters to go and walked and ate as I climbed. After about a mile leaving the aid station, we started to hit some nice downhill and before I knew it, rolled into the final aid station – around mile 14. Casey was there to cheer me on and I grumbled that I was ready to be done and took off again.
The next 4 miles or so were both fun and slightly terrifying; they were mainly downhill on a pretty narrow, technical single-track with some fun switchbacks to keep you on your toes. I slid out going pretty fast on one of the switchbacks but caught myself in the nick of time, and silently thanked myself for all of the yoga and balance work I’ve been doing.
I was making up for some lost time on this section, and just let my quads feel the burn as we continued the descent. I started paying closer attention to my watch and thought I was getting pretty close when it said I was at mile 19. I picked up the pace again and managed to pass about three guys who I recognized from when they had passed me on the uphill section. I came to what I understood was the final road crossing and we climbed up the highway for a bit where I passed yet another couple of guys and was feeling pretty strong. At this point, I could taste the finish line.
My watch finally hit 20 and I thought I must be close – give or take a little for the missed turn – and then all of a sudden, we started to climb again. The race was technically 20.6 miles and since I had gone off course, I realized I was still about a mile off and had a steep, tough climb until I was truly done. I dug deep and did a walk 50 steps, jog 100 ratio to keep my mind focused and get me up the hill and across the finish line.
While it certainly wasn’t my fasted 20 mile race, I felt good about my strong finish after a rough start to the morning. With over 4,800 feet of gain and 20+ miles, I finished in 4:19:26, 10th woman overall, 8th woman in my age group and 26th place overall (out of over 115 runners).
Overall women’s results:
Age group results:
I can’t say enough good things about this race and the race company, Daybreak Racing. It was an absolutely well done event, with some of the BEST volunteers and race organizers out there. I’ll definitely be back for more!
Stay sweaty friends.