I did it! None of my trepidations came to pass and I completed The Sunflower Relay (iron division) today. This was a new version of the course, extending it to a marathon distance.
My previous 2 runnings of the race gave me some inklings about the course, but I had no idea how the added distance would work out.
This race is run as a relay with teams and iron persons. Most of the racers seem to be iron runners. According to the race website about 170 people signed up to run solo and there were about 75 teams. The race founder's vision was to have a low key race in a beautiful setting and they're continuing to pull it off. The historical teams are the most interesting as the team is required to have a young runner (14 or younger), an older runner (40 or older), and at least 1 female member.
Driving into the valley yesterday I immediately noticed the stiff, cold wind, especially when I got outside my car. At our race briefing this morning, the race director told us that it had rained (and snowed) earlier in the week. However, today started out with blue skies and puffy white clouds.
By the time we got out of the buses at the race start (this is a point-to-point race) the wind had picked up and was blowing something like yesterday. That was to be the theme for the day. There was even a very light sprinkling of rain just before the start. We could look back up the valley toward Washington Pass and see some kind of precipitation coming down.
At the race start I got to see and talk to friends and acquaintances. Earl was here and we rode up to the start on the bus together. After we got out there was Andy and Andrew and Nick and a bunch of Andrew and Nick's friends, all young. There was the usual stripping and hanging out for a few minutes in the raw air before the start and then we were off with a very casual countdown.
The first mile or so was on the paved road then we ducked onto the ski/bike trails. On this leg we got to cross a suspension bridge over the Methow River and boy was that weird! All the heavy footfalls caused waves on the bridge deck that were very weird to run with. The bridge swayed from side-to-side and the waves ran the length of it. More than once I stepped onto the top of a bridge deck wave. Kinda like running on an uneven surface and striking a rock.
This section took us to the 5 mile point and the old starting point and now the first relay exchange point. Then a couple miles on dirt road followed by a lot of twisty-turny stuff on single track and poor quality dirt road. The woods were very open and it was most pleasant to get off the main road as cars were driving along it and kicking up dust.
After aid station #2 we settled in for a long, gradual downhill on good quality dirt road to the river. Then great single and double track through the woods and cattle gates to Wolf Creek Road. This was paved and we ran a couple miles on it to aid station #3 where we left the road again to get back on the trail system.
This took us to the edge of the valley and the half way point - a sign stuck into the ground reading "13.1 miles get ready for up up up". And up it is - just over a mile of steady to steep uphill on a gravel/dirt road eventually leveling out and crossing the highway by Patterson Lake and just downhill from Sun Mountain Lodge.
A couple switchbacks brought us up to the trail along Patterson Lake. This is probably my favorite section of the run. We started out in forest with the lake to our left with the trail undulating and traversing the side of the hill. After a time the forest opens up to give even greater vistas and flowers. Just past the end of the lake is aid station #4.
This next section is nicer than the last time I was here when there had been logging activity. Now the logging scars have kind of healed over and we ran through very open, high altitude pine forest on nice single track. There was a short section on the road then back into the woods for a long downhill finish to aid station #5.
It was in this section that we passed the 17-mile mark and I was amazed at how good my legs felt. At that point I knew that I was going to finish well.
Right out of this aid station we went up a steepish hill maybe a 1/2 mile long - very challenging. After topping this hill we were treated to grand vistas of rolling grassland. Our route followed a descending, rocky road eventually coming out on a better quality dirt road and a high traverse above a lake. This was a long, long downhill and just past the end of the lake was aid station #6.
I had my second GU and refilled my water bottle for the last time. More up, down, up, down to pass the last little lake on the run. The dreaded final downhill was getting closer and closer as the miles ticked by. We crossed a pasture then switch-backed up this old, old 2-lane track to the last aid station, near the top of the run. At this aid station I ate a final GU and downed an electrolyte cap with a couple cups of water.
A bit more descent through a Ponderosa Pine grove and the final drop was visible. I had forgotten how we traversed way around the top of the valley. Today this traverse was into a blustery headwind. Somewhere in this section we had to go through a barbed wire fence. The race folks were kind enough to tie it up for us so I only had to bend over and slip under. Finally there was the technical downhill to the valley where we had a half mile or so of gently descending rocky road in a picturesque little valley.
This opened up to great, open grassy areas with horse tracks where I was really able to pick up my speed. I'd been hoping for a 4:15 finish but at mile 25 I was at 4:08 so it just wasn't gonna be.
The finally 200 meters or so were very welcome. This was a change from previous years as we left the road and ran across a pasture. I was very nervous about the footing as it was pretty uneven. That finish line was very welcome.
My legs held up well and don't feel too dead right now. A bit of ice, on to the awards/swag ceremony then some sleep.
Bring on Boise. I feel like it should be manageable.