I lied when I said I was only going to run one road marathon for the year at O.C. The opportunity to go on a weekend trip to Seattle, visit the North Cascade National Park and run Winthrop was too good to pass up. After my experience at Orcas and Gorges, I knew I had to come back and run another race from Rainshadow Running. The course profile didn’t hurt either.
Elevation profiles can be deceiving.
B and I spent the weekend visiting with his brother and fiancee in Seattle while making the 4 hour drive to Winthrop, not before stopping by the North Cascade National Park. The drive through the park on Hwy 20 was breathtaking. The mountains were covered in snow on both sides of the road with waterfalls cascading down to the road. We stopped at the Gorge waterfall overlook and Diablo lake before heading to Cutthroat trail for a 5 mile hike to the lake. Incredible. Pictures really don’t do justice to these views, you just have to take my word and go visit. There is something so amazing about standing at the base of all these huge mountains that make you feel so small and engulfed in nature and your surroundings.
Luckily the marathon started on a Sunday so we had time to drive to Winthrop and sight see on Saturday. Since it was a point to point race, we all boarded the bus early in the morning and took the 26 mile drive to the start. I met up with my friend Ather as we discussed our PR potential for this race. We were both stoked about the downhill course (ironically we met during the final downhill at Pine to Palm last year) and the gorgeous ever changing scenery on the drive just rallied up more excitement. The bus took us deep into the forest where the scenery changed from valley/farmland to lush trees and river crossings. We got dropped off at the edge of the Pasayten Wilderness in the Okanogan National Forest. Sitting at an altitude of 3100 ft, we would lose 1000ft in the first 10 miles as we followed the Chewuch River to the town of Winthrop. There was also a half marathon that day that started 2 hours after us from the middle point of the marathon course.
The R.D., James, kept stressing how important it was to pace yourself in the first half because the last 10k is the toughest. Downhill running is my forte and I had really high expectations of myself going into this race. There was also prize money on the line, but more than anything, I wanted to prove to myself that I could pull off a win if I really put my mind to it. My legs were as rested as they could be and I was pumped to run in this beautiful place. I continued my training after O.C. to prepare for this race by running Temescal down repeats over and over again, pounding the downs at Westridge and getting my quads ready for a beating. I had some really good runs leading up to Winthrop and felt confidant and ready toeing the line.
Ather and I lined up at the front, even though it was chip timing, and wished each other good luck, speedy legs and a nice fat PR at the end. Once the race started, I just took off. This was my race, my scenery, my people and my 26.2 miles to own. Even though it was supposed to be a hot day, the tree canopy covered the entire road and made for nice shade. We had the Chewuch river rushing alongside us to the left as different dirt trails tempted us on the other side.
I knew I was running faster than I should have been for a marathon, but I just felt so good and everything felt so right (famous last words). I didn’t dare look at my watch when it beeped mile splits fearing that I would freak out at the fast splits. (Ran the first mile in 6:25 *cue what was I thinking??*).
I decided then that I would cruise these 10 miles down, run based on how I felt, and hopefully create a nice lead for myself. The miles ticked by so quickly I couldn’t believe how far I had gone already. At O.C., I was so focused on hitting a time and had a whole race strategy planned out which forced me to take it easy in the beginning so I could hit those splits later in the race. At Winthrop, I abandoned everything I knew and was so focused on a win that I completely neglected common sense and made stupid mistakes in the beginning that only jeopardized my race at the end.
10K split 41:18:00 Pace 6:53
Hello 10K PR. Doomed from the very beginning.
Still riding on Cloud nine, I continued to pound it out mile by mile. James was driving a car along with a videographer who stopped every so often to catch us on video. I grew paranoid whenever I heard steps behind me and would try to guess by their footsteps and breathing if it was a girl or guy. Brennan, Nathan and Amanda were manning an aid station at Mile 10 so I had something to look forward to. It was so nice to see them as the roads were getting pretty empty and lonely. I always say I hate big road races because I don’t like the feeling of running in a crowd of people and getting elbowed in the beginning and trying to run through people. However, at Winthrop, it was so spread out and empty which made it hard to pace myself and gauge how fast I was going.
Half Marathon 1:33 Pace 7:10
This is only 2 minutes faster than my half marathon PR. Still doomed and awaiting death to come
Though the course profile might look like an easy 26 mile downhill cruise to the finish, the downhills were actually not as steep as I was expecting. It was more gradual with rollers. My quads were fine but I was having major cramping in my hamstrings. The scenery finally changed from the forest to open exposed valleys and meadows which was still beautiful. Unfortunately it was also getting really hot out and the dryness in the air was starting to take a toll on my energy. Miles 15-22 was a major bonkfest. Everything bad that could happen at a race happened during these miles. I was dry heaving like crazy and ran straight to a trashcan at an aid to vomit but nothing would come out. At the same time, I felt so dehydrated and wished the aids were a little closer (2-3 miles apart). My cramping was so bad I was barely shuffling up the hills. I just couldn’t shake the feeling and couldn’t believe this was happening to me on this day.
I passed a couple runners sitting on the side of the road and asked if they needed help. The rolling hills also started to appear and you could see far ahead of you the steep climb to the top. Close to Mile 20 at the top of a hill, I quickly looked behind me just to see if anyone was close and I saw a flash of pink compression socks. Oh crap. I quickly started to run again afraid the girl saw me walking and knew I was hurting. I tried to make it seem like I was doing just fine, but I knew I wasn’t and couldn’t fake going any faster. At Mile 20 she passed me and I told her to go get ’em and finish strong. I knew I would never see her again and threw in the towel. Pissed off at how my race was going, I started to walk through the aid stations and take my time. Mentally defeated, I stopped trying to push myself and focused more on making myself feel better so I could enjoy these last few miles of the race without wanting to die. I walked through the aid, drank lots of water and Gatorade, thanked the volunteers before heading out again. It almost felt like an ultra where I used the aid stations as a resting break before tackling the next section.
Mile 22 split 2:46 Pace 7:33
With the stroke of luck and runner’s magic, I suddenly started to feel better. The cramping was still there but my energy was lifted and I was able to push through the cramping more than I was before. We had a 1.25 mile out and back before heading to the finish. It was then that I caught a glimpse of the girl in front of me. I couldn’t believe I would see her again after how badly I was feeling before. There was a small glimmer of hope that I would be able to catch her, but she was just far enough ahead that it would take some major work to even come close. As my spirits lifted and my legs were functioning again, I started closing in a little by little. Turnarounds are usually pretty defeating because you have to run back the same way, but it also gives you a competitive advantage to see where your competition is. This turnaround was nothing short of hills! I finally reached the turnaround and the volunteer who was there told me that if I could catch her, I would be the first woman. I told her I was going to try hard.
I didn’t want to start sprinting and blow it right before the finish so I stayed conservative. In my heart I already knew I didn’t have a chance of beating her. I was just happy to make up that time towards the end to come close. It wasn’t about winning today, it was about learning how to run a smart race (which I clearly didn’t do). It took a loss that day for me to learn from my mistakes. I went in expecting huge things, but I didn’t follow my usual race plan and in turn, couldn’t execute it. The race didn’t pan out the way I had hoped and I was far too miserable during those miles to really consider my finish a success. A success in my books is when I race smart and feel good from start to finish, no matter what time or place I come in.
Finish 3:21 Pace 7:40
I ended up finishing less than a minute after the first place woman which was a hard to swallow, but it was my own doing that costed me that win. Competitive racing is very new to me and something I want to get better at. Every race is another learning experience and even after 5 years of running, I am still learning. Something I will always remember is that winners rarely lead from start to finish, especially in long distance racing. Of course, the same thing happened at San Diego where I led for 29 miles before falling back to third place. Some lessons take longer to learn. Here’s to better races and smarter decisions next time.
Even though the day didn’t pan out like I had imagined, I tried my best at the end to salvage what was left of the race. Sometimes it takes a bad race to make you step back and analyze what went wrong and how things could have been different if only you had made better decisions. Nevertheless, it was a great weekend with family, checking out some of the most amazing trails and scenery in the Cascades and being able to run, which is always something to be grateful for.