The Sunflower Relay was a great event. We headed out Friday, and all of our team made it to Winthrop by late Friday night. We picked up race packets and spent time going over the logistics of exchange zones and which vehicle would be where and when. It's a lot less complicated than a big relay like Hood to Coast. (If you've never done Hood to Coast, I highly recommend it. I have fond memories of running in the middle of the night, getting back in the van, eating a lot, my legs getting stiff, feeling carsick, then getting out to run again on no sleep after we drove on ahead of our other van. I ran on a competitive team about 12-13 years ago - we were called the 'You Go Girls'. We actually placed third in the women's division. I have no idea how. I remember the top of Mt. Hood, how nice it was to reach the beach, and losing all modesty when looking for the port-a pottys at the exchange zones. I had a blast. I passed up another chance last year for a family vacation, and somehow scheduled a marathon for the same weekend this year. Anyway . . . )
Where was I . . ? We headed out Saturday morning - one half of us to the start, and the other half of us to the first exchange since we weren't sure we'd make it in time if we all went to the start. We got lost finding the exchange - well, not really lost, just couldn't find it. This area is very rural and the majority of the runners were doing the course as an iron event, so there weren't tons of cars driving to exchange zones. We backtracked and found it. There was still some low fog at this exchange, but it looked like it would be a warm day. The runners came from left to right in this photo - there is actually a break in the fence.
The first runners to come through were actually ultra runners, not relay members - well - the first guy was also on a team but running solo. You can do both as long as you run the first leg. Anyway, our running came through pretty distraught. She said she had some asthma problems. I think there was a little anxiety at running with a lot of adult trail runners, but she really did great. She was in tears and all red-faced from the effort. We assured her that the leg she had just completed was amazing, and usually only attempted by adults. Runner #2 headed out, and we went to the next exchange. We discovered at this point, that we'd actually be able to take both cars to all of the exchanges. We could've taken one car, but we had our drivers and our fabulous cheering support crew as well as our runners. Runner 2 handed off to runner 3 without any hitches, and we headed to the next exchange. This was where our youngest runner was to start. We pulled up to the course marshall who told us we needed to park and walk to the exchange zone because there was limited parking there. She said it was 400 meters. Okay. We got out and started walking. After walking about half a mile along the trail where the runners were coming toward us, we finally asked a runner how far back to the exchange. He said half a mile more. Nice. At this point, our other driver and next runner headed back to the car to the next exchange, feeling like we were short on time all of a sudden. We handed off sweatshirts, and the little runner and myself had to do a little warm-up to the exchange. Her leg was to be 2.3 miles, and she'd actually been training - running a couple of miles a day to be able to cover this distance. I tried my best to assure her that adding another mile of warm-up would be just fine. We arrived at the exchange zone about 5-10 seconds before our runner came down the hill and handed off. Okay, I guess that worked.
This runner that just came in had run the mammoth uphill leg. We grabbed a couple of waters for him and ran slow along the course. After about 5 minutes, he continued on the course to trail our young runner - just in case. I headed to the car and we bolted to the next exchange, knowing it was a fairly flat and short course that paralleled the road - and our runner had a 10 minute time jump on us at this point. We could actually see her on the trail below the road, so we shouted and rang the cow bell - and got an 'arms up in the air' positive response from her. Our cheering crew loved that. We made it to the exchange just before our runner was rounding the bend. We thought it was funny that she was sprinting down the trail, but then noticed our other runner (her father) had caught up to her and was chasing her. Pretty funny. So, a hand-off to runner #5 - and watching him go up a big hill, and off to the last exchange. My tummy was doing flip-flops on the drive to this one, because I was next and I felt like we were never going to make it in time. Of course we did. He came in, and off I went.
I think it took me the first mile to catch my breath - almost like hyperventilating anxiety. I was cruising along pretty good - sorta rolling hills. At about a mile and a half I came to the swamp. Strange, because at this point in the course, you're running on red dry dirt, but there was some residual snow melt in places. There really was no short way around it, so my split-second decision sent me through it. I hadn't seen too many runners - we were really spread out at this point. We'd been teasing our younger runners about 'trail kill' and passing runners. I passed a couple, but felt really guilty. They were doing the iron event - running the whole 21+ miles, and I was only running 5. However, I looked up the hill and saw a few more people - going up the switchbacks. I thought my leg was the downhill leg! What the heck is that? Oh, well. Nowhere to go but up. I made it without needing to walk, 'cause I knew there was a down on the other side. There was actually an aid station at the top - sorta made you wonder how they got up there with all the aid. I had a sip of water, thanked the volunteers, and continued on to the downhill I looked forward to. It was pretty fun, and actually not as hard as I was prepared for. There was one section that I had to walk - in between the switchbacks, there was a part with no switch - it went straight down, through a dust/dirt trail. It was either try to walk it or sit on your butt and slide. (The elevation graph from my gps actually shows it as an almost vertical line - pretty funny.) This hill we going down made me just want to stop and look around. The balsam root flowers (the small yellow sunflowers) were in bloom covering the hillside in amazing proportions, and the hills sprouted up in every direction. I felt like Maria in the Sound of Music. I don't have a photo to portray how amazing it really was. There was another swampy puddle lower down, and I think 3 barbed wire fences I had to climb through, but pretty harmless. I followed another runner the last two miles in - which was great because I could watch her feet move and see which things in the trail to avoid. I spent those entire 2 miles trying to catch her and couldn't. Knowing by the water bottle she carried, that she was running the event solo and assuming she would go a slower pace, it was very frustrating to not be able to catch her. With about 400 m to go, we could see the finish, and I was right on her - close enough to talk. I couldn't pass because the single-track narrowed here. I didn't really feel right about passing her at this point, knowing how long it had taken me to catch her, and that she'd run it all solo. So I said, "There it is. You can see it. You feel like going for it?" So she picked it up. And in to the finish we went.
That was it. All done. I'd love to try the event
solo next year. What a beautiful course. It'd be a great race course to train for 50k+ ultras 'cause it's short and early in the season. It's moderately challenging but not all too technical. Runner 5 had a few ditches to cross, runner 4 had some logs, but that's trail-running. There was a post-race baked potato bar at the local Twisp River Pub where they held the award ceremony. Beer and potatoes - great after race food. We didn't expect any awards, but we actually placed in the top half of the teams overall. I forget the exact pace, but we averaged under 8:45 pace - pretty cool with 10 and 12 yr-old runners.
That race finished off my highest week of mileage for marathon training - and I won't say how low my high-mileage actually is. Nonetheless, I got up for my scheduled 12 miles in the morning. I ran a loop from the town of Winthrop that we were staying in - up up up to a ridge with an amazingly vast view of the valley and Lake Pearrygin below and the moutains all around. The first few miles we followed a hot air balloon (my support crew on bike and I) to the point where we were directly underneath it and could see up inside, and watch and listen as the flames took it higher. It was a peaceful run - even saw all kinds of creatures - marmots, woodpeckers, eagles, hawks, magpies.
Great weekend complete. Back to reality at home and on to the marathon taper. Oh, and we did get the mother's day present - that'll have to be another post.