Three Different Runs in
Three Different States
By Olga Varlamova
The move of our family from East to West was long anticipated, but nevertheless unexpected. The great outdoors and the beauty of mountain trails influenced a big part of our decision. To celebrate and finalize the welcome to a new home, I decided to run a race. My first impulse was to run the Portland marathon, famous by its organization but due to obscenely high entry fee, I instead signed up for the Capitol Peak 50km in Capitol, WA. It was their inagural year, a race held in Capitol Peak Park, about 3 hours north of Portland. The trails sounded nice, and I made a commitment. That week, we finally moved to our new house and during this hectic time, I got a cold. Friday night, covered with blankets and sipping hot tea, I wasn’t sure if I should go. But my legs were not broken (as they often been lately), and I decided to give it a go.
Saturday 4 AM: I was on my way. The first thing that pleasantly surprised me was marking on the roads to the start. I came in and as was getting the number, when two race directors called me by name. That seemed awfully nice to feel as part of a family. We set off at 7 am on a 1 mile downhill stretch and I started talking with Carry Miller, who would turn out to be the third place finisher. He even spoke Russian! The field was small, with 35 people, as another ultra was held in the area. The disadvantage for me was that I didn’t know any runners here and couldn’t cue off anybody for my pace. I went at my own pace, sneezing and coughing on the way, stopping to deal with stomach problems, and enjoying the soft trails. Around 3 miles another woman cought me (Van Phan) and we ran together for a couple of miles. As we entered another downhill portion, I picked my feet (I love flying down and relaying on gravity) and lost touch with anybody around for awhile. It was a great day with temperatures around 70F and clear skies that allowed us to see Mt. St. Helen (the one spitting fumes just the day before), Mt. Rainer and Mt. Hood.
I fell into my rhythm and didn’t think twice about my position. It was my impression that I was close to the lead pack, but at this run, no aid station volunteers said anything but “Looking good”. May be it wasn’t such a bad idea after all. The single-track trails with pine needles made my footing a paradise. There were rocks, roots, small streams, tall grass and bushwacking – all that I love about trails. At some point, I was so deep in my dreams, I tripped and fell flat on my side – but amazingly didn’t feel pain, got up and continued running. I guess I should learn to fall safely. I didn’t change my proven method of running – power-walking uphill, speeding downhill and nicely jogging on flat sections. So when the 6.2M climb showed up I slowed down and allowed a couple of guys to pass me. It was a long walk, let me tell you. By the end, my inner thighs seized to cramps and I was almost reluctant to move forward nursing an idea to sit and rest. But at the aid station (mile 26) there was Scott Jurek, a supreme ultra runner and 6 times WS100 winner who I talked to about training and such. He filled my bottles (imagine that!) and we exchanged a few sentences about his Gram Slam this year. Next was a 0.5 mile out-and-back and as I was going down – I saw Van Phan again, merely 5 minutes behind! I don’t know where I got my competitive spirits but I decided to give it a push for as long as she is behind, telling myself I would walk as soon as she catches up. This last 4.5 miles went weird – the first time I had kind of hearing hallucinations. The whole way I thought she was a step behind, as I could clearly hear her footsteps and breathing but was afraid to turn back and look. I ran and ran and than suddenly for me – the finish line appeared. Still thinking she is right after me, I surged and crossed the clock at 5:39. That was my best trail 50k ever but still – not a word where I placed! I lingered about 5 minutes and finally asked one of the race directors how I did. He looked at me a bit surprised, and told me I won the women’s race. Aha! Good Lord, how? But, hey, they gave away the nicest Vasque vest and trail shoes and I was really pleased with my time and effort in the last section. Thanks to all the runners and volunteers I had a great run with fantastic views and got my zip back.
Next week was my birthday, the day I moved to a new age group. My family set off to a hiking adventure. We drove to Sisters, OR and made a trip to Black Crater Mountain. It was absolutely stunning to go from a 60F at 3000 feet to reach so much snow, gusting winds and dark sky at 7000. We couldn’t see beyond 20 feet and lost great views but enjoyed playing snowballs and rolling in the snow. It was a short 10-mile hike after which we went to Bend, OR for my next day’s marathon. The temperatures in the morning were below zero. We started about 17 minutes late, and I decided not to turn my watch and just run as I am pleased. My hands went numb holding water bottles (ultra habit, alwys carry my water) and I didn’t feel them for 2 miles. Between miles 3 and 6 was a trail section – argh, nice – and a girl started talking to me about Bend being her first marathon and a goal to make it under 4 hrs. For some reason I felt responsible to make it happen and told her to stick around. We had nice rolling hills until mile 11 and than the grueling climb began. But to ease the suffer we had gorgeous views on Mt. Bachelor and Three Sisiters mountains covered with fresh snow! I better get used to these views or they take so much of my energy to enjoy! We ran on local roads along horse farms and were greated by lots of farm animals from horses to sheep to lamas. There was no traffic control but the cars were rare and sparse and never bothered us. Half-point we hit in 1:56. Second half of this marathon was much tougher, with total climb of over 500 feet and constatly going up and down. The work had began as we were making our way, and actually passing runners. In the last 5M we entered the city and got lots of support from locals. The finish was on the grass fiels in the park, I saw my boys waiting for me and made an even split marathon (second time in my life) in 3:51:56. That girl came a couple of minutes later, hooked on distance and chered by her family.
We quickly went back to motel, cleaned up and headed east to Volcano National Forest for some hot spring hiking. It was a huge lake at 6000 feet with hot springs along the perimeter where you can either find the one used before or dig into the ground and make your own foot bath. And, boy, it was hot! And oh, so nice after the run. Again, the snow-capped mountains filled the views and the soft trails called our names for some light jogging what we surely did all together, including the kids.
And that was still not the end of my fun-filled 3 weeks adventure. I registered for Mt. Masochist 50M in Virginia while still in New York. It is a famous trail ultra with famous David Horton as RD in the vicinity of Shanandoah Park. Featuring over 50 miles (“Horton’s” miles are longer, the rumor is this run is 54M) and supreme field (it is Montreal’s cup last race in a season) this race draws people from all over the states and closes up early. With my new job, the time off would be quite problematic, but I met David at Vermont 100 this summer, and became friendly with him. Besides, I needed to know what this buzz is all about. So I flew to DC airport at 11 pm Friday, rented a car and drove 4 hours to Lynchburg, VA just in time to change, eat and get on the bus to start. The atmosphere was electric, with top names present and the air moist. I talked with a few guys I knew from before and we went 6:30 am sharp. First 7 miles turned out to be on the road and I hated it. This is where I realized the rest is on order, and my body can take only that much abuse. It was a rare case when I wondered why I came and wouldn’t it have been better to miss out. But as soon as we eneterd the trail system I felt better. My biggest problem was the lack of sleep. I felt so fuzzy-like, running in the fog (what was there as well) sometimes not sure whether I am running or sleepwalking. We had some stream crossings and since majority of the run is on fire gravel roads I trashed my feet early – something that hasn’t happened to me in over a year. I forgot how painfull blisters are! The weather turned from coldish to freezing, spitting some rain and even hail on us. The climbs were long, the downhills also long. There were 2 real trail sections – one being a famous 5M loop at 33M (more like 6 or 7) and another 4M later. Both of them were very lonely, I almost felt scared running alone. I was bone-cold and only soup at the aid stations kept me moving. I dreamed about coffee and a fireplace. Still popping caffeine pills and not getting any effect, I was wandering around like a zombie. At the last aid station, I was told I have 2.9 miles left - and all downhill. The second part of this statement - OK - but forget the first part – 2.9M my ass! I ran my soul out (I realized I am making it under 10 hours and flew down) and at the sign “1 mile to go” – the only measured mile on the course – I was 25 minutes later! Not to mention that final mile I made half-walking in 10 min there was no way the previous pace made sense. I saw David at the finish and volunteers cheering on but this time didn’t not make any sprints – I leasurely walked/jogged across and told Dr. Horton how much I hate him. Of course it wasn’t his fault I ran tired and sleepy! I just felt quite miserable. But once I had my soup (or should I say soup I stole from David) and 6 sandviches and saw my time (9:49) and place (12th F in the field I could only sigh about) I felt better and took my words back.
It was a tough race, no wonder ultra crowd is obligated to try themselves out on it. It was also well organized with pre-race dinner, post-race showers, award ceremony and food festivities. I just wish I didn’t have to drive back through the night again to make my 6 am flight! All in all I had great time at all of those events and happy I made it there. It is rest now and I hope to keep it for awhile unless I go crazy. My new local partners are tempting me to see more of the scenery on my feet but not running is just as essential in training as running and I am commited to make it happen. Great trails are waiting for all of us, don’t miss your chance!