Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cle Elum Ridge Run 50K - Cle Elum WA

This race seemed just up my alley, and hence worth the flight to Seattle and a long drive. Greater than 6000 feet of climbing, most of it frontloaded, very slow average times (indicating a tough course) despite it being held in the hotbed of ultra competition (near Seattle) and almost all singletrack. I flew up to Seattle late the night before and drove the 90 miles to Cle Elum, getting to the "official race hotel" the Stewart Lodge, around midnight. The next morning I followed a couple other race participants from the hotel the half hour or so to the race site. A huge number of early starters (usually reserved for the slower runners) had taken off at 7am as we drove into the park.

This race advertised only two aid stations and I had no crew. So I came to the starting line with pockets stuffed with a dozen Hammer Gels, one for each anticipated half hour of running. The race started off on the park road for about a half mile, turning uphill to the left on fireroad. After another mile or so we hit single track. After a couple miles of rollers the climb began in earnest. We ran up a thousand feet between mile 3 and 5, close together on a very dusty trail.

running behind Paul Morrison

Then after a couple more miles of descent, we climbed another thousand feet getting to mile 10. Then rollers and bit of dropoff to get to the first aid station. This last stretch to the aid station is virtually unmarked. I had a lot of pauses as other runners and I tried to verify that we were still on course.

I hit the first aid station at mile 12 at 2:25. I downed some Mountain Dew, ate chips, topped off my water bottle and headed back out up the trail. Another thousand feet or so of climbing in the next few miles dropped us out onto a brief stretch of fireroad. The markings for turns were just yellow pieces of plastic lying covered by dirt. I missed the turnoff from this fireroad back onto single track. After running a half mile more down, I figured out that I had probably missed a turn. I could see runners on the ridge above. So I turned back and finally saw the single track turn on the right. I probably only lost ten minutes or so on this escapade.

I repassed a few runners that I had been ahead of as we continued upward another 500 feet. Again this trail is not wellmarked. Miles can pass without any hint of ribbons or other direction indicators. Finally getting to the of the trail lets you out onto "Windy Gap" - a plateau that actually connects to several trails, without it being obvious where the descent is. Eventually you figure out where the descending trail is. There are no signs or arrows. Just a strip or two of plastic in the dirt.

I bombed down the extreme grade from Windy Gap switchbacking down the mountain. I usually expect to get passed on steep descents, as its not my strength. I managed not to this time. After crossing Taneum Creek there's a short uphill that takes you to the second aid station.

running through Taneum Creek

I hit that aid station at 21 miles at 4:25, thinking I could probably still do six hours (my goal for the day) despite losing the ten minutes on the wrong turn. But though the trails mostly descend there are quite a few minihills, streams, and other traverses. I felt pretty good the whole way. No extreme fatigue. I finished in 6:09, happy with a solid run. This was fifteenth out of a field of 100. If I hadn't lost my way, I would have contended for third master, who finished in 5:59. Regardless it was a good run on a course that is exactly the way I like it: lots of climbing and lots of technical rolling single track when on what might look like flats.


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