Monday, March 4, 2013

The Hillbilly Half

     The Hillbilly Half Marathon in Olympia WA this weekend was the second stop for me on The La Sportiva Mountain Cup.  This is a series that I have wanted to compete in for several years but with the amount of travel it takes to make it to enough races it was impossible for me.  Fortunately this year I have the support of The North Face, who cover all the travel bills and make it possible to seek out new adventures! I flew into Seattle the night before the race, rented a car, found the start and trying to take some of Jason Bryant’s advice on how to have fun on the mountain cup, set out for a run on the course.  Problem was I had forgotten my headlamp and with the pacific northwest cloud cover the night was pitch black!  I made it about a quarter mile up the mountain on a gravel road before I decided that I had a better chance of getting hurt than seeing any part of the course and headed back.  I camped on the race sight and was up early and ready to run!
     At 8:30 the next morning we were on the line and ready to go.  I was joined again by Matt Byrne and Pat Casterline from the week before as well as Jared Scott, the 2011 series champion.  Right from the start it was the pack of as four as well as one of the local athletes Josh Klimek.  The course climbed immediately leaving no time for a large pack.  I felt comfortable on the initial climb running with matt and letting Jared and Josh have a slight lead.  By the time we reached the first aid station and headed up into the woods Matt and I had caught Jared and it was a three man race.  Once the course left the road it climbed steeply up the heavily forested mountain side.  I assumed the lead climbing comfortably with Matt and Jared close behind.  We hit another gravel road shortly and the three of us bunched up again as the road flattened briefly before rearing up steep again towards the pine covered mountain top.  As soon as we hit the climb, my legs which had been feeling great for the first portion felt a little heavy.  Matt who had sounded winded made a strong move on the climb towing Jared with him and I lost a few steps.  I could see the road climbing to the top of the mountain and was trying to save my legs a bit but after only a couple minutes of climbing Matt and Jared turned right off the road and disappeared into the woods.  I followed a few seconds later and although I could not see them I could hear them sloshing through puddles below me.  This next section of the course was a roller coaster of fun.  The course cut snaked its way down the mountain through thick pines on a rutted double track of racks mud and water.  Lots of water!  The rocky descents at Chilly Cheeks last week had honed my downhill skills and I quickly caught Jared.  I tried to get around him to catch Matt but He sprinted to the inside of the turn and shut me down.  Now that I was on his shoulder he ran aggressively and we soon caught Matt.  Matt then picked up the pace as we barreled downhill arms waking to keep our balance, sprinting the short ups and lunging into the turns.  Soon Jared got around Matt and I followed.  I thought of sitting on him for a bit but I felt stronger on the downhill then the two of them and I knew my climbing legs were not as strong as theirs and thought I might get some distance before the next big up.  Also Jared had shut me down on the pass earlier and just because he was making it tough I wanted to get around him.  I saw my opportunity on a short up where he took the outside line to avoid a stump and I sprinted for it.  He sprinted as well but after a little bit of shoving I got around.  He shouted “good pass” to me as I tried to get some distance.  Unfortunately the course started to climb again almost immediately and he went back around me followed by Matt.  I don’t think that I have ever witnessed so much passing during a trail race!  We hit the turnaround shortly after and I tried to use the descent to catch back up but I was starting to run into trouble.  Often when I travel I experience a very painful side stitch, and as we descended the hill it hit me full force.  My breaths started to come out as grunts as I tried to fight it off and stay in sight.  The course wound so much that I wasn’t able to see more than five or ten seconds ahead of me so I was unsure of how far they had dropped me by and my mind assumed the worst.  Pretty soon the trail crossed an open hillside however and I could see them about 30 seconds ahead.  Matt had overtaken Jared by that point and had a small lead.  I could hear him laboring heavily, still as he disappeared into the woods I could tell his legs were still in full flight.  That guy is tough.  Over the next several minutes my stitch got worse and as I ran doubled over I just kept praying to catch up.  At the next aid station I stopped briefly and drank some coke hoping it would erase the cramp.  I think it helped some.  Either way we were nearing the top of the climb and the last few miles would be predominately downhill, my strong point.  When I reached the gravel I couldn’t see either of my competitors ahead of me but as I let my stride open up I prayed that I would see them soon.  A few minutes later Jared came into my sight as the road flattened out and the adrenaline of the chase carried me to the trail.  By the time we left the road I had cut the distance in half and as we started to wind through the pines I could actually see him ahead of me and hear Matt further down, and I allowed myself to believe that I might actually win this race!  Then I got sick.  It came out of nowhere and the next thing I knew I was on the side of the trail puking.  I thought I might actually make it through this race but no such luck.  I tried to get everything out as fast as possible but by the time I was moving at a normal pace again I couldn’t see or hear anyone ahead of me.  The next section of the course was the steepest descent yet and desperate for another chance I hit it all out, no longer praying to catch up, just to stay on my feet.  I virtually sprinted down the mountain jumping over complete sections of trail where cinder blacks had been sunk into the mud to prevent erosion and somehow not falling or leaving the trail.  I kept it up for several minutes and by the time we hit the final section of gravel road Jared was barely ahead of me and I knew Matt couldn’t be too far ahead.  As we hit a short uphill I sprinted past Jared who by this time was nursing a bad calf and was able to see Matt just reaching the top Jared shouted a welcome to the mountain cup and a few words of encouragement as I went by.  I kept up the hard pace feeling better now that I had finished being sick, trying to let my legs go as fast as possible on the steep downhill.  On the next short up Matt looked back and saw me.  I knew it was going to get harder from here.  I charged over the top and continued to hammer the down.  By the next switchback I was in full sight of Matt and confidant that I would soon be pulling next to him!  Then I saw the power lines at the finish line and my spirits dropped.  This road had seemed so much longer on the way up, and now even though I was catching I knew I was out of time.  I sprinted all out anyway still closing but it was too late.  Disappointed as I was watching Matt cross the line ahead of me, I knew he deserved the win.  His run and his toughness were impressive to say the least.  There were several times that I thought I had dropped him only to have him fight back and drop me on the next climb, laboring the whole way but never slowing.  Jared as well had put up a heck of a fight until his calf cramped. He jogged through the line in third shortly thereafter followed by Pat and then Josh.  I talked to Jared for a bit afterwards getting some good insight into the next few races on the series from both him and Ian, the La Sportiva Team manager.  I definitely can’t wait to race again in Texas as I know Jared will be wanting to win that one bad as well.
Jimmer and I at the airport.

     It was after the race that I got my biggest surprise of the weekend.  I was on facebook on my phone trying to find a way to see a childhood friend up in Bellingham when I saw that my college coach and good friend Greg Jimmerson lived in Seattle!  For some reason I had thought he was in the Mammoth Lakes area.  I shot him a message and by the time I had driven back to Seattle he had called me.  I dropped my rental car off and the airport and he picked me up.  We went for a run, caught up on life and old friends and then had the famous Jimmer lasagna for dinner with his wife Melanie and son Cody.  That was followed by an epic game of Horse on the Nerf Basketball hoop and I lost for the second time of the day.  Not even my signature “Foot shot” could save me, although Cody almost did.  Then I got to prepare for parenthood by reading stories with Cody and playing with Super-dog, Super-Chicken (Angry Bird), and Super-Car.  I was worn out by 9:45.  Jimmer and Melanie had kindly offered to let me stay the night so I slept in a guest room and Jimmer drove me to the airport in the morning.  Seeing him was really a blessing.  He was a great coach and still has a way of encouraging me, not only in my athletics but in life, and my walk with Christ.  As fun as the race as getting to see him and his family was the best part of my weekend.  As I the plane lifted off the sun shone on the previously cloudy city and reflected off of the majestic rise of Mount Rainier.  I felt completely content with my life at that moment and thanked God for what he was doing in my life.  I also put in a prayer for the race in Texas.  Doesn't hurt to start early ;)
Mt. Rainier from the airplane!