A few months ago, my cousin Steve suggested we run a marathon. I’d been burned by stuff like this before, the event suggester talking me into it, then backing out. Plus, I’d already been there, done that (marathon), so I tried to find something different that might work and did: the Red Devil Challenge 25K Trail Run, held on the 31st of May in my home town of Cashmere. There was just one problem, the route climbs over 3,000 feet within the 15.5 mile distance. The official race site includes a topo map of the course.
The only other trail race I’d completed was the 2014 Deception Pass Half, which turned out to be only 11.7 miles. For this race, I trained on trails in the Anacortes Community Forest Lands and Deception Pass State Park, which are pretty hilly, but you’d have to summit Goose Rock a number of times to get that kind of climb. Days before the race, I emailed the race director to request a race profile. He sent back his Garmin output from a past year, which showed the altitude gain–really 3,000 feet–but a total of only 14.4 miles.
I headed over on Friday night for the Sunday morning race. The drive from Whidbey Island to the Wenatchee Valley via Highway 2 takes 3.5 hours, but is so scenic that you can’t complain. I picked up my race number and that of my friend, who was to arrive later, at the Pybus Market Saturday evening, then hung out with nearly a dozen family members while trying not to think too hard about what I’d signed up to do the next day. When we learned that they’d moved up the start time by one hour due to the heat, I got nervous. On race morning, we drove from East Wenatchee to Cashmere, crossed the river, parked at Riverside Center, and walked back to Milepost 111 where the buses awaited. The restaurant owner allowed everyone to congregate outside her establishment and use the restrooms before the race. We would be bused back afterwards.
Entering the area where the earlier arrivals loitered, I felt conspicuously out of place with my florescent green Ragnar shirt, race number already attached. This was the town where I’d spent four years, from spring of my 8th grade year through high school, and I remember the locals being a little friendlier. My friend Erin and I rode to the start with a couple dozen others on an old, rickety, once-white school bus while a short haired mid-sized brown dog walked up and down the aisle. En route, we passed several familiar landmarks and roads on which I’d run when I was young. It seemed strange to be returning to my hometown to run a race that started not far from my old house.
Near the trailhead, we passed what looked a lot like a homeless encampment. Abandoned vehicles and other junk littered the roadsides. Finally, nearly nine miles later, we reached the trail area, filled with 4WD vehicles, tents, runners and a lot of dust. Everyone else seemed to know each other, so while they all stood around hugging, chatting and reminiscing about past races, Erin and I waited in line for the restrooms and tried not to worry about the abundance of CamelBaks and water bottles other runners had that we didn’t, only because we’d never done so before. Race day is not the time to try something new but we were about to become fools.
At about ten to 8:00 am, Race Director Joel Rhymer guided us, a group of nearly 70 runners, over a bridge and along a gravel road to the start. At his signal, we took off in the direction from which we’d just walked and continued along a gravel road for about a mile. We also carefully made our way across two small waterways. Then the fun began. The next 3.5 miles had us on a steady climb (500 feet of it each for miles two and three) up single track that would lead us to the first water stop, at mile 4.6, where the race director had suggested to just, “wet your mouth” because volunteers from a search and rescue group who were manning the station had transported most of the water on horseback. I’ve never been so happy to see a horse. I drank two little Dixie cups of water and regretted my decision not to carry any, but knew that we were almost at the first (and worst) summit and I’d have the chance to drink all I wanted at about mile nine. Wildflowers and shrubs growing along the sides provided color, some in bloom, like Lyalli’s mariposa (a white petaled plant I’d not seen before), Barestem biscuitroot (looked like Spring gold to me), a single Naked broomrape flower and Nootka rose (pretty, but thorny), while others withered away like the Arrowleaf balsamroot and the Tiger lily. At the summit, my GPS watch showed 5 miles on the dot. The next stretch was a steep downhill section with loose rocks requiring caution. I ran behind two nice gals for a couple of miles. Mile 7 had us dodging puddles. I slid into one and soaked my shoe, which became a problem later. Those three miles, all descending, were the best of the race. We’d heard that the water stop at mile 9 was off the trail, and it was. Runners skipped the turn that led up and and followed a path to a well-manned, well-stocked aid stop at the Devil’s Gulch trail head.
I drank several tiny Dixie cups of Gatorade and decided against filling my water bottle, thinking of that 14.4 mile total I thought we’d be running, I had only 5.4 miles to go. Miles 10 and 11 were tough and mostly uphill. I knew there was a second smaller summit, so tried to pay attention to the scenery, but it seemed that I’d never get to mile 12, which included as much ascent as descent and felt like mini rolling hills even though it really wasn’t. I was just tired. There were some beautiful quiet places along the trail and I tried to enjoy a short cool section, especially once I could hear the sound of water flowing along the creek below the trail. I kept not quite catching up to a couple of runners in front of me.
Mile 13 was tough because we were still running up but I finally got some help from gravity along Mile 14, though it didn’t feel that way. I caught up to the couple in front of me and the guy said we had about a mile to go. By this time, I felt awful. My wet shoe had formed a blister on my heal that felt like sandpaper during the never-ending uphill sections. And although we could hear the spectators at the finish and assumed we were near the end, we weren’t. We still had nearly two miles to go! And just when it seemed we had to be done, signs directed us to go…this can’t be right…UP. Even the volunteer felt bad for us, she apologized after directing to go “up the hill.” We went up, which didn’t seem fair. Finally, we returned to the road we’d run near the start. Instead of carefully making my way across a creek (or twice across the same creek), I ran right through the water. Getting my feet wet never felt so good. At what felt like a million miles later, I finally reached the finish line. My watch read 15.75 miles. The longest 15.75 miles of my life.
I will never, ever, EVER do that again.
Afterweards, I was disappointed that I hadn’t done better compared to the other participants, finishing about six minutes slower than the average of all finishers, but consoled myself with the fact that, to start with, you had to be a little bit crazy to run a race like this, an event that I highly recommend.