A line of bibbed runners file past as we enter the Taneum Junction Campground parking lot in Cle Elum. This is not a good sign, but it’s what we expected. We had just made our way back down a windy, washboard-y gravel road, marked 3330 instead of the intended Forest Service Road 3300, confusing the similarly-numbered roads, that led us a mile or more towards Gooseberry Flat and away from the start.
Turns out, my newfound trail runner friend is not a great navigator. Neither am I. Which is how we found ourselves arriving late, hurriedly parking, dashing to the check-in table (to the surprise of the volunteers), safety-pinning our race bibs to our shirts, and taking off towards and through the inflatable blue start/finish arch about five minutes after the actual 9:00 am start time. What Tiffany lacks in navigational skills, she makes up for in positivity. Upon seeing the short line of participants pass by and realizing how few runners we were up against, she says, “Maybe we could win our divisions,” hers being 40-49, mine 50-59. With all the gonna-be-late-for-the-race adrenaline, we had no time to be nervous. I didn’t feel great, wondering if I had rested too much after completing Cutthroat Classic trail run three weeks prior with an undiagnosed injury. We hadn’t learned until about a couple of weeks before that the 25k (15.3 mi) course distance was closer to 18, but we didn’t care. The conditions were perfect with dry trails, mostly sunny skies, temperatures in the mid-forties and a forecasted high in the mid-sixties.
We chose to run our own races rather than stick together, so it wasn’t long after we started before Tiffany disappeared from view. That was the last I’d see of her and her kelly green shorts until the finish line. My goals were take it easy, complete the course without falling, and hopefully avoid the hip flexor discomfort that had caused me to crumple into a pile several times during the day I completed Cutthroat Classic.
As the race profile promised, the course ascended gradually for the first 7 miles to Cle Elum Ridge and was steepest during the final mile before the summit. I chose to hike much of what I would normally try to run slowly. Even so, I passed a dozen participants on my way up, which was the only thing to do as we’d started at the back of the pack. Miles 8 and 9, downhill along a dirt road, allowed the best views of nearby tree-covered hills and was my favorite part of the race.
At the second aid station, at mile 10.5, the course returned to rolling hills along single track trail. I continued running solo crossing back and forth over North Fork Taneum Creek five times within a couple of miles. From mile 8 to the half marathon point, I encountered only two runners, then passed several more as I reached what should have been the 25K mark, had the race actually been the advertised distance. I passed a few more runners by running slowly up the short uphill sections while they walked. At mile 15.3, I knew I had at least two miles to go based on the race profile. I don’t know if I bonked, having drunk nearly all of the Glacier Cherry Gatorade in my CamelBak, but each of the final three miles felt like several. The trail along the later parts of the race was dusty with a noticeable uphill section along mile 16. Just past mile 17, a sign read “fight to the finish,” which I suspected meant I was nearly there. I was wrong. By the time my watch beeped indicating 18 miles, I could see the upside down u shaped blue inflatable finish line, crossed, accepted my wooden medal, and high-fived Tiffany, who’d come in a few minutes before me.
Bees buzzed around our heads, landing on us and our food as we sat in camp chairs eating tacos and waiting for race organizers to announce division finishers. Sure enough, Tiffany won her 40-49 division and I won mine, which was awesome because it added to our got-lost-and-started-the-race-late adventure. I suggested to the race director that we only won because we were the only ones in our divisions, which she denied. Turned out that I was right (for me but not Tiffany) I was the only female participant age 50-59, which reminded me of something I’d learned long ago: sometimes, you just have to show up. And if you continue running long enough, you may be the only one in your division who shows up, though it’s more fun to win your division by beating other same-aged runners.
I recently read Jonathan Beverly’s book: Run Strong Stay Hungry, which contains 9 Keys To Staying In the Race. The author interviews 51 runners, finds out why some high school and/or college runners became runners for life and why others are Once a Runner (reference to a running book I never liked to you non-reader runners); provides excerpts from the interviews that fit his 9 Keys (for example, Consistency, Variety and Training By Feel); and tries, not entirely successfully, to put it all together in an organized way. The book would seem to have a limited target audience, current runners considering quitting, but contains a few pearls, including my favorite, from Deena Kastor (p 113), “That has really been the reward of running. It hasn’t really been the medals or accolades or the records. It has been those moments of clearly seeing you’ve created a stronger version of yourself.” As a person who hasn’t received medals (except simply for participating or a rare age division win) or accolades or set a record, I love the fact that Kastor, an Olympic medalist and American record holder’s reward claims is the same as mine, beyond the way running makes me feel, completing a difficult run (like this 15.3 miler that turned out to be an 18 miler) not only gives me a great feeling of accomplishment but also helps me create a stronger version of myself.