Issy Alps Humpdayathon II

First peak - Mailbox.  Happy times.

Maybe it's the post-exertion brainfog, but I genuinely don't know where to start in writing up a report on yesterday's "run". Beautiful, humbling, fun, painful, demoralizing, fantastic.  I usually try to congeal run reports into something short, sweet, funny and entertaining, but this one's going to be long, thorough, introspective, not that funny, and chock full of pictures to convey the epic scale of yesterday's adventure. 

Planned Course and Logistics:

Yesterday at about 6:30 AM, 18 of us left from the Mailbox Peak trailhead to try to run either 50k, 100k, or 100 miles connecting some of the hardest and prettiest climbs in the Northbend/Issaquah Alps area - basically getting the full tour of the best views in the Cascade foothills along the I-90 Corridor in one day (or, well, one push anyway - the 100 milers were planning to take 34 - 36 hours).  It was meant to progress as: First 50k: Mailbox Peak, Mt Teneriffe (that's a hard even to spell, let alone to climb), Mt Si, Little Si.  Second 50k: Rattlesnake Ridge, Tiger Mountain.  Final 40-ish miles: Squak, Cougar, repeat back to the High Point trailhead at Tiger.   It was a new course (they did another route last year - starting at Si and going over Rattlesnake, Tiger, Squak and Cougar) and it would be difficult to come up with a harder route in the area, or a more beautiful one.  The 50k had 12 - 13,000 feet of steep climbing, the 100k route had 20,000 feet, and the 100 mile route had 30,000 feet.  The run was labelled as self-supported, but in reality we had a fantastic crew - a volunteer drove a van that functioned as a mobile aid station and met us at several trailheads, and other folks set up along the route with supplies as good as/or better than any race that you pay for.  So, theoretically, we didn't have to carry much and could move relatively quickly.  I was signed up for the 100k, which I knew would be a stretch, but I was pretty sure I could do it.   

What Actually Happened

The mountains defeated us all.

I made a joke before the start about how we needed a group photo so they would know how many bodies they needed to locate, and I wasn't that far off.  Nobody seems to have died, but the course definitely scored at least a TKO on our group.  No one completed the scheduled 100k route (although one runner probably would have eventually if the rest of us hadn't decided to drop and if we hadn't been running so late that our scheduled aid stations would no longer exist), a significant number cut off at least part of the 50k route, and the 100 milers skipped Si and took a shuttle from Little Si to Tiger to finish out a 100k overnight and avoid potentially crazy snow on Rattlesnake.

It was a genuinely perfect weather day - 65 degrees and sunny with completely clear skies, and folks were in great spirits climbing up Mailbox Peak.  The views were spectacular, and even though there was a significant amount of snow on the top (foreshadowing!!!), the post-holing was manageable, especially since a couple of runners had started an hour before us and established a nice boot trail to follow.  Folks in shorts were scraping their calves to the point of bleeding on the snow, but other than that things were manageable.  A plurality of my pictures are from there because it was the best view of the day (big panoramic views for a satisfyingly large percentage of the climb), and because by the time we got to the other peaks my camera lens was all smeared up with blood and tears. 

It took us about 3 hours to get up and down Mailbox, and at the bottom we were happy to utilize our mobile aid station for the first time.  I ate a bunch of fruit, pastry, and some coke with an ill-advised shot of vodka from another runner who is obviously a bad influence on his peers.  From there, we crossed over the Snoqualmie river and connected several miles of roads and trails to get to the base of Teneriffe.  The front group of runners arrived before the mobile aid station that was meeting us, but we decided to push on because all of us had enough supplies to last a few hours until we would meet them again (foreshadowing!!!).

There was debate before the ascent whether Teneriffe was a harder climb than Mailbox.  During the Summer I'm not sure, but today Teneriffe was a harder climb than Mailbox.  You head up a trail past a spot called Kamikaze falls, which was beautiful because of the large amount of snowmelt (foreshadowing!!!).

After that we started ascending the snowy boot trail that started where you see the runner above.  It's a crazy climb even when it's dry - lots of using your hands to pull yourself up on roots and that sort of thing.  It's kind of like a ladder made of roots and slippery rocks that goes on for a couple of miles.  Today, a couple hundred feet above the spot here, it was covered in slushy snow, and really slick.  This section was extremely slow going (Strava reported 68 and 64 minute miles), but we eventually made it to the top and were rewarded with panoramic views that were similarly spectacular to Mailbox.

My shutter seems to be frozen shut. 
Folks had been on Teneriffe last week, and it was passable, but the North Bend area got a huge dumping of snow over the weekend.  I'm not sure why, but Teneriffe seemed to have significantly more snow cover than Mailbox even, but at the top folks were still in good spirits, because we just had a quick bushwhack and then an easy downhill logging road to follow to get back to the bottom.  Except that the logging road was covered for miles in 6 foot drifts of pillowy white snow.  The road undulates along the mountain for what seemed like 15 miles (but was probably more like 1 - 2) before dropping down, so the snow depth was consistent for quite awhile, and the snow line was at about 2000 feet, which is closer to the bottom of the mountain than the top.  The five miles at the top of Teneriffe took us about 5 hours by my hazy calculations.  The slow-going was demoralizing, to me anyway, especially because at the 5 hour point  I realized my 5 hours worth of food wasn't going to last me - especially since we still had to climb Si and Little Si (about 4000k of climbing total) before the next aid station.  Halfway down Teneriffe I had 100 calories worth of Clif Shot Blocks left, and that was it, and I was already feeling kind of bonky, if still optimistic enough.   

just an easy downhill road run
The front pack of runners didn't realize it, but after Teneriffe the majority of folks in the back (who we hadn't really seen since Mailbox) tapped out (you can catch a road from the base to the next aid station at the Little Si trailhead just a couple of miles away) - though the three who'd planned on doing the full 100 miles shuttled to Tiger Mountain to finish out 38 final miles.  I'm personally glad I was in the front, because I with no food I would have been really tempted to drop out with them.  Instead, we caught the Talus Loop Connector trail to the main Mt Si trail for another 3000-ish feet of climbing.  As soon as I started heading back up, I knew I was in bad shape.  I was totally out of food, and the old lady I tried to mug along the way for her Snickers bar fought me off.  I could tell I was bonking hard, hating life and generally feeling down and defeated, but I've done Si enough times that I knew what to expect, and I knew that I could keep moving at a slow pace and be to the top within an hour, which seemed manageable - particularly after another runner graciously gave me an energy bar when I started crying.  We made it to the top at a little after 6 pm, and I sat for awhile, resting, and bummed a couple more things to eat from other people in order to help make it the rest of the way. 

I took this picture sitting down on a rock 1) to prove we were there, 2) because I was too blasted to stand up for a fuller view.
It's amazing what a downhill and a couple hundred calories will do for your mood, because headed down the Old Mt Si trail to the Little Si trail I felt good enough to think that I still might try to finish out the 100k if I could find others who wanted to.  I even tried to do a little jump over some rocks and roots just for fun.  Predictably, I caught my foot on one of the roots, almost fell, and immediately started cramping, so I had to remind myself once again that I'm not that cool.  By that point most of the group that I'd been running with had pulled away from me, and some runners who were behind caught up and I just basically tried to coast along with them.

I had been planning to skip Little Si to go back to the trailhead and try to eat enough to recover and keep going (the actual route was 65 miles, so I figured if I cut off the 3 at Little Si I still would get in a 100k), but by the bottom the other runners had decided they were going to drop.  All of them are significantly tougher than me, so I figured that it was okay if I admitted that it wasn't my day either, and I decided to do Little Si and call it quits.  All in all, that made for a nice finish for the day.  It took me a half hour or so to walk/jog to the viewpoint on Little Si, which put me there right around dusk (8 pm or so, if I remember correctly - the planned 5 - 6 hours on Teneriffe/Si had ended up taking over 9).  I'd never been there before and it ended up being a great spot to stop and marinate in the day's accomplishments, and generally make peace with having run a damn impressive 13.5 hour, 13,000 foot 50k rather than a genuinely epic probably 24 hour 100k.

Lessons Learned

This run was a free, self-supported kind of endeavor, but going in I was putting more weight on it than I do most paid races.  I was approaching it as a buildup to a potential 100 at Cascade Crest in the Summer (pending graduation from the wait list), with an equal amount of elevation gain being completed across a shorter distance, and a chance to see how I would perform over basically an entire day of running (my longest previous run in terms of time was 12 hours, but that was pacing a friend at the end of a 100 miler, so it wasn't at a race pace for me).  I'm disappointed that I didn't finish the full 100k, and didn't run for the planned 18 - 20 hours, but it was still my longest run in terms of time and my hardest run in terms of exertion, and in that regard it was a significant milestone.  I learned a lot:  

1)  Don't underestimate the elements.  We had a gorgeous day, and I thought I could do the peaks we were traversing under good conditions, but one significant dumping of snow over the weekend essentially short-circuited the plans for the entire group.  The people who were planning on the 50k option did what they set out to do, but I'm sure it was tougher than they'd thought it would be.  You don't conquer the mountains.

2) It's much better to have too much food than not enough.  Lately I've been in the habit of trying to carry less, so on this run I grabbed just what I thought would be enough calories for each segment.  When 6 hours turned into 9 hours, an enjoyable run turned into a 3 hour miserable bonk that culminated in a mental and physical lull that I didn't think I could get out of fast enough to continue on.  1000 more densely packed lightweight calories in my pack would have completely prevented that, and would have cost almost nothing in terms of weight.  Lesson learned dummy!

3) Even when I'm bonking hard, I can keep moving.  I'm not sure where my mind would have gone if I wasn't with people who were able to give me a bit to eat but physically I was at least able to keep walking the uphills and shufflling downhill.  That knowledge could well come in handy if I'm stupid again and don't bring enough food on a run.        

4) I get cold when I'm over-exerted and undernourished.  I've been on multiple overnight runs, snow runs, and runs through pouring rain, but I've never had a problem with temperature regulation.  Yesterday I was having problems though, and I think it's due to the combo of not enough calories and a long hard day.

5) To go in a different direction, the trail running experience is, in large part, about the kindness of friends and strangers.  Volunteers organized this massive endeavor for free.  Volunteers spent their entire day (and in some cases, night) providing aid.  Conversations along the trial kept our minds occupied so the run would be more enjoyable.  People gave me enough to eat while I was bonking so I didn't totally hate life.  Through the whole day, we were reliant largely on people we didn't know.  A microcosm of life. 

All in all it was genuinely epic.  Right now I'm still beat and just want a hamburger, but I'm sure this one will go down as one of my top 5 runs. Thanks so much to everyone who organized and went along! 


Candice said…
Great report! COudn't have described it better.
Cascade Runner said…
Really enjoyed this write-up Tim, and it was funnier than you made it out to be. Which just goes to show that you're funny even when you're not trying to be. Glad you joined our crew yesterday! I learned important lessons too, and did last year as well. Powerful teacher, those mountains.
Nice job Tim. If you really did learn all these things then you are WAY smarter than me now. :)
Yitka said…
Wonderful write-up! Reading it was *almost* like being there with you guys, except significantly less painful--and perhaps, as Ben suggests, much funnier. Thank you for sharing.

Also, these two well-articulated statements sum up just about everything I've ever learned about trail running:
- It's amazing what a downhill and a couple hundred calories will do for your mood.
- The trail running experience is, in large part, about the kindness of friends and strangers ... Conversations along the trail kept our minds occupied so the run would be more enjoyable ... Through the whole day, we were reliant largely on people we didn't know. A microcosm of life.

Amen! Nice work, Tim :)
Unknown said…
Thanks for the kind words everybody! It was a great run! I've had the good fortune to have the day off to marinate in it between naps and food. uch a great day! Thanks especially to Ben for putting in so much hard work to get this thing organized!
Deby Kumasaka said…
Awesome blog Tim. Great visual write-up. I am on the opposite end where I carried too much food weight up and down the mountains; I was worried about running low and the unknown. You and I should mix together our over and under worries and we'd be "just-right". Thanks for sharing what happened at the front.
LukeD said…
Nice Tim! Good list of "lessons" too.