First observation: 25K this one is not. The way the trails run mean that it’s not going to be an exact distance, this race doesn’t have out and backs that can be modified to make the mileage come out to the billed distance. The RD advised before the start that his Strava app had said the course was close to 17 miles. I think the trees confused his app, by my estimation it’s about 18. Not a big deal for me, I’m sure there were some faster runners complaining about the distance and a few first timers who thought this was not much more than a half marathon and were in for a rude surprise.
I considered the 50K but assessed my overweight, undertrained self and decided I didn’t want to get pulled because I didn’t meet the time cutoffs, nor did I want to make the aid station staffers have to wait a long time for one last straggler. Sensible decision, it turns out. I registered for the 25K, which started at 9 AM, rather than the 50K which started at 7 AM. I’d have had to do a very early start to avoid being the last one. Not that being DFL worries me, I’m not competitive in the slightest and I’ve had plenty of experience with that place, but I don’t want to make the nice folks at the finish line have to wait hours for my slow self.
Left DD’s home at 7:15 AM, drove a completely unfamiliar road up to Mt. Spokane State Park, with a stop to buy the mandatory state park pass. I coughed up $30 for the annual pass rather than $10 for a one-day pass, I figure DD can use it a few times during the year since she has joined the hiking group at her workplace. Also I’m planning to fly up for a less extreme 50K in October and that’s also in a state park which requires a park pass, but any race that takes place completely in a park named “Riverside” is probably not going to have an extreme amount of ascent and descent. I hope.
Arrived at Selkirk Ski Lodge, the start/finish, about 8:15, got my number, handed a happy volunteer the chocolate chip cookies and marmalade bars I had baked for postrace festivities, and hung around until about 8:50 when the RD, Dave, gave us some last minute briefing. The 50K had started at 7 AM so they were all out on the ski trails around the start – the 25K is on the second half of the 50K course. Dave marches us all down to the starting point and airhorns us off. I hung back and took the last place position right from the start, I knew I wasn’t going to have a speedy day. Not long after we started down the mountain the 50K leaders start passing us.
Lovely 4.4 to start. We run down, and down, and down the mountain to Bear Creek Lodge at the entrance to the state park. Wild raspberries are fruiting, I go easy on them because I don’t want to have too many and deal with the GI effects. But yum! This is all forested, some with big ferns and other damp climate vegetation, some small streams running down the mountain though the fire road/snowmobile trail we’re on has the streams piped under the road.
I get to the first aid station, don’t need a water refill though I am glad I brought my water bottle and belt because this is a cupless race. (No boob jokes please!) Grab one Dorito and head across the road and up the fire road. Not far and then we turn onto a trail which is listed as “Dammit Dave” on one of the signs that the race has posted at approximately 1 mile intervals. I find out why very quickly. This is a very steep hill. A couple of the “steps” are above knee height on me so I have to scramble up them. We climb, and climb, and climb. Nice wooded area, OK technical trail, but unrelenting uphill.
Then we get to a short horizontal trail, take that a little way, and start climbing again. I detour down the horizontal bit for a private moment in the woods, then resume the ascent. Wow this is tough. I am dodging not only 50Kers who are going faster than me but also mountain bikers coming down. Most of them are nice and thank me for stepping off the trail, and let me know how many more are in their group, but a few seem to assume that they have the right of way and hikers/runners/walkers should get off the trail or face the consequences. Grrr.
I keep on thinking that I’m coming up to the next aid station which is supposed to be at 8 miles, but I get past what I think is 8 miles and no aid station. I don’t hear anything either. Keep slogging uphill. Finally I hear music and almost immediately reach Aid 2/3. Oooh, they have watermelon. I love it! They also have bacon, which I don’t want, and various other goodies.
The next piece of trail is a 4 mile loop to the top of Mt. Kit Carson, after which we wind up back at the same aid station. I take off on this loop. There is a fork almost immediately, the trail markers tell me to go right which is longer but not as rugged. The trails come back together a half mile later, and one guy is coming up the more rugged trail. I mutter something about course cutters – I’m not so upset about that as I am by the fact that he is wearing speakers which are blasting his choice of music to everyone within a ¼ mile radius. I do not like wearable speakers. If I wanted to listen to music I’d have headphones on, I don’t want to listen to what someone else thinks is necessary to get him through the race. And why is music essential anyway?
Continue up the loop, which is pretty. I’m singing the theme to “Sound of Music” at one point because the flowery meadow looks so much like the one Maria is running up in the opening sequence. Up to the top of the rise, turn left, the trail gets almost to the edge and then pulls a 90 degree turn. I step off the course for 10 yards to see what it looks like. Oh WOW. Immense vista of the Spokane Valley. Snap a couple of pictures and keep going. The next sign reads “That’s a really stupid idea. What time?” which makes me laugh. Down a number of switchbacks, up a fire road, and I’m back at the aid station. They are flat out of watermelon, not surprising, so I grab a few Pringles and take off. I am advised that it is 3 miles to the aid station at the top of Mt. Spokane.
This section involves a lot of switchbacks. And by a lot, I mean 30-40. Up and back and up and back. I dodge a few more mountain bikers and greet a man who’s been checking the huckleberry bushes to see if they’re ripe. (They’re not. A couple more weeks, he thinks. At least now I know what a huckleberry looks like when it’s growing.) This is a really tough section, lots of climbing through areas that have been logged. At one point I hear something crashing through the brush, watch worriedly since I’m fully aware that meeting a bear is a distinct possibility, then realize that it’s a deer. I can deal with a deer a lot more easily than I can deal with a bear or a mountain lion. I make it to the top of the mountain, watching the incoming clouds with concern. I hear thunder a few times and am worried about lightning.
Aid station, finally! Refill of water, none of the food looks good to me. I’m not a fan of Oreos or beef jerky. 3.5 miles to the finish line, they say. (Uh, yes, if you’ve been keeping a tally, that WOULD be an 18.5 mile “25k”.) They send me down the trail. This part goes past the top of the ski lift, which I have never seen before since I have never been skiing in my life. OK so far. Then the trail turns a corner and the descent is on a black diamond slope. This loose soil and rock could give the infamous descent at Calico Ghost Town 50K a run for its money. I edge down slowly, zigzagging to avoid going straight down the slope and falling. Another runner passes me and we commiserate about the awful trail. Seems all the ski slopes here are black diamonds! Make it down that stretch, run down some less steep fire trail, then more very steep descent on a deeply rutted dusty path. I am afraid to run here because I don’t know what the dust is concealing. If I didn’t have to run down this road it would be gorgeous, though, grassy with lots of wildflowers and a little stream in the middle of the valley.
Make it down to the road that services the ski area. Several places where water runs across the path, though none that are deep enough that I need to wade, which is good because my shoes are coated with dust and I don’t want them to be covered in mud. And oh…no…the pink flags take us up a very steep uphill. If the previous climbs were “Dammit, Dave”, this one is “F You, Dave”. I ascend swearing. I pass two hikers who tell me it’s not too far to the finish and inquire if I have enough water. Yes I do, but thanks for asking. This stretch is a lot longer than I anticipated. I pass a large extended family which has come to pick huckleberries. My shorts and short hair get looks of disapproval, the women in this group are all wearing skirts below the knee and braided or pinned up hair – even the elementary school age girls. But they do show me how to tell if a huckleberry is ripe, which is something I didn’t know.
Traverse the trail, dodge the road, down another piece of trail, and then I finally recognize the last turn and shortcut trail which we were shown this morning. I am happy to get there. It’s a beautiful run but I’m ready to be done. Up the slope and into the parking area, now we are required to run all the way around the parking lot. If the last climb was “F You Dave”, this one is the “And the Horse You Rode In On” loop. I pass the turnoff that we’re supposed to make and am told to retrace my steps to do the turnoff. I ascend the turnoff whilst displaying a double bird to the finish line people. They all laugh. Finally I am done! Nearly 7 hours for this race, I’m not sure how much elevation this entailed but I would be surprised if it is less than 6000 ascent and the same for descent. My quads hurt! Pictures, offers of food, one volunteer informs me sadly that all the cookies are gone. No worries – that’s why I brought them! Glad they were appreciated. I chat with the RD for a short time and head back down.
This is not a race for those who want a lot of bells and whistles. No shirt, no medal, no big production. Just a bunch of people who want to run the trails. I can do that. We had a blast and I am very glad I did this race. It’s low key and a way to see a lot of a state park which most Americans, and even the majority of Washington residents, will never see. Nice experience!