Last weekend Kip and I drove up to Redding/Whiskeytown to run in the 4 MPH Challenge, an event similar to the Big Dog Backyard in Tennessee. In this case it's a 6-mile course, actually kind of 2 of them since we run for 6 miles from the start to a remote TA and then the next "loop" is to run 6 miles back. Everyone has 90 minutes for each 6-mile section, if you run it faster then you get a longer break, then everyone starts again. As long as you keep going you are tied for 1st place. The last person to complete 6 miles in time is the winner.
The course is beautiful, runnable, and mostly runnable without even paying too much attention. It helped to learn the short sections where there were a few rocks, places to watch for, and then you could just relax the rest of the time. There is one up-and-over hill of about 200 feet of climb, plus a few small rollers, one section of pavement in the middle, one creek crossing, overall enough to keep us entertained without having to work too hard.
The net effect was that the daytime laps were easy, especially compared to the Big Dog race. However, unlike in TN where we switch to a road overnight,, this race stayed on the trails. Being easier trails, it was certainly more doable in the dark, and definitely a good course for this format. Just not as easy as the Big Dog overnight, and for me it wasn't a "gimme".
So I'm getting ahead of myself...
The weather was fantastic from the start. 50's to 70's I would guess, sunshine all day until a few welcome clouds at the end of the afternoon, cool but not cold at night. Parts of the course were exposed to the sun but there was also plenty of tree cover. We started off at an easy pace with a large group of folks, the "unlimited" group plus the runners who signed up for the 36-mile race. Nice calm beginning as the sun was coming over the trees.
The very first bit of singletrack turned out to be my least favorite, winding through a whole mess of poison oak on a slight rocky downhill. I had to be careful where to step aside to let people pass. Everyone was pretty chill about the whole thing, someone commenting that it was difficult to run so slowly. Kip and I chatted and started looking for places to set up time checks.
Mile 1 was actually marked, so that was a good place. We ran on the trail below the main road for a bit, then back into the woods, weaving around the edge of the lake along rather endless inlets and outlets. I worked on course memorization, but there was one section of about half a mile that was so featureless that I gave up on that part. Mile 2 at a bridge, another great place for a time check. We had plenty of time to work with, no worries.
After a more interesting trail section (little ups and downs, more obvious drainage crossings, a few landmarks), the trail ended at the pavement section. Here we walked uphill and glided downhill, passing the 3-mile point marked with a couple of cones. The road was mostly devoid of cars and was a nice little break in the middle of the trails.
Oh look, a porta-potty! I used it only once but was glad to have it as an option in the middle of the course. The next section was dirt doubletrack leading up to the one hill. In this direction we climbed the hill up a series of switchbacks, a nice gentle climb. Then perhaps a mile of traversing around the hill with great views of the creek, the road, and our remote TA. This trail had a few rocks and a dropoff on one side so you had to pay a little attention.
Then a steep downhill to the creek crossing. We were most curious about this because we didn't know going in whether it would be possible to keep our feet dry. It turned out to have 3 large rocks in exactly the right places for stepping across. The rocks were large and stable, just rounded on top (and a bit slippery if wet) so it wasn't completely foolproof but certainly possible. I was happy every time I managed it - just enough of a challenge to feel like an accomplishment, especially with tireder legs later.
A bit of doubletrack, then a section of singletrack that took us in a loop around to the TA. This trail took some focus with a few partially-hidden rocks, so I made a note to be careful on it at night. The 6-mile mark was at a small cemetery, then a short run through a field to the stopping point and the wonderful volunteers. We found our things and set up our chairs and cooler, enjoying a rather long break. Even running easy, we had plenty of time in between laps during the day.
Since the first section was actually over 6 miles (and the way back was under 6 miles) due to the loop on the far side, we started back at 9:33 am instead of 9:30. So we had 93 minutes in one direction and 87 minutes in the other. This seemed pretty fair. Bathroom break, water refill, SPIZ drink, ready to go again.
The return trip started on doubletrack on a slight uphill back to the creek crossing. I walked it and watched most of the field jog ahead of me. I questioned this strategy when I found a huge backup at the creek. One woman probably also didn't appreciated everyone watching her fall in (twice, I think). People tried different ways across, including an easy spot further upstream. I didn't have to wait too long, and my rock-hopping worked again. It was a bit more challenging in this direction but still manageable.
Then a steep haul up the hill. I pulled way back on the effort level, let the last few people behind me go by, and took small steps to minimize the effort. It still took only a few minutes to get to the top. The bigger challenge for me was being patient behind lines of people around the traverse and then down the switchbacks on the other side when I naturally would have run faster. There was no hurry.
The road section was great for sorting out different paces, then we were back on the lake trail and winding around and around and back and forth, all the way back to the start. Again no problems, it's all easy, just chatting with people and trying to focus on the various time checks along the way.
And so it went, all the day long. I met Christine who had done some longer races but not this format before. Also Aaron who knew who I was (I can't completely fly under the radar by switching coasts) and who had done some expedition racing. Kip and I ran generally the same speed, sometimes one of us ahead of the other for various reasons, then getting back together again. The 18-mile runners started 90 minutes after us so we saw them a couple times going the opposite direction. Lots of people, many working on PR distances of various lengths.
I didn't carry a camera, and John wasn't there this time to take pictures. Here's one photo I managed to bomb my way into:
On the 6th lap we watched the 36-mile folks take off on a race to the finish. Their placing was depending on their time for the final section. Running for speed isn't necessarily easy after running 30 miles. I was happy to still be taking it easy. The middle of the afternoon was slightly warm so Kip and I both slowed on purpose to prevent that from being an issue.
With clouds on lap 7 and a trend toward dusk on lap 8, any overheating concern was gone. I used my flashlight for the first time at the end of lap 8, then it was time to prepare for the night. I was happy for the extra minutes of rest time, as I wanted to put on tights and get a jacket. Might as well change socks and dump out my shoes too, so I hustled through the wardrobe shift while drinking SPIZ and remembering to get more water in my bottle. In the meantime, Kip was having some kind of argument with his headlamps, apparently a battery swap that eventually succeeded. It was our most exciting transition of the race.
All that got settled in time, ready to run again. Still taking it easy, I was a minute slower in the first mile. Hmm, maybe I should actually run more like I mean it. Next mile - still a minute slower than during the day. Wait a second, this nighttime thing could be a problem. OK, push a little harder. The next section of trail was even speed for me, then on the road I actually gained a little time. Then the switchback climb didn't go any slower, and I had plenty of time remaining for the lap. I lost time on the traverse but didn't worry about it, and came into TA with minutes to spare.
Happily it never really got cold at night, so I didn't need to break out the bigger jacket or blanket for sitting in the chair. I eventually remembered to fold up the chair but there was never any condensation either. Nighttime conditions were perfect. There was a group of perhaps ~16-ish runners going into the night hours. About half the remaining women had stopped after 12 hours (48 miles), then the 3rd place woman (Angela perhaps?) said she was done after 54 miles.
Going back the other way, I started slowly enough that I finally had the traverse all to myself. It didn't help my speed though - while the steep climb still took the same amount of time, the traverse was still slow and it was hard to figure out exactly why. I passed Kip and Christine on the way down, possibly Tim as well.
I was working harder at this point, similar to the 2nd morning at the Big Dog but with fresher legs. The road section continued to treat me well. The long miles by the lake were problematic, slowing me down and causing me to rethink how I was approaching it. Saving grace was having at least some notion of where I was most of the time and what landmarks to expect, so I knew how long I still had to go each time.
After 60 miles I heard Christine was done - congrats on 2nd place, Christine! I just had to make it back to the remote TA on time and I'd hold the woman's title for the year. Kip came in with time to spare but told me he was slowing down and not sure he could maintain the speed required. But he was going to try.
I hadn't been paying too much attention to total # of runners up to this point, and it wasn't always easy to tell anyway because the majority of starters took their time getting going each lap and we weren't standing in a big group when it was time to leave. It didn't matter to me, but it was funny watching other people try to figure out how many were left.
At the 60+ mile point, I can say that there were 7 runners including me and Kip. Jeremy, Tim, "Caveman" Scott, Garret, and Aaron with his dog, they all were looking good. I'd see one or two of them occasionally on the course, as everyone had their ups and downs. Eventually I "met" everyone remaining on the course even if it was only a brief chat as they ran on by.
Kip didn't make it to the 66-mile turnaround on time, bummer. We all greeted him as we were heading back in the other direction, and he got a ride back to the start. Good solid effort, Kip!
I was at the point where I had been pushing the pace in the dark for about 5 hours, getting in shorter transitions but still with several minutes to spare. It became clear that I probably couldn't continue at this exertion level all night, but I might be able to manage if I could slow it down a little. I've had plenty of practice with 2-3 minutes of turnaround time and I don't have a lot of things to do between each lap.
So I finally relaxed completely, no more stress about trying to keep a certain pace in the dark. I was OK with whatever result that led to. It helped of course that I was the last woman standing, and I wasn't in obvious contention for the overall win. And that I had time to play with, I just needed to make better use of it. My only wish is that I had started down this path earlier in the night.
Running math - I have this many minutes, it took me x minutes to do this last time, break it into sections, I'm not losing any time on the hills or the road, so I can lose 1-2 minutes more each on the traverse and the miles along the lake. As I ran along, much more at ease and comfortable, I did drop an extra minute here and there but overall I still had 5 minutes remaining when I finished 72 miles. Nice!
I thought I might have outrun Scott because he was behind me (and I couldn't see his light) for most of that lap, but he bounced back from a low spot and came trotting by sounding completely recovered. Way to go Scott!
Garret started the next lap behind me, moving steadily but not super swiftly when he passed me. He seemed in good spirits too.
I moved along with my revised plan of taking things rather easy, and that seemed to work for a couple miles. Then - things just happened. My legs basically called "enough", my knees hurt when I ran, the bottoms of my feet started complaining, my leg muscles which had been moving so well to that point seemed to hit a wall. I tried walking more, but my overall pace slowly dramatically. I couldn't even speed-walk very well.
I used the mid-point porta-potty, and from that point forward I was just trying to get to the end so I could be done. Because I was done, there was no doubt. Hey, at least it was obvious and not something I will wonder about later. Also, it wasn't 75 miles into a 100-miler, so my death march was only 3 miles long and not 25. I crawled up the switchbacks, willed myself along the traverse, picked my way down the hill and carefully over the creek (still no wet feet!).
I got to say "Good job!" to all the 5 guys starting their next lap, well done to all of you. The next drop was Tim after 90 miles, then Aaron (and Lacey the dog) at 96, Scott at 102, and finally Jeremy at 108. Garret cruised the final 6 miles for the win at 114. Congrats Garret!
We super enjoyed the course, the organization, the weather, and especially meeting everyone. Thank you Mark for an awesome event!
To make up for not having more photos from that race, here are some from John's Warrior Dash day in southern CA - 8th place in the competitive wave, well done John!
The mud pit at the end (with another obstacle way in the distance):
Leading to the finish line:
John has had time to clean up a little (and sport a double helmet) - his cousin Daniel has not:
Big Chill Warrior: