The Beast of Big Creek, one of Washington’s coolest trail races, happened August 6th at the newly opened Big Creek Campground near Hoodsport, WA and I couldn’t stay away. Neither could my wife, Trixy. So, this is a tandem race report from both her and me.
What is the Beast of Big Creek you ask?
It’s a delightfully short trail race, just over 14 miles round trip, but packs over 5200 ft of elevation in. This race leas you up to the top of a mountain. Yes, you read that right: You climb a freakin’ mountain. Mt. Ellinor to be precise. This isn’t some rolling hill climb either. The top third of the race is straight up boulder-hopping, scree-field-navigating over some exposed sections. Mountain goats might cheer you on, or slow you down on the way to the summit block. Sure, if you’re familiar with the hiking route from the upper trail head this might seem reasonable, but the summit race starts all the way at the brand-spanking-new, remodeled Big Creek campground. Hardly anyone hikes Mt. Ellinor all the way from down there. Most people use the upper trail head and are back down for afternoon cake.
The Beast race crew also serves up a shorter distance, a 10K. The 10K race begins and ends in the same location and loops its way on the Big Creek hiking trails with a good 2000ft of elevation gain. It’s a beautiful course through deep forests, crossing several small creeks over creaky bridges. Both races are super affordable and this year was a sell out. If you’re interested in doing this race next year, and you should, check their Facebook page to stay up to date.
I was hesitant to sign up again this year. My next race (Squamish 50K) is coming up later this month and I didn’t want to risk getting injured or just overdoing things. I needed to be strategic and smart about this.
Luckily, Trixy decided that she wanted to race it and this gave me a great opportunity to practice pacing someone. Last year, I ran it with Doug, who quickly fell behind, leaving me alone on the mountain. By running with Trixy this year, and letting her set the speed, it would help me keep my ego and testosterone in check so I wouldn’t go out there and kill myself by running too fast.
For me, Beast was my big final run before Squamish, for Trixy it would be her biggest race yet. I had run Beast last year and although it almost killed me, I absolutely loved it. She had ran the Hillbilly Half this year and was looking for the next big challenge. I had warned her that although the distance is about the same as Hillbilly, Beast would be a different animal with an additional 2000ft. of elevation gain in the same distance. But, the mountain was calling and so the training was on.
At this point I will hand the proverbial microphone to Trixy and let her tell you her story.
So, Trixy tell me about your race experience at this year’s Beast of Big Creek.
The Beast was my second trail race. I loved the relaxed atmosphere of the smaller group of runners. I didn’t feel a pressure to compete, but run my own race at my own pace.
Overall I felt I was pretty well prepared. I had spend a lot of times on trails beforehand and focused my training on running hills. I had been to the summit of Mt. Ellinor twice before.
But throughout the race I realized that I could’ve been more prepared for running longer distances. And I definitely need to work more on running downhills.
I knew this race would be a lot more difficult than Hillbilly, but I wasn’t super nervous. I wasn’t thinking much about it beforehand and once I was on the course I knew I would be getting it done.
Walk me through the race.
The first part of the route leads out of the campground along a beautiful single track trail. Early on, I was concerned that it might be too hot, but we were under tree cover and I felt great for the entire first section. It wasn’t super steep yet, but there was enough elevation to feel like you’re doing something.
I power-hiked early to conserve energy, I knew what was lying ahead of me. My focus was finishing the race, with the hope to finish under cutoff. (There’s a 4h 30min cutoff time, which is pretty tight and for a half marathon shows you how tough the course is).
I was glad when the runners started thinning out and everyone found their own groove this allowed me to focus on my own speed.
The aid stations, though minimally stocked were perfect for what I needed during the race.
The hills after the first aid station I approached a lot less aggressively. Mathias reminded me about my pace and I definitely didn’t want to kill myself before making it to the top. Nonetheless my legs started cramping pretty badly once we hit the rocky boulder sections toward the summit. In general I feel comfortable with that type of terrain, but I got annoyed with myself that didn’t I plan this better. I needed to manage my legs and be very mindful of how I was stepping.
In the last section, where running seems almost impossible due to the steepness, I wanted to be faster, but my legs were just cramping too badly.
Once the faster runners came back down the mountain and passed me I loved their encouragement. Even the hikers on the trail cheered us on and helped motivate me through this tough section.
Not wanting to lose any focus, I hardly had the time to take in scenery. Mentally, the last push was the hardest. I was so exhausted.
When I reached the summit I was completely done. I have never felt that spent before. We took a brief break, ate something and time pressed us onwards. Knowing we had to get back down, I tried to pull myself together. I was really nervous about the descent, which is not my strong point, especially through the exposed section. And due to the cramping I was worried I might lose it somewhere.
Once through the boulder section, the trail through the forest became runnable again. I was reminding myself when I had fallen at the Hillbilly Race back in March and had to gather myself and try to figure out if I could start running again. That experience spurred me on and I knew I could start running again. I was feeling tired and legs were hurting but I was able to get back into a groove.
There was a part of me that was still hoping that we could still make it under time, but I didn’t want to push it. I got a second wind: “I got this, we’re gonna make it back to the finish line”.
Just before the campground, when the gravel trail starts to level off, I was so done. I needed an extra last push to the end, it felt like the trail was never-ending.
We made it back in 4h38min and we missed the cutoff by less than 10 minutes. There’s a tinge of disappointment to not make it under time, but overall I’m thrilled with my achievement and the time, considering the difficulty of the race.
Having hurt so much on the way to the top and actually standing on the summit was an absolute amazing experience.
Coming across the finish line, with people people smiling and clapping feels incredible. Even though you’re tired, shaky, and completely exhausted you sit down for a few minutes and you realize what you just accomplished.
Next year, I think, I can make it in time.
I’d pace myself better early on on the way up. This would allow me to navigate the terrain on the upper part of the mountain better.
I had never seen myself doing anything athletic, I tried a couple of sports as a kid, but didn’t stick with anything. So I’ve never done anything like this before. I wasn’t really raised in an atmosphere that encouraged me to do a sport or try new things. That was for “other” people. But I always wanted to. Growing up, I had a perfect view of Mt. Baker and I always dreamed of walking to the mountain, it looked so close. I also remember watching the boys skateboard and wanting to try, but didn’t even think about asking because there were no other girls. And here I am now, 40 years old and I just finished a really difficult trail race, ecstatic and looking forward to the next thing.
There’s no reason why I can’t do things now. People overcome physical hardship and illnesses and they make it to the top of mountains, 80 year olds are running marathons.
There’s absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t be doing things.
Not to mention, I want to be an example for my kids. I want them to see their mom working for and accomplishing her goals.
So what’s Next?
Well, I’m thinking about training for a marathon. Never thought that would come out of my mouth.
But I’m not sure which one yet. Trail or road is the big question.
I think I could do trail, if I’m not dealing with Mt. Ellinor type terrain.
Part of me wants to just redo Beast. There are things that I could do better, it’s not about beating my time.
But I would love to build more strength and perform better.
Life’s better when you’re physically stronger.
Accomplishing a race like this is elating, fun, it’s such a new experience, because I never experienced anything like this before.
There’s a tremendous difference to road races. Something about being out in nature and pushing yourself, brings a sense of accomplishment that nothing else can compare to. Fighting the elements out in nature you have to be so much more on your guard. This mental state turns on your brain which makes you more alert and confident. I feel ready to take on what’s ahead of me.
Thank you for the interview, and thank you for letting me pace you on this race. Onwards to the next adventure.