When I started running three years ago I did it so reluctantly.
I ran, all alone, with podcasts in my ears. Thirty minutes turned into an hour, which turned into two hours. I was content. I ran.
I told myself that I didn’t want to do races. Those seemed lame to me. There’s nothing wrong with the little ‘5K-for-a-good-cause’. Or the overhyped city marathon with loud music and cheerleaders. It just isn’t my thing. And it still is not.
But then someone told me about trail races. And not just the one that circumvents Mont Blanc. Small races, up mountains, on single tracks. This sounded exactly like something I was wanting to do- combining my love for the outdoors with my newfound speed on my feet.
Earlier this year I completed my first trail race and I loved every minute of it. And of course, shortly after I was hooked.
I searched the interwebs and found another one that suited me. I found The Beast of Big Creek, which sounded harsh and exhilarating. It is a small race on a beautiful, yet challenging course on the Olympic Peninsula by Lake Cushman by to the summit of Mount Ellinor and back. Just 20+K with 5000ft of elevation and a glorious peak, and one of my favorite in Washington State right in the middle of the race. Perfect.
Trail races are different from your ordinary road race. The courses, on single-track trails, wind themselves up grueling elevations gains. Often the supporters are scarce. The runners are few. You mostly run them by yourself. In the outdoors, up a mountain. In short: It’s glorious.
Now it’s August and it was time to race again.
The Beast of Big Creek is a little-known trail race on the annual trail running calendar. It’s tucked between 50milers and 100km races all over the region.
It’s tiny by comparison. The Beast is just a half marathon. For some trail runners that’s not even worth putting on shoes.
The field is small, capped at just 50 people (less then 40 actually were at the starting lineup, and even less than that finished the race).
The atmosphere on race day feels almost intimate and everyone is friendly and super supportive.
The race organization is simple, but superb. The route is well-marked. The trail a glorious single-track trail almost the entire way. Including a long stretch of big boulders that make you climb to the summit and halfway point.
I met Doug early, very early for him. We drove past Shelton and Hoodsport along the Hood Canal to the trailhead at the Big Creek campground. The campground is still undergoing renovations by the National Forest Service.
We picked up our bib numbers and our awesome The North Face race day shirt – thank you North Face for sponsoring not just the big well-known, well-funded events, but even the little ones. You rock!
After some warm up and a bit of nervous small talk, while waiting at the porta-potties a small group gathered at the starting lineup. A few notes on safety and trail etiquette from the race director and we were off.
The cut-off time of 4.5 hours haunted me. I needed to get a feel for the terrain and of the course to see if I could make it. My plan was to run fast early. That didn’t happen. There wasn’t really a gentle elevation gain. We took a turn out of the parking lot and we climbed.
It took me about 2.5 hrs to make it to the summit. I was completely depleted and at one point my legs crammed up. I was wondering if I’d make it back down to the finish line. I needed more fuel. I needed to eat better in preparation and I was running on empty. Learned my lesson.
It wasn’t all bad. The runners that greeted me on the way back encouraged me and cheered me on. This is one of my favorite things about out-and-back trail races. Their support help revive my spirit and helped me reach the summit.
I’ve climbed the mountain many times, both in Summer and Winter and I love the last section of the part to the summit, even with sore legs.
After a short rest on the summit I began my descent. I ran carefully across the first section of big boulders. Once back in the forest I found a good groove that brought me back down to the finish line. Usually I find a bit of extra drive when heading downhill, but this time I was just focused on making it down in one piece.
My final race time was 3:57. It took me less than 4 hours to run up Mount Ellinor and get back to the trail head and finish line. And I was over 30 minutes faster than the official cutoff time.
The peanut butter and pretzel sticks never tasted so good. And after a change of shirt and refresher of plenty of water I was able to look back and consider this, my second trail race, another incredible experience and huge success.
Still with sore legs, the following day, I headed out on vacation with my family. The break gave my legs a few days of rest, but now I’m back in my shoes.
What should my next race be?