With a DNF this summer at both Pocatello 50 and Big Horn 50 in the books — both because of running too slow and getting pulled from the courses at 48 miles and then 34 miles respectively — I was in a bad place mentally and needed a good race to kind of clear the slate and give me a positive mindset again as I gear up for the Pocatello Marathon next month, where I hope to qualify for Boston.
One month prior to my 3:48 Famous Potato Marathon in May, I had raced the Weiser River 50k in 5:05 (a PR for that course and that distance for me), so I knew that it had served me well to run this distance a few weeks before a marathon and figured this might help me prepare well again. I decided signing up for Wild Idaho 50k would be just the ticket! I did the 50 miler last year and knew the course and thought it would be a good challenge, with plenty of climbing (it’s advertised as 10,000 of elevation gain) (and some sweet downhill running which would also be good preparation for the Pocatello Marathon which has about 1,500 of elevation loss on the course) and would also be a lot of fun since so many of my friends would be either racing that day as well or at the aid stations volunteering. So, I signed up!
My husband and five children and I arrived at the Boiling Springs Campground the day before the race. I think my kids were more excited than I was to be there, which was fun to see! There were several other children of the other racers for them to play with and great access to the shallow river that runs right behind the campground, which turned out to be the main highlight of the weekend for them since the temperatures were in the 90s.
We set up our tents just as the pre-race meeting was taking place. I wandered over and heard the basic “Drink lots of water and try not to die on the course” speech. There was an excitement in the air following the meeting as the racers mingled and said their “hellos” to one another and made their way over to the pre-race spaghetti dinner (which was something new this year!) We had really scored on our tent site since we were literally right across from the camp spot serving the meal! Woo hoo! And, boy did that spaghetti, bread, salad and watermelon hit the spot! It was delicious and served with a smile! And, the best part was they’d prepared enough to allow family members to eat as well, so the whole family enjoyed a tasty meal before settling down around a campfire and socializing with all the runners and their families.
I don’t sleep well before races, so it was no surprise that I’d hardly slept a wink when my alarm went off at 5:15 am. I quickly got dressed in the tent by headlamp and shivered in my running skirt and tank top in the chilly morning, mountain air. I was excited and eager to get started! I ate a few bites of a bagel and drank some Starbuck’s Mocha Frappuccino to get my caffeine boost and then hit the porta potty. Just before 6 am, Ben Blessing (the race director and my awesome cousin), announced that we should all line up and he played a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem on his Tuba.
And, then we were off! Right away, I fell into pace with my good friend Rachael. She and I often end up near one another in a race and it was nice to have a familiar face to begin the journey with. Ben had changed the course a bit this year, so instead of starting on the dirt road, we hopped onto this sweet, forested, uphill trail with some fun technical aspects. I enjoyed leaping logs and pushing through trees while yelling behind me, “TREE! ROOT!” to those behind me. It was a really pleasant, fun stretch to get the legs warmed up for the rest of the race and when we popped out onto the road about a mile later I gave race director Ben a two thumbs up when he asked what I thought of the course change!
I had a couple goals. 1. Run a smart race by taking care of my fueling and nutrition needs right from the start and NOT pushing too hard and 2. Have FUN! I really had no other big goals and could have cared less about my pace. This made the whole event a whole lot more fun for me! I just tuned into my body and let the legs fly when they felt like it (mostly on the downhills) and eased back on the climbs keeping a fairly steady effort level from start to finish. I also made it a big point to socialize, which is always a lot of fun for a stay-at-home Mom of five kids like me! I think I may have talked to people practically the entire race. It helped me stay at an easier effort level and distracted me from all of the hard climbing. And, thankfully, I had a few people say to me, “Keep doing that! You’re chatting is really helping me out and your positive energy is contagious!” That made me smile!
From the Boiling Springs start, it’s uphill 4.4 miles on a wide, fairly smooth dirt road to the Silver Creek Saddle Aid Station. I checked in, grabbed some Coke, downed it in a couple of gulps and then headed to the Silver Creek Lookout about 2 1/2 miles uphill. I was still running with Rachael and our friend Sam had fallen into pace with us as well, so we relaxed and talked and enjoyed the morning. I kept stopping to take photos of the beautiful mountain views, though the sky this year was much hazier than it was a year ago due to a nearby fire.
Somewhere on this uphill climb I bumped into my friend, Ryan, who was doing the 50 miler and was ahead of me, but passing by me on the out and back. I pulled out my camera to take a photo of us and he pulled out his and told me it was time to do the “No Whining Dance”, which is a tradition in his family before hikes. The idea is to complain like crazy during the “no whining dance” and then you won’t complain the rest of the journey. Ryan and I looked like a couple of goofballs, hopping in circles, chanting, “My feet hurt! This sucks! I don’t want to do this!” and the grins on our faces clearly say that we weren’t really as miserable as we sounded at all, but it was a lot of fun and put me in a great mood.
I got back to focusing on the climbing and my pal Sam reached the summit first. I have a picture of he, our friend Emily and I at this spot from a year ago, so I knew I was on a similar pace since I was right on Sam’s heels still. I handed my camera to the volunteer taking down numbers at the top and asked him to take my picture (which is a must-do for this race! The view is GORGEOUS up there!!!) Just as he finished, I heard Rachael yell out, “Wait! I want in the picture too” as she summitted. I grinned and said “Of course!!” and the kind volunteer took a picture of us smiling together on top of the world.
Then, it was time to fly!!! This section coming down from the lookout is my favorite downhill running on the whole course! I was comfortably running in the 7-8 min range, relaxed, arms flailing out to my sides for balance and having the time of my life! Rachael was hot on my heels. I realized about halfway down the hill that I really, really, really needed to use a bathroom! I kept muttering to myself, “Don’t poop your pants! Don’t poop your pants!” and luckily, when I got back to the Silver Creek Saddle Aid Station there was a porta potty waiting for me (without a line, which must have been Divine Intervention!) I heard Rachael pass me outside the door and she jokingly yelled towards the loo “GO Christie, GO!” hahaha!!!!!!! And, of course with encouragement like that, I did!
After my bathroom break, I headed up the dirt road towards another favorite part of this race course – a sweet ATV trail that winds through the trees and is very runnable! This little one mile section out (for the 50kers) is a total pleasure cruise! The path roller coasters a bit at the start and then you can just settle into an easy, relaxed, fast stride without taxing the system. It’s just completely beautiful! I passed a few of the fast 50 milers on their way back up and said hi to them, then turned around at the road where the sign said “Turn Around 50kers”, then headed back up the trail. I pulled out a granola bar here and started munching that as I went. At one point, I saw a woman heading off on another road to the right and I hollered out, “You know the race course is this way, right?” and she said, “Oh yes, thank you. I just need to use the bathroom!” I headed downhill, through that section and suddenly heard these crazy, loud, crashing sounds coming from the trees and bushes on the mountain to my right. Startled, I stopped and stared up towards the sound and was trying to figure out what I was hearing when this enormous, 6 point buck came leaping onto the trail just a few feet in front of me before bounding off into the trees and brush on the other side! I was so stunned! It was such a beautiful, magical moment – and it also occurred to me that had I been running a couple seconds per mile faster pace, I would have suffered a hit and run by Bambi!!! Yikes!
I arrived at the Silver Creek Saddle Aid Station for the third and last time, downed another cup of Coke, grabbed some cheese-its and then headed down the long, forest service road back towards Boiling Springs. I remember this section from last year distinctly because that’s when I first started having problems with my IT band with all the downhill running, so this time, I let myself run for a mile, then eased up the pace and took a walk break for a bit, then did it again over and over, allowing myself to enjoy the downs but without taxing the knees quite as bad as last year. It seemed to work! My IT band and knees felt great as I pulled into Boiling Springs (which is a hair over 17 miles) at 3:45 into the race. My friend Michelle was there and she asked if she could help. I asked if she’d fill my Nathan with 30 oz of water and I filled the Nathan hand bottle I carry with another 22 oz of water, downed some soda, ate some salty chips, sprayed bug spray on my body (horseflies had been biting me like crazy on the Wet Foot trail the year before so I came prepared this time), dropped off my jacket, grabbed my sunglasses, hugged my husband and was running out of there at 3:50 into the race heading towards the dreaded Wet Foot trail. My husband commented that I looked strong and I told him I felt awesome! My buddy, Mark and his dog Cali joined me here for a little stretch until I was safely off the road and onto the single track trail again. That was a nice sendoff!
At this point on the course the year before my IT band had seized up and was very painful, it was hot and I was starting to suffer from nausea. This year was a very different experience! I kept the effort steady but never let myself redline or push too hard, I ate steadily, drank often and took my S Caps every hour. I felt WONDERFUL! In fact, I was really surprised that my pace was so good through this section since I had remembered being slug-slow during this stretch before. Last year I had to stop and sit on logs along the steep climbs or sit in the dirt on the side of the path. I never felt the need to stop at all this time! I felt just fine! Doing the 50k instead of the 50 miler also meant I was climbing this section earlier in the day which helped! There was still plenty of shade out instead of direct sun exposure which was a treat!
I did stop for just a moment when I passed the section of the trail that has a plethora of huckleberry bushes! I had never eaten a huckleberry or seen a huckleberry bush until my 50 mile race last year, so stopping to enjoy a little treat along the way brought a smile this time. I maintained my steady push until I reached the Wet Foot Aid Station at about 22 miles. Last year there was no aid station in this section and it was a hard grunt. I had gone nearly 4 hours from Boiling Springs to Skunk Creek before any aid and that was too long. I happily let them refill my water bottle, gobbled down some sweet, juicy watermelon and made small talk to the aid station workers (a few of whom are distant relatives of mine!) It was just as I was ready to leave that my buddy, Tony Huff came up the climb and into the aid station, too. I was really happy to see him! He was doing the 50 miler and had even won this race three years ago, so I knew he would be awesome to have in front of me for the next section of climbing (which is pretty brutal!) And, Tony didn’t disappoint! He kept saying, “You’re lagging behind! Come on! Keep up!” I laughed as I tried my best to keep up with Tony. I was able to keep him in sight for about 3/4 of a mile and it was nice to have that push. Once he was out of sight, I started hoping Ryan would catch up soon, too, so he could also help pace me up the steepest section of all (two miles of roughly 1,000 of climb each) before Skunk Creek. I was really surprised when I finally sumitted the worst of it and he hadn’t caught me yet.
Just after the summit, there’s a nice flat section, some trees and a glorious view- and to capture it all, my friend and world-class photographer Michael LeBowitz snapping off shots of the runners as they crested! It was nice to see Michael and he took some pictures of me. Then, I pumped the legs a bit more since I knew I was almost to the Skunk Creek Aid Station at mile 25! They had the cowbells going, several of my friends were volunteering and I could feel the love from the moment of my arrival! My buddy, Jim Updegrove asked if I wanted him to squirt me with a water bottle and I happily said, “YES PLEASE!” He squirted my face and I used a paper towel to wipe the sweat and salt off and I felt like a new woman! Then he walked around me squirting me from all sides and it was exactly what I needed! He then offered me a pancake, which I happily took, along with an orange slice and some soda, while my friend Shanda filled my water bottle. I was well taken care of, so I waved goodbye, thanked them all, then headed back down the path towards the Wet Foot trail again. It was here that I finally saw Ryan again! I teased him that he needed to run faster next time to catch me, then I took off.
Now, here’s where the fun part comes in! Hiking up Wet Foot is a grunt for sure! It’s steep, the dirt is fine and powdery and difficult to get a good firm grip in, you’re thirsty, tired, you feel like it’s never going to end and then — wallah – you get to the top, get treated like royalty at the aid station and then you get to run DOWN that stretch which is a whole different story!!!! I made it a point to encourage every single runner I passed on that section, as they were heading up and I was heading down. I stopped and gave several hugs even! I was in great spirits! My buddy, Mark had told me to treat this downhill section like a skier would — easy, loose, letting my feet slide side to side a bit instead of fighting the powdery, loose dirt. And, that’s what I did! I used my arms for balance, got fearless and started really making some good time on the descent! There are plenty of technical aspects of this trail – roots, rocks, trees, loose dirt, etc and I just played with it. I felt like a little kid and I was having ball!
I reached the Wet Foot aid station at 27.7 miles and again took advantage of their wonderful hospitality, getting my bottle filled, eating a little snack and then quickly getting back to business on the trail! Once I left that aid station, I couldn’t stop smiling! I was feeling great, running strong and knew that the finish line was getting closer! I could hardly believe my good luck! I’d had no injuries, no stomach problems, no negative thoughts. I was having a fantastic race!
Once my Garmin reached 31 miles (with a total time of 8:07) I knew it was almost over! I just relaxed, let loose and cranked it all the way to the finish line at 33.67 miles. My time was 8:34 and I could not believe it! That is a PR for a mountain 50k for me! My family was there to see me, my husband snapped a finish line photo, Ben handed me my cool finisher’s prize – a small baseball bat with the race info engraved on the side and I headed straight for the water to soak in the ice cold deliciousness while I sipped a cold Mountain Dew! It was a perfect day!
I’ll definitely be back to Wild Idaho again next year!!!!