Monday, December 13, 2010

Seattle deluge

Over the weekend, Beat planned to visit his friends in Seattle and invited me along since Seattle is just a puddle jump from Missoula (Missoula is significantly closer to Seattle than Juneau is, even though Juneauites cheer for the Seahawks and consider themselves a distant suburb of the Puget Sound metropolis.) We planned snowy adventures on Snoqualmie Pass so I packed a huge bag full of snowshoes, poles, extra shoes and winter clothing. At the last minute I thought to throw in a Gortex jacket. It was a good thing, because unbeknowst to me, I was flying right into the front end of the "wettest storm to hit Western Washington in more than two years."

Beat's friend, Roger, is a race planner for endurance mountain bike races and trail runs all over Western Washington. Since the storm meant the mountain roads were too sketchy for driving on Saturday, he took us on a run near Issaquah, on a ridge called Tiger Mountain. I packed my Gortex coat but also failed to ask any questions before the run. As we accelerated on the powerline access road, and I finally asked, "So how long is this loop?" Roger just shrugged. "16 or 19 miles depending on where we go." Wait, what? Since when is 16 or 19 miles a mellow little afternoon on foot? The wind and rain picked up velocity, my feet felt slow and heavy, and I hunkered down for the worst.

The run turned out to be not that big of a deal, after all. The trails were soft but solid, and even mud is a faster surface to run on than snow. We climbed up three of the Tiger Mountains and dropped down a sideslope along the ridge. Roger lost the way once and we ended up on the long course. Nineteen miles and 3,750 feet of climbing in just under four hours. It boosted my confidence about my chances of surviving the 50K race next week. I also realized that my ideal foot course would involve crazy steep climbs with long gradual descents, but a lot of climbing overall. Basically the opposite of a good mountain biking course. Anyone know of a trail race like that?

By Sunday nearly 4 inches of rain had already fallen on the Seattle area in the storm, and warm temperatures pushed the rain level above 7,000 feet, which meant avalanche danger would be extreme in the mountains. The group settled on another run in the lowlands. I was feeling a whole lot weaker than I had on Saturday, and balked at the slow-passing miles. We climbed the ridge on Cougar Mountain and dropped into the gushing streams and flooded valleys below. The deluge of rain had turned the whole trail system into a chocolate-colored stream. Even though Cougar Mountain is located in the middle of a high-population density area, the trails were nearly deserted on a Sunday afternoon. Roger and his wife Yumay were giggling about the complete transformation of an area they know well, and I was lost in daydreams about its strong resemblance to my faraway former home in Southeast Alaska.

I dragged and dragged until I heard a deafening clap from a large tree that cracked in the strong wind just as I passed it. My heart rate surged and I began sprinting toward my friends, who had been waiting for me to bring up the rear all morning long. When Beat asked me if I was finally getting warmed up (because I train for endurance, I tend to feel like crap for an hour or two and manage to perk up only after most people are ready to stop.) I admitted that my newly acquired speed was all adrenaline and it was probably going to wear off quickly, but I did manage to mostly keep up for the rest of the 2-hour, 15-minute run.

In all we ran about 30 miles over the weekend, with about 5,000 feet of climbing overall, in the midst of a storm that dumped 4 to 5 inches of rain. Yumay admitted they would have never gone out if it weren't for the combined peer pressure that flowed between the four of us. "Thanks for getting us accustomed to Northwest weather again," she said. They pointed out the run was even more fun than it would have been if it had been sunny, thanks to the puddle splashing and muddy descents, and I fully agreed. It's funny how that's usually the case.

I also tested a heart rate monitor this weekend; nearly the first time I have ever used one. On Saturday I had a max heart rate of 175 and an average of about 135. I forgot to look at Sunday's final numbers but based on observations I'm guessing an average in the 120s with a max of 215, thanks to that tree. I also tested my VO2 max at 59 according to the watch.

I think I've lived in small towns and tiny cities for far too long, and now have a digestive system that can no longer handle urban food. We refueled with sushi and Korean meals that were both delicious, but I had stomach issues all weekend. Either I have a high-functioning version of that stomach flu that is going around, or I've been seriously limited by years of bland Alaska and Montana food. Either way, I'm telling myself that it's a good thing to run a few 10s of miles, clear out the system, then charge full-speed into the super busy week in front of me that just so happens to end in a 31-mile race. Eeeeek.

P.S. If you are in the Missoula area, you should come see my presentation at the Missoula Bike Club holiday party on Tuesday evening. I will be giving an hour-long slideshow presentation about my experiences in the 2009 Tour Divide. Drop by! More information here.