Sunflower Trail Marathon

Flowers and new friends!
Ready!!

I have awesome friends. Brooke decided a trail marathon was the thing to do for part of her bachelorette party, and so we found ourselves driving 5 hours from sunny Seattle to rainy Mazama (yes, that’s backwards, it’s supposed to be rainy in Seattle and sunny in Mazama dammit) on a Friday evening prepping for a Saturday morning race. The number of people who have told us “you have crazy friends” when we said this is a bachelorette is hilariously high. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • Distance: 26.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2200ish
  • Weather: 40’s and rainy
  • Commute from Seattle: 4.5hrs
  • Did I Trip: NO I DID NOT
And we’re off!

We stopped at two gas stations along the way, one where I got the best unsolicited compliment of my life. After I had walked out of the shop one of the attendants pulled my friend aside and just said “is that your friend?” and she said yes and he said “wow, tell her she is beautiful, she has the face of a movie star! I was too shy to tell her myself.” I laughed when she told me that. I had been to shy to try speaking to him in Spanish (he was talking to the other employees in Spanish) because I hadn’t spoken it in months, but you’re never going to get better if you never speak it! Ugh!

Capris, Legs, and Rorschach who I followed for a while

We got a mediocre dinner (sorry) in Twisp and then stayed at the Idle a While Hotel, which has rooms that are definitely bigger on the inside than on the outside, not unlike that house in House of Leaves but without the paranormal activity as far as we could tell. Check in was entirely remote, but they have a red phone you pick up that auto dials old school if catastrophe strikes, like Amber’s phone dying so no one knows what the code to get in the room is. We were finally in, packed our trail running packs for the morning, groaned about the weather, gossipped, ate chocolate, and went to bed around 9. A trio of grandmas.

Burn zone contrast

We woke up at 6 to pouring rain. Amber broke the ice. “I don’t even want to go. What if I bailed. I just want to bail.” We all looked at each other. No. We drove this far. It’s a bachelorette. The wildflowers might be dead. The rain might be here while Seattle is sunny. We might have 13.1 or 26.2 miles to run. In the rain. But we’re committed. Regarding the wildflowers, this is usually the start of peak wildflower season, but this year a late season snow storm froze most of the balsam root and a lot of the blooms died off. The rest of the wildflowers were extremely delayed, so we didn’t really know what do expect flowerwise besides a sub-par show. If you need a throwback to a “normal” flower year, here’s Amber being a disney princess.

First flowers!

Brooke and Amber dropped me at the Marathon shuttle before driving themselves to the half marathon start. The shuttle took me from the finish line in Twisp up to the starting line in Mazama. The driver was kind enough to give me a hefty garbage bag to stay dry at the starting line (or you know, bivvy in if I totally died mid race) and I huddled under an outdoor pergola(?) with dozens of other runners until it was 5 minutes before the start. We hobbled over to the starting line in the drizzle, did a countdown, and took off. I let everyone pass me. Just you wait I’ll take you back down at like mile 23 when you’re dying and I’m cruising. At least that’s what I tell myself. Most of them just left me behind it’s okay.

We ran through the woods on a wide, flat trail, then alongside highway 20 for a hot minute, and then crossed back into forest on some Methow Community trails. Some literal kids ran past me in tutus with so much life and energy and seemingly no idea they had hours left in front of them. 2 miles later, I realized they were in the relay marathon, and actually only had to run… well, like 2 miles. The relay runners would soon become the bane of my existence since they were always so fresh and peppy and fast and clearly hadn’t tried to fight a tree or a rock or a raindrop or whatever had pissed them off minutes ago. Because they were too happy to be pissed.

Hint of balsam root

I soon saw a sign that said Mile 26. Hmm. Mile 26. Well we’ve run at least 2 miles. No I don’t dare check Strava, I don’t want to know. I guess we’re just going to run like 28 or 29 miles. Whatever, it’ll be fine. Good to know how much is left so I can set expectations accordingly. I love when marathons are signed like that.

The trail stayed wide open and flat, very well cared for. We ended up on a long gravel/dirt road (mostly mud that day) and back on singletrack trails through a burn zone from the prior year. It was totally bizarre, you could see huge holes where (i think) there used to tree stumps and root systems, the uphill burn was more apparent than the downhill, it looked like two different forests. No morels though, I looked. No morels in miles of burn zone. Not that I’d have known what to do if I did find a cluster. Carry them in my hands for 20 miles?

Woods

My brain snapped back to reality. A sign said Mile 15. No freaking way. I haven’t run 11 miles I’ve run like I don’t know maybe 7? Mile 14. Holy shit. Mile 13. We’re halfway there?? No way, there’s supposed to be a rest station around mile 13. But damn if we’re halfway there I feel GREAT. I crushed a pack of ritz crackers with cheese hiking an uphill. I followed a lady in a rainbow tutu that I deemed my sunflower because she was the closest thing to a flower out there for the first like 16 miles. I laughed with a guy in a white shirt as we slip n slided (slipped and slid? what’s the past tense of slip n slide) down a very muddy barely traveled forest road, complete with comical arm waving but no true wipeouts.

Just doing their best and I love them

45 minutes and no mileage signs pass and I finally cruise into a rest station and I’m stuffing my face with oreos and potato chips when I see the huge sign that says “13.1 miles left!” My heart sank. Not that much because I had a feeling I was being misled, but oh MAN it would have been great to have been way more than halfway done already. Of course it was too good to be true. Those signs must have been for the Methow Community Trails, not custom placed for the race. I grabbed a few oreos for the road (trail?) and jogged on.

I figured they must have saved the best wildflowers for the second half, right? After all, that is where the half marathon course is, so the best must be yet to come. Single track trail, and finally – a patch of balsam root! And another! And a switchback! I started snapping photos. I chatted with some new trail friends, several who were on their first marathon ever, several who had done the sunflower marathon before and swore I had to come back next year because the flowers this year were so sad. I kept stopping to snap pics and let people run around me while I took pics of them. On multiple occasions I resisted the urge to smash my phone on the ground when it wouldn’t take pics because the touch screen can’t differentiate between my finger and a raindrop. I finally decided I needed to give up on pics and just jog for a bit while my phone and I got some space from each other.

The best uphill section of the whole race

The trail went back into forest and wrapped around a lake where I briefly wondered if I was lost (no, there was literally nowhere the trail ever split, there’s nowhere else you could have possibly gone) before putting us out on a stretch of muddy road with frequent cars passing. This was somewhere around mile 20 according to my feelings, but rather than getting sad and sluggish I was belligerent (and also sluggish). Every car that passed I went OFF in my head. WHY ARE YOU HERE THERE’S A RACE WHY DID THEY CHOOSE A BUSY ROAD THIS ISN’T SINGLE TRACK TAKE YOUR MUD AND GTFO OF HERE I WAS TOLD THERE WOULD BE FLOWERS NO, MAZDA, YOU HAVE 12 FT ON THAT SIDE OF THE ROAD THESE 3 FEET ARE MY FEET THERE ARE MANY OTHERS LIKE IT BUT THIS STRETCH IS MINE and how the fuck did i not buy margarita shot blocks? that aid station better have some god damn potato chips or I swear. A relay runner passed me breathing heavily and loudly and sprinting. It generated similar fury to hearing someone snore loudly at 2am and being helpless. The old running mantra from high school cross country popped into my head. Dig deep in the woods. 15yrs later and I’ll still think of that when I’m dying on a run. Even if I’m on a stupid muddy road with stupid cars driving to probably stupid places in the stupid rain and I’m all out of crackers and I never want to hear this person’s breath ever again.

Sage and wildflowers!

The aid station did have potato chips, and I grabbed more of those and oreos and threw some gatorade or gatorade equivalent in my face. I’m like the least dialed runner ever. Okay, final stretch, perk up. Wait no, we have to go uphill, use the rage first. I was hiking faster than the other runners around me were running, well besides the super fresh relay runner who at least breathed normally. Get outta here leave me alone hurry up I don’t want to hear it. The other runners noticed my efficient walking and joined me. We crested the hill and the rain finally let up and holy shit, the sage brush and flowers started appearing again. The heavy breather was gone. The air smelled like fresh sage. THERE are the endorphins I needed. Thanks body. My legs felt fresh again. I laughed passing the cameraman. Is this where I pretend to look good?! A guy cruising uphill passed me playing Dancing in the Moonlight out loud on a speaker, I lit up. I love this song! Keep up I wanna listen! I started passing people. Let’s go baby. I don’t know how many miles are left and I don’t want to know. Can’t be much further at this point.

More balsam

We cruised on top of the plateau for a while, enjoying the flowers and views. I figured we’d get a gradual downhill to the finish line. Except then suddenly the elevation was falling away below me and I was pounding downhill shattering my knees and quads and hips. Through the best flowers we had seen through the whole race. And suddenly I heard cheering. I originally just wanted to be below 6 hours, I hadn’t super trained for this, hadn’t run in like four weeks, just wanted to finish and finish feeling good and that would be enough. I checked my watch. 4 hrs and 50minutes, something like that. But cheering. They’ve gotta be within a mile. Within 10 minutes. Ok. Pick it up.

Balsam balsam balsam

I flew to the bottom of the valley, and realized the finish line was just up a short hill (of course). My adductor told me to go fuck myself 150ft before the finish line but I put it in its place and sprinted across that mat still feeling awesome unlike the past few years in Moab where maybe I was standing but I should probably have been dragged across the finish line by a support crew. Amber was at the finish line waiting and Brooke had gone to grab the car already. Brooke had already been waiting for like two hours after finishing her half, fortunately she found her other set of friends who clothed her and got her dry and warm (everyone was SOAKED from the rain). Amber and I had bananas and beer and sat on the grass where one of my hips started spasming. Even though it wasn’t being used. Cmon. Get over yourself we’re done here. It’s over. Brooke pulled up and found us sprawled on the grass in the middle of the cars, and we hopped in and drove straight to Seattle. Sunny. Stupid. Seattle. From the rainy desert.

Happy faces at the finish line!

We dropped Brooke off first, and all stumbled quite literally out of the car, grasping at luggage and doors for support. I ate pasta and lentils and chick peas and woke up at 2am to repeat the whole process again, and again at 9am. And then at brunch I finished my entire omelette and then all of Amber’s pancakes except 2 bites before realizing holy shit, was she even finished? I don’t even really like pancakes unless they are the banana or blueberry variety. I love the post race feeling, and I had completely forgotten how much I enjoy trail marathons. Moab is phenomenal and will never be topped but I have not been in good shape the past few years, and it turns out marathons are much more enjoyable when you feel good for the whole race. Let’s see how much I remember that when this fall comes around.

Kudos to Brooke for picking a dope bachelorette idea, motivating me to join, and to both Brooke and Amber for staying positive despite the rain. Never would have found or signed up for this if not for them, I’m so used to burning out with each of my sports that I don’t dare commit to anything in advance and this race sells out every year, you can’t do it last minute! Stoked it came together, pretty damn cool to say I ran from Mazama to Twisp for a bachelorette party!

Balsam explosion! Final stretch was the best stretch!! Besides our crying quads

Upper & Lower CCC Trail

Ridiculous greenery
Green for miles

What I thought was 8 miles round trip for some reason ended up being somewhere between 16 and 22 miles depending on what map/tracking device you listen to. Strava said 19, 22 if I had gone all the way to the Teneriffe parking lot and back. But regardless, this is a great trail to miraculously disappear from crowds and surround yourself with greenery only an hour away from the big city, and it’s extremely runnable. Well, besides the middle of the trail. But we’ll get to that.

  • Distance: 16-19mi
  • Elevation gain: 700ish ft at least from the lower trailhead to the upper trailhead
  • Weather: 50’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 64 minutes, unless you miss the exit and have to drive an additional 7mi east before you can turn around
  • Did I Trip: No
Dripping in moss and future nurse logs

The CCC trail is broken into two sections, upper and lower. It should be broken into three sections, but you can’t really access that third point as a trailhead, so I guess I get it. But I’m going to call it upper, middle, and lower. Middle is technically part of lower.

Upper CCC: The section east of the paved road pullout and west of the middle fork parking lot/campground. “1” on the map. I parked at the middle fork parking lot, unmarked in the upper right corner of the map. There is also parking where the CCC meets the road between sections “1” & “2.”
Middle (part of lower) CCC: The section west of the paved road pullout but east of Bessemer forest road. “2” on the map. Bessemer road is the obvious road between “2” & “3.” Also known as the Blowout Creek trailhead, though you will be parking on Middle Fork road as Bessemer road is gated.
Lower (also part of lower) CCC: The section west of Bessemer forest road and east of the Teneriffe parking lot. “3” on the map. Sitka Spruce trail is “4” and Teneriffe/Lower CCC parking is “5.”

Let me make it super obvious
Hard work on the upper CCC

The upper CCC honestly is the highlight. Wow. I parked at the middle fork parking lot and walked across the street to start the trail, passing the middle fork campground. It is insanely green, and was freshly brushed out by a work party! Credit where credit is due, sounds like it was the Backcountry Horsemen who are incredible trail stewards of many trail in the area and tend to fly under the radar compared to organizations like WTA and the Washington Climbers’ Coalition. EDIT: This was spearheaded by Backcountry Horsemen, but included volunteers from WTA, DNR, King County Parks, and the Forest Service! Work took over two days and an estimated 150 logs were cleared. Holy cow.

You could smell the fresh cut logs and see sawdust everywhere, and looking at the sides of the trail you could see the debris they had worked to clear. Seriously impressive efforts. The only things I cleared were spiderwebs, with my face. Past the campground you turn onto an old forest road, which is less green and more rocky, and I thought “oh shit, what if everyone’s photos are just from the first half mile, and the rest is like this?” Don’t worry, the rocky road quickly turns back into green carpets and hanging moss. It’s SO GREEN. I felt healthier just being there.

Can you smell the fresh cuts?

The trail weaves through the second growth forest, crossing the occasional stream. There are multiple bridges (one had a tree fall through it!) though the two largest creeks nearly got my feet wet on the return trip. The open creek (views, wide, talus/rocks in the water) had walking sticks stashed on either side for unstable hikers without poles or runners with tired legs to borrow. But the second creek (in forest, narrow, trees/downed logs everywhere) was a no go, I hiked a few feet upstream to an easier crossing and then found my way back to the trail to carry on. If you have waterproof boots or aren’t being a princess you’ll be fine.

Peekaboo view of Russian Butte

A few minutes beyond that creek, you pop out onto the paved road you drove to get to the trailhead. Okay there’s a gravel section right there, technically. Take a right and follow the road for maybe 300ft before the CCC trail picks up north of the road again.

This is the middle CCC section, technically part of the lower, but it was characterized by blowdowns and stream crossings and VIEWS! I was so surprised! I expected only forest and mossy ground, but this section of the CCC actually gets up above the valley floor and gives you peakaboo views (get it) of the Pulpit, Preacher, Russian Butte, and the Pratt River valley. It’s also much more obviously an old forest road than the upper section, for better or for worse. The road seems to have been cut straight through small cliffs at some point, there must have been blasting involved. Glad the efforts were preserved for me to enjoy 90 years later. “Enjoy” being loose here, because I swear every 200ft there was a tree or seven across the old road for me to maneuver under/over/around/through.

Clearly an old road, but still pretty

Just before connecting with the Bessemer road, there’s what you might call a washout. A creek has eroded its way through the trail, with a huge canyon above and below. But the trail finds this miraculous flat ish spot to cross, followed by a series of blowdowns entirely obscuring the trail besides an old sign you can see poking up. But keep going forward/perpendicular to the stream, and you’ll pop our onto the well maintained but presumably gated forest road.

Blasted through rocks at some point

Left on the forest road this time, and in 1000 (horizontal, please) ft you will see the CCC trail continue for its last stretch. This time it’s marked by a sign saying “Putting America to Work: Project funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” a tribute to the 1930’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) from which the trail derives its name. They originally built a road spanning 9 miles from the foothills to where North Bend Timber Company had put in rail infrastructure for their lumber operations. This area was extensively mined and even more extensively logged for decades, there’s some crazy (and spooky) history in this valley.

I passed some mountain bikers on the road, maybe trying to bike as far as they could before booting the rest of the way up Moolock or Bootalicious peaks. When I reached the switchback where the CCC continues, I looked at the river and thought ah crap, another unprotected crossing. But wait! There’s a cut log to the right, set up as a foot bridge. Crossed that, and I was on my way through the last section of trail. This was a terrible time to realize my Discover Pass was obscuring my America the Beautiful pass on my windshield, which was the pass I needed to show. Luckily I had like 12 miles to mentally prep for the ticket I’d probably receive.

Massive logs moving through North Bend in the 1940’s from here
Representative of the middle section

More surprise views! Less moss, more brush. I don’t think this would be very enjoyable once the brush has budded/leafed/grown in a few months. But for now it’s still pleasant, minus the occasional trail runner hurdle (low downed trees), small stream crossing, and mud pit. I finally saw some people for the first time in what felt like ages. At this point I was determined to make it to the end. I refilled my water at a random stream with no treatment. Nonzero chance I have giardia now but my dumb ass only brought half a liter thinking I’d only be running 8 miles.

More road trail

I hit the last forest road, and deemed that my turnaround point. Turns out that’s not truly the end. It’s gated, so you have to park another 1.5ish miles away at the Teneriffe trailhead, or ignore the residential signs and park at the gate. I should have asked the hikers that started there. Better yet, you park at the Granite Creek trailhead on the middle fork road, and short cut up to the CCC via the Sitka Spruce trail. It’s barely marked on caltopo, but very visible from the CCC trail. The Sitka Spruce trail starts on the other side of Middle Fork Snoqualmie River from the Granite Creek trail (like keep walking the road across the river after parking at Granite Creek, trail will be on the left). Probably much more enjoyable and green than walking an abandoned forest road to the “start” of the Lower CCC.

Peekaboo views

Here, I started Strava, because I had no clue what mileage was like. I started jogging back towards the car. The first stretch went so quickly. Turned out I had been running uphill for a lot of that, maybe that’s why I had felt so crappy. I remembered a few landmarks, this creek, that creek, this view. And then I reached Bessemer road, and realized I had no more landmarks besides a washout and multiple memorable downed logs. From Bessemer road to the middle CCC, it’s actually not that straightforward even though there’s only 10ft of downed logs. There is no obvious entrance point from the road to the trail/washout, just a wall of brush. But I found the old sign again and there’s very visible flagging across the creek, and from there it was easy to connect the two points and be back on my way.

Far side of the washout w/ sign before Bessemer road, hard to see from the other side of the washout

Until I hit the next blowdown 150ft later. It’s impossible to get into a rhythm. But if you need to work on your mid run hip mobility or agility, boy do I have the trail for you. After a mind numbing few miles, I ran into a guy who bailed at the first downed tree, and reaffirmed his decision as soon as he asked if it ever got better. No, no it did not, for several miles. You made the right choice. I wish I had recommended he take a short stroll up the upper CCC since he had parked on the middle fork road separating upper & middle, by my definitions.

Ridiculous greenery

I was happy to be back at the upper CCC trail, knowing I just had two spunky creek crossings followed by who knows how many miles of ridiculous mostly flat greenery between me and the car. And oh boy was I excited to be almost back at the car. I passed two mountain bikers (yes, it’s a shared trail!) and was jealous of their mode of transportation. But mostly I was drunk on endorphins and exhaustion and afternoon sun spilling through the trees. Many friends have heard me talk about how much I love dappled sunlight in our forests here. This was that, on steroids.

RIDICULOUS

Back at the car, I forced myself to stretch for like 7min before joining the congo line of cars. Life pro tip: don’t stop for gas at exit 34. There will be lines, there will be dildos who leave their cars at the gas islands while they get snacks or pee or who knows what EVEN WHEN THE PUMP ISN’T EVEN IN THE CAR and little did they know some nerd who just ran for literally hours and hasn’t eaten was ready to march into the store and rip them a new one. Instead I drove across the street, where prices were the same and car owners were being responsible.

All in all, spectacular run, especially when it’s confirmed free of downed trees. Judging by the debris, Backcountry Horsement put a LOT of work into this yesterday! I don’t even think it’d have been a viable run if not for them. We are seriously spoiled by all of the volunteer organizations that contribute to our trails. And good news: miraculously, no parking ticket, despite the pass not being visible from the front!

Looking off trail from the upper CCC
One more of the good part of the lower CCC

Grand Park via Lake Eleanor

Rainier over Paintbrush and Biscuitroot
First you must brave mud pits

I hadn’t been on a trail run in ages and I had seen so many beautiful pics of Grand Park, it was time to give it a go. I had been warned about the dirt road and I was mentally prepared for potholes galore. Bring it on.

  • Distance: ~9mi round trip
  • Elevation: 1,100ft gain, 5,600ft highest point
  • Weather: 80’s and sunny with BUGS
  • Commute from Seattle: 2hrs but add 15-20min buffer for the forest road
  • Did I Trip: NO SIR
Then get a break in beautiful old growth

I got a late start, showing up at the trailhead around 10:45am. I immediately walked RIGHT past the start to the trail and kept heading up the road until I noticed fewer and fewer cars and realized… huh, it must be back that way.

The trail was an absolute mud fest in the beginning. Pits of lose-your-shoes mud with some branches tossed across but not enough to keep your shoes clean. Lake Eleanor came up quickly (maybe a mile?) where I immediately made another wrong turn. The trail dumps you out into campsites next to the lake, and you can follow the campsites along the lake, or you can walk through the first campsite to the left where you’ll pick up the rest of the trail. Fortunately this was on strava, so my trail navigation skills are publicly on display.

Where mosquitos are born

After the lake, you drop a bit of elevation and pass through some meadows/swamps/bogs before regaining it again. Did I mention the bugs yet? The bugs were BAD. And I was sweaty. So any bug that hit my face stuck to my face. Just get to the fields, just get to the fields, soon it’ll be all flowers and no bugs just get to the fields. Oh here’s a field. With mud pits and cesspools of mosquito larvae. Where the King was born. I assume. Or Queen. Or whoever. Doesn’t matter who.

White avalanche lilies

Past the lower meadows, you get onto this ridge like ramble, and the trees get thinner, and the trail gets drier, and the flowers get denser and the colors get brighter. Avalanche lilies were EVERYWHERE, a promising glimpse of what was to come. I always think back to my friend years ago who was SO excited to show his sister the avalanche lilies at Rainier before realizing it was April, and everything was still under many feet of snow.

Avalanche lilies and perfect trail

Trees got more and more sparse, meadows got larger and larger, and suddenly the top of Rainier was in view. And in the next meadow, ALL of Rainier was in view, and you’re meandering along a narrow trail surrounded by wildflowers and grasses. Lupine, these hot pink paintbrush (I’m used to red and white, not hot pink!), purple aster, yellow biscuitroot, more avalanche lilies. And the meadow is nearly two. Miles. Long. You can ramble through this for hours. You can eve see Fremont Lookout up the ridge directly south!

Fremont Lookout over lupine

The only awkward part is passing others. Wildflowers are extremely delicate, and the trail is extremely narrow in some points. If there’s a party to pass, there is no good way to do it.. I ran into a crew going for a peak I don’t remember and passed them by walking next to the trail doing my best to not step on wildflowers and totally got called out for it. I felt so guilty but I honestly don’t know what the alternative would be. They seemed to understand as soon as I was like “I didn’t know what else to do” and I think that’s all you CAN do. Do your best and hope everyone understands you have good intentions. Just sucks because that’s basically admitting that some wildflowers are going to be trampled because of the traffic on this trail, that traffic includes me, and there’s not much we can do about it.

Purple Aster, purple something else, and white something

I took a break at the intersection of the Lake Eleanor trail and the Northern Loop trail before turning around to head back. The trip back through the meadows was no less spectacular, but re-entering the trees… yikes. I passed some lucky hikers wearing bug nets while hiking, they were the smartest folks out there that day. I swear the bugs made me run faster. I corrected all my trail mishaps on the way out missing zero turns, and popped out at the car around 1pm despite my late start.

My car matches the flowers

This is an AWESOME trail for a run or a short day hike. Easy navigation, no parking passes to deal with, tons of scenery, just really high bang for your buck. I can’t believe it took me this long to do it. The only downside is the forest road that lasts forever but it wasn’t as brutal as I had expected. In fact, my car matched the foliage, and the views are pretty good too. Buuut I was still pretty happy to be back on pavement by the end.

Lake Eleanor

Moab Trail Marathon

Coming up to an aid station in the middle of nowhere. Those guys camped overnight!!
Five minutes in and admiring already

We’ve run Moab many years now, with varying degrees of success. This year I had massive anxiety leading up to the race because I was pretty shit shape by every measure. My employer sucker punched me in the gut by more or less asking me to voluntarily resign after I showed interest in an offer on another team that ended up falling through. Yeah, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds. It zapped any and all motivation and confidence that I had, but reading my old blog posts about Moab in years prior (I didn’t even write about 2019 but it was pretty on-brand) it seemed like the only difference from years prior and this year was my mental game. Several times I had run something like 7-12 miles once and called it good in terms of training. I was just totally elitist and invincible back then and this year I have been feeling very.. vincible.

More cruising

Now enter my family. For the first time, my brother Ned would be joining us. You know how there were two types of people at the beginning of the pandemic? Those who thrived with all their newfound free time and flexible schedules and those who withered away due to lack of human contact and socialization? My brother and father were solidly in the former. Ned started running consistently for the first time in his life. My father woke up, surfed, then checked email, maybe surfed again, took the dog for a walk, went for a jog, checked email, paddleboarded at sunset, rinse and repeat. I was in the latter, slowly turning into a past-its-prime mushroom in Seattle with the rain and no ski pass and no boards and starting a now fully remote job that required both 7am and 10pm meetings. Not a healthy structure. But I had a good baseline from the climbs I managed to get on, and got some long runs in during August in Chicago and NYC, so.. that’ll be good for a November marathon, right? And I went on a slow 19miler in October but had to be rescued by my roommate 6mi from home. It would have been 25mi because I guess in layman’s terms “I got lost” and also brought no food or water. Either way, not encouraging.

Running above the kane creek canyon

But. I was STOKED Ned was joining. Stoked and terrified, because this race is one of my favorite things ever and I was both excited for him and worried he’d hate it/something would go wrong/the magic would have faded. But he and his girlfriend Jess were taking pictures from the minute we got to Moab and I couldn’t stop thinking “just wait until we’re on the marathon course, it’ll be even more mind blowing.” I didn’t want to say it out loud because I didn’t want to set expectations too high or sound like a one-upper. We crashed at the Red Cliffs Lodge as is tradition, and were up at 6am ready for action. Jess grabbed the free pack-it-out toilet that the race organizers gave each of us and tried to get Ned to take it. “I mean there is literally zero chance that I need to shit during this marathon.” We laughed. Probably fair. Probably. I packed some pastries in napkins for mid race snacks and we headed out.

Watch your feet!

Mom and Jess came to see us start and then took off on their own adventure while we went to wander the desert for who knows how many hours. Within five minutes, Ned was admiring the scenery, my Dad was peeing, and I was bitching about my recurring calf injury flaring up. Despite this happening on 80% of my runs and 100% of runs that start in sand, I neglected to take aspirin. I set the pace as the slow one, and we tried to explain to Ned just don’t run any of the uphills. We’ll get enough elevation gain at mile 15. After that, run whatever you want. Or whatever you can. And we had all of our usual calculated bail points. Around mile 5 my dad’s hip flexor or adductor was acting up, not a great sign so early on. He was worried. I was worried. Ned on the other hand was already pumped full of endorphins. “I feel great does anyone else feel great it’s like we haven’t even run anything yet!” Omg, is this how dad felt with me the first few years?

The out and back

We finally got a nice long flat/downhill (one of the few sections where you can hit a rhythm) and cruised into the next rest stop. We are a family of salty people, so we all started popping electrolyte pills. I told Ned and my father to only take one or two at each rest stop. My father said no way I’ve done this before I need at least 4 and popped 4 or 5 pills in his mouth. Ned followed his lead. I glanced at the ingredients. Well, it’s not like they’ll overdose on anything in here, potassium’s low, so I guess they can do what they want as long as they drink enough. Better than cramping up when you’re 12mi away from any sort of road. Ned asked when there would be a bathroom. Oh, there’s one at mile 10 and 12 around the out-and-back, if you can wait until then. Seriously there’s only one bathroom? Well… yeah… it’s a trail race.

I prefer the token tree be yellow.

We danced around the canyon rim, amazed to see there was no bottleneck at the first scramble section. Soon enough we were at the base of the canyon, where we all agreed we were going for the full and not bailing for the half marathon. My dad’s leg was feeling better, my calves had blood running through them again, Ned was still galloping gracefully like a gazelle. We tried to explain what an “out and back” was to Ned and quickly realized our brains already didn’t have enough glucose to put our net three brain cells together to explain the concept or what it meant for us. You’ll just have to see. Oh, and this is the only bathroom on course if you want it. We all skipped it. The out and back went faster than ever, I used to hate it and I still kind of do but now it’s a great opportunity to cheer on everyone running in the opposite direction, and I love that. And we passed our number neighbor!! She was number 245, and we were 246/247/248 if I remember correctly. I shouted number buddies!!! and told Ned/Dad that I had found our fourth honorary family member. She was just as stoked as we were.

Gaining elevation quickly

“You’re the blogger!!” A woman stopped dead in her tracks looking at me. “you’ve written about this for years!” I was too in shock to say anything. Uh, yeah, I guess I have, holy shit really you read them?? “Yes I said I HAD to remember your face in case I saw you here!” My heart exploded. We can stop running now, I’ve peaked. This silly little blog I wrote to remember my own trips and keep my family back on the east coast informed on my adventures made it to someone in the Moab marathon. How crazy is that?? Shit, I need to start writing again!

We parted ways. “You’re internet famous!!” Ned and Dad were stoked for me too. That’ll carry me up mile 15 for sure. We ran past the bathroom, skipping it a second time. The road section to mile 14 was longer than I remembered, the token tree greener than I remembered, the aid station better equipped than I remembered. Fewer people around us than I remembered. Shit, that means we’re slow. We popped some salt pills. “This is the best rice krispie of my life” said Ned. I was still aglow from being recognized.

“I wore this mustache ironically but… everyone here has a mustach, and I think seriously?”

We hiked the entirety of the >1200ft of gain from mile 14.5 to mile 16. It wrecked me the first year because I tried to run it, but now it’s a nice break from the redundancy of running. I remember hearing someone’s soul leave their body in disappointment on a false summit some year prior, but we knew what was coming and pulled some reverse psychology on Ned to ensure his hopes never got up. We snapped the traditional photo at the top of the climb, and Ned got a text from Jess saying she and my mom were having a blast. He had been worried about ditching her on her birthday for this race (she is a saint) so that was a relief. We realized Ned was worried about Jess and my father, I was worried about my father and Ned, our brother Calvin back home was worried about my dad, and my dad was worried about and Ned. Bunch of narcissists running a marathon through the desert worried about everyone but themselves.

The section after that 1200ft climb is my favorite of the whole race. You’re on top of the world, finally another section of easy cruiser terrain where you can get back into a vibe. Unless your shins twinge and threaten to start spasming. I skipped a bit and kept myself from falling over. Fuuuuck it’s only mile 16. We have 10 miles left. That’s WAY too early for spasms. And this is my favorite part to run!! Shit. I took a salt pill one of them had stashed, and I think a single advil. I’ll take another later if the one isn’t enough.

Work doesn’t matter out here.
Catching up to groups one by one

But I was totally in my head now. I slow jogged everything terrified I’d set off another spasm, and unfortunately the next few miles were through slickrock, which is NOT gentle on your shins. We did a LOT of walking. Usually we push it going through the slick rock, but not this year. I had a few more twinges threaten, but nothing full blown. I’m also convinced the slickrock changes every year. Or I’m delirious by this point every year.. that’s probably it.

After 13 miles of asking for a bathroom and skipping the only one available, Ned was about to cave to his bathroom urges. Wait wait I have napkins!! Omg Ned I have napkins!! I forgot I had wrapped some pastries in napkins at the hotel for race snacks. I hucked the pastries into the void (turned out they weren’t appealing anymore), tossed him the napkins, and he darted off trail behind a lone tree. We sat on a rock enjoying the silence and scenery while waiting. No cars, no people, no nothing. Just you and miles and miles of desert. And somewhere, a 26yo who narrowly avoided shitting himself.

Trail down below

We carried on pushing through slickrock and finally coming to what we thought was a nice 2 miles of gradual downhill from miles 21-23. But we were wrong, it’s more like one mile, and it’s rather rocky single track with plenty of ups too. And now my dad had to use the bathroom. Wtf is wrong with you guys? This has never been a problem before. He considered bailing at mile 23 for the portapotties but held strong and we ran past the finish line as usual to head out on the Adventure 5k, figuring he could wait another 30min. The past THREE years I’ve had something go wrong in the last 3 miles. Once an adductor spasm, once I stepped on an entirely buried prickly pear cactus which went RIGHT through my shoe sole like a knife through butter, and once a shin spasm that dropped me on my ass in surprise (dodged the cacti that time). My expectations were not high.

“you guys are crazy” “no YOU’RE crazy”

We got a little dizzy walking into the drainage pipe. I almost ate shit in the dark cave for the first time (there’s like.. one rock in there the whole time, and I tripped on it). My dad kept falling behind pausing randomly, probably thinking too hard about bathrooms. The scramble section was cool as usual. The worst part was these stupid mounds they added at like mile 25.5. This whole time we had been looking forward to the parking lot section, which while boring is at least flat and smooth and you’re basically finished. But not this year. We had these mounds, maybe 3-4ft tall to go up and down. Forever. It was. Terrible. Sheer anger carried us through.

We finally got to the flat section. “I might literally die if we don’t get to the finish ASAP.” Ned took off. “I might literally shit right here if we don’t get to the finish ASAP.” My dad followed. I had no choice. But it turned out I actually felt pretty okay all things considered. The pace felt refreshing and I was in full control of my peaceful, well-adjusted, content GI tract. Ned sprinted up the sand dune to the finish, I almost puked going up the sand dune to the finish, and I can only assume my dad nearly evacuated his bowels going up the sand dune because he kept running from the finish line straight to the portapotties.

Drainage pipe, trippy

Jess and my mom were waiting to meet us at the finish. Ned grabbed a medal (“I never take one, they just clutter up my house” “Well I haven’t gotten a medal since like the 8th grade and I EARNED this one”) and we all grabbed mugs (best race swag ever) while my mom laughed as we explained Ned and my dad fighting their GI tracts for the second half of the course. How many salt pills did you take? Oh like at least a dozen. Each. Except for Eve. She said only take one at each aid station. My mother looked at us. You know those have magnesium right? I think I almost cried laughing. The two of them had been popping quadruple doses of light laxatives at every rest stop. Yes, turns out there is a such thing as too many salt pills. Will you die? Probably not. Will you be extremely uncomfortable? Yes, yes you will.

Family finish!! Stoked!

But overall, the legs still felt fresh for all of us. My dad could actually jump like 18″ compared to past years where he was shattered. I didn’t have any spasms in the last 3 miles and actually had a good kick. Ned proclaimed it was the coolest thing he’s ever done and the best day of his life. We had a hilarious story from it, and we were definitely the happiest, most energetic people to finish.

I can’t say enough good things about this race. I’ve done many other trail races since and none compare. I’ve done it 7 times now, going back to 2013. Skipped 2015 for some volcano climbs in Mexico and skipped 2020 because I assumed it wasn’t happening (I was wrong). And even though we’ll never be anywhere near the front of the pack, it’s been such a blast every single time. There was one year where one of the top three finishers was in line with my mother getting coffee while we were still bumbling around the slickrock. Or maybe even still slogging up the mile 15 climb. Hilariously far behind. But it doesn’t matter. This race is something special.

p.s. “Hey do I have permission to make fun of both of you for magnesium shits in my blog post?” “all you, go for it.” “yeah of course.” I have a great family.

Ned coming up one of the scramble sections. Something special.

Umtanum Ridge Crest & Road

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Cruising through the grass

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Sweet start

After last week’s shortcut, I figured I’d take another shot at a long run, so I messaged a few steady trail runners for suggestions out east knowing the weather everywhere (even in the Teanaways!) was going to be brutal. Yakima looked sunny, and Stuke had a phenomenal suggestion that was a 27ish mile out-and-back taking the Umtanum Ridge Crest trail to the Umtanum Ridge Road, which runs the length of the ridge and despite being a road is more like a wide trail. I thought I had thrown this plan out the window when SMR got busy on Saturday, but after being turned around without even setting foot on the trail, my long run was back in action. Ran 10/22/2017.

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That is a perfectly good burrito

I got to the trailhead around 8:30 and stepped out of the car into wonderful sunshine and what might be the most delicious air I have ever smelled in my life. Everything was covered in dew from that had just stopped, and the entire canyon was full of sage bushes. Sunshine with the smell of fresh rain mixed with tons of sage, I gotta give Yakima a little more credit. It was freaking gorgeous. You know when you start an activity and your entire body just says yeah, this is where I should be right now? It was one of those mornings. I packed my bag with way more food than I ended up needing and started off.

  • Distance: 27.6 miles
  • Elevation: 2,400ft net gain (3,480 highest point, and around 6k gain on rolling hills)
  • Weather: 50’s and a mix of clouds and sun
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:40 unless everyone crashes in the rain (RAIN) on i90
  • Did I Trip: Some stubbed toes but no casualties
  • Strava link here

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First light post rain

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Dammit Saucony. Maybe #runmostplaces not #runanywhere

The first 2.5 miles gain the 2,400ft of elevation, so needless to say I hiked those.There was no one else in sight. The trail briefly follows Umtanum Creek (you need to duck under some train tracks, or go over but I’m lazy so I went under) before hanging left and starting up through quaking aspen and sagebrush and tall grasses towards the ridge. It was quite muddy, and I found the only flaw in my running shoes that I have encountered so far. With this clay-ish-mud mix, the lugs on my shoes just got caked with mud until I was basically hiking on mud pancakes, slipping all over the place. I’d stop periodically to scrape off the bottoms and delicately tiptoe up the trail.

The last half mile to the top is very steep, and I was less than stoked doing it without shoes that had good mud traction (and poles) but soon enough I topped out at the ridge road. Stuke’s description was accurate. Rolling hills, and a road that’s more like a wide trail than a road. Sweet! I started jogging.

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Totally different topography compared to western Washington

There were two things I had only briefly considered before starting up the trail, because I don’t know much about either group. First was hunters. I had my neon pink hard shell, which is close enough to safety orange that I figured I had that base covered, and hopefully if I was being an idiot someone would tell me. Second was 4×4 teams (who I think were usually also hunting), who I hoped would be okay with me hopping off the road so they could pass, and again tell me if I was doing something stupid. Here’s the confession: I’m basically scared of random 4×4 drivers, and definitely scared of random hunters. Neither of those activities were part of my life, they’re totally foreign to me, and they’re intimidating, and I’m just a hot pink helpless nerd going for a jog.

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Almost at the ridge (not)

So the first two trucks that drove past me freaked me out. And the first hunters I passed freaked me out. But I was pleasantly surprised by everyone I ran into! The hunters were all amicable (one team on foot just laughed and said “good for you!” as I jogged past) and several trucks stopped to ask how far I was going and to flag them down if I needed anything. Everyone was totally fine about sharing the road, in fact I might even go so far as to say that they were more pleasant than a lot of the hikers I encounter on trails, who don’t hear or see you coming, don’t move out of the way, and glare or silently stare ahead when you ask if you can pass.

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Rolling hills!

So you pretty much start at the high point. This was great as I started my jog, because woohoo downhill! I hiked most of the uphills unless they were very slight. Supposedly you can see the Stuart range from the top of the ridge, but all I got were clouds. Oh, and the wind, which occasionally ripped by just to spite me. The road switches between beautiful gravel, nice dirt, and terrible rocks and mud, so you get a nice combo of footwork and space-out-cruising. I fell victim to “summit fever” – not a summit, but around mile 11 I was like okay, I’ll turn around at that high point. And then I was there, and it was 11.5 miles, and I thought no you didn’t drive 2.5 hours just to turn around at 11.5 miles, go for 13. And then I hit 13 and thought okay, that high point (I was going downhill and didn’t want to start my return trip with immediate uphill). And then I could see the road intersection that was the turnaround point from that knoll, and I didn’t come that far just to turn around 300 yards short of the end. So I tagged the intersection and began the long slog back.

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The nicest section of road ever

I didn’t let myself check mileage again until around 19.8 miles. I wanted to be sure I had less than 10 miles left next time I looked (mental games) so I waited forever. The rolling hills were kind to me though, I ran more uphills than I had on the way out and felt pretty good. The final uphill to the trail turnoff was brutal, but not as brutal as the ensuing descent, losing 1,000ft+ per mile, destroying my knees and quads and hips while I counted my steps to distract myself from everything else because I was even tired of the sage at this point.

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Trail leading off into the distance

I jogged across the bridge (surprisingly bouncy) and popped into the parking lot, pretty thrilled with how the day had gone. I had only eaten around 6 tablespoons of peanut butter, and felt fantastic the entire time. I had the perfect amount of water, my new shoes had felt great, and I didn’t have any weird aches or pains. I didn’t even know that was possible. I hopped into my car, mentally on tope of the world, and drove straight into a wall of traffic on i90 because people forget how to drive in the rain. Shit.

Oh, and I found a Hot Pocket that I had lost in my car back in summer of 2015. You read that right. Over 2 years later. Turns out there’s a void beneath the fabric on the floor below my drivers’ seat. I can only imagine the decay had spawned a mold-based life form, because the only reason I found it was because there was this odd crackling noise going on and I was panicking that there was a mouse in my car while driving on the highway. No, just a hot pocket that came to life. I was hoping I had mentioned it in the trip report but I didn’t. But for two years I’ve been assuming that there was a glitch in the matrix that resulted in the loss of some high quality sustenance.

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Sage has yellow flowers 🙂