Having set my sights on the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, a 166km tour of the Mont Blanc Massif in August this year, I decided to sign up for more races in the lead up to the event. The idea was to run these races as training runs; enjoying new trail and scenery and drawing on the positive energy of the other runners to help with the motivation to push on with my long weekend runs!
My first big run of the season was the Badger Mountain Challenge, held on the fringe of the tri-cities (Kennewick, Richland and Pasco) in Southeastern Washington State, USA. This was the first year the event was held, offering 15km, 50km or a 100miler option. Without doing too mush research, I signed up for the 50km distance and realized only closer to the date that we would have quite a journey ahead of us from Squamish, Canada. Our party consisted of: Mike, a running buddy from New Zealand who also signed up for the 50km on the basis that he would have strong legs from endless days of snowboarding; Jan, attempting the 15km with an injured leg; my brother Werner, not running but fulfilling the crucial role of support crew/photographer/cheer squad. We left on Friday at 4pm, and after 10 hours of driving (including a border crossing and several food stops for the boys) we arrived in Richland at 2am. Using a barely legible google-map printout we found a local park in which to set up our tent and attempt sleeping. Needless to say, the freezing temperatures, our well-insulated tent (read sarcasm) and pre-race nerves thwarted us, and we woke up the next morning at 6am neither refreshed nor in the mood for a 50km.
The 50km runners met at the foot of Badger Mountain, a bald hill devoid of trees and providing expansive views over the bleak lanscape. This would set much of the tone for the trail ahead. The American runners trumped us both in enthusiasm and in toughness, with many bare legs exposed to the early morning chill. Without much ado, the race director led a countdown to the "start" call, runners synchronising their GARMINS and heading uphill to the Badger Mountain trailhead.
Mike and I, freezing while waiting for the start:
Nervous runners wanting desperately to warm up:
The run took us along a loop around Badger Mountain and then out toward Candy Mountain. The terrain was mostly on single dirt trails, a freeway crossing, between some of the wineries, and through steep sandy sections littered with shotgun shells (from badger hunting perhaps?). From Candy Mountain the cruelest section arrived - the ascent to Red Mountain and running along the ridge behind. The trail ran steeply up the side of the mountain, killing calves and momentum and making many grown men cringe. At the top the wind buffetted against us and without gloves, my fingers soon became stiff, frozen and swollen like sausages. The trail was littered with sharp rocks making for slow, painful running. At the turn around point, a group of volunteers met us with cow bells and gels - kudos to them standing out in the wind to cheer on the runners.
On the run back I ran for a while with Mike until he "boosted" on the flat and became a speck on the horizon. I held my pace, watched my HR, alternated between Clif Shot Gels and Sharkies chews, and slowly passed quite a few runners who had been defeated by the rocks on Red Mountain. My final ascent back up the side of Badger Mountain felt great thanks to all the strength training I had been doing at the Challenge by Choice Studio, and I was even able to smash the last downhill. On this last descent I passed a gentleman who had slowed his pace. As soon as I overtook him though, I could feel his pace quicken as he stuck like glue behind me. Thanks to him, I rocketed down the last slope, wanting to shake him Steve Prefontaine style, and crossed the finish line in 5:40hr and in 5th placed female.
Mike finishing strong:
Thanks to the Race Director for having the guts to stage such an epic first event. The race was well supported by volunteers who always had water, gels and lollies on hand on the course. The food at the finish was amazing and it was great to sit down with all the runners and chat over a bowl of chili. For a first race, the organizers got many things right: female specific race t-shirts that actually fit, a great finish-line atmosphere, showers donated by the local gym down the road, and an after party at a local winery to finish up the day!