Short: 5:10:47, 1st woman, 16th overall, 42nd marathon/ultra this year.
I had wanted to run Baker Lake twice before, but it was cancelled one year due to wind storm damage and I was out of town another year. Now I know what I was missing! It was a beautiful trail with a great race director and volunteers.
On the Thursday before the race, which was Saturday 10/7, I looked at the race entrants and decided that I could have a good chance of winning. In truth, of the names I recognized, I felt that Christel Elliot was my biggest competition, as we usually finish fairly close to each other. I also saw that the overall winners of each category (Open <40, Masters 40-59, and Seniors >60) all got a Baker Bear. So I told my husband the night before the race that I was going to run all out because I wanted a bear. If I bonked at the end and was passed by people, I could just use the excuse that I had raced 4 marathons in 4 days the weekend before. I felt I was well-rested, but maybe not completely recovered, since I had not run the entire week mostly due to time constraints. But the night before, I was doing my stretches and found that my hamstrings were super tight, which made me concerned that I could injure them if I was not careful.
Sleep was restless and I had a dream that I came in second. I met Arthur Martineau and Tony C at the Maple Valley Park and Ride at 4:15! We arrived with plenty of time to get ready for the start. As I was looking around at my competition, I told Tony who I thought looked like strong runners. I picked all the wrong girls. The ones that I thought could out-run me ended finishing over an hour later and the ones I was not concerned about ran strong. Tony told me that you can’t tell just by looking at someone how good a runner they are. I guess he was right.
We started promptly at 8AM in perfect weather, cool at the start and ideal for running. I was at the front with all the guys who would go for the win. The first 1.75 miles were paved or gravel and mostly uphill, but not too steep. Still, my legs didn’t wake up soon enough and I was passed by 6 girls. I had asked Tony to pace me to a win, but I could not keep up with him in this stretch. I saw Christel go by and could not match her pace. . (Note to self: If I want to go out fast, I need to warm up, even in an ultra.) But as soon as we hit the trailhead, I took off! I really think that the trails flip a switch in me and I just float. Anyway, I caught up with a train of people including Tony, Kendall Kreft, and 4 or 5 of the girls who passed me. I tried to pass as quickly and kindly as possible and said to Tony, “Okay, I’m here, let’s go!” We started running at a pretty good clip, it felt like a 10-mile trail run pace rather than 31 mile. I caught up to the first woman, who was a spectacular Master’s runner, Christy Fazio. I ran behind her but had another girl running right on my heels. I didn’t feel very comfortable with her running so close to me because when you’re that close, you cannot see the terrain in front of you and can trip, possibly taking the person in front of you out in the process. So I asked her to pass me. When she passed, I realized that it was Rita, a girl that I had talked to briefly before the race. Apparently, we had run together at Pt. Defiance at Gayle Zorilla’s going away run. Except, I had already run two loops with Mary Hanna, Cliff Richards, and Phil Kriss, and could not keep up with the later group. I only remembered after the race that she was the girl who was running in front with all the fast people. Anyway, we had talked before the race of how this was her first ultra. So when I let her pass, I was not too concerned about her since I thought she was going out too fast and would catch her later. Little did I know that she was a stronger runner than I thought.
I passed Christy and was cruising along with Tony and Kendall. Then Tony had to take a side break and I never saw him again until the turn around. Kendall took off. Rita had taken off as well. Still, I felt I was running very fast, faster than I felt we all should have gone out. I was running all the uphills, which were not too steep to run, but taxed my calves for sure. I was running by myself at this point, which was about 5 miles in. I caught a guy who was walking the uphills. I passed him, and we ran together for a while until a couple of guys, who I had passed earlier, caught us. I let them all pass. I wanted to run a steady pace. But the balls of my feet at the big toes were starting to hurt because my shoes were not tied tight enough for the downhills. I finally decided to stop and tighten them, knowing I would lose time on Rita and risk Christel catching me. Actually, I was more concerned about Christel, since I didn’t know how strong Rita was. I had taken off my gloves and they were half frozen. I fumbled with my laces and finally started running again. I felt I lost about 2 minutes doing that, but Christel did not appear and I caught up with those three guys.
We were approaching the turn around at 15.75 miles and the only aid station on the course. I had passed Craig Ralstin, who was having a bad knee day. He was helpful later in telling me where my competition was. I started seeing the front guys, who must have been flying! James Kerby, the eventual winner with a new Master’s course record (4:15), said that they went out way too fast. He was patient and was in 4th or 5th place when I saw him. He ended up winning by 15 minutes! I was glad to see Rita only about 30 seconds out from the turn around when I arrived. However, I wasted way too much time there fumbling through my drop bag and left 2 minutes after arriving, which equated to Rita being at least 3 minutes ahead. I bolted out of the turn around and ran as fast as my tired and short legs could go. People told me later that I was cruising! I’m glad I looked better than I felt. The next two ladies were 3 minutes behind and Christel was 6 minutes behind. I knew that the pace I was running would be hard to catch. I just hoped it was enough to catch Rita.
Most everyone I saw on the out and back told me how far ahead she was. First Craig told me it was only 30 seconds, which was hard for me to believe. Then it was 45 seconds, then 30 seconds, and then 1/10 of a mile. Of course, I had to think of it in relative terms because she was moving away from them after they saw her and I was moving towards them when they saw me, so I actually had to double that time or length. All I know was that I kept expecting to see her in the long stretches, but I never did. I was starting to worry that I was running out of trail to catch her. I passed the halfway point on the return and still did not see her. All I could think was how much I wanted that stuffed bear and how I was sick of finishing second all the time. Second at Tahoe Triple. Second at Auburn. It’s always Marsha, Marsha, Marsha! Always the bridesmaid, never the bride! I wanted to win!
I kept pushing my pace. A guy had passed me early on after the turn around. He said, “Come on, grab on!” I wanted to, but he was running too well for me. I thought that if he passed Rita, she would have asked how far back I was and increase her speed if I was too close. Still, I was running pretty fast, running all the hills. But if I hadn’t, I would have never been able to catch her. After 1 hour and 40 minutes, I finally caught a glimpse of her walking up a hill. Great! If I just keep running all the hills, I could win this thing. I passed her on a hill and said good job. But as soon as we hit the downhill, she was on my heels again. Again, I felt uncomfortable with her so close. I asked her if she wanted to pass me back but she said no. She just wanted to “hang tight.” Just about then, I heard her slip behind me. Fortunately, she didn’t take me down. I yelled back, “Are you okay?” She said yes. So, being competitive like anyone else, I took this moment to jet off. I didn’t look back to see if she was chasing me. I just ran. Before long, I didn’t hear her footsteps again. I did pass another guy, and started to look back more often, because I though his footsteps could be hers. But I never saw her again. However, after I left her, I started having serious problems with muscle cramps. I would get those half cramps that required that you stop or slow down or else they would fully cramp. That happened in my hamstrings, quads, and mostly calves about a dozen times that forced me to slow my pace or walk. I was getting so frustrated that my lead could possibly dwindle. I was expecting Rita to pass me again anytime.
But she never did. Then I got to the last river crossing. In the beginning, there was someone there taking pictures and directing the way. Plus, there were other runners that you were following so it was not hard to lose the trail. But when I got to this part near the end of the race, I had no idea where the trail went. I did a 360 and tried several small trails that led to dead ends. I finally took a trail that forced me to cross the river at a very tenuous spot, and I proceeded to cramp in my calf trying to make the long stretch to a log. Then I cramped and fell in the river. F---!!! Just about then, the guy I had passed came along and found the trail. He was nice enough to stay put while I found my way to him. I finally caught him, after cramping a few more times, but at least I was maintaining my position. I asked if the other girl had passed him while I was cussing and trying to make my way across the river. He said no.
So we ran, walked, and shuffled along in the last mile before the road, which was mostly uphill and worse on my cramping. I clearly had not drank enough, but I later found that I was not the only one with cramps. We finally hit the road. I looked back. No Rita. Phew. I remembered that first part of the run was mostly uphill, and I was looking forward to the down. At least I was able to run the down. But then we hit a flat and I cramped, forcing me to stretch and walk. There was also a little up. We passed a guy who was shuffling. I asked him to yell “WOOHOO” when the next girl passed him to let me know how far back she was. I never heard him. Perhaps he was never passed by her or felt that I was far enough ahead that she couldn’t catch me. Dave Dutton drove by and yelled, “Only one more mile!” Still, I didn’t feel I was going to win until I saw the finish line. I kept looking back. There was no one behind me. Finally, I crossed the dam. There was a spectacular view of Mt. Baker. I saw a lady sitting on the side of the road with a walkie-talkie and relaying our race numbers to the finish. I asked her how much farther. She said a minute! I looked back. Still no one. Finally, I was able to relax, mentally. I shuffled in for the win with stiff legs.
So, it wasn’t pretty. My last five miles were just trying to hold onto the slim lead that I had developed. Rita came in just over 2 minutes behind. What a strong performance on her first ultra. Look for her in the future, folks, and be prepared.
As for me, I got my Baker Bear! If I never win another Baker Lake 50K, that’s okay! I have my bear! Jim Kerby and I also got a very nice long sleeve Patagonia top worth $100! I watched more runners coming in, most all of them shuffling. Everyone looked stiff from cramps. No one was sprinting in, except Mary “Cartwheels” Latta, who did 3 cartwheels at the finish line. Kendall ran in with a quad muscle fully cramped! Tony cramped just sitting down. We had a very nice post race meal with soup, Subway sandwiches, little bags of chips, and a whole assortment of drinks. Dave really knows how to put on first class ultra. Random prizes abounded as well, including two free pairs of Montrail shoes.
Nice trails, nice people, nice weather. What could be more perfect?