Loo-wit: Nisqually name for Mount St. Helens meaning Lady of Fire
Last weekend we got to experience something pretty incredible. Like, bucket list incredible.
The Loowit Trail around Mount St. Helens is a classic Pacific Northwest trail which circumnavigates the mountain. Rugged, remote, and exceptionally challenging, it traverses in and out of the blast zone, with major elevation gain & loss. It's most often recommended that the Loowit be hiked in 3 to 4 days.
So of course, we signed up to run it in 1.
Heading in to the Volcanic 50, my biggest anxiety about race day was not losing the trail. I have a habit of being behind the midpack, putting me often times all by my lonesome. I normally don't mind, but given the remoteness & technical nature of the course, I was hoping it would be well-marked enough that I'd be OK on my own.
The course markings were sufficient, and during the times that I was
alone and the cones & streamers were
few, I just remembered: "You're smart. You
can figure this out. Scan what's around you, take your time, and
look for the clues." No problem!
Next to that, my other concern was the time cut-off. I had 9 hours to make it to aid station #4 at the 24.3 mile mark. Now, 9 hours may seem like a long time, but since we had been forewarned to expect a finish time closer to a 50 miler than a 50K, it was hard to gauge. That, and, I needed to bank some good time to be able to stop and look around. I wanted to really be able to absorb the day and remember everything I was able to see. I was really happy that even with the demanding course, I was able to cruise in to the 4th aid station in 7:30. Plenty of time to spare!
The rest of what follows is just a few of the pictures I took out on course. Any superlatives one could bestow on this place will fall flat. I knew it would be incredible, but I was not prepared for just how incredible it would be.
Hopping onto the Loowit, our friend for the rest of the day, at a few miles in.
The lava fields, which started fairly soon after starting on the Loowit. The course is permanently marked by posts, and enhanced by the orange cones put out by the race directors.
It was exciting to get views of the Cascade Range, which made it tough to remember how important it was to keep an eye on your footing!
Aid station #2, at 12.2 miles, was the South Fork Toutle River crossing. This is taken from the south bank. See the tiny spots of orange down in the lower right next to the river? That was the crossing. See the little people about halfway up the north bank?
That's how you got back to the trail on the other side. How fun is that?!
(Don't worry, mom, there was a rope to hang on to.)
After the river crossing, the real fun began. We entered the eruption impact zone, and were treated to some stunning views of the mountain. It had been about 9 years since our last hiking trip down here, and I was so fascinated by how much restoration has occurred in that short time.
Continuing around the north side of the mountain, the Loowit takes you within a few kilometers of the Breach. It was moments like this when it was impossible not to think about the magnitude of force it took to move such a massive amount of earth.
The view off to the Northwest of Spirit Lake, probably around 19 or so miles in.
Approaching Windy Pass, the highest point of the course, at around 4900 feet.
Up at the top of Windy Pass, looking back at where I'd come from. Anywhere you see what looks to be a small tan ribbon in the lower left of the frame is Loowit Trail.
After Windy Pass, the trail descended down into the Plains of Abraham. Once again, the landscape was different, as we passed out of the east side of the eruption impact line.
Ghostly trees, nearing the last aid station, probably around mile 23 or so.
The weather shifted slightly, and Loowit was capped in clouds.
I love that you can still see the glaciers peeking out.
After the last aid station, the canyons began. In & out, up & down, one after another, with more orange cones to guide the way. There's a small waterfall here in the lower left. There's another runner, in blue, crossing it.
Around mile 27 or so, just when I was thinking we should be heading back into lush Pacific Northwest forest, the real treat for tired legs came: more lava fields. Yaay!
Thankfully, the last 2.5 miles were a glorious forested cruise back to the finish line.
I came in with a finishing time of 10:10:41, and a whole lot of gratitude for the day.
Trail running has taken my legs, lungs and mind to places I never would have otherwise, and now that it's in my blood, I know I'm in it for life.
I've been itching to push it past 26.2 for a few years now.
Cut to last December, when peer influence (doesn't that sound better than peer pressure?) got the best of me. It was my time. I live in a multi-athlete household, and BS had already signed up for Ironman Canada 2012 (a story of peer influence for another time), so I knew that if I wanted to take care of my ultra-itchin', I'd better get off the pot & take care of business before his training load got too high. Late Winter/early Spring it would be!
I looked at the Chuckanut 50K early on, and read this little gem in their course description:
If you should get hopelessly lost, follow any road or trail on the mountain and you will eventually come to civilization. Call Krissy’s cell to report you are safe so we don't needlessly call search and rescue. Thanks!
Huh? You gotta be kidding me! I made a mental note not to tell my mom about that part I just read. I dismissed the 'Nut as a serious possibility, but kept going back. I'd peek at the website again, and calculate the miles to see if I really could pull it off within the 8 hour time limit. That same course description was pulling me in with tempting tidbits like this:
The road will become a trail and the trail will become a mudhole then a stream. Wet feet guaranteed! Don't bother trying to stay dry...tighten your shoes and just power through the slop.
Do I like trail running? Check.
Do I like a challenge? Affirmative.
Do I like mud? It's my middle name.
Sign me up!
I texted my brother about an hour before registration opened. It went something like this-
Me: Registration goes live at 8. I'm getting cold feet. It's going to be really hard, isn't it?
TK: Yes, it because it IS hard, but that's why you're doing it. Sign up!
For the record, sibling pressure is worse than peer pressure.
Training went really well. A few minor hiccups, but nothing to compromise the overall plan. Work was incredibly busy this winter, so I got in as many miles as I could, and made sure that they were quality miles. Lots of hills, lots of trails. Lots of running in the dark, the cold, the rain. My longest training run was a 25 miler at Discovery Park. It was a lot of work, but I felt strong & ready. Bring it on!
Race day morning, it was barely above freezing and raining steadily at the start line. BS & I hunkered in the foggy car, waiting until the last possible minute to crack the seal & make a dash to the porta-potty line. 7:45, It was time to get going. Right on cue, Pandora cued up The Raconteurs' "Steady, As She Goes"- perfect!
The course, while insanely challenging, was absolutely beautiful.
Let's take a moment to review the profile:
Looks fun, doesn't it?
It's a nice, relatively steady warm up of 6.7 miles along the Interurban Trail, before the suffering begins. And suffer you do. Not once, up to Fragrance Lake, not twice, as then you grind up Cleator Road, but three times, as you hit the highest point- the aptly named Chinscraper. The good news is that after you survive those 21 miles, the last 10 are mostly downhill or level. Now there's something to look forward to (in a quad-busting, toe-jamming, semi-controlled free-falling kinda way).
The snow started halfway up the ascent to Fragrance Lake, and it didn't let up until after Chinscraper. The ascents were incredibly challenging, the descents were screamers, and the rest of the trails were pretty darned technical, made even more technical by the snow, mud and ice. The course proved itself to be everything it promised. The mud was thick in spots, and thicker everywhere else. I never knew there were so many different kinds of mud. I seriously should have weighed my shoes when I took them off!
It was interesting to me how varied the running was. I've never been a fast runner, but I'm steady. I've done a pretty good job of tapping into my distance "cruise control" speed, and I can stay there comfortably for hours. There really wasn't a whole lot of cruising going on here- I had some sub-10 minute miles, and I had 16-17 minute miles, and everything in between. There was running, jogging, power-walking, and not-so-power-walking. It made for such an interesting mental challenge to race smart, trying to determine just how much to output at certain points, while reserving enough in the tank for later.
I read in someone else's blog that when you come off of the Fragrance Lake trail and begin the last stretch, it's either the easiest or hardest 10K of your life. I vote hardest, but wow, does that finish line feel worth it!
Technical Mumbojumbo, for those so inclined to read: Official Finish Time 7:08:01
Total feet of cumulative incline (per Garmin) 15,273 Total feet of cumulative decline (per Garmin) 15,056
I chose to set my dear Garmin to yell at me every 45 minutes to take a GU. Flavs of choice: Roctane Blueberry Pomegranate or Island Nectars.
I supplemented with solid foods at each of the 5 aid stations, mostly going for the savory/salty choices like boiled potatoes or chips.
I had my Camelback filled with Zip Fizz, and then refilled at the aid station at the bottom of Chinscraper- I believe the on-course electrolyte drink was FRS.
Race morning I ate an Udi's GF bagel & a banana
Dinner the night beforehand I had Tinkyada GF Brown Rice Pasta with Marinara & a Field RoastVegan Sausage, with a big glass of 14 Hands Hot to Trot Red on the side.
The plan was solid, and the was fabric chosen. Once JoAnn Fabrics published their coupons & end of summer sale, I was ready!
Before. Old, tattered, saggy, dirty, stinky. (The sofa, not Miss Leia!)
This is an example of the level of wear on some portions of the fabric.
After skinning, a healthy dousing with Lysol is imperative!
Worn out spring straps are replaced.
Detailed plans are very important when working with $65 a yard fabric!
No fabric cutting ever goes unattended.
It gets really exciting when the 2 major pieces are finally covered with the new fabric!
Now back in the living room, the reupholstered arms are reattached, and the new stained legs are attached. The same new legs were also used on the reupholstered chair, for unity.
One last look at the internal framework before the final back panel is attached.
Penny says, "I really am the final accent that perfects the new sofa!"
A Note About The Fabric: I chose to use Crypton brand upholstery fabric. Read up on it here at their website: Crypton At Home. It was an absolute DREAM to work with, looks gorgeous, and, so far, is unbelieveably durable. If you are looking to reupholster a piece that has a sturdy frame which will last for years, using the Crypton fabric is worth every penny!
I work a desk job.
By nature, I'm an outside kind of girl, so there are times of the year when it's really tough to be in the office.
One of my coping strategies is to bring a vase in every Monday morning with what was blooming out in the yard. It's a nice little reminder of what I'm working for.
Sometimes my vase is kinda skimpy, but not so in August!
Rather than go around the yard and photograph every bloom, I thought I'd do a little "one stop shopping" and present to you my entire yard of star performers, all in one vase.
Here's the roll call for today's desktop bouquet:
• Butterfly Bush
• Chocolate Cosmos
• Sweet Peas (eat your heart out, Midwest...our crummy summer = the sweet peas are still kicking!)