Monday, June 11, 2012

Michael and the Sunflowers

Michael Wenger is an adventurous, multi-sport kind of guy, and always willing to try something new.  You may remember his wonderful race report from the Gunnar Hagen this winter, his first ski race ever.  Now he's tackling trail running, and sends us another great report and beautiful pictures, this time from the Sun Mountain 25k in the Methow Valley last weekend.  Thanks, Michael!




As an avid mountain biker and cross country skier, I only recently ventured into the world of trail running. Sure, I’ve run on trails before (back home in Georgia and here in Seattle on some of the local, urban trails). But the idea of doing long-distances on trails that I’d normally mountain bike on is something that I only began doing in the last year. So, as my mileage slowly increased, as well as my desire to explore more trails, I turned to the events put on by Rainshadow Running(they have a great website you can check-out at http://www.rainshadow-running.blogspot.com/) Here is an organization that puts on fun, laid-back races that take you on some pretty epic runs in places you might not normally visit otherwise.  First stop for me was the Sun Mountain race last month over near Winthrop in the Methow Valley. While I’ve skied in the Methow, I’ve never experienced the area during the spring so was excited for my first adventure on the sunny side of the Cascades. 
 The adventure began with a beautiful after-work drive on Friday evening over the recently-opened Highway 20 across the North Cascades. My girlfriend and I went over Washington Pass just as the sun was setting and my mind started to drift towards skiing as I saw the massive snow walls along the side of the highway. But I quickly regained my focus on the task at hand that weekend and we arrived at Klipchuck campground at nightfall. 
 After a rather chilly night we set off the next day to do a short hike and explore some of the race course. After a nice breakfast at the Rocking Horse Café/Bakery in Winthrop(fresh-baked goods always win out over oatmeal at the campsite), we set off on a hike up Patterson Mountain(which was to be part of the 50K and 50 mile course).  The short hike offered a nice climb with incredible views of Patterson Lake and the Methow Valley.  I highly recommend it! 
 After our hike it was time to focus on the race the next day. I checked in and got my number for the 25K event. We headed back to camp, carbo-loaded, and settled in for the night.
 Race day was filled with excitement, yet also a sense of community among the runners. After running into a few friends who were doing the 50K, we all lined up for the relaxing 10AM start. Unlike in road racing, the start was a lot more low-key (at least at the back of the pack where I chose to start!). There was relatively little pushing and jostling for position. Before we knew it, we were racing down beautiful singletrack along Patterson Lake (see photo!). As we started climbing the pack slowly broke up and everyone settled into their own pace. I found a group with a comfortable rhythm and set out to push myself, but also enjoy the scenery. I am learning in trail running that walking on some sections is OK (sometimes it just makes more sense, especially on steep sections or on longer runs when you want to save your legs).  After a nice steady climb we reached the high point and almost immediately dropped into a fast, sweet single-track descent.  The rest of the course was rolling and was filled with fantastic trails. Aside from my shin splints flaring up around mile 10, the race was a complete success! Afterwards, we all sat on the grass and enjoyed free pizza, fruit, beverages, and a live bluegrass band. It felt more like a festival rather than a race.


So, if you are looking for fun trail running events that offers a laid-back vibe and amazing courses, check out the Rainshadow running events calendar. I’ll be racing again in the Cle Elum event in September. Until then it’ll be more training runs at Cougar, Tiger, Squak, and countless other locations in the Cascades! See you on the trails…


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