It’s not that I’ve been slacking on getting out onto the trails. I have been getting out there. I just haven’t been hiking. Instead, running on the trails is where I’ve been. I find that my trail runs don’t make for the most interesting blog posts – which is why you wont find blogs about them here. The runs are usually shorter, on the same ol’ trails (like in Discovery Park) and are lacking photographic evidence.
I’m making an exception for the Grand Ridge Trail Half Marathon which I ran on November 14. I ran an entire trail half marathon! My first. While hiking the Wonderland Trail in August, I randomly made the decision to run a trail half. So that’s what I did. I trained and ran, ran and trained. My hard work culminated in this 13.1 mile race on the rolling trails of the Issaquah Alps.
According to WTA “Grand Ridge Park includes seven miles of WTA-built trail through western red cedar trees, sword ferns, nettles, berries and, at times, slugs. This trail is a little piece of the backcountry close to Seattle and is open to hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.
Winding through 1,300 acres above Issaquah and Lake Sammamish, Grand Ridge Park is the result of a unique agreement between Port Blakely, which developed the Issaquah Highlands and King County. For every one acre of developed land, Port Blakely agreed to set aside four acres of park land.
The trail provides habitat to many forest creatures besides just slugs, such as bears, owls, cougars, and chipmunks. You can access the trail at High Point or Central Park in the Issaquah Highlands, and eventually Duthie Park as well.”
And Evergreen Trail Runs says this about the race course: “This park is a well-hidden jewel located just across I-90 from Tiger Mountain. The course starts and finishes at Grand Ridge Trailhead, just off I-90 at Exit 20 in Washington. It begins with a wide double-track trail until you head north into the hills on the recently built singletrack trails. These are some of the nicest trails we have encountered in the Northwest.”
I chose to run this race because the timing was right – about 10 weeks after I decided to run a half marathon gave me just enough time to build up the miles and endurance to make it happen.
Saturday. November 14, 2015. Race: Grand Ridge Half Marathon. Distance: 13.1 miles. Elevation gain: 2000+ feet.
I wake up earlyish. The race starts at 9 am. I need to get there around 8 and it’s a 30 minutes drive, so Jared and I need to be on the road at 7:30 am. Jared is awesome and is going to be on the sidelines to support me. I drink coffee and water, and eat toast with tofu cheese spread (which is really tasty btw, recipe is from Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run “Western States Cheese Spread”). Oh yeah 7 or 8 weeks ago I made the move to a vegan (ahem “plant based”) diet which made me a little tired at first but after an adjustment feels great.
It is raining. And the forecast is 100% chance of rain. Temps around 45 degrees. I’m prepared and wearing my running tights, wool socks, Altra Lone Peak trail runners, Icebreaker wool base layer, Patagonia Houdini wind jacket, and windproof ear band. I make sure I have my race vest, water bottle, snacks (a few packets of Honey Stingers and maple syrup), and post race clothes.
We drive out to Issaquah and park about a quarter mile from the race registration. I register, use a lovely port-a-potty, walk back to the car, opt with a handheld water bottle with snack packets stuffed into the pocket. I drink a chia seed concoction. We mosey over to the race start. Jared and I huddle under tents to stay dryish. And then it’s 8 am and the race is staring. I’m near the back.
Jared wishes me luck and I’m off. In a herd of people and we’re jogging slowly along the flat mile-long rail-trail that precedes a hill climb into the trail system. It’s raining. Rivers are high and raging. It’s going to be a wet slog for sure but I’m wearing the right stuff and know I’ll be comfortable. The herd turns right up the hill and we all walk/jog the switchbacks. I start slow and feel good as I pass a few people. A few miles in at the top of the switchbacks we all turn left to run the Coal Mine Loop – a hilly portion of trail.
Halfway around the loop there is a spot where the river has overtaken the trail. Instead of flowing under in a culvert, it’s surging over top. We all ford the stream submerging our feet and ankles. Just beyond, the stream is flowing in the trail and we all run through. Woo! River running. I pass a few more people and feel pretty good. I make the most gains on the downhills and run with reckless abandon.
When the Coal Mine Loop ends, the 5 mile racers return back toward the start and us half marathoners continue on the main singletrack trail. The trail is much less crowded now. It’s kind of fun to run with a ton of other people. Sometimes I’m running with a few others. At other times I’m passing or they’re passing ahead. I eat a Honey Ginsting goo thing. Continue the gradual uphill toward the Grand Ridge Drive crossing and Aid Station.
At the Aid Station I fill my water bottle. They’re cooking bacon, but it smells more like they’re burning bacon. The race today includes a 5-miler, half-marathon, marathon, and 50k. Bacon does not sound appetizing to me now but maybe for the 50k runners?
I run past the aid station where the trail is less steep but still rolling. I stumble once but don’t fall. I pass more people on the downhill, at one point blazing past a big group. This one chick tags along and we run together for a few miles and join up with two dudes. She’s tailing me so closely that she runs into me at one point. Easy there killer. This portion is mostly downhill until the turnaround point.
The turnaround point is on a log bridge. I tag the tape and fill my water bottle from the water jugs stationed there. Everyone is stopped here drinking and chatting. The woman who was running with me complements me on my pace. Ego boost! I step on a round log on the side of the bridge and promptly fall on my ass. I hop up. Nobody saw that right? It might bruise later but for now my butt is numb anyway – feels fine! Actually the chick who was running with me gasps when I fall and offers to help me up but I’m fine.
Back on the trail. Now I have to run back up the hill I just came down. Ugh. I’m dragging a bit and getting passed a bunch. Walk/jog. Walk/jog. I eat an Untapped maple syrup packet. Yum! After a few miles I’m back on the less steep portion of trail and can steadily run again. Back past the aid station. I eat an oreo and get more water. Flat-ish here and then gradually downhill. The crowds have thinned and I’m mostly running solo. The return run cuts off the Coal Mine Loop and admittedly signage is not very good. I did several training runs here so I know where to go, but not so for everyone. I come upon a lost guy standing at the junction and point him in the right direction toward the finish.
I’m back onto the switchbacks and running downhill now. Picking up speed! I pass a few guys walking their mountain bikes uphill and one of them says “Nice pace” – yess ego boost! I switch down and then am back on the flat final mile stretch. When I can see the finish I try to pick up the pace – which I discover is not the same energy blast sprint as at the end of a 5k – it’s more like a slightly less slow jog.
I cross the finish line – yess! I’m done! Jared meets me there and snaps a few unflattering photos that shall not be posted. We walk back to the car. By then I’m freezing because I’m soaking wet. I change into cozy sweats behind the car. We drive back to Seattle and I eat so much pho at Green Leaf.
I finished 9th out of 36 runners in my age/gender category (check out the standings HERE). That’a B+!
And here are my stats: