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Saturday, August 05, 2017

(Late) Race Recap: River of No Return 25k

Beautiful scenery in Challis, ID This is a real photo I TOOK from the race!
This recap is a long time coming. I almost skipped it since I'd waited so long, but once I started writing I realized I remembered more than I anticipated!

The River of No Return 25k took place Saturday, June 17, 2017 at 8:00am in Challis, Idaho. This race happened during Birdcamp Idaho, so when the camp organizer asked if we wanted to run I said yes. I agreed back in March, when I assumed I'd be a proficient Montana trail runner by June. (haha)

Pre Race
Packet pickup was the night before and included a chat from the race director, some course instructions, and a big info session for the [crazy] people running the 108k. Birdcampers went as a group, grabbed our bibs and swag, then went back to camp to prepare.

Packet pickup team photo
Oh man, I almost forgot: the night before the race we went to bed around 10:00 and at 11:00 – just as I was finally falling asleep – one of the campers screamed. Like a "there's a killer on the loose and he's standing next to my bed" scream. Turns out she does this a lot at home. Everything turned out ok: she was reassured nothing was wrong, then she passed back out (the next day she said she barely remembered it). Oh man, it was terrifying for the rest of us! My heart did not stop racing for at least an hour. Whew!

Birdcamp racers (minus the 108k-ers)
Anyway! We got to the start line early, went to the bathroom a million times, I changed my outfit (didn't know how my singlet would work with my new-ish hydration pack), and finally it was time to go. I cannot remember the last time I was so nervous before a race.

I was really nervous in this photo. Hiding it really well. Ha!
Goals
Did I mention this was my longest run ever? Like, including training (which was mostly non-existent because I couldn't find a good training plan for a hilly 25k).

When we signed up for the race I thought I could do it in under 3 hours, but quickly realized that would only be possible on a flat trail. Alex and I did a crazy steep hike a few weeks before and mile times were in the 20s, so I adjusted my goal to under 4 hours. My plan: hike up, roll down. It became my mantra.

Race
The race started on the road, then merged onto a gravel trail leading to the park where you began the major ascent. This trail was flatter than I expected and soon I was passing Oiselle teammates and feeling really strong. My plan was to take this section easy, but keep my pace quick-ish to bank time for the climb. According to the elevation chart, the main climb would begin at 3 or 3.5. I passed mile 3 and man, I felt great and in control. In fact, I felt really good until halfway through mile 4.
Miles 1-4: 10:06, 9:41, 9:49, 14:02

Feeling good
I ate a gel during my second or third walk break. I was already too hungry: something I'd been having a problem with on trail runs at this point in my training. Nothing filled me up and I walked a lot. Luckily, everyone did. But somewhere around mile 5 or 6 (it's all blurry) I started to get passed by all those Oiselle teammates I'd pass. Just to be clear: a lot of these ladies are experienced runners and I was fully prepared to finish after them, but I was kind of bummed my mile 1-3 high didn't last longer. I quickly realized I'm not good at power hiking up an insane hill. They were tired, but I was struggling. Each one said something encouraging as they passed. I appreciated it!

Miles 5 thru 7 were really difficult. At one point I noticed my hands swelling. I kept drinking water, but I needed salt. Luckily, I'd packed pretzels at the last minute, but they didn't kick in for a while. I ambled up the hill. It was getting really hot in the full sun and I was exhausted. I just needed to make it to the aid station and then it was all downhill! I was getting passed a lot, but I was more worried about survival than my overall place. It was hot, it was hard. I was dead. BUT I knew I could do it. I knew I'd be fine once I hit the aid station.

This was during one of the hardest parts of the climb. I had to STOP, so I took a photo. 
Mile 8 lead to the aid station and it was relatively flat. It was so nice to run again! It was also an out-and-back so I began to see race leaders and Oiselle teammates. I made it to the aid station and a volunteer took my pack and filled it with Tailwind. I grabbed M&Ms, Lays, and more pretzels. I scarfed a few snacks then stored the rest for later (advice: bring a ziploc bag. It was a lifesaver!). I chilled at the aid station for about 5 minutes, regaining my strength. Obviously, I wasn't worried about time!
Miles 5-9: 21:34, 19:54, 28:19 (clearly dying), 15:04, 16:54 (aid station)

Perfect course elevation: finish on a downhill
I felt like a new person after the aid station. The tough stuff was behind me! I can do downhills! My food had finally caught up with me and the Tailwind was giving me power. I was strong again. I passed some people, I made up some time. I also tripped a lot because this part of the course was basically just loose rock on a cliff, but I didn't die, so I kept running. I wasn't flying, but it still felt great. (I truly believe walking far is harder than running far.) Those last miles felt a little lonely because everyone was so spread out, but I was having a blast.
Miles 10-12: 11:57, 11:39, 13:56 (unstable ground)

Back on asphalt, loving life
Finally, we got back to the main road that lead into town. It was nice to be back on asphalt. Deep down, I think I'm still more comfortable road running. I kicked up my pace and ended up passing a few people in the last two miles. And when I came down Main Street and saw non-racing Oiselle teammates cheering up ahead, I picked up my pace a little more to take the final turn into the finish.
Final miles: 9:30, 8:36, 8:30

Best race photo of my life
Thoughts and Stats
Unlike any road half marathon I've run, there wasn't a point of "why do I do this?" or "I'm dying." Even when I actually was almost dying (dramatic, much?) on that full-sun climb from hell, I'd turn around and look down at the trail. I looked at where I'd come from and took a few pictures of the beautiful view, then straightened up and got back to work. THAT was a cool new feeling. "Once I make it through this part, the rest is easy." (And fun.)

Final Time: 3:22:03
Overall: 64 / 111
Gender: 43 / 75

I had two beers
I'd do this race again in a heartbeat. I know that climb is going to suck. Even now, I'm probably remembering it wrong because I'm telling myself it'll be easier next time. I'll be a little faster next year and maybe more prepared (especially my nutrition), but honestly, it'll probably still suck a little bit and it will most definitely be hard.

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