As the name and location suggests this can be a hot race so I was excited to pack just singlet and shorts...until I heard that someone had been out in snowshoes on the upper section of the course just 4 days earlier! The course changes a little most years and this year we were going over Little White which appeared from some photos to still be very white with snow! Nevertheless the forecast for race day was still 28 degrees and full on sunshine so I was glad of the 6am start.
The different race distances start at different times so although there were about 150 racers overall it was a pretty low key group, with lots of familiar Vancouver faces, for the 50 miler start. The course profile is pretty unique with mostly uphill and some flats, but zero descent, for 25km, then down over the otherside of Little White, a flat forest service road loop and then retracing steps for a downhill and flat 25kms to the finish. Dave Papineau (running his first 50 miler), myself and Steve Russell from Vernon headed out in the lead. I stuck with the guys for a good while but soon started to powerhike some of the steeper sections whilst they continued to run meaning that they gained some distance on me whilst still occassionally being in view. I was feeling the effect of zero taper (other than taking the day prior to race day off I had run all week and clocked 19 hours of running/ powerhiking in th preceding 7days) and my legs were heavy on the uphills but I figured that this was a training race so I wasn't too concerned so long as I made it to the finish. At the start of the day I had said to myself that if the going got tough I was just going to think of everyone running Western States at the same time, who would surely be working much harder than I was!
Overall the trail markings were very clear save for a few sections where I got a little panicked as they didn't seem at all obvious. But I would glimpse Dave ahead or soon see some orange flagging so overall knew that I was on course. Although the open sections very bone dry dust bowls, quite a bit of the trails in the shade and up high were muddy and wet from the still melting snow which made for some fun foot work hoping around the really bad sections. As we made our way to the apporach up Little White I caught Dave and was glad to have someone to chat to for a while. We soon hit the snow and zig-zagged acros it following the orange spray markings. The summit of Little White marked 25kms (and the turn around for the 50km racers) but us 50 milers carried on over the top and Dave and I soon saw the extent of the snow! The summit was wide open heathland (which reminded me of the Norwegian fjells) yet with the trail covered in snow and semi melted pools of snow we whacked our way through brush following the markings from one tree to another. Steve had gone out ahead so I could see his feint footsteps which helped too. Dave is one speedy road runner but I think fair to say that he is none too keen on the sort of technical trail that this course had now morphed into! I therefore got a lead on him just before we had to descend a particularly steep snowy bank with the aid of a rope that had been fixed up. All I could think was that we were probably only 27kms into a 76km course (they cut out 4kms due to the snow!) and this was way tougher than I had anticipated and who knew what else was too come! After scrambling down the slope I popped out on sheer bliss - a dry, dusty and slightly down hill forest service road - time to get some kms in the bag! The bliss however was short lived, I couldn't see Steve ahead or Dave behind me so I was totally on my own, clueless of the layout of the upcoming course and unsure of the facilities at the 42.5km aid station so trying to conserve my supplies a bit (some earlier aid had turned out to be just water when I had hoped for some food and electrolytes - note to self: read the website in more detail in future!) At least I knew I was on track as there were regular comfort markers and I just ploughed on knowing that each step would bring me closer to the aid station. After what seemed like an eternity I turned a corner and was stoked to see a fully-manned tent with gatorade, food, my drop bag and two helpful volunteers who informed me that Steve was literally a few 100 metres ahead.
As I left the aid station at 4h32 my spirits were restored - I had liquids and food, had had some conversation and now had motivation to run the gradual uphill forest service road back - I could catch Steve! And sure enough, I soon did. We exchanged a few words but I ploughed on and greeted fellow 50milers running in the opposite direction still on their way out - again, great to see some familiar faces.
At the base of the steep climb back up Little White I saw Jess, who despite not being a super speedy runner is always smiling and is so determined she is a real inspiration, so I was really glad to see that she looked like she was having a good time. I was trying to powerhike the climb as fast as I could, aware that Steve was probably faster than me on the uphills, so I only had a chnace for a brief chat with Wendy, Martha and George on their way down before they hurried me on as they could see Steve approaching from behind. All in all, the climb back up took about an hour and mentally it was great to be at the top again - ok, I still had 25kms to go, but it was all either downhill or flat - woo hoo!
My strength is definitely downhills so I blasted away and loved running through the rocky upper sections that were now flowing wih snow-melt water. Mud and water were splashing up my legs, my feet were soaked and I was loving it! As I had never met Steve before I didn't know what he would be like on the downs and didn't want to give up my lead, now I was in full-on race mode and had given up the idea of 'take it easy, it's a training race'! It was 6h13 when I left the top and I figured I could easily be done in 2 more hours which was great as during the tough snowy sections I had been calculating a 10hour plus day. It's amazing though that although the way up had seemed all very steep, now I was heading in reverse there seemed to be a lot more flat!!! Probably the toughest section on the way back was a stretch along what had been a railway line - flat, steady and straight, with no distractions - time for mental strength to kick in. I hit 9kms to go at 7h19 so thought a sub 8hr race would be a breeze and although I was powering along and feeling good (despite the increasing heat from the direct sun) it was slow. I didn't even grab aid at the final station (4.7kms to go) and ended up running out of water but I just wanted to get to the finish at that point.
I was lucky enough to squeak in under 8hrs - 7:58:49 and proved that running scared in the lead can do good as I gained 25mins on Steve since passing him! As I bowled over the finish line my friend Ward was nicely positioned to slow me down with a hug as he stood in my direct line of running :) Susan (who won the women's 25km - yay!) greeted me and soon got me sorted with water and iced tea. By now it was a really hot day down at the start line and I wasn't seriously degydrated but definitely needed to get some fluids on board, so thank you for looking after one slightly dazed and confused runner Susan!
All in all Scorched Sole once again lived up to being a fantastic race. The oragnisers (Shirlee, Tammy and Dan - thank you!) are so welcoming and friendly and really go to great efforts to look after the racers. Admittedly with the snow this year the course was challenging but the struggles through the nasty sections were worth it for the views and the race experience. I think everyone who toughed it through the snow deserves a big congrats!
More race details and results are at www.scorchedsole.ca