Washington | Climbing Taylor Mountain…twice

After wrapping up the Timberline Marathon, Kaela and I were ready to start our week vacation of the Pacific Northwest. My next race was 7 days away but we were going to make the most of the time that we had, especially after the fun travel experience on the way out. I wasn’t sure how my body would handle a week break between races while still on the go but there was only one way to find out. 

Race: Taylor Mountain Marathon
Location: Issaquah, WA
Date: June 22, 2019
Time: 6:32:25

We had an amazing week traveling around Oregon and Washington. It all started with the first evening in Portland and walking to get some great food and beer. The next day we spent a lot of time on our feet doing our own tour of Portland with a handful of breweries. We made our way north up to Mt St Helens, had breakfast that could have fed a family of 6 before hiking a few miles from the Johnston Ridge Observatory, and almost ran out of gas on the long 50 mile descent back to a gas station. We made our way west and drove up the coast from Oregon into Washington. Spending time at Long Beach we enjoyed the “long beach” and just the calmness of the area. Then we headed further north to Port Townsend and went on a whale watching tour and had the opportunity to see a few pods of orca whales. After taking a ferry from Bainbridge Island into Seattle, grabbing panoramic views along the way, we made it to the day before the race.

It’s crazy to think I just wrapped up a vacation in that little paragraph. It is also kind of crazy that I didn’t go on and on about the details of those items but hopefully the pictures above paint a picture of the amazing experiences we had during the week. Let’s get back on track.

We stayed just south of Seattle and decided that we would spend the day in Seattle before heading out to our place about an hour east, closer to Taylor Mountain. Since we spent a lot of time on our feet throughout the week I didn’t think it was necessary to get a morning shake out run in because honestly I was pretty loose. I did get on the pre-race diet of eating bagels and cranberry juice to try and carb load the best I could throughout the day. 

We hit the tourist spots of Seattle, having a delicious breakfast at the Public Market before heading to the Space Needle. I’m not a huge fan of heights but I knew the view would be amazing. Landscapes over cities just fascinate me. Anytime I have the opportunity to head up a couple hundred feet above the ground for the view, I take it! They had a section that you could lean up against the glass and have a picture taken with just the city in the background. Kaela and I both opted to sit straight up and quickly realized we were out of the frame. They also have a floor in the lower rotating deck that is just glass so it feels like you are floating. It took me a few toe touches before I was comfortable with stepping out.

Now that the morning was off to a good swing, we made our way back to the Public Market to get a real taste of the market. SO MANY TOURISTS! The market itself was great with tons of fresh produce and flowers but I don’t know how any local would be able to deal with the crowds of people taking pictures at every large fish they passed. People were wrapped around the corner just to get a coffee at the original Starbucks and gathered around the guys throwing fish back and forth at the fish market. It was a fun thing to see once but we were ready to get out of that area. We stopped at a small shop where Kaela grabbed some local wine while I waited in line at a small donut stand as a snack. We ate our donuts and walked another block or two before heading to the car and out of downtown. 

Side story, if you were not aware Seattle is very hilly. Basically from the water it goes straight up hill when heading east with stop lights every short block. Our little Nissan Sentra rental did not have the power to hold us up the hill and for some reason a Prius decided that stopping on our bumper at each light was a good idea. It was a fun “will she hit them” at every light as Kaela made the switch from brake to gas. We had a good laugh as she hit almost every light in that 2 mile span before getting on the highway.

Just before getting to our place we stopped by Safeway to pick up some pasta for dinner and then some additional items for race day. Kaela grabbed some food for breakfast and snacks so she wouldn’t go hungry like she did at the last race. I picked up microwavable pasta bags, sauce, bagels and Powerade. This race I was going to be wearing my vest and I didn’t want to have to take the chance of being stuck with red Gatorade again.

We were getting a little hungry and pizza had been on my mind so we started looking around. We were having trouble finding a simple pizza place selling by the slice as we knew that we didn’t need a full pizza. We checked out some reviews on Yelp and found a place that had reviews of either love or hate it. Those kinds of places always intrigue me to see which group is correct. The pizza slices were massive so we decided that one slice each would be more than enough for lunch. There weren’t any prices or anything around and I didn’t think anything of getting two slices until the cashier told me the total was $13 (or something equally outlandish, I’ve tried blocking it out). Now to their credit, the pizza was good but comparing value to the burritos we had on day one of the trip, they were out of their mind at that cost.

After lunch we made our way just outside of town to our place for the night, the Waterfall Cottage. The photos made it seem like it was out in some property but we were in the middle of a residential district. I started to think we were lost until we came across the address tucked just off the road. From the back you could hear cars coming by but as we wrapped around the building to the front door, the only sounds were birds and the river. There were two small places tucked across the driveway from the owners’ house and we were in the first. It was a cozy place but had all the space we needed for the night. The owners Pete and Mary had even left a personalized note wishing me luck on the marathon the next day.

I had the opportunity to meet Pete and talk a little bit about the place and the area. He made mention of the waterfall (hence Waterfall Cottage) and let us know that there was a lighted path and a bench at the bottom. Kaela opened her bottle of wine, poured a hefty glass and we made our way down. It was a steep descent but we managed to make it down with no wine spilled. 

We sat on the bench and talked about the trip and just a little bit of everything. We listened to the small waterfall crash on the rocks and then the river trickle down. Out of nowhere some small rodent scurried from the water’s edge into a log we were sitting by. Neither of us got a good look at it but it definitely startled us. Then we noticed up in a tree a large owl just hanging out looking our way. It jumped from branch and made a swoop down towards us before flying higher into a tree off behind us. At first we thought it was just changing locations but then Kaela put together that it may be trying to hunt whatever it was that scurried behind. The way the owl was staring at us, I was pretty sure that we were what it wanted. I told Kaela about the relatively recent stories of runners being attacked by owls and it kept me looking over my shoulder to make sure it wasn’t going in for a surprise attack.

When Kaela finished her glass we made our way back up to our room to get settled for the evening and to get ready for the race. While Kaela showered, I laid out my clothes, gear and food. I placed to the side all the items that would go in the vest and left the rest of the items in the gear bag that Kaela would carry in the case I needed additional supplies on the course. There was a lot more climbing this race so I didn’t want to deal with the handheld in case I needed to use my arms/hands for balance. 

After my shower we started to prep dinner. My buddy Mike had told me about these microwavable pasta bags that he had been using for races when traveling. They were easy to pack and even easier to make. It is basically just a steamable bag of pasta where you just throw the bag in the microwave and that’s it! We had grabbed two packets assuming that would be enough for the two of us, but quickly realized that it wasn’t. Kaela was gracious enough to give me half of hers and she supplemented her dinner with something from the treat basket Pete and Mary had left for us.

All that was left for the evening was to pick up around the place to make for easier pack up in the morning and to get a good stretch in. I used my roller all over my body trying to break up any tightness that had come from a week of walking a good bit after running a race. I told Kaela then that the week apart while vacationing was seeming to be more difficult physically than the back to back races.

In the morning I went through the motions. I tried to quietly prepare and eat breakfast while listening to my pre-race playlist. I tried studying the course map but all it really amounted to was me crossing a stream twice, me being in the woods for a few hours and climbing up and down…a lot! I couldn’t locate many race reports so other than the stream crossing, I was going into this pretty blind. It was another two loop race with one aid station on the course that was the pivot for an out and back climb. So I just read some articles and browsed the web while keeping my feet up.

After my typical 10 trips to the bathroom (tmi?) we started to pack up the car and clean up around the place. Check out was much earlier than I was going to finish the race so it was going to be another baby wipe shower for me after the race. We stayed just about 20 minutes from the Taylor Mountain trailhead, where the race started. On the ride over I let Kaela know that this was going to be a long race due to the climbing. We would be doing over 4,000 ft of gain over the marathon, which was the most per mile gain of any race I’ve completed. She made the comment, “so you’ll be done in 4:30?” I laughed and let her know that 5:30 seemed like the stretch goal for today. 

Once we parked, I made my way over to the check-in table. This was a low key, no frills race, so there was no goodie bag, t-shirt or any sort of unnecessary addition for our registration money to be spent on. I grabbed my bib and pins and made my way back to the car. Back at the car I realized I didn’t have anything to hold the Powerade in I purchased and didn’t want to carry the heavy bottle the entire race. Next to the check-in table there was an Army recruitment table (weird location I agree) with free water bottles. I politely asked if I could grab one and they offered me a few. I let them know that I didn’t bring one for the race and this was going to save the day. 

It started to drizzle a little bit and I decided to just sit tight in the car as I still had a little bit of time before the start. Kaela and I pulled up a PDF copy of the course map so we could try and figure out where she would be during the race. She could stay at the Start/Finish and also see me at the halfway point but that would be a lot of her just sitting around and I know she would rather be moving around. We found a service road that would drop her off right at the aid station on the course that would maximize the amount of times she would be able to see me.

About 15 minutes to the race start, I gathered my items and started putting myself together. Socks and shoes on, pinned my bib to my shorts, filled up my new Army water bottle with Powerade, packed the rest of my vest and it was go time. Kaela took my pre-race photo and then headed up the service road to meet me at the first aid station. There was a short pre-race meeting explaining the course markings and a general idea of the route. A lot of the runners seemed to know the trail names and directions which made me feel like this was mostly a locals race. We were about to line up when I had the urge to pee just one last time before the race and was able to sneak into a porta potty before they sent us off.

The start of the race was tight but pretty straight. I quickly passed by a few people and then had to find small pockets to pass others. I finally got settled and decided to stay in the line of folks I was in. The ground was pretty soft at this lower portion of the trail. Horses had been on the trail recently so we would be spending most of the day dodging horse crap. 

Just before mile 1 we hit the single stream crossing of the race. Two guys were taking off their socks and shoes and it gave a few of us a chuckle as we passed by them. The water was fairly cold but the slick river stones at our feet were the real issue. Running through quickly wasn’t a great idea, so to help prevent falling down I just walked through it with purpose. I was following a guy that seemed to have done this race before and his pace was in the range I was happy about so it seemed like a good fit. As we approached the first steep climb of the race he yelled back to let me know it was close. We went up 500ft in ½ mile dodging large rocks and the occasional pile of horse crap.

The guy in front of me was named Robert. He was having a conversation with a friend of his, Jamey, and I just hung back and listened for a little bit before joining in. There was a slight downhill as we headed into the first aid station. I was actually surprised by how fast that first 5k of the race came up and it was great to see Kaela smiling down the trail cheering us in. The race was “no-cup” so I filled up my bottles, grabbed some food and made my way back out on the trail. This was the beginning of the major out and back long climb in the race. The first section was runnable but up-hill for a little over a mile. We had to carefully watch our footing with rocks and roots of all sizes covering the trail. We got to a service road with a nice decline that allowed us to pick up the pace even if it was short lived. 

We joined the trail rightfully named “Knee Knocker” for the remainder of this climb. The trail went straight up on tight single track with thorn bushes (and possibly poison) on both sides. We stayed single file heading up but being the out and back we had a good number of runners coming back down at us. Every so often we would jump out to the side of the trail to allow gravity to pull them down the hill. The trail would wind a little bit but there were no real switchbacks to help alleviate the climb.

Robert had talked about how he had run the area recently (and occasionally) and knew we were getting close to the top. The trees started to change as we approached the top with more pines sitting at the top of the mountain. We hit a sign that stated we were leaving the park boundaries and shortly after there was a sign letting us know to turn around and head back. So back down we went. 

Runners returned the favor of letting us use gravity to its full potential as we came down, but the downhill was more challenging to run. From the large rocks and roots to just giant holes in the trail, we had to focus on each step we took to make sure we didn’t end up rolling down the hill. My quads were taking a beating but there was nothing I was able to do about it. 

We finally made it back to the “flat” section heading towards the service road. When we hit the road we took a left instead of heading right the way we came in. It was nice that they broke up this section so we wouldn’t have to battle every runner that was making the climb back up and would be able to use the downhill without worry. This was the beginning of an almost 4 mile stretch heading downhill. Jamey and I were pushing the pace as we chatted about races we had completed and areas we wanted to run. Robert had completed this race 4 or 5 times (I can’t quite remember) and Jamey was actually just doing the half marathon but wanted the earlier start.

The route joined back up with the original climb and we started running into some half marathoners starting their climb. We were sitting about 4 miles ahead of them. Jamey and I started to pull away from Robert as we powered through the downhill bouncing from rock to rock around the half marathoners. We arrived at the aid station just before mile 8. I grabbed some Coke and snacks and refilled my water before heading out alone. Kaela wasn’t at the aid station so I wondered if she had gone out to set up at another spot on the course. About ¼ mile from the aid station, she was set up on the side of the trail.

I knew that I needed to bank as much time as I could before heading back to that long climb and staying with the guys was just going to hold me back from that goal. Jamey caught up to me not too long after seeing Kaela. He said he just wanted to wish me luck as he knew I wouldn’t see him again. He slowed down to wait for Robert as I continued on. This was a really pretty part of the trail. The slight downhill was lined with trees on both sides of the trail as deep as you could see. There was no noise around me other than a squirrel every so often. My body felt good and it showed as this stretch held my fastest miles of the race.

The horses must have had some good meals recently as there was a lot of crap to dodge. Around mile 10 I crossed a bridge and noticed the trail starting to climb. I had spotted a mole that was smashed within the trail with a horseshoe print around it. Those horses weren’t playing around! I kept my running pace up when I could and power hiked through the steeper climbs which allowed me to pass a few people. I overtook them quickly just to put some separation between us so I didn’t have that feeling of someone on my heels.

Around mile 11 I crossed a service road and started another long climb. This one was open grass that gave clear visibility to how far it was to the top. I noticed two guys in front of me and I had the push to try and catch up to them but the climb was long. About 75% of the way up the hill, I heard footsteps coming up from behind me. The first half marathoner was running quickly up the hill that I was having a hard time walking up. I gave him a cheer as he passed by but he was laser focused. In the next mile, two more half marathoners would pass me moving at a pretty good pace. At mile 12 we started the descent from the recent climbs that would take us down to the start/finish aid station. There were long switchbacks wrapping back and forth as we headed downhill. Gravity was doing most of the work but my quads were really starting to break down. In addition to the horse crap, there were massive slugs that I was trying to avoid on the trail. I’m sure I got a good lateral workout in while going side to side trying not to get slug goo all over my shoes.

We hit a quick climb of 130 ft in ¼ mile just before mile 13 and before the full descent to the aid. At this point I realized that the race was going to be long as I was 13.1 miles in but the second lap was nowhere in sight. I had to hold myself back heading down the hill as it was a steep descent while at the same time bouncing around the slugs.

Once I got to the aid station, I refilled my bottles and grabbed some food. This aid was loaded so I grabbed some PB&J slices, pretzels, m&m’s and a little bit of Coke. My stomach started feeling a little iffy so I hoped the Coke would settle but I also took some gas-x to speed it along. The first lap was 13.8 miles and I came in just under 3 hours (2:59:47). I knew that this was going to be a long race because I wasn’t about to negative split this second lap. 

The guys that were in front of me on the climb were still grabbing food at the aid station as I left to start my second lap. This lap was going to be tough as my legs were beat up but I still felt that my spirits were high. The photographer that was taking photos at the stream crossing was making his way back to the start when he captured some candid shots of me running down the trail. I was careful again crossing the stream and made my way to power through that first climb. That is one of the great things about 2 lap races is that you know exactly what is coming up,  but I guess that knowing what you had to do again could also be a downside!

I got to the downhill section heading to the aid station and just took in my surroundings while I felt like I was gliding. Kaela was taking photos at the aid station at the bottom. She had made a comment about me being a little off schedule and I let her know that the race was running long so the mileage wasn’t going to add up and also that I was starting to get tired. She walked with me up the trail a little bit while I walked and ate a PB&J rather than just standing at the aid.

The first section seemed to go on a lot longer than the first time around. There was a lot of walking. I came up on a guy that offered to let me pass but I declined as I liked his pace and his breaking up of running and walking. I’m sure he didn’t like hearing me behind him but it was helping me and it wasn’t like I was right on his heels as I sat back at least 20-30 feet. There were only a handful of people coming back down at us which made me feel like I was at the back of the pack. We hit the main climb and I was powering through the best I could. The high steps over the rocks and roots were that much harder with heavy legs.

At the top of the climb, the guy I was following stopped to let me get in front of him while heading downhill. I was excited to get to the downhill as I thought gravity would help make up some time from the walking. I did not take into consideration the quality of my legs and each step was aching down to the muscle. One comforting thought was that I had passed by some people that were still heading up the climb so I at least knew I wasn’t in last place. 

I powered through the long downhill carefully watching each step until arriving at the aid station again. Kaela was up the trail where we walked together cheering me in and telling me to speed up as she was getting tired (lol). I grabbed what was left of the Coke they had and a few bites of the remaining snacks. They seemed to run out of supplies pretty quick which was kind of frustrating, especially since there were only two aid stations on the course and you hit this one twice. After gathering myself I let Kaela know that I had about 6 miles left on the course and to expect it to take me 75-90 minutes at my current state. I left the aid heading down the trail towards the pretty section. Yet again this section seemed to go on forever, probably because of the amount of walking. The beauty in the trees in the first lap seemed to be laughing at me this lap as I was riding the struggle bus. All I could do was keep a smile on my face whether I was running or walking.

At mile 24, I hit the bridge that would start a few miles of rolling climbs. I laughed to myself when I saw the mole again and realized that my situation could be a lot worse. The long open climb came up quickly and I remember just stopping at the bottom and shaking my head knowing that I had to climb it again. I looked to my left and right and realized that it was the road that Kaela would have taken to get to the aid station and the hills were just as steep. I thought since she did this out and back that I guess I should do it twice also. 

I hiked as quickly as I could to get to the top as it was the last real climb of the race. Climbing wasn’t as difficult as going downhill with the pain in my quads with each step. When I hit the top I mixed in running and walking up and around the switchbacks. I had another chuckle when I hit 26.2 miles and knew I still had two miles left to get to the finish. I remembered how fast the downhill pulled me on the first lap and now that legs were trashed it took even more energy and focus to make sure I didn’t slip off the trail and roll through the sea of pine trees.

I heard the music from the finish cutting through the trees and knew that I was close. I felt like I was flying in this last section but looking at my splits I was still sitting in the 12-13 min/mi pace. Kaela was on the other side of the finish chute cheering me down the trail once she spotted me make a turn out of the trees.

6:32:25

There were only a few people left around the finish and the parking lot was basically bare. Kaela joked that she was sitting around in the cool weather and was hungry. I received my pin for finishing (much cooler than a medal) and made my way over to the mound of Costco pizza boxes. I grabbed a few slices for Kaela and myself and some additional treats off the table to bring back to the car to eat. I also grabbed a handful of wipes from the tables as I needed to give myself a “shower.” Since we weren’t able to get back to the Air BNB before checkout, I wouldn’t have an opportunity to take a shower until we were back in Columbus the next day!

Kaela parked at the end of the parking lot as I got naked and cleaned up the best I could with wipes. I put on my compression socks and tights before doing a little stretch then getting in the car to head out. We made our way to Seattle to have dinner with her cousin and her kids before heading to the airport. I was hoping my clothes had time to dry out before having to take them out of the trunk of the rental car but they were smelling fresh. I wrapped them in some grocery bags and packed them away from any fresh clothes. 

We had United Airlines club passes so we decided to spend some time in the lounge while we waited for our flight. We were not the typical clientele as I sat there smelling from running for 6.5 hours wearing tights and a trucker hat while drinking a Bud heavy. Kaela and I just owned it and got our fill of cheese cubes, veggies and hummus and free drinks. We took our red eye flight out to Chicago then made it home in the morning to finally take a shower and feel like a decent human being again. 

The race was crazy tough. It ended up being almost 28 miles with over 4,700ft of gain! There were very few sections of the course that were flat and surprisingly the downhills ended up being my downfall in the race. It’s never good when you start hoping for climbs. It was also a really small race and I’m pretty sure a lot of the people I started with ended up dropping down to the half marathon because I knew I was ahead of a lot of people that I never saw again. My trip to the Pacific Northwest was just an amazing experience and exactly what I needed to get off the roads and get out in nature. There is just something around a trail race that brings some inner peace and having two of them in the same trip was great. Kaela and I talked about how this is a section of the country we will definitely come back to after the 50 states are completed because of its beauty!

This fall I am working through a few more states on the east coast, so see ya there!

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