I’d been wanting to run Hagg Lake every since Karen came back from her first run there two years ago. This year it fell perfectly in the middle of my training for AR50 and would constitute a long training run. Plus, it was going to be a group thing with me, Karen, our coach, Bill, Karen’s sister (and my ultra goddess), Kate, and Russ (my hero) all running. Unfortunately, Russ got dogged at work and was unable to participate - which also meant Karen and I still haven’t had the pleasure of meeting the wonderful Ann, Russ’ new wife.
Karen, Bill, and I set off before dawn on Friday for the approximate 8-hour drive north to Portland, with the proverbial bathroom and food stops along the way, as well as a slight detour through Portland proper so Bill could make tax-free bike purchase and send it home with me in my truck. Thereafter, we headed to Hillsboro to Karen’s parent’s home as they were graciously putting the four of us up for the weekend.
I got to experience Macaroni Grill for the first time Friday night when the whole gang went out to dinner. All I can say about the place is YU-UM! Due to lack of sleep the previous two nights and the long drive, I was totally and completely exhausted, so although Karen, Kate, and Bill were going for a shopping adventure at REI after dinner, I opted for a ride home with the folks and was in bed before the gang returned. Wish I could say I had a nice restful sleep but, alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I’m chalking all this terrible sleeping up to those “female changes” ‘cause I can’t think of a better reason.
Needless to say, 4:30 Saturday morning came way before I was ready for it, but I dragged my sorry rear end out of bed and, bless their hearts, so did Karen’s parents. And her mom made a huge pot of oatmeal for us! Yea! This was done on a hot plate in their laundry room since their kitchen was being remodeled. Such troopers for us.
Hagg Lake was only about a 30-40 minute drive from the folks’ house, and since Karen and I were taking the early start, we left before Kate and Bill (and got a most excellent parking spot), who would follow about an hour later. We arrived with just enough time to hit the bathrooms, grab our bib numbers, and throw on our shoes. There were 30+ other people taking the early start, including a friend of Kate’s whom Karen had met before (sorry, but his name escapes me at the moment). After some brief instructions from the RD, we were off.
The first three miles is an out and back briefly on pavement, then up a dirt road. This constitutes the majority of the climbing, and it was nice knowing the “hard part” would be brief. Karen and Nameless (but very nice!) Guy pulled away from me fairly quickly, but I didn’t mind. Karen’s a goat on hills, and I wasn’t willing to put myself out too much on this climb. This was, after all, a training run not a race - something I would need to keep in mind for later.
The ladies manning the turn off the pavement to the dirt road were bundled up against the cold and in great moods. They had a boom box blaring and were dancing around in an effort to stay warm. Coming back down, “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge was playing. “Great song!” I called out. “It’ll be in your head the rest of the day!” was the retort. And yes, it most definitely was.
Coming back through the parking lot, I briefly stopped at my truck to dump off my running jacket before heading for the first drop bag area. Kate and Bill had arrived and were taking pics. Karen stopped to retrieve her handheld and I got Kate to tighten the sides of my Nathans Running Vest. Karen and I took off together from there.
I believe there’s only about 700 feet of gain/loss for the entire run, so it’s a relatively easy course with the main impediments being a few water crossings and very sticky, sucking mud. It was fun watching people trying to avoid the mud as much as possible, with the main reason being losing a shoe! (It was reported that one guy crossed the finish line shoeless after losing both his shoes in the last mud trap, while another came across with one shoe.)
It’s a 14-mile course around the lake with about 90% of that on trail and some pavement thrown in for good measure. The aid stations have the expected trail running food, and each time we came to a station, I would look longingly at the PBJ’s knowing I’d pay for it in a very short time if I ate one. I had a sandwich baggy of my favorite honey pretzel twists and some locally made chocolate chip cookies, so I settled for adding some potato pieces and fig bars.
I guess this would be a good time to say that I discovered I can no longer eat fig bars either when running. Each time I ate one, I was nauseated within minutes. After the third (and third bout of nausea), I realized what was making me sick. I also can’t eat chips out there ‘cause the greasiness makes me sick. This really sucks ‘cause PBJs, fig bars, and chips - especially Fritos - are great trail running foods. Each time Karen ate some Fritos - oh man did they smell good!
Anyhoo - I digress . . . .
This was the first time Karen and I had run together in a race, so toward the end of the first loop we agreed that, no matter what, we’d stay together for the whole thing, even if we ended up DFL. The halfway point brought us back to the staging area. Karen headed for the porta pots, and I grabbed some potato slices , switched to my bottle of Amino and grabbed extra packets. When Karen got back, we both grabbed cups of chicken soup and headed out for the final 14 miles. Oh my that soup tasted good!! If I had my druthers, there’d be chicken soup at all the aid stations. It feels so good - mentally and physically - to be able to eat “normal” food when you’re out there.
As another aside - the potatoes I grabbed were baked potatoes. I bit into a slice and thought, “Hm, this tastes different.” And it hit me - baked! Oh my, it was so good. Made me wish I had a whole one for myself. (a very minor mud puddle)
Not too far into the second loop, Karen began to experience some intestinal difficulties (i.e. diarrhea, cramping, nausea). We analyzed what she’d been eating, drinking, salt intake, but unfortunately, neither of us was sure what the problem was. Too much salt? Too little salt? Too much food? Too little food? I don’t know how many times we had to stop for bathroom breaks, but it really began wearing on her, besides the fact she felt like total crap (no pun intended - - - okay, maybe a small pun). At one point, I got behind her and sort of pushed her up a hill and planned to stay on her rear the rest of the way, but I got a, “Get in front of me! I don’t like it when you’re on my ass!” Which I obediently did, but that proved to create its only little problem. I would think I was running slow enough, but would get in a zone and the next thing I knew, I’d look back and she wasn’t in site. I’d stop and watch for her, barking my own little orders, “Baby steps!” (up the hills). “Are you drinking?” “Have you eaten anything?” Her: “I’m nauseated.” Me: “Try some potato.” and on and so forth.
Another Aside: By this point in the run, Karen had fallen once in the mud, almost fell another time and grabbed a berry vine which cut her and she bled, after which I said, “All we need you to do is puke or poop yourself, and we’ll have ourselves a trifecta!” Instead . . . .
Shortly after we left the last aid station, the proverbial classic meltdown started. Her: “Change of game plan.” Me: “What?” Her: “Change of game plan. You can still salvage your race. Go on without me. I’ll get there when I get there.” Me: “You already (bleeped) up my race time, so forget it.” Her: “Just go.” Me: “Nope. And if you don’t start moving, I’m going to sing to you.” Which I did. Country songs. (That’ll teach her to try and make me leave her behind. Heh heh.)
And so it went, back and forth over the next hour or so. Then about two miles from the end, poor thing, she totally fell apart. Self-demoralizing, self-berating verbiage with a fair amount of expletives thrown in for emphasis, and even some tears. Oh man, I felt so bad for her. I’ve been there, but usually I’m by myself with what feels like not another human being for miles around. It’s awful. You’ve trained so hard, only for it all to collapse around you. Her: “Why can’t I be good at just one (bleep) thing? I try so (bleep) hard! I just want one thing in my life to be good! I know what the problem is, I’m always so (bleep) tired!” Me: “I know you are, and we’ll work on that when we’re done. But in the mean time, let’s get moving. Let’s walk. We don’t have far to go. We’re only a couple of miles away.” Her: “No, we’re not! We’re miles away! This (bleep) sucks!”
In the middle of all this, we’re still having to navigate the sucking mud. I’m behind Karen when she takes a step and sinks in a while up to her knee. Luckily, we were both able to laugh about that one, and from that point on, she just tromped through the mud with a “screw it” attitude.
Suddenly, I popped around a corner and there’s the sign saying, “1 More Mile! Push It!” I hollered,”Only one more mile!” but she didn’t believe me until she saw the sign. We were navigating the last huge mud puddle when a guy comes running toward us and hollers out, “Is one of you Karen Peterson?” Me: “She is.” Her: “My sister sent you.” Him (with a smile): “Yeah.” The two of them began talking as we’re moving, some switch in Karen flipped, and once we got through the mud, she started pushing it. The guy took off without as he was the time keeper and needed to get back before us. As we got closer to the finish line, people could see us coming (the few that were left), and the cheering started, which pumped her up even more, and she even started laughing a little bit. Suddenly, I found myself having to push to stay up with her, and as we got near finish line, she reached back, grabbed my hand, and we crossed together, DFL in 8:21:52 (according to the official time).
Karen is one tough cookie, a fighter. She is usually the one pumping me up, pushing me. That’s why I’ve asked her to pace me for the last 18+ miles of AR50 in April. Yeah, I could’ve run my own race, but if the situation was flipped and it was me struggling, she would’ve done the same thing. She is, after all, the best running buddy and friend a person could ask for. (washin' off the mud)