It’s a superbly regular query to ask somebody, I simply wasn’t the fitting individual to ask. I had been chugging up the path at about mile 22 or so of the race, making an attempt to push myself but in addition tempo myself, and in my very own head as a result of I’d solely seen three or 4 individuals within the final 45 minutes or so. The man was climbing downhill, getting out earlier than the Saturday warmth actually warmed issues up, and I had made a bit room as I handed him climbing the opposite course, making an attempt to rise up Tiger Mountain for the final time. We’d mentioned good day, after which he requested,
“How far to the Part Line Path?”
I rounded the switchback and confidently mentioned, “Oh, I don’t know,” and he appeared a bit stunned that I didn’t know, pausing for a second with a considerably quizzical look on his face. So I added, “That is my first time right here,” hoping that will assist him perceive. It was true, sort of. If I’d felt like I had extra time to cease and chat, I may need added just a few extra bits of knowledge:
> I’m collaborating in an ultramarathon path race referred to as the Tiger Claw 50K
> I’ve by no means set foot on this mountain earlier than in the present day, Might thirteenth, 2023
> That is my third journey to the summit of West Tiger #2, and at last,
> Hey man, I’m simply following these pink flags until I see individuals with pitchers of electrolyte drink and trays of Oreos standing underneath an EZ-up on the prime. I’m not being attentive to the path names, the distances, or the intersections, I’m barely wanting on the surroundings. My targets in the present day are:
a) Survive this race regardless of the 88-degree temperature and 70 % humidity and
b) Produce urine that isn’t the colour of a No Passing Zone signal by midnight tonight
I hope that man discovered his manner and isn’t nonetheless on the market on the lookout for the Part Line Path.
One other query somebody requested me, the day earlier than the Tiger Claw: “Why did you decide that race? Isn’t it simply sort of a neighborhood factor?”
I don’t know the way I first heard of the Tiger Claw, however race director Ethan Newberry’s huge media presence as The Ginger Runner actually doesn’t damage. I’m one in every of his 190,000+ YouTube subscribers, and in addition one in every of his Patreon supporters, and Instagram followers, and all that, so I’m a fan. Did a part of me assume that since Ethan and his spouse Kim Teshima-Newberry are good at making media, they’d be good at placing collectively a race? I feel so, sure.
I obtained actually out of practice in 2022—spinal disc harm, new child, sleep deprivation from serving to maintain a brand new child, and one other again/hip harm. I used to be beginning to surprise if at 43, I used to be hitting some type of downhill slope in life. I turned 44 this winter, and was decided. To not return to any type of athletic glory, no, however to keep away from going to the emergency room once more after herniating a disc whereas choosing up a canine as a result of I sit on my ass 40 hours per week, and inside my regular-sized middle-aged man physique is a smaller man who likes to eat emotionally and can also be tremendous fucking lazy.
So I began wanting on UltraSignup for 2023 races close to western Montana, and thought
Because it turned out, we didn’t have something occurring on Might thirteenth, so I signed up February fifteenth, giving me a full 12 weeks to get in form. I attempted to wrap my head across the race course:
Three summits of West Tiger #2 (elevation 2,757 toes), returning to the Excessive Level Trailhead (elevation 527) every time. For a complete of “almost 9,000 toes of elevation achieve,” per the Tiger Claw web site. In case you are on the lookout for a quick, flat race that can assist you get your PR for the 50K distance, the Tiger Claw just isn’t it.
The elevation profile appears like this:
Thankfully, there’s loads of steep terrain very near the place I stay. Sadly, plenty of that steep terrain was nonetheless coated in snow and ice till the primary week of April. However, I’ve microspikes, and sufficient of it melted out in time for me to get in some steep uphills. I did laps on Mt. Sentinel, type of our native Tiger Mountain, with a ~2,000-foot climb through a number of completely different trails. At one level, I puzzled: “Am I spending an excessive amount of time on actually steep terrain? What if the course is extra gradual, or rolling?”
Just a few weeks earlier than the race, my pal Justin emailed me:
Have you ever determined should you’ll go lengthy loop or brief loop first at Tiger Claw? I’d select no matter loop the fewest quantity of persons are on. Searching for the least resistance is how I make most of my life choices. I’d be a horrible Navy SEAL.
I truthfully hadn’t given it any thought till he requested. I had simply targeted on the massive numbers: 31 miles, 8,000-something toes of elevation achieve. However now I used to be desirous about it. And it did sound sort of good to run the loops in no matter order they’d be least crowded. However how would I do know?
The week earlier than the race, the climate forecast was: Bullshit. I imply, it was projected to be unseasonably heat for the Pacific Northwest, a warmth wave, a warmth dome, little warmth umbrella following me round just like the rain cloud in previous cartoons however warmth as a substitute of rain, no matter. Early within the week, the forecasted excessive temperature for Issaquah was 84 levels. Day-after-day I checked, the excessive temp crept up a level. By Friday, the day earlier than the race, the projected excessive was 88 levels. Which I used to be a bit dismayed to see, as a result of I’ve this story I’ve been telling myself ever since I puked up fruit punch Gatorade after a highly regarded youth soccer sport in 1987 or 1988:
This, I used to be afraid, would name for drastic measures: I used to be going to need to study to do one thing I’ve at all times been horrible at doing: drink a accountable quantity of fluids. This was nearly an excessive amount of to ask, I believed. Possibly I ought to bail. DNS: Did Not Begin. Cause: Not good at consuming water.
Simply shy of 150 of us gathered on the beginning line to take heed to Ethan greet everybody, want us luck, crack some jokes, and provides some last updates earlier than the 7:00 a.m. begin. The essential half, for me, was when Ethan requested for a present of palms: Who was doing the Pink Loop first? A number of palms. Who’s doing the Yellow Loop first? A number of palms. OK, who’s doing the White Loop first? Possibly 10 palms, together with mine. Improbable information.
The White Loop was the steepest. Ethan’s last e mail to individuals yesterday had mentioned the Pink Loop would keep within the shade into the afternoon. I had determined to go White (steepest, least enjoyable) first, Yellow (longest, most meandering) second, and Pink (afternoon shade). I chugged down a 17-ounce water bottle within the last minutes earlier than the beginning and stuffed it in my vest.
The primary 4.6 miles wound round within the forest with a pair ups and downs, progressively climbing just a few hundred toes to get us to the decrease support station, the place we’d break up up into our respective loops and go on our manner. I had put a small drop bag on the decrease support station, as we’d all return right here after every of our three ascents and descents of West Tiger 2. I packed my drop magazine fairly minimally as a result of after I completed my last lap, I deliberate to stuff no matter was left of it into my vest for the ultimate three miles to the end line, so I didn’t need to drive again to get it after the race.
I crammed one water bottle on the support station and ran on, splitting off to do the White Loop, 2.8 miles, 2,800 toes of climbing to the higher support station/turnaround. I had no ambitions to do a quick first lap, however ran among the less-steep sections and hiked the remaining. Lower than a mile into the White Loop, I used to be alone within the forest, so I pulled over to pee. Simply as I used to be ending, Krissy Moehl, who’s a really well-known ultrarunner, hiked previous just a few toes away, which is type of a clumsy second to introduce your self, however I did it anyway, as a result of now we have a mutual pal, after which we ended up climbing collectively for the remainder of the ascent. This isn’t to say that I’m as quick as an individual who gained the UTMB in 2003 and 2009; extra like Krissy was not in a rush on the race course.
With a pair different guys, we jogged just a few brief sections of the path, however principally hiked at a superb clip to the higher support station, arriving at about 1 hour and 45 minutes. I obtained my water bottles refilled and began heading down. The highest of West Tiger 2 had been logged just a few years again, and the excellent news was we may see Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, the buildings of downtown Seattle, and the Puget Sound. The unhealthy information was there was no shade on the prime, and it was already sunny and heat at 8:45 a.m.
The two.2-mile route again right down to the decrease support station, which we’d all do a complete of 3 times throughout the race, was steep and technical for a couple of half-mile, after which simply steep. I made myself drink two 17-ounce bottles of fluid as I ran downhill, and made a psychological notice to do that every time I ran the descent. I had drunk two bottles on the best way up, and my shirt was fully drenched in sweat, back and front, by the point we hit the summit.
On the decrease support station, I grabbed my drop bag, stuffed a pair packages of Clif Bloks into my sweat-soaked vest, crammed up three water bottles, and began jogging again up the path, on the lookout for the turnoff for the Yellow Loop—5.5 miles, 3,000 toes of elevation achieve.
I’ve talked to a number of runners who don’t like multiple-loop races—those by which you must cowl the identical terrain greater than as soon as throughout a race. For instance, a 100K or 100-mile race comprised of three (or 5) laps of the identical 20-mile loop, such because the Javelina Jundred or the Rocky Raccoon 100. In these eventualities, you may really feel like there’s extra gravity to tug you out of orbit each time you cross the beginning/end space, the place, wow, it could be really easy to stop proper now. Versus a point-to-point race, or an out-and-back race, if you may really feel like quitting, however you’re 10 miles from any type of support station, and even should you stop there, you’d have to attend for somebody with a car to present you a trip again to the beginning, and that might take hours, so, fuck it, may as effectively simply hold going.
The Tiger Claw is type of a multiple-loop race, in that you simply run a number of loops, and cross via the identical checkpoint (the decrease support station) on the finish of every loop—however that checkpoint continues to be three miles from the place you parked your automobile in the beginning/end, so perhaps it’s much less tempting. (you possibly can name somebody and ask them to choose you up on the support station, although, because it’s about 150 toes from a car parking zone that’s solely a mile from I-90)
However I used to be positively not considering, “Man, I hate loops, I can’t consider I’ve to return again to this support station two extra occasions”—I used to be considering, “Jesus it’s sizzling already.”
The Yellow Loop, the longest, wound across the north, west, and south sides of Tiger Mountain in a progressively climbing, half circumnavigation and oh! a bonus summit, West Tiger 1, which is definitely increased than West Tiger 2, and a quick dip right down to the saddle earlier than you re-climb about 200 toes again as much as the higher support station/checkpoint.
I used to be alone for a lot of the loop, operating when attainable, climbing the steeper components, and chugging water and Skratch electrolyte drink. About two-thirds of the best way up, Krissy Moehl handed me, and we chatted for a couple of minutes. By the forest, I had been forcing myself to chug water—three 17-ounce bottles by the point I obtained to the highest of the climb. Mileage-wise, I used to be previous the midway mark by my second summit of West Tiger 2, and had drunk 7 bottles of liquid, or about 119 ounces.
With solely the Pink Loop to go, I solely had 2,700 toes of elevation achieve to climb. I may really feel a slight dehydration headache forming, however perhaps if I stored forcing water down I’d have the ability to hold it at bay. On the Higher Assist Station, I refilled two bottles and drank each of them as I navigated the downhill.
On my manner up the pink loop, I wasn’t second-guessing my technique, however with nobody to speak to, I used to be positively desirous about it. I noticed just one different racer for the primary three miles of the ascent, so it positively appeared like I’d picked the least widespread sequence. I wasn’t carried out but, however I hadn’t skilled any type of warmth sickness, so perhaps saving the afternoon-shaded Pink Loop for final was a good suggestion. I puzzled what a race like this may be like for somebody hoping to win, or compete? You wouldn’t know the way far behind the chief you have been, and even should you have been in first place, until all of the quickest individuals caught collectively.
If you happen to look a map of the course with all three loops on a map, you possibly can see why they referred to as it the Tiger Claw:
Simply kidding. Right here’s my precise Strava map of the race course:
A stable mile and a half from the higher support station, I began to listen to a canine howling. Or some animal. I stored plugging away, slowly passing a pair different runners, each now and again scanning the bushes above my head for the highest of the ridge, the tip of my last climb. Ultimately, I ran out of bushes, hitting the north edge the place the bushes had been clear reduce. I went from hints of solar to full-blast afternoon white warmth as I chugged up the path, lastly seeing the howling canine, which turned out to not be a canine in any respect, only a actually psyched volunteer wooing so loudly and so usually that I believed there was no probability he’d have his voice tomorrow. I thanked him and walked to the help station, obtained my water bottles refilled, grabbed a handful of potato chips and a pair Oreos, and headed down.
On every of my three descents of the paths to the decrease support station, I used to be elated to not be climbing. I used to be additionally reminded that there was, additionally in the present day, a race referred to as the Tiger Claw Double, a 50-mile model of this identical race I used to be doing, however with THREE EXTRA LAPS to the summit of West Tiger 2. As I ran downhill, I’d cross by a 50-mile racer heading uphill, and I’d say one thing like “Good job,” however what I used to be considering was, “Look, I’m an individual of questionable judgment and intelligence, who’s spending their Saturday doing a steep-ass 50K race with nearly 9,000 toes of climbing in 88-degree warmth and 70 % humidity, however you, Runner, are a FUCKING MANIAC. I salute you. Additionally I’m actually glad I didn’t join that race as a substitute.”
At this level, halfway via my last descent, the recent spots on the instep sides of my large toes had was full-on blisters, and my toenails have been sick of the cumulative results of being pushed backwards by my footwear each one of many 1000’s of downhill steps thus far.
My strides had shortened, and I wasn’t grunting or wincing with ache each step, however I positively wasn’t smiling. I glanced down at my watch to verify my tempo, simply out of curiosity: 12-minute miles. I used to be fairly able to be carried out.
I hit the decrease support station, grabbed my drop bag, shoved it into the again pocket of my vest, and began jogging down the street in full solar. Each piece of material on my physique was soaked via with sweat, together with the within of my vest and the outsides of my footwear.
The route meandered via a brief part of forest, and the ultimate three-quarters of a mile was a large, paved, shaded multi-use path. I began operating sooner, as a result of on flat floor, my blisters didn’t damage, and I used to be able to get it over with. And I feel I remembered them saying one thing about pizza on the end line.
I jogged underneath the end arch, gave Ethan a really soggy, gross hug, took my finisher medal, and felt the aid of No Extra Exercising As we speak slowly roll over me. Mark Griffith, who had been out on the course taking photographs all day and dealing as arduous because the racers, directed me to the pizza and chilly drinks, and I requested him if he was in a position to maintain himself in any respect within the warmth. He mentioned he finally was in a position to rehydrate on the higher support station, however at one level, the sweat was simply rolling down his head into his eyes. “My eyebrows stopped working,” he mentioned. And I believed, Identical, man. I had drunk roughly 225 ounces of water and Skratch electrolyte drink in 7 hours and 39 minutes, and I nonetheless felt like a bit of beef jerky that had been not noted within the solar for per week.
It had been sizzling, for certain, however I completed, and as I sat down with a can of glowing water, it appeared like I had a superb probability of surviving the day. I believed a bit bit about my pal’s query as to how I made a decision to join the Tiger Claw, because it was sort of a neighborhood race on a neighborhood mountain. I’m not certain if I may draw a circulation chart of how I, and perhaps different runners too, determine to run whichever races we run. I don’t know, it sounded enjoyable? It sounded not enjoyable? I heard good issues about it? It was near the place I stay, or near some place I wished to journey to, or it was flat, or it was steep, or no matter.
So far as I do know, ultramarathon races principally work like this:
I had assumed that Ethan and Kim may placed on a reasonably good race as a result of they do different issues effectively, and I’m not within the enterprise of reviewing races, however I’ve to say, I used to be proper. It was enjoyable. Though components of it weren’t enjoyable.
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