It’s been a couple of weeks, now, which seems like enough time for me to finally re-cap the Stewart Mountain Half that I (and a few other Cascade Endurance ladies) raced. I’ve run several different races in the Chuckanuts, but have never been on any of Bellingham’s other trails, so Stewart Mountain was sure to be different. As we drove around Lake Whatcom, I couldn’t help but wonder how beautiful it must have been before civilization; the mountains end like fjords into the lake. Despite the development (which included a great café called Fork that we hit up post-race), it was a really pretty new sight.

Though it was pouring rain when we left Seattle very bright and early, the weather improved as we drove north, making us question less our decision to run a hard race in the rain as our idea of fun on a Saturday. Still, after we parked, debated clothing options, got our bibs, and met another Cascade Endurance runner who lives in B-ham, we hung out in the warm car as long as possible before the start.

The course starts out in my favorite way, with a downhill. With the help of adrenaline and being cold at the start, I blasted down the road and the beginning of the out-and-back trail along the lake. Another woman was right in front of me and while I knew there was still a lot of race left, I wanted to see how the other women did on various terrain. I was working harder than she was on the flat, and with five miles of climbing ahead, I decided to keep her in sight, but mellow out a little so as not to blow up so early in the race. We quickly got to the turnaround that included a little creek crossing, and headed back toward the start. To keep things interesting, I tend to prefer knowing only the gist of the course rather than each detail, so I was pleasantly surprised when we turned off the wider, flat trail for some singletrack. I pretty quickly caught up to the other woman, so I hung behind her for a while, taking note that now I seemed to be working less than she.

The best downhill! Photo by Donna Potts-walling.

The best downhill! Photo by Donna Potts-walling.

I really like long climbs, despite them not being my strongest suit, and this one was no different. I enjoyed finding the right gear to plug away and keep moving but not expend too much energy, and I was happy to be able to keep my effort in check and still make good progress up the hill. I decided I should try passing the woman in front when I saw another woman coming up only a switchback behind. I didn’t realize I was in such a competitive mode until that point, but I just went with it.

The climb is a combination of single track and service road, which was pretty rad. It was fun to pick someone ahead to try to catch. At one point the woman behind me caught up, but she was also working harder than I, which gave me a kick in the pants. I didn’t feel like I was slacking, but realized I could definitely be going harder and still be fine. Doing shorter runs has really helped me learn what efforts are sustainable for certain periods of time (hint, hint, nudge, nudge). I was going at what felt like my half-marathon effort, but then thought I could pretend it was a shorter race for a while and recover later (hopefully). I ran away from her and by that point didn’t want anyone catching me. I’d yo-yoed with a couple of men, which normally doesn’t bother me, but this time I was set on no one passing me from that point on. I thought of all of the different hill workouts and pretended I was just doing one set of sprints, or one time up the longer hill, or…

I think I succeeded in that up to the top of the climb, and I figured if someone passed me on the downhill they would have to be a pretty darned good downhill runner and I wouldn’t care. The descent was really fun: perfect grade for effortless hero running. Just after the aid station, there was a little climb before the switchbacks and singletrack. I cursed the uphill and felt as though I was moving through quicksand, then heard cheers coming from the aid station. No way was anyone going to get me now! I couldn’t really remember how long that section was, so I went as fast as I could, but I was starting to get tired of going downhill. I can’t believe I’m saying that, but it was true. Luckily I heard the start/finish shortly thereafter, and made it.

Candice does a great job with her events; the course was very well marked, the finish had lots of food (the aid stations certainly did, too, but I didn’t partake or stop to see), and there were overall and age group awards, of which Cascade Endurance cleaned up! Sarah won her age group, and Joanna edged out Heather to win theirs. It was so fun to have a posse of people up there, and I hope to do more of these trips.

Photos by Kristal Sager-Thanks!

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