“… I took one last glance at the poem and then started my run downhill. My legs still hurt but I had time, until I didn’t … Six minutes to go. My heart sank. I should’ve been able to see the entrance by now. Damn that poem. I wish I just let those points go. I wish I didn’t take those photos of the sunrise over the mountain … Five minutes…”

THE ULTRA

The concept of running for miles on end. 

The idea of dedicating hours of training just to run more miles. 

The knowledge that it’s all or nothing.

It’s the type of race loved ones dread; usually called vacations that involve a missing person for 12 or more hours. It’s the type of race those of us with younger children sadly mark off our list. It’s the type of race some wonder if they are ready, if they are good enough, or if they have trained enough.

THE SISU 24 

This is the race for everyone. Athletes range from the few who want another 100 miler, to the many hoping for their first 50. It’s for people who love to run as well as for those who still insist “I’m not a runner.” What makes the SISU 24 extra special is that it’s also for the families and friends who rarely come out to watch you run because, let’s face it, very few people, even the ones that love you, want to sit around as you run in the forest for endless hours. You can run a four-mile loop and be back before anyone has missed you or you can run a Noble Knob because they are driving you crazy.

This is the 2019 SISU 24: Pacific Northwest Edition. It’s the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Race.

PLANNING MY ADVENTURE

Since we were given elevation gain, distance, points, challenges, and the rules in the Athlete’s Guide, I decided to plan my weekend in detail. Like most people, I just wanted to push myself for all 24 hours. With this in mind, my goal was simple: do each trail and challenge. I gave myself a 20-minute-mile pace which accounted for refueling, slowing down, and random musings. I scribbled an outline on paper and put it into Excel to work out my best and worst pace projections. With what I believed to be the best combination, I closed my laptop and let my plans sink in.

A week out I experienced random sharp pains in my lower back. Diagnosis: muscle spasms. Prognosis: it’s going to hurt. With clearance from my doctor, I decided my plan just needed readjustment. I bought hiking poles and headed up to Mt. Baldy to test my pace after three days of ice, muscle relaxers, and yoga. After adjusting my schedule to five trails with a more forgiving 30-minute-mile pace I printed out my plan, Athlete’s Guide, and race waiver.

STICK IT UP, IT’S A SETUP

On Friday, Camp Sheppard opened up for camping. Most participants chose to take advantage of camping this evening. We got in around 9:15 pm with only a few moments of daylight left but it was easy to find a spot and set up the tent. Camp Sheppard had bathrooms and hot showers for us to use as well.  All of this is free for all runners and their family and crew. That’s right, free. Score for the SISU 24.

RACE BRIEFING

 

I knew there would be time after the 6:45 am briefing to get ready but I went in full gear anyway. Here were our final details:

  • Unlocked Quest (Noble Knob): Solve a riddle.
  • Knowledge Quest (Mutton Mountain): Read posted trivia about Mt. Rainier along the 14.8-mile trail. Answer a random question at check-in.
  • Secret Quest (Little Ranger Lookout): Available from 3pm-7pm. Knot tying.
  • Splish Splash Quest (Snoquera Falls): Available from 7am-7pm. Scramble up rocks to take a selfie under the waterfall.
  • Uncracked (Dalles Falls): Bring back an uncracked egg.
  • My SISU Quest (Little Ranger Peak): Memorize a SISU poem. Recite at check-in.
  • Extras: Community Service and Midnight Yoga

Tony added an extra challenge to the point system. The first ten people to peak would pick up a ping-pong ball and can receive full points. The second ten people pick a gem for reduced points. Everyone else got about half the original point value. I liked this as it added a little extra push to my uphills.

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE GORGEOUS

Little Ranger Lookout’s limited availability meant I could not start with it as planned. Getting Mutton Mountain done was the most logical adjustment. The first three miles was an easy run but suddenly the gradient changed and I was met with steep inclines for the next four miles. At the false peak, we got a spectacular view of Mt. Rainier. I didn’t think it could get better than that so I snapped a photo. Much later I reached a ledge with a view so picturesque I forgot what a pain it was to get up there. There were only gems left so I grabbed one and headed back down.

After I helped fill some potholes for community service I headed back out to Snoquera Falls. It is the shortest but, in my opinion, the most technical trail with rocky switchbacks and scrambles that really cut through your pace for the first two miles. With the soot of Mutton Mountain, the dull ache of the muscle spasms, and the heat of the day on my back, I embraced the waterfall for its ice-cold glacial water before running back.

I only had two hours to peak Ranger Lookout so I headed out as soon as possible. This route followed most of the Noble Knob trail (the only trail I did not do) but split off at roughly mile four. I started this around 5:30 pm and made it with three minutes to spare. Upon completing the knot challenge I opted to make the traverse over the cliff for my first ping-pong ball on my own. As a running trail, this was my favorite. The bit of bouldering was a special surprise and I’m angry at myself for not taking advantage of the photo op while clinging onto the cliffside. Feeling exuberant I ran back down as quickly as I could.

Dalles Falls started late in the evening and was finished under the light of the moon. Although this was an easy run, the rocky switchbacks and narrow trail made it a little more technical towards the end. There were plenty of eggs and a gem left so I grabbed one of each and quickly headed back down. Dalles Falls felt strangely short.

At 11 pm I was right on target with my time. I contemplated skipping yoga to repeat Ranger Lookout but I decided yoga would be good for my back. I spent the extra hour to make myself soup, changed into night gear, and closed my eyes for fifteen minutes. I was happy to have gotten my ice and stretch in for the day, I was ready for the final push.

Little Ranger Peak proved to be my toughest trail. Since it was 1 am when I planned to begin, I would not be allowed to run alone. Luckily Jayme Linker and Maria de Hernandez are going but I felt like the little sister tagging along the big sister hike. About 1.5 miles into the hike my right leg started to ache. Another step and a sharp pain shot down my left leg but I kept moving. Around mile five we could see the faint outline of Mt. Rainier in the dark. Maria insisted the mountain in between us was Mutton Mountain. I curse it under my breath and I’m sure I heard Maria do the same. Moments later we turned to finish the last mile to the peak. There was a gem so I grabbed it and sat, like others before me, to memorize the poem. In silence, I took the time to eat and think while I looked out at the mountain covered in a vast carpet of dark trees.

With two and a half hours left I took one last glance at the poem and then started my run downhill. My legs still hurt but I had time … until I didn’t. It had been two miles and it had taken an hour. I started to panic; I might not make it. I started running even though it was awkward and painful. I had a goal and I meant to keep it. Somewhere around 11 miles, I caught my second wind. Six minutes to go. My heart sank. I should’ve been able to see the entrance by now. Damn that poem. I wished I had just let those points go. I wished I hadn’t taken those photos of the sunrise over the mountain (as beautiful and majestic as it was). Five minutes to go. Suddenly, I found myself bursting into the grass clearing. I could see Tony jumping up and down happy to see me as I ran to check-in. As a runner, it meant I made time. As a race director, it meant I wasn’t injured and lost on the mountain. I don’t know who was more relieved.

I recited my poem, handed over my gem, and produced my stamped card.

All I wanted were those brutal 12 miles to count. What I got surprised me more than anything.

IT ALL WORKS OUT IN THE END

Upon finishing I learned that my challenge shenanigans put me at the top of the women’s points’ leaderboard with 42.79 miles but I nailed every challenge I attempted. Looking at the winner’s circle, again, I felt like the kid amongst a list of incredible athletes:

SISU 24: PNW Event Totals
FemalesPtsMalesPtsTeamPts
Linh Phan96Eric Estrada1285K Hoppy251
Emily Linder85Nathan Arrigoni106The P.G Runners185
Maria De Heras79Eric Alfano95Pain Chasers84

 

SISU 24: PNW Individual Mileage Totals
FemalesPtsMalesPts
Maria De Heras52.04Eric Estrada76.76
Emily Linder48.19Eric Alfano68.58
Hayden Smith44.76Christopher Walker68.17

THE SASQUATCH EXPERIENCE

Every person’s experience at the SISU 24 is different. Some runners, like me, check-in, grab a bite, and check-out out almost immediately. Some would come in and spend hours basking in the sun, catching up with friends, sleeping, or cheering people on. Family and friends were welcome to share the trail or just hang out, sit back, and enjoy an ICEE or some delicious biscuits and gravy from Tessa Turnbull’s fully stocked food station, The PG.

And what about those shooting for 100 miles? Not this year, this year the mountain wins. But there’s always next year. I don’t know what I will decide to do and I don’t know what you will decide to do. Are YOU ready to choose? 

Choose Your Own Adventure, June 26-28, 2020

Rating: 5/5

 

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