Since I learned about Rainshadow Running events about a year ago, I’ve had my sights set on completing the Yakima Skyline Rim (YSR) 50k. Located in the Yakima River Canyon about 20mins south of Ellensburg, the YSR50k is a great way to escape the soggy Seattle weather and indulge yourself in open vistas, blue skies, and 10,000ft of climbing. Yep, you read that right. With four (4) monstrous climbs, the YSR50k is known to be one of the hardest 50ks in the PNW and possibly in the country.
Coming off of Chuckanut 50k in March, I had 1 week to recover, and only 3 weeks to get in as much climbing as I could to prepare specifically for this race. First thing I decided was that I was going to try doing this with Poles. I read various reviews on the internet and decided to put my REI gift card and dividend to good use and picked up some Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z-Poles. Since I was still not too confident on the health of my left knee, I wanted the extra support for the steep descents. The Z-Poles are ridiculously light weighing in at 10oz for the pair! I originally started training with the 120cm length as this fits me perfect for my height – 5’11”; this length gave me a perfect 90 degree angle in my arm bend on flat land. However, after doing a few runs with these, I found that they were too long for my stride and reach when ascending steep grades. I exchanged them for the 110cm length which is on the small side but were much more comfortable on steep ascents.
With Z-Poles in tow, I spent my 3 to 4 midweek runs doing hill repeats in the little known West Seattle parks: Schmitz and Me Kwa Mooks. On the weekends, I aimed to get as much vert as I could in (while still being cautious of not overdoing it) and ended up doing 3,729ft, 8,494ft, and 8,953 ft of climbing in each of the respective weeks prior to the race. This was not optimal but a heck of a lot more than I have ever done in the past.
Come race day, I was pretty antsy. Eventhough I had done a couple of 50ks in the past, nothing really compared to climbing 10,000ft over 31 miles. I filled up my pack with water, a handful of gus, 10oz of Perpetuem, and a Running Playlist from Spotify. I was ready to roll.
Start to AS1 – 5.5miles
The course begins with a gently climb for about .25 – .5 miles and then quickly changes to a steep pitch that elevates the HR even at a moderate pace. The course ascend a ridiculous 2,200 ft in the first 2.2 miles and then heads out onto the ridge for 3 miles of ridge running. When I arrived onto the ridge and took a moment to look around, it was amazing to have 360 degree views. The Stuart Range in particular looked spectacular. I had chatted with other folks on the grueling ascent, but on the ridge I popped in my earphones and pressed play on my Spotify playlist. I cruised on the ridge down to the first Aid Station feeling fantastic.
AS1 – AS2 – 5.5m to 10.5m
After departing the first Aid Station, you descend all the way back to the valley floor in-line with the Yakima River. After a rolling mile or so, I came upon the next monstrous climb. Using my trusted poles, I began a nice power hike up finding a great rhythm and feeling pretty good. About halfway up this climb, however, I started feeling really nauseous. I had been consuming GU’s every 30mins or so and also sipping on water and my Perpetuem bottle. For some reason, I felt really awful and would have to take a break every few minutes. I soon realized that my HR strap was actually riding a little low and was compressing on my abdomen. I decided to pull it off and stash it in my pack; besides, I already knew what my HR was- f#$%ing high. After only a few minutes, I began to feel much better and was able to push through to the summit of the second big climb to AS2. Although it was only 5 miles from AS1 to AS2, this took my about an hour and a half to make the trek. At AS2, I took a GU, filled up on electrolytes, chatted with the volunteers and then setup for the next leg to AS3 which is the turnaround point for the 50k.
AS2- AS3 – 10.5m to 15.5m
This is a great part of the course as you get to fly downhill, hit another uphill, and then fly down a long descent to the turnaround point where my drop bag was waiting for me. It was on this section around mile 12 or so, that the leader and eventual winner, Maxwell Ferguson, passed me on the way back. I said a few words to Max and he muttered back to me something like, “even us guys need to hike on the race”. It was amazing to see how fast he was able to climb the hill at his “hiking” pace. He went on to win the race in a ridiculous fast time of 4:55 shattering the course records by around 35 mins. Anyways, I rolled into AS3 feeling good, a little tired in my quads but overall very happy with the way things were going. I replaced my Perpetuem bottle with a spare from my drop bag, lathered on some sunscreen, and ate some magical Blood Oranges. Seriously, I could have eaten a whole bowl at this point. Tasted better than my Mom’s famous Wicky Wacky Chocolate Cake at the time (and that is saying a lot!).
AS3 – AS4 – 15.5m to 20.5m
Well, being an out and back course, you pretty much know exactly what is awaiting you on the return trip. I had completed the first half in 3:50 and felt pretty good. My original goal was sub-8hrs and I was well under this pace. However, the return trip on this course is harder than the first time out. The reason is the climbs on the first half are steep and the descents are relatively flatter. This allows you to power hike the climbs and fly down the descents. However on the return trip, the climbs are now long and drawn out and still hard to run. The descents are steeper and slower. So I expected to be slower but I was still feeling good. I climbed out of AS3 utilizing my trusted poles feeling somewhat energized (part of that was from seeing a Rattlesnake on the side of the trail which always gets the blood flowing). I tried to just focus on keeping my head down and a good rhythm as the open vistas made the summit seem like an eternity away. I was falling off my pace and feeling a big sluggish. I didn’t seem to have my climbing legs in me anymore. Being alone for a lot of this time gave me a chance to reflect on my training and how it prepared me. What I realized is that I really hadn’t training for anything longer than 2-3 hours and now approaching my 5th hour on the course, my legs were really starting to feel it. I hunkered down and kept doing what you do in an ultra: relentless forward progress.
AS4 – AS5 – 20.5m to 25.5m
The last climb, er, sort of. Looking at the profile map, this is the bulk of the last climb. After descending down from AS4 (which was same as AS2), the quads were on fire and my toes were screaming from hitting the front of my shoes. I had to stop a couple of times on the descent to give my toes and quads a break. I was feeling pretty much like crap at this point. I was ready to be done. After the descent, I crossed the valley floor in more of a shuffle than a run, and then started up the worlds longest climb (or so it seemed at the time). This last climbed sucked. I mean, it really sucked. It was windy, steep, cold, and even had a few rain drops. I mean, raindrops, really? WTF??? I stuck to my guns and continued just pushing forward just hoping to get to the last Aid Station. I moved slower and slower and got passed by a few people. I stumbled into AS5, ready to just be done with this whole thing. I took an S-cap, some Gu’s and whatever else I decided to consume. My memory is a bit foggy at this point. After the Aid, you think its all ridge running but, nope, its not. Its all freaking uphill. I mean, where the hell did all this elevation come from? Plus, to make things more pleasant, the wind picked up to what felt like Hurricane Force gales. I will be blunt: this freaking sucked. Big time. Like really sucked.
AS5 – Finish – 25.5m to 31m
After pushing through the ridge running, er, stumbling, I finally made it to the last descent: 2.2 miles and 2,200ft back to the start. According to the webpage, they dub this as “The Plunge”. This is a great description. I have never felt such a burning in my quads as I did when I was descending the steep pitch back to the start. I pushed through these final 2.2 miles and finally saw the heavenly sight of the Umtanum Campground and the Finish Line. I came across the pedestrian bridge, saw my lovely lady, and felt a rush of emotion. Seeing Amy and the end of a race is always an emotional event. After pushing my body beyond its limits, it is always comforting to see my lady there eagerly waiting my arrival. I jogged to the finish line in elation and ran through my cramping legs to finish this beast in 8:06. 6 mins off of my goal but I was happy nonetheless.
Overall, I had a fantastic time. This is a classic Washington race and needs to be experienced by every Ultra Runner looking to truly test themselves over the 50k distance. I will be back in 2014 looking to go Sub-8 baby!
Next Up: White River 50
Click here to see my GPS tracsk: Suunto Ambit – Movescount – Yakima Skyline Rim 50k