Fort Ebey Kettles Trail Marathon – Race Report

02/15/2015 – Fort Ebey Kettles Trail Marathon – Fort Ebey State Park, Coupeville, Whidbey Island, WA
From the Gun Battery, the trail loops twice gently along the rims of Fort Ebey State Park’s forested kettle depressions rolling through the multi-use Kettles Trails and teetering on the sheer bluffs overlooking the Straight of Juan de Fuca and Olympic Mountains acquiring 5500 feet of vert over the 26 miles of trails.

For reference, here’s my 2014 training run following mostly the 20 mile route and the 2015 Fort Ebey Kettles Trail Marathon results – statistically a bit higher than the percentile range I’m usually in.

The Race Video Recap is all the way down at the bottom.


The Training
A part of a larger training plan for another race this summer, this race was meant to be a glorified supported training run that somehow happened to turn into a race. There was no taper and the two weeks before were 50 mile weeks, so I didn’t go in well rested, but since it wasn’t meant to be a race-race, I was fine with that.

The Travel
Technically only an hour and forty-five minutes away from Seattle, the race is on Whidbey Island, so unless you take the long way around, there’s a ferry ride to plan for and negotiate. It’s not a long ferry ride, 20-25 minutes, but early on Saturday mornings they don’t leave as often, so if you miss it, you’re going to wait a full hour for the next one. Not wanting to be late for the race, I aimed for the Mukilteo ferry that would put me to Clinton a full 2 hours before the race.

Sunrise at Coupeville, Whidbey Island.
Sunrise at Coupeville, Whidbey Island.

This left me a 30 minute drive to Coupeville to take in an ever so peaceful sun rise from the Coupeville Wharf with a few locals and their dogs.

Coupeville Wharf. Whidbey Island.
The current Coupeville Wharf has been around since 1905.

It’s another 15 minute drive to Fort Ebey which left me with still 45 minutes to check-in, stretch my legs, and make sure I had everything I needed.

The Packet Pick-up

Morning Dew. Fort Ebey, Whidbey Island.
Morning Dew. Fort Ebey, Whidbey Island.

Getting to the race early gives me plenty of time to check-in and make sure I have everything I need. This I’ve learned is the best plan for me. No rushing. No anxiousness about missing check-in or the race start.

Pre-race runners milling around the check-in tent.
Pre-race runners milling around the check-in tent.

This low key race put on by Northwest Trail Races meant a low key check-in and a low key race briefing. Just the way I like it. No packet, no ads or promotional flyers, just a bib and 4 safety pins.

A photo of me taking a photo of the Sound. Photo by Herbert Purganan.
A photo of me taking a photo of the Sound. Photo by Herbert Purganan.

Bib number 449 secured to the front of my shorts, I had plenty of time to go down to the Gun Battery meadow and take it all in before the race start. The first race of my 2015 season.

Morning sunshine spotlights.
Morning sunshine spotlights.

The Race
Having run the course previously, I had a vague sense of what type of terrain I was getting myself into. The race is two laps of the same route which would provide for a refresher lap of what to expect and a second try to pick and choose when I wanted go.

Fort Ebey Kettle's Trail Marathon.
Fort Ebey Kettle’s Trail Marathon.

The Race Director, Mark Taylor, shepherded everyone down the steps to the Gun Battery meadow and we all gathered around for the pre-race briefing that mirrors most all other pre-race briefings, follow the arrows, flags on the right mark a turn to the right, flags on the left mark a turn to the left, if you don’t see a confidence streamer within a quarter, maybe you should turn around, don’t push, don’t litter, if you see litter pick it up, have fun.

This way to the water.
This way to the water.

I’m pretty sure at some future other race I’m going to zone out and there is going to be some key piece of information I’m going to miss. For now though, on this day, there’s nothing new and all I should have to do is follow the person in front of me.

And we're off! I'm in the very back. Photo by Herbert Purganan.
And we’re off! I’m in the very back. Photo by Herbert Purganan.

Lap 1 – (0-13 miles)
The mass start of all four races, 10k, half marathon, 20 mile, and full marathon could have been an issue for those running the shorter races trying to place as everyone is immediately funneled uphill and onto stairs clearly not meant for 200 people to be on all at once. Unless you’re clear at the very front, sprinting off the start line, you might as well plan on walking for the first half mile because even after you get up the steps, you’re thrust immediately to single track. It’s not an ideal start, but if you’re running the marathon and you aren’t trying to win, it’s not too bad as you have no other choice than to ‘start even slower than you think you should.’

I'm on the left in the blue, white and red sleeved USMNT jersey. Photo by Herbert Purganan.
I’m on the left in the blue, white and red sleeved USMNT jersey. Photo by Herbert Purganan.

I literally walked the first half mile at the same pace as those in front of me and behind me ‘ran’ listening to the usual chatter and general excitement that comes with races. Those that came and were running with others were of course grouped together and talked while those of use who came solo mostly ran in silence silently participating by offering up our own internal commentary.

When in doubt, follow the runners in front of you.
When in doubt, follow the runners in front of you.

The deluge of runners continue for several miles before a relief widening of the trail allowed for a bit of self seeding and for the gaps between groups to widen. This is also the spot in the trail where the marathon, 20 mile, and half marathon route splits from the 10k route. Unless you’ve studied the course map (which you should!) it’s a bit much to figure out which way you should be going as the photographer set up shop at the fork, runners are splitting off left and right and save for two small letter sized signs, the only other directions are spray painted on the ground. That’s actually more than enough, but for some reason it seemed more confusing to me than it probably should have.

Taking it easy on lap 1. Photo by Herbert Purganan.
Taking it easy on lap 1. Photo by Herbert Purganan.

The trail itself in the Fort Ebey State Park of the run is well groomed, mostly single track groomers slicing through trees and rounding large depressions further enhanced by the line of runners in front of you. It’s an absolute pleasure to run through.

Walking switchbacks.
Walking switchbacks.

Two aid stations split the half marathon loop more or less into 4 mile thirds and the usual ultra fare, water, electrolyte drink, pbj’s, chips, salty and sweet food, is manned by gracious and helpful volunteers. The start/finish line serves as the midpoint aid station with the added bonus of hot tomato or chicken noodle soup.

The end of the loops are a pretty glorious inspiring couple of miles of running feet from the edge of the bluffs with only a railing separating you from the Straight of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Peninsula. With runners coming and going both ways and day hikers out for a stroll and even a few mountain bikers ignoring the “no mountain bikes” signs, the trail got a bit crowded, but everyone played nice and no one threw anyone off the cliff as far as I know. sweeping around the Gun Battery meadow there’s one last steep, but short hill to make it back up the bluffs before finishing out the last 2 miles back in the woods and reemerging to the start/finish/midpoint line.

Arrows and flagging point the way.
Arrows and flagging point the way.

Lap 2 – (13-26 miles)
Strolling through the midpoint, I stopped briefly to refill my water bottle and bladder and down a few cups of chicken broth even though I probably didn’t need it. The crowd is far more thinned for the second lap as only the 20 milers and full marathoners are out for the second loop. I quickly caught up to a guy, Mike, who I’d met and ran with before at the Cutthroat Classic last year. Enjoying his company and still in “this is just a glorified supported training run” mode I figured I’d just run with him for as long as he’d let me. Mike lives over in the Methow Valley and is on a National Forest work crew maintaining and clearing trails. I quizzed him on what trails they would be focusing their efforts on this year and was happy to find out that the massive quarter mile rock slide along the West Fork trail is on the schedule to be cleared hopefully by the end of the year. Sidebar: I do hope this happens as we’ve had a run planned for a few years now from Hart’s Pass, down the PCT and hooking back into the West Fork trail.

Picking up the pace on lap 2. Photo by Herbert Purganan.
Picking up the pace on lap 2. Photo by Herbert Purganan.

For the next 4 miles we ran together, Mike clearly a better uphill hiker than me, and myself holding pace on the downhills talking about all things Methow Valley. We came to the first (fourth?) aid station and the aid volunteers told us we were in 6th and 7th place and the 5th place guy was just 5 minutes ahead of us. I thought out loud, “6th and 7th?! Really?” Interesting since it’s only a ‘training run’ for me. I quickly filled my bottles, picked up a few pieces of bananas and pbj’s and patiently waited for Mike. I figured there was still 9 miles to go. No need to push too hard (or at all?) yet. Bounding out of the aid station and down the trail I said to Mike, “let’s go see if we can’t hunt down this 5th place guy.” And so we picked up the pace ever so slightly. Game on.

We rambled through the next couple of miles talking less and running more until we reached about 5 miles left and Mike started to fade on the uphills. It was decision time. Either I was going to need to chill out and take it easy or it was go time and I’d have to push. I chose the latter, throwing all training goals I had set for myself at the start line out of my mind, thanked Mike for letting me run with him, wished him good luck and took off up the hill in pursuit of 5th place.

Coming into the last aid station I asked, “any idea on how far ahead the 5th place guy is?” “He just left. Maybe 50-60 seconds ago. The 4th place guy left about 5 minutes ago.” I quickly filled up my bladder and took a few quarter pieces of a pbj sandwhich, thanked the volunteers for being out on the course and started running down the trail, simultaneously cramming food into my mouth and sucking down GU Brew. 60 seconds in 4 miles – no problem. It took me a full mile to hunt him down and pass him on a downhill. 5th place was mine. Take that ‘training run’!

I pressed again knowing that I still had legs in me and that I could still hike fairly strong on the uphills. 3-4 minutes to make up in 3 miles. Doable, but I’d have to push. After the peek-a-boo bluff to water viewpoint which I didn’t stop at this time and the quick blow by through the campground I finally caught up to the 4th place guy. We exchanged hellos and names and John tried to wave me past, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to sustain the pace after passing him, so I said thanks, but no thanks I’ll just tail behind you. As I thought, this lasted until we hit the the bluffs again and he sped up to try to put distance between us. I tried keeping up with him ever so briefly before letting him go, knowing the last short steep bluff was still ahead in a quarter mile. After that would be the short skip atop the bluff again a half mile of decently technical downhill, a half mile of uphill then the quarter mile of flat to the finish. If I could let him go, but still see him through to the meadow and put myself close by the base of the bluff, I’d have a shot at passing him for 4th.  I thought through the strategy quickly and pretty sure I said out loud to myself, so this is what it’s like to race!

Rounding the bluff, down the stairs and through the Gun Battery meadow to the steep climb, I had narrowed the gap from a few hundred feet to around 30 feet by the time I had hit the base of the climb. Come on legs! Now’s your time to shine! 20 feet. 10 feet. As I hit the top of the climb I was on his heels and we took off along the bluffs stride for stride, John in front, me behind. We turned left away from the bluffs briefly back through the campground and I knew now that if I could get in front of him by the time we hit the technical downhill I’d be good to go. We took a sharp right and John said, “I’m going to let you take the lead for a second.” Now was my time to go. Coming up to another sharp turn left I figured I could really go and gap him before he turned the corner to see where I was at. I’ve heard of “running scared” and I guess now I know what that means. I turned the corner still in sprint mode and looked back over my shoulder to see where he was at. 20 feet farther and I looked back again – no John. Another 30 feet and another glance over my shoulder – no John. The technical downhill was next. Perfect. My favorite type of trail to bound down. Knowing that I could climb stronger than him at this point as long as I didn’t trip and twist an ankle or kill myself, I’d be just fine.

At this point I wasn’t nervous or “running scared” or worried about what place I’d be in. I was just having fun, running hard and knowing that I’d just experienced an actual race within a race and it wasn’t just me versus my mind (this time) or my body versus chafing or my body versus cramping. I was happy and excited. Up the last uphill and no one in sight and I turned to the last section of flat leading to the finish finally able to slow down and enjoy the moment.

The Finish
The last 50 feet emerging from the trees, you have to run up a hill. Brutal if you’re chasing a specific time or literally neck and neck with the person in front or behind you. I didn’t care though. I walked it. With ample time for the 10k, half marathoners and most of the 20 milers to have already passed through, get cleaned up, and even leave there wasn’t much of a crowd around, but the few that were there cheered in any runner finishing their race. I finished quicker than I had expected in a place higher than I expected and with all the joy and feeling of accomplishment I had expected.

The Post-Race
After ripping off the tag off the bottom of my bib number to hand to the finish line volunteers I milled around the food tent filling up on warm tomato soup and bananas and talking with the other runners who had just finished. The sun was out. Everyone was smiling. Awards were announced and handed out by Mark and my name was called out to come collect a prize which for me is exciting and embarrassing all at the same time.

Clinton-Mukilteo ferry ride.
Clinton-Mukilteo ferry ride.

A 45 minute drive back to the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry and an hour drive back to Seattle and that was a full race day. What a great day and place for a race!

Lessons (Re)-Learned. What went well? What could be better?

  • Blue Steel lubricant worked great for this race. I need to remember to hit all areas though and make sure to really rub it in thoroughly.
  • Run and talk with people. It make the miles fly by.
  • Racing against people is both different and the same as racing the course or racing yourself. It doesn’t work (for me) to run all out for the entire race. Pick and choose when to settle in and when to push.
  • “Running scared” is a nice little adrenaline boost.
  • Walking the first mile wasn’t all that bad of a strategy forced on me. Or it could have been that pretty much everyone was walking the first mile.
  • Knowing how much time and how much distance you have to the person in front or behind is good if you’re chasing or being chased.
  • While I don’t typically like laps on courses, it does help to know what terrain and turns that are left in the race (especially when chasing or being chased.)

Final Race Goals Recap and What’s Next?
I had four main goals for this race…

1. Make it to the Start Line.
2. Have fun. It’s just a training run. Practice for my longer races later in the year.
3. Make it to the Finish Line.
4. Thank the volunteers and crew.

Goal #1 – Completed. Who doesn’t like a ferry ride?
Goal #2 – Completed, although it’s hard to hold back the competitiveness of a race.
Goal #3 – Completed! And faster than I thought I would!
Goal #4 – Completed!

Next up is continuing this training schedule. There are a few more races thrown in also as training run/races leading to my “A-Race” in June, but if I can be consistent in my training and avoid injury I hopefully should have myself set up for a good shot at finishing.


Gear used

  • Nike quick dry USMNT jersey
  • Arm sleeves (from the Bryce Canyon 50k)
  • The North Face Long Haul shorts
  • XCCU Unisex Experia Multi-Activity micro mini crew with COOLMAX fiber
  • Altra Lone Peak 2.0
  • Salomon Skin Pro 10+3 Set pack with 1L bladder
  • Suunto Ambit 2
  • Garmin ANT+ Heartrate belt
  • Sony HDR-AS15 Action Cam with waterproof housing
  • Blue Steel Sports Anti-Chafe Cream – lubricant for legs and armpits
  • Athletic tape – two 1″ pieces – one for each nipple,  one 3″ piece – center of chest underneath heart rate monitor, one 3″ piece – small of back where pack rubs.
  • (Phone, insurance card, credit cards, car keys and license in a zip lock bag – in case I get hurt, can’t talk and need to be identified)

Fuel used – (not consumed in parenthesis) 
Pre-race:

  • Banana – one x 105 = 105 calories total
  • Bagel and peanut butter – 2 tbsp – 190+190 = 380 calories total
  • NUUN Active Hydration Tablets – 40 oz – ~5 calories
  • Coffee with cream and sugar – 12 oz – 50 calories

During-Race:

  • VFuel Gel – single serving – one vanilla,and one peach cobbler – 100 calories each – total 200 calories
  • Honey Stinger Energy Waffle – 1 honey – 160 calories
  • GU Brew – 160 oz – 100 calories/16oz = 1000 calories
  • Skratch Lab Drink Mix – lemons and limes – 20 oz – 1 x 20 calories per serving = 20 calories total
  • SaltStick Plus Electrolyte Salt Capsules – consumed 4 – 0 calories
  • Banana – two medium x 100 = 200 calories total
  • Potato chips 4 hand fulls ~400 calories
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich – 375 calories
  • Chicken Noddle Soup – 2 small cups – 2 x 75 calories per serving = 150 calories

Post-Race:

  • Tomato Soup 3 small cups ~2 x 75 calories per serving = 225 calories
  • Banana – one medium x 100 = 100 calories total

Calories/Heartrate

  • Calories burned ~4,312
  • Calories consumed pre-race ~540
  • Calories consumed during race ~2505
  • Calories consumed post race ~325
  • Average heartrate – 146
  • Max heartrate – 165
  • Time in heartrate zone 1 and 2 – 0:17
  • Time in heartrate zone 3 – 2:33
  • Time in heartrate zone 4 – 2:09
  • Time in heartrate zone 5 – 0:00

The Race Video Recap


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