Sunday, April 26, 2009

Patterson Lake Trail Run... and then some

I mentioned a few days ago that I hoped to do a moderately long run today while I was still up in the Winthrop area, and then start moderating the mileage and tapering a little bit in preparation for Bloomsday in a week.

What I kind of wanted to do was run from the Sun Mountain Inn into Winthrop, as I had last year, which is an easy ten miles almost entirely downhill. I figured I could log some undemanding mileage at a fast pace, rewarding myself with a latte (and maybe a cinnamon roll) in Winthrop, not to mention a boost to my self-esteem going into race week.

But when I broached that idea to Rod, he was not entirely thrilled with it. Understandably, as it would leave him to load up everything at the inn by himself and then meet me in Winthrop. Plus, he really needed my help to get his Husqvarna bike into the truck, and doing that after dinner on Saturday night didn't seem really appealing.

So I said okay, I would just run down the hill for a few miles then turn around and run back up. That was not an ideal plan in any way, of course. The running downhill would be great, which would make the uphill even more torturous. Running uphill then down is much more doable, but functionally impossible given our location at the top of the mountain!

Rod suggested an alternative (which would not, however, eliminate the uphill portion). He suggested that I turn off the main road onto the Patterson Lake Trail, and then follow that onto some dirt roads, eventually meeting up with the main road again for the return segment. He thought that would be about a seven-mile loop overall,* based on the Forest Service map he had. That way I would be off the highway for at least part of the run. Seven miles was less than I had intended to run, but considering the amount of uphill I was facing, I figured it was an okay substitute.

I agreed (although I am always a little nervous about getting lost). I had a trail map from the lodge, which seemed pretty clear, except that the final portion where I met up with the road again was off the map. (This would, in fact, be a small problem, as it turned out!)

So this morning I got up sort of early and got dressed and loaded up my gear (Garmin, iPod, phone—although service was a problem in the area, money, kleenex, water bottle) and was ready to hit the road at 8:00. Rod asked if I'd be back around 9:15 (giving me a 10:30 pace, which was a pretty good guess), and I said 9:30 was probably better, considering the amount of uphill I would have to tackle. (Oh, if I'd only known!)

I started down the hill on Patterson Lake Road at a nice clip, mostly around 9:30 (although my entire first mile was 9:45), and reaching the Patterson Lake Cabins, trailhead for the Patterson Lake Trail, about a mile and a half along. I almost didn't find the trail, and was resigned to going back to the road, but just before I turned onto the road again I saw the sign and turned onto the trail instead.

I have not really done any real trail running before. Generally speaking, I prefer to walk and hike on trails. I think that allows you to enjoy your surroundings a lot more without having to pay such close attention to your feet, as you do while running. This trail was pretty typical, with tree roots and occasional rocks and a winding, up and down terrain. It would make a great hike, but today I was running, and I really had no choice about that, timewise, anyway.

Even running a trail allows you to enjoy the flora (hopefully not fauna), and here is a picture of flowers that grow wildly in the deserty Eastern Washington hills. I am hoping to identify their name at some point!

Part of the trail was in the woods, but a good portion was in the open, along (but high above) the edge of Patterson Lake. The left side of that part of the trail was unguarded, dropping steeply (and rockily) to the lake. A misstep could be treacherous.

So, obviously, trail running tends to be a lot slower than simple road and sidewalk running (where cars—and okay, tree roots as well—are your only real obstacles). I don't even feel bad that my two miles that were solely on the trails came in at 11:05 and 10:55 minutes. I am assuming that the trail ended sometime after that (the end of mile 4 in total) because my times were quite a bit quicker from then on.

I was amused along the way when I came upon a cattle gate along the trail which reminded of all the gates on the footpaths in England. (I always enjoy things that remind me of England.)

Speaking of mile 4... I had told Rod that if I didn't hit the main road after four miles, I would turn around and retrace my steps, ensuring that I would get back to the lodge by eight miles. Mile 4 ended, and I was not at the road. But I decided to go on for a bit further, since returning on the road, even uphill, would probably be easier than rerunning the tricky trail.

Plus, I had moved onto a dirt and gravel road, which was a much more appealing running track than the trail!

My direction, though not final destination, was now toward "Elbow Coulee," and both the map and a trail sign had confirmed that I was on the right route. The challenge would be turning and getting back to Patterson Lake Road. (Oh, what a challenge it would be!)

I made my first mistake by turning left when I got to a left-hand turn. I figured out pretty quickly that I was wrong when I looked at the map and saw that I needed to go past a pond before turning, and I was at the beginning of the pond. So onward.

The next intersection with a lefthand option finally arrived, and I turned. The problem now was that I was heading off the map, and the rest would be on faith and logic. Faith I had some of, but logic, apparently, not so much.

At about mile 5 (that is the end of mile 5), I reached another intersection, and thinking that the map told me to do this, I kept following the road to the right. I went on, and on, and on, and still the road showed no sign of meeting up with the main road. I was concerned! (And now turning back and doubling my mileage seemed an increasing impossible option.)

After another mile, I spotted a camp site where I could see actual people walking around. I scrambled up a small hill and called out. "Do you know how I can get to the main road from here? Patterson Lake Road?"

One of the guys pointed back in the direction I had come from. It seemed that my veering right had been wrong. "Oh shit." I couldn't help myself. I don't think they were offended.

"It's about five miles back," he said. This time I only thought it—"Holy shit!" And even when I got to the road, it would still be several miles back to the lodge. Although I had my doubts about whether it was really five miles to the road—people are always bad about guessing distances, and I had come all the way from Sun Mountain Inn in six miles—I still had a lot of miles ahead of me, and it was almost 9:30 already. That was my projected return time!

I started checking my phone for a signal every half mile or so. I wanted to call Rod at the inn and tell him what was going on. But no luck. I got to my wrong turn at seven miles, and felt strangely relieved then. My mistake was now over. The big mistake—the total estimated distance—was not my fault. (We know whose fault it was, don't we?)

In mile 8 I somehow picked up the pace, finishing in 9:42. I don't know if this is because it was a good running surface, slightly downhill, or just that I felt pressure to move myself along. And I hit Patterson Lake Road at the end of that mile. (Not five miles along, only two, thank heavens.) The road I came out along was called, not surprisingly, Elbow Coulee Road.

Now, though, I was facing the long uphill. Just how long, I learned shortly, when I saw a sign—Sun Mountain Inn 4.3 miles. That was a low moment indeed. It was approaching 10 a.m. and those last steep miles could take me almost an hour! I was pulling out my phone again to pray for a signal when, miraculously, the phone rang! It was Rod. "Are you alive?" he asked. I may have sounded a bit overwrought when I responded. "This was way further than seven miles! And it's still 4.3 miles back!"

"I can come get you," he said. Of course, I agreed. I had not planned to run 12+ miles this morning, and there was no time for that.** I told him I would just keep running up the hill until I saw him.

I probably went another mile or so (like 1.3 miles) by the time I saw the truck. Luckily I was on a level portion as he approached and was able to run towards him like a runner, instead of staggering uphill. In that last mile, actually, I had started walking on the steeped uphill portions, figuring it hardly mattered at this point, and I was probably more efficient walking on the steep hills than trying to run. I must say, though, that once I decided to walk, it was really hard to make the judgment call when I should resume running again. Walking is a slippery slope! (And oh, it feels so good. I'm great at walking uphill!)

So I terminated my run at 9.32 miles (15K). Perfectly respectable and in line with my original intentions for today's mileage, but without the ego boosting speed. My overall results, when I looked at the Garmin, were still pretty reasonable for a longer run, even without the trail and hill factors. The total was 9.32 miles with an average pace of 10:38. Here are my splits:

1 - 9:46
2 - 10:14 (first half mile downhill road, second half on the trail)
3 - 11:05
4 - 10:55
5 - 10:29
6 - 10:16
7 - 10:43 (I think I was in a bit of a downer mood at this time)
8 - 9:42
9 - 11:47 (a little bit of walking)
10 - .32 miles in 4:12 (13:05 pace - again, some walking)

(Here is the Garmin report, map and all: Sun Mountain Lodge and Patterson Lake.)

We got back to the inn at 10:00, and I thought checkout was 11, so I hustled through a quick, hot shower, got dressed and quickly packed up my stuff. (Checkout time was actually noon, but it was good to get on the road.) I felt pretty good about the run, now that I was done and the element of the unknown was gone. I wouldn't mind running on those trails again (or walking/hiking), but I'm not sure if I want to include returning up the hill. I think a bottom-of-hill meet-up or pick-up is definitely the way to go.

Since I was appreciative of the rescue, I restrained myself when I discovered that Rod had drank all the coffee, two mini-pots worth! I did mention that I was surprised to find an empty coffee pot, and he said he had been saving a cup's worth for me, but when I was late coming back, he went ahead and drank it.*** No matter, I would get a latte in Winthrop anyway.

So that was it, we were checked out before 11, loaded up the bike and the other stuff, and headed towards Winthrop. Tomorrow I'll post a few pictures of the scenic North Cascades Highway (mostly borrowed from other websites since I took very few myself).

Tomorrow morning—another run! And a mini-taper towards Bloomsday.

*He was wrong.
**It's not that I couldn't have finished the whole distance, we just didn't have time for that. And running 4.3 miles uphill would have taken close to another hour!
***Was it because he thought I wouldn't have time for coffee, or because he thought I was dead and wouldn't need it anyway?

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