“Every race is different. Every race organizer is different. Showing up at an event is different for every course, every race, some are just weird. Today, I find myself just outside of Tri-Cities, in fact, just outside of the city of Pasco. When I first got here, at about 4:30 AM, there was no one here. To be honest I didn’t expect too many people to be here, as it is my understanding this is a very small event for the 100K. However, I will admit that I did expect there to be at least one or two people here. I sat here for the better part of 20 minutes before the first car pulled in, then another 10 minutes for the second. It is now a mere 38 minutes to the start and it’s hard to believe there’s going to be a race today.”
The thoughts above are mine. They existed in the sleep-depraved mind of a guy who had slept in someone else’s bed the night before. Gotten about 5 hours of sleep. Got up at 2:30am. Left the house of the aforementioned friend, in a foreign town, to drive 1 hour, to another foreign town, to embark on the longest running adventure of his life, called the Snake River Island Hop (SRIH). I’m not sure I was firing on all cylinders. Still, I will admit that things seemed a little odd about how it all got started, but I suppose this is the way of some of these ultras. You have to embrace the weird.
In retrospect, I couldn’t have been more wrong about the race organizers, at least in my thinking that this event was less than well-run. Shir Regev, and her faithful assistant Melinda, got right into their pre-race prep. Food appeared out of nowhere, water and electrolytes were on tap. Bibs and swag were handed out. Pre-dawn smiles were all around, as we runners donned our own gear, preparing for the long run ahead. Shir knew what she was doing, after all, this was her 6th year here. No one seemed concerned. The directions were simple. No one was getting lost. We had our marching orders. Off we went.
5:30 am start times might seem early, but when you know you’re going to be out there for upwards of 15 hours, the early start time becomes a blessing. It also didn’t hurt to have such an amazing bit of scenery unfold before our eyes as we headed east, following the Snake River. At mile 10, I stopped to take a picture and then sent it to my wife (see above). I couldn’t just run and try to describe it later, words did no justice here. Sometimes, you just have to be there.
The race features 2 distances: 50K and 100K. The course is an out and back that follows the Columbia Plateau Trail, which runs along the Snake River, just north east of Pasco, starting and ending at North Shore Recreation Area, next to Ice Harbor Lock and Dam. Runners travel on gravel that once was a railroad path, with mile markers and light poles that still speak to the trails previous use. There are several little parks along the way, with runners turning around at the Snake River Junction Trailhead, nearly 15 miles out. As you might imagine, the 50K runners go to the 15 mile mark, turn around, and finish back at North Shore. The 100K runners do it all again.
With only 100 feet of gain over the 50K distance, this race is well-suited for those who have been looking for their first ultra, without the crazy elevation of so many 50K’s. The course is closed, so there is no concern of cars. The area is remote, so the foot traffic is almost nothing. There are several points where support and aid can reach the runners, which double as spots for friends and family to cheer for you as you run by. The SRIH is an ideal race for the newbie.
The only caveat in this, is the wind.
According to Shir, this year was the worst it’s ever been (lucky me). The wind is the x-factor (given there was nearly none the year before). On the way out, the wind is pretty much at your back. To be honest, I expected a little wind, but when I felt nothing at the start, I was lulled into a false sense of peace, that this day would be different. The sun was coming out, the temps were expected in the mid-60’s, this day was going to be the best day ever!!!!
Then I reached the turn-around and headed back to North Shore. At first, the wind was gusty, not terrible. About 2 miles back, the wind reared its head and the gusts were better than 25 mph. Given the earliness of the event, and my strength at the time, I felt strong enough to keep running into the wind toward the 50K turn. However, when I reached the turn, I sat for 10 minutes, trying to gather my thoughts, aware of the fact that I would have to face that wind again, after I had run 45 miles. Strange thoughts began to wander through my head. I was beginning to fully embrace the weird.
Assuming I would have this wonderful tail wind, I set back out on my second tour. At times the wind was a nice aid. At other times, it seemed non-existent, as if teasing me. When I reached the far end once again, I consumed some pickle juice, chatted with Dan (fellow ultra runner) for about 5 minutes, and headed out, knowing my fate. Those first 2 miles were amazing. I dropped my pace and felt strong. Then there was mile 51.
At multiple moments during that return trip, the wind did more than just stand me up, it pushed me backward. When mile 51 flashed a 14 minute mile, I knew I had no choice but to power walk certain sections to the best of my ability. I couldn’t beat the wind, I could only hope to bargain with it for long enough to get back. Dan had told me to “get small” and my inner voice was telling me to “lean in.” I could hear my coach telling me to smile, but that just let in too much dirt. I tried everything. It was a battle. But I wanted that buckle.
The forecast highs never materialized on this day, instead hanging around the upper 40’s to low 50’s because of the wind. In the end, I knew that a warm sweatshirt and a cup of coffee awaited me, along with the comfort of having gone further than I ever thought possible. Shir and Melinda were there to welcome me back, along with a few others. The weather had driven the 50K finishers away not long after they had finished, leaving a sparse crowd when I came in. And not that I needed some fanfare upon arriving, but for those who have done large races in big cities, this was a different feel, but not in a bad way. This was an ultra unlike anything I had conjured up in my head. And it was awesome.
For those of you who have considered making the leap to the 50K distance, or perhaps the 100K distance, and you think that a flat race is without challenge, please consider the SRIH. There are many amazing takeaways for me from this event, the first of which is Shir and her hospitality. Along with Melinda, the volunteers were exceptional. People like Dan, Brian, Kim, Tom, John and Jensen. To all of them, they made my first 100K a memorable one. The wind was tough, but it taught me resilience and helped make my mental game tougher. The scenery was breathtaking, in the best possible way. The hills were alive in a brilliant green, making the river seem inviting.
So much of this event became perspective for me. I knew the challenge of running 100K and knew what I was getting into when I signed up. Along the way, the distance became less of my battle, as other elements loomed larger. Overcoming this distance was a step for me to reach my first 100 miler, and it couldn’t have come at a better venue. This race takes place at the end of April and is well worth the trip. Shir and crew will take great care of you, as they did me, even after I thought things were strange. And then I embraced the weird.