Bruce Grant - Sunflower Trail Run

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Sunflower Trail Run

By Bruce Grant


As trailrunners, we know that there is nothing quite as magical and fulfilling as those runs where you float over the trail effortlessly, feeling fantastic, loving every minute, and naturally, setting a course PR in the process. These days can be few and far between, but -- ahhh, when you get is nirvana.

But rarely, we encounter the evil opposite of those days, where every step is a challenge, your body is plagued with aches and pains, and your mind struggles to cope and deal with what else can possibly go wrong.  Maybe it is an entire run, and occasionally it might be for part of an event (as most 100-milers know too well). Optimally, our training is partly undertaken to prevent any such things from happening, but otherwise we are challenged to be able to overcome such difficulties to carry on and make the best of things.

Last Saturday's Sunflower 26-mile trail race in the lovely Methow Valley of Washington was just one of those runs for me.

I love the opportunity to get down to the Methow Valley, as it is a truly special place with a wonderful sense of community, amazing trails you could spend days running on, great weather, and two excellent brewpubs. What's not to like? The Sunflower Run has been going for 30 years now, and I have been fortunate enough to have run about six of them. The course mixes up singletrack, doubletrack and some road sections, and not much climbing. In the past, it was always 21 miles, but this year it was upped to a certified 26.2 marathon distance - although I'm not sure who might have been using it as a Boston qualifier. The additional 5 miles were flat, and tacked on to the start of the traditional course.

To begin with, I had experienced a very mentally draining and stressful week leading up to the race, so I wasn't in a great frame of mind going in. Once we got started, of course I went out wayyyy too fast on the flats. There is nothing like passing those mile markers, feeling pretty groovy and full of yourself, and calculating that 6:00 miles are pretty good.... and then remembering that there's still 21 miles to go that contain all the trail and the hills.

Running across the suspension bridge over the Methow River, 3 miles in. (photo: MVSTA)

My bladder was bursting, so I - somewhat gratefully - stopped to relieve myself and let my pace group go. I got going again, and was quite content to slow down a bit to... ooh, 14 minutes over the next two miles. Considering that my best time on the 21-mile course averaged 8:00/mile, I knew I was still running too hot. Ah well.

No sooner than was business number 1 dealt with, but business number 2 came along in my gut to make itself known. Great. The exchange points had porta-potties, so I held things for another couple of miles until I got discover the one pottie was occupied with a lineup of about a dozen relay runners waiting their turn. Argh. I decided to keep going and take my chances. Fortunately, we got into some deep trail well away from civilisation, so I wandered off with my TP in hand, and let my latest pace group go.

When I got back onto the trail, I was feeling pretty frustrated and knew any time and placing goals were completely shot. The mental depression was probably why my legs seemed to feel so zapped, as they had lost their snap, speed and any sense of power. It just seemed my mojo was no-flow. I was kind of shuffling, and <gack!> could barely catch and pass a couple of 10-year olds running a leg of the relay (though to be fair, it was the start of the section and they were sprinting their little brains out, only to collapse in bags of lactic acid after a hundred metres. But still....). I was getting little micro-spasms in my calves to boot.

Wah. Woe is me. What could be next?

Well, it rarely happens to me - the last time was probably Massanutten in 2005 - but as I slowed to start walking up one of the main climbs, I got all lightheaded and realised that...oh crap...   I stepped off the trail and .... spontaneously hurled. And again. I mean, what the heck? That's just great. I never puke.

I stumbled back through the sagebrush and back onto the trail.

I looked around and took a minute or two to try and get my head back. And I realised as I sipped on some citrus nuun that this was a beautiful place, with the rolling hills around me covered in patches of waving grass, scented sagebrush, and the Valley's characteristic brilliant yellow flowers of the arrowleafed balsamroot bursting all around.  The sagebrush graduated into pine forests as the hills rose, which were themselves capped with snow not very far away. The sun was shining here, when I knew it was raining, cold and windy back at home.

So really, what excuse did I have for feeling crappy and bummed out? This whole thing is what I enjoy most - scenic trail, beautiful weather, friends nearby, and nothing, really, to be worried about. And just like that, I found that I suddenly had a bit more spring in my step again, and I ran up the hill in front of me, catching some of the runners ahead.

Running great trails in a beautiful place - what's not to like? (photo: MVSTA)

I stopped thinking about my pace, or who was in front of or behind me. I just ran and embraced the day and the place. Despite all my challenges, which, frankly, I had forgotten about by now, I was enjoying the trail and running for the pure pleasure of it. I knew there was one more climb, then a descent through the thickest mass of the flowers on the course, and finally a flat mile and a half to the finish. In a way, I felt a bit sad that there was so little of this wonderful trail left to run.

So, the point of the day, for me, was to re-realise that trailrunning is truly about more than time, results, or just having an apparently bad day. There is no doubt that it is sublime to have that rare perfect running day, but when things don't go according to plan or expectation, it is important to step outside a negative frame of mind and look at the bigger picture of what you are doing and the place you are doing it. We face all kinds of challenges when trailrunning, and those obstacles can accumulate in our mind to become seemingly unsurmountable. However, despite "everything" going wrong, chances are pretty good that you can salvage some comfort and satisfaction by adjusting your perspective.

After all the whining I did to myself for a while there, I ended up having a great run. Maybe not nirvana this time, but pretty darned good.


  • Skylite shoes were super-light and perfect for the packed dry trails and roads of the course.
  • Julbo Contest sunglasses with their photochromatic Zebra lenses adjusted well to the alternating bright sunlight and shaded forest trails - I didn't even know I was wearing them.


A few flowers can make any day seem brighter. (Photo: MVSTA)


Fithrotunnisa, Monday, October 21, 2013

Heck yeah baye-be keep them coming!

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