Don't let the word "pipeline" deceive you, because this trail is far from an industrial unmaintained trail. The Tolt Pipeline starts in Bothell and stretches east for nearly 14 miles to Duvall. It was my first time on the trail and I have already denoted it as my 'go to' for long runs. The terrain of rolling hills is particularly helpful toward trail racing and building quad strength.
I met with my former teammate Bobeya and we set out for the trail in good 'ole PNW fashion with rain blinding us and soaking our clothes within the first few steps. We barely ran a mile until we reached a punishing climb of 500 ft in just over half a mile. That was a steep one that got us huffing! Our conversation stopped until we crested the hill and saw that the next portion of our run was a more manageable series of rolling hills. We settled into a rhythym and soaked up 20 miles past a myriad of horse stables and pastures, towering evergreen trees and inviting side trails that would be left for another run. It rained on us the whole time, but in the spirit of the PNW I embraced my burning chaff and ratty pony tail.
I recommend parking at the Northshore Athletic Fields and accessing the pipeline from there. Once you finish your run you can go for a little wine tasting at Columbia Winery or sip something harder at Woodinville Whisky, right around the corner from the athletic fields.
Tolt Pipeline Trail via NorthShore Athletic Fields: NE 145th Street/State Route 202
Distance: 20 miles
Elevation gain: 1721ft
I'll just write it point blank: We all got our sh*t rocked at the Helena 30k. This was the second trail race Justin and I put under our belts and Paige's third, so we are relatively new to the sport and it definitely showed this weekend. We signed up for this race because we knew there would be some big names offering competition and it was part of the La Sportiva Mountain Cup series.
We kept it classy in planning for this race and snagged Expedia's cheapest room offer at the Budget Inn Express. We all crammed in a full work week in three days in order to take off for Montana before the weekend and split up the drive in Spokane. We rolled in to Helena around 6pm on Friday, just in time to whip up Paige's moms pancake recipe for a hearty pre-race dinner on the motel room floor, complete with marionberry preserves and nuun cocktails. We were all expecting the motel room to be worse but we agreed the beds were moderately comfortable and the fridge and microwave amenities were crucial. But we spoke too soon, because around 2AM that night some raucous of a crack deal happened on the floor above us that included smashing a chair against the window multiple times. The cacophony appeared to be between a mother and her daughter, both of whom were screaming at the top of their lungs. I'm guessing their Mother's Day Sunday didn't go so well...
So much for a good night's sleep before race day! We woke up to the electric-blue light outside of our motel room around 5AM and got rolling with the coffee and coconut granola. Paige had miraculously slept through the crack deal chaos, but I'm going to guess this was due to her sleep deprivation from closing in on her Master's Thesis defense this week. If you haven't gathered yet, we all like to pack our schedules to the brim.
The weather was perfect when we showed up at the starting line with clear skies and a bright sun. Paige and I trotted a slow mile or so around the start to get the chains greased. We made a stretch stop back at the rally area and I tapped on the shoulder of a man in line for the bathroom and asked him how many aid stations were on the 30k course. He said he was certain there were four. Paige and I headed back to the car where Justin was and we all dropped our gear, including our extra GUs and water that we would come to find was the worst of our pre-race decisions. Note to self: Don't trust nameless man in the port-a-potty line before a 19 mile race. We found out the hard way there were only 2 aid stations with water and a few hammer gel scraps, but nothing substantial.
When Paige and I showed up at the starting line we noticed all the runners up front were carrying water or some form of support. We glanced at each other and scratched our heads... Well, too late now, the gun went off and we started an immediate uphill climb, which would end up being 1,500 ft in the first 2 miles.
The leading woman, Megan Deakins, took off with a quick pace and was never seen again. Paige stuck with the chase pack, which encompassed a handful of beastly mountain runners, including Maria Dalzot and Megan Kimmel. I stuck with a small group of women in the next pack, who appeared to also be quite experienced in trail running. The course was brutal with the added component of altitude. It was difficult settling in to a rhythm because every time I'd reach the crest of a climb, the downhill was steep and I tried to take advantage of my momentum which felt choppy.
Somewhere between mile 10 and 12 all race plans were kicked to the roadside. I found myself in a true hell of mountain running, struggling with the altitude and trying to get past the mentality of walking up the steep sections of the hills. Obviously the rookie trail runner in me has a lot to learn in regards to mountain running because it is dramatically different from road racing. The technical footing, steep climbs, altitude and downhill techniques are practically non-existent in road racing. Upper body strength and physical conditioning is also far more important in this sport, which is why I'm finding myself comparing the road with the trails less often. Mountain running is truly its own beast.
I'll skip to the finish line, because the last 8 miles weren't pretty! Damn it felt good to be done. Although my time was slow, my race wasn't bad by any means, it was just hard as hell! 19 miles with over 4,000ft of elevation gain takes a toll on the old quads, especially when the start is already at altitude. The race was a big learning experience. Regardless of feeling weak through the race, it was a great event to be a part of with some impressive runners in the crowd. It's exciting to be at the beginning of our trail running journey and knowing there is potential for the future. The other runners were also some of the friendliest I've met in the sport. We couldn't have asked for better scenery and the race volunteers were all in high spirits giving endless encouragement to all the runners on the course.
A big weekend lies ahead of us as we psyche ourselves up for the La Sportiva 30k in Helena, Montana! We'll be wheeling across Washington in our new Subaru Outback that replaced our beloved mini van a couple weeks ago. Thankfully Justin is joining us and will be doing most of the driving so Paige and I can study in the car. This is our first trail race on the road so I knew it would be appropriate to make a list of essential items not to leave behind.
1. Wild by Cheryl Strayed: This book was chosen as our next reading piece for our book club and it couldn't be more fitting for the season.
2. Coleman Cooler: Since all of us are stingy health nuts we're packing most of our food for the weekend - gotta keep the farm fresh eggs cool!
3. Zojirushi Thermos: Trust me when I say this is the world's best thermos. When Justin and I camped in the Mojave Desert I would make my morning tea the night before and would wake up to a satisfying hot beverage 8 hours later. I don't know any other thermos that stands up to Zojirushi.
4. Kind Bars: These are my go to snack at the moment. Satisfying and healthy.
5. Ipod Shuffle: Justin has put a few shuffles through the wash and his most recent shuffle was chewed up by a dog we were sitting for, but I'm happy I'll have mine so I can zone out during the 9 hour drive.
6. Plaid Vest: It would be a mistake to grace the mountains of Montana without proper plaid.
7. Memory Foam: An absolute essential when staying in a run down motel. The first review I read on Expedia after booking our room was "Slept on a brick all night."
There will be more to come after the weekend, but until then there will be lots of stretching and packing. Check back soon for a race recap!
I am an outdoor and travel junkie who is currently completing my doctorate in occupational therapy overseas in rural Fiji. On Sweet World Travels you will find stories of my life with my husband, the communities we serve, and the many adventures we take.