Discovering Washington State, running the inaugural Baker Lake Classic 25K – Race Report

 

How I got there?

I have been told than the west coast is fantastic. I know some folks that want to relocate so badly to explore the mmaaaaaggggnnniiifffffiiiicccciiiieeennnccccceeeee of the west coast that I thought I should give it a shot. Having a trip in Seattle for work, it was a good opportunity to have a look at the coming races, see what was happening and if I could join one!

westcoastbeautiful

I found the inaugural Baker Lake Classic 25K, organized by the Skagit Ultra Runners group, which seems to satisfy my criteria: not too demanding, easy and scenic. The race was $50, which is a bit on the expensive side for a 25K. But considering that I did not know the area, I consider this was definitively worth the price to discover/explore the trails.

Pre-race

I took a plane from my beloved Pittsburgh to Seattle at 07am. Which means waking up at 0500am or so. After a week finishing a lot of stuff and making demonstration at work, it was rough. Also, considering my love for flying, I was really happy to get up so early. The plan was to get as close as possible to the race site early and try to discover these so beautiful trails. I got a location from Airbnb close to the starting line. Well, it also depends on your definition of close: this was 20 miles from the starting line. But this was the only place available around at that period. Also, I did not prepare any food or had any plan – until that day, I was considering that anywhere I go, there will be food. Ah. Ah. That was a dumb thought.

My plane landed safely, I got my rental car and finally made it to the location I got for the night. Then, I started to drive around to see what was there. There was creeks, trails, mountains. Nature. But no food. Even the gas station in Rockport (the location I stayed for the night) was closed. Oh yeah, there was a pub but I think you would get sick just by breathing the air. Even the most dirty dive bar would make this place looks like a fine-gourmet cuisine restaurant in the Michelin guide.

I drove to Concrete, about 10 miles away and found out this was just a bit better. Almost everything was closed and the only place to get Wifi is the public library (no kidding!). I found a local bakery (5b’s, highly recommended if you go around this area, especially because this is the only place when you feel you are not going to die if you eat there) that was the only place that seems to have decent food and closes at 5pm. Ok, the food there is really great but they close at 5pm! After that, you are starving until the next day when they reopen unless you feel adventurous and want to try the pizza place.

At the start
At the start

It feels like you are living during the war: you have to make sure you get your food before the lights in the street are shut down. And you do not know what will happen tomorrow, so you stock food as much as you can. So, all I got was a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and two apples. Then, nutrition planning gets easy: one peanut butter sandwich before sleeping and another in the morning. After such a long day, it did not really matter and everything would be fine.

After traveling, flying, driving and looking for food, I decided it was time to sleep. And felt asleep at 0830pm. And I am only 32 years old. Fuck. My. Life.

Landscape at Baker Lake (picture by runners.photos)
Landscape at Baker Lake (picture by runners.photos)

Race

The beginning of the trail
The beginning of the trail

The race is a point to point, so, you park at the finish, get your bib and take a bus that gives you a ride to the start. The buses start to leave at 0730am and the last one leaves at 08am. The race starts at 09am. I took the first bus and had the opportunity to explore the area around. I met Mike, originally from Ohio, that moved in the Seattle area and enjoy the trail. During our discussions, he pointed out that the trails and the nature between here and the east was not better but just different – and he enjoyed both. I really like this point of view, different what I used to hear. None of these areas is better, they are just different and it is a pleasure to discover both.

Before the race, you can get gels, especially because the aid station are water only (so, fill your pockets if you need to!). The race started on time at 09:00am. You cannot really get lost: this is a point to point race and there are no connection with other trails. You just have to keep going straight … until the finish! Also, the race follow the lake, so, if you do not see the lake on your right, you probably went off course!

Passing the first bridge (picture from runners.photos)
Passing the first bridge (picture from runners.photos) – I should buy a new knee soon

When starting, I saw few guys taking off. I passed a girl and thought that the place did not really matter. After all, I was there to discover the area and have a good time. I did not know the trails, what I can expect in terms of elevation, so, the best was just to take it as a training run and see how it goes. No plan to push or stop, just enjoy the journey.

bl-map

The route is very scenic and during your run, you cross tons of bridges (the race director said about 20 bridges). There are some rocks and roots here and there, but really very difficult that gives you a hard time. It started to rain few minutes before the start. So, the rocks and bridges (made with wood) were very slippery. If you are not used to run on that type of surface, you might need to slow down from time to time. Especially in the rocky sections, where falling can be dangerous (remember, do not fall head first).

Passing the second bridge - I should buy a new knee soon (picture from runners.photos)
Passing the second bridge, supporting the Blerch and thinking about the keg waiting at the finish (picture from runners.photos)

There are two unsupported aid stations with only water: one at mile 5-ish and another at mile 10-ish. Also, there are no cups, so, you have to make sure you take a bottle with you. But take some gels before the start to make sure you have something in case you want to eat anything.

bl-ep

Overall, the race is very easy if you pay attention to the course and the potential rocks/ roots. Having some rain can make it challenging but really nothing difficult. Around mile 13-ish, you cross a creek and have to take a bridge made with a big tree. There is a rope to help you cross, so again, nothing very difficult. The last mile is on the road. At the end of the trail, you just take the road to cross the finish line. My last mile was actually pretty fast, around 07min/mile.

I finished 4th overall, which was totally unexpected considering that I took this as a training run and did not know the course at all. It was very fun and a good opportunity to discover the area, I am glad I did it!

Post-Race

After the race, you can hang out at the finish line where the is a lot of food and beers! Aslan Brewing was serving 2 kind of beers: a Red Ale and an IPA. As an IPA type of guy, I have to say that the IPA was a great reward after the race! Also, the food was really good with a option vegetarian-friendly!

There were also raffle-prizes. I found the idea very nice: with a raffle (based on your bib number), everybody has a chance to win something, not only the fast guys. This is interesting and more fair for everybody. I would love to see such a thing more often in other races.

I stayed for a while tasting the different beers and met Mike (another one!), the second finisher of the race that made a trip in Europe. At first, when he told me he visited France, I thought he will speak about the things I do not really like (e.g. Paris, the Eiffel Tower, the baking, restaurants, etc) and will get bored quickly. But it turned out that he did not even go to Paris but went to all the amazing places around Europe (Chamonix, Corsica, the good breweries in Belgium). Our discussion reminded me the great places I like in Europe and this was definitively a great way to finish the race and hang out with fellow runners.

And to finish ….

At the finish with Mike - Celebrating with a good IPA!
At the finish with Mike – Celebrating with a good IPA (and some veggie burgers)!

This inaugural race was definitively a great event! Yes, it was kind of the expensive side for a 25K (especially considering that the aid station are not supported and water-only) but it does not matter considering the quality of the event. Very scenic, accessible to beginners, you will have a great time guaranteed! The organizers are very friendly and the post-race food is very good as well! If you are running the race, make sure you take an hydration system (handled bottle or hydration pack) as the aid stations do not have cups and you can only refill what you carry (which is by the way, probably better for such a small distance!)

If you are not familiar with the area and consider staying around, try to find something more active than Rockport/Concrete or be prepared and pack your food! Yes, the area is pretty/beautiful. But other than walking around and seeing creeks, there is not so much to do. As you will see the nature and how beautiful this is during the race, you might want to stay somewhere else.

Special thanks to the race organizers and volunteers that make such a great event! I had a great time and will definitively come back on the area if I have the opportunity.

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Discovering Washington State, running the inaugural Baker Lake Classic 25K – Race Report

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