Taming the Tiger (Claw)

I was intrigued by Tiger Claw ever since the race was announced because the format is unlike anything that has ever been done, and not to mention 8,000 feet of climbing in under 22 miles is no joke. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but I don’t think anybody did. Ethan and Kim Newberry did an incredible job bringing their vision to fruition with the help of a top-notch team. No stone was left unturned, from pre-race informational videos to a unique timing system to small bib numbers that didn’t require folding. They thought of everything!

Prior to race day, Tad and I planned my order of loops, deciding not to worry how other competitors were going to run despite the $100 for the first to the top of each climb. My order was Yellow (the long loop), White (the shortest, steepest loop), and Pink (the medium loop). All runners took the same descent down to the bottom aid station on each loop.

Believe it or not, this was my earliest race start at 6:00 am. I got up at 3 o’clock to make sure I had plenty of time to eat, wake up my body and, umm, move my bowels. Thanks to my friend Nikki, we were only 15 minutes away from the trailhead in a quiet AirBnb. I’m not sure any of us got much sleep, but luckily, the night before doesn’t matter anyway.

Each runner received their own personal E-Punch device (aka Booper) at packet pick-up to use at all the timing box locations at the top and bottom of each climb and descent. I was obsessively checking my finger to make sure my E-Punch was around it because if there was one thing we were told not to do, it was not to lose our booper!

We carpooled to the start at 5am and warmed up on the flat first loop of the course. To stay warm in the final minutes before the start, Nikki and I took refuge under the wings of Ladia’s puffy.

I started the yellow ascent with Ladia well ahead, 2 men closer ahead and a couple behind me. As we started getting further up the climb, I found myself alone. Anxiety started to creep in and I hesitated at the big bridge. There have been many times, despite how competitive I am, that I cannot overcome these fears and have to just wait for the next runner to come along and escort me over the bridge. But I have been hard at work on my anxiety and this time, after the short hesitation, was able to say “Fuck it!” and sprint across the bridge. This of course isn’t the best way to run a race as the adrenaline rush can be exhausting so I worked on calming myself. When I crossed the fire road up to Poo Top Trail there was very little flagging. Another fear crept in, was I going the wrong direction even though there was nowhere else I could have gone? I had the course on my GPX watch, but my breadcrumb path was off the course route line slightly which made me nervous. I was running hesitantly and after a couple minutes of seeing no flagging, I turned around until I saw the next man behind me. He assured me that there was no other way to go and sure enough we soon got to a confidence marker. I had to shake the voices of anxiety out of my head or this was going to be a long day.

Side note: the course was impeccably marked by a team of PNW studs which included, but not limited to Kaytlyn & Ely Gerbin, Krissy Moehl, and Alex Borsuk.

Paul Nelson and his camera were hiding in the bushes right before popping up to the summit of West Tiger #1, the high point of the race. Celia and Jourdan were there to greet me with high-fives and then a whole gang of familiar faces and cheers waited at the top aid station, spear-headed by the wonderful Jeff and Jenn Fisher. All the check points were set-up so that there was no way you could miss beeping your booper. At the top of the descent, Liz, donning her tiger costume, was the final cheer before the long bomb down West Tiger #3.

Descent down Tiger #3

Descent down Tiger #3

As I started the first descent, I could feel my heel that has a huge blister not fully recovered from Yakima two weeks ago. Even though I lathered it with Rocket Pure lube before the race, I was worried that it would continue to get worse as the race progressed, and I would start changing my gate to modify the pain as I did at Yakima. I decided to stop and retie my shoe so that my foot wasn’t sliding around as much.  The Rocket Pure must have worked well enough because the blister didn’t get any more aggravated.

After a boop at the bottom and a quick turnaround, I headed toward the start of the White Loop, the infamous climb up Section Line. This was the one climb on the course that I have never been on, so it was going to be a surprise. It turned out to be a pleasant one for me, as I felt really strong and was able to power up the climb. I caught up to Jonathan who was going through a bit of a bad patch. I don’t know if my encouraging words were annoying or helpful for him, but he definitely helped me keep the momentum going. We saw Tad right before the trail leveled off before the final push. He told us to get going on the runnable section so that’s what we did. Before I knew it, we popped up out of the trees back at the upper aid station.

Leading Jonathan up Section Line

Leading Jonathan up Section Line

I went straight through the aid station without stopping – making sure to boop and thank the volunteers, of course – and started the second descent. Unbeknownst to me, the first and second women got to the aid station within 20 seconds of each other and me, each from different directions and we soon converged on the downhill. I saw Ladia leading Claire, caught up to them both, being careful to keep it controlled. We chatted a bit before parting ways; I took the Pink loop and Ladia and Claire both headed towards the White loop. The pink loop is longer than the white loop, but the white loop is steeper and slower, so it was hard to tell what was going to happen.

The Pink loop has some runnable sections on it that remind me of being on Orcas Island. I felt like I was the only one on it until I saw a couple runners towards the top. It is a beautiful trail, but the final half mile of that climb was never-ending! We encouraged each other by saying, “the top HAS to be close…right!?!?”


The Pink Loop

The Pink Loop

Finally to the top for one last trip through the aid station, I was excited for the final 3 mile descent. My legs still felt strong and steady under me and my brain was calm and focused. I found myself amazed at what my body can do when the knee pain I dealt with all last year is gone. I took a sharp right to the Tiger Claw wooden arch where Ethan met me with a smile and medal around my neck. I finished up behind Claire in second place, with Ladia not far behind. Full results here.

At the finish line with winner, Clare DeVoe.

At the finish line with winner, Clare DeVoe.

The best thing about this whole day was the entire PNW running community coming together to run, support, suffer, encourage, volunteer and celebrate. It’s not often that I think, “man, this is a lot of fun,” while in the middle of a race. Ethan and Kim did an amazing job and have only begun to stoke the fire for this incredible race. I am already excited for next year.

At the finish with Ethan Newberry, The Ginger Runner, Race Director.

At the finish with Ethan Newberry, The Ginger Runner, Race Director.

I was unsure how running 8000 ft of ascent and descent would feel in what came out to be 21 miles on my watch, but it turned out it wasn’t a problem. I have been doing incline treadmill workouts for the past several months because they didn’t stress my knee when everything else did. My workouts range from 10%-26% incline at 12-20-minute pace. I wasn’t sure how they would translate to the trails, but I think it’s working and will continue these workouts to prepare for summer mountain races.

The day after the race I had minimal soreness and no knee pain.  We didn’t plan any other races as we didn’t want to make any decisions until after my knee was 100%. It is a lot harder to be objective about injuries with a race pushing recovery. So now we are looking for some summer races to prepare for the OCC 55k at the end of August.

I am privileged to be supported by La Sportiva, Trail Butter, Active Points Wellness, Align Chiropractic, Native Eyewear, and Terrain Gym.

Maria Dalzot