Red Devil Challenge 50k
Run Wenatchee’s Red Devil 50k, which debuted last year, takes place along the east slopes of the Cascade Mountains in the Wenatchee National Forest south of Cashmere, Washington. I was looking for a low-key early June 50k to run, and when Tad found Red Devil, we went to check out the course the following weekend. I was blown away by the well-maintained, single track trails with extensive views of the Cascades. It was such a treat to get so high (almost 5,000 feet) snow-free so early in the year.
I wasn’t really ready to run this race given I haven’t run over 22 miles since November, but we thought it would be a subdued race (it had 40 some finishers last year) that would progress me towards my primary goal which is to be ready to go for the OCC 55k in Chamonix, France at the end of August. I found out that Ladia Albertson-Junkans was running two days before the race. She has been battling a stubborn Achilles flare-up, but is preparing to run in her first 100-miler at Western States (WS100) on June 29th. Then my La Sportiva teammate, Kaytlyn Gerbin, made a last-minute decision the day before to use the predicted steamy temperatures to also prepare for WS100. I was excited for the race before, but now I was pumped to have friends and great competitors running.
When Tad and I drove into Cashmere Friday afternoon it was 95 degrees. We stayed at an AirBnb on a pear orchard. The owner said that this was the best place in the world to grow pears. Who knew? We ate dinner outside on the deck before starting to sweat from chewing, so we scurried inside to huddle around the fan. Miraculously, I fell asleep at 7:45pm so I felt rested for the early morning alarm.
I met Kaytlyn and Ladia at the trailhead. Being friends, the three of us naturally started running together as a pack from the start. I led the first 9 miles while engaging in a stimulating conversation that made the first aid station appear very quickly before us. Candice Burt (and Hank!) along with many other volunteers greeted us with smiles, filled our bottles and offered us watermelon, smoothies and coke. I re-tied both my shoes and then Kaytlyn took the lead up the long 8-mile climb to the high point. The trail was extremely rutted out due to motor bikes riding after it rained the weekend before. Yet, we are the parasites hurting the trails… I digress.
We chugged along, following Kaytlyn’s moves, power hiking whenever she hiked, running whenever she ran. I practically had to run to keep up with her hiking. This is where is began to become evident to me why she is such a great ultra runner, especially at the 100-mile distance and in the crazy technical European ultras. She is not a “natural runner” in the traditional sense that we all have grown up with. She did not run track and cross country in middle school, high school, garnering college scholarships and parlaying that into post-collegiate dreams on the track, roads or trails. Instead, she fell into running a marathon for a class as a college elective and from there moved to trail running and then ultras. Again, not with the fanfare of being a known entity moving into a new realm with every move being watched, but with an unknown to the scene, under the radar approach. Suddenly, she is 4th at the 2017 WS100, top ten at the World Trail Running Championships and then 2nd at the 2018 WS100. That’s when you think, “Wow, she just has a knack for running 100-milers and technical races.”
Gradually, from 9 miles on it dawned on me how dismissive that is as I began to understand what makes her so successful. I began to see firsthand how all her strength from ski-touring and peak bagging translates to the trails. I began to see that she is a natural trail runner, power hiking with tremendous strength, flowing over the technical parts with ease and bombing down the hills, transitioning between all of it with what appeared to be no problem whatsoever.
The remoteness of the second aid station (mile 17) required a pack of llamas to carry the water and food for runners. At the aid station, Ladia was loving the roasted potatoes and asking for the recipe, while I lost count of how many Dixie cups of Coca-Cola I drank.
“Now it’s time to run downhill and see if we can keep all our food down!” Kaytlyn declares.
She wanted to practice an aggressive long descent to finish the race’s final climb in the heat on tired legs to mimic the feeling of WS. On this day, Ladia and I were just along for the ride. I’m not typically one to be a follower or subservient to others and oftentimes feel I come off as too serious, but I found myself just following her lead. What strikes me most about her style and what is a huge part of her success in 100-milers is that she is laidback and doesn’t take the moment or herself too seriously, but that doesn’t mask the fact that she’s not fucking around.
I started to lag behind as we climbed out of one stream crossing after another so I would make a push to catch back up. While I hung on, I listened to Ladia and Kaytlyn talk strategy and share encouraging words of wisdom, support and encouragement to each other. Through the last creek crossing Kaytlyn instructed us to all lay down and submerse ourselves in the cool water. Boom, Kaytlyn was back up and out, just as the thought entered my head that all I wanted to do was soak for another minute. ‘Aw, man, I guess I have to get up,’ I muttered under my breath.
About a mile before the last aid station (mile 26), I rolled my left ankle on an uneventful section of the course. It was a painful twist, but I kept running to shake it off, and luckily, I didn’t feel much pain for the remainder of the race. (Side note: the following day it is swollen and bruised. This is my very first sprained ankle!)
As we stopped at the last aid station, I started to feel cooked. Kaytlyn and Ladia grabbed some solid foods while I continued being a Coke addict. It was a long, hot and humid 5 miles to the finish. With 3 miles to go, the top of my water bottle broke off and I lost all my water. Kaytlyn gave me her bottle for the remainder of the race. I mean, come on, how nice is that! Ladia started to feel the accumulated miles on her legs and I passed her, albeit briefly. A moment later she was right back up on Kaytlyn’s shoulder. I was doing everything I could to keep running up the climbs, but still lost contact with them on the final climb with just over a mile or so to go. They crested and were gone. I ran the final descent and crossed the wooden bridge into the finish. Kaytlyn and Ladia finished strong together in first and second together and I was a minute behind in third. We were 3rd, 4th and 5th place overall. Ladia’s husband, Adam, was the overall winner.
Full results here.
This was one of the most fun races I have ever run and that is because these two women made it so special. Kaytlyn got in an awesome weekend of heat training and quality miles, Ladia’s Achilles held up for the entire race, and I had a super solid performance despite not having the training miles in my legs yet this year and becoming a hot mess towards the end of the race.
My ankle is going to be fine. It looks way worse than it feels. If anything, I feel great after this race and my ankle is forcing me to take a proper recovery to be ready for the next push in training.
Up next, I have the honor of pacing and crewing Kaytlyn at WS100 so it was especially inciteful to hear her and Ladia’s thoughts and feelings leading into the race and to really understand what makes her the runner she is. I’m sure this will only be reinforced at the big dance!
Thank you to the Run Wenatchee race directing team of Joel, Kristy and Steve, and all of the Red Devil volunteers for organizing and directing a perfect race and showcasing some of Washington’s most beautiful trail system.
Special thank you to La Sportiva, Trail Butter, Native Eyewear, Active Points Wellness, Align Chiropractic, Lily Trotter’s Compression and Terrain Gym for your support, gear, expertise, advice, fuel, and friendship. Much love to you all.
Thank you for reading and for your encouraging words of love, support and enthusiasm.