Remembering Ski to Sea

Memorial Day weekend is coming up, which means Bellingham is putting on Ski to Sea!  This time last year I had the privilege to participate in this epic adventure race while ten months postpartum. The original race that inspired it all was the Mt. Baker Marathon back in 1911. In case you don’t know much about it, the Ski to Sea race was first established in 1973.  Each team is made up of eight people, competing in seven legs: Cross Country Ski (4 miles), Downhill Ski/Snowboard (2.5 miles), Running (8 miles), Road Bike (41 miles), Canoe (2 paddlers, 18.5 miles), Cyclocross Bike (13 miles), and Sea Kayak (5 miles). The event starts 10,750ft high at Mt. Baker Ski area, continues down throughout the state, and finishes at Marine Park in historic Fairhaven. The finish line celebration is like one giant block party with family fun, live music, local food vendors, and of course the Boundary Bay (Bellingham’s longest operating brewery) beer garden!

A few months before at a friend’s house, someone had mentioned a team relay race that was coming up. They described it as the local adventure Olympics, attracting people from all over the world! We had only lived in Washington for a few months at that point, so everything was new (and exciting) to us. My husband quickly exclaimed that we should put a non-competitive team together, just for fun! Time crept closer to the event and since I had been running “regularly” (with only two 5k races under my belt) my husband pitched that it made more sense for me to take his place on the team. Surprise! I was pumped up and nervous at the same time. I was still nursing Eisley on demand and hadn’t been away from her for much more than an hour, let alone half a day! This race would force us both to grow and develop independently.

Come race day, my alarm was set for 4:00am so I could “dream feed” the baby and head out to meet up with my teammates so we could drive up the mountain together. Luckily we left early enough to beat the traffic and not feel too rushed. I ate a jar of overnight chia oats and brought a smoothie for later. We dropped off our Road Biker super early at Salmon Ridge Sno-Park. She had my backpack of dry clothes and snacks to put at the designated bag drop area for after I finished my leg. I’m 99% sure I was the only racer with a manual breast pump in their bag to deal with the effects of not nursing nearly seven hours!

We continued up Mt. Baker Highway and I dropped off our first leg of the race, the Alpine Runner. Normally he would’ve been the Cross Country Skier, but there sadly wasn’t enough snowfall that season so the first two legs of the race had to be adjusted. A little more driving and I parked up at Heather Meadows lot of the ski area. It was my first time up at Mt. Baker and I was SPEECHLESS! I grew up skiing and snowboarding in the mountains of Colorado, but this was something else. The temperature was pretty cold and it was overcast. Luckily it didn’t rain, just got a little foggy. The coordinators gather us Downhill Runners together for a quick pre-race meeting. We all squished together in a fenced corral while we waited to hear our team bib number announced, which meant our first leg runner was getting close!

I heard our number, went down to the relay point, and my teammate handed me the electronic baton which was a bulky timer I had to wear on my itty bitty wrist. Wahoo! Time to go! I started the basic timer on my watch (no pace, distance, etc) and began my run. I had 8 miles to go winding down Mt. Baker Highway with a 2,200ft drop in elevation! Up until this point, the furthest I had ran was 7 miles in 1 hour, so I figured I could do 8 miles going downhill in an hour or less; that was my goal. The stillness in the air was beyond peaceful. Some areas I was literally running while looking at clouds below me. For the times doubt or fear came to mind, I wrote, “I am going to make it” on my arm for a little motivation. There were aid stations near miles 3 and 6 with water cups. The volunteers were super friendly and loud, cheering us on! I was wearing a tee-shirt and shorts with a beanie to keep my head warm. Gloves might’ve been a nice idea, because my hands went numb! Luckily I was given a heads up about the false flat towards the end of the race. I could hear the people at the Shuksan D.O.T. Station so I kicked it into high gear! My body was giving every bit of energy to get to the end. I almost felt like I started pushing it too early, but when I checked my watch it was almost my goal time. I made it!!! I handed the timing bracelet to our Road Bike racer and wobbled to the tent with bananas, water, and heaters. They had massage tables for runners but I didn’t feel like waiting. I grabbed my bag and laid on the grass, soaking in the fact of what I had just accomplished. My final time ended up being 59:04, within my goal!  Ski to Sea is a magical experience that is well organized, a huge part of the local community, and explores the variety of nature Washington has to offer. I definitely recommend this race to all levels of athletes!


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