Tiger Claw by N. Buurma

In their first race, race directors, Ethan (Ginger Runner) and Kim Newberry hosted an incredible new concept event – Tiger Claw. When I first saw it advertised I was intrigued by the interesting format and challenging course. Another plus – it was local. The 22-mile race was held on Tiger Mountain in Issaquah and consisted of 3 different routes up the mountain (routes consisted of a pink loop – 2500ft, a white loop – 2500ft, and a yellow loop – 3200ft) for a whopping total of 8200ft, and one route down. Racers would get to choose their own adventure by deciding their own order for the pink, white and yellow loops.

Tiger Claw was 3 weeks after Lake Sonoma 50, where I raced; I didn’t think it would really suit my strengths as a runner, so, initially I planned to spectate and cheer for friends, a lot of which would either race or volunteer. However, Ladia, a friend of mine, called me out on Twitter to sign up and…I can’t say no to a friend 🙂 I also wanted to support the race and race directors by doing what I could to make the first year a success. Tiger Claw had a lot of help with local legends like Krissy Moehl and Katelyn Gerbin who volunteered and helped with course marking – it was bound to be a fun day. I signed up.

With so many races this spring I feel like training has been mostly: taper, race, recover, taper. Not a lot of big training days! I coach a local high school track team on top of working full time, and it’s actually been nice to not have to try to fit in lots of mileage. Between Sonoma and Tiger Claw I did one long run with lots of vert, a faster long run with Tad and Maria, and practiced hiking with a friend and teammate, Alyson. It was easy to feel unprepared when the focus wasn’t tuned into just one thing, one race. I had to remind myself that I’d raced 50 miles with 10,500ft just recently, and that this was more than enough of a stimulus to prep me moving forward.

Coming out of Sonoma my longtime hamstring issue was at its worst. I’ve spent years working around and with it, but after Sonoma I felt like I had to take the next step; I was tired of not being able to train and race at full capacity. Step 1 – identify type through imaging. I tried to get an MRI, but my insurance wanted me to try PT first (for anyone who doesn’t know I am a PT and have been consistently doing rehab for the last 5 years). My doctor argued on behalf of me, but despite the doctor and imaging center all on board, insurance was a no-go. In the meantime I doubled down on rehab at home, and kept my training extra light. It seemed to help.

Race week my legs were starting to feel a little better. Pre-race logistics were super smooth. I rented an Airbnb near Tiger Mountain, and had the fortune of sharing it with Tad and Maria. They are on top of all the details when it comes to traveling and racing so I knew I would feel super calm and relaxed in their company. Pro Tip – if logistics stress you out like they do for me, utilize your awesome friends so that you don’t spend all your energy worrying about if you will make it to the start line on time.

There was something so satisfying about booping your booper after each section!

We got prime parking at the race, did a nice warm-up loop to preview the start, grabbed our vests and lined up for the pre-race briefing. Overall this race nailed it in terms of organization, fun atmosphere, amazing volunteers and aid stations. Every detail was top notch and added up to a super fun day. While the climbs were definitely slow and felt long at times, the race overall felt manageable by divvying it into chunks to tackle. We had to wear an orienteering timing chip nicknamed a “booper” and had to “boop” (insert into a checkpoint) your booper at the top and bottom of each section to record your splits. There was something so satisfying about booping your booper after each section! Plus we each received an immediate print out of all our splits at the finish line. I chose to race yellow (longest), white (steepest), and then the pink loop. On the first climb I was still with quite a few other runners and we would pass back and forth based on each person’s individual skill sets. The back-and-forth passing tends to frustrate me. I’m not sure why – perhaps because I get sucked into doing a pace I don’t want to do (like hiking more than I would have because that’s what everyone else is doing, or because I feel pressure to go faster than I think is safe on some technical sections). It occurred to me mid-race that maybe I like being alone on the trail because then I don’t have to push as hard? Maybe I’m losing my competitive edge… Either way I enjoyed the white and pink loops where I was mostly alone a lot more.

I chose to do the yellow loop first because I thought it was the most runnable but as it turned out I hiked quite a bit of that one too. I tried my best to always hike with purpose and effort, lean into the hill, hands on knees, run anytime the grade lessened. My calves cramped, my butt cramped – good signs that I was doing it right 🙂 All three routes were somewhat runnable at the bottom and then really steep toward the top! On the first descent I stepped awkwardly and my back bent back and to the side jamming my ribs together. It hurt. I thought it would dissipate, but my rib had subluxed/jammed/strained in someway and with each deep breath or hard-footed landing, pain shot through me to the point of nausea. I tried to hold my breath, hold my side with my hand, and land as gingerly as possible, and felt frustrated that the part I should be running fast wasn’t going well. I worried I would have to drop out all together. Consistent running helped ease the pull but it would jar again anytime I transitioned from walking to running. I hoped that I could “mobilize” it back into place while I hiked up the white loop.

I stepped into it and bunched it up like an ace bandage around my rib cage.

I met Gretchen who was also from Bellingham and shared some stories for the first portion of the next loop. Then I was mostly solo until I reached the top. I passed a few guys on both the second up and second down and could tell that overly aggressive first loops were already catching up with people. The lead men passed me on the climb, they were already on their final loop! I cheered them on and talked to them briefly and as always it was fun to see the front of the field in action. When I finally got to the top I stopped and took the buff off my wrist. (A buff is a loop of fabric used for a headband, scarf, snot rag, face wiper, chafe protector, head wetter; they are very versatile and I always race with one on my arm.) I stepped into it and bunched it up like an ace bandage around my rib cage. The aid station workers thought I was a little crazy but I started off back down the hill and it definitely helped. The pain wasn’t gone but it was significantly lessened and I felt like I could run down the hill more confidently. I should have done it sooner. I think my pride in my problem solving skills may have helped as much as the actual buff did.

The downhill felt like a self-propelled roller coaster and was really fun if you just let gravity do the work.

Running down the hill I passed a number of guys who were braking (intentionally slowing because of knee and quad pain). We would chat briefly as I yelled encouragement and joked about needing to just, “let it ride.” The downhill felt like a self-propelled roller coaster and was really fun if you just let gravity do the work. My final climb was the pink loop and after seeing/pacing 3 women near the bottom my competitiveness finally kicked into action. I think I ran more of that last loop than either of the previous. I was feeling really proud of my effort and thought I might have moved into 5th or 6th place. I pushed as much as I could on the final descent and was searching for any women I might be able to catch. Each time down I had gotten a little bit faster and I thanked my quads for being pretty awesome. Most people struggle with quad fatigue and cramping, especially after 8200ft of steep descending, but mine felt great, I felt like I could have run down the hill again and kind of didn’t want the race to be over. Everyone has a weakness, I have multiple, but so far it’s never been my quads. Pushing as hard I could the final section to the finish I felt like I was running really strong! I also started wondering if I should have been running harder earlier. Whatever the race distance you’re racing, you shouldn’t feel like you could keep going after, if what you aim to do is actually race, and I definitely felt like I could have kept going.

The fun of the course, with its different routes, is that you really don’t know who you’re competing with. It turned out there were women I never saw who were out there kicking my butt 🙂

I finished in 5:03 and ended up 8th female. The fun of the course, with its different routes, is that you really don’t know who you’re competing with. It turned out there were women I never saw who were out there kicking my butt 🙂 Overall I had so much fun! Which is what I excitedly told the race director as he handed me my medal. They were all somewhat shocked and laughed at my enthusiasm as I thanked them profusely for such a great event. This was by no means a stellar performance, but it was definitely a positive step. My hamstring pain was the most manageable it’s been, I was truly positive and cheerful the whole race, and I really did have SO much fun. This was the last of my big spring races. Since mid-February I have raced 141 miles, an accumulation of over 26,000ft!! Now it’s time to regroup, dig in to lots of rehab, and hopefully work my way towards some harder training. Next year I want to be able to run more of those hills! I have Ski to Sea in a few weeks, where I’ll be running the downhill leg, and then I’ll be pacing my buddy Corrine at Western States 100 in June, but for the most part summer and fall have yet to be decided. Lots of ideas and hopefully lots of fun ahead 🙂

Photo Cred: @runtigerclaw

Race Results

*Photo Cred (top of page): Tad Davis

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