Picture a 50-mile trail run across some of Eastern Washington’s most gorgeous, remote terrain. Now, imagine it with friends. Oh, and a backpack weighing 25 to 35 pounds. The Kaniksu 50 Emory Corwine Memorial Ruck Race — the relay version of the Kaniksu 50 ultra marathon — has been the highlight of my summer for the past two years. (In full disclosure, Out There Monthly sponsors the event, though my lovey-dovey feelings about it are my own.)
The ruck race can be tackled solo or in teams of up to five. A tough course and heavy pack eliminate all hope for, and therefore all pressure of, a record-breaking pace. What’s left is the challenge to push yourself to new limits and meditate through an entirely different kind of pain than the usual race fatigue. Founded in memory of Air Force survival instructor Emory Corwine, who died in a motorcycle accident in 2012, the event begins with a somber moment of reflection. Camaraderie strengthened by shared physical agony persist throughout the race in Corwine’s honor.
Competitive spirit makes way for mutual support on the trail, at baton hand-off points, and in the main camp, where recovering runners and those waiting for their turn sit around the fire swapping stories. In 2015, I raced most of my leg with a competitor, each keeping the other adrift. When we arrived at our finish line, we bee-lined into the lake together to cool off. Last year’s race day was chilly with intermittent rain, so our team pitched a tent and played board games to pass the time. Many racers camp nearby the night before and wake up at the crack of dawn to make it to Frater Lake for the 5:40 a.m. race briefing. Yes, there is coffee. And a keg.
Aid stations appear only at hand-off points and are well-stocked with all the important things, like cake and flat Coke. The organizing crew sets up a base camp with food, fire pits and shelter, which begins to feel like a big party as the race progresses into the evening.//