The race had just begun and I was already arriving at my first water crossing. Ten or fifteen feet of water cut across the beach. There was no avoiding it. As I leapt forward toward the hard sand of the shoreline, I brought my knees higher to blast through the water. I felt it coming on, but either didn’t want to or couldn’t stop it: my idiotic grin exploded into maniacal laughter.
This is how the Oregon Coast 50k started for me. My first race with Rainshadow Running was meant to be the Gorge Waterfalls 100k in Spring, but after a winter of difficult training and minor injuries, I decided to pull out of that race. The good people at Rainshadow Running were kind enough to allow me to transfer most of my entry fee to this race. I ran several other races this year. I attempted some things that were outside of my comfort zone and well outside of my abilities. To say this year provided me with more running disappointments than triumphs wouldbe an understatement.
Leading up to this race, my training had hit more snags. I was originally hoping to run a sub-6-hour race, but I had difficulty fitting in my training runs. My largest setback came during a 10-day trip to Iceland in which I only managed to sneak in a single 7-mile run. Less than two weeks later, I would be at the starting line, nervously questioning what in the world I was thinking. Before the race, I had told my wife and several running friends that I didn’t expect much. I planned to enjoy the coast, enjoy the camaraderie with other runners, enjoy a long jog next to the ocean.
Packet pickup on the morning of the race was laid back and easy. I loaded onto the first bus and chatted with other runners around me during the 10-minute ride to the starting line. It seemed like every single runner used the restrooms and we made our way down to the beach. Race Director James Varner dragged a starting line in the sand and fired off a few reminders and instructions through a megaphone. He looked down at his watch for a couple seconds. I was surprised moments later when, without a countdown of any type, he shouted, “Go!”
Immediately through the water crossing and onto the hard sand of the coast I ran. After hearing about the terrible weather the last two years at this race, I was pleasantly surprised to find hardly any wind and super mild temperatures greeting me. I kept a steady tempo and occasionally splashed through shallow water crossings and waves. I had a smile on my face for most of the beach section and caught myself staring at the ocean on several occasions. I moved about 30 seconds per mile faster than I intended to on the beach, but the weather was so great and my body felt rested. I wasn’t concerning myself with pushing or holding back. I was following my plan to take it easy and enjoy.
A little over six miles later, I pulled off the beach and ran along the Coast Trail. A short time later I found my way to the Adobe Resort, which was the first aid station at mile 7 and would also be the finish line. I saw my awesome crew (wife) there and swapped out my road shoes for trail shoes and slipped into some dry socks. I also swapped out my handheld water bottle for my hydration vest. I enjoyed a slice of gluten-free tortilla with peanut butter and jelly from the aid station. I have to note that it’s really unusual to find such a thing at any aid station at any race. I had read that Rainshadow Running provided such things, but didn’t believe it until I saw it.
For nutrition, I would mostly rely on Tailwind. Additionally, I planned to eat a Gu packet every hour and if something looked good at an aid station, I would eat that too. I’ve acquired a habit lately of not eating enough calories. Complement that with a strange new habit of allowing myself to get super dehydrated, and I was determined to stay on top of things from the start.
Soon after leaving the first aid station, I found myself running through a neighborhood on the coast. I rounded a bend and there was a man outside working in his yard. He was yelling at his cat, who had climbed most of the way up the screen of a sliding door. A woman inside the house was running over to pull the cat down from the screen. I had a good chuckle at Theo the cat’s antics. After a couple miles running around on coastal roads and along the 101, I crossed the highway and entered into the trails in earnest. I caught and passed a couple of other runners as I moved through the first couple of undulating trail sections. There are three main climbs in this course. They appear roughly at miles 9, 16, and 24. The first and third climb are the same trail, but out and back, featuring nearly 1,000 feet of gain each time. The middle climb is the killer at 1,500 feet. I looked forward to the elevation profile of this race because I like to get into an uphill or downhill rhythm. The frequent ups and downs of many races can break up your pace badly as you’re never sure if you should be holding back or pushing your pace. As I approached mile 9, I knew exactly what to expect.
I jogged on the gradual inclines and power hiked the steep portions. I passed several groups of runners during this portion. I’m not especially fast on downhill or flat surfaces, but I can move well uphill. I knew most of the runners I passed would catch and pass me later, but I was determined to push my way up the inclines. As I wound through the well-marked trail system, I occasionally would smell the ocean. I could hear waves crashing in the distance. As I came out to the overlook at the summit of the first climb, I took a moment to eat some Gu and look out at the winding coastline. A whole bunch of other runners passed me at this point, but I wasn’t concerned. They would have likely caught me on the downhill portion anyhow.
Coming down off the first summit was difficult initially. The rocky, slippery footing was challenging to me. Eventually the trail became mostly dirt and the only challenge was maintaining control while dropping nearly 1,000 feet over the next mile and a half. At the mile 14 aid station (anybody with a GPS watch insisted it was only mile 13) I enjoyed a handful of grapes before pushing back out onto a moderately hilly portion of the trail. Around mile 15, I swallowed another Gu packet for good measure. It only took a minute of running again to realize I was now overfed. As much as I hoped the next climb was a ways off, I knew it was around the corner.
I exited the forest trail onto a service road and started working uphill. The initial incline was very gradual, but I had no choice but to hike as my stomach was quickly devolving into pain and chaos. Up to this point, I had been drinking Tailwind every 10 minutes, but I held off for about 20 minutes. The road exited onto a trail. Though there were some steeper sections, the trail was very gradual and runnable. Had I felt better, I probably would have tried to run nearly all of it. I began to feel marginally better and ran about one-third of this section before I noticed another sign directing runners to another trail. It was obvious that this is where the real climb started. I started pushing it again and began to reel in several runners in front of me. Nearly 400 feet into the climb, I was beginning to feel sick. Approaching mile 19, I had to stop completely and close my eyes.
When I opened my eyes again, I was totally alone. I had lost contact with the runners in front of me and had pushed well beyond the runners I started the climb with. I took a moment and marveled at how even on a course with hundreds of other runners, you can be completely alone in these magical environments. I took several deep breaths and got myself together for the final push to the summit. I even passed a few other runners as I summited and started my way down to the next aid station. I was surprised to find Portland’s very own Wy’east Wolfpack handling aid station duties. Loud dance music, full-on pirate outfits and an incredible energy brought me back to life. I filled my soft flasks with plain water that I knew I would want for the final push. I ate a few more grapes and took a couple for the road. With less than ten miles to go, I knew I couldn’t stomach another Gu packet. I left the aid station feeling good vibes and a renewed vigor.
I conserved a little energy as I entered the major elevation loss for the day. The further I dropped down, the more comfortable I felt. Again, I was catching and passing other runners. A couple times I could feel that I was approaching that ragged, uncontrollable edge and had to reel myself back in, and as I exited the forest into a parking lot area connecting the trail back to the lollipop portion, I was shocked to find my wife waiting for me on a picnic table. She had been exploring the area and checked Apple’s Find Friends app out of curiosity. She discovered that I was less than a mile away and waited for me. It was a great surprise and once again I was feeling motivated and inspired as I moved into the final climb of the race.
At mile 24, I had another handful of grapes from the aid station. I had been saving a Bounce Nutrition coconut macaroon to celebrate conquering the major climb of the race. I took one bite and tossed the rest. It was immediately apparent that the macaroon was much heavier than I thought it would be. Eating the entire thing would have destroyed my digestive system at this point. I moved into the final climb of the day and, once again, started power hiking to the summit.
I felt sluggish, but I was still moving well. I passed several more runners on my way up the climb, and once again enjoyed the overlook. This was also the first climb of the day where I was passed. A couple blew past me like I was standing still at one point. I have no idea how they had the energy, but they were just chatting away like they were completely fresh. I crashed the final downhill, worked through the coast trail, and emerged on the 101. I had to wait a few minutes for car traffic to pass before I was finally able to get moving again.
I was so motivated to make my time back up from the road crossing that I missed a ribbon and wound up on a dead end street. Stupid. That mistake cost me a few minutes and took the wind out of my sails. I got back to work. I didn’t really have any goals for this race other than to finish before the 8-hour cutoff and to have fun. But in the back of my mind, I was hoping to at least come close to my 50k PR of 6:35. I would be satisfied finishing under 7 hours. I moved quickly through the final couple of miles on the road and worked my way to the back side of the Adobe Resort.
As I made the final turn, I could see the final hill, the chute with the flags, and James Varner waiting to welcome me back. I heard my wife cheering me on and crashing waves, and the sun was shining, and I realized I was grinning again. I crossed the line, hugged James, and clicked my watch. 6:54:49.
This was my final race of 2016. It’s been a long and difficult road. From my longest distance ever (American River 50 Mile Endurance Run) to a failed attempt at running around the Timberline Trail on Mt. Hood to nagging injuries to a general lack of inspiration throughout the year, this was the race I needed right now. The attitude I brought into this race allowed me to open myself up to the joy and fun that only running on trail can provide.
Some notes on the race:
- We were incredibly fortunate with the weather. It was perfect. In fact, until mile 27 or 28 when I was exposed to the direct sun on a cliffside, I hadn’t thought about the weather even once. That’s rare for any race in any climate.
- We stayed at Silver Surf Motel. The staff could not have been friendlier or more helpful. When I told them I was coming to town for the race, they immediately offered the upstairs room all the way in the corner because it would be quiet and have the fewest neighbors. It also had a kitchen in it with small stovetop and oven, which came in very handy.
- After the race, there was a great party. Bluegrass music, food, kegs, and happy people everywhere cheering on every single finisher who worked their way in.
- Gluten-free stuff all over the place. Tortillas at the aid stations, cider in the keg, and best of all: wood-fired pizza! Only a Rainshadow Running event would have wood-fired gluten-free pizza.
- Did I mention that the race photographer was none other than Glenn Tachiyama Photography? I don’t usually purchase race prints, but come on. Even I look good in Tachiyama photos.