This year’s Silver Falls 50k race marked my first repeat race. Run Wild puts on a great series of races every year during the first weekend of November. My wife and I have made a habit of volunteering for each other’s races in order to get a free race entry for the following year. Despite an ankle injury preventing her from racing this year, we took the opportunity to spend the weekend in one of Silver Falls’ cabins while I capped off my racing year with the 50k.
This was the coldest race I’ve ever started. There was snow packed along the trail at various times and flurries at higher elevations. I brought all my cold weather clothing to the race. The only item I removed at some point was my stocking cap, which I swapped out for a buff to cover my ears from time to time.
For the year, this was my longest run. After last winter’s back strain and my DNF at Mt. Bachelor in July, it was nice validation that my fitness is finally back where it was pre-injury. The course for the 50k hasn’t changed and it continues to be a great layout. The first 3 miles are flat, so you can warm up and mentally prepare for your day. Small hills at miles 6 and 10 are good opportunities to work some different muscle groups while you power hike uphill and cruise down. Those hills were exceedingly slippery because of the mud this year. I’m always amazed how some people can just drop down muddy slopes without worrying about falling. I was slipping and sliding nearly every downhill in the race.
The real elevation challenge lies between miles 15 and 22. I swapped places back and forth with several runners during this stretch. I’m a stronger power hiker than most, but everybody passed me by on the muddy downhills. As usual, the aid stations were packed with great ultra food and terrific volunteers. I really enjoyed the potatoes with coarse salt. I can’t believe that’s become my trail food of choice. Sitting at home, I would never think of reaching for a potato to eat. I found peeled banana halves at the mile 24 aid station, which tasted like the most delicious thing I’d ever eaten. My thrill didn’t last very long.
Sometime around mile 24.5, something went haywire in my left achilles. I could no longer push off with my left leg and it caused an awful lot of pain on downhill sections, which is where I was hoping to make up time on the waterfall trails, where I found far better traction than the muddy backcountry trails. I quickly realized that my goal time of a sub-6 hour finish was gone. My backup goal was to match or beat my previous PR at this course of 6:35. Despite the pain, I knew I would finish the race, and I decided to enjoy my surroundings.
The waterfalls are always beautiful. I enjoyed chatting with fellow runners and joking around with hikers. I even stopped for a photo with some tourists who didn’t speak English. I have no idea why they wanted a photo, but I was glad to take a few seconds to rest anyhow.
At the final aid station, with about 2 miles to go, I connected with 3 people who were running together. A man and woman were joking around and having a great time. They seemed to be leading a first time ultra runner to the finish. We ran together for much of the last mile. Despite being totally drained and sore, I was glad to have company and we ran together right up to Nutcracker Hill. We laughed about how appropriate the name was and I was happy to be power hiking uphill again. I think I may have cut them off as I passed. Being that close to the finish line and as tired as I was, I was drifting quite a bit as I climbed. They would wind up finishing arm-in-arm-in-arm just a minute behind me. Compared with my previous descents from Nutcracker Hill, I was surprised how little I slipped in on the muddy trail. I pushed through the final grass portion, over the bridge, slapped a couple high fives, and finished in 6:45, just 10 minutes beyond my goal.
Satisfied and sore, I enjoyed a bowl of vegetarian chili, an apple, and 2 cups of hot chocolate. I really don’t know what it is about the cocoa at this race, but it’s amazing. The post-race chili was apparently prepared by Seven Brides Brewing, who also make the post-race beer. The food was by far the best of all the years I’ve volunteered and raced here. I heard some people complaining that there wasn’t meat in the chili. Honestly, it was just good food and if they hadn’t identified it as veggie chili, my guess is nobody would have even noticed because it was hearty and warm and wonderful.
I volunteered the following day at the mile 3 aid station of the half marathon races and, as usual, had a great time with the aid station workers and runners. I even met a 72-year-old woman who wasn’t running the full race that day because of hip bursitis, but asked me to show her the best route on the map to still have a short run with her fellow runners. I say this in almost every post, but this community is the best. Silver Falls continues to be a spectacular place to visit and race, and I can’t say enough about the Run Wild Adventures crew. These races go on sale in August every year and sell out every time. That’s no surprise.
Check out the GPS track on Strava and mark your calendar for Silver Falls Race weekend 2018.