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 below and mark your calendar for Silver Falls Race weekend 2018.
There are distinct advantages to running small, new races in little towns. The organizers are genuinely happy you’re there. Small towns and business centers are excited to showcase their uniqueness and encourage future visits. You may find screaming cheering sections during one mile and complete solitude during another. And to top it all off, for those of us who couldn’t be more average, you might just rattle off the run of your life and finish very high in the final results. The inaugural 2017 Charleston Salmon Run featured all of this and more.
The race would take place in a tiny wedge on the Oregon Coast called Charleston. The somewhat larger metropolitan area is known as Coos Bay. Race organizers offered a free race entry with proof of local overnight stay, so we stayed at The Mill Casino and Hotel. There was a shuttle to the race and back, but we drove, as it was more convenient since the shuttle didn’t run very frequently. I picked up my race packet the evening before the race, and was greeted by some overwhelmingly happy volunteers who were obviously thrilled to meet the runners. Their excitement was infectious and gave me a good feeling heading into race day. They presented me with a sweatshirt, a pin, and something called “the key to the city” that could be worn as a wristband. If you were wearing this, several local businesses were offering discounts on all sorts of things.
The night before the race, I noticed that the zipper pocket on the back of my running shorts had torn away from the rest of the fabric, leaving a huge hole in the seat of my shorts. Thanks to my wife Julie for using the hotel room sewing kit to get me all patched up before the race and making sure nobody got an unwanted show.
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Loud music was pumping at the start/finish line as runners began to gather. There would be a marathon, half marathon, 10k and 1 mile walk. I counted approximately 40 runners at the start, before a young man sang the best rendition of the national anthem I’ve ever heard at a race. A quick countdown later, the race was underway and we rounded the first turn and started uphill. This race featured between 2,000 and 2,200 feet of elevation gain and loss, depending on which mapping tool you use.
Living in Bend now, I mostly trained for this race at altitudes from 4,000 to 7,000 feet. I was curious to see whether my hill training at higher altitude would pay off with this race being very close to sea level. I had my answer when after a couple minutes of running uphill during the first couple miles, I was breathing comfortably and running easy. The first major turn of the race wasn’t marked and the man directing traffic was encouraging runners to stay straight. Fortunately, one of the other runners knew better and redirected everyone on the course. Many had to run about 1/4 mile to get back on course. Beyond that, the course was well marked and individual mile markers were helpfully posted at each mile.
The hills continued up and down for the first 7 miles. The course featured a couple long out-and-back stretches. The first 7 miles would bring runners into a backwoods area dotted with trailers and lawns, which seemingly doubled as junkyards. There were occasional views of vast valleys, and a few cheering folks came out to the road from their homes, but there were just as many scowls and dogs barking angrily. I soon noticed that there were pilot cars on the road getting traffic in and out of their homes. The runners were all on one side of the road and locals were not enjoying the idea of having to wait for someone to come fetch them before they could leave their driveways. I’m not sure where the miscommunication between locals and the race organizers happened, but this wasn’t the last sign of locals unimpressed with the race.
I chatted with a local runner who pointed out his property and grumbled about some recent thefts by “tweakers” who were trespassing on personal property and how the local police had no choice but to continually turn them back out into the community. We chatted for a couple miles and then went back to focusing on our individual races. Around mile 6, I started noticing occasional marathon leaders coming back from the first turnaround. Before I knew it, I was at the turnaround point myself. I realized that I was now in 9th place.
I hadn’t brought much food with me. A GU packet and a couple waffles were in my pocket at the start. I intended to pick up my handheld and additional nutrition from my wife at the halfway point, which I thought was back at the Start/Finish line. I was wrong and I ate the last of my nutrition as I turned to start the next big out-and-back at mile 14. My wife and I texted a couple times before I lost cell coverage. I was trying to tell her not to worry about it and I’d figure it out, but my messages never went through.
There were only a couple aid stations that offered food, but it turned out to be enough to get me through. Most of the aid stations just featured water, although a couple had Gatorade and at least one was offering bananas and Chex mix. Realizing that I would be short on nutrition for the second half of the race, I decided to slow my pace from low 9-minute miles to mid 10-minute miles. By mile 15, I was back to 10th place overall.
The half marathon was well underway and followed the same path as the second half of the marathon. At first I was concerned about how busy the roads would be with people at various paces, but I eventually enjoyed the opportunity to focus on a runner up ahead and reel them in slowly.
This is about the same time I saw a coyote pop out of the woods. We stopped and stared at each other from about 10 feet away. I waited for half marathoner to catch up for a minute before I moved ahead again. I’ve had such terrible luck with dogs on my runs this year, I wasn’t taking a chance.
The distractions of overtaking various half marathoners and the coyote confrontation took my mind off my stomach, which was rumbling by the time I hit 17 miles.
Around mile 18, the leader of the marathon was working his way back toward me again. We gave each other a high five and a few words of encouragement. I still had a tiny out and back to do on a side path where the race planner had added in some extra mileage. I ran down the hill to a parking loop, grabbed some water at the aid station and headed back out. The hill felt much, much bigger on the way out. I looked at a half marathoner moving slowly on the hill and put my head down to begin catching her. The hill took a lot out of me and I wouldn’t complete the pass until nearly 1/2 mile down the main road again.
The out-and-back loop gave me an opportunity to see if other marathoners were gaining on me. Indeed, I saw 3 orange bibs, all less than a mile behind me. I maintained my effort for the time being. I knew that if I pushed too hard, I wouldn’t have anything left for the finish. Unfortunately, the loop also meant that I wouldn’t know how many marathoners were still in front of me or how far out. Back on the main road, I enjoyed the distraction of dozens of barking sea lions who made a hilarious racket.
More and more half marathoners and marathoners clogged the road as we moved in both directions. Many runners were on both sides of the road now, leading to traffic snarls and some angry driver confrontations with other drivers and pilot car drivers. I tried to block out these distractions and maintain my comfortable pace. I arrived at the turnaround point, grabbed another cup of water, and walked for about 1/10th of a mile while psyching myself up for the return trip. I looked around and saw a man with a marathon bib about 250 feet behind me. I started running again.
My return run was largely uneventful for the first few miles. Aside from some half marathoners blaring music from their phones, which I always find a little strange, my mind was fairly quiet and my body felt great. Around mile 22, I stopped to drink two cups of Gatorade. On the next hill, I moved slowly and saved my energy for the last couple miles. Nearing the top of the hill, I heard the footsteps of the man with the marathon bib. He caught up to me and I quickened my pace. I had a hunch that he had used a lot of energy trying to catch me on the last hill, so I hung right with him. After about 1/4 mile of running silently side-by-side, he dropped way off the pace and I carried the pace into the final miles of the race.
My wife was waiting for me with 2.5 miles to go. She hadn’t gotten my texts and despite having a badly sprained ankle, she did her best to get me some nutrition for the final miles of the race. I grabbed a waffle and ate half of it and put the rest in my pocket. Just a little food would carry me now.
Just past mile 24, two women marathoners caught me as I ran on a flat portion of the course. My energy was flagging and I was eager for the race to be over. I wasn’t feeling nearly as competitive as I had earlier and I watched the women easily pass me and move around a corner and out of sight.
I rounded a bend in the road and headed up the last big hill of the course. My head was down as I just focused on the task at hand. Around halfway up the hill, I realized that the women were no longer running, but walking the hill. My trailrunning and hiking background has granted me terrific uphill speed when power hiking. Recognizing my opportunity, I switched my gait and began to gain on the women quickly. I passed them and as soon as the road began to flatten, I put the pedal down again.
What followed was a gradual downhill that would become more steep as we approached the finish line. The final 1/10th of a mile was a flat sprint to the finish line. I was about 3/4 mile from the finish when the women caught me on the downhill. There was no way I could keep up with them on the rolling downhill, but I knew that my weight and long legs would help me as the road became steeper, and I bided my time.
With 1/4 mile to go, I made my move. I allowed gravity to carry me down the steep road and even though it was painful on my feet and joints, I opened up my stride and pushed as hard as I could. The three of us reached the final turn at the same time and I had all the momentum. I sped along for the next hundred feet, only glancing back once to see if my pass had worked. I realized quickly that I could ease up and cross the line at a comfortable pace. I crossed the line in 4:13:52, good enough for 10th overall and 6th male.
I exchanged congratulatory high fives with the women who crossed the line just behind me, received my medal and a bottle of water, declined a baggie of donuts (kind of strange, but whatever), and shared a bench with a young Portland half marathoner named Devin. Before long, the aggressive effort late in the race caught up with me and I had to lay down for nearly 20 minutes to settle my stomach. My wife found me and gave me a balled up coat to rest my head on and in a little while I was ready to shuffle my way to the car and head back to the hotel.
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My overall impression of the race is that it was an interesting, difficult course, organized by passionate people who really wanted to showcase their town and do something fun. The medals featured a nice design, the second half of the course was pretty, and the hills required strategy. The young men wearing hats emblazoned with a red W were very friendly and supportive while manning the aid stations. There were some strange conflicts with the locals though. In the coffee shop next to the Start/Finish line, an elderly man was griping about being woken up by the pounding music. Another local woman complained that she had great difficulty getting to her office to open up for the morning (never mind the fact that she was complaining in a coffee shop and not in her office…). Finally, the pilot car program seemed to be a failure. Multiple times, I saw pilot cars nose-to-nose, steeped in confusion and wondering how to give one another the right of way. Locals griped throughout the race and took to Facebook as well. I don’t know if these are organizational issues or simply oversensitive locals who love to complain. Either way, the race brought an influx of money to an area that doesn’t see many visitors, and I’m surprised that so many of the locals seemed so upset to be mildly inconvenienced for a few hours. The behavior of the random, angry locals is enough to discourage me from wanting to visit this area again. I feel bad saying that because the race organizers were some of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of dealing with at a race.
Here’s hoping they’re able to work with the locals to get the whole town on board with this race in the future. I don’t know if it’s possible. There’s just no pleasing some people, but I’ll be curious to see if this race is repeated in the future or it’s a one-and-done. Check out the Strava GPS below to see the full details of the course.
I was on a roll with this blog for a couple of years. I enjoyed writing about my triumphs and difficulties, and helping others locate quality races to run and where to run in various cities. I’m not proud of the fact that it’s been 9 months since my last post. As much as I love running and the running community, things went sideways for me late last year.
I suffered a nasty back strain in early December that reduced me to shuffling with trekking poles just to make it from one room of my home to the next. The pain of my spinal column crushing nerves and muscle tissue each time I tried to rise from bed is something I would never wish on another living being. I finally returned to walking, and, in late January, I ran a few miles.
Through work layoffs for my wife and I, a move from Portland to Bend, family bereavement, and enduring illness, maintaining a positive outlook on a day-to-day basis has been difficult. I’ve struggled mentally and emotionally with my physical limits, while trying to return to form after my back injury. I was buoyed by a visit from my parents, who cheered me on to my first race finish of 2017, the Bend Half Marathon. I felt slow, but optimistic as I thought I was progressing at a good clip at the time.
I struggled to break through the 15 mile barrier on subsequent long training runs. Eventually, I entered the Under Armour Mt. Bachelor 50k on the weekend of my 38th birthday, and suffered my first DNF, dropping out at Mile 22 after my body decided to stop accepting food at mile 10, and stop sweating soon after. On a hot, dusty day on the mountain, I realized for the first time that I might not regain that level of endurance and fitness I prided myself on for the last couple years.
As usual, running and the running community have supported and encouraged me. Throughout the summer, I’ve worked hard on core strength, hip flexibility, and hill workouts. My wife and I started attending Max King’s Tuesday Performance Group runs to improve our speed and meet more locals. I’m a long way off from where I want to be, but I’m getting there. And I’m proud of the progress I’ve made, despite setbacks that include a 3 week period in August where I couldn’t run because of another back strain. Over these last 9 months, I’ve felt distance between myself and the running community. Distance from the like-minded folks who made my last few years so great. I was excited to celebrate in the triumphs of my fellow runners, but to not be able to join in the shared efforts has been a hard pill to swallow.
But just 11 days ago, something happened that pulled me back into the running community entirely. An irresponsible kid with a smoke bomb lit a fire on a popular trail in the Gorge. My home turf. The place where I learned to run trail. The place where I learned to love the green forests of Oregon. The place where so many people have achieved incredible things in their running careers and have learned to love the trails. I was heartbroken; devastated.
My coping mechanism for the wildfires decimating the Gorge was supposed to be running in itself. Alas, the smoke in Central Oregon is so bad from wildfires, that I’ve been reduced to spending time on treadmills, putting in long, boring miles while staring into a parking lot and wishing I could time travel to one year ago.
But some good has come from the treadmill sessions. With so little to distract me, my mind wandered endlessly. I considered the sadness of the Eagle Creek fire in the Gorge and the people who are working hard to prevent the fire from getting worse. I considered the people who worked so hard to save the Gorge from corporate interests in the first place and how their work might just be starting all over again with opportunistic companies looking to profit from the lost beauty of the Gorge.
I came to a conclusion. I have web development skills. I have running skills. I’m going to organize a virtual race as a fundraiser for the original defenders of the Gorge: Friends of the Columbia Gorge.
Putting this race together has been extremely cathartic for me. So many people have joined in to help. From promoting the race, to donating, to registering, I’m thrilled each time I receive a notice that someone else has contributed or wants to be a part of it.
Crafted by Grant Garrett
And so, Race for the Trails is a reality. 100% of the proceeds are going to Friends of the Columbia Gorge. Promotional partners are coming on board. People from the other side of the globe have gotten involved. People I’ve never met are joining the cause and showing what this community is made of. We’re going to make a difference. We’re going to put the Gorge trails back together again. And we’re going to make sure that this never happens again, so future visitors can discover the forest, the trails, and learn to love trailrunning the same way I did. The same way so many people in the PNW have. Thanks to those of you who have already contributed and registered. Thanks to those of you who will in the future.
As of the writing of this post, the Eagle Creek fire is only 13% contained. We have a long road ahead of us, but the collective rolling up of sleeves is something to behold. Let’s get to work.
I was going to write up a long post about the challenges, successes, trials, and tribulations of 2016, but I decided to do something a little more fun instead. Click here to see my statistics and feelings about 2016 and a little bit about my plan for 2017.
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.
It might not get a lot of love as a runners’ destination, but Iceland offers a lot to like. Varying terrain for trail runners. Long, sweeping paths that stretch for miles for endurance aficionados. And incredible scenery in nearly every direction. While I didn’t get to do much running while I toured around the country, I took a few great hikes and enjoyed exploring Reykjavik by foot on a windy day.
I visited Iceland during a shoulder month, when the main scenic attractions were less busy, but some of the trails and viewpoints were closed for the year. I was still able to check out some great trails. There are two trails that I highly recommend to trail runners, even though I only got to do short hikes on each.
First, Skogafoss is a well-known, beautiful waterfall located just off the ring road in the south of the country. If you climb the steps to the top of the waterfall, you’ll find a small ladder that takes you over a sheep fence. From there, you’ll find a spectacular trail that winds along a beautiful river and waterfalls that never seem to end. Every turn and hill crest rewards runners and hikers with a new surprise. We saw hikers, runner, and mountain bikers. We made a short hike out of it, but you can extend it to 55km via the Laugavegur Trail. This trail was the best part of the entire 10-day trip for me. Strava data for this hike is below.
The next trail begins at Dettifoss, a mind-bending, powerful waterfall that will make you feel very small. You can take the trail on the west side of the falls more than 30km to Ásbyrgi in the north. While we were able to do a small loop here, we were rebuffed due to the seasonal trail closure and didn’t get to run this spectacular river trail. There are some great views and beautiful waterfalls on this trail. If you go in summertime, take advantage of it.
Finally, I got a run in on the second to last day of the trip, while staying in Reykjavik. The wind in Iceland can really get whipping sometimes, and this was one of the windier days of the trip. I was staying in downtown on the main strip, Laugavegur. From there, I was able to make a short jog to the waterfront. Despite the wind, it was a beautifully sunny day. I ran along the water and soaked in the sights of the fishing and trading boats that line the docks. There is a path along the water. I ran it nearly to the lighthouse on the far West tip of Reykjavik before returning on pretty much the same route. The city opens up to the North Atlantic Ocean here and the views are striking. Mountains across the water on another peninsula, seabirds, the city that seems to rise up out of nowhere amongst the harsh landscape.
On a final note, if you’re looking for gluten-free food in Iceland, you can do pretty well in just about any restaurant. They understand gluten intolerance and I ate so much amazing seafood. There is a chain called Joe and the Juice. There are two locations at the airport and one in downtown. I’m sure there are more, but those were the three I came across. Try the spicy tuna panini sandwich. For finer Italian eating, try Rossopomodoro. Sure it’s touristy, but the gluten-free pasta was very well done. I encountered several restaurants, especially pizzerias, who advertised gluten-free online, but had no idea what I was talking about when I called or visited. If you’re really hard-up, there are a couple Domino’s locations. On Route 41 on the waterfront, look for Icelandic Fish & Chips, where you can enjoy a reasonably priced fish soup. Finally, if you’re looking for gluten-free beer, good luck. The only place I found it was a great little underground place called Micro Bar. As luck would have it, they had two gluten-free beers I’d never had before from Mikkeller and Brewdog.
If you’d like to see more of Iceland, have a look at the video below and see if you’re inspired to plan a running vacation.
Each year on the weekend of my birthday, I look forward to a new running challenge. This year, two friends were getting married at Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood on my birthday. I was excited to spend my birthday on the mountain. My friend Grant and I made an audacious plan to run all the way around the 40-mile Timberline Trail, including it’s nearly 10,000 feet of elevation gain in a single day. The wedding was beautiful, by the way. Thanks for asking.
We planned thoroughly, trained hard and prepared for the big day. Leaving early in the morning from Portland, we got started on the trail as the sun came up. We started out strong. We fell off the pace early, but we still had confidence that we’d finish the trail throughout most of the day.
In the end, neither one of us had our nutrition planned out well and jumping the rivers and creeks throughout the day took a toll. In addition, crossing the Elliot Washout had me completely on edge. The snowfields had me slipping and sliding and holding on for dear life. We also wound up going off track and losing a whole mess of time. As of 2017, there will be a new addition that goes around the Elliot washout. It will add 2 miles and some elevation gain and loss to the overall trail, but it will allay the stress and fears of crossing that super sketchy traverse and climbing out with a rope.
We wound up hitchhiking out around mile 26, and were fortunate to flag our friends down on Highway 26, while they were en route to the wedding lodging. Despite the brutal day, we had an incredible time and learned a lot. Not only are we planning another attempt, but Grant finished a successful solo loop of this trail not long after our dual attempt. You can experience our entire day in the video below.
I recently had the pleasure of traveling to Kentucky to stand up in a friend’s wedding. We like to go for a run on those rare times we get to see each other and I was happy to get in one of my Louisville runs with a little company. To my knowledge, Louisville isn’t known as a runner’s city, but I certainly saw plenty of runners while I was there.
The waterfront seems to be changing all the time. Green spaces are popping up more and more. And you can run right into Indiana if you like, which I did a couple of times.
Beautiful Ceiling at the Brown Hotel Bar
I stayed downtown at the Brown Hotel. From the hotel, it’s a quick trip to the riverfront. Head north on 4th Street and make your way through the very strange Fourth Street Live! area. It seems like this area transitioned a few years back and they want it to be a hip, appealing area for shoppers and visitors. It was mostly plugged up with chain restaurants, which didn’t appeal to me, but I suppose they would to some people.
Moving along, I stayed on 4th Street and headed past the convention center until I got to the stairs that led down to the waterfront. I turned right (East) when I got to the river. This is a pretty area with lots of historic things to look at and a nice view across the Ohio River into Jeffersonville, Indiana. I took my time running past the Belle of Louisville sternwheeler and underneath the Clark Memorial Bridge.
Eventually I came to the Louisville Waterfront Park’s Great Lawn. Kitty corner from here, you can see the famous Louisville Slugger Field. I continued under the I-65 highway bridge until I got to a beautiful bridge simply called The Walking Bridge or The Big 4. There is a long, sweeping, circular ramp to get up to the bridge, which is a nice challenge. Once on the bridge, there are historical markers and great views. I took this bridge into Indiana and enjoyed exploring Colston Memorial Park and Big Four Station. There are a few waterfront routes to run on this side of the river, although I didn’t run on them. There are restrooms and drinking fountains in this park. Strava data for day 1 run is below.
This was the midpoint of my run and I explored some other areas on the way back, but the riverfront was the highlight. If you go to Louisville and you’re a runner, be sure to check out the waterfront, the fresh green spaces, and this terrific bridge. Strava data for each day 2 run is below.
One of the more interesting races I’ve run this year has to be Ragnar Trail Zion Utah. A few months ago, I suggested to my office running club that we get together and run a relay as a team. We agreed on Zion. I created a training plan and most of the team stuck to it. We’d need to prepare for running on trail, running at night, and running on short rest. We had 8 volunteers, perfect for a traditional Ragnar team. The owners of the company not only paid the entrance fee, but they also covered most of the supplies for the weekend and sponsored a bonus night in Las Vegas at the Bellagio Hotel. In addition, the owners are avid runners who joined the team.
Most of the supplies were shipped to me in Portland, as I planned to road trip to and from the event. The remainder of the team was flying in from Chicago and renting a van. Max, one of my teammates, flew out to Portland and road-tripped with me. We drove up to Timberline Lodge to spend some time on Mt. Hood on the way out of town.
We stopped by Smith Rock on the way out and ran the Summit Loop Trail. The long-sweeping ascents and descents and dusty climate would provide solid race preparation for Zion’s elevation changes and sandy trails. You can see more of our Smith Rock Summit Loop run in the video below.
We slept a couple hours at a Nevada motel before hitting the road again and making it to Zion by early evening. We met the rest of the team and set up our camp along the trail. We would be about 1/4 mile from the start/finish line and staging area – great for cheering on runners throughout the weekend.
We made camp in a quiet area and were kept up all night by a family who decided to bring their two very young children along. After a poor night’s sleep, we awoke to race day.
For this race, everybody would run about 15.5 miles. There was a 3.1 mile easy loop, a 4.3 mile moderate loop, and an 8-mile hard loop. Each person would run every 8th loop. Teams had 30 hours to finish. The race elevation is entirely over 6,000 feet and the elevation gain and loss ranks among the most difficult in the entire Ragnar Trail catalog.
I chose to run the easy loop first. Based on our pace estimates, that would have me running my longest loop in the middle of the night, where I could enjoy the cool air and crisp, clear skies. The easy loop turned out to be anything but. I started out too quickly and soon discovered the severe lack of oxygen compared with my sea level training. The sudden and frequent elevation changes added to the difficulty. I was frustrated with my first loop, but I learned a lesson about going out too fast at elevation.
On my night run, I got into a nice rhythm and never pushed until the end. The moon was bright, I could hear animals yipping and moving about, and I met several wonderful people, as you often do on the trails. At one point, I saw a woman running off trail and realized she had made a wrong turn. I yelled to her and she turned around just before she would have been out of earshot. Night running is not without it’s perils. I finished the “red loop” strong and slept very well after. In the morning, I headed out and put in my fastest time on the moderate loop. This loop featured extended altitude gain on sandy trails, followed by a long, sweeping drop down hard-packed horse trails. My previous hill training kept me in control throughout and I was thrilled to finish strong.
The venue for this race was terrific. From showers between runs, to great food, to a climbing wall and collective party area, this event supported everyone comfortably.
After the race, we drove to Las Vegas for a celebratory dinner and a night out. In the morning, I pointed my car back toward Oregon and made as much time as I could. The drive was beautiful and I only wound up stopping for about one hour at a rest stop for a nap before getting all the way home. As a team, we’re working on lining up another relay for 2017, as Ragnar exceeded everybody’s expectations for adventure, excitement, and fun.
Just one month removed from my poor showing at the Salmon Falls 50k, I found myself back in the Sierra Nevada foothills for my first attempt at 50 miles. A lot changed in the previous month. I made the switch to liquid nutrition with occasional solid food to supplement. My long run pacing was now all about consistency and not spiking my heart rate. And I ran my longest run to date, 36 miles. Because this race would feature so much asphalt, I trained more on road than usual. My wife, Julie, and I drove down from Portland once again. This time, we took an extra day at the beginning and end of the trip so we could relax a bit. It turns out that all of these steps combined for a much more successful race.
The night before the race, we stayed at the Hampton Inn in Folsom. I’m pretty sure this is a new hotel. It was quiet, wonderfully appointed, and very clean. Compared with the screaming kids in the hotel room next door at the Best Western before the Salmon Falls 50k, this felt like the Ritz Carlton.
I set out all my gear and went over my nutrition and pacing plan with my wife, who would be my crew for the race. I set alarms for 3am, 3:30am, and 4am, just in case. I jumped into bed around 9pm, but my heart was racing and it was hard not to think about the race the next day. I managed to get about 5 solid hours of sleep, which isn’t bad for me on race day. Breakfast consisted of a banana, a bite of a Pro Bar and a handful of dark chocolate-covered espresso beans. There was a shuttle bus from the Hampton, but Julie insisted on coming along to see me off. She was a trooper, considering how long of a day we were expecting. I was grateful to have a cozy car and seat warmers to relax with before the race.
Brown’s Ravine Marina provided the race start. There were fairly long lines for the restrooms, but things moved pretty quickly. As was the case with my previous race in this area, I was shocked to find that so many people knew each other. The running community around here is something else. I swallowed a Gu packet and we watched the first wave take off right at 6am. These were the runners expecting to finish the race in under 10 hours. Naturally, I was in wave 2 as I tend to drift toward the middle and back of the pack. I liked being able to start in a smaller wave where it would be easier for me to find my pace without being in anybody else’s way. My goal for the day was to finish under 12 hours. I would need to average 14:24/mile, including all aid station stops.
After a brief countdown, wave 2 slowly left the starting corral at 6:15am. Right off the bat, I recognized that I was getting caught up in the moment. Several times over the first mile, I reminded myself not to follow people who passed me and to reduce my speed. As we slipped off the asphalt onto trail for the first time, I eased into a comfortable pace. Recognizing that the first half of the race is mostly asphalt and generally flat, I targeted a pace around 12:30/mile for the first 25 miles. I got a sense of deja vu in this section. The first trail portion was the final trail portion of the Salmon Falls 50k. Dropping off the trail and onto the nearly mile-long dam section, I started chatting with a man named Eric from Livermore, CA. We would wind up chatting and running together for the next 20 miles.
My nutrition plan for the day revolved almost entirely around Tailwind. I had 2 bottles of Tailwind with caffeine for the start of the race, and I would use regular Tailwind for the remainder of the race. Ever since I started using liquid nutrition, I’ve found that I drink more frequently, even late in races. I have a bad habit of not eating anything at all until it’s much too late, so Tailwind has me covered. I planned to drink every 10 minutes and supplement my nutrition with boiled potatoes dipped in salt, occasional glasses of Coke, and a potato chip or two at aid stations. Julie surprised me with seedless red grapes at the aid stations she had access to.
20 miles in and feeling great.
There were aid stations at miles 5, 12.75, 17, and 20. Mile 20 was the first time I was able to see Julie. Up to this point, there was very little elevation gain. Eric and I had similar plans for the day and helped each other keep our pace in check. We both have a tendency to rush a little bit early on in races. Between miles 20 and 24, I started to feel a nasty pinch on the inside of my left knee. I never get pain there, so I attributed it to so much road running up to this point. From here on in, I shortened my stride and ran on gravel and rocks alongside the road, wherever I could. There were some nice trail sections between miles 24 and 29 and my knee seemed to appreciate the change in terrain. By the time I hit the Granite Bay aid station at mile 29.45, my knee pain had subsided.
Enjoying the view at Beal’s Point, mile 24.
Eric picked up a pacer at mile 24 and I was feeling strong, so I left that aid station on my own. At this point, the course was mostly hard-packed single track with small hills and some rocky technical spots. I was happy to run in the shade of the trees, as the heat of the sun was starting to make things uncomfortable. At one point, I started chatting to a local guy named Martin, who also wasn’t enjoying the sun. The more we chatted, the faster we seemed to go and we clicked off some pretty quick miles together. We eased into the Granite Bay aid station, where Martin warned me to fill up on calories and top off all my fluids. We were about to hit some of the gnarliest terrain of the day, during one of the hottest periods of the day, and our next aid station was nearly 9 miles away. I was appreciative of his advice and took it to heart. Julie topped off all the bottles in my hydration vest and filled up the bladder with Tailwind. She shoved some grapes and potato chips in my mouth, followed by a couple espresso beans. Out of solidarity, she had a couple too. Neither of us was too excited about the taste and both spit out about half the beans. They were tastier first thing in the morning.
About to enter the Meat Grinder with Martin, mile 29.
Martin and I headed off together past a small sign identifying this next trail section: “The Meat Grinder.” I was surprised I hadn’t heard that monicker thrown around previous to the race. I braced myself for the worst, and headed in at a comfortable pace, averaging 13 to 14 minutes per mile throughout. Perhaps this is where my hilly, muddy Oregon trail training kicked in. I didn’t find this section overly difficult. I moved through methodically, shortening my stride on long uphills and dropping softly on long downhills. Other than a few technical, rocky sections, I was moving well. I turned around when I hit mile 30.1, to let Martin know we had just crossed the 50k threshold, and he was nowhere to be found. I looked around for him as I went around bends in the trail, but didn’t see him. I passed quite a few people in this section and a few who were really struggling with the heat.
I spiked my heart rate for the first time while climbing a hill a little too briskly at mile 34. I spiked it a second time during the same mile. And a third time as I entered mile 36. I reminded myself that it was a very long race and slowed down a bit to take some deep breaths. I also took a moment to acknowledge that every step beyond this point was a new distance record for me. I quickly popped in and out of the Horseshoe Bar aid station at mile 38, knowing Julie would be waiting for me with cold water and fresh Tailwind at mile 41.
The next couple miles were brutal. The heat and terrain made it difficult to maintain my pace. I wavered from 15 to 17-minute miles during this 3-mile stretch. The entrance to the Rattlesnake Bar aid station is an out and back trail where you drop off the trail and then have to climb back up to it. It was a bit of a pain avoiding other runners in each direction, but even more annoying that there were spectators sitting, standing, and walking on the parts of the trail where it was steepest and most narrow. I did my best to avoid them, but I know I bumped a few who I couldn’t get out of the way of. After 41 miles, I didn’t have the patience or ability to stop and turn on a dime. Hopefully, this gets roped off or something in the future.
Dodging spectators at Rattlesnake Bar, mile 41.
At this point, I was a wreck. Emotionally, I was swinging wildly from elation to overwhelming gloom. My mind was still functioning, but my body was starting to feel weaker and weaker. I ate a couple potatoes with salt, and Julie topped up my fluids. I ate a few grapes and stopped for a second for some encouragement from Julie. I needed the reassurance at that point that I was going to make it and I headed back up the trail, knowing I wouldn’t see her again until the finish line.
The next couple of miles were a blur. There were some wide expanses of tall grasses separated by a deep horse trail, completely bathed in sunlight. It was somewhere around mile 42 when I heard something that shook me wide awake and fired me back up. A rattlesnake rattled a warning at me and rustled past me in the tall grass, just a few steps to my right. I immediately broke into a run and didn’t stop until the aid station at mile 44, where a nice volunteer filled up one of my bottles with ice water and another dunked my hat in the coldest water I’ve ever known. They must have recognized that I was beginning to overheat and needed the refreshment. A couple minutes after I left this aid station, I heard another runner coming fast. This would be the first and only time I was passed during the second half of the race. “Who in the heck could possibly be gaining on me?” I stepped off the trail and turned around to see a grinning Martin howling as he blasted past me. He yelled, “Back from the dead!” and disappeared into the forest, laughing maniacally. “He must have accidentally dunked a potato in cocaine at that last aid station,” I muttered to myself.
When I finally regained my composure in the last forested trail section, I was back to passing other runners regularly. I suppose the combination of the rattlesnake, the ice cold water, and what seemed at the time to be a figment of my imagination, but was simply a renewed Martin, pulled me back from the brink. Several runners were being nearly dragged along by their pacers. Others had simply decided to walk to the finish line. At mile 40, I had given up my hope of a sub-12 hour race, but with 3 miles to go, I felt renewed.
The last 5k of this race features nearly 1,000 feet of elevation gain. I have long legs. I hike regularly. I train on hills. And this was going to be my moment. Steadily, I worked my way up the hill. Varied terrain awaited. Some asphalt, some dirt, some loose rock. Each time the elevation became less steep, I started running. I passed a couple dozen runners on this home stretch. At one point, a woman walking past encouraged me to listen closely to hear the voices of people cheering at the finish line. I told her that I’d been hearing voices for miles.
With one mile to go, I saw a discarded Maple Bacon Gu packet on the ground. I wondered, “What sort of maniac would reach for that flavor of Gu so close to the end of this race?”
With 3/4 of a mile to go, I reeled in a man who looked like he was struggling. I tried to encourage him.
Me: If we finish out this last mile at an 11:30 pace, we can still finish in under 12 hours!
Man: I was wave one.
Me: 12 hours and 15 minutes!
My embarrassment complete, I started running uphill. I crested the final climb, turned two corners and found myself on the home stretch with a raucous, cheering crowd. I pushed hard across the line, feeling strong. 11:54:45. 14:18/mile. I had reached my goal, finished strong, and still felt great. A medic asked if I needed anything. I asked, “Is this where we donate toenails?” He laughed and I enjoyed the thought that I still had a functioning brain at this point.
Approaching the Finish Line, mile 50.
I received a medal, a fleece, and then a terrific greeting from Julie. We spent a few minutes admiring some of the professional athletes who stuck around after the race, including 3rd place female Nikki Kimball. Gordy Ansleigh had been telling stories and announcing finishers. I told my wife that I had a good feeling about Chris Denucci that morning and he did indeed win the race. It turns out that Martin finished 5 minutes ahead of me (he wasn’t a figment of my imagination after all), and Eric reached his 13-hour goal as well.
Dirt, dust, and a job well done.
This race goes down as my most successful run to date. I could have gone faster. I could have pushed myself more in the middle and late stages of the race, but I finished 5 minutes ahead of my goal time. I have a new nutrition strategy that works for me. I kept a balanced heart rate nearly the entire time. Julie was a rock all day. She texted me to remind me when to prepare to remove my vest to refill it at upcoming aid stations and kept me informed of upcoming restrooms, should I need one, and any tips she thought might be helpful as I headed out for each section. The race featured some beautiful views. I would have liked to spend more time on trail than on asphalt, but that’s part of what makes this race so unique. My only real complaint is that I would have liked to see a few more blazes. There were definitely times when I was running by myself for long stretches and didn’t see any flags for what seemed like forever. I never made any wrong turns. It would have been difficult to make wrong turns for the most part. I’m just a guy who likes occasional reinforcement after he lets his mind wander a bit while running. Ultimately, race director Julie Fingar and NorCalUltras do a great job with this event. I’m not surprised that this is the biggest 50-mile race in the country. Every aid station was well-stocked with great food and the volunteers were enthusiastic, helpful, and encouraging. I look forward to running in this area with these great people again soon.
Check out the video and Strava map below to see some photos and videos from the race along with the GPS data for the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run.