Tagged in: Oregon

Silver Falls 50k Phil

2017 Silver Falls 50k Race Report

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.

Silver Falls 50k Stairs Phil

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.

Silver Falls 50k Final Turn High Five

 

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.

2018 Silver Falls 50k Medal

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.

Charleston Salmon Run Coast Course

Inaugural Charleston Salmon Run Race Report

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.

Calm before the storm. And some pretty decent carpeting. #raceforthetrails #charlestonsalmonrun

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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.

Charleston Salmon Run Start/Finish Line

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.

Charleston Salmon Run Coyote

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.

Charleston Salmon Run 3 Miles to Go

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.

Charleston Salmon Run Top 10

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.

Tomorrow’s the victory lap. #raceforthetrails #charlestonsalmonrun

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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 to see the full details of the course.

Oregon Coast 50k Happy to be Finished

2016 Oregon Coast 50k Race Report

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.

Oregon Coast 50k Glenn Tachiyama Beach

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.

Oregon Coast 50k Footwear Exchange

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.

Oregon Coast 50k Glenn Tachiyama Cape Perpetua

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.

Oregon Coast 50k Less than 10 Miles to Go!

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.

Oregon Coast 50k Glenn Tachiyama Finish Line

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.

Oregon Coast 50k Job Well Done

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.

2016 Oregon Coast 50k Sunset

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.
Henry Hagg Lake Loop

Henry Hagg Lake Loop Mud Run

A couple weeks ago, my wife and I woke up to an unexpected sunny day. Taking full advantage of the weather, we went looking for a new trail to run. After so much time spent on the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park this winter, I felt eager to branch out. I love the Wildwood, but after running it almost every weekend for two months, I needed a change of scenery. Spring-like weather led us to Henry Hagg Lake southwest of Portland. Neither of us was familiar with this area, save for the 50k and 25k Mud Runs that take place here every winter. Our run happened to fall on the weekend before the races.

Henry Hagg Lake Loop Trail

An unusual stretch of several dry weather days left the trail in pretty good condition. There were pockets of slippery, mucky mud. For the most part, we ran easy over soft dirt and rolling hills. This trail is also well-known as a mountain bike trail. We felt fortunate to take advantage of the trail before the bikers and runners tore into it later in the season.

Henry Hagg Loop Trail Phil Krooswyk

We paid the park entry fee ($4 or $5) and parked at the dam. Starting off, we entered the forest right away and enjoyed the intense green of the flora. Though we trudged along at times, we put together some quick segments as well. From time to time, the trail blasts out of the forest and into wide open expanses with no shade of any kind. We welcomed these areas and soaked in the sun whenever possible.

Henry Hagg Lake Loop Mud Run

Our final mileage total was 13.7 miles. In the end, we realized this was my wife’s longest distance and mileage run ever. I’m not a huge fan of lake runs. But the hills around Henry Hagg Lake were more gradual than most and the scenery was terrific. All told, we only saw a one or two other runners and fewer than ten hikers. It turns out that a warm winter day when the weather is dry is the perfect time to enjoy this trail.

Henry Hagg Lake Trail Lizard

Phil and Julie Henry Hagg Lake Trail Run

Phil Silver Falls 50k Finisher

2015 Silver Falls 50k Race Report

“Hey, did you call me?”

“Oh yeah, sorry, I butt-dialed you.”

“OK, you’re sure you don’t need anything from me?”

“Nope! Everything is good here. How are you? What are your big weekend plans?”

“I have that 50k race tomorrow and Julie has the half on Sunday. We’re heading to Silver Falls in a couple hours.”

“Great. Now I have to worry about you this weekend.”

This was the conversation my mother and I had while I waited outside of Namu food cart for my bulgogi beef plate on Friday afternoon. I’ve discovered that no amount of logical evidence will ever convince my mom that my running adventures aren’t doing great harm to my body. She just knows we’re going to tumble over a cliff one of these weekends or have a heart attack right there on the trail or wind up bear food. All of these things are certainly possible, sure. But I work really hard to build strength and endurance. I could show her my training logs and…she’d probably faint.

Most non-runners don’t really know what type of preparation goes into a major endurance effort. I’ve had people tell me I’m crazy. I’ve had people tell me to look forward to my knee replacement in a couple years. I’ve had family members wonder aloud why I’m not working as hard at raising a family as I am at running in the forest. I suppose just a couple short years ago, I thought running ultra distances was crazy too.

On November 7, 2015, I attempted my first 50k race. To this point, I had run three marathon races and a 30-mile end-to-end on the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park. This would be my first official ultramarathon and my first true experience of the trailrunner lifestyle I’d read so much about. Do many people really hike up hills and mountains rather than trying to run? Do runners really adjust their pace from time to time to run with other racers just to have a conversation? Can several hundred people really get so spread out on a course that you wind up spending several miles alone during a race?

I found that the answer to each of these questions is an unequivocal yes.

Follow the Flour

At the outset of the year, I had made a New Year’s resolution to either run 3 marathons or to run my first 50k during 2015. After injuring my ankle and losing out on the Pacific Northwest Marathon in May, that left the San Francisco Marathon in July and the Chicago Marathon in October. I told myself that if my fitness allowed me to recover quickly from San Francisco, that I would sign up for the Silver Falls 50k when they started accepting entries on August 1. Feeling fine just a couple days after San Francisco, I took the plunge. The worst part of this entire process was the Silver Falls 50k website.

I’m not totally at odds with www.silverfallsmarathon.com, but anybody who visits it or needs to rely on it for information would agree it’s a poorly designed site with many, many flaws. Once I got signed up, I was frustrated that I had to constantly refer to the Breaking News section to find out what was going on. If they had a Twitter feed or Facebook feed, or if they emailed when they had actual breaking news, users wouldn’t have to frequently go to the site to see if they had missed anything. I understand that this is a relatively small operation, but in this day and age, take advantage of free communication tools. Start a Facebook page and a Twitter feed and connect them to the website. It takes no time, costs nothing, and allows all your users to stay up to speed. As a web designer, I’m sensitive to this stuff. But lets get back to the race, as this is my only complaint.

My wife and I arrived at the packet pickup on Friday evening and were in and out quickly. The tech shirts weren’t free, but the price of the race is fair and if you volunteer, you get a free shirt. The shirts themselves are stylish for racing gear and are decent quality. From there, we headed 1.5 miles down the road to the lodge, picked up our keys and checked in. The lodges are supposed to hold 12 people in six rooms. There are shared common areas and a men’s and women’s bathroom in each lodge. While we were thrilled to have the place to ourselves for the entire weekend, we were also a little bummed. We hoped to meet other trailrunners and to swap stories and strategies. Instead, we ate cold pizza and beer and went to sleep early.

On Saturday morning, Julie helped me gear up for the 50k and drove me to the race start/finish line. There was plenty of parking and lots of people milling about casually. The crowd laughed at the occasional joke from the announcer and lined up for the start of the race fairly promptly when asked. Nobody really stopped their conversations for the “race briefing,” which was more of an opportunity for the announcer to talk about how pretty the course was and to thank the sponsors. To the best of my knowledge, no information, critical or otherwise, came to light in this briefing. Ready or not, the clock counted down and soon we were off. On this same day, the marathon and 7-mile race would be hot on our heels.

Silver Falls 50k Starting Line

The race started with a 3-mile loop into Silver Falls State Park and through the campground before winding past the start/finish line again. It was about half-road and half-trail. This was a good opportunity to stretch out, warm up, and spread out before we really hit the trails, where it can be harder to pass. There was a short portion in mile 2 where I felt like I was in the middle of a really fast conga line. Being my first trail race, I wasn’t sure what the protocol was for passing or allowing people past on single-track, but I figured if people wanted to sneak past, they’d say something or tap my arm. This was indeed the case, although nobody seemed eager to pass until much later in the race.

I buzzed through the first aid station at mile 3 and pushed into the first small hill of the day, while sipping from a soft flask in the front of my Salomon vest. I wasn’t hungry or thirsty yet, but I was moving at a 10-minute mile and knew I’d start feeling the need for nutrition before too long. I finally took a gel and another sip of water as I passed through the mile 6 aid station and headed into the back country of the park.

There were some pretty steep hills and probably 750 feet of elevation gain in this next section while heading from mile 6 through 8. I basically did my best to hold position and power hike during this section. From just after mile 8 through the next aid station at 9.6, I had my first conversation with another trailrunner. It was her second 50k and her previous race is the next one that I’ll be running in 2016. I was surprised and thrilled that this first preconceived notion of trailrunning was a reality. Trailrunners really are cool and it is totally acceptable to have a conversation with another runner during the race.

After the aid station at 9.6, I started a long uphill on a rocky fire lane. At first, I was nervous climbing this hill, but then my hiking history kicked in. I’ve been hiking for the last couple years with friends all around the Pacific Northwest. I felt strong and fast and even though I was power hiking and some people were running, I still passed a whole mess of people on the way up.

This was when my confidence started to really kick in. I started to see fewer and fewer other runners and I was finding myself alone more often than not. My wife was volunteering at the mile 14 aid station and I was eager to see her. The marathon route collided with the 50k route around mile 12. I dodged a few marathoners and was chatting with a couple other 50k runners when we hit the obstacle on the course: a creek crossing. Everybody else made their way upriver to a small rock crossing 15 feet away. I quickly glanced and realized that it wasn’t as deep, but you would still get your feet wet if you went that way. I sputtered, “the hell with it!” and splashed right through. After a tenth of a mile, my feet weren’t water-logged anymore. After a quarter mile, I didn’t notice any moisture in my shoes at all. Wrightsocks and Altra Lone Peak 2.0 shoes did the trick for me. I wouldn’t have any moisture issues all day.

I was making really good time as I cruised into the mile 14 aid station and I planned early on to spend a minute or two there just talking to my wife and soaking up some positive vibes. I ate half a banana and a strip of pizza (I had cut pizza slices into strips the day before) and a cup of flat Coke and headed off at a slow pace while I finished eating.

Silver Falls 50k Mile 14 Aid Station

The elevation chart showed that miles 15 through 18 were going to be tough. This was the climb up Buck Mountain and the next aid station was scheduled to be at mile 19. I took it pretty easy on this climb and power hiked a lot more than I ran, but there were some runnable portions as well. The trail was slick and muddy, but I was satisfied with my pace and soon I reached the next aid station.

This aid station was rocking. AC/DC’s Let Me Put My Love Into You was cranked. I dunked a boiled potato into a bowl of salt, shoved it in my mouth, took a shot of Heed electrolyte, and took a moment to celebrate being a true ultrarunner. I have read time and time again about boiled potatoes in salt. It always sounded gross until this moment. For some reason, the training mileage, the elevation, the race itself, nothing made me feel more legitimate. Boiled potatoes. You never know what’s going to charge you up. A young lady at the aid station asked me if I was feeling all right. I was surprised to hear the question because I was feeling so good. I answered with an emphatic affirmative and went bounding down the trail. I was feeling so great, I forgot to fill my soft flasks with more water.

I made it to mile 23 before I realized that I was carrying about four ounces of water. I had written down the aid station locations and goal mile splits on a piece of paper the day before the race. I looked at the aid station list that I had taken from the website and saw that another aid station was coming at mile 24. Perfect! I can take a quick sip at the beginning of each mile and still get a refill at the next aid station. I was thrilled that I wouldn’t run out of water.

I got to mile 23 and there was a funny trail junction. There were multiple signs pointing in multiple directions. I was pretty confident that I was going the right way, but I was nowhere near any other runners, so I was on my own. I started down the trail and it was all downhill. I ran until my Garmin watch chirped mile 24 and looked around. I was in the middle of a huge downhill section at a complete stop. I decided to wait until another runner showed up to see if I was on the right track. I stood for about 4 minutes before another runner came down the trail. She was fully confident we were on the right track. I was thrilled that I didn’t have to hike back uphill. I had unfortunately lost all momentum and several minutes to waiting.

Also unfortunate: the website had let me down again. The aid station was at mile 26, not 24. I was parched when I got to the next aid station. This was definitely my lowest point in the race. I was dehydrated and exhausted and I had lost a few places. Any of the pain I felt on the way into the aid station was quickly replaced when the volunteers started screaming. “What can we get you?” “What do you need?” “Can we fill your water bottles?” In moments, a wonderful woman had filled my soft flasks and replaced them in my vest for me. I had discovered at the mile 6 aid station that I was in love with potato chips, but they were fresh out at mile 26. I took down another pizza strip and started descending on a rocky trail. It was a few moments before I realized I was getting into the “pretty part” of the race.

The first thing I saw was the South Falls as they poured into the canyon. I actually stopped to marvel at it for several seconds. A big portion of the remainder of the race was on the rim trail, which takes you through the canyon and behind/around several waterfalls. This section was busy with hikers, but not to the point of being annoying or uncomfortable. I was surprised to make up a lot of time between miles 26 and 29. I passed many other racers in this stretch and felt great. Just under a month ago, I was struggling to finish 26.2 miles in the Chicago Marathon. Another ultrarunning truth proved accurate: road marathons are way more intense. At mile 27, I was measuring the remaining distance and still targeting a 6:30:00 finish.

Phil Silver Falls 50k Trail Race Mile 28

I was moving at a good pace when I crossed the metal bridge at mile 28 and started heading uphill. Before long, I was on stairs. They don’t mention the stairs on the race website. Had they mentioned them, I would have done some stair training. Instead, I relied on my hiking training, drove my quads high, and hit them two at a time. This was the most difficult time of the race for me. I remember gripping the metal railing and feeling that I was actually digging deep with each pull of my arms. By the time I got to the next aid station, I realized something was off.

This race isn’t a 50k. A 50k is just over 31 miles. Somewhere along the way in this canyon, my watch shot out a full mile ahead of where I actually was. The watch had been super accurate all day. I wasn’t the only one who noticed and I was surrounded by people in the last few miles upset that the course signage seemed off. It didn’t bother me all that much though. As I ascended to the aid station at “28.6” miles, which was actually more like 29.5, the volunteers cheered and screamed and pumped me up. I downed a handful of potato chips and a cup of flat Coke and walked quickly back onto the trail. Before long I was running again. I knew now that I was less than a 5k from the finish.

Silver Falls 50k Final Bridge

A large amount of this last section was on road. Another runner by the name of Josh caught up to me. I accelerated a bit to keep up with him and we talked for quite a while leading into the home stretch. We saw the finish line area and remarked how cruel it was to throw in this road portion leading to a finish line, only to send runners into something called Nutcracker Hill. As soon as I hit the hill I went into power hiking mode. I caught three people on the way up and tentatively started working my way down the steep downhill portion. It was extremely muddy and I slid for several feet at a time, but never fell down. A woman caught up to me at the end of the hill and she had a full head of steam and passed me by. I caught up with her and we compared GPS mileage as we came to the finish line. We were both showing just over 32.1 miles.

Silver Falls 50k Finish Chute

2015 Silver Falls 50k Medal

I crossed the line, kissed my wife, received my medal, and officially accepted the title of ultramarathoner. My total time was 6:35:31.

I downed three cups of hot cocoa in front of a raging fire and my wife drove us back to the lodge. We had dinner in Silverton and I’m pretty sure I slept for 12 hours overnight.

The Sunday after, my wife hammered the half marathon at a 12:05 pace. I enjoyed seeing her off and checking in on her at the aid station at mile three.

When she came over the bridge to the finish line a full 45 minutes ahead of expected time, I was beside myself.

Finisher Silver Falls Half Marathon Medal

This was a great racing weekend. I came away with pride, confidence, excitement, and satisfaction. I didn’t set a marathon PR this year, but I ran my first trail race, my first 50k, and I don’t feel like an outsider anymore.

Julie Silver Falls Half Marathon North Falls

When I hear people talking about 100-mile races, it doesn’t sound crazy. I’ve learned that hard work, dedication, and knowledge can push you way beyond your boundaries. The next challenge is just that: a challenge. Nothing is impossible.

Tonight, I had a video chat with my folks and told them about my next race: The Gorge Waterfalls 100k. Mom asked if I’ve got a death wish. I don’t think I’m going to show her my training schedule for this race either.

Trail Run Columbia River Gorge

Gorge 400 Trail Training Run

I spent Halloween morning trail running on the Gorge 400 Trail with some terrific and goofy running partners. We started from the John B. Yeon trailhead, scooted past Elowah Falls and much more. We have had some rain recently and the waterfalls were in spectacular form. It was a slippery, muddy, rainy, and altogether gorgeous day. Video footage below from a really fun training run.

Wildwood Trail Forest Park Portland Oregon

30 Miles on the Wildwood Trail: My First Ultra Run

Milestones are funny things. I’ll never forget the elation and exhaustion I felt after my first 5k race. My first 10k race felt more like a building block than a spire, but I still enjoyed the pride that came along with pushing myself beyond a previous boundary. My first half marathon distance run was sadly punctuated by my first realization that I needed to either wear better shirts, strategically place band-aids, or lubricate certain, ah, sensitive areas of my upper body. Finally, there was my first marathon, whereupon finishing, I had to take several minutes to compose myself as the combination of pure joy and raw emotion nearly overwhelmed me. I may be more sentimental than most, but in the world of running, I have plenty of company.

The past year has found me acquiring a new obsession with trail running. Almost by association, I have also discovered a passion for ultra running. That may sound strange coming from somebody who has only finished two road marathons so far and whose longest trail run up to this point was 16 miles, but I assure you, the eagerness to run far is real. I have learned many lessons about when and how to slowly build up distance in my training. I recognize that I have plenty more work to put in before I can call myself a true endurance athlete, but after this past weekend, I feel comfortable identifying myself as an ultra runner.

The Wildwood Trail in Forest Park is described with awe by many who have traversed it. I have read endless accounts from runners and hikers extolling the beauty of this singletrack wonder. I myself have run the southernmost 8 miles of the trail on previous occasions, but I had never been north of that on this 30-mile trail. Knowing that the trail was well-marked and having the course mapped out on my trusty GPS watch, I felt encouraged setting my sights on Wildwood for my first ultra run.

I prepared myself on the morning of September 19, 2015 with coffee and dry cereal (Peanut Butter Panda Puffs, if you must know). I had already loaded up my hydration vest with 2.5 liters of water. I also loaded up a 1/2 liter handheld bottle with water. One of the 1/2 liter soft-flasks on my hydration vest also contained an electrolyte tablet. Other nutrition consisted of various GU gels, GU chews, salt tablets, and three slices of Sizzle Pie Raising Arizona pizza. Don’t judge me. 30 miles is a long time and when I get down, I crave pizza. Do not knock it until you try it. When I was satisfied that I was fully prepared, I ordered up an UBER cab.

The driver had been waiting around the corner at Stumptown and showed up in 15 seconds. I was surprised, but eagerly snatched up my gear and stepped out the door. At that moment, I realized I was still wearing my slippers. This was a fortunate catch. I grabbed my Altra Lone Peak 2.0s and bounced down the stairs toward the car in my socks. Michael, my driver, apologized for the quick arrival (which wasn’t really a problem at all) and away we went.

I chose to run the Wildwood Trail from north to south. I recognized that this would mean a difficult climb between miles 25-27 and 3,000 feet of elevation gain overall. I’m training for the Silver Falls 50k on November 7, which has 4,000 feet of elevation gain, so it was important to me that I test my mettle before that race. I wanted a baseline to provide myself with a goal to shoot for in November. The drive to the trailhead took about 25 minutes and required one u-turn to find the trailhead, but it was all good. Michael was an interesting person with great stories and I got to watch the sun rising over Mounts Hood, Helens, and Adams. Plus, any day I get to see the gorgeous St. John’s Bridge is a good day.

I jumped out of the car and walked for about 50 feet before finding the actual sign for the trailhead. I quickly stuffed my jacket in my pack. The weather felt much warmer than 55 degrees and I was happy to strip down to shorts and t-shirt from the start. I triggered the activity start on my watch and dropped into the forest.

I didn’t bring my GoPro on this run. I had my phone with me in case I needed to get in contact with my wife, but I wasn’t shooting any photos or video on this run. I also wasn’t listening to headphones. I wanted this to be a pure running experience with no distractions. More so in trail running than on the road, the sound of my breathing is cathartic to me. I feel more in tune with my body as minor aches and pains pass through from time to time. I am more prepared to make adjustments to my form and stride when necessary. As I began my first descent, I immediately noticed the stillness of the forest. My next realization was the greenery. The colors and thickness of the forest were spectacular. This place felt as remote as any hike I’ve ever done. And it’s in the city.

The next thought caught me by surprise. I skipped over a few roots and stones and hit the first foot bridge. Looking up, I saw the blue diamond spray painted on a tree marking the Wildwood Trail. A few feet above that was a sign that read “30 Miles.” For a split second, I felt actual dread. I wasn’t expecting this. I was excited for 30 miles. I was prepared for 30 miles. There was no problem. Something in the far reaches of my mind jolted me for a moment. I shook my head and smiled. There was only one other car at the trailhead and my UBER was long gone. I was on my own. The panicked part of my brain had no choice but to sit down, shut up, and hold on for the long, arduous ride for the next several hours. The dedicated part of my brain that has been pushing me on my running journey for the last 2 years took over and during the next mile, I calmed down and settled into a comfortable rhythm.

Soon enough I had a new issue. There are markers on the Wildwood Trail nearly every quarter mile with a blue diamond and a mileage marker. It wasn’t long before my GPS watch was underestimating my distance. If not for the markers, I don’t know that I would have made it. At mile 5.5, my watch was off by more than 2 miles. As time dragged on and mileage increased, it would have been really discouraging thinking I was at mile 18 instead of 25. Identifying the issue, I shrugged and persisted. This is always a possibility with trail running and the blue diamond trees were going to guide me home.

My plan was to eat every 45 minutes for the first few hours. Knowing my nutrition history, I would begin to detest food somewhere around the 3.5 hour mark. At that point, I would only be able to eat something every hour. After 45 minutes, I ate a caffeinated gel. After 1:30, I went after one of the pizza slices. But I had made a miscalculation. The slices were from a large pizza. A small would have worked better. I unthinkingly devoured the entire slice and kept running. In the end, I don’t regret eating the pizza, but it did throw off my nutrition plan. I felt full and sluggish for a mile or two, and I couldn’t eat again for over an hour. Despite my nutrition schedule getting off track, everything was going great. I resolved to move back to my every 45 minutes eating routine and avoid the giant pizza slices unless I craved them later on.

There are myriad feeder trails throughout the Wildwood Trail and plenty of people as you move south along the trail. In the first 6 miles, however, I only saw 4 other people… and 3 dogs. None of the dogs were on leashes and all were more than 20 feet ahead of their owners. I’m all for having dogs on the trail and all of these dogs were well-behaved and posed no threat, but there are signs everywhere on the trail requiring leashes. When you’re totally alone and come around a corner face-to-face with a huge dog, it takes your brain a moment to register what sort of animal this is. It takes a moment to see the people trailing way behind and breathe a sigh of relief. Even for someone who loves dogs like myself, it’s a disconcerting feeling. There are so many people who have had unfortunate run-ins with dogs that leave them with a debilitating fear of all dogs. Irrational or not, this is a note for dog owners. No matter how well-behaved your dog is on this trail, put it on a leash. The next runner, hiker, walker, or bike rider you meet may have been attacked by a dog in the past. Please give that person peace of mind by having your animal on a leash. It’s not only common courtesy, it’s the rule in this particular park. And not to harp, but the two dozen bright plastic bags of dog refuse littering the trail did very little to improve my view of dog owners on this day.

Back to the run. It was around mile 15 when I first started to feel fatigued. I didn’t have any major aches, but there was a dull pain beginning to set in at my major joint areas. I was still moving at a good clip. I did some quick calculations and realized that I was a little behind on water consumption. I was planning to refill my bottles at Pittock Mansion, which lies around the 27-mile mark of the trail. I resolved to drink more water over the next several miles to get back on track.

Mile 17 marks a comfortable downhill stretch followed by a 350-foot hill climb. I was cruising down this stretch when I caught my toe on a root. I thought it was a leaf when I saw it so I didn’t hop over it as aggressively as I should have. I began to tumble to my left and started to roll to prevent a major collision with the ground. Pressing my handheld water bottle into the ground, I braced myself for impact. Instead of rolling, I awkwardly smashed into the dirt, which gave way completely and sent me several feet down into a small ravine. My shoulder had taken the brunt of the impact, but I had knocked the wind out of myself as well. I stood up and brushed myself off, climbed back up, and walked until my breath came back to me. Strangely, just as I fell, another runner 50 feet in front of me caught a root and hit the deck as well. It was the only other fall I saw all day. He landed much harder than me and was covered in dirt, but was no worse for wear. We congratulated each other on our good fortune. We would leapfrog each other from this point on for the next 6 miles. Unfortunately, this marked the first big uphill climb of the day and the fall had taken all the wind out of my sails. I wound up hiking nearly all of the climb before reaching level trail and breaking into a run.

Somewhere around mile 23, my wife called me. She had parked at the zoo/Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial where the trail ends. The plan was for her to run to Pittock Mansion and back, with the intent that I would finish my run somewhere around the same time as her. I was moving at a good clip at this time and I was feeling pretty confident. I encouraged her to run the 3 miles from Pittock to the zoo and I would catch up to her at the parking lot. I advised her that I was pretty sure that I was approaching the stone house on the trail and would be beginning the major 700-foot ascent from there to Pittock Mansion. We hung up and I cruised along the descent to stone house. On my approach, I was struck by how many people were hanging about. I scanned the crowd nonchalantly until my eyes settled on a familiar figure.

My wife had run all the way to stone house, 5.5 miles from the zoo. Completing the circuit back to the zoo would make this her longest trail run. I could not have been happier to see her. This was the best surprise I could have received and it took me a moment to say anything (see above where I talk about being a bit of an emotional wreck when I push my physical limits). We ascended together on the steep trail to Pittock Mansion, running when we could and power hiking when we had to.

Somewhere around mile 21, I had taken a salt tablet. It seemed to help a lot and I should have taken one right before this ascent, but I decided that I was done with food at this point, which included salt tabs. This was a mistake. Any food at this point would have been advisable and I should have stuck to the plan. I took on another gel around mile 26, but it was too late. It did some good, but didn’t have the impact it might have a couple miles earlier. Lesson learned. Eat before the going gets really tough. Stick to the plan.

My wife had brought me enough water to make it to the end and I was happy not to have to stop to refill any water bottles as we passed Pittock Mansion. Reaching the trail on the other side of the Pittock parking lot, we finally began to descend again. After 27 miles and all that elevation gain, I found descending to be extremely painful for my knees. I spent the first 1/4 mile getting my footing back and adjusting to the new terrain and finally was able to run intermittently when the trail was either gradual downhill, level, or gradual uphill. At this point, I stuck to power hiking on steeper hills and gingerly toe-tapping down steep descents.

I was excited to be back in familiar territory by this point and I know these last couple miles well. I was somewhat nauseous. I controlled that by maintaining a slow jog or walking when necessary. Beyond the challenge of crossing Burnside Road without becoming roadkill, this part of the trail went smoothly. Honestly though, a 45-mile per hour road with 4 lanes passing through a forest with no lights, no bridge, no tunnel. Come on, Portland. Figure this one out before somebody gets killed here.

After a moderate uphill the last 1/2 mile was level and mostly downhill. After a couple false starts, I was able to improve my pace to a full run and finish strong. I crossed the finish line exactly 6 hours and 31 minutes after I started. Specifics of the run are below.

I could not have done this without my wife’s support. I could not have done this without such a beautiful trail right here in my backyard. In another post, I’ll detail how I dealt with the mental and emotional side of running these distances without company. Loneliness on the trail is very real. How you react to loneliness has a great effect on the success or failure of your run.

As accomplished as this milestone makes me feel, I recognize that it is simply another building block. Still, it feels pretty spectacular to call myself an ultra runner for the first time. Hopefully, on November 7, I’ll be able to call myself an ultra race finisher at the Silver Falls 50k.

Chicken Feed Hood River

Trail Running East Fork Hood River #650

My wife and I recently took our first trip to Hood River, Oregon. The reason for the trip was two-fold: run a trail together and tour Hood River’s breweries. Mission accomplished on both fronts.

We left early on a Saturday morning in the first week of June and headed for the Polallie Trailhead. This was a quick, 80-minute drive from Portland. The trailhead does require a Northwest Forest Pass. Ours had just expired, but we lucked out because apparently this was a no-fee day. There is a ranger station down Highway 35 where you can scoop up a pass, so be sure you’re up-to-date before you arrive at this trailhead.

We headed across the street to the actual trailhead and started uphill. We were aware of a certain amount of elevation change, but the first mile alone included a startling amount of elevation. We quickly switched to hiking mode on uphills to save our energy. It was a very hot day and we didn’t want to overdo it. To add a bit of interest to our run, we decided to visit Tamawanas Falls. This added a couple of miles to the run, but was well worth it. The trail in and out from Tamawanas Falls is generally wide and easy to run. Most of it is single- or double-track dirt, with just a few areas of technical, rocky terrain.

Away from the falls, the trail was single-track dirt and gentle, undulating hills. For beginners or professionals, this is a fun, relatively easy trail. The elevation gain wound up being a surprise, but didn’t cause any great difficulty. Our goal for the day was 10 miles total, so when we were satisfied that we had gone far enough, we took a side trail to the river for a quick bite to eat while enjoying the lazy river flowing in front of us.

After closing out the remaining 5 miles of our out and back run, we headed for Parkdale, Oregon. We wound up hitting Solera Brewing, with it’s spectacular beer garden view of Mount Hood. After a quick beverage, we went to Apple Valley BBQ for a very hearty lunch. From there, we headed for our AirBnB, which happened to be on an amazing little farm, where the owner let us hang out and feed all the animals. Beyond that, we headed for downtown Hood River and wandered from coffee shop to brewery to shops to restaurants. We spent a fair amount of Sunday copying our routine from Saturday, including a stop on the Washington side of the Columbia River at Everybody’s Brewing. Again, this is a stellar place for a beer and some food with a spectacular Mount Hood view from the patio. I highly recommend the quick trip to White Salmon, Washington for this brewery.

This was a terrific two-day trip that could easily have been a single-day running adventure. But if you’re going to drive to Hood River for a trail run, do yourself a favor and spend some time in this lovely city. It’s worth your time. See the video below for some shots of the trail and the farm.

River Running Eugene

Pacific Northwest Half Marathon 2015 Race Report

While my physical therapy is going really well and I’m getting stronger all the time, I still lost too much training time to make an attempt at the full marathon in May, as I had previously planned. This was meant to be my “A” race this year, but the race organizer was very cool to allow me to switch to the half marathon when I realized a full marathon was out of the question. I was excited to check out this race for a number of reasons.

First, this would be my first trip to Eugene. All I ever associated with Eugene was the University of Oregon and a burgeoning craft brewery scene. Both of which turned out to be amazing. If you get the chance to visit the sports complex, take advantage of it. That football stadium, in particular, is something else.

Second, this was the inaugural running of this race. I don’t make a habit of seeking out the newest races, but reading how this would be “flat and fast” by design was enticing. I say this pretty often, but running a race in order to tour a new city is always appealing to me. This was a nice opportunity to tour a new place at a comfortable pace and still score a PR.

Finally, my wife had signed up for the half marathon. This was to be her first half marathon and I was psyched to see her accomplish her goal. At first, I was disappointed to give up my full marathon hopes. When I realized that I would get to pace my wife, I perked right back up. Watching her achieve her goal would be just as rewarding and I always enjoy running with her.

We rented an AirBnB about two miles from the starting line. There was ample parking near the race. We joined everyone else in the empty first floor of a newly-constructed building to stay warm. The call eventually came to form up on the starting line, final instructions were read, and we were turned loose.

Throughout the race, the instructions were all very clear. Cones, sidewalk chalk, volunteers and warning tape were placed well and liberally to ensure nobody got lost. There were several quality aid stations to take care of everyone. One station in particular was stocked with more energy gels than I’ve ever seen before. We topped off our energy with bananas, water, and sports drinks throughout the race.

There had been some route changes in the weeks before the race. We thought we’d get to run along the rivers more often, but it turns out we only had about 1/2 mile of riverside running in the entire race. That was too bad, but it was still a beautiful, sunny day and the flat nature of the race made for an enjoyable cruise through several neighborhoods.

My wife and I had decided that 2 hours and 30 minutes would be a good goal for our race. My wife is the most consistent runner I’ve ever seen. It’s like she has an internal clock that she runs to. I’ve never been a super consistent runner when it comes to pace, but she was incredible even at total exhaustion. In the end, we wound up finishing in 2:20:52 at a 10’31” per mile pace. We were both thrilled with the result.

Finish Line Pacific Northwest Marathon

I was very impressed with my wife’s resolve throughout the race, but particularly at the end. The last three miles, she couldn’t eat any food and was struggling to keep it together. She never walked and we finished at a strong run, hand-in-hand, and smiling. The crowd at the finish line was tremendous. I have never heard more cheering at the finish of a race. I don’t know if it was the home stretch between rows of tall buildings that allowed the noise to echo or if this crowd was particularly vociferous, but it was a very uplifting feeling. After finishing the race, we filled up on finish line food and enjoyed some post-race treatment from the readily available massage therapists.

After the race, we spent a fair amount of time brewery-crawling and exploring. We brought home a whole mess of beer and cider from the Bier Stein and devoured their nachos, pretzels, beer cheese soup and more. This was a great place to celebrate a successful effort.

Bier Stein Pretzels

In the end, I highly recommend this race. The race shirts and medals were well-designed and while it was obviously a small organization in charge of the race, they gave it a personal feel and worked very hard to make it a success. If you’re looking for an Oregon race that also happens to be a Boston qualifier, you’d be hard-pressed to choose a better race than the Pacific Northwest Marathon.