Tagged in: Trail Running

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.

Race for the Trails Banner

Helpless to Hopeful: Race for the Trails

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.

Bend Half Marathon Medal

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.

Race for the Trails 2017 Logo

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.

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.

Ragnar Trail Zion, Utah

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.

Timberline Lodge Mt. Hood

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.

Ragnar Trail Zion Camping

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.

Ragnar Zion Yellow Trail

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.

Ragnar Trail Zion Race View

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.

Zion Ragnar Trail Squatch

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.

Ragnar Trail Zion Run

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.

View from Bellagio

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.

 

Trail Running Herman Creek Columbia River Gorge

5 Lessons Old Guys Taught Me About Running

During the recent Salmon Falls 50k race, I had a fun interaction with a couple older runners. These two guys were teasing me on the trail that I had blocked them out of the group photo at the race start. I’m 6’3″ and that does tend to happen. I chastised them back by mentioning that the race director (RD) asked me to stand tall to improve the handsomeness of the photo and block some of the riffraff. A little later on in the race, these guys confidently jogged past me as I was struggling to power hike a low-incline hill. Again they gave me grief about blocking them out of the photo. This time I told them I was about to take a nap, but I’d catch up to them later on. I mentioned that the RD also asked me to spend some time at the finish line to improve the race finish photos for all the old guys. We shared a laugh and away they went. That was around mile twelve. I never saw them again.

In January, I was running around the Willamette bridge loop. An old guy caught up to me and seemed to slow for a moment. He gave me a glance and then took off. I recognized the challenge and stayed on his heels. I managed to keep up with him for three full miles before we went our separate ways. A quick wave and I headed for the Hawthorne Bridge and home. Throughout the run, I was watching his stride. It seemed effortless. He didn’t bounce with each step like I did. He never seemed to take a quick breath. Just long, slow breaths and the most consistent pace ever. No headphones. No distractions. Just blasting around the river and taking me to school. I felt fortunate to recognize his fluidity and effortless stride and consistent gait.

That’s the same thing that struck me about the old guys at the Salmon Falls race. Super consistent and effortless. They joked with everybody they passed. The last time I spoke to them, I was nearly gasping.

Now, a qualification. I say “old guys” with utmost respect. These men were all in their upper 50s or lower 60s. At 36 years old, I’m still referred to as “kid” by a lot of old guys I see on the trail. When I say old, I don’t mean it in any derogatory way. Having just started my running habit fewer than three years ago, I know I’m still a beginner and have much to learn. I am hungry to improve and I read books and blogs constantly looking for any tips. I study my successes and failures on race day in order to remedy nutrition and hydration errors. Every training run and every race is an opportunity to get better.

Without further ado, here are the running lessons I’ve learned from old guys. To be fair, some of these lessons have also been reinforced by older women I’ve met on the trail. Running wisdom obviously isn’t exclusive to one gender.

  1. Set a comfortable pace and stick with it. I have a terrible habit of going out really strong on race day, only to hit a wall. I wind up walking as much as running during the second half of many races. When I get skunked by old guys in races, it’s because they have their pace dialed in. They’ve been training on long runs at that same pace they’ll use on race day. They don’t get caught up in the moment. They don’t spike their heart rate trying to separate from the pack on a long uphill. They don’t see people passing them early on and panic. Old runners stick to the plan. The endurance running adage goes something like this: start out slow and then go slower.
  2. Move efficiently. This was a difficult lesson for me to learn. It took months of physical therapy to iron out my erratic running motion. I bounced when I ran, wasting precious power vertically that could have been used to propel me forward. I never fully extended my legs behind me, which was robbing me of the power of toe-off and stunting the forward continuous rotation of my legs. I wasn’t twisting my hips at all, which was forcing my legs to land out in front of my torso and making balancing more difficult. A proper stride should feel natural and somewhat effortless, but it doesn’t come easy for many of us. From heel strike to slouching at the shoulders, so many of us are guilty of allowing bad habits to rob us of speed and endurance.
  3. Never deviate from your nutrition and hydration plan. At the second aid station I arrived at during a recent 50k, an older volunteer asked me if I was eating enough. He had the build of a runner, but I just assumed he was being silly. I was only an hour into the race. How many calories could I possibly have consumed so far? It turns out that my nutrition was way off. I should have been taking in more than 200 calories per hour on race day. Up to that second aid station, I had taken in nothing but water. It sounds like such a rookie mistake, but when you feel good at the beginning of a race, you can get caught up in the moment. I didn’t want to slow down to take in a gel or stop for a handful of potato chips at the first station. I bonked hard in that race, even though I felt that my training had been perfect. It wasn’t my fitness level. It was my terrible nutrition choices on race day. I’ve recently been working with liquid nutrition, like Tailwind. Sip every 10 minutes, supplement calories with gels or potatoes. I’m excited to try it out on race day.
  4. Train with a partner. Or two. Or ten. I rarely see old guys running by themselves on the weekend. Perhaps they do during the week. But when it comes to long training runs, they run in pairs or groups. And on race day, there they are. Running together at an agreed-upon pace that they know will work. They check each other’s effort and nutrition. And sometimes, they talk about where they like to go for pancakes after a run and they make your stomach growl during a 50k race. It’s harder to shorten a training run when you have a partner who will push you. It’s easier to make it through a difficult training run or race when you have someone who will joke with you and provide encouragement. During my most recent race, I listened to two older women discussing their running group. “Danny is in Mexico, but Ray is around. He’s still dealing with a quad issue from that 25k run.” They went through the rundown of their entire running group. It was clear that they cared about those other runners and wanted to see them succeed. That kind of encouragement on a regular basis is priceless.
  5. Leave the ladies alone. This lesson is one that I never struggled with, but one I felt obligated to call out anyhow. I’ve been in multiple races where groups of guys were running together and they had something to say to everybody who ran past. It’s all fun and games with other men, generally. But for some reason, every woman that ran near them got a fair share of mysogynistic nonsense. Comments about looks, short shorts, tight clothing and even sexual overtures make you sound like an idiot. Whether this is a generational thing or just a small cross section of morons who have infiltrated the running world, don’t be one of these jackasses. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about endurance running, it’s that distance levels the playing field. The longer the race, the more likely that women will finish as well as men. My massage therapist recently noted that of her husband and wife clients, men are the babies and women are the ones with higher pain thresholds. Let’s stop eyeing women as “the fairer sex” when we’re out running and start seeing them for what they really are: hardworking competitors who deserve respect. Let’s keep the catcalling out of our sport.

Those are my top five lessons learned from old guys. I’m sure there are way more lessons that I’ll come to recognize in time. What did I miss in this list? Have you picked up any nuggets of wisdom or helpful advice from an older runner? Comment to let me know.

 

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

2016 Salmon Falls 50k Medal

2016 Salmon Falls 50k Race Report

This weekend, my wife and I took a whirlwind road trip from Portland to Coloma, California. I had registered to race the Salmon Falls 50k as part of my 100k race training. I didn’t look into the area before we left and it didn’t dawn on me until we got there exactly where we were. Our hotel was located in Auburn, near the finish line of the legendary Western States 100 mile race. We drove through Cool on the way to the race (home of the Way Too Cool 50k). As we passed along the American River, it dawned on me. This was the second time in six months that I had booked a trip to a trailrunning hotbed that hosted a major event. I realized that I was preparing to race against some legitimate hardcore runners and I felt a bit out of place.

At the starting line, big groups of runners started to gather. I felt like everybody already knew everybody else. I wasn’t surprised that there was such an incredible community of runners in this area. Then I started seeing familiar faces. Nike-sponsored Sally McRae bounced up to the packet pickup area. Five-time Western States winner Tim Twietmeyer wandered past with his trademark permanent grin. I was starstruck and intimidated. As the race prepared to kick off though, my nerves subsided.

Salmon Falls 50k Start

This is trail racing. If you’re an endurance runner, you’re already a part of the scene. If you’re willing to pour your heart and soul into training and if you leave it all on the course, you already belong. Race director Tim Casagrande offered a few last minute remarks. Everybody huddled in for a group photo and away we went.

Right off the bat, it was clear that this was a different race than anything I had been a part of before. This was only my second 50k race. My other race was the Silver Falls 50k that started on a road and allowed everybody to spread out right away. The Salmon Falls 50k start was on a rutty, narrow, hard, dirt road. In fact, that’s the thing that struck me the most about all the trails on this course. The ground was super hard. I guess I’ve grown accustomed to the soft dirt and mud of the Pacific Northwest.

Inside of the first mile, we came to a creek crossing. There was a series of stepping stones off to the left and a precarious fallen tree crossing off to the right. Noticing immediately that the water was only knee deep, I bounded through the creek. I left a whole lot of people behind who were lining up to try and stay dry. My combination of Wrightsocks and Altra Lone Peak 2.0s dry out so fast, I had no worries about the water. In fact, I was pretty excited for an early cool down.

I entered an area of long, sweeping uphill and downhill trails. The scenery was breathtaking. I was able to drop downhill with speed. I power hiked uphill in a rhythm that allowed me to recover and keep my heart rate low. The American River swept through the canyon to my left. The trail alternated between technical rocky patches and hard-packed tan and orange dirt. I was having so much fun running and enjoying the scenery that I forgot to eat anything. And so my struggles began. I knew what nutrition I had in each pocket of my hydration vest. But I still started doing a mental inventory because nothing sounded good to me. I wound up passing on food for the time being and sipped water, knowing an aid station was up ahead. It was mile 4.65 before I ate anything. I swallowed a small glass of Coke at the aid station. I dumped some jelly beans into my mouth while I started hiking the next long climb.

Salmon Falls 50k Mile 12

Somewhere around mile 8, I realized my breathing was becoming labored. I checked my GPS watch and realized I was moving at a 6:55/mile pace. My goal pace for this day was 12:30/mile. Idiot. I backed off and tried to just maintain a 12:30 pace as I dropped into the aid station at mile 13. The scene at this aid station was ridiculous. There was a DJ scratching records, some guy in a horse costume (might have been a cow? I didn’t pay much attention), and all sorts of people cheering and volunteering. I was beyond hungry, but I knew I couldn’t eat much of anything. I downed some Coke, a couple glasses of water, and two bites of a Pro Bar protein bar. I walked up to the bridge crossing and started jogging down the road toward the second half of the race. This was the run around Lake Folsom.

A Tale of Two Races

I expected things to get tough at this point, but I didn’t realize what I was in for. Running around lakes is not something that appeals to me. Viewpoints are sparse, hills are steep and frequent, pesky bugs are more frequent. This situation was no different, save for an overabundance of poison oak. Thanks to the race director’s pre-race warning about this miserable plant, I escaped unscathed.

The stretch from mile 16 to mile 24 was the longest unsupported section of the day. I planned for this and refilled my hydration bladder at mile 16. When I got to mile 24, I had to fill it again. The heat was brutal. I can’t remember the last time I ran in shorts and a t-shirt without gloves or arm sleeves. The weather was beautiful, but it was one more thing I wasn’t prepared for. I wound up with a sunburned neck for my efforts.

Salmon Falls 50k Home Stretch

I played leapfrog with several runners between miles 15 and 31. It seemed like those of us this far back in the pack were all suffering from one ailment or another. Every person I passed or who passed me throughout the day had a word of encouragement to share. People were checking on each other and anybody who was struggling received heartfelt encouragement. Every aid station volunteer asked how we were and encouraged us to eat and drink up. The people you meet on the trail are the best part of trailrunning and this race reinforced that idea. The aid station fare was also well-planned and delicious. I fell in love with seedless red grapes and I’ll try to carry them with me whenever I run long from now on.

As I approached the last mile of the race, I was a little confused by where to go. I guessed correct and wound up running along the top of a huge dam. This lasted more than half a mile before reaching the trail into the finish line. This is a brutal way to end a long race. Seeing the finish and hearing the crowd for ten minutes proved encouraging and devastating. The cheering crowd at the finish line was amazing though. Turning that final corner and hearing my name called by the announcer, I couldn’t help but smile. I didn’t meet any of my pace goals for the day. I was still elated to run across the line and claim my medal.

Salmon Falls 50k Finish Line

The Salmon Falls 50k is a great race. The scenery, volunteers, planning, and execution were all terrific. With paid registration, we received quality jackets and race photos. I can’t think of a single thing to complain about. From the hard-packed terrain to the brutal elevation changes in the second half of the course. This is trail racing. You can’t always predict what you’ve gotten yourself into. You can prepare for every eventuality and still find yourself in pain on race day. It’s like Haruki Marukami said, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

Download and review more race details with the Garmin GPX file below.

Race day gear:
Shoes: Altra Lone Peak 2.0
Trail Running Muddy Henry Hagg Lake

Running Books for Inspiration, Training, and Cycle-Breaking

It’s winter here in the Pacific Northwest. And while I appreciate the mild temperatures that allow me to get outside (compared to my previous home in Chicago), the rain (and snow) have taken their toll. I’ve tried to stay positive regarding my training, but it hasn’t been easy. From unexpected ice on steep trails to downed trees from overwhelming winter storms, to shoe-sucking mud that pulls you down like quicksand in a cartoon, I’ve found it difficult to keep a smile on my face. I have more cuts and bruises on my body than I’ve ever had before. Every piece of running gear I own is stained with mud and blood.

After my successful first 50k race back in November, I was feeling confident. A little too confident, probably. I had beaten my goal time, felt amazing afterward, and was optimistically anticipating another unseasonably dry and warm winter. So I signed up for a 100k race in April. Then the rain came. And the storms blew through and wreaked havoc on every trail in the Gorge. And winter dragged on and I started missing my long run goals. An alcohol-fueled late night online shopping session found me trying to avert the training blues by signing up for an upcoming 50k in a warmer, drier climate. But even that hasn’t fully inspired me to hit my training goals, even though the 50k is just two weeks away.

Queue my last-resort secret weapon of choice: running books. From fiction novels to encyclopedic training programs, nothing inspires me like a good running book. There are several I keep close at hand for just these situations. Some are stories of challenges overcome, some feature the ins and outs of endurance training and racing, and others feel like a perfectly targeted kick in the pants. No matter what, I’m always much more eager to lace up my filthy, mud-caked trail pigs for another extended jaunt in the elements. I’m including links to each of these, but keep in mind that these are all available from the library — many as audiobooks or digital downloads. Let’s get started, in no particular order.

Once a Runner by John L Parker, Jr.

I’ve never been a competitive runner. Not really. I didn’t run cross-country in high school or track in college. I never ran around my block until I was 33 years old. My 9th place finish in my age group in the 2015 Lincoln City Half Marathon remains my best showing, but there were only 15 men in my age group. But something about this book seems to speak to the competitive nature in me that I didn’t even know existed. This is a fictional account of a competitive college-age runner. There are incredible details related to the sort of wonderful and terrible feelings you experience as a runner when you push your boundaries. I see this book now has a sequel and a prequel. I haven’t read either of those, partly because I don’t want to ruin the special relationship I feel with this book.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

This nonfiction account of Murakami’s life as an endurance athlete is a significant departure from the surreal fiction he’s known for. This book helps to keep me grounded while also reminding me that my greatest rival will always be me. Admire the athletes who surround you while training and racing, but don’t compare yourself to them. Everybody has their own road to travel.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

This is the gateway drug of running books. Scott Jurek, Jenn Shelton, the Tarahumara Indians, El Caballo Blanco, Ann Trason, Eric Orton… The list goes on and on. This account of mostly true early ultra running folklore introduced me to some of my most heralded endurance athlete heroes. Just try to read this book without seeking out Eric Orton’s The Cool Impossible or Scott Jurek’s Eat & Run, Jenn Shelton’s terrific essays or Ann Trason’s trophy history. Hollywood is turning this one into a movie starring Matthew McConaughey as El Caballo Blanco. Hopefully, the focus of the movie is the same as the book: overcoming incredible odds and pushing beyond previous limits. They’ll probably turn it into a terrible love story.

Eat & Run by Scott Jurek

This book is a great introduction to Scott and a killer recipe book as well. From his difficult family situation at a young age to discovering his passion for endurance athletics, the book doubles as a memoir. The Seven-time Western States winner has a lot to say about his mental training for endurance racing and he shares the recipes he relies on to keep up his intense training effort. The onigiri recipe has become a staple of my long distance nutrition plan.

Relentless Forward Progress by Bryon Powell

This is an unflinching look at what it takes to become an ultra runner, but it also features solid advice for anybody hitting the trails. Honest and straightforward advice comes from several heroes of the trail running community. Even if you never run anything longer than a half marathon, I believe this book should be part of your running education. There are training programs for several distances that you can apply to your own race plan.

You’re tougher than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can. – Ken Choulber, Leadville Trail 100-mile founder

Field Guide to Ultrarunning by Hal Koerner

If you’re really going to go for it in the ultramarathon world, this book deserves a spot on your shelf. Hal Koerner is a legend in his own right and his advice is indispensable. This comprehensive handbook will prepare you for running any ultra distance, with training plans, nutrition suggestions, race day advice, and gear suggestions from one of the masters. This book is more fun than it should be and always inspirational.

These are the books that inspire and motivate me. There are several more that I could have added to the list, Rich Roll’s Finding Ultra, for instance. But the list of favorite running books can be a rabbit hole and I wanted to keep this list just to my absolute favorite books. What do you think? Am I crazy for suggesting any of these? Am I obviously missing any? Comment to let me know.

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.