Last weekend I finished my first ultra marathon. The fact that I’m calling it an “ultra” marathon – even though it was only five more miles than a marathon – seems a little silly. Mathematically, anyway. When it comes to finish time, well yeah, I guess you could call it an “ultra” marathon.
I registered for the McDonald Forest 50K with the impression that it was a popular 50K and a well-organized race. Given that it takes place in the Willamette Valley meant that I could leave my kids with my parents on race day, too.
With an elevation gain of 6,800 feet, this race was a lot different than most 50Ks (or so I’m told). Rain had been falling the evening prior to the race, and most of the trails were under a canopy of trees. The first half of the race was a winding whirlwind of ups and downs, and then finally up, up, up on a variety of single track and logging roads. Stellar views from the logging roads and the top of Dimple Hill were almost deceiving. During this time, I befriended a fellow runner who was running his 13th “Mac” after turning 50 this year. We chatted briefly on a stretch of logging road, and separated at some point before the Dimple Hill summit. But we’ll get back to him in a bit. The descent down Dimple Hill seemed to wear on everyone’s legs, as there was no choice but to pound it out. And then we were in for a surprise.
Mud welcomed us in the lower elevations. Lots of mud. So much mud that our run was turned into a scramble, and my mindset went from keeping pace to keeping upright. And funny thing, the hills didn’t level out – they got steeper. Every corner I turned, the hills went straight down or straight up. And the mud just kept coming. There was one point where I got stuck mid-climb on a hill (one of those “I can’t move my foot or I’ll slip, and I can’t grab anything or I’ll slip” moves that renders you motionless). And then I felt a hand. On my butt. Fortunately, it was a familiar voice – my friend running his “lucky number 13” Mac was back behind me, able to give me a little “lift.”
We finally emerged at mile 20.7 – out of the mud and to an aid station. I quickly grabbed a bite to eat after teetering on the brink of nausea, and walked it off until I felt like my stomach was satisfied. And then it was back up yet another hill.
More climbing and then more mud. And more climbing. And yes, more mud. And finally – the last aid station stop of the day at mile 26.4. The cups were gone, but a nearly empty bottle of Coke was calling my name and so I swigged as much of it as I could. Still fizzy, unfortunately, but it worked. I got my last kick and up I went. I felt for the woman running near me who I’m sure, deep down, knew that we’d be running to the towers she saw up ahead. She kept asking if we were running to the towers. “Please tell me we are not running to the towers.” Yep, you guessed it. We ran up to the towers. And then there was still another hill with a mile and a half to go.
And of course, a steep drop down to the finish. That’s the only way you can get down when you’ve climbed so high. And then, Gong. Done.
Total time = 6 hours 55 minutes
Yep, that was an ultra marathon. But it was fun, beautiful and an adventure if I’ve ever had one. And highly recommended.