You gotta love when a cool volunteer opportunity turns into a cool volunteer opportunity AND a race entry. A week ago on Sunday, I helped the awesome crew at USL.tv (ultrasportslive) live-stream the Gorge Waterfalls 100K, and was also granted an entry into what is normally a very hard race to get into via lottery.
The weekend started at 2am on Saturday, as I had to get up and get ready while staying at my parent’s place in Salem and then pick up my fearless USL.tv leader, Marie, and drive to the Aid Station at mile 13. We were pressed for time, as the lead runner was due into the Yeon Aid Station (miles 13 & 49) around 5:40am (the race began at 4am). To prepare for a live broadcast/streaming on a trail, in the woods, IN THE DARK is a thing of wonder. But just as if she’d done it a million times, Marie got the camera, generator and computer, all up and running in no time. Soon the lead men came through the aid station and were back out into the dark – with the lead women right on their heels (although they were pretty hard to identify due to the darkness). The sun eventually came out from behind old growth forest, and we put in a full day of broadcasting from the trail (every 20 minutes) until 4:30pm. Even though we stayed in one spot, there was a lot of excitement throughout the day – including watching the elite runners fly by, the Ginger Runner also flew by while chasing the lead runners with his GoPro, and mostly – all of the smiles and determination from all other 100K runners. What an amazing bunch of people. Every single one. I was in awe all day long.
After we had completed our broadcast at 4:30pm, it was time for a quick dinner at the Charburger overlooking the Columbia River and Bridge of the Gods, then back to the hotel for a lot of shut-eye. We earned our rest, and definitely needed every minute of it. Then it was back up at 6am on Sunday to prep for the 50K. We arrived at Benson State Recreation Area and loaded up on buses that took us out to the start at Wyeth (the half-way point for the 100K). We were off after a few words from James Varner – Race Director for Rainshadow Running.
The first few miles were a slow trudge under towering old growth trees high above the Columbia River. All the runners were very close together, as there was no road or wider trail that allowed us to spread out and find our pace. This was a GOOD thing for me, as I was using this as a training run for the Peterson Ridge Rumble 40-mile just a mere two weeks later. I didn’t want to go out fast and kill myself, so it was definitely fine by me – until I found myself behind a runner who felt the need to snap 20 pictures on his phone over the first two miles. Sorry dude, I’d rather get this done sooner than later. Buh-bye.
I got through the first aid station with a quick fill of my water pack, a Gu and orange slice. I was feeling good, and there was no need to slow down. Before I forget, the volunteers and support at all of the aid stations were tremendous. What an amazing bunch of people volunteering their day to cheer on runners and make sure they are getting what they need. I’m always amazed at the time people take during these events.
Then it was on to Elowah Waterfalls and the next aid station – Yeon (flashback from Saturday). The course has a bit of pavement, but I felt good running on it, and the change of pace was welcome. It allowed me to spread out a bit from all the other runners and not feel like I was watching my footing the ENTIRE time. The rocks on this trail are a constant hazard, which means any sight-seeing is out of the question if you’re trying to stay upright.
Once we were through Yeon at mile 18, it was down the road for a couple miles and up yet another climb. The terrain on this section didn’t have as much old growth as before, but the trail was incredibly narrow and windy, which made for even trickier footing (read: tripping). Especially when following other runners who were also tripping. I caught up to my USL.tv compadre and found out she’d been suffering since mile 10 from nausea. Frankly, I was a little surprised I wasn’t suffering either, as we had had a long day on our feet with hardly any food the day prior. Traveling can take its toll when running a long distance. I went ahead, knowing full well she had it in her to find a gear to make it to the finish. We only had about six miles left. I soon heard a cowbell and a woman kindly told me the aid station was just ahead. YES. My other USL.tv colleague had already made it to the aid station and told me of his cramping after the last stop, and I shoveled PB&J, potato chips, oranges and Coke in so fast that I was ready to go once again.
The last section of this race is the toughest, and I bow down to those 100K-ers who ran it in the dark and then looped back knowing they would have to tackle it again from the other side. The last climb is 1,500 feet in three miles. It was a warm, beautiful day – so add a bunch of hikers/tourists and you’ve got a busy trail with a bunch of people trying to go up. The first climb was paved and had 11 switchbacks which were clearly marked (6 of 11, 7 of 11..), then the trail dipped and climbed again. This time it was rocky and unpaved, alongside a couple cliffs. Again, not sure how those 100K-ers did it in the dark. Then there is an additional climb to the very top and – you guessed it – a steep drop down the other side. Bombing down part rocky trail / part pavement is the only way to explain it. We got to run under one of the falls – Ponytail Falls – and I got whacked in the chest by a young kid I passed behind just as he lost his balance. Fortunately it wasn’t too hard of a hit. Heading down, I could see I-84 so I knew how far I’d come and how much more I had to go. The end was in sight. Next it was up and over some steps and then through the parking lot of Multnomah Falls Lodge, under a bridge and along I-84 to the finish (a trail next to the Interstate, mind you). Funny thing – I have never actually been to Multnomah Falls. Now I can say I’ve been there, but I’ve never seen it. After 30 miles, I had no idea all I had to do was look up behind the Lodge to see the Falls. Fortunately I saw plenty of others along the rest of the course. Oh well, next time.
Into Benson State Recreation Area and across the finish line. Received a hi-five from James Varner, the Race Director (he hi-fives all finishers) and then went in search of pizza. I am not one to hang out at the finish line – especially when no one is there waiting for me (not a big deal, I assure you). I looked for my new friends from USL.tv and headed to my truck to change when I didn’t spy either of them. I needed a Chipotle burrito and that was that. I was on a mission to get home and see my kids and EAT.
My finish time was only 3 minutes slower than my McDonald Forest 50K finish from last year. It shouldn’t have surprised me with all the hills, but it still felt much better than my last 50K and I feel good about the effort. Definitely feeling ready as I go into this weekend’s Peterson Ridge Rumble 40-mile trail race. Another race report coming soon!