Friday, April 3, 2015

Gorge Waterfalls 50K.

Gorge Waterfalls 50K.  my first ultra marathon trail run.  so much to say, its hard to even begin. 

it kind of hard to grasp, that its actually over.  7:23:20 sounds like a really long time, but it was gone in a flash.  it was over so quickly.  but even though i was in the zone and this went smoothly, it was actually a really hard run.  the distance was long (longer than i've ever gone before), the elevation gain was huge (my GPS watch calls it ~7400 ft of gain and ~7400 ft of loss), and the trail was very technical in lots of places (very rocky and sharp).  a few runners i paced for a while had volunteered at the 100k the day prior, and we talked about it while running.  so much of that race the day prior was before dawn, and i heard that there were a lot of bloody runners at the aid stations.  so i took it careful through the technical portions.  I was amazed by the variety of trail conditions.  one side of a mountain would be trapped in shadow - wet, misty, muddy, cool, ferns, deep forest.  then the other side would be baked by the sun - dry, arid, pine needles everywhere, hot.  from deep forest to open arid trail in the space of a few minutes.  it was just incredible.
the trail head

my time was not stellar, in fact it was kind of long for a 50k.  but every ultra is different, and this was a hard one.  my finish was about 198 out of about 300 (about 300 finished out of 380 registered, and I'm not sure how many DNFs there were, versus people just not showing).  not incredible, but the fact is, I was concentrating on enjoying it as much as possible while making each aid station with plenty of time to spare before the cut offs.  I left the 1st aid station maybe an hour before the cutoff, the 2nd aid station still about an hour before the cutoff, and the 3rd station about an hour and a half before the cutoff.  I finished the run with an hour and 37 minutes to spare.  and i felt strong and had energy left.  a lot of various pain (hips, quads, calfs, lower back), but lots of energy.  I owe this my refueling plan.  i only stopped at the aid stations long enough to fill my camelbak and grab my food.  then i would walk the next quarter mile while i ate, then back to running.
view of columbia river gorge and the Bonneville dam

my drop bags and gear bag plan worked out just fine.  I took an empty gear bag to the start (bus ride), so I could ditch some layers prior to starting.  so i wore pants and a long sleeve shirt and a jacket to stay warm during the wait.  I left the pants and jacket in my gear bag when we started.  then i left my long sleeve shirt in my drop bag at the 1st aid station.  I had packed my drop bags with everything i could need, no matter what the weather.  each bag had dry socks and a t-shirt, a PB&J sandwich, a bag of trail mix, 4 gu roctanes, and a kleen kanteen full of nuun water.  i even had a spare set of shoes at aid station 2.  honestly, the weather was perfect, and i never needed the socks, shoes, or shirt.  there were multiple stream crossing and some thick mud, but my feet stayed dry.  with aid stations every 9 miles or so, i felt it better not to run with a full camelbak (too much weight).  I only filled the bladder halfway.  then at each aid station i refilled the bladder with the nuun water in my drop bag (just to the halfway mark).  was the perfect amount of hydration for each leg.  i didn't even eat my third PB&J, and I only finished one of my bags of trail mix.  having more food and gel than i needed was better safe than sorry.  especially since i didn't need to carry the weight with me the whole way.

i ran as much as possible.  i ran every flat, every downhill, and every smooth uphill.  I walked the most extreme elevation gains, and i walked a few really rocky sections.  this plan worked for me, and i kept my average pace well under what i needed to avoid cutoffs times.  the pain really set in on the final 6 miles, after aid station 3.  in particular, from mile 25.4 to mile 27.6, it was a 1450 ft elevation gain (up alongside multnomah falls).  1450 ft in 2.2 miles, then back down the same amount.  on the way up, i power hiked, hands on thighs.  my lower back started to ache, my calfs and quads were screaming.  but i never stopped.  and when the trail crested and started back down, i ran again.  i had to dig deep to be able to start running again, running through the discomfort and ache.  just kept telling myself to just keep moving, just keep chipping away, just keep the forward momentum.

i definitely enjoyed the middle third of the race the most.  the trail was mostly singletrack, and things had been bunched up and a little crowded for the first 8-10 miles.  but the first aid station was a stop, and then the trail just opened up.  in a run of this distance, no two people are really going to run the exact same pace (unless they are trying to stay together).  if someone has a pace faster than you, they get ahead, and then they slowly open up that lead further and further.  likewise, after you pass someone, you tend to slowly creep further and further ahead.  so after everybody settles into their pace, the trail really opens up.  for this run, this came together after the first aid station.  i honestly felt like i didn't see another runner for miles.  just one every once in a while.  sometimes i felt so alone i was afraid i lost the trail, but i kept on going.  and it was always OK.  the only places the trail got crowded were the few major waterfalls that are kind of tourist attractions.  the race director begged us to please not shove any tourists off the cliffs, as he wanted to be able to get his permit again next year.

the first place on the trail where i had to run through tourists

So my training plan had me well prepared, my gear and drop bags worked great, and I had an awesome experience.  I just can't believe its done and gone.  I am so glad that i could pick this goal, choose this race, train as hard as I did, and finish as strong as i did.  this race was simultaneously the hardest most excruciating thing I have ever done, and also the most incredible running experience i have ever had.
technical portion of rocky trail.  needless to say, i walked it

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