A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 12th Edition
1 mile skied, 500 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 162.8 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Trail Factor 50k
Place: Portland, OR
Miles from home: 8 miles
Weather: 50s; HEAVY rain
When perusing reviews of products I would like to purchase on, say Amazon, I always find the ratings people give to be interesting. For example, they will order a product; it comes to them broken via shipping mishandling. So they return the product, get one that is not broken, it does all they want it to do but they give it 3 stars out of 5 because...of the shipping problem? That never makes sense to me.
The same goes with evaluating a race and how others may enjoy it. Getting misled off the course or not having the type of product you personally want to drink doesn't mean that anyone else will get led off the course or won't love that flavor of whatever. So, when I was asked to review this new Trail Factor 50K course, I had to keep that in mind. Because, well, I didn't have a very good day.
The forecast for the race called from some drizzles, but the forecast in Portland often does, even when you are staring at a beautiful blue sky. The gorgeous sunny weather the day before the race had us hoping that it was another fakecast conceived, I am convinced, to keep people from moving to Portland. But when morning broke to a pretty steady rainfall, I hoped the trees of Forest Park, where the race would be run, would at least shield us some.
At the starting line, the rain would ebb and flow a bit and as the 8 a.m. starting time approached something happened that can only happen in small races where virtually everyone knows each other. The race director asks us if we wanted to wait to see if the rain would abate or just get under way now. I loved that idea. A rather democratic voice voting decided that it wasn’t going to be getting any better and we might as well get underway.
To the first aid station at mile 6 (47:10)
The race started by immediately going uphill. In fact, the first three miles would go up about six hundred feet. Often when looking at race elevation profiles I know I am not alone in thinking of the course as being in a straight line. We see the gain but don’t think about how one gets there. Switchbacks are forgotten. Right angle turns don’t exist. The course just goes in one direction and we simply have to follow it. Well, in trail racing this is obviously even less the case than road running. As I am neither a trail racer or one who likes to run uphill, I was doing my best to hang to the right side of the trail and let anyone who wanted to pass me do just that.
When a group of what looked like 5fivein total took off, I was happy to just be where I was. For the next mile or so I ran in the shadow of another runner but soon found I was on his tail too much. Not wanting to be a pest I skipped by him on an uphill (something I rarely do) and found myself running with another guy named Jeff from Tyler Texas. (“Jeff from Tyler, Texas” is how I thought of him for the rest of the race as if that was his full name.) Jeff and I ran more or less in lockstep for the next few miles. We traded some stories and chatted about the deluge of rain and how there was no shortage of low-hanging branches on the trail (Jeff from Tyler Texas was probably as tall if not taller than my 6’1’’.)
Before long a runner had caught up to us and was running not too far behind. I told Jeff I was going to scoot forward and let Jeff run off of my shoulder for a bit, as that was only fair. He had paced me and now I was going to pace him. However, in doing so, I found I was running a little faster than Jeff and the unnamed runner behind me followed close behind. A long slow and gradual climb had the two of us in the same position as we rolled into the first aid station.
I had barely drank half of my bottle and wasn’t hungry. This well-stocked station therefore was far more than I needed and I stopped just long enough to grab a drink of Coke and grab perhaps two potato chips. I was feeling good about my pace and my place. While the runner behind me had slipped by out of the aid station I felt I was still probably about 7th overall.
To the aid station at mile 7.9 (20:00)
Coming out of the aid station we more or less fell off the face of a cliff dropping hundreds of feet in less than a mile. The footing was treacherous, wet, full of rocks and… Holy crap two guys are passing me like we are on flat ground! Two runners who I had passed earlier in the first few miles were evidently far better downhill runners than uphill ones. Nevertheless, I could not believe how they scampered down this completely slick muddy trail with a virtual stream running down it. I tried to follow suit and more than a few times almost completely fell flat on my face as the trail gave way underneath me. I could only think of the poor people behind us who would be hitting this trail after hundreds of feet had trampled it to mud.
While a downed tree slowed the speed of the runners in front of me for a bit, even more downhill running had them disappearing further away. Well, I’m still in the top 10. That’s OK, I guess. However, no sooner had I acquiesced to my position did we begin climbing again. Like before, I found myself gaining and then eventually overtaking both runners. I then realized it might be like this the rest of the day. Normally far more proficient in running downhill, I seemed to be excelling against my immediate competition going uphill. So much better at this point that I could employ a fast walk up some of the very steep sections and still put distance between us.
I soon realized we were looping back to the aid station we had just left when I saw runners flying down the ski lift of a downhill. Even though I had just been there minutes before, the combination of continually watching my footing and the pouring rain had made ever tree and trail look exactly the same. I barely recognized this area. One runner who was heading in the opposite direction looked at my concerned face and said “Are you going the right way?” I smiled and said “I sure hope so!” I was. However, while I would have enjoyed filling my bottle here, some of the runners pushing through the area didn’t realize we were heading back toward them. As such, while I should have stopped, I simply picked my way through the crowd and continued onward.
To the aid station at mile 14.3 (54:15)
For the next few miles there was a general downward trend in the trail. I fully expected the fast downhill runners to catch me but none were. Only 8 miles into the race (give or take) and I realized I wasn’t having any fun. I was more or less running completely by myself. I couldn’t take in the gorgeous views for fear of slipping and falling. The constant rain was undoubtedly going to break down my Bodyglide and chafe me like the dickens. And I still had 23 miles to go.
At one point, with my head down and my ROAD ID visor and Julbo sunglasses on doing their best to keep the wind, water, and branches out of my eyes, I blew through a turn. It didn’t take me long to backtrack (just a few hundred yards or so) but this didn’t help my mood. Right when I got back to where I was supposed to turn, the two gentlemen behind me caught up and flew by. I tried keeping them in sight but my spirit was a little broken. Just get me somewhere that I can run!
Just like that we popped out onto a jeep trail of sorts and I could stretch my legs. I started picking up the pace, put the little funk behind me, and closed the gap. We veered off of the jeep trail before too long and onto another very steep and narrow track. Almost immediately my feet went out from underneath me and down I went. It wasn’t too bad of a fall and I started going again. 100 yards later, down I went again. This one was one of those flesh-tearing slidings which really rip up your butt. As I assessed my body to make sure just flesh and skin was all that was missing, I heard some footsteps. I looked up and a runner asked me if I was OK. After assuring him only my ego seemed bruised, he continued on.
I gave him a little bit of a berth and then started going again. Not long after that I went down one last time- this one pretty hard. I rolled over to the side of the trail and made sure nothing was badly injured. I couldn’t be more than 12 miles into this race and I was thinking about DNFing. I hadn’t run more than 13 miles since March at the Gorge Waterfalls 50k and while I was trying to get back in shape after my MRSA infection in my foot, this was not the way to do it. Long runs, yes. Muddy dangerous trail hikes, no.
Over the next mile or so I was passed by another five runners. By my count I was in 15th place or so. But even though I thought about calling it a day, I pressed on. The aid station at the 14-mile mark was nothing but water bottles and I happily filled mine up. I drank a third of it in the next few steps and should have gone back to refill it but figured I was fine on fluids.
To the aid station at mile 19.75 (58:49)
The next mile or so was sloppy wet and infinitely uphill. There was nothing much to do but slowly climb up this beast and try not to feel bad about walking. I was no longer necessarily thinking about quitting at the next aid station (the only place you could really do it and get a ride back to the start) and began moving a little better. I caught up with Jeff from Tyler, Texas and we once again began running together. However, after a bit of running we both got completely turned around and found ourselves at an intersection where both of our instincts told us to go right. Our instincts were wrong. That was when a runner named Tom, came up and told is we needed to go left to complete the out and back we had run on just a mile or so ago. Wait, we had been here before?! I had no idea that we had just run here as I continued to battle my wits. Somewhere around here the rain had finally stopped (I think it was about 3.5 hours of running into the race) but the damage had been done.
I led Tom and Jeff FTT up a hill before I could feel Tom had more in him then me and stepped aside. Again, like most of the race, I was alone. I kept Tom in my sight for a bit but soon he was gone. I no longer thought I would quit for sure but maybe was about 50/50. We were finally able to run again and I thought I remembered from the course description that the worst was over. I was, of course, wrong, as the steepest uphill of the course awaited us up ahead. For some reason it didn’t seem as bad as others. Maybe not battling rain drops made it that much nicer.
Not long after this long bit of walking, I heard some cheers in the not too far distance. Obviously someone was at the next aid station and if it was Tom, perhaps I hadn’t fallen too far off the pace. Approaching the aid station myself, I too received some cheers and saw it was indeed Tom who scampered down the hill as I handed my bottle to the volunteers.
To the aid station at mile 25.7 (59:31)
Here I have to say a few words about these wonderful and hardy volunteers and not those at the aid stations alone. First they were all so bright and cheery even if you couldn’t see them underneath hood drawn tight to keep the rain out. They were quick to fill your bottle with whatever you wanted and smart enough to not try to engage you in too much conversation if you just needed a few second to gather your wits. Combine that with the not-so-fun-to-run-in-but-even-worse-to-stand-in conditions and a solid hats-off goes to these wonderful people. Thank you from my heart and I am assuredly speaking for everyone. I inquired about the general topography of the remaining 11 miles of the course and they assured me it was a general downhill. One older gentleman who seemed to be there just to cheer (he wasn't filling bottles or giving out food) reminded me that there was a long uphill climb before the last aid station as well that I needed to keep in mind. Then I was off.
For the next mile plus, a wide downhill appeared before me. I “turned it on” - if running a 7:45 minute mile means turning it on. I felt great and could see I was catching Tom. But the downhill, while wonderful, only lasted a bit before back up on the trails we went. I pulled past Tom as he stopped to fix his water bottle and decided to push hard. I had a feeling he would pass me soon but I wanted to try and break his spirit. They had told me at the last aid station that I was indeed in 15th place so here I guess I was now in 14th. But Tom never caught me. In fact, I spent the next 50 minutes running completely by myself. I would run when I could, walk when I had to, but kept moving forward. Before I knew it, I was hitting the long steady uphill the older gentleman had told me about and saw the aid station up ahead.
I once again handed them my bottle. In spite of the cool temperatures and wet weather, I was plowing through my liquids. I had already polished off three full 21 ounce bottles, and that wasn’t counting a few glasses I had partaken in at each aid station. Dehydration can be tricky.
As I stood eating a fig newton and drinking some Coke, a runner came into the aid station. There for just a few seconds the runner, whose name I would learn was Gevara, soon scampered away. I left a few seconds later hoping to use him to pull me along.
To the Finish: (54:07)
My hopes that Gevara would keep me in his tow lasted for a little bit but before long he had pulled out of sight. I should have known by now that out of sight is not very far in a twisty-turny trail with oodles of switchbacks, branches, and rain on sunglasses. But I thought he was gone. No matter. I was still in the top 15.Then all of a sudden Gevara was in view again. I picked up the pace. Before long I was just a few yards behind him. He stopped and asked me for a gel which I would have gladly given him if I hadn’t already taken in both of my Powerbar Gels. I could tell that he was spent and all I had to do was break him on the next long downhill. I employed my tried and true walking-fast-on the-uphill and found I was more than keeping pace with his run. When we finally began heading downhill again, I pounced forward. I wished him good luck and took off. Now I had to make sure to not let him catch me or even hope he could.
As I pushed harder and harder, running the uphills to put even more distance betwixt us, all of a sudden I saw another runner in front of me. I would late learn his name was Matt and that he was having dehydration/cramping issue. I could definitely understand his dilemma as if I had not filled my bottle at every aid station I would have been in the same boat. By now, however, the chafing I had going on my inner thighs was absolutely mortifying. The only way I could stand it was by running. But when it came to an uphill, for some reason running exacerbated the problem. Matt also was walking the uphills and we stayed this way for a mile.
I finally got a surge of energy as we started our descent and began to pass Matt. He didn’t exactly make it easy for me to get by nor did he give up his position without a fight. I knew this might come down to the wire. The only thing that made it less close than it was one last uphill. I don’t think either of us remembered this from the first part of the race but I was more ready to handle it than he was at this juncture. Like with Gevara, I used the uphill to my advantage and pushed hard.
I could see the tents of the finish down below but hadn’t the foggiest idea how many twists and turns and switchbacks we would have to run to get down them. On one of the switchbacks I had tried to grab a post to steady myself as I made the 180 degree turn by my hand slipped. I damn near went flying off the trail and down the side of the hill. Luckily I stabilized myself and kept on going.
There were more than a few very hardy hikers out on this abysmally rainy day and while I admire their pluck I would have admired them more giving us some leeway on the trail. A few dogs on no leashes and two-abreast hikers made for some interesting passings throughout the day, none more than here as I flew down the hill at breakneck speed.
I could finally see that the end was near and that whatever place I was in would be mine for the taking. As I crossed the finishing mat in a time of 4:53:52 I found out I was 12th overall. Matt gamely finished about 20 seconds behind me with Gevara about 4 minutes back. Jeff FTT sandwiched his finish in between the top two female runners with Tom finishing a few more minutes back.
However, the awesome finish of the day went to my friend Shannon who, on this atrocious day for racing, found herself setting a new 50k PR. I was at the finish ready and waiting when just minutes before she crossed, the deluge of rain passed through, the clouds parted and the bluest sky imaginable burst through. From the looks of her finish picture you would have thought this was the best day in the world to go for a frolic in the woods! Kudos to Shannon on the massive PR. She could easily knock massive amounts of time off that if she ever ran in places that didn’t have thousands of feet of elevation change over roots, rocks and lava
Product and gear-wise, I was very pleased with how my Karhu Flow 3 Trail shoes worked for me in spite of me falling on my butt. That falling was user error and not product failure. They drained well in the rain, never felt overly slogged down and had just enough give to allow me feel the trail while also protecting my feet. All of this after having been rung through the ringer in some interesting races this year. They are definitely retired after this race!
I had worn Skins arm sleeves to not just protect against the potential rain and cold (it never really got that cold per se) but to fend off branches and bushes. They came in quite handy. Without a doubt one or two of my tumbles would have ripped more skin off my arms than it did without them.
My Julbo Trail sunglasses worked perfectly for what I needed them to do. The lenses changed ideally with the brightness or darkness of the forest and they kept many a wayward branch out of my pupils. In fact, my ROAD ID visor kept slipping in the torrential downpour and I noted that sunglasses kept it steadily in place. That was an added unexpected benefit.
I had to turn the GPS fucntion on my Timex RunTrainer2.0 off about midway through the run simply because I knew it wasn't getting an accurate signal. The impenetrable forest, constant switchbacking and bushwacking also did not help the case at all. Otherwise, it held up perfectly for me.
This definitely wasn't the race I had hoped to have and the workout wasn't the best for what I have on the upcoming docket. But as my last race as a 36 year old, I was quite pleased with the effort I gave. Thanks again to the people of Trail Factor for the invite and for all the fantastic volunteers and other runners I met. When the sun inexplicably burst through the clouds and made the rest of the day absolutely beautiful just after the race had ended, it felt like that was the way it was supposed to be.