One of my very first runs in Portland back in 2011, even before I lived here, was in Forest Park. It is the go-to, easy response to anyone who wants a recommendation as to where to run in Portland. But it is neither an easy run to do nor the most straightforward of places to find a place to start from. As it is such a massive park, there isn't just one entrance or exit. Furthermore, because of the multitude of paths and crossings, you definitely need to have either a good sense of direction or pay really close attention to which trail you are supposed to be on. Of course, those who love it are usually those who run on it the most, know the trails like the rest of know our hometown streets, and can't fathom getting lost. But it definitely can be done. I have done it often, much to my chagrin.
Regardless of this, I ran there a few years ago, really enjoyed it and after moving to Portland assumed I would be going there often. But the thing is I live on the east side of the Willamette River. The park is on the west side of the river. Because of my disdain for driving somewhere to run, this greatly lessens my chances of running there. To me, driving is wasted time I could be spending exercising. Traversing bridges and hoping to find parking near one of the trailheads is not my idea of time well-spent. Call me spoiled but I like lacing up my shoes and beginning my run the moment I want to run. That is, without a doubt, why my favorite location for living ever (with regards to running) was across the street from Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. Three thousand miles run around a 1.5 mile loop in four years attests to that. In addition, because I spend so much time in the zone of paying attention to my body and how it feels, how pretty the visages are around me when I run mean very little. I can appreciate them, sure, but they are not as important.
Of course, having said all of that, I still very much yearned to run the length of Forest Park on the Wildwood Trail. Last July, after living here for two years, I decided to give the nearly 50km run a go. The forest-traipsing was cut way short when a ridiculously placed seam in my shorts rubbed the sensitive parts on me quite raw. I hadn't even made it halfway when I was forced to quit or reconsider my gender. I vowed I would be back.
On Friday, 48 hours before my birthday, I was out of sorts. I don’t think it had anything to do with turning 39 as much as it just was one of those days. Perhaps I felt a twinge of guilt from not having completed a Rim2Rim2Rim running of the Grand Canyon two weeks prior. I had made it Rim2Rim, lost my desire to run anymore, and called it a day. I was then, and am now, fine with that decision. Stopping “early” was the right call for that day. Yet, one can still be disappointed with decisions which are the right ones to make. Nevertheless, standing in the shower, I decided I would be running Forest Park on Sunday, my birthday.
So, I asked my best friend Shannon if she would be so kind to help me out with the running of the trail. As there are no sources of water for the entirety of the 31 miles of the Wildwood Trail, if you are going to run it by yourself you are either going to have to sweat far less than I do, or carry a ton of water. But if you can talk a friend into meeting you twice along the way, to crew you and haul some supplies, you have it made. Luckily, I did the latter.
Fortunately, while it was forecasted to be quite warm and sunny on this celebration of my birth, I knew that the park is virtually impenetrable when it comes to sunshine. The old-growth forest and new growth and every-other-growth create quite the canopy. As long as it was not too humid or too muggy, I should be fine.
I planned on starting at 8 a.m. Arriving right around that time near the zoo, I remembered there is no bathroom right there to be used. This strikes me as odd every time I run here as it seems a portapotty would be greatly appreciated by many. However, I remembered there was a permanent bathroom nearby at the Arboretum. I took care of business and only slightly late at Bob O’clock (8:08 a.m.) I was underway.
First 9ish miles to 53rd Ave Trailhead
One takes off from the parking lot of the zoo and can almost immediately walk if they want. Well, I guess you can walk anywhere but given how steep the first 50 feet of the trail are, my point is a run won't be much faster. I don’t like running uphill at all and the first four miles of this run are far and away the hardest of the entire run. In addition, here at the start, there are a variety of ways and trails branching off from one another to lead you astray. So paying attention is paramount. Case in point, about 2 miles of running and I somehow completely did a loop and ended up right back to a road near the Arboretum which I had already passed. Bollocks. Not the way I wanted to start the day.
I got myself on track, though, and was able to double back and find where I think I should have gone. Then I remembered, because of my trip to the bathroom earlier, that the Wildwood Trail crosses the road near the Arboretum. I simply ran down the road, eschewing adding another half mile to follow the trail and got back on track.
When I made the trek last summer, I was lucky to have one Facebook friend meet me at the beginning and run an hour or so with me. Because of that I remembered a few wrong turns we had taken and they stuck out like sore thumbs. After shaking off the initial blah of being awake at this hour just to go run far and then making a wrong turn, I was feeling not too shabby.
Arriving at the Pittock Mansion, right around 4 miles in, pretty much signifies that the hardest climbs of the entire run are over. If one was thinking of running the opposite direction and ending here, they would have to deal with the big uphill on the other side I would soon be running down. Also, that hill would be at mile 26 and not mile 4. As such, most who run the length of the trail, do so in the direction I was going.
I politely nodded to a group of about five or six milling in the parking lot looking like they too were going for a run. I wondered how many, if any, would be doing the whole thing today as well.
Leaving Pittock I quickly plunged down the side of the hill and joined the Macleay Trail. I forgot for a bit that the Wildwood and Macleay trails were one for a bit and this gave me a bit of pause. Then I came upon the Stone House and remembered their convergence. Supposedly haunted (you know if you believe in ridiculous things with no proof) it is nonetheless quite cool and creepy. In addition, the house reminded me of the second wrong turn I had made previously. So this time I made the climb up the right way.
The forest remained rather dark in spite of the sunshine I knew was beating down from above. I have always been a little claustrophobic and it felt like the trees were heavy today. While I normally wear my Julbo sunglasses in nearly every condition, I found myself taking them off for a few miles. I needed the extra depth perception to pick out the trail and also feel less encumbered.
I was surprised by the lack of other runners and hikers out and about. There was a small influx near Macleay simply because that is a favorite entrance for many. Being self-employed and doing things on my own schedule, I have become accustomed to being able to run errands or experience museums or whatnot on opposite schedules of others. Grocery shopping when there is no one else around is an absolute joy, for example. So when I am doing something on a day and time when others should or could be, it makes me wonder where in the heck they are. Believe me, I did not want more people out there with their dogs off of leashes but was counting my stars as to how easily I was able to run where I wanted.
My prediction for these first 9ish miles was 90 minutes. When I came up to the 53rd street trailhead to where Shannon was waiting with drinks and a towel it was 1:36 into the run. Given the detour at the beginning, that was pleasing.
To mile 24 at Germantown Road:
I spent a little over 12 minutes refueling myself at Shannon’s car as well as toweling off and wringing out my shirt. It truly is a marvel to see me sweat. I am aware it is extremely healthy but it is also extremely detrimental to trying to keep liquids in my body. If I have a superpower, it is sweating. In fact, I think I broke a small sweat just typing the word sweating a few times.
I also took in some calories here in the liquid form as well. I have learned more than a few things about my body by running ultras and I know it does not digest food very well when I am exercising. Competing in ultras is a special challenge because of the sweat thing and the digestion thing. Unfortunately, I might have taken in a little too much Mountain Dew here. For the first two miles, I felt fantastic. It fact, it felt good for what seemed so long that I was sure I had been running longer than 16 minutes. However, suddenly my stomach churned and I was brought to a walk. For a bit I simply sauntered along, trying to settle it. It was nice to know that other than my own ticking watch there really wasn't any pressure. No one was going to pass me from behind and knock me out of my age group. It was just me and the trail. Fortunately, after a few minutes, all was right as rain and away I went.
A big milestone on this run would be not making a wrong turn I had made the last time I tried this trail last June. The wrong turn had been helpful then as it put me on a road that took me out of the park to deal with the horrific chafing. Yet it was not one I wanted to repeat today. When I made the correct turn, I shook my fist defiantly at the road like I was an evil character in Scooby-Doo. "Firelane One, I conquered you today. Your clutches will not entice me to go the wrong way down a Black Diamond-esque ski slope of a downhill only to realize it is wrong and have to trek back up it!"
Soon thereafter, I heard voices from behind. I was wondering when or if I would have anyone passing me today. Two young bucks, shirtless with no hydration backs or bottles to speak of, flew by. I figured this was probably just a small run for them and bid them adieu. Sure enough, at the bottom of this hill, they were coming back at me, presumably to head back for their short 5 miler. The first rule of running is that if anyone is running faster than you, automatically assume they not running nearly as far as you. It helps with the ego.
Before I knew it I was crossing both Firelane Two and Three which put me at 13.5 miles. That makes a man feel good until he remembers he is running 31 miles on that day. What did make me happy was my ability to actually run. I had always been a little anti-Forest Park simply because most of what I had run on it had been on those opening miles where you can’t, well, actually run. I hate hiking when I am supposed to be running. That is why a few of the most illustrious 100 milers out there will never entice me. But here, this was almost entirely runnable. I changed my outlook immediately as mile after mile flew by.
I crossed the Saltzman Road intersection and remembered this as a point where I tracked down a runner in the TrailFactor 50k two years prior almost to the day. Firelane Six followed and it seemed like everything was going by so quickly. I passed over Doane Creek (which I think is an extra vowel short of being awesome) but it was barely a trickle. Portland is in a bit of a drought, you know. Of course, you wouldn’t because if it rains two days out of ten here that is all you hear about.
At Firelane 7 I knew I was 20 miles in. I was making excellent time. My guess was this 15 mile section would take me a hair over 2:10 to complete. Given how well I felt, I thought this might even be a tad slow. But then for some reason, things got weird. Either I took a wrong turn and added some miles or what felt like 8 minutes per mile was actually 11. I know it wasn’t the latter as I was cruising along the trails. But somehow, the last 4 miles took an inexplicably long amount of time. Every minute one runs past the time they think it should take to get somewhere magnifies exhaustion, confusion, and all the things we worry about.
When I finally came careening around a corner and Shannon was there taking a picture I was so damn glad to be done with this section.
To the end:
I spent what I thought was an exorbitant amount of time here refueling and drying myself but it ends up just being about minute longer than the previous stoppage. I drank and ate a little more here than before and had to have my entire Camelbak refilled. I had been leaking sweat like a sieve. It was also nice to be able to enjoy my Shurky Jurky a bit more as I wasn’t trying to chew it between heavy breathing. Of course, when that is the case, I usually just put it between my cheek and teeth and suck all the wonderful goodness out of it.
15 minutes later, I was running again.
This last 6 miles went by very quickly. I walked a little bit more than I would have liked but I knew in less than an hour I would be done. I got to thinking about how this was quite possibly the longest run I had ever done in my life that didn’t have a medal waiting for me at the end or was tied to a bigger event. I had run 50 miles a day for 7 straight days for my Pacific Coast 350. I had run from Dane, WI to Davenport, IA in 3 days doing even more than that per day. But those had been almost race-like atmospheres. This was just me out running over 50 kilometers for poops and giggles. On trails. Neither are things I do very much without reason. In fact, when I was training for the Graveyard 100, the longest run I did in the 3 months prior to it was a hair over 19 miles. That 100 miler ended up just fine.
There were a few places where the trail was exposed to sunlight for the briefest of time. The sun baked me in those ten or twenty yards. It reminded me how warm it actually was outside and how nice this tree roof I was running under really was.
I passed a few people here and there and told most of them thank you for moving (if they did) and to have a nice day. About half of a mile from the finish, one of them said back to me “You, too!” I turned and said, “It’s my birthday and I just ran 32 miles. It is a damn good day.” And I wasn’t lying.
Thanks to Shannon for “crewing” me once again. It was a great way to spend my birthday. 6500 feet of elevation gain, no wrong turns after mile two, no chafing, no falls (although I came close twice), no sprained ankles (same) in just a hair over 5 hours of running. I definitely did not have to do this.
I got to. Happy Birthday to me.