2015 is to be my (bum-bum-BAAAH!) Year of the Ultra (with accompanying timpani, cymbals and drum rolls). Late last year I decided if I was going to do it, I would do it right. And ‘right’ means aim for the Grand-Daddy of distances, the hundred miler, picking up 50k, 50 miles and 100k along the way. Recognizing the amount of training required for this audacious undertaking, I also decided it would just be this once (I mean, I deserve a life, too!). Some might say aiming for a hundred miler right off the bat is crazy, but this is the guy who decided he could do a full marathon based on only four months of running. And we know how that turned out *lol*
My training started in December 2014, my hundred miler to be in November 2015. I have a LOT of work on my endurance ahead of me.
I trained fairly well over the winter up until March where for some reason my motivation has gone all to Detroit. In fact, my monthly total for March was 55 miles short of plan, a good 25% missing.
Despite this, the day for my first official ultra-marathon (I had done my own 50k for a lark in the Perth hills in January 2014) quickly came upon me. As I knew I wasn’t aiming for anything but completing the race, there were no real pre-race jitters. I had chosen The Gorge Waterfalls 50k as my first ultra. The website showed a beautiful course, inundated with waterfalls and greenery. It was so amazing looking that my brain didn’t even take in the 6,000′ of elevation gain over the course.
When I originally announced my intention, my online Google Plus friend Mark Stone, who lives in Washington, said it was a race he’d always wanted to enter as well and since I was making the effort to fly out from Ohio to Oregon, he would join me and we would share our first ultra.
Saturday was spent courtesy of Southwest Airlines, making our way across the country. When we arrived in Portland, Mark and his lovely wife Karen were at the airport to greet us and whisked us off to dinner in a quirky part of Oregon that reminded me of Fremantle in Western Australia. A great taco dinner at Cruzroom. I think my favorite was The Green Meanie. Carb-loading was completed by ice cream at Salt & Straw, which was worth the (apparently shorter than usual) line of 30 minutes out the door.
Sunday morning I breakfasted on yogurt, bananas and orange juice. A fairly typical race morning meal for me. We had to arrive early as RoseMary was acting as a volunteer at the race (very kind of her, it allowed me to bypass the lottery for race entry) checking in runners pre-race. Karen also gracefully volunteered to ensure Mark’s entry, but had an afternoon shift prepping food for hungry runners returning across the finish line. While RoseMary checked in people (some from as far away as France, Portugal and Australia) Mark and I took a warm-up walk and got to see the beautiful Multnomah Falls at sunrise.
Everything was fairly well organised. As the 50k route was only one half of the 100k out and back that had been run the previous day, we were bused out to the starting line 32 miles away in yellow school buses. It’s a long time since I rode on a school bus! At the starting point, the Race Director James Varner pointed us in the direction of the few toilets to be found with only a short time to get over 300 people through them for last minute “prep”. Inevitably, the bushes were full of nervous racers shedding those last minute ounces.
With a rather laid back “Follow me through the campground” by James, he led us through the start of the race and we were off. There was no chip timing in the race. Mark and I fell back, not wanting to hold others up and not planning on finishing in under 8 hours. A comfortable pace, walking some of the single trail switchbacks as we climbed. Very pretty scenery, trees, ferns and streams with occasional views of the Columbia river.
The first aid station was supposedly at 9.3 miles, although I showed 10.5. I grabbed half a PB&J although I’d been sucking on my Tailwind regularly along the way. As we left the aid station, the Station Captain commented that we would have to hustle to stay ahead of cutoff. This concerned me, I didn’t think we’d been moving slowly, and our time was on track to actually finish in about 7 hours at our current pace. This just goes to show how ignorance about the trail can be detrimental. That last mountain is a doozy.
Lots of pretty scenery. At one point we broke out of the trees to a stunning view of the Columbia river. A woman followed us out and started hooting and hollering about how awesome it looked and I got a chuckle out of Mark when I leaned forward and said “She’s looking at my butt, isn’t she?”
At the second aid station at mile 18, we were only 12 minutes ahead of cutoff. Mark and I were both under the impression that the third aid station was about 2/3 the way up the big hill. And we had two hours and twelve minutes to get 7.5 miles. Normally not a problem, but if we’re walking 20-22 minute miles up steep switchbacks, it becomes a problem. I refilled my hydration vest with tailwind and said to Mark we would have to hustle to stay ahead of cutoff. When he replied “I can only do what I can do” I got concerned. All I could do was set the tempo we needed to stay ahead of cutoff and hope he could keep up. It didn’t take long though, and he was falling back. I felt really bad as I’d wanted us to do this together, but I knew Mark would want me to finish if I could.
But then something strange happened. I got to aid station 3. And it was a whole 40 minutes ahead of cutoff. I hadn’t started climbing the big hill yet at all. Mark could still do this! I texted him, hoping he would receive it, hoping he would be motivated by it. I had two hours to do 6 miles, how hard could that be?
I passed quite a few people heading up the last big hill. THANK YOU treadmill incline work! But the one thing treadmills don’t train you for is downhill, and there I did dismally, getting passed back by all the people I had passed.I finally reached the bottom of the mountain but they had one last cruel trick up their sleeve as I hit the road. The trail headed back up into the hills again. As I neared the Multnomah Falls visitor center, I saw Mark heading up the trail towards me. It felt good to have him run the last mile and a bit in with me.
One of the cool things about the race was that Race Director James was there to greet every finisher of the race.
So here’s my overall findings:
The Course: Well organised and well marked (although we missed one turn). A tough trail race. Not one I would suggest for a newbie (like me!). Many gorgeous sections of trail, but there was quite a bit of running 100-150 feet off the main highway as well. My watch showed the distance as 34.11 miles. One data stat that confuses me is that my moving time was almost an hour less than my race time. I can’t see how I lost an hour taking pictures and aid stations? The cutoff times also make this not newbie friendly. The race is not chip timed.
Training: The best thing I did was regular treadmill sessions of 4-8 miles, 10-15% incline, at 3-4 miles an hour (a brisk walk). This let me take on the uphills with strength. Winter didn’t allow me to get in trail training as I would have wished. I need to learn how to run downhill without trashing my quads or walking too slowly.
Race Prep: I taped my forefeet with athletic tape, then lathered my feet with Run Goo. I also applied it to any other possible chafing areas on my body (nipples, groin). I suffered no blisters or chafing from the race, and only one new black toenail.
Nutrition/Hydration: One word. Tailwind.
Bling: You had the option of buying a t-shirt, and I got a nice quality long sleeve technical shirt. I was very disappointed to find that there was no finishers awards of any kind. The race placers received a beer glass.
After-Race: They put on quite a spread. Free beer and pizza and all kinds of foods. Unfortunately, by the time I made it in most of the food and all of the beer was gone. I guess I just need to be faster.