Sunday, June 2, 2013

My First 50K - An Ultra Virgin gets Lucky

Many months ago, I got talked into signing up for this thing. For a long time I thought I would never do an ultra. It just sounded long and painful to me. Since all of my marathons ended in exhausted suffering, the idea of going further was not too appealing.

But all the crazy ultra-loopsters made it sound so fun and easy. And when three of my favorite loopsters, hell, favorite people in the world invited me to come up and hang with them, and run with them through a beautiful, woodsy trail heaven, well, I just couldn't say no! I signed up, saw that it was 4 weeks after Boston, and decided to just use marathon training and see what I had left.

I would also be meeting up with one of my non-running friends who lived there in Portland, so I committed Friday night to him, and planned to meet up with Mild Sauce and the Matzes on Saturday for a hike. Well, once they knew I was in town, of course they wanted me to join them, since they were already several rounds into happy hour. So, after a burger and a beer with my friend S, we all met up just in time to check out a famous Portland landmark, the Salt and Straw, where people line up down the street for some really good ice cream. It was worth it! Yum!

Yes, I wore a hat, in a perhaps pathetic attempt to appear cool, and blend in with the others who were two decades my junior (at least)!

The next morning, S and I got up early, and headed out to Eagle Creek, where a magnificent 12-mile trail awaited us. The plan was to meet up with the others at 9, but they were running late, so S and I, and his friend D, another old guy like us, started the hike early, taking it easy with the hope that they would catch us. Well, they were much later than we thought, so it would be 4 more hours before we met up. But that was OK, because we were enjoying a fantastic hike! Check out these pictures.

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It was 6 miles one way to a magnificent waterfall. Mostly gradual uphill. It was really stunning, and such a change from what I am used to in Southern California. One really incredible view after another, and I loved it. And after almost 3 hours we got to see this.

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Spot the BP

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We took a break and had lunch and waited for the gang, but still nothing, so we started heading back. About a mile down the trail, there they were. And not just Sauce and the Matzes, but several Saucy friends, and loopster AnnieRunsforFun. Well, we had no choice but to turn around and head right back up to the falls. So my hike ended up being about 14 miles. Two days before the race. Madness! By the last three miles, my legs were really feeling heavy, and I was mentally kicking myself. But it was worth it, because seriously, this hike was amazing.

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Once we made it back to reality/civilization, we all went out for pizza and beer at Lucky Lab, a hangout for stud athletes like us.
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Then a relaxing night with Sauce's friends where I may or may not have crushed them in Wii Jeopardy. (OK, I did)

Sunday had two items on the agenda: Brunch and Dinner. But both were Loop Meetups so that made them awesome. Brunch was with LadyRunsALot (Angie) and her husband. It was great to meet her after reading her loop posts for a few years. And her DH was very cool too.
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Then a little later we road tripped to Estacada, where AnnieRunsForFun hosted all of us for some carbo-loading. More great times eating and chatting. Loop meets are always so comfortable and fun.


So, then there was nothing left but to get some rest, and do a 50K the next day! My legs were quite sore from that darn hike, but what the hell, it was just a fun run with friends right?

So far the weekend in Portland had been dry. We got lucky and had great weather for hiking and al fresco dining. But race morning we awoke to a steady rain, and the forecast was for it to continue for at least 6 hours. We were grumpy.

However, it was really perfect for running. It would keep us cool, and we would be protected by the heavy forest we would be running through. So, lucky on the weather. It just sucked a wee bit waiting for the start.

The scene at the start line.
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My plan was to run with my friends, Mild Sauce, Cal Running, and Santiago (K & L). Keep the pace easy, walk the hills as needed, stop at aid stations for food, and hopefully have enough energy to stay with them the whole way. I had my Garmin for record keeping, but I wasn't planning to worry about time. Turned out the forest blocked the signal so much that it was way off the whole time and worthless. It had me at 25.7 miles at the end, over 5 miles off.

OK, I kind of wanted to break 6 hours, but was ready to take whatever the trail gave me. With the rain, I expected a lot of mud (and was not disappointed). I stripped down to shorts and a tank top, with a cap to keep the rain off of me. And then we were off, about 120 of us. Here is the course for your reference.

We started right off with a long uphill. I trotted easily with K & L. Sauce and her friend Will started to pull ahead. I let them go for a while, but soon felt it was too easy and moved up to join them. I suggested we slow down and wait for K & L, but with no luck. They said, "Oh, they will probably catch us at the first aid station." It was still comfortable, but we gradually pulled away from K & L in the first mile, and I would not see them again until the end. So much for that plan.

So we ran. The course was simply amazingly beautiful. The rain was mostly blocked by the trees. The trails were dirt, but mostly not too muddy. They were very well groomed, few rocks or roots in most sections. The trees were huge and the forest was thick. Several times I was moved to say "Welcome to Jurassic Park" in my best Richard Attenborough impression. Felt like another world. Lots of sharp dropoffs next to the trail. Constant twisting and turning and ups and downs made it very fun. Many stream crossings, either with a little wood bridge or without. I was just running and smiling and enjoying the scene. Amazing. At one point I let out a loud whoop of joy as we cruised down a particularly beautiful section. It was bliss. Like this.

Sauce, Will and I ran together for the first 14 miles or so. We talked. We alternated spots. We laughed. We hiked up the steep sections, and let it roll on the downhills. We rarely encountered other runners. At one point we hit a very muddy section that was a steep downhill for 1/2 a mile. Crazy and kind of scary, but we survived. Will flew down that thing, and we would not catch him for 2 miles!

The miles just clicked by. Soon we were at 2 hours, and figured we better have a GU. Before I knew it, it was 3 hours and I had another. Also had some snacks at the aid stations, PBJ, pretzels, more free GU. But I didn't really eat a whole lot. 4 GUs total and lots of gatorade and a few snacks. With the cool weather dehydration was not a problem. My bottles never ran dry.

About midway was a steep uphill hiking section that was muddy and technical. A little break as it were, and then we had some open wide trail for a while. Sauce and I were side by side chatting, and just kind of giddy with how fun this whole thing was. We felt good too. Trail miles just do not beat you up like road miles. The softness of the dirt and the constant adjustments for terrain must keep your legs fresh. I came to look forward to the hiking sections for the uphills. The break would rejuvenate me rather than wear me out like running up a hill in a road race can do.

We got to the aid station at 19.7 miles and found out the distance (over 4 miles more than our Garmins were showing) and did a quick calc and realized sub-6 looked pretty probable! Stopped for a pee in the p-o-p there, and a few bites, chatted with some other runners, drank a few glasses, and then headed on. No rush.

And then most of the last 12 miles were nearly flat or downhill and I felt so good, I started pushing the pace. Just a little, enough to feel like I was racing. We locked in on another runner at a similar pace and just rolled through the forest. It's hard to get across how the miles just flew by. I felt like I could run all day, like it was a natural state, like breathing. Hard to imagine that I was out there for nearly 6 hours, running almost the whole time. I have never gone over 3 hours before except in marathons, and those were so much more painful at this point. My hams and glutes were getting a little tired, but nothing too bad. No cramps, no huge fatigue. It was crazy. I was very excited by the whole thing. Trail running rocks!

We had one more good hill to hike at about mile 28, but we knew it was downhill from there. Sauce was working a little to stay up with me, but we would stay together no matter what. I was actually holding myself back a little from 20-28, waiting for the bonk. But it never came. For the final 2, we both opened it up and flew the downhills. Such a blast. I was working now, and was happy to finally see the finish area come into view. But I also felt like I could have kept going for another hour or two. Crazy!

5:39:40, a 10:55 average per mile. Seems like I was running 9 minute pace or better while I was running, but I guess the hiking and the aid stations, plus all the little sharp curves and roadblocks do slow you down. I finished 44th of 93 finishers, 2nd in my AG (but no award). And I helped Sauce break her PR! Instead of medals we got pint glasses, which could be immediately filled from the keg.

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We got a little muddy.
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And then we got to see this fabulous finish!

Free burgers and dogs (regular or vegan) were there for us. We celebrated together. Lucky weather, great course, fabulous company. It all added up to perhaps my best race experience ever!

Later was a celebratory dinner, and the next day was more fun exploring Vancouver and Portland. Also enjoyed many fine restaurants and food carts. Amazingly, I could walk just fine. I even went down 8 flights of stairs with no trouble!

So, I hope my enthusiasm shined through. As of now, I would love to come back and do it again next year. And who knows what trail madness I might end up doing. This roadrunner has seen the light, and it is out on the trails!

1 comment:

  1. I loved the pictures, but mostly I loved how effortless the running was for you, and how it was like breathing. Beautiful! What a wonderful experience.

    If you felt like you could go for another hour or two, when are you going to do your first 50 miler? =)

    Congrats to you, Saucey, and the Matzes! =)