Summer started early for me this year with a flight to South Africa in the beginning of March. I was able to squeeze the last two months of good weather out of the southern hemisphere and then return home just in time for summer to kick in here. All in all it’s been over six months of near perfect running weather.
One of my goals for 2013 was to race less. Last year I felt that I overraced and underperformed as a result However, I knew that trying to race less would be a challenge. For me races are a social as well as a competitive outlet. Long distance running can be a pretty solitary activity, so I always look forward to the opportunity get together with other like-minded (and slightly off-kilter) individuals to compete, catch up, compare notes, swap stories and share a few beers.
For the first half of the year, I was able to stick to this run more/race less plan. I’ve had less success, however, in the last few months. Once summer settles in here in the Pacific Northwest the races start arriving fast and furious. Soon my dance card was filled through the end of the October. I’ve now done 4 races in the last 3 months and sometimes it feels like this summer has been a recurring cycle of race, recover, repeat. Here’s an overview of my endless summer of running.
White Salmon Backyard Half Marathon
There’s a lot to love about the White Salmon Backyard Half. First of all, it’s cheap. Actually it’s free, but there’s a suggested donation of $12 (all proceeds support the White Salmon cross country team). The race is nearly all trail and almost all uphill for the first half. It then finishes fast with a fun five mile descent. There are some incredible views and the overall feeling is down home and local. This is the way I imagine all races were back in the 60’s and 70’s. It was a great race to start off the summer season and I was happy to finish in 14th place. I’d highly recommend the Backyard Half to anyone who loves to run trail.
Mt. Hood 50
A 50 miles race on the Pacific Crest Trail with views of Mt. Hood and Timothy Lake…Sign me up. Registration for this popular race opens in December (more than seven months in advance) and fills up in just a few days. The Mt. Hood 50 has been around for a few years, but recently became part of the new Northwest Mountain Trail Series.
My buddy Greg and I drove up there the day before and camped at the appropriately named Frog Lake. Race day started out cool and crisp, the perfect way to begin a long day of trail running. I ran the first few miles with a girl from Vancouver, B.C. As we chatted away the miles rolled mindlessly by. At around the halfway point I started to pick up the pace a bit and was joined by a raven swooping ahead of me along the trail. I can remember my carb-depleted brain thinking, “Whoa man, this must be my spirit animal guiding me back to the motherland.” I became so transfixed by this raven that I took a wrong turn and lost more than five minutes. Damn you spirit animal!
The second half of the race was hot and exposed with some long ups and downs. Between miles 40 and 45 there was one hill in particular that seemed to drag on and on forever. Fortunately the last five miles was a smooth fast descent, just like the Backyard Half. I finished in 7:48 and in 16th place overall. This race was more competitive in 2013 than it has been in the past with some of the top finishers this year from Colorado, Utah, Arizona and British Columbia. I guess Oregon’s ultras have now become destination races.
Transcendence 12 Hour Endurance Run
OK, I’ll be the first to admit that this one is kind of crazy. Instead of the race having a set distance (like 50 miles or 10 kilometers), there is a set time (12 hours). Whoever runs furthest within the time limit is the winner. It’s a simple concept, but psychologically challenging because not everyone is running the same distance.
The Transcendence Run is a 1.5 mile loop of Capital Lake in downtown Olympia. We would be going round and round from 6am to 6pm. I know that this may sound boring, but really it wasn’t. In a long trail race, it’s not uncommon to spend hours running alone. At the Transcendence it was super social: people running in groups, taking long breaks, no one in too much of hurry.
For the first hour I ran with John Ticer, a fireman from Eugene. He’s been running ultras for over 30 years and had such a cool laidback demeanor. As the day progressed the miles and the hours seem to fly by. I’d see Yoshimi every lap, except for when she’d leave to grab coffee or lunch or hit up some of the local thrift shops. I took energy gels every 30 minutes, constantly sipped on sports drinks and munched too many bananas to count.
At around the 10 hour/60 mile mark my stomach started to rebel and I couldn’t take in any more calories. I was in second place at that point, but I soon slowed down dramatically. My mind started screaming at me to stop, to sit, to lay down, to sleep. I secretly began to hope that Yoshimi would not be there when I completed this next lap. I didn’t want her to see me suffer and really wanted to sit down without feeling guilty.
When I rolled into the aid station she was gone, and the urge to sit down became overwhelming. Ahhhhh, the luxury of a simple camp chair. I had just passed the 100 kilometer (62 mile) mark and can remember thinking, “100 is a nice round number…seems like a good place to stop…nothing to be embarrassed about…that’s a long way to run…I’ll just sit in this chair for two hours, grab some dinner and then head back to Portland…sounds like a pretty good plan to me.”
WAIT A MINUTE! You can’t give up now. My goal was not to run 100k. My goal was to go for the whole 12 hours. So even if I can’t run, I can at least walk the last 2 hours.
So walk I did, slowly and painfully. All the runners that I had been passing all day were now passing me. Some stopped and talked and tried to cheer me up. I felt better after walking a lap and began walking another. A women named Ginger stopped to talk with me. She said that she was going to try and run 70 miles today. I wished her luck before she took off running again.
That Ginger got me thinking. If she could run 70 miles, then maybe I could too. In fact, I could even try and beat her. I started running again and was surprised that it wasn’t that much more difficult than walking. I slowly picked up the pace and started to feel good again.
I don’t know where this second wind came from, but it pulled me through till the end. I ran six miles in the last hour for a total of 72 miles for the day. I finished in 3rd place, just behind John and just in front of Ginger. After he finished, John ran with me the last few hundred yards to make sure I got that last lap in before the 12 hour cutoff. What a great guy.
McKenzie River Trail Run 50K
Two years ago, the MRTR was my first ultra distance race. I can remember being so nervous beforehand. But I wound up having so much fun that first year that I’ve decided to make this race an annual tradition. Part of the appeal I’ll admit is the awesome campsite along the McKenzie River that Greg and I book six months in advance. It’s the perfect place to chill out before and after a long run in the woods.
I felt confident as I lined up for the start of this year’s race. I was well trained, injury free and had a thorough knowledge of the course. It was going to be a good day. With less then a minute before the start Greg looked over at me and said, “Dude, where’s your number?” Shit! What a boneheaded move. I had left it in the car.
Just then the race started and we began running along the Carmen Reservoir. When everyone turned left onto the McKenzie Trail, I continued straight to the car, quickly grabbed my number, pinned it on and was soon back on the trail. Two minutes lost, no big deal. But then the full extent of my mistake hit me. I was now dead last on a narrow, uphill, single track trail. The back-of-the-packers were talking, walking, and having a good time. It was going to be a long stressful few miles to try and pass more than a hundred runners and get back on track.
But what could I really do? The mistake was already made. No point in getting too worried out about it. So I picked up the pace and passed when I could and conserved energy when I couldn’t. By around mile five things started to open up a bit. By then I had lost at least ten minutes, but it was fun coming from behind and passing so many people.
All day long I just kept getting faster and faster. Maybe this slow start was actually a blessing in disguise. I ran for a while with a guy from Ohio who was running this race for the 16th year in a row. He uses the race as an excuse to come back and visit his parents every year. By the end of the race I was able pass 183 people, finish in 4:37 and get 16th place overall. Maybe I should forget my number in the car more often.
It’s now the middle of September and summer’s not quite ready to give up the ghost. Today was just about perfect here in Portland with a high of 81 degrees. I’d love to add a few more weeks of good weather to this year of the endless summer.