Smokey says, "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires."

Two days before my first ultra, I got an email from the race director saying the Shadow Creek forest fire had spread and cut off part of the planned course.  At the very least the course would have to be rerouted and possibly the whole race cancelled.  I was bummed.  The McKenzie River Trail Run has been held every year for 23 years.  I had signed up in April and was one of the lucky 200 chosen in a lottery to participate.  The 50k (31 mile) race is along the beautiful McKenzie River in Central Oregon.  The trail that runs alongside the river is incredibly scenic, in fact, Runner’s World recently picked the McKenzie River Trail as one of the best trail runs in America.

The next day I got another email saying that the race would go on.  However, instead of the planned point-to-point course following the river downstream, we would do an out-and-back, the first half downstream, turn around and then return to the start.  It would make for a much tougher course, but at least it was still a-happening.

My friend Greg and I drove down the night before and camped next to a reservoir not far from the start of the race.  The smoke from the forest fire hung heavy in the air which gave the rising moon the color of a creamsickle and made for a hazy sunrise the next morning.

At the start of the race I was nervous at how warm it already was, which meant it was going to be a hot one–temperatures were forecast to be in the 90’s.  Must remember to drink early and drink often.

Attention CEP Sportwear, I am now accepting sponsors.

And they're off...

Only 30.9 miles to go!

The first half of the race went well for me.  The trail was mostly in the shade and things hadn’t heated up too much yet.  There were, however, plenty of twists-&-turns and rocks-&-roots which required lots of focus and technical footing.  The aid stations were about every 5 miles and the volunteers were super nice and helpful.

Turning around at the halfway point was psychologically difficult knowing that I’d have retrace my steps back upstream, plus pass everyone behind me on the narrow singletrack trail.  I was able to hold onto to a 8:30 minute pace until the last aid station at 25 miles.  By then things had noticeably heated up and the smoke was starting to linger in the air.  In a short amount of time I went from feeling pretty good to feeling pretty damn bad.  My muscles weren’t quite working right, like I had somehow aged 30 years in 30 minutes.  I could no longer dance up, over and through all the obstacles on the trail and instead moved like a Dawn of the Dead zombie.  There was a two mile section over sharp lava rock that sapped every last bit of motivation I had.  At one point I tripped, but was able to break my fall with my handheld water bottle (and break the strap on the bottle).  After the lava fields I was able to pick up the pace a bit and pass a few runners.  Then with just a couple miles left I was passed by an older guy who yelled, “How much more?” as he skirted by me on the trail.  When the end was in sight I started cranking it up wanting to look good for the crowd at the finish, not realizing that I probably looked like I’d been to hell and back.

Me and the "How Much More" Guy at the finish

I finished in 4 hours 47 minutes, not as fast as I would have hoped, but decent considering the conditions and in 20th place overall.  After the race there were snacks, drinks, showers, a burrito bar, and a keg of Ninkasi IPA.  We met a girl from Portland who had to head home early and let us use her campsite right on the McKenzie River.  Greg and I spent the evening sitting beside the river in a couple of retro aluminum lawn chairs sipping beers and solving the world’s problems.  A big thanks to Greg for his support this weekend and for taking all these photos.  One of my goals this weekend was to try and get him hooked on trail running, so we could maybe do a couple of races together next year.  I think I may have been successful.