Last year I ran my first 50 mile race.  This was nearly twice as far as I’d ever run previously and I had no idea what to expect.  Understandably, I was a bit nervous beforehand, however, there was a certain bliss to my ignorance.  Before my next 50 miler, I knew exactly what to except and just how much it would hurt.  The bliss had faded.

That second 50 miler was two weeks ago in central Oregon.  In honor of its 25th anniversary the organizers of the McKenzie River Trail Run (MRTR) decided to add a 50 mile option to go along with their usual 50k race.  I ran the 50k last year and had so much fun that this year I decided to up the ante.  However, about a week before the start of the race, doubts started to creep into my head.  Fifty miles now seemed like a ridiculously long way to run.  Maybe signing up for this race was a bad idea.

To ease my nerves, I sat down one morning with a french press of Nossa Familia coffee and made a list of my goals for the race.  The simple process of sorting out my motives and committing then to paper made me feel better.  Here are my eight commandments for the MRTR:

Start Slow:  Going out too fast may be a considered a beginner’s mistake, but everyone, even the pros, fall into this trap at some point.  The adrenaline is usually pumping at the start of a race and as a result “too fast” does not feel that fast at all.  Luckily the MRTR started at 5am, which meant that the first hour and a half would be in the dark.  I’ve never done any trail running with a headlamp before, so starting slow would probably not be a problem for me.

Have Fun:  A few hours into a long race, when you’re huffing up a big hill, sweat pouring down your face, stomach cramping up, blisters brewing between your toes, you’re probably thinking, “there’s got to be a better way to have fun.”  But you have to remember the big picture.  You’re in nature, far from the city and that little cubical where you work forty hours a week.  You’re on a beautiful trail surrounded by old growth forest and glacier-fed streams.  All you have to do is run.  I can’t think of a more simple and enjoyable way to spend the day.

Control Competitive Instincts:  Being super competitive has allowed me to accomplish many things in life.  However, there are times when I wish this fuel burned with a little less intensity.  I strive to do well in every race I run, but caring too much about the result makes it difficult to enjoy the process.

Thank Volunteers:  Ultra events always seem to have the best volunteers.  They fill up your handheld water bottles, help you find your drop bags, and tell you that you’re looking good, when clearly you’re not.  Many of them are ultra runners themselves, so they understand what it’s like to try and function with a carb-depleted brain.  I always make a point to thank them at every aid station, but sometimes I forget when I slip into a zombie state at the end of a race.

Run Smart:  There are many components that go into running a smart race.  Starting slow (#1) and controlling competitive instincts (#3) are a couple, but you also need to have a consistent fueling and hydration plan.  In addition, you must be able to adapt to the current weather conditions and adjust your race strategy accordingly.

Check Out The Scenery:  Two weeks before the race, Yoshimi and I along with a friend on break from the Peace Corps camped along the McKenzie River.  We hiked several sections of the the course and I was blown away by the beauty of this amazing trail, most of which seemed new to me despite the fact I had raced here in 2011.  This year I would make a point to be more aware and to better appreciate my surroundings.

Smile:  This one might seem simple, but it’s easy to forget.  I feel lucky to be healthy enough and fit enough to run these types of races.  When I’m out there alone, cruising along on a silky smooth trail, the morning sun just starting to filter through the trees, I feel that there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing and no where else I’d rather be.  Why wouldn’t I smile.

Finish Strong:  We’ve all run races that looked good on paper (fast time/placed well), but without a strong finish, you know in your heart that something was missing.  To finish strong, it’s important to run a smart race (#5), but you also have to remember that a little bit of extra suffering in the end is much preferable to the regret of knowing you could have done better.

So, how did it all play out?  Well, my buddy Greg and I drove down there on Friday and camped at the same spot we did last year.  It’s one of the best car camping spots in the state.  But don’t even think about poaching our turf cause I already have it booked for next year.

Running the first ten miles in the dark was tough.  It required a lot of mental energy to move at a consistent pace and avoid all the trail obstacles.   Psychologically, I felt better once the sun started to rise.

All day long those eight commandments bounced around in my head along with a depressing Tom Waits song that I just couldn’t seem to shake.  “A Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” has to be one of the least motivating songs ever written, but for some reason today was the day it decided to get lodged in my brain.

I ran with three other guys for a couple hours.  Time passed quickly as we chit-chatted about this and that.  For the first half of the race I cruised along at a comfortable 10 minute per mile pace, but then decided to crank it up a bit.

The second half was pure fun, maybe because I remembered to smile, check out the scenery and joke around with the volunteers at the aid stations.  I started to run out of gas towards the end, but was able to hold on and really push it the last mile.  Wouldn’t want to forget that last commandment.

I finished in 8 hours 27 minutes and got 9th place overall.  The 50 miler was won by a 16 year old kid form Corvallis in 7 hours 12 minutes…crazy.  A big thank you to Greg for his support and for taking these photos.  I’m already looking forward to doing some more trips together next year.  Just have to remember to put together a list of commandments for every race from here on out.


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