Archives for posts with tag: McKenzie River Trail Run

endless summer

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

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.


This is the time of year when many runners dial back the mileage, partake in a few too many holiday indulgences and look back on the year that was.  Even though I had my share of struggles, 2012 was my best year as a competitive runner.  Here are some of the highs and lows:

Injuries:  I came across a posting on recently asking readers to share their goals for the coming year.  By far the number one response was, “to be injury-free.”  In no other sport are injuries as common as they are in running.  I bet even pro football players are injured less than runners.  I started out the year with a stress fracture in my lower right leg.  In June, I broke my wrist in a cycling accident.  I also had a strained tibialis anterior in my shin, a pulled muscle in my abdomen, and a couple of twisted ankles.

Am I doing something wrong?  Is running more than 50 miles a week bad for our bodies?  And the big question, why do we keep running if we’re just hurting ourselves?  Sometimes I feel like an unwilling participant in an abusive relationship and too much in love to ever consider leaving.

Want to know my number one goal for 2013?  To be injury-free.

Friends and Family:   My favorite races this year were not necessarily my best races, but ones where I ran with and had the support of good friends and family members.  In January, my brother Colin and I ran a half marathon in Florida.  He’s new to running (one of those Born To Run converts) and to see him set a new personal best was pretty awesome.  Also in January I ran a race in Forest Grove with Chuck, an old climbing buddy.  On the way home we stopped off for a well-deserved pint and a couple of our usual bacon blue cheese burgers.

Another friend, Greg was with me when I ran my first ultra in 2011.  This year I was lucky to have him as my support team at the Siskiyou Out Back (SOB) 50K and at the McKenzie River 50 miler.  In April, I fulfilled a lifelong dream to run in the Boston Marathon.  It was extra special having Yoshimi there to share a pre-race lobster dinner and a post-race Red Sox game at Fenway.  Running long distances is solitary pursuit.  Races should be used as an excuse to socialize with those we most enjoy spending time with.

Second goal for 2013: More races with familiar faces.

Adventures:  For me races serve several purposes.  They’re a competitive outlet, a motivator for everyday training and a setting to see how far and how fast I can run.  This year, however, I realized that you don’t necessarily need an organized race to have those same goals met.  You could just pick one of the hundreds of beautiful trails here in the Pacific Northwest and set off on a self-supported run of your own.

This past summer I did 30+ mile solo runs on the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park, the Eagle Creek/Wahtum Lake loop in the Columbia Gorge and around Mt. Hood on the Timberline Trail with my ultra running mentor, Jon.  On these self-supported runs there’s no pressure or expectations, just a full on wilderness adventure buzz.

Another goal for 2013: Less races, more adventure runs.

The Big One:  Last year on New Years Day it was cool and crisp with a rare winter appearance of that great fiery ball in the sky.  As I circled my way up Mt. Tabor I decided that my big goal for the year, the Mack Daddy, would be to run a 100 mile race.  From that point on, all the training I did over the course of the year was in support of that single goal.  My race schedule was structured systematically (10k, half marathon, 25k, 30k, marathon, trail marathon, 50k, 50 miler, in exactly that order) to slowly build towards the Javelina 100.  That may seem a bit anal, but I knew that running that far should not be taken lightly.  Everything went according to plan, expect for one aspect, the post-race recovery.  Afterwards I was both physically and psychologically spent.

To work towards one goal for so long and to accomplish it is truly a wonderful thing, but it also leaves you with a certain emptiness after the fact.  For most of November I completely lost the desire to run.  I didn’t want to think about running, talk about running or write about running.  I realize now that my body and mind needed a break.  The exact same thing happened last year around this time.  The mind has a curious way of turning up or down our desires to suit the needs of our bodies.  But not to worry, my friends, the brain has started pumping up the volume once again and my passion for running has now returned.

Reminder to 2013 self: Set big goals and then take big breaks.

Miles and Miles:  Three weeks ago I realized I was just 150 miles away from hitting 2000 miles for the year.  It hadn’t really been a goal of mine to run 2000 miles this year, but it’d be a shame to finish just short of that oh-so-sexy 2000 mile breakpoint.  So I decided to run everyday until the end of the year.  Some days were brutal: cold, wet and windy.  Others were pure joy.  The good being so much better after a bit of the bad.

Today is the last day of the year and I’m just a couple miles short of 2000.  It feels great to be so close and to have run so far.  Maybe I’ll wait until 11:30 and then do a few victory laps around the neighborhood.  Yoshimi can join be for the last 100 yards.  We’ll run with beers in hand and finish just as the clock strikes midnight.

Final goal for next year:  2013 miles in 2013, a 0.65% increase!

Happy New Year.

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.

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.