Monday, July 31, 2006

Mt Hood PCT 50K race report

The start time for the 50K was at 8:30 am and we could have just driven up the morning of the race. But instead we decided it would be more fun (and we’d probably get more rest) if we went up the night before and camped. We reserved a spot for two nights at Clackamas Lake CG, only 1/3 mile from the start at the old Clackamas Lake Ranger Station. We got to our campsite at about 5:30 on Friday evening. Our friend, Sharon, had offered to watch our son while we ran. So she and her dog, Chief, camped with us. We set up camp, made dinner and then walked over to the ranger station to check in. Then it was early to bed at about 9:30.

The alarm went off at 6:30. I had a great night’s sleep and was ready to get up. I downed a cold can of Starbucks Doubleshot espresso, 32 ounces of half strength Accelerade and nibbled on some dry cereal. Then I got dressed and taped my feet. At about 7:50 we walked over to the start. I loved the low-key atmosphere. Everyone was friendly and there were a lot of people with dogs. The temperature was probably in the low 50’s and wasn’t expected to get out of the 60’s. It was chilly at the start and I saw a lot of long sleeves, but I kept to my plan to wear a sleeveless shirt, which turned out fine.

With 5 minutes to go we received our last minute instructions and then we were off. The first ¼ mile is on pavement and then you turn onto single-track trail and its Pacific Crest Trail all the rest of the way. I encouraged Marc to start near the back of the pack. I’m sure he wanted to go faster, but I felt like we should take it slow and hang back. The first 6 miles are pretty flat with a few rolling hills. There were some roots and rocks but nothing terribly technical. The trail was really dusty and a couple of times we let groups pass us so we could run on our own. I don’t remember walking a lot during this section but we did walk a few of the steeper short hills.

At 6 miles, the volunteers diverted us .1 miles off the PCT to the first aid station at Little Crater Lake CG, a required stop. As we ran past Little Crater Lake we could see the aid station and there were Sharon, Chief and our son, waiting to greet us. They had been there for about a half hour cheering on the runners. Marc had to use the porta-pottie so I decided to slam a gel and try some of the boiled potatoes. The sports drink served was HEED, which is what I normally use. The volunteers at this and all the aid stations were super nice. At most marathons I’m used to doing for myself. But here they were eager to help and always asked to fill my bottle for me. It was at this point that I thought, I want to attend every ultra race I can, whether as a runner or a volunteer. It’s such a cool community to be a part of!

We left Little Crater Lake and connected back with the PCT. We had about 3 miles to the next aid station. This section had some fairly flat, open and very runnable forest trail and then started to climb through sections that were a bit rockier. Along the climbing section we walked where it was steepest and would run again when it leveled off.

Aid Station #2 was at 9.3 miles where the PCT crossed a fire road. Again, the volunteers were super helpful and nice. As one volunteer handed back my bottle he accidentally dropped the cap as he was about to put it back on. Fortunately, I was able to catch it before it hit the dust. We joked that I still had my quick reflexes so I must be doing okay. After some more boiled potatoes and some Clif Bloks we were on our way again.

The next section before the 3rd Aid Station (mile 14.5) was the steepest and the most beautiful. You climb to a ridge and then you run along it for a few miles. Below are lush forests and green meadows and above is Mt. Hood. On the way out, most of the mountain was covered in cloud above the timberline. But I suspected the clouds would burn off and we’d have full view of the mountain on the way back. It was along this section that the lead 50K runner came back through. It was 2 hrs 25 mins into the run and he looked strong. The next runner was 4 minutes behind and he didn’t look quite so good. Of course, as we kept making our way, we saw more and more of the 50K runners on their way back. It was exciting to see all the runners and most everyone greeted us with a “Good job!” or “Looking good!’ and we did the same. One person joked that we were smiling too much. And it was true; we were having a great time! We felt like we were making good forward progress, but I never felt stressed. We spent the time chatting about the run and took turns taking the lead.

Before we got to the 3rd Aid Station, there was a pretty good downhill that was easily runnable. We probably ran for 1-1/2 to 2 miles without a walk break. So by the time we got to the aid station at 14.5 miles we were tired. But it was only 1 mile to the turnaround so we didn’t stop for long since we’d be back there in 2 miles. One of the volunteers suggested to Marc that he leave his hydration pack and she’d fill it up and have it waiting on his return, which he did. The mile to the turnaround was mostly uphill and because we were excited about turning around we were running more than we should have. Yes, it was exciting to be near the halfway point, but it wasn’t the finish. So I finally got some sense in me and suggested we stick to our regular routine of walking the hills. which we did. We finally reached the turnaround at exactly 3 ½ hours. Marc suggested that we could run the 2nd half quicker than the first since it would be more downhill. But I wasn’t so sure and said I’d feel very happy if we could run an even split. Back at the aid station we had a proper stop and refueled and refilled.

The next section we had to go back up that longish hill to the ridge. I was starting to feel more tired and this was probably the lowest point for me mentally, which really wasn’t bad at all. The funny thing was that the few negative thoughts I had weren’t about this race at all. I was thinking ahead to my 50K in September and was getting bummed that I’d have to run it by myself. I was having so much fun running with Marc! As I suspected, when we reached the ridge the clouds had moved away and we had a full view of Mt. Hood. Awesome!

We came down the ridge where the trail was the steepest and rockiest. I gingerly tread through the rocks, being careful not to fall. Around this point the 50M leaders started passing us. The 50M race started at 6:30 am and we were passed by about 10-15 of them, including about 4-5 women. I have the greatest admiration for those running the 50 mile race and I could tell as I watched them stride and bound down the trail that I have a lot to learn. It was getting warmer and this was the first time I felt even close to hot. The sun was out but it probably wasn’t over 70 degrees. Even so, at the next aid station they had sponges in ice water and it felt great to drip the cold water on our heads.

The next section was pretty flat and it was only 3 miles to the last aid station back at Little Crater Lake. I was feeling really strong and took the lead running through the forest. This is where I biffed it for the one and only time. I hit a root and took a little tumble to the right into a patch of bear grass and huckleberry bushes. So it was a soft landing and no damage was done. It was actually kind of funny! My one and only physical complaint cropped up at this point too. My right knee felt a bit tweaked from the pounding coming down the rockier section. It hurt for the rest of the race and it felt a bit weak, but I don’t think it slowed me down too much. Or at least I was determined not to let it slow me down.

We finally saw the turnoff for the Little Crater Lake aid station. As we were running into the campground we saw Sharon and our son running up to the aid station. They had just made it in time to see us and it was a real boost to see them again. We were taking our time when I decided to check my watch and saw that we were at 5 hrs 36 mins. I really didn’t have the mental capacity to figure out our actual pace. But I thought we might be able to make the last 6.1 miles within 1:24 to break 7 hrs. This is really the first instance a time goal came into consideration. Our main goal had always been to finish. But I think it pumped us up to think we could break 7 hours so we quickly made our way out of the aid station.

For some reason I thought we had just a bit of an uphill and then it would be downhill the rest of the way. But really, it was mostly uphill and flat with only some downhill right near the end. We kept walking all the uphills and concentrated on making forward progress. Overall we felt good. We were tired but neither of us were close to bonking. But we had no idea what pace we were moving. We passed a few people that were walking it in and one woman who we had leap frogged with passed us for the final time. Finally we saw a sign that said it was 4 miles back the other way to Little Crater Lake, which meant there were 2 miles to the finish. I looked at my watch and I forget the actual time, but it looked like we wouldn’t make it under 7 hours. That was a letdown. But the sign must have been wrong, because before long we were at the road and we had a good 5 minutes to make it the ¼ mile or so to the finish. It felt so good to be on the road and to be able to run side by side. We could see the cars parked on the side of the road at the bottom of the hill and soon we saw Sharon, our son, and Chief by the van. They ran with us up the hill about 50 yards to the turn off path to the finish. Marc was a bit in front of me and at the top of the small hill just 50 ft from the finish he paused to wait for me. We crossed the finish line together in 6 hours 58 minutes and 2 seconds.

We hung out at the finish and noshed a bit on some fruit and chips. We picked up our cool finisher’s fleece jackets and chatted with some of the other runners, including the women who had finally passed us. It was her 3rd 50K and next year she’s running the 50 miler with her friend who will be turning 50. They started to bring out the burgers but we decided to leave so we could go jump in the lake before it got too cold.

Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better first 50K trail run. We never felt like we couldn’t go on. We never had a true negative thought. The weather was perfect. Neither of us felt beat up, physically. And we had a lot of fun. But I don’t think it has really sunk it yet that we finished a 50K. It’s almost as if it was too easy. But it really wasn’t! I think all the pieces just somehow fell into place to make it seem that way.

Some final observations:

Ginger candies are my new secret weapon. I sucked on a few starting at about mile 18 and I never felt nauseous. I will definitely carry them with me at every race from now on.

Seven hours on the trail went by way quicker than any 4-1/2 hour marathon I’ve ever run. We were both amazed at how the time just flew by.

Before I can even think about doing a 50 miler I need to work on getting stronger.

I’m incredibly proud of Marc who had never before run more than 18 miles.

I’m thankful to our friend, Sharon who suggested that we run together and offered her time to make it happen.

I know for sure that the best things in life
are shared with friends and the ones you love.


Jessica Deline said...

"I know for sure that the best things in life are shared with friends and the ones you love."

Oh - that is so true! Great race report and good job again! You are awesome. I agree that 7 hours on the trail does not seem longer than 4.5-5 in a road marathon. Especially when most trail runs are races have such beautiful scenary!

olga said...

sarah, welcome to the family!!!! Good run, and great report too! Congrats:)

Kim said...

Congratulations Sarah and Mark!!! I'm glad you had such a good race, and I loved your race report!!
Outstanding job!!

Ginger Breadman said...

Ginger candies - Yay! I love the way you describe the emotions of the run, the course, the volunteers, etc. It makes it so much more of a human experience than just a physical one. It seems like you had a great run because you prepared for it right. Awesome job, and great photos!

Ryan said...

Yee-ha!! Great race description, it just goes to show if you train right nothing can stop you! Double congratulations to both of you =) :), I agree running trail races is just more enjoyable than road races! Virtual high-fives...Congrats and good luck too many more!

Darrell said...

I got here from Matt B's site. Congrats on the 50k. I loved your report. Good Job and congrats to Marc on his longest run ever. How cool that you go to share it this one together.

backofpack said...

Sarah, Congratulations! You and Marc were awesome! Great report and beautiful pictures.

angie's pink fuzzy said...

yay!!!!!!!! congratulations!!!!! that is an awesome race report. what a treasure that you got to run with your husband, that is awesome. way to go on 7 hours, woo hoo!

Anonymous said...

Must be great to run with your significant other. I really enjoyed reading about your run. Congratulations.

barbara said...

Sarah, I loved your race report, so detailed and interesting. Congrats to you and Marc on the accomplishment!!

turnip said...

Congrats on finishing! I am looking at doing a 50K and then a 50 miler next year sometime. I should try the ginger thing on the trail, that's a good idea!

Jack said...

Congratulations on your finish! Great report too!

Ben, aka BadBen said...


Great job and a great report! Trailrunning is so awesome, especially on a course like that. Seeing Mt Hood on that ridge was a spectacular site. I would definitely like to do this one, again.
To get in 50-Mile shape, start running on technical trails more, and do some ab-work. I know that it helps me.

Happy trails, Ultrarunner!
Bad Ben

robtherunner said...

Great report Sarah and it sounds like you had a wonderful time. The atmosphere at ultras is almost always much more laid back and the aid stations are usually very hard for me to leave. I like to hang out and eat too much. Congratulations to you and your husband.

matt said...

sorry that it took me so long to comment on your report, sarah. this is such a tremendous experience and i love how you put me right there. it sounds like you two will make a great team at future ultras. thanks for sharing all the details with us. i might have to make it up there next year for the next mt. hood 50K. congratulations, buddy!