I've completed my second 50K trail run and I should have no complaints. I accomplished two of my written goals...to finish and to meet or beat my previous time. The third, to feel as good as I did at the Mt Hood PCT 50K, didn't quite happen. I suffered from a bit of nausea during the middle miles. And my spirits were just not as high as they were at Mt Hood. But I did have some moments of pure bliss. The McKenzie River trail is beautiful and there are some very runnable portions where the joy of being able to move freely through the forest is undeniable.
Race morning I was up just before 5 am. The start was a 30 minute drive from where we were staying and I wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to find the turnoff in time for the 6:30 early start. I had taped my feet the night before, which saved some time. It was dark as we drove up Hwy 126 from McKenzie Bridge to the start at Carmen Reservoir. I had my head lamp just in case, but as start time neared it was clear that it wouldn't be necessary. After a few instructions and an extra minute wait for a straggler, Phil Vaughn, the RD said "Go" and about 25 of us early starters were off.
The course started out as gravel road by the reservoir. But we quickly turned up onto single track trail and ran along one of the prettiest sections of the McKenzie River, passing by Sahalie and Koosah Falls.
The boys had planned to meet me at the aid stations. But since there were delays due to paving being done on the highway, I wasn't expecting to see them at the first few stops. After we passed the falls, the trail crossed the highway. The paving was being done right at this spot and we had use of an official ODOT flagger to stop traffic for us (or so it seemed.) Soon we were at beautiful, blue Clear lake where the trail meandered through forest and open lava flow. I was feeling pretty good through this section and was basically following the lead of the pack I was with. At the top of the lake we ran a short (1 mile?) out and back to the 1st aid station and then ran back along the other side of the lake.
We crossed the road again, gingerly sidestepping a big roller machine. We crossed over one of many bridges over the McKenzie River and ran down the other side. From the trail you could hear the river and sense it was right there but you couldn't see it like you could running up the other side. This section was steep and rocky.
The 2nd aid station was back by Carmen Reservoir. At this point the leader from the regular start passed me. (By the way, Scott Jurek was about the 4th runner to pass me, and of the leaders was the only one who was smiling!) From here the trail sort of blends together in my mind. There were sections of hard packed trail through deciduous trees and also sections through tall evergreen trees with trails softened by pine needles. Sometimes the river seemed far away and sometimes it was close. Sometimes the trail was rocky and rooty. Sometimes it was clear and runnable. Around this time I started feeling a bit nauseous and I had a slight headache. I thought of asking for a Tylenol at the next aid station, but worried it might upset my stomach, so didn't bother. I tried to keep a steady pace, and went through some highs and lows mentally. But every time the trail came close to the river I felt energized.
At the 3rd aid station (really mile 16.7) there was a sign that said it was 18.1 and the next aid station was 5 miles away. So I arrived at the 4th aid station thinking I only had about 8 miles to go. I finally connected with the boys at this stop and one of the first things Marc said to me was "You're doing great! Only about 10 miles to go." Huh!?! That was a bit of a downer when I discovered the truth.
But it was nice to see the boys and after I grabbing a few pretzels and getting my bottle filled, I was on my way again. I was still feeling a little off at this point but my energy level was pretty good. I discovered that my pace wasn't effected by how my stomach felt, so I figured I might as well keep pushing it if I could.
Two crazies at the 5th aid station
At the 5th aid station I handed off some of the unneeded supplies I was carrying. Turns out over the whole course I only ate 3 bloks, 3 ginger candies, a few pretzels and 7 Succeed caps, in addition to the watered down grape-flavored Gatorade that was served. With only five miles to go I was ready to be done! It was 5:36 into the race and Marc thought I was going to smash our time from Mt Hood. I wasn't so sure but was feeling confident that I'd at least break 7 hours.
The trail crossed over another bridge and meandered between the highway and the river. As I had been doing all along, I walked the hills and ran the downhills and flats. I tried to imagine myself back at Mt Hood and compare how I felt then. Despite my queasiness, I did feel better at this point than I did at Mt Hood. It was hard to gauge how far I had gone, but I finally got to the point where I could hope that the finish could be coming up any time. It was hard to hear anything over the sound of the river, but I began to imagine that the sound of the liquid swishing back and forth in my bottle was the sound of spectators clapping at the finish line. Then up ahead I saw a road and a car and I heard some people talking. I was pretty sure it was the finish. But no, it was just an impromptu aid station. I declined whatever drink they were offering and kept moving. I accepted their good wishes and the last thing I heard was "You've got 1-1/2 miles to go." Oh well, I had been hoping the finish was closer, but I was determined that I wasn't going to slow down now. I glanced at my watch, which showed 6:30. I calculated that I could reasonably do 1-1/2 miles in 20 minutes. Fortunately this section was flat because I didn't want to stop. I pushed on and pushed on until I finally saw a hill, which I told myself I could finally walk. But at the bottom I saw two volunteers and realized I was at the finish...which was at the top of the hill! I could see the finish line at the top.
I haven't seen the official results, but my watch time was 6:47:32, about 10 minutes quicker than my previous 50k. I feel like I could have been faster on this course, but I guess its not bad for my first year running ultras. I have a lot to learn and experience.
We hung around the finish for a bit and then headed back to our cabin so I could shower before attending the post-race lunch. Then we ate a delicious lunch of homemade soup, salads and berry cobbler by the river. Overall, it had been a good day and a well organized race. Weather conditions were ideal, it was a beautiful trail, and the people were awesome. I'm not entirely sure why I was a bit down, but it makes me realize that ultrarunning is just as much about the mental as it is the physical. I feel good about pushing through even when I wasn't feeling my best. And I'm looking forward to being able to test my limits again.