I will admit that I only registered for this race because I thought it would be a good training run for the Mt Hood PCT 50 miler coming up this July. The hills looked too scary! And while I do still enjoy a runnable trail, after finishing this very cool race I can see that the challenge of the hills can be a lot of fun too. I also have a lot more respect for the hills. Despite being a lifelong hiker and backpacker, walking and hiking up the steep hills was really, really hard. But it was super, awesome too.
Sharon and I wanted to make sure we gave ourselves plenty of time to get to the race so we left Portland at o'dark thirty (4:30 am) and arrived at the forest cabin north of Corvallis a little after 6 am. Number pick-up had just started and we were able to snag a parking spot right by the cabin (and the porta-potties). Score! We chatted with some other racers, checked out the course map and took care of the last minute details. The weather was perfect! Cool but not cold. Cloudy but not rainy. I decided to wear a short sleeve with some make-shift tube sock arm warmers.
Before long, it was time for the early start a 7 am. Clem rang the bell and we were off down a gravel logging road. Despite having looked at the map and the elevation chart, the course just looked too complicated to try to memorize. And in this case I really do think that ignorance was bliss. If I had truly known what was ahead I would have been very, very scared! In the race info, the RD assured us that the course was very well marked. And he was right! Every turn off and curve had either chalk markings, a sign or a course marshall.
As has been my style lately, it took me a good 4-5 miles to warm up. The first few miles were probably the most runnable of the course, partly because it was the beginning and we were fresh, but also because this portion had the mildest gains and losses. After this it was up and down and up and down the whole way. We would chat with runners here and there, but Sharon and I were mainly just running together. But somewhere between 5 and 10 miles, we met Lisa who ended up joining us. It was her first time running the Mac too. But she was certainly not new to hills. She entertained us for quite a few miles with her tale of running the Pikes Peak marathon, which is essentially 13 miles up to 14,000 ft and 13 miles down.
Soon after the first aid station at around mile 7, we entered "the maze". Having not really studied the maps, we weren't sure what to expect. What we found were single track trails, with many short and not so short grunt hills. A lot of these trails and hills had names like "Lovely Rita" (which should have been named Ugly Rita due to its nearly vertical climb), "Alien", "Low Rider", "Extendo", etc. During the whole race, but especially in this section, if you had asked me what direction was north, south, east or west I would have had no clue! We were at the mercy of the trail.
In usual ultra style, the aid stations and volunteers were superb. My favorite aid station was the one at the top of Dimple hill (a true oxymoron!), which had a hippie theme. The volunteers where decked out in long hair wigs and groovy sixties attire. But their fun attitude didn't keep them from the task at hand. I had barely stopped and a volunteer was ready to fill my pack. I carried sports beans, ginger and electrolyte caps with me and at the aid stations stuck to the potatoes and pretzels. But I tried my first coke at this aid station and it was good!
After we left Dimple Hill (18.5 miles) , we went down, down, down Dan's trail. This was a fun section to barrel down, but unfortunately I quickly developed a sharp, stabbing side stitch. I really didn't want it to slow me down, so I just kept running through the pain. Keeping my chin down and trying to lean forward helped. Fortunately there was short, runnable uphill section before we kept descending. During this section I was able to massage out the stitch.
Although I'd love to be fast enough to not have to take the early start, one nice thing about heading out early is getting to see all the faster runners as they pass you. The leaders started passing us about 2-1/2 hours in. They were blazing! Fortunately we were on a logging road when the really fast dudes came through so it was easy for them to pass us. But even when we were passed on single track, everyone was super nice and encouraging. Another spot where we got to see a lot of runners was on an out and back loop near the 4th aid station at mile 22. It was great to see all the smiles! I love ultra-runners because they are always smiling! How can you not when you are having so much fun out on the trail.
At the 4th aid station, Lisa decided to stay a bit longer so Sharon and I headed out on our own. Around mile 24-25 we hit our lowest point, mentally, of the race. This was the last big, big hill that gained about 1000 ft in a mile. At this point I was tired of walking/hiking the hills and I just wanted to be able to run it in. Although the hill was steep, it switchbacked, so it felt like we should be able to run it. But we couldn't. And during this section we were pretty much alone and didn't see many other runners. So it was a bit demoralizing. But finally we hit the top and could run on the logging road down to the last aid station.
The last section to the end wasn't too bad. We ascended on a mostly runnable logging road. If it had been the beginning of the race we probably could have run all of this. But since we were tired, we'd pick a landmark to run to and then take a break, then pick another landmark, etc. After another descent we saw the last mile sign for 29.8 miles, which meant 1.6 miles to go (this 50k was 31.4 miles). My one major mistake of this race was that I mis-calculated my fluid level and didn't fill up at the final aid stations. By this point I was bone dry. I probably could have made it, but Sharon (who is smarter and always more prepared than I am!) was kind enough to let me drink from some of hers. We hiked the final ascent on single track and then headed down to what we hoped would soon be the finish. We were getting close when suddenly Sharon had to stop. A bug had flown up her nose! I turned around and saw Lisa coming behind us. Yay! We started up again and my energy really picked up. Before long we could hear voices and cheers and could make out some buildings through the trees. We stepped out of the forest and there was the finish! Wow. 7:14 It's amazing how you long for the finish but then when it happens you feel like it was all over so quickly.
We hung out for awhile and enjoyed the delicious homemade soup and bread. But I didn't want to linger too long since I was driving and knew that the energy high from the race would start to fade soon. So we picked up our commemorative brew (Mac Mud Ale) and headed back to Portland.
Today, my quads are sore, but I feel pretty good. I only have one tiny blister in a spot that I expected. I could run, but I'm taking a rest day. I'm registered for another 50k on Sunday, so there's no point in pushing it today. The weather looks nasty anyways. We really lucked out on having perfect running weather for the race! I learned so much from this race. I have a long way to go in my training but I'm looking forward to getting stronger and tougher and to sharing the trail again with more awesome ultra-runners.