Monday, March 26, 2012

3/25/12 Gorge Waterfall 50K

This was supposed to be my big adventure race for the season.  Then I got invited to run the Boston Marathon.  Now my goal here is to finish without hurting myself. No time goal.  A few weeks before the race, the course was changed from a point to point to an out and back.  Since I am staying with my parents the night before, this change saves me about two hours of driving and shuttling, so I am fine with that.  Then in the days just before the race, the course was changed again.  Here are some quotes from the race website:

"The 2012 race due to a construction project on the Gorge Trail in an area with no alternate routes the course is now going to be an "out and back" from the west end of the route Don't worry the race will still go past almost all of the waterfalls that the 2011 route went past including Wahkenna, Fairy, Ocola, Weisendanger, Multnomah, Oneonta, Ponytail and Elowah. And since it is now an "out and back" you'll actually go past them all twice!

The course has been changed again, yes again! This is the 4th time the course has been changed this month! Sorry. This has not been fun for me either I promise. Latest change is due to 2-3 feet of brand new snow up at Devils Rest. We ran up there Tuesday and it was fine(2-3 inches of packed firm snow) went back up there today to mark the course and it was hip deep and soft. Half of the course we had planned to run is under snow right now and more than a quarter of the course is under very deep snow. There might be more snow coming Saturday night so we made the decision to play it safe and change the course again. The area covered in snow has no road access for ten miles and the only aid was a water only aid station-- I hope y'all understand.

The course will now be a simple "out and back" from Benson State Recreation Area to Elowah Falls via the following trails 442, 420, 419, 441, and 400. No more Devils Rest. No more Angels Rest. No more Horsetail Falls. There will now be 2 full aid stations that you will visit on both the "out" and the "back" at miles 7.1, 14.3, 16.1, 23.3. There will be no water only aid stations. Elevation gain will now be more like 5800-6000ft. There will be 5 miles of paved road. The distance is as close to 50k(the map says it'll be 49k which is close enough in my book to still call it a 50k) as we can get under all these circumstances(trail closures due to construction and washed out bridges, tons of snow, and a route hemmed in by wilderness to the south and a river, railroad tracks and interstate highway to the north)."

For me, these changes are for the better.  I really was not sure if I would be able to handle the full course as originally planned.  I had been fretting over the elevation gains.  Now it looks much more doable and I have confidence that I will be able to run this OK.

I arrive at the start an hour before start time, but the RD is not here yet. Turns out he had a flat tire on the way in and did not make it until 7:40AM.  200 plus runners need to get their numbers so we do not start until after 8:30, more than thirty minutes late.  Its cool but dry.

Start - Flat section on a dirt road with deep ruts.  After about a mile we turn, at Multnomah Falls and start heading uphill.   Series of switchbacks on a paved trail takes us up 800 feet. Now the first waterfalls.  Somewhat muddy trail now and continued assent. I pass quite a few people on the way up, but I feel like I am not working very hard. One small creek crossing with no bridge.  Both feet get soaked and will take some time to dry out.  Watching the elevation on my GPS and when we reach 1,500 feet I know that the first uphill is done.

Mile 3-7 - Just a bit of snow here.  Runnable somewhat level trail.  But now we start going downhill, along the river that feeds Multnomah Falls.  I really try to be careful here and many of the people I had passed are now passing me on the downhill.  We cross the river on a bridge and hit pavement again.  A sign says that this is switchback number 11 of 11.  Switchbacking downhill we eventually veer off the main path and onto a rough trail. It is somewhat level but rocky and tough to run at many places.  Some side trails go off, but our course is well marked with pink flagging as needed.  Eventually I reach the first aid station.  My GPS reads 6.4 miles, but the aid station is supposedly at 7.4 miles.  Really not sure how accurate the course is, but I know that my GPS is off.  Later in the race my Garmin GPS will read 20 miles, while a fellow runner's will read 25 miles.

Mile 7-14 - Fairly level but rough trail. Still lots of up and downs and sharp turns.  More amazing waterfalls.  For one of them the trail goes behind the waterfall.   Gorgeous.  I have to stop and take pictures even though this is the most runnable part of this section.  Now it goes up and then hits some very rocky trail.  Big sharp rocks sticking up.  A new obstacle is that the lead runners are blazing towards me now.  How can they be running so fast?  I am in no hurry so when I see them coming I get well off the trail so they can fly by.  Eventually I get off of this slow section and onto some road.  I was looking forward to the five miles of pavement, but with my trail shoes it is not ideal running.  Of course I can go much faster here, but it is sort of a slog, and not great fun.  I long to see the aid station at about mile 14 and finally there it is.

Mile 14.5-16.5 - I thought that we would continue on the road, but at this aid station we go back onto the trail and uphill.  Downhill and a beautiful waterfall.  This is the turnaround.  I am halfway done, just have to go back the way I came.  Time on watch is 3 hours 30 minutes.  I predict a major meltdown at some point, but I should be able to beat 8 hours no problem.  If I could somehow run back at the same pace, I will finish in 7 hours, but that seems so unlikely.  Up the hill, down the hill and stock up at the aid station.

Mile 16.5 to 23 - About 2.5 miles on the road.  I pass a couple of runners.  Then on to that rough trail.  Pass a few more people and I am feeling good.  I am sure that I am running more and going faster than I did on the way out.  I stop less frequently to take pictures, just feel like I should keep on moving. My body is feeling fine.  With the rocky trail I expected my feet to hurt at some point, but so far so good.  It is nice to have landmarks to run to, knowing what to expect on the route.  Soon I am back at that first aid station, stocking up for the lat 7.4 miles.

Mile 23-30.4 -  Pass Jackie who ran 51 miles last Saturday and a couple of other runners on this rough trail.  Finally reach the pavement and the 11 switchbacks.  Steep uphill I am walking most of the way but I feel like I have decent energy.  Passing many tourists on this busy part of the trail.  Watching the elevation on my GPS.  600ft, 800ft, and off the pavement and onto the rocky wet trail.  Up, up up, still feeling OK.  Pass a couple more runners.  No one has passed me in the second half.  I realize that I have a very decent chance at a negative split.  I start to believe that I can finish in under 7 hours.  If only this trail would quit going uphill.  Meet Maniac Vivian very near the top.  At the snow level now and finally we start to go downhill.  The trail is much muddier than in the morning, with all the runners who have come and gone.  I pick my way around the rocky parts but do not fear the mud or worry about my feet getting soaked when I have to cross the creek.  Three runners, now a fourth pass me on the way down.  The same people I had just passed a while back.  I am being extra careful so as to not fall.  Plus I am now getting very confident that I will beat seven hours and I will be thrilled to have a negative split.  The walking up many hills, the stopping to take pictures and the having to pick my way around rocks has given my body time to parcel out the energy and have some in reserves.  Down the paved switchbacks.  I wonder if there are 11 on this side too, so I count them.  Get to13 and by then I can feel the pounding in my knees/quads.  But now I am at the bottom with just about a mile of flat to go.  I had been a little fearful, not that it matters, that some of my Maniac friends who I had passed earlier on, would catch me.  But I do not see that happening now.  Then I hear someone behind me and there is Jackie saying something.  I thought that I had left her way back there as she seemed to be slowing , but she really kept going well.  Now we are on the flats and I will sprint so that she does not beat me.  On to the dirt road/ruts and I have enough energy to run pretty quickly.  Great feeling to run the second half 14 minutes faster than the first half.  Beautiful course and a great experience for my first tough course ultra marathon.

165th of 211 finishers
Marathon or Ultra #81

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