Photo: Glenn Tachiyama
A little over a week ago I ran my first ultra in over a year. I don’t remember why I signed up for the Gorge Waterfalls 50k, but it was likely sometime late last year. Most likely one of those “oh shit this race is going to fill up in 20 minutes, do I wanna run it or not?” rash decisions we ultra runners see ourselves facing more and more as the sport grows. As the race title suggests, it’s a picturesque course full of waterfalls, and Glenn Tachiyama’s race photos from last year only backed that up. Eh, so why not? The family packed up in the Honda Fit and made a weekend out of it.
Weather was looking great so I felt confident I could live with just my short shorts and a kinda-cotton t-shirt that I personally find quite comfortable and forces people to be impressed by thinking I’m actually sponsored by Asics. Unfortunately I forgot my water bottle, so I was also going to have to live with a brittle plastic bottle from a nearby convenience store. Claire got the parking pass race morning while I got my bib, and later remarked having seen “a really really great ass” in a pair of Lulu Lemon pants. That’s sadly the end of that story; I never saw it myself. But if you were wearing LLL that morning and you’re reading this blog for some reason, it *might* have been you!
I knew I was slightly under trained (esp in regards to trail vs. road), so I was probably the only person on the start line happy to hear that a) the course was likely a little short and b) there was a 2.3 mile stretch of road we’d traverse twice on the out & back. We started and I fell into a comfortable pace. I wanted to emulate my colleague Brett Walton’s strategy of starting easy and then bombing the 2nd half (made particularly simple, logistically, on an out & back course). So I watched Hal Koerner’s et al’s cute little buns run away from me in the first mile. I cruised the first climb, never pressing but also never walking, and soon enough we were descending as I quickly learned this course was much more rocky than I was anticipating. Mile-long stretches of staring at the ground with laser-like focus to make sure I didn’t roll an ankle grew tiring, but I still felt good. Hit the first aid in 1:01 and heard I was 8 minutes back of the leader. Alone now, the course rolled me along. I felt pretty decent on the short climbs and just tried to keep it easy on the flats while remaining upright on the downs. Soon enough I caught up to Phil Kochik and soon we were on the 2+ mile road, discussing LLL pants among other things. I hit the turnaround seconds in front of him (1:56…hmm, despite how “easy” I tried to take it, I was not anticipating breaking 4 hrs), and soon we were back on the 2+ mile road, this time the wind on our back. It was here I think I got a little greedy. I wanted to hammer the 2nd half and that 1:56 had me with visions of ~3:50 or so, which in hindsight was absurd. I was probably in low-mid 6:00 mile pace on this stretch and right before hitting the trail, I caught a 16 year old, who promptly passed me back on the dirt.
And…then I died. The first couple miles off the road are winding narrow single track and it became mentally and physically frustrating to negotiate the non-width of the trail with all the runners still on the “out” portion of the course. We were all polite and civil but I was noticeably tiring now and this was only exacerbating things. The 16 year-old was long gone and the rocky course was now punishing my until-then pampered feet. I hit the aid station in 2:54, still within arm’s reach of breaking 4 hrs, but unlikely seeing how I was feeling. Sure enough, once the return climb started for real on the paved switchbacks, my legs said “enough” and I power-hiked most everything else until we were finally cresting towards the final long downhill to the finish.
Breathing problems and the ensuing side stitches marked that downhill in my memory, but gravity was also helpful and for everyone that caught & passed me, I seemed to catch & pass someone hurting even more. With no chance at four hours, I simply cruised it in and finished in 4:12. Considering how I *wanted* to run that course (even splits), the 1:56/2:16 split looks pretty horrific. Like I said though, it’d been over a year so I suppose I was a little under-estimating (over-estimating?) what “easy” *should* feel like in a trail 50k. When in doubt, slow down even more.
It was a good return though, I suppose. I’d like to run White River again this year, so it was prudent I do at least a tuneup race beyond 26 miles in length, and preferably on trails. Later that day Claire and I walked around a bit and then took a mini daytrip to Portland the following day before driving back north. Recovery has been pretty good; ~35 easy miles and I feel back to normal now. I’m not in any hurry to run any other ultra races before then, but we’ll see if anything looks enticing. I do know I’ll probably be spending a few mornings on Mt Si before WR’s late-July race date, learning again how to climb and descend with a modicum of ability.