Multnomah Falls to Larch Mountain and back

August 31, 2012

On Thursday, I hiked as fast as I could up to the top of Larch Mountain from the base of Multomah Falls, then ran back down.


The highways at the base of the falls (it’s accessible from both I-84 and the Historic Columbia Gorge Highway) are at an elevation right around 50 feet. Sherrard Point, the top of Larch Mountain, is at 4056 feet. So that’s a 4000 foot elevation gain over seven miles. It’s a relatively consistent climb.


The first mile is on paved switchbacks, getting up to the top of Multnomah Falls. The first quarter mile of that is wall-to-wall tourists, getting up to the bridge over the creek between the upper and lower falls. The rest of the paved way to the top is only a little less crowded. If you’re a runner doing this, don’t plan on running this part.

Up at the top, you can follow a dead-end trail branch to go over to the overlook at the top of the falls, or follow the main trail upstream along Multomah Creek. This is “Larch Mountain Trail 441” and you follow it all the way up. The next few miles along the creek are scenic and offer varied terrain, including some difficult-to-run rocky bits.


Eventually you leave the creek and head off into a section with some serious rocky bits. This was entirely unrunnable on the way back down.


There’s only a quarter-mile or so of this kind of exposed carved-through-the-rockfall trail, but long sections of the forested paths around there are also dangerously rocky to run through.

After slogging uphill forever, you get past all the rocks and reach the last stretches, angling up the side of the shield volcano that is Larch Mountain. The trails here are fairly evenly graded and runnable, though if you still have the energy left to run it on the way up, you’re a stronger man than I.

I took two hours and one minutes up and an hour six down, stopping for lunch at Sherrard Point in between.


Race Report: 2012 Foot Traffic Flat Half Marathon

July 5, 2012

I’ve been getting back into shape over the last few months, working my way back to 40-mile weeks while focusing on speed instead of distance. (In the past, a 40-mile week was often a 20-mile run on Saturday plus twenty more miles spread across four weekdays; this time around I’m running six or seven days a week without the really long run.) Based on some recent training runs, I thought I might have a shot at a PR at the Foot Traffic Half, the same race where, back in ’09, I set my previous best. That was a 1:31:47, a 7:01/mile average pace.

July 4 was a Wednesday this year, so that’s when the race was. I tried to get up early to beat the traffic out to Sauvie Island, but I failed: even at 5:40 in the morning, there was still a very long line of cars backed up on the road to the start. I was finally parked at 6:15, which didn’t leave me a lot of time to pick up my bib number and use the bathroom before the 6:45 start. The weather was sunny but not hot. There were some unpleasant headwinds on the course.

I ran it hard, focusing on the race and on staying in the moment, rather than on the scenery or on worrying about whether I could finish. Or I tried to, anyway. Once again I was reminded that racing my hardest never feels good. Up against my limits, I always feel out of shape — it doesn’t matter what actual speed I’m running.

Mile splits, according to my GPS: 6:40 6:43 6:46 6:42 6:37 6:43 6:50 6:51 6:53 6:50 6:55 6:48 6:32. The same, in graph form:

So, I guess I came out fast and slowed for miles 2 and 3, then warmed up and got a little faster until mile 6, when I started getting tired. I picked it up nicely for the last three miles, though. Near the end, I knew from my watch that my average pace was going to be near 6:50/mile, but I wasn’t up to trying to do any math to figure out what that meant as far as total finishing time — all I knew was that it would be a PR and be close to an hour thirty. In fact, between my last couple fast miles and my poor math skills, I did better than that.

Official time: 1:28:46. 6:46/mile average pace. Three minutes and one second better than my old PR!

Official results here. It was a strong field. I was 61st place overall, out of 1874 finishers. 50th male out of 610. 8th male aged 40-44 out of 85.

Race Report: 2012 Eugene Marathon

May 1, 2012

My training was compromised for this race. Even before I broke my toe, I had a long bout of Plantar Fasciitis. Then the toe took me totally out of running for six weeks, so I started building up again from scratch in early February. I did manage to do two 20-mile runs, but my weekly mileage was mostly under thirty, and my speed never recovered.
Then I had a heck of a week leading up to the race:

  1. The Sunday before, the toenail on that toe I broke came off. (This would be the one on my left big toe.) I may have wiggled it off a little before it was ready, but I thought that would be better than having it fall off during the marathon. Little did I realize how wounded the nail bed was underneath! Either the original wound under there never healed up (after four months?) or my continued running kept re-injuring the area. I would have some bleeding during most training runs, but I was chalking that up to a loose toenail shifting around and cutting the skin or something. Instead it turned out to be a good-sized moist and inflamed horror of a wound under there. It didn’t hurt much, but would that be true for 26 miles?
  2. The next evening after I laid down in bed I started to feel an all-too familiar feeling in my lower back: I was experiencing a kidney stone. It would be my third such incident in 11 years. Once I was sure what it was, I figured the marathon was not to be — I’d be on painkillers and in no shape for anything physical for several days. This time turned out different though. We headed for the emergency room as the pain was peaking. By the time we got there, it was already starting to subside. Three hours, one I.V. bag, and a CAT scan later, we had a confirmed diagnosis of a three millimeter stone almost out already and no pain or irritation whatsoever left. It didn’t bother me again.
  3. I had some painful sciatica most of the week, leaving me hobbling around in pain and further psychologically demoralized.

For most of the week, then, I was telling people that I might or might not run it, depending on how I felt as race day approached. It wasn’t until Friday that I made up my mind to go. We headed down to Eugene on Saturday and stayed the night with my mom as usual. I had a pretty big pizza dinner, then slept well the night before.

What perfect weather we had! It wasn’t cold at the start and it never got too hot. The sun peeked out a little but it was mostly cloudy.

A friend of mine was running his first marathon and I had offered to pace him. He thought he could run about a 3:40. He didn’t want me pacing him until the bitter end if he started slowing down, but we agreed to run together as long as he was hitting his splits. This was a great plan until I was unable to locate him at the start line. It seems like Eugene is getting more crowded every year… There were a few rounds of fruitless phone- and texting-tag which led me to believe he was still in the bathroom lines as the race was starting, but I couldn’t be sure.

I spent the first two miles of the race kind of sweeping the area between the 3:45 and 3:35 pacers, looking for him. I didn’t have any luck, so when I passed our families on the sidelines around mile two, I stopped and asked if they had seen him. They had not. I waited with them for a while, looking for him to pass. Some seemed shocked by this — what happened to ultra-competitive Scott?  Eventually my friend’s parents spotted him and pointed him out to me. I quickly caught up to him and found that we were a little behind the 3:45 pacer. We slowly inched our way past.

It was fun running through South Eugene with my friend, pointing out the personal landmarks — my elementary school, the house I grew up in, etc. My “pacing” mostly consisted of telling him he was running a little too fast and holding him back, especially down the gentle hills. I think I did a pretty good job of it — we came through the half marathon at almost exactly 1:50. I told him banking time when you’re still feeling good almost never pays off, and that even splits are the best way to go. I still think it’s true.

Near mile 17 my friend’s breathing was getting labored and we were starting to slow down. I was still feeling pretty good. My toe wasn’t a problem. We talked about our plan once more and we parted ways. I sped up to a pace somewhere under eight minutes a mile. Up until then, we’d been doing around 8:24. Even at the faster speed, I was still having fun. Miles 17-20 were all pretty easy feeling. It didn’t hurt that I was passing so many people. I thought I would try to catch up to the 3:35 pace group.

After mile 21, my left thigh stiffened up a lot. I could feel the tight muscles pulling on my kneecap as well. At last my poor training volume was coming into play. I could feel the leg get better when I shortened my stride and slowed down a bit, and worse when I sped up. I had no real motivation to kill myself, so I tried to maintain a speed below the tightness threshold. That turned out to be just a few seconds slower than eight minute miles.

My other problem was that I really hadn’t tied my shoes tight enough, and my right foot (not the one with the nail-free toe) was sliding around too much. I was getting some pain from a couple of the nails. In the end, I think they were just digging into the toe a bit; they hurt a lot after the race but healed almost completely by the next day. It’s a tricky balance, tying the shoe — too loose around the ankle and this happens, too tight and your whole foot gets bruised.

I never did catch that 3:35 pacer.

I had a few sips of PBR from the unofficial beer aid station at mile 24 (briefly chastising them for the poor choice) and carried on toward the finish. As always, that last lonely mile on the inaccessible bike path before you get back to the streets was a test. This year I passed.

Heading into Hayward field for the finish was fun, as always. With twenty yards left, I looked over to my right and saw some guy trying to pass me! This could not stand. I ratcheted up my speed and left him behind. What a jerk. (Him, or me? You decide.) I finished in 3:36. My finishing photo is not too bad if you ignore the weird angle of my trailing foot.

Once done, I found myself relatively mobile — those right-side toenails were the biggest problem. I had a chocolate milk and a banana in the recovery area, then I found my people in the stands just as my friend was finishing. He did great! I was worried that he would really fade, but he pulled out a 3:45.

Our families had a combined victory lunch later at one of our usual spots, Marché in the Fifth Street Market. I had my hamburger and two excellent Bulleit Rye Manhattans. Because I am a dork, I wore my race shirt and finisher’s medal.

I’m quite happy with this race. I had a lot of fun, and feel re-motivated to keep training and run some fast marathons again soon.

Official results: 3:36:37 (8:16/mile avg pace). 570th/2346 finishers. 447th/1281 men, 78th/205 men 40-44.

20: St Johns Bridge and Leif Erickson

March 31, 2012

I ran my first 20-miler in what seems like forever today. The route, above, worked out really well. Running over the St. John’s Bridge in far North Portland is fun (as anyone who’s run the Portland Marathon can tell you) but running on NW St Helens Rd/Highway 30 to get there or back is not (as anyone who’s run the Portland Marathon can also tell you). But you can detour around that by taking Forest Park’s Ridge Trail, which connects the south end of the bridge to milepost 8.5 of Leif Erickson Drive. If you finish the loop across the Broadway Bridge, it works out to almost exactly 20 miles, all on sidewalks or trails and with few busy road crossings.

The Ridge Trail is a steep little six-tenth of a mile. It’s pretty obvious where it falls in this elevation profile. (Ignore the dip between mile eight and nine; that’s where the software doesn’t know there’s a bridge and thinks I  ran across the water.)

I mostly walked going up the trail. It was in pretty good shape, especially considering all the rain we’ve had lately. The rain continued during my run and there were lots and lots of puddles everywhere. For a while I tried to go around them, and found myself irritated every time I drifted off and stepped in one. But after three or four miles I gave up on keeping my shoes dry and just waded through.

My feet were sore by the end of the run, but other than that, all good.

Accomplishment Unlocked: Cross Ross Island Bridge on Foot

February 18, 2012

Check one more lifetime accomplishment of extremely dubious value off the list: I’ve now run over the Ross Island Bridge.

There’s no reason to ever do this, other than to say it’s been done. The bridge run is seven-tenths of a mile on a sidewalk with four lanes of very fast traffic shooting by right next to you. The river view from up there might get more interesting when they get further into the construction of the new Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Bridge, but for now you find yourself looking at pretty humdrum section of the river with a few barges and cranes playing around it it.

The west-side approach to the bridge is pedestrian-unfriendly, involving scrambling across a crosswalk-free ramp. Neither side is particularly easy to navigate on foot — it’s not obvious just how to get up to the bridge from the more usual running paths down along the river. (I ran west-to-east, since I had a slightly better idea of where to get onto the bridge on the west side, and figured getting off the bridge would be easier to figure out than getting on.) I can’t give any good directions, but if you stare at that GPS-generated map up there closely enough, you might get the idea.

The seminal work on being a pedestrian on the Ross Island is, of course, cyclotram’s “How to walk the Ross Island Bridge and not die, if you’re lucky“.  It is an absolute must-read for anybody with any interest in the topic of how crappy it is to walk across the Ross Island Bridge. It is a true classic in the genre. (I refer here to the how-to-walk-across-various-Portland-bridges-without-dying genre, of which cyclotram is the primary and perhaps only contributor.) My small efforts (like this) perhaps don’t count, since I am in fact running, not walking, which arguably makes it easier not to die. Cyclotram’s posts also have a lot more pictures, maps, and history than mine. He makes the interesting note that the Ross Island Bridge has been crappy to walk across since the 1940s, which demonstrates some remarkable forward-thinking.

I decided to run across the Ross Island Bridge today because (a) I never had and (b) I thought it would be a good way to get an eight-mile run from our new place in NW Portland. This eight-miler capped an 18-mile week for me, and my toe feels entirely healed. I’m slow slow slow still but I’m getting back.


February 7, 2012

Three very slow miles yesterday, with the running group. It was fine. I could feel a little pressure and numbness in my toe, but nothing alarming, and it felt perfectly fine post-run. As much as I’d like to ramp up my miles immediately, I’ll probably try to stick to alternate days running and resting it until it regains its full flexibility: right now, it’s still  little difficult to bend it fully down, presumably indicating that there’s still some swelling.


February 4, 2012

I ran a mile today.