I was under-trained and still recovering from an injury going into this and had a feeling I was tempting fate (and not properly respecting the distance) when I told myself “it’s only a 50K” — as I had many times over the previous few weeks.
Approximate Elevation Profile for the 2010 MRTR. See a map of it here.
We drove up to McKenzie Bridge (150 miles from home; 20 from the starting line) Friday afternoon. We were staying in a motel this time, not (thankfully) camping. Friday packet pickup was in front of a restaurant just across the highway from the motel. We managed to scramble across without getting flattened. Goodies included a fleece beanie and — first time I’ve seen this — a bottle of wine. It was “McKenzie River Red,” actually a custom label on some bottle of Oregon table wine. (Saturday evening I was surprised to find that it wasn’t that bad, in a generic inoffensive two-buck-Chuck sort of way.) We grabbed dinner at the restaurant, too, and I tempted fate some more by eating way too much greasy pizza. Back in the hotel room, things were nice and quiet and I got a good night’s sleep.
We got to the 7:30 start with plenty of time left and found an area to wedge the car into, which we chose to call a parking spot. I’m not sure if the runners had enough parking, but the space they had for temporary parking for crews was way too small. I’m sure it all worked out. Sweetie was crewing me, in that she was dropping me off at the start, seeing me at most of the aid stations, and picking me up at the end. It was a nice luxury to have in a point-to-point race like this. It would also make DNFing (dropping out early) really easy, if it came to that.
I understand that both the start and finish locations were re-jiggered for this year’s running, I think due to construction at the usual spots. We started at the Ice Cap campground and ran in a little circle to get over to the usual start by Carmen Reservoir. I found myself running with Mac, doing his first 50K, and April, who I remembered seeing at the PCT 50.
Once we hit the usual start, the trail became incredible. It was a magically beautiful combination of fir trees, moss, and rocks, with the headwaters of the McKenzie River providing the soundtrack. We were making our way up some pretty steep sections, including some railroad-tie staircases. I was glad to take it slow — not that I had a choice. The true single-track trail made passing nearly impossible and all of us were still tightly bunched together. It felt like an exceptionally fun group run. In the first three miles, we passed by two spectacular waterfalls, crossed the highway, and made our way around to the eastern shore of Clear Lake.
Now we were running on trails through lava fields, overlooking a serene lake in the mountains. The path, for a little while, became asphalt, which made for a nice break from having to constantly watch where to place your feet. Then the asphalt petered out and the trail had sections composed of coarse volcanic rocks… which weren’t bad to run on, actually, though I did wonder how the guy ahead of me in the Vibram FiveFingers was enjoying it.
After a couple of miles along the lake, we kept heading north and reached the first aid station, somewhere near mile six. We were finally spread out enough that I could run the pace I chose, rather than have it dictated by the crowds, but I still wanted to keep it slow. The little out-and-back past the aid station went up a pretty steep incline, and it was nice to not feel like I had to push it. I walked the steeper bits. Still, I started passing people here and there, especially on the way back down.
The next five or six miles brought us back to near the start area. The scenery calmed down to merely beautiful, instead of spectacular. I was still feeling good, with no complaints from my knee. At the next aid station, Sweetie was waiting to see me. She’d had a pretty tiring hike to get there, but I didn’t find out about that until later. I was glad to see her and she was glad I was feeling OK. I crossed the river on the little log bridge there and headed downstream.
For the first mile or two after that, I think, the trail swung away from the river, then skirted Carmen Reservoir — nothing very interesting, but at least we were heading mostly downhill now. After it rejoined the river, life got interesting. The river rushes down a long series of falls and cataracts in this area, and the trail charges alongside, one steep rocky stair-step switch-back after another. This would be a great section to walk and enjoy the sights. It was fun to run it, too, but I have to admit I was staring at the ground right in front of my feet most of the time. I only fell once, and luckily it was on an uphill, so it was barely a fall. However, I did roll my weak left ankle. And again. And again. By the time I stumbled into the next aid station, I’d lost count. Four times? Five? (I also heard that a lot of people got bee stings at one spot through here. I guess I was fortunate to be far enough back in the pack that the bees were all stung out by the time I went through.)
At the aid station, Sweetie asked how my knee was and I told her I’d rolled my ankle too many times for my knee to hurt, which gave the old lady pouring water into my bottle a chuckle. I took a moment to tighten my left shoelace; the shoe seemed to be slipping and sliding a little too much. I should have just tightened both — I’d stop and re-lace the right one several miles farther on.
After that, the specifics of the trail get a little hazy in my memory. The aid station was around mile 18 which is right about where running usually starts to feel like work to me. Somewhere in here the trail veered off from being right next to the river and angled up the steep high bank, giving us a significant climb. I felt like having a word with whoever planned this trail at this point, pointing out that the river was way down there and this detour could be seen as cruel.
That was the last of the sustained uphill, though. Though the scenery never again approached that of miles 1-6 or 14-17, the soft trails and gentle downhills more than made up for it in some ways. I can’t imagine a kinder way to plan the last 10 miles of a 50K.
Around mile 26, my knee started feeling really tight. I stopped and stretched my quads for a bit, and it helped some, for a while. Coming to the last aid station near mile 27, I knew I was going to be able to finish, probably without having to walk it in. (I should admit that I had been doing the “OK, if I do have to walk the rest, how long will it take?” calculations since at least mile 20.) But things were going really well. Though I wasn’t pushing hard, I had been continually passing people since around mile eight. As best I can recall, only two people passed me, and they blew by so fast I figured they must have showed up late to the starting line. My knee felt tight and generally bad, but I didn’t have any of the localized sharp twinges that convinced me to stop at the PCT 50.
The last two or three miles were a lot less brutal than other 50Ks I’ve done. I suppose that’s partly because I had done a good job conserving energy, but I have to give most of the credit to the mile after mile of soft, wooded, gently downhill trail.
Eventually a small pack of us hit a gravel road and the volunteer told us it was three-quarters of a mile to the finish. The road was wide and seemed flat, and I opened up my stride and ran hard. Then I came around a curve and found that the road climbed uphill. I kept running hard. The road kept climbing. Another curve. Another. Finally — finally — I could hear the finish line, and, after one last curve, see it, maybe a hundred flat yards away. I made it!
My time was something like 5:16, which was way off my 50K PR of 5:06:41 (at Hagg Lake), but still an awful lot better than I expected that day.
My knee grew stiffer and stiffer throughout the day, but felt a lot better the next morning. My ankle, which I didn’t even notice at the finish or for the rest of the day, felt tender and sore the next morning, but recovered some with use. My quads, predictably, started to feel sore late afternoon the next day. Recovery may take a while, but I think I’m OK with that right now.
Update: Official results (well, preliminary ones): 5:16:16, 44th/163 finishers.