The final 20 miles of Jed Smith were still seared in my brain when I began this delicious 50 mile trail run, and wanting to reverse the way my energy played out at Jed, I began relaxed and conservative. Amy Sproston and Shawna Tompkins skittered off quickly and I didn’t attempt to follow closely, willing to let the chips fall where they may. It was still slightly dark so I couldn’t make out who was ahead, and focused on staying upright as dawn slowly rose. The beginning miles were technical and climbed steadily. When I could finally see clearly, I started glancing ahead the far off trail to see if I could make out where the gals were. I finally spotted Amy’s bright red Montrail shirt, glanced at my watch, and two minutes later was where she had been spotted, and we were only 4 miles into the race. Well she was definitely moving quicker than I, but it was early, so I didn’t feel compelled to go after her.
A thin coastal fog kept the sunshine at bay, but the temperature was quite mild. I could hear excited chatter behind, and see runners ahead – the terrain was largely scrubby with Manzanita, Eucalyptis and poison oak, none of which were tall enough to obscure the views. When I dared glance off to my left, I was given great oceans views. Then, turning inland, the trail opened into a low meadow. Running through here felt slow, flat, dead. For a few moments I thought I was going to have a 45 mile death march, but when the ground firmed up, I felt stronger, and eventually eased my way into aid station 1. I was followed in closely by dear friend Scotty Mills who was busy flicking “helpful advice” to his comrades.
My Nathan pack still had enough fluid, so I downed a gel, some coke, some GuBrew, took an extra gel for the road, and headed onto the first long downhill. It was sweet single track, and it seemed to go on forever. I was in a train of runners, and while I felt as if I could go faster here, I decided to chill and stay tucked in line where I was. It seemed it would never end, and I wasn’t alone in my concern for how much uphill we would have to make up for this free ride.
It finally ended with a flat low section and shortly after we were faced with the price to pay – a steep, long, steady climb that was not quite steep enough to hike the whole thing. I was jogging slowly when San Diego runner Angela Shartel ran up beside me. She assured me that I didn’t need to worry about her, she was having a terrible day already and wasn’t sure she was going to do the 50 mile. Her sciatic nerve was really hurting and her confidence was thin. I encouraged her to not throw in the towel just yet – there were still several miles left before she had to make up her mind. I slowly pulled away, jogging and hiking the long climb, and at the top returned to the first (and now the second) aid station. This time I filled my pack with GuBrew, ate another gel, drank from cups, took some salt, and when I was ready to go again I had no idea how many had passed me here. I resisted the temptation to ask the volunteer keeping track of the runners when Amy and Shawna had passed through. I just didn’t want to go crazy. I hit the trail with no one in sight, as the shrubbery was higher here, and the trail was very circuitous, and a gradual downhill. I could hear voices behind me, as well as the occasional “HOWWWLLLL” by celebratory runners. On the next climb up I was overtaken by a male runner, commenting as he went by “I feel like The Court Jester passing The Queen.” I chuckled and asked who he is – “Tyler Cates” – a runner from Eugene I hadn’t met yet, but who is among the lucky to be in Western States 100 this year. He informed me he was running the 50k as he pulled away.
Alone again, I forged on, to a now more open view. I could see runners as specks on the climb ahead, but didn’t get any closer. One climb led to another down, and finally I could hear the welcomes from the next aid station. I cruised in, grabbed drinks, gels, salt, and suddenly I was running like I meant to race. I passed two men on the way out of the aid station, yelling “come on boys!” and felt like my body finally woke up and was ready to rock. The next section was more lush, following along a creek bed. I soon reeled Tyler back in, as well as Scotty Mills, who felt compelled to comment on being passed by someone “really old”. I pumped both fists in the air shouting “Yeah!” Tyler worked his way back in front on the next climb, and as he crested, the trails for the separate race distances divided. He yelled something about “The Queen!” as he sailed towards home, and I turned left, 22 miles into the race now, and midway through the longest climb.
With only the 50 mile runners on this part of the course, I knew we would be very spread out. I climbed and climbed, and my left knee began to complain. Rats. A tracking problem had emerged a few weeks before, and even though it had been straightened out by my massage therapist, there was apparently residual irritation. Having bigger fish to fry in the months ahead (World 100k Championships, Comrades, Western States) I backed off a bit, and eventually the pain went away. Relieved, I pushed on. The climb was shaded in parts by dense shrubbery, some of which I impaled an eyeball on – wow that hurt! I decided that the sunglasses would better serve me on my face, and after I could stand straight again I stumbled on up the trail. Having felt alone for quite some time, I was relieved to finally see another runner ahead. It was Angela again, and she was walking slowly and resignedly. As I passed her she jokingly chided me for encouraging her run the 50 mile, as her sciatica was really acting up now. She said she was just going to do what it took to finish. I jogged by and soon crested and started some downhill running – and my knee started hurting again. Buggar. I worked very hard at keeping my feet under me, not over striding, and not braking with my quads. It was a different kind of challenge, but eventually my knee stopped hurting.
This was well into the out-and-back section and sure enough, the men’s leader, Jorge Maravilla came floating towards me, so relaxed and fresh that I was confused about whether or not he was in the race. I was then descending again, a very steep rocky road, realizing that I had to come back up, and I was fully engaging my hamstrings to spare my knee. Surprising me again, Angela caught up to me, saying I was inspiring her and she was having a bit of a respite. We came into the next aid station, where I drank and ate a gel, then scooted out for the 3 mile section to the turn around. Now the rest of the lead men started to come by – Jorge Pacheco, Chris Price, Mark Hartell, Tommy Neilson, Jimmy Dean Freeman, and some I don’t know yet. I was being given reports as to where Amy and Shawna were, but was soon to find out for sure. Amy came around a corner, looking strong and composed. She encouraged me and I shouted out “do you have any Advil?” I got no response, and later she let me know that she thought I had asked her if she wanted to take the car keys since she would be finishing first – and she wasn’t about to add that complication to her race! About 5 minutes later, I encountered Shawna, also looking very strong. I made it to the turn around, drank a cup of water, and headed back. About 2 minutes back from me was Angela, moving well. Traffic in both directions was getting a little thicker, and it was great to be encouraged and to encourage in return.
The fog had burned off and it was heating up. To this winter-chilled Oregonian, it was a welcome sensation. I kept the salt going in, the gels going in, and the fluids. My energy had been pretty good and steady all day, so while I may not have been running as fast as I sometimes do, I was not in a bad place. I returned to the aid station, followed closely by Angela, refilled my backpack and began to hike/jog back up the steep rocky climb. There were many families out enjoying the trail, all very encouraging to the runners.
Now the previously unrelenting uphill became the 9 mile long downhill. My knee was cranky. I was willing to take Advil (something I hadn’t done in years) to ease the pain in my knee. I was also wishing for a pacer – someone to keep me company and keep me focused, when Angela again caught me. “No frickin’ way! Why do I keep catching you?” I asked her if she had any Advil, but she stated that the stuff scared her. I asked her if she wanted to pass, but she said I would just catch her again. From that point on, we stayed together, managing our individual pains, sharing life stories, encouraging each other. At the last aid station I took a gel, a couple of salt tabs, and drank 3 or 4 cups of fluids, foregoing a refill. We had only 4.5 miles left, and Shawna was reportedly just a few minutes ahead.
My knee had stopped hurting now, and I was glad I hadn’t used any painkillers. We had one more friggin’ long climb, and then a sweet long gentle down hill run to the finish. We approached the finish line to the cheering crowd, and crossed side by side, tying for 3rd place. Amy was there to greet me with a big grin and hug – I asked her how long she had been done. “Oh, I don’t know – 40 minutes?” Yowza!
This race is a keeper. Well organized, single track, views of the ocean, and a great time of year to get out of more wintery states. Thanks to Keira and all her volunteers for putting on this great event!