First race of 2017!!! Hell yes!
I had the most amazing time at Gorge Waterfalls 50k last weekend. It’s a gorgeous (obviously), scenic course located in the Columbia River Gorge in between Oregon and Washington that passes over, under, and behind more waterfalls than I could even keep track of.
I ended up getting a wee bit lost and finished my race with a total of 33.25 miles, which is really hilarious because I had a feeling going into this that I was going to run 33 miles. I don’t know if that’s just razor-sharp intuition or I secretly wanted to pound out my age in miles, but this race was full of funny number coincidences like that.
Since this was my first race of the year, and required more logistical attention than most others, I was a lil bundle of nerves in the weeks leading up to it. That is until I remembered that my friend/ultra stud/race director for Headwaters (now open for registration btw) was also going to be there.
HU-MUN-GOUS thanks to Gerad Dean for his part in making this weekend exceptionally awesome, and for being the person to let me know how rad Rainshadow races are in the first place.
The weather on Sunday was absolutely perfect for the 50k race. Seriously, we could not have possibly asked for better running weather. High 50’s and overcast in wet and wild Oregon felt like heaven after getting scorched by the harsh Arizona sun a couple weeks before.
The 100k runners on Saturday didn’t get treated quite so nice, but we bundled up and hung out at Benson State Park to watch the first finishers come through.
Jim Walmsley smashed the course record by 47 minutes and sauntered through the finish like it was no big deal. I’m telling you, the man did NOT look like he just ran 100k. No- it was more like he emerged fresh from an REI dressing room and was about to ask the crowd if we thought these shorts made his butt look good.
Walmsley golfed his way to a Western States Golden Ticket.
By the way- the guy who took that photo, Guillaume Calmettes, gets my personal vote for race volunteer MVP for his first-class cheerleading skills. I saw him everywhere as he popped in and out of various points on the trail to support his girlfriend, Pauline, who totally rocked her first ultra that day!
But for real, every race needs one of him. He was like Santa Claus. Ultra Santa? Yes.
On the morning of the race, I was super jazzed to learn that Gerad and I were assigned all of my lucky numbers on our bibs combined. I was feeling so good, it was a real struggle to keep from blowing my ultra energy on bouncing around the parking lot like a fluffy sparklecloud.
The 50k runners loaded up on skool busses to get from the finish at Benson to the start at Wyeth. These bus rides can be intimidating because you get to really feel the distance you’re about to cover on foot while rolling effortlessly on wheels. I remember the bus ride to the start of my first marathon in Napa Valley seven years ago. I got so nervous I thought I was going to throw up.
These bus rides can be intimidating because you get to really feel the distance you’re about to cover on foot while rolling effortlessly on wheels. I remember the bus ride to the start of my first marathon in Napa Valley seven years ago. I got so nervous I thought I was going to throw up.
This time was different, though. I remained optimistic while snapping silly selfies and sending pics of myself covered in the Batman tattoos my BFF mailed to me before the race.
The race started a little past 9 a.m. I wished Gerad good luck as he made his way to the front of the pack while I stayed put in the middle. I had no clue what to expect from myself time-wise, and only knew that I really wanted to enjoy the spectacular scenery.
Because of this, I sat in bumper to bumper traffic for the first few miles- (maybe even the first five miles?) as we snaked our way through lush, mossy single track.
During this slow-moving period, I made friends with the runner immediately in front of me, a dude named Fraser who lives in Seattle.
We were both passed by this little dog, who finished the entire race with her human!
That lil fluff ball is tough as nails!
I was moving slower than I wanted to, but didn’t mind until people up ahead started walking. I was like, “oh no, I am not about to comply with that,” and bellowed my intentions to pass a whole line of people on their left while pushing my way to a more acceptable pace space.
There were hold-ups at every patch of snow and creek crossing, but walking on the trail was just out of the question for me.
I cut ahead just in the nick of time, too, because the trail started to go downhill, and I let my fresh legs fly down that slope, leaving everyone I had been shuffling along with far behind.
I eventually caught up with a little knot of runners I felt happy trotting along with, including Green Shirt, who I stayed behind for the next several miles.
The trail was a little rocky, a little muddy, and a little slippery. We crossed hella creeks and had to go over/under many a fallen tree.
But it was all good. I really enjoyed the diversity in terrain and think the action of swinging my legs over tree trunks was welcome relief for my hips. It felt good.
Due to the rough winter, a section of the trail was completely washed out, so James, the race director, supervised each runner as we made our way up this muddy bank with a rope.
I didn’t hit another traffic jam until the first aid station around mile 9 or 10. It was crowded with friends and family, which is really sweet… until they start blocking the path between the food and my face.
Don’t ever do that.
The remainder of the race was way less crowded, but I still always had another runner in my sight- either ahead of or behind me. This is why, at mile 24ish, I knew I had wandered off-course.
The course was very well marked with signs and pink tape, but I couldn’t see any of that when a small group of tourists blocked my view of the turn I was supposed to make in a particularly crowded section of the race.
I found myself slowly hiking up a steep and extremely rocky trail that was swarming with people who weren’t wearing race bibs.
In addition to feeling tired from running over 20 miles, I was pretty distracted by all this action and a little too focused on how miserable that section of the trail was. My giddy smiles were replaced by pleas for hikers to carry me, along with occasional grumblings about how this horrendous slog was surely never going to end.
At some point, I realized that it had been a while since I had seen a course marker or another runner. I asked the people up ahead of me if they had seen any of those things, either, and they promptly let me know that I’d taken a wrong turn about a half mile back.
For a second, I got really mad at myself for not paying attention, but those feelings fizzled once I found the right turn and realized what had happened.
Happy once again, I continued on to tackle the behemoth hill that took up the last five miles or so of the race. Most of the climb was up pavement, which felt so nice after the gnarly rocks I imposed upon myself.
Multnomah Falls was epic, and the section of trail past that area just made me feel like I was running through Jurassic Park.
I quit taking pictures at that point because my hands were filthy, my brain was hardly functioning, and I kept dropping shit.
But Pauline took a sweet shot the day before!
As we came off the hill and ran past the parking lot at Benson, I really had to control my urge to just cut across without following the other runners around to the finish line. My Garmin said I had already run over 50 kilometers and I was ready to finish. Most of all, I wanted to sink my teeth into some fresh fruit.
And that’s exactly where Gerad found me after I stormed across the finish- attacking a watermelon with my face. My dirty, happy face.
I finished the 50k in 7:24 (my slowest 50k time so far), about two and a half hours after Gerad, who finished 7th male (777!) in 4:52. Blows my mind.
And then there was beer and super fresh pizza and many happy, tired, awesome people.
I would like to thank the Rainshadow Running crew, the rest of the runners, and all the wonderful volunteers that made this race happen. I had a ridiculous amount of fun and can’t wait for my next Rainshadow race (Waldo 100k, baby!)
Also- thank you to photographer Glenn Tachiyama for capturing this moment, which is so much better than the deranged selfie I took at that waterfall.
Thank you to Sedona Running Company for hooking me up with a discount on new Saucony Peregrines that helped me fly fearlessly on Sunday.
Thanks to Goodr for my Pink Flamingos on a Booze Cruise shades that have survived multiple rock drops without a scratch to show for it.
Thanks to Hammer Nutrition for keeping my muscles well-fed. I notice a huge difference from taking their Endurance Aminos on long runs.
Thanks to Pauline and Guillaume for bringing enough stoke to share and taking great Instagram pics!
Thanks again to Gerad Dean for all-around awesomeness and my Golden Girl Jessica for transferring her superpowers to me and always making sure I look DOPE!
I feel great, with the exception of a bizarre wrist injury that could have resulted from swinging on trees… (it was that kind of race.)
Next up for me is the Grand Canyon 50k May 27.
Freelance writer. Trail runner. Relentless savage.