“I’ve determined running is stupid…” I most definitely said that around mile 50 of the 2016 Gorge Waterfalls 100km run. This was to be my only ‘race’ of the year, and while I was in good shape, I was definitely not in peak running shape, which led a pretty impressive deterioration of my mental state throughout the day. This report will delve a bit more into my psyche than talk about the race course, which was beautiful. If you’d like to get a feel for the beauty of the Columbia River Gorge trails check out some of the photos or my race video linked at the bottom.
I don’t think I have ever entered a long distance race (>50km) with less race specific planning than I did for the 2016 Gorge Waterfalls 100km, and if you know me, you know I love my logistics. Four days before about all I knew was that it was near Portland, Oregon, it was 100km long, and was on mostly runnable trails. I couldn’t have told you where the trails were exactly, how many aid stations there were, heck I didn’t even know what time the race started! So I simply threw a whole bunch of stuff in my suitcase then on the plane flight out took a glance at the course and race logistics to devise some semblance of a plan.
We (a group of Rocky Mountain Runners) arrived in Portland just before midday Friday, so after grabbing a quick lunch we drove out to checkout the course and to see some waterfalls. We had lucked into one of those weather windows that only visits the PNW on rare occasions, so tromping around the sun-soaked lush green forest to the top of 620ft Multnomah falls seemed other worldly. The stoke was high and all of us were excited to run the whole course the following day.
The alarms buzzed at an all too early hour (3:50am) and after the standard morning rituals we made our way over to the start line at Benson State Park, got checked in, then just milled about for the next 45min. We were all in good spirits and just ready to get moving, so when James sent us off at 6am we were relieved to channel our nervous energy into something productive, moving forward. My initial race plan was to take it fairly easy overall and just enjoy the course, so I trotted off at a casual pace somewhere near the middle of the pack. As the sun rose the roaring that was once hidden by darkness was exposed for the beautiful cascades that they are. I jogged along snapping photos and taking video, not thinking much about the pace.
As I cruised through the first two aid stations (No Name and Yeon) it became apparent I was moving way faster than I’d intended, but it felt good so I just kept cruising along. Surprisingly, I found myself mostly running alone after the first 15miles, though I guess this is a situation I find myself in more and more; behind the lead pack, but in front of the mid/back of the pack. My mind wandered to the lichen coated trees, the moss covered rocks and the tiny wild flowers that dotted the green carpet that surrounded me. I couldn’t decide if I expected fairies to pop out from behind the trees or if there were Ewoks hiding in the ferns.
As the miles wore on I could tell all the runnable douche grade was getting to my legs and I was losing that pep in my step. After passing a few friends on their return trip (it’s an out and back) I hit the turn around, refueled a bit then set off back up the long 5mile climb. For some reason in my mind I thought I could use the energy of the other runners I passed to push myself hard up the climb, and that would be a good thing…..oh boy was I wrong. While I was able to run most of the climb, it sucked the energy right out of me and sent me into a downward spiral. I fell into a calorie and electrolyte deficit and trudged my way into Cascade Locks feeling pretty defeated and a little light headed.
It was good to see a few friendly faces there as it gave me an emotional boost, but I still wasn’t feeling so hot and had to talk myself out of sitting down several times. Finally I grabbed a Reese’s and just set off up the trail at a swift hike, determined to keep moving forward no matter what. The next several miles felt like an eternity, my body felt ok, but my mind was incredibly foggy. Finally a few miles before Yeon my mind and body finally started to rebalance and I felt 100x better, so I cruised into the aid station with a bit more spunk.
The legs were still heavy, but at least I was back to moving a bit quicker. I was still quiet grumpy (for me), grumbling about the slippery rocks, the excessively runnable nature of the course and contemplating why I even signed up for this stupid thing. Even though I was feeling much better I found myself walking a whole bunch, just not feeling the motivation to put my head down and grind it out. I stopped when I saw pretty flowers and took photos, I paused in front of waterfalls to bath in the soothing mist, and once stopped to close my eyes to listen to the sounds of the rushing water.
When I finally rolled into the No Name aid station I got really excited, not because I knew I was only 6+ miles from the finish, but because I knew I was going to get to hike uphill and run downhill, no more flat!!! (well, less flat at least) I settled into a comfortable power hike and just went, stopping every so often to take a photo, but otherwise just chugging along. When I finally hit the asphalt at the bottom of the final descent I knew I was going to break 13hours, so any sense of urgency completely disappeared, I even stopped with a mile to go to take a picture of one of the waterfalls. When I crossed the finish line, James met me with a high-five to which I definitely responded that the course needed a few more hills, like 5000-7000ft of them. Most of the Rocky Mountain Runners were there to congratulate me, and the rest of the evening was spent scarfing down pizza and pie, drinking beer and sharing war stories about the struggles we all endured that day.
Ten years into my ultrarunning career I’m still learning lessons, first being that hiking and mountain fitness does not translate to faster running fitness (this was more a reminder). Second, I need to eat way more than I did to keep myself fully fueled. Third, is to remind myself that we do these things (races, etc) for fun, and when you’re feeling down sometimes all you need is to pause and admire the amazing scenery to refresh yourself. So while my Gorge Waterfalls 100k run didn’t go very smoothly (5:50 out, 7:00 back), it was a beautiful course, a great race, and a fun adventure with good friends. Thanks to Rainshadow Running for putting on such a wonderful event, all the Rocky Mountain Runners and others who shared the trail for the support and camaraderie, and Vfuel for keeping my fueled and mostly happy along the journey.
In the coming months I’m looking forward to getting back to climbing lots of mountains, backcountry skiing and scrambling as I prepare for some big summer projects ahead, stay tuned……