This was my first 50 miler and it was (spoiler alert!) hard.
Rainshadow Running is awesome. The races are well organized, the courses are beautiful, and their afterparties can’t be beat. I have done several of their races before and since I knew what to expect from their logistics, picking one of their races for my first 50 miler seemed natural. The race took place concurrently with the 50k and the 100k. It was one and two-thirds loops of the 50k course.
All the research I did about this course pointed to it being a good first 50 miler. The trails were all good quality and very runnable, the gain wasn't crazy (7,500’), and the course was marked exceptionally well. The only thing besides the INSANE distance about which I was worried was the potential for a sunny and hot day. Heat is my runner kryptonite. As you can see by the photo below, we had good cloud cover for most of the day and the temperature didn’t get much above 68˚. There was a bit of mist in the air at the start but the day was mostly dry. Perfect weather!
Rainshadow races have a great community and I’ve have gotten to know some truly great people running them. I was lucky enough to fall in with a really good group at the start of the race who helped me to slow down and keep to my plan. The first few hours flew by and all the hills felt easy. There was a lot of chatting, laughing, and marveling at the beautiful scenery. The video below shows off my good mood at the half-marathoin mark.
Looking back, and with the second loop for quality hindsight, the gradual uphill of the first 10 miles was harder than I thought it would be. There was only about a quarter mile that was actually steep but the climb to the first aid station (around mile 8) took quite a bit of effort. I ended up walking a lot more of the second loop than I would have liked. Next time, I’ll force myself to walk more the first time around to keep my effort lower.
After the peak near mile 10, there was a long (and really fun) descent that followed a downhill mountain bike trail - lots of twists and turns but nothing too technical or difficult. I took the video below at the top of the second real climb (up to Sun Mountain Lodge). It was starting to get hard at this point but I was happy that I held off the anxiety about the distance until mile 22.
Thinking back on the race, I felt great on the down and more and more rough on the up as the miles ticked by. Yeah, I ran too hard at the beginning.
I had a great time running down from the lodge. I saw a lot of other runners and passed quite a few people. The clouds were thinning out and it became easier to see the tops of the hills. Unfortunately, it was easy to see to the summit of the next climb too. This was the steepest and longest climb of the course and I crossed the marathon mark on the way up.
When I got to the top, I sat down for a minute and just took in the scenery. There was no one else up there and I was surprised how peaceful it was (at mile 27). I guess that’s why we do these things though, for the chance to get somewhere remote and difficult and beautiful. As I started down, I paused to look at the long string of runners switch backing up the long climb. Cool stuff.
Five weeks before this race, I rolled my ankle severely running down Tanner Butte in the Gorge. I tore some ligaments and made a general mess of the whole joint. I don’t have the right words to express just how lucky I was that it wasn’t worse and that I could still train for and run this race. It felt pretty stable for the entire day but on this, the most steep and technical downhill of the course, I was watching for every step. With my eyes down, I failed to notice a small group of people at the very bottom of the hill until one of them yelled at me. These were my friends - the best spectators ever! When I finally reached them, I got a sip of beer (great idea), a sip of very spicy Bloody Mary (awful idea), and a huge mental boost. Never underestimate the power of seeing friendly faces on a course. I was able to hold on to this for five or six miles.
I finished the first loop (50k) in about 5:25. This was a little bit faster than the pace I was after so I took my time at the aid station. I changed my shoes, socks, and shirt and headed out with a good attitude. New shoes/socks on a long course were amazing. I got to see more friends here and got updates on the other people I knew who were running. I was worried that running through the start/finish at mile 30 would be tough but it was nice to see so many people, get access to a drop bag, and take time to eat some good snacks before heading out.
As you can see form the video below, I was feeling good (and silly) when I left the aid station for my last 20 miles.
The clouds started to clear and it started to warm up a bit. It made for a few miles that were tougher in the sun, but we all got some stunning scenery in exchange. It’s unfortunate that this came about about mile 38. It was hard enough as it was.
I started to really struggle on the gradual uphill on the second loop. Miles 35-45 were really hard. These were probably the hardest ten miles I’ve slogged through in a race. There weren’t many people around at this point and the solitude and difficulty of the uphill really got to me. I don’t think my mental facilities were terribly diminished but I don’t recall a lot of details of this section. Maybe I was hazier than I thought. It didn’t hurt but it was just so hard to keep pushing.
I can always run downhill. As I came into the last aid station, I knew the rest of the course was downhill and I ran as hard as I could to the end. It was amazing to me that with all those miles on my legs that I could still feel so good running to the finish. This was one of those moments that I chase as a runner when I’m flying downhill in the woods, moving well, and feeling strong.
I came in at 8:51 (about 40 minutes ahead of my overall goal). The course was short but I don’t care! Even two or three miles short, I still would have easily made my goal time if it had been full distance. Nine hours is a long time to do anything, especially run. As you can see below, I was tired at the finish.
This is a fantastic first race. Pick a distance and do it.
THINGS THAT WORKED OUT WELL:
- Pearrygin State Park campsite. Close enough to the race. SHOWERS!
- Old Schoolhouse Brewery. After. Go.
- Food/Hydration plan. I ate about 100 calories every 30 minutes and drank about 100oz of water total.
- Hammer Endurolytes instead of drink mix at aid stations. I took about two per hour.
- Odwalla Chewy Nut Bars
- Cliff Shot Bloks are easy to chew regardless of temperature. Three cubes per 100 calories.
- Glukos Gummies help with variety and the lemon ones are SOUR.
- Baby Food in pouches. Awesome - felt like real food!
- No gels! WIN
- Brought friends to both run with and for a cheering/support team. Having good people around on a race like this helped more than I can express. When I was having a tough time, thinking of the great people I knew (especially my wonderful wife) who were also on the course really helped.
FOR NEXT TIME:
- I will run more hill repeats in training
- I will get more practice hiking steep stuff in training
- I will slow down on the first third of the course
- I will run more mid-week miles throughout the training cycle
- Scott Kinabalu 3. Best trail shoes I’ve worn. These are a late beta version and are very close to the model that just came out.
- Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 3. The 4mm drop is too severe for me but the comfy upper and Zoom Air midfoot were wonderful at mile 30.
- Feetures Elite Merino+ Quarter Socks. Wool is rad. High cuff keeps out the crap. I like this level of cushion because it adds a little warmth and takes the edge off pine needles and dirt in my shoes.
- Patagonia Houdini Pullover. This is almost weightless, extremely packable, and really comfortable. The only drawback is the quality of the snap closure. One of my snapps ripped out with very light use. Of course, Patagonia replaced it but it was still a pain. I'd opt for the full-zip version.
- Mountain Hardwear Fluid RaceVest. This pack is really stable but stretchy. It doesn’t hinder breathing but feels secure. A 2-liter reservoir fits and carries high for comfort. There isn’t much extra space so it’s perfect for a supported race.
- Garmin Fenix 2. After all the running, it still had 51% battery.
- And of course, Portland Running Company Hat. I run with the Portland Running Company Race Team. They are great people. If you live in Portland, check them out. Everyone is welcome!