Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Let’s Rumble!

Eagle Rock Trail
By mid-April, most Central Oregonians are sick and tired of winter and chomping at the bit for summer trail running season to begin. That’s not the only reason that the Peterson Ridge Rumble, a 20- and 40-mile race held on the Peterson Ridge Trail system outside of Sisters, Oregon is so popular. It’s also because it’s one of the most well organized, well marked, scenic, and most importantly— fun— races in the area.

One of the things I like most about the race is the layout of the course. The 20-mile course map looks like a figure-eight on a long string. The first half of the 40-mile course is the same as the 20-mile with the addition of a small balloon attached to the far end of the figure-eight. Instead of running down the long “string” back to the start/finish, 40-mile runners are directed onto a large loop at mile 25. With less than 2,400 feet of elevation gain in 40 miles, the Rumble course is very runnable, which can be a blessing or a curse. The first third of the course is gentle uphill, the middle third is mostly rolling, and the final third gentle downhill, making for a fast finish. Another thing I love about this race is that due to the course layout and the 20-mile race starting an hour after the 40-mile, you get to see a lot of smiling faces passing you in both directions. If you prefer running in solitude, you’ll get that on the final 15 mile loop.

There are many interesting rock formations along the course
There were more people than I anticipated at the 7:00 a.m. early start. I had chosen to take the early start because the RD had run into a few inches of snow above 3,600 feet when he had marked the course a few days earlier. Then the weather got colder and since we had snow flurries in town, I figured there would be even more snow up on the ridge. It turns out there wasn’t. Even the highest points of the course were essentially snow-free. Weather at the early start felt pretty warm at 34 degrees, and many of us chose to wear shorts, since temperatures were expected to reach the mid 50s. Though few mountaintops were visible due to cloudy skies, views from the ridge-tops were still expansive and stunning. Forecasted rain showers did not materialize.
Runners are directed over this large rock pile!

After the initial mile of trail, racers were dumped out onto a long straight gravel road for two miles. Most people didn’t appreciate this section of the course, but I chose to look at it as something I had to go through to get to the “good stuff.”

I was feeling really good, and then all of a sudden just before mile ten I was sprawling toward the ground. I wasn’t particularly hurt, just a slightly skinned left knee and a little trail rash on my right shin. I got up and started running again. Within another quarter-mile, pow! I went down again. This flustered me. Why had I fallen again so soon? Perhaps I was more shaken than I thought, so I took an walk break and had a gel to shake off the feeling.

By 12 miles in, the front-runners of the regular start began passing me. Doing some quick math in my head, their pace was twice as fast as mine! At mile 13 we turned around to experience gentle downhill for the next seven miles. I really enjoyed this section of the course as I got to see many of my friends coming toward me heading up the hill as I was headed down. I gave and received hugs and high-fives, and exchanged many encouraging words with other racers. One of the things I enjoy about ultrarunning is giving and receiving encouragement in the form of “good job,” “nice work,” “looking good,” and the like. I estimate that 85% of fellow racers said something to that effect to me that day, and darned near everyone was smiling when they said it! Ultrarunners are happy, encouraging people!
One of the ridge-top views; I loved the winding trail through Manzanita!

About 15 miles in, after a bit of downhill, the front of my lower legs began to feel tight and a bit fatigued. This has had a tendency to happen over the last year on long downhill sections. Sometimes it leads to problems with tendons that cross over the front of my ankles. This day it didn’t get any worse or cause me problems. I did try to be proactive by occasionally stopping to do ankle circles, which gave some relief. I have been working on core and glute strength, balance, and proprioception, which I hope will one day put an end to this nuisance.

Mountain bikers perched atop rock outcroppings for a better view
By mile 23, even though the last seven miles had been downhill, I was starting to feel it. 20-mile racers had been passing me the last few miles. At my mile 25, one 20-mile racer who was just a few miles from her finish, ran with me for a bit saying, “we’re almost done!” “No,” I replied, “I’ve still got 15 miles to go.” “You’re running the 40?” she asked. “I don’t know how you do it. Great job! You don’t even look tired.” This last part made me laugh on the inside. A few minutes later I peeled off with other 40-mile runners onto the 15 mile loop. I walked for a few minutes and began to feel better.

The next few miles were mostly gentle uphill again. If this had come earlier in the race, I would have been able to run it all, but since fatigue was setting in, I took more frequent walk breaks. By the time I reached the aid station at mile 30 though, I was feeling great again and thinking wow, this is no big deal. I’m going to finish strong no problem.

The last 10 miles of the race are mostly flat to downhill with great views from the ridge top. I was feeling good, and for possibly the first time ever in an ultra-distance race, a little bit proud of myself. Not much could have been better. Then it did get better. Just after mile 34 I heard distant whooping and hollering. Something exciting must be ahead, I thought. Then I heard it again. As I came running down the ridge, I heard people yelling my name: “Yeah Laura!” It was the volunteers at aid station seven! I nearly cried running down that ridge and into the arms of four ultrarunning friends. What a wonderful surprise! This really pumped me up for the last few miles.

I tried to not take any walk breaks this last stretch, but just plugged along slowly and consistently. I was not familiar with this last part of the course and was taken by surprise when the parking lot of Sisters Middle School— the start and finish of the race— suddenly came into view. As I followed the course markings across the parking lot toward the school track, people already finished with the race who were accessing their vehicles cheered me along. The cherry on top of this race is the lap around the school track to the finish line. I ran as proud and fast as I could while friends and onlookers cheered. I crossed the finish line feeling like I could have run 50 miles, though I was glad I didn’t have to.

Peterson Ridge Rumble is one of the best races I’ve ever run. The last two years I ran the 20-mile distance, and this year felt ready for the 40-mile. The race is a fundraiser for the Sisters High School cross country team. Members of the team staffed several of the well-stocked aid stations, which were just 4 to 6 miles apart. I felt spoiled with aid stations so closer together in such an “easy” ultra. On top of all this, finishers received a pair of coveted Peterson Ridge Rumble socks and got to chow down at a do-it-yourself burrito bar.

For several years, miles of trail have been added to the Peterson Ridge Trail system by the Sisters Trail Alliance. As a result, the Peterson Ridge races keep getting longer. I can’t help but wonder how long until there will be a Peterson Ridge 50-mile race. With so many ultrarunners in Central Oregon and around the country, I’m sure it would be welcomed.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Am I Ready to Rumble?

Feigning happiness at mile 13 of a super-crappy 23 mile run
I had a tough go of it mentally the final weeks leading up to Peterson Ridge Rumble 40-miler. I was using a lot of negative self-talk. After the Gorge Waterfalls 50k in March, I suddenly noticed that I had put on weight over the last few months. I didn’t need to step on the scale to know. The running tops and shorts I had been wearing since last summer were now snug and I wasn’t happy about it. In fact, I beat myself up over and over about it. I had been sleeping poorly again, waking up in the middle of the night either in a panic, or feeling bad about myself. One night I awoke thinking about my running pace. In my head I was equating faster pace with being a better runner. I didn’t know if I was deserving of being a faster (and therefore “better”) runner. I cried myself back to sleep. Faster runners aren’t necessarily “better” runners. They’re just different. I know what I’d tell someone else who had the same thoughts that I did, but then I’ve never applied the same rules to myself that I do to other people.

On Monday March 28th I did a 2-hour treadmill run at the gym. When I got home that evening, my body couldn’t get enough food. I ate and ate what I thought were a good mix of proteins, carbs, and fats. My stomach felt full of bulk but I still felt hungry. Eventually I didn’t know what else to do other than just go to bed.

The next morning when I woke up I just wanted to cry. The only things I was able to see were negative— all the things in my life that were not right. I saw the dust on the shelves, crumbs on the kitchen counters, spots on the floors. I got down to clean the spots on the floor and saw the spots on the cabinets. I couldn’t handle it. I decided to go for a run. I put on a running top and immediately burst into tears at the sight of my abdomen pressing against the fabric. See what happens when I’m not in control of myself? I thought. I stormed downstairs. I wanted to kick or hit something really bad. I wanted to break dishes. Instead I screamed, aggressively jumped up and down, then collapsed onto the kitchen floor in a heap, sobbing with my head in my hands.

A short time later I left the house dressed for a run. I told my husband I didn’t know where I was going or when I would be back, but I had enough water and supplies with me to last for 5 hours. I arrived at Shevlin Park. Within 5 minutes of leaving the car, I wanted to go back. But I really didn’t. But I did. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I felt desperate to talk to someone and made a couple phone calls. My body didn’t feel like running, so I just hiked as I talked on the phone.

I hiked through Shevlin Park and up the Mrazek Trail a way, then decided to check out the Tumalo Creek Trail upstream from Shevlin Park. I’d never been on this section of trail before, but had heard about a cool rock arch that the trail passes through. The trail is very rocky and skirts the base of cliffs high above the river. It was pretty slow going. I did not know how far the rock arch was down the trail, but kept going a little farther to see what was around the next bend. The farther I went, the colder and breezier it got. I knew there could be cougars out here (later I talked to people who had seen cougars along this very trail before). I didn’t feel safe out there alone, so called Doug to let him know where I was “just in case,” then high-tailed it out of there.

I tried to run a little on the way back to the car, but my body (or was it my heart?) just wasn’t willing. I looked at my Garmin. I had really wanted to get 10 miles in that day, but it was not looking good. I was being really hard on myself. I would have to hike another mile to reach my initial goal. I was already mad, feeling beat up emotionally, and a bit lightheaded and out of it. Would pushing myself to go an extra mile really do me any good today in this mental and physical state? Probably not. In fact, I decided it would likely do more harm than good. So instead I made myself a deal: I needed to get 3 hours of hiking in. I got to the parking lot with 3 minutes left to spare. So I “made” myself walk around the parking lot for a few minutes. Looking back on it now, that seems so ridiculous! Though I spent most of that 3 hours loathing myself, I also stopped along the way to admire the budding sagebrush and blooming Manzanita. And I’d begun to check out that new-to-me trail. The day was not lost after all. So why did I feel so lost?

The next day I still felt emotionally traumatized. I decided that perhaps I should take it easy on myself physically for a while. I cut my running back to every other day. I removed all information about pace from my Garmincarbs back into my diet. I made it a point to be more aware of what I was eating when and how I felt afterward. I ate dinner a little earlier so that I was just a little bit hungry by the time I went to bed.

A couple days later I decided to try running again. At first I wasn’t into it. The thought popped into my mind that perhaps I wasn’t “worth it.” Then I started telling myself “I AM worth it!” Within 5 minutes I felt good. Another 10 minutes and I felt damn fine and was having a good time. I explored another nearby trail that I had only run right past before. Another short trail I had never run up before. I’d always hiked it. But that day I ran up it, and that made me feel really good. I finished the run on a high note and felt that everything was going to be just fine for Peterson Ridge, which was just over a week away. After that I had a couple of great 1/2-marthon distance trail runs out at Phil’s Trail system checking out another new-to-me trail (VooDoo, and it totally rocks!).

Wednesday the 6th I awoke feeling emotionally “on the edge” again. I was tempted to call off a run date with a friend and soon-to-be friend. Instead of giving in to my fear of what was yet to be, I decided to take the risk and go on the run. I am so glad I went! I had the wonderful opportunity to run with a blind triathlete that day. Nancy and my friend had met recently at a 1/2-marathon training program and Nancy had been instructing Lisa how to be her guide on runs. Nancy let me guide her on the run back. This experience totally blew my mind! I had to be so focused on the trail to keep her safe that I had no time to worry about myself or the thoughts swimming in my head. And this person who had just met me half an hour earlier trusted me! Nancy taught me a lesson that day and I look forward to running with her much more in the future.

I’ve heard from many others that after a certain point, you gotta make running more about other people than yourself. I am beginning to find this true. I had gotten to the point of wondering “is this all there is?” Am I really doing all this just for me? While running is “worth it” to help me stay physically and emotionally fit and learn about myself and what I am capable of, running for others can give it so much more meaning. Much like setting an intention for your yoga practice, you can also set an intention for your run— a person or cause to keep in mind that you wish to send love and support to. You might run to raise funds for a charity or bring awareness to a cause. You might run for all those who wish they could run, but are unable to. What other ways might you be able to lift up others through your running?

Running with Nancy that day got me out of my own head and thinking about how I could be of service to others. It also put me in a much better frame of mind to visualize running the Peterson Ridge 40-mile race feeling strong, and crossing the finish line happy with plenty of energy remaining. Good thing, since the race was now just four days away. I won’t deny I have challenging, negative, down-on-myself days (sometimes even weeks!), but sure do have a knack for pulling myself together just in time for a race. Only I can change my thoughts to cause the change I seek in life. I could either choose to follow my current path and probably have a crappy race, or start visualizing the end result that I desired and trust that everything would turn out just fine. It didn’t just turn out fine though, it turned out great! I am beginning to apply this technique in more areas of my life. If I can crawl out from under years of negativity and feeling worthless, you can too!

Next up— Peterson Ridge Rumble Race Report!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Gorge Waterfalls 50k — 32 Miles of BadAssness!

I used to be afraid to run without listening to music on my iPod. I’ve never been comfortable being alone with myself or my thoughts. They have a tendency to run amok and music helps drown out the internal chatter. A little over two months ago, my coach had me do a 6.5 mile run with no music, no Garmin, and even no water. At first it was scary, but in the end I found it quite refreshing. I have continued to do this on my own once a week on a run in the 6 to 8 mile range. I listen to my breath, my footfalls, notice my form, listen to my body; watch thoughts come and go, think about everything and nothing at the same time, and notice my surroundings. I have gone so far as to run my last two 50k races iPod-free and didn’t miss it a bit. Of course, the iPod is stashed in my pack just in case I hit a rough patch and need music to help pull me through. This day I opted to keep the music stashed and listened instead to the sound of creeks and waterfalls, my feet splashing through water, squishing in mud, and rain dripping through trees. It was beautiful and almost surreal.


Upper Wahkeenah Falls near race start
The drive from Bend to Hood River the day before the Gorge Waterfalls 50k was nothing short of glorious. I drove past spectacular canyons, through green fields, rolling hills so golden and velvety-looking that I wished I could reach out and touch them. Large birds of prey plied the blue skies. The moment I hit The Dalles and began driving west through the Columbia River Gorge, I could not wipe the huge smile off my face. I wished I was a passenger instead of driver, so I could just gawk at the awesome beauty. As I drove past Rowena Plateau, then the town of Mosier, I recalled the experience of running the Columbia Gorge Marathon in fall 2009. After arriving at my hotel, the Vagabond Lodge, I got right to my pre-race routine. First I unpacked, setting out all clothing I would need (or could possibly even want) for race day. Next I made sure my drop-bags were stocked with extra supplies I might need during the race. Then it was nap time! I always take a 2 hour nap before dinner the day before a race. I slept really good. Then I drove maybe 500 feet to the restaurant next door for dinner before calling it a night. 

Steep trail along Wahkeena Creek
 Race day (March 12th) dawned gray and rainy. I had hoped to wear shorts, but decided on capris given the cool wet weather. I also chose to wear arm warmers with my short sleeve shirt and a windproof neon-yellow running vest. I brought several different hats, gloves and jackets with me so that I could change my apparel right up until race time depending on weather conditions. Racers met at Wyeth Campground on Gorton Creek about half way between Hood River and Cascade Locks. After check-in, we were bussed to the race start at Wahkeena Falls just west of Multnomah Falls. That seemed like a really long ride! I was glad the bus I was on arrived first, meaning no line for the porta-potties! As I stood around visiting with friends Lori, Esther, Stan, Anna and Bob anticipating the race start, it began to rain, so I quickly added to my running apparel and stashed a windbreaker in my pack should I find myself needing an extra layer later. 

At 8am we were off and running, but not for long. The first two miles feature 1,500 feet of elevation gain and many trail switchbacks. Most runners quickly took to power-hiking. After all, we had many miles left to go and had to pace ourselves! Before long we came across the first of many non-bridge stream crossings. There was a narrow log over the stream. I watched runners ahead of me teetering precariously on this log trying not to get their feet wet. Screw that! I wasn’t about to attempt balancing on this little log and risk slipping off. Instead I just went right through the creek! Only a mile in and my feet were already wet! I was thankful that I don’t have problems running with wet feet like some people do. I stopped at Fairy Falls and had the person behind me (Gary) take a picture of me.
Fairy Falls and me!

The muddy, rocky trail continued up the ridge. I heard my friend Anna behind me. In every race Anna and I have done together, she always passes me by mile 3 and finishes at least an hour before me. Today would be no different. She passed me by at 2.25 miles, just as the trail topped-out and smoothed-out for a bit before intersecting the very rocky, technical trail along Multnomah Creek leading down to the top of Multnomah Falls. 

Me, Gary & Multnomah Creek; photo: Candace Burt 
I’d forgotten how rocky the Gorge trails are. This section above Multnomah Falls was a sobering reminder that I would not be anywhere near a 50k PR (personal record) today. Along this stretch of trail I felt the need to walk a lot. A young pediatrician from Corvallis named Seth pulled up behind me and we chatted for a bit. (An image of Seth Meyers from Saturday Night Live immediately popped into my mind). Turns out our race schedules align. He also ran Hagg Lake 50k three weeks earlier and will be running Peterson Ridge Rumble 40-miler in April. I told him that I’d really like to turn around to see what he looked like, but felt I could not do so on this technical, rocky terrain. I saw a flash of light behind me, then he said “I just took a picture of your backside to show my wife.” A bit later he passed me and turned back saying “here’s what I look like.” He was just as cute as the picture of Seth Meyers in my mind. 

The paved switchbacks coming down from the top of Multnomah Falls were a joy. It was one of the few places on the course I could pick up the pace and stretch out my legs for a while. Half way down from the top of Multnomah Falls we hopped onto the Gorge Trail 400, which essentially parallels the I-84 freeway. After traversing around Oneonta Gorge, then behind Ponytail Falls, we were dumped out onto a paved access road paralleling the freeway for 2 miles until the first aid station at John B. Yeon State Park. 

Ponytail Falls; the trail goes behind the falls
This stretch of road is where I was able to pick it up to a “blistering” 9:30–10:00 pace. I was surprised to see so many people walking along here. I told myself I needed to run it in to the aid station, then I could take a break. I pulled up on a young man who was walking very slowly. He said he had blown out both his knees and was going to drop from the race at the aid station, which he hoped was right around the corner. I said that it was less than a mile away, wished him well, and went on my way. He was not the only person to drop from the race due to knee problems. The rocky trails played havok on weak ankles and knees.
I don’t remember the first water station at mile 5.5. There were three water-only stations on the course and two manned full-service aid stations. Water-only stops were at 5.5, 15.5 and 25.5 miles. The full aid stations were at mile 10.9 and 20.2. Ten miles between aid stations is not such a big deal for a road or easy trail race, but my going was so slow that it was easily 2.5+ hours between aid stations and a little lonely, which I considered good practice for future races! I pulled into the first aid station and immediately recognized facebook friend and ultrarunner Cheri Redwine who was volunteering that day. Though we had never met before, I feel like I already know her and gave her a hug. I had a cup of Coke, some boiled potatoes dipped in salt, restocked my energy gels from my drop bag and waited in the rain for the porta-potty. I was wet literally from head to toe and cold (when not moving). I could have easily gone to a miserable mental place, but didn’t bother. What good would that have done? I thought to myself that stopping here would be a very nice and still challenging 11 mile run. However, I still had over 20 miles to go and was not about to stop. Heck, I was just getting warmed up!

Elowah Falls
Back on to the Gorge Trail, we passed by the base of Elowah Falls. This is a very special place for me, and my husband and I had placed a geocache here (appropriately called Elowah Falls) in 2004. There was so much water coming over the falls that it felt like being in a shower with a powerful fan pointed right at you. I let out a whoop as I ran over the bridge at the base of the falls and was pelleted with water. This experience alone was trail running at its best! I’m still beaming about the experience as I type. Three meandering miles later, we passed by the Wahclella Falls parking and trailhead just after mile 15. I was expecting to see the 15.5 mile water station here. It would have been the perfect spot. But there was no water. 

Wild Bill (photo credit: Candace Burt)
Along the next stretch I met new friends Tracy (from Seattle), Gary, and Bill, who I later found out is referred to as “Wild” Bill. He did look pretty wild in his black outfit with accents of hot pink, neon yellow, and bright orange. The three of us had been near each other the entire course, leapfrogging occasionally on the trail and at aid stations. I enjoy seeing the same familiar, smiling faces on a course. Tracy had long, flowing red hair and beautiful porcelain skin. I’ve always wanted to be a redhead. She was running the race with friends. I didn’t learn much about Gary or Bill, but enjoyed seeing them (and then pulling away from them) and cheering them on.

One of several talus slope crossings
Miles 16, 17, and 18 came and went without sight of the 15.5 mile water stop. I was concerned about the people behind me who carried only one water bottle. I wondered if some person not-in-the-know had taken or moved the water. At mile 18.8, after crossing the suspension bridge at Eagle Creek, there it was— water jugs on a table by the trail! I started to wonder if all the rest of the aid stations would be 3 miles further as well and if this race might turn out to really be 55k. That would be very James Varner-esque. (Race director James Varner is known for challenging race courses that often are longer than advertised.)

The second manned aid station was only about a mile farther than advertised, which is close enough for me. I downed a cup of Coke, a cup of Mt. Dew, and a cup of hot, salty potato soup. The porta-potty was occupied and I didn’t want to wait for it, so got back on the trail. After all, the entire forest is my bathroom! After several minutes, I saw Tracy, who had left the aid station before me, come running back down the trail toward me. She had forgotten her water bottle at the aid station! Luckily she hadn’t gone far. Before long she overtook me again. She had picked up the pace so she could catch back up to her friends. I wouldn’t see Tracy again until the race finish.

THE downed tree— it was bigger than it looks here!
Unfortunately, in the excitement of the 21-mile aid station, I had forgotten to restock my pack with supplies from my drop bag. I am fortunate however, that I usually carry enough nutrition supplies (mostly energy gels) on me for the race and just use my drop bags as extra insurance or in case someone else needs something. I was confident I had enough energy gels on me to finish the run, but I might not have any extra if I needed them. Suddenly, there was a HUGE tree across the trail. We had been warned that there were several in the last 10 miles. Now my legs were getting fatigued and I couldn’t even come close to throwing my leg over this tree, which was more than waist high. I decided to use a branch as a step to climb over the tree. As I placed my foot on the branch, I looked down and saw an unopened GU energy gel laying right there! I quickly snatched it up. This could prove to be my manna from heaven!

Suddenly at mile 22, I got very happy. Yes, I actually looked at my watch to see what mile I was at when it hit. Nobody was around, but I smiled and laughed to my heart’s content. It’s not true that only crazy people laugh to themselves. Happy people do too, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I also started talking to myself. Well, actually talking to my glutes. On some of the uphills, they were burning. I actually said out loud to them, “that’s right glutes, you take this. There’s a reason I’ve been working on making you stronger, so you can take the brunt of it. Go ahead, you can take it.”

Dry Creek Falls and me
At mile 23, we were required to do a short out-and-back (about 2/3 mile round trip) up a forest road to Dry Creek Falls. There we crossed the creek on the concrete remnants of an old dam of some sort, and picked up a rubber band to prove that we had been to this spot. Just as I finished the out-and-back, my friend Esther was just starting up. She gave me a big hug and said how proud of me she was. This fired me up a lot. Pick up the pace, I thought to myself, don’t let Esther catch up with you!

The 25.5 mile water stop came at mile 27. It was weird— there was just a bunch of jugs of water sitting in the middle of the trail. I didn’t see any trail access nearby, so they must have been brought in by wheelbarrow? There was one more long uphill (ok, probably not much more than a mile, but at mile 28, when you’re fatigued, hiking at an 18 minute pace, and anticipating the finish, a mile can seem like a long way). Since this was a Varner course, I didn’t know if I truly had only 3 miles remaining, or if it would be longer. I’ve run 50ks that were a little short, and some that were a little long. What would this one turn out to be? 

Herman Creek
The farther I ran, the better I felt. Sure, I was getting fatigued, but I felt great! I wondered if someone not in-the-know saw me, if they could tell I had run 31 miles. I didn’t feel like I had. I truly felt like I could do another 20, though I wouldn’t have wanted it to be on that technical trail. With only a mile or  two remaining I started to get a little light headed. It was past time for another gel! It’s amazing how quickly time passes on the trail. It will seem like I just had a gel, when it’s time for another already. I reached into my pocket for what I thought was my last remaining gel— the one I had found on the trail. It wasn’t one of my favorite flavors, but it would do. I was ecstatic to discover that I still had a cherry-lime Gu Roctane remaining. Jackpot! Within minutes, I was perked-up for the finish.

One of numerous shallow creek crossings
I knew that the finish at Wyeth Campground is right on Gorton Creek near the freeway, so I started listening for creeks. Nope, not that one. Not that one either. Then I started to hear the freeway, so knew I must be getting close. As soon as the next creek came into view, I recognized it right away as Gorton Creek (my husband and I placed a geocache upriver at the base of Gorton Creek Falls: Gorton Creek Scramble in 2004).

 The Gorge is a very special place to me because it is where I did many of my first “big” hikes when I first began getting active and losing weight. Several photos of obese-me in these locations are included in my blog post “You don’t have to be skinny to do really cool things.” My husband and I enjoy the Gorge so much that we placed other geocaches there besides the one at Gorton Creek: one at Elowah Falls, one upriver from Elowah Falls which we called “Overcoming Acrophobia: Upper McCord” and one at Dry Creek Falls mere feet from where we picked up the rubber bands during the race.

This was definitely the most challenging 50k I’ve run yet (I’ve done eight to date). It took me an hour longer than my previous longest 50k time. It was full of narrow trails, steep switchbacks, mud, bridgeless creek crossings, mudslides, trail wash-outs, and rocks, rocks, rocks! I truly felt like a total bad-ass for 32 miles!
Post race (back left to right) Lori, Esther, Anna, unknown, Gary; Tracy and me