|Upper Wahkeenah Falls near race start|
|Steep trail along Wahkeena Creek|
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.
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|
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|
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!
|Wild Bill (photo credit: Candace Burt)|
|One of several talus slope crossings|
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!|
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|
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?
|One of numerous shallow creek crossings|
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!