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.

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