Mt. Hood 50 Ultra, Oregon
I’ve been thinking about all the things I want to say in this race recap for a couple days now. There is so much story I want to tell behind this race and pictures don’t do justice on how amazing and breathtaking the trails were. My first race in Oregon, and I’m in love. I really couldn’t have asked for a better race and it was a true test of how my training paid off.
Backstory: I saw this race in a old issue of Runner’s World as one of the top ultras to do. Situated in Mt. Hood, Oregon, it was guaranteed to be a scenic race and relatively “easy” for a 50. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing easy about running 50 miles, but compared to Northface last year, this one wasn’t too bad in terms of elevation and technical difficulty. I had it on my list of races to do and this year it worked out perfectly in my schedule for a summer race. I signed up immediately in January and started crafting my training plans and races around Mt. Hood. I had a couple races in between (Boston, Big Sur, Shadow), but didn’t start to really train hard on trails until one month out. In July, I spent 5/6 days on the trails, 1 day on the pavement averaging 55-65 miles/week. I was worried that piling on so many miles would result in injury, but training proved to be smart and effective. Since I limited my pavement runs to once a week, my knees felt good at the end of each week, always ready to tackle the week ahead. I peaked at 65 miles one week and most of my weeks consisted of double runs (AM&PM). Instead of feeling tired and worn out, I actually felt the exact opposite. I felt stronger and more energized to tackle more miles each week. I supplemented my runs with weekly yoga classes, strength training/dynamic stretching with my trainer, and some x-training on the elliptical. I used to love the elliptical machine because I could zone out for an hour plus, watch TV or read a trashy magazine, but I really scaled it back this time. I realized exercising like this was pretty pointless for my training, I would rather go hard for a shorter amount of time than go at minimal effort for a long time. When I did get on the elliptical, I put my mind to crank out an hour hard on the machine, no TV, no US Weekly and just focus on how hard I was pushing myself. Always aware of my heart rate and how to push through the uncomfortable parts of training. Which leads me to the topic of mind vs. body…
The body is an amazing thing and all that it can do. Ever since I got into ultrarunning, I realized how powerful the mind can be when it is faced with pain and being uncomfortable. The mind determines how much further you can go and in turn, the body will follow. 50 miles seems like a long way to go, but it is all about perspective. I started to pay more attention to how I was feeling on my long training runs when I would start to “hit the wall”. What would I do if this happened during the actual race? Giving up was not an option. I focused on fueling properly, re-hydrating with water/electrolytes/etc. and noticing how my mood would change the longer I ran. Sometimes, I would get a second wind 20 miles in and my legs would just run effortlessly. It almost felt like my body was a machine and if I put my mind to it, it would just churn perfectly. If ultrarunning was easy, everyone would be doing it. There is nothing comfortable about putting your body through countless hours of training, but “pain is weakness leaving the body”. Every time I would get negative thoughts about quitting, I would repeat that to myself and it would make me feel stronger about pushing through.
The Race July 30, 2011 6:30AM
The race started at Clackamas Compound, near Timothy Lake. Once again, I love how informal and intimate most trail runs are. The race had less than 175 runners and we had a quick pre-race meeting which involved the race director showing us the flags and markers we should be looking out for on the trail. Not long after, we were already counting down to the start of the race.
We began immediately on a single track through the forest. We ran on the Miller trail first before hitting the Pacific Crest Trail, which most of the race was on. I tried to take it easy in the beginning and really slow down my pace, but I just couldn’t help myself. The dirt path felt so good underneath my feet, it was soft and paved well. The scenery from the start was unbelievable, everything was so green. We winded in through the forest and everyone eventually got settled in their own pace and there wasn’t too many people trying to pass you on the single track. I stayed behind an older guy for a while because he was going at a pretty steady pace. I was probably annoying the heck out of him breathing down his neck, but I didn’t want to pass him just yet. It was dead silent as runners ran single file down the trail, only listening to each others breath and the padding of our feet. The only time the still silence was interrupted was from the beeping of people’s Garmins each mile that passed by. I relished in this moment of breathing in the fresh air and reaping the benefits of training. This race was the celebration run of all the hard work we had put in leading up to this day. My friend, Matt, stayed close behind me. This was his first 50 mile run and I think he was using me to slow himself down in the beginning. I breezed through the first aid station, taking a cup of Gu Brew and was told that I was second overall female. I couldn’t believe it, I wasn’t running all out and I thought there were more women in front of me. Once I heard that, I dashed out of the aid station and my competitive edge took over. I spent a minute or two at each aid station, not wanting to waste any time. From my previous experience at Northface, I realized how much time you lose if you spent even 5 minutes at each aid station. I fueled really well the week leading up to the race and the day before, so i didn’t have to take in as much food the first half of the race. I made sure to drink lots of water and Gu Brew, salt pills every hour, and a handful of potato chips at each aid station. I eventually switched from Gu Brew to soda because the Brew was making my stomach queasy and the carbonation from the soda tasted really good. Matt kept me company pretty much the entire first half of the race. We kept exclaiming to each other how scenic everything was, taking some quick pictures along the way. The trail was really magical, I have never seen anything quite like it. With Mt. Hood in the distance, it almost felt unreal that we were running with these incredible views.
We hit the first turnaround at mile 14 feeling good and headed back to the Start/Finish area. Heading back, there were a couple climbs followed by downhills. Before the race, I thought it would be boring because of all the out and back on this course, but it was the exact opposite. I felt like I was seeing everything new again and noticing things I missed the first time around. A couple miles before we made it back to the Start, I noticed a girl on my tail. She followed me for a couple miles, keeping steady with my pace. I realized she could easily get in front of me as I was starting to get tired and my energy was low. I made it back to the Start area at Mile 28 at 4:34:46, way faster than I had originally anticipated. I was thinking 5-5:30. I chugged a cold Vitamin water that I had packed in my bag, ate a couple pretzels for salt and headed back out for the last half of the race, which was 11 miles out and back on a different part of the PCT. I realized I couldn’t keep up my pace from the beginning half of the race and for the next 5 miles, everything was starting to hurt. I felt like my feet were swollen and every step I took only made it worse. I paid special attention to any rocks and made sure not to run on them as it would irritate my feet more. My Camelbak had also started to rub into my back creating a nasty chaffing and every time sweat would get in the wound, it would sting really badly. The girl that was on my tail finally passed me and I let her go. My motivation to keep my place started to go down as my energy drained away. One more girl passed me and another one was right on my tail. I finally made it to the aid station at Mile 33 where I knew I should spend some time refueling. I stayed at that station drinking cups and cups of water and soda and eating chips. I spent 3-4 minutes at that station and left feeling much better and refreshed.
The aid stations during this second half of the race were more spread out. The next station would be in 6 miles and it would also be the turnaround point. For the next 6 miles, I focused on staying steady and running whatever parts I could run. I walked the steep uphills but found that even if I jogged a little of the uphills, I would end up passing people. I eventually caught up to the 2 girls in front of me who had passed me before. There was a very steep downhill section and the only thing I was thinking was that I would have to climb up this beast around Mile 43. I saw Matt a mile away from the aid station looking strong and knew he was going to make it to the finish in great time. The turnaround came sooner than I thought (lots of people were having trouble with their Garmin since the GPS locater would cut out during some parts of the run) and seeing the aid station made me so happy. I couldn’t believe it was already Mile 39 and we were heading back to the Finish. This was the only aid station where I had to fill up my CamelBak. Re-energized with the thought that there was only 11 miles to go, I dashed out of the aid with tons of energy. The first two miles flew by as my energy lifted and I felt better and better. I passed a couple runners during this section who were having trouble running the downhills. I got to the base of the climb, took a deep breath and tried to power walk up the hill. The hill lasted for over a mile, but I knew this would be the toughest part of the section heading home. Finally what seemed like forever, the trail evened out and I started running again. The climb took a lot of my energy and it was getting hot out. I knew I only had 5 more miles to go and it was mostly flat or downhill. The last 5 miles was a combination of running and power walking. Even though the sections were flat, I couldn’t run continuously for a long period of time without having to catch my breath and stop to drink water. I watched the miles slowly tick by on my watch and saw other runners having a difficult time getting to the finish as well. When I saw the paved road, I knew I had made it. People were lined up and sitting in lawn chairs cheering on runners as they made the last sprint to the Finish. One thing I cherish about ultras is that you aren’t finishing with a bunch of other runners like road races. Trying to muster up any energy I had left, I ran through the Finish. Utterly spent but ecstatic that I had finished my second 50 mile race. My finishing time was 9:19:40. 40th overall, 2nd in Age Group and 3rd overall women. I couldn’t believe I had beat my Northface time by over three hours and come in a lot sooner than I had originally anticipated. Matt finished in a kick ass time of 8:55, completing his very first 50 mile run. I was greeted by family and friends who had come out to support and I couldn’t be more thankful for them at times like these when support is all you’ve got to carry you through.
This experience has been nothing short of amazing. It really made me believe in training. The work and time you put into training will pay off and getting over those mental blocks is crucial during a race. I think one of the key factors is training on similar terrain and elevation as the race. I ran more trails, less road and did runs that were similar to the elevation profile or more than the actual course. This left me well prepared without any surprises going into the race.
What’s next? I hope to try my luck in the lottery for Western States 100 Mile Run June 2012. 100 miles is a totally different beast than a 50, but one thing remains the same. No matter what distance, you must have determination and faith in your training. As long as you have both, you can do whatever you set your mind to and conquer it.