I traveled to my second favorite state, Oregon, this weekend to run a wonderfully organized and breathtakingly beautiful event in Silver Falls State Park. It was suggested to me by a friend who recently retired and moved to Oregon. Jim and his wife Pam were wonderful hosts and allowed me to stay with them while I was there. He had originally suggested I run the half marathon, but when I saw the 50K option, I immediately registered for both.
I landed in Portland on Halloween night, took a shuttle from the airport to the rental car center, and then drove to Jim’s house in West Linn. I was tired from the travel, but very excited to run the next day. I was also slightly nervous about the weather, but especially the mud created by heavy rains on Thursday. Luckily, Saturday’s weather forecast did not call for rain, but I knew the trails would still be slick.
I left West Linn at 5:15am and headed south to Silverton. I enjoy driving in foreign areas and getting to know the lay of the land. Silver Falls State Park is located southeast of Portland so I took the 5 freeway and then drove east on the 213. Had I continued south, I would’ve ended up in the capital, Salem. I drove into a thick wall of fog after making the turn onto the 213; it was extremely heavy and made me uneasy. It only worsened, along with my death grip on the steering wheel and hawk-like attention to the yellow lane lines. I managed to make it through the blanket of moisture only to turn onto a sketchy gravel road onto which my map had directed me. A few others were lost as well, we had a small caravan going down the road. If I wasn’t already on edge from the fog and gravel road, the deer which jumped out from the bushes and toward the hood of my car brought me closer. I always pictured deer as dainty Bambi-like creatures. They most definitely are not small or fragile. I made a u-turn and figured out how to get to the campgrounds. Parking was plentiful and the lines for the porta potties were short and quick. The sun was making its debut and the day was improving.
The 50K start time was 7:30am with a 7:25am briefing, the marathon went off at 8:00am and the 7-miler started at 9:00am. Per the results, there were 153 finishers in the 50K, 136 finishers in the full marathon, and 299 finishers in the 7-miler. I started in the middle-back of the pack and at 7:30 sharp, we were off! I was very conservative for the first few miles and just took it all in. We entered the trails about 1.5 miles in and the first aid station was at mile 3.3 (we could discard unwanted items here because it was right behind the start line). No part of the course disappointing, it was beautiful and I was always engaged in the scenery.
We went by our first waterfall at approximately mile 5, I could hear it as we approached. At mile 10, we crossed a creek, and it was very cold. The water went up to my thighs and it literally took my breath away. Naturally, a photographer was staged on the other side to capture the fleeting moment of discomfort.
I had studied the elevation chart a bit before the start and dubbed the incline at mile 15ish “The Hill.” At ~mile 11, I started to mentally prepare for “The Hill.” I wasn’t sure how I would feel or how steep it would be. At this point, the full marathon runners had merged with us and we were all on the same course. There was a really fun uphill section which was twisty turny; I passed quite a few people climbing this hill, but I’m not sure if this was “The Hill.” Regardless, I didn’t walk any of the inclines, which was my goal for this race. At about mile 17-18, I saw a Eugene Hash House Harrier shirt up ahead and decided that it was time to be social. I met Aaron and we ran together for a few miles, after which I had my first and only uphill tumble (still not sure if this was “The Hill”). He told me that all of the waterfalls were during the last 5 miles, so I got really excited and decided to pick it up for the last 10 miles.
Then there were stairs, a lot of stairs, too many stairs. I began by running the stairs, but quickly resorted to a fast walk. I don’t train on stairs and they require a slightly different set of muscles, so it felt very difficult! In fact, there were a few steep inclines in the last 5 miles which seemed to exacerbate the feeling of fatigue and ready-to-be-done-ness. I hit the last aid station (mile 22.4) after a steep climb towards waterfall #3, ate some potato chips, and forged on. One element of ultra running which I, and probably others, particularly like is the aid station fare. There is real food, and sometimes really good food, like steamed potatoes dipped in salt, M&Ms, cookies, and gummy bears. I’m glad I took in the calories as we had one more climb before the finish. “Nutcracker Hill” wasn’t that long nor did it call for using a rope to ascend, but it wasn’t easy with 30 miles already on the legs. I could hear the finish line festivities on the other side, so I “ran” the entire hill. What went up, came right back down, and it was just as steep on the other side. I flew down, through a marsh-y field, and then crossed a wooden bridge to the finish line.
After I sat down for a few seconds to catch my breath, I walked to my car to change into a drier set of clothing. Unfortunately, poor planning lead me to visiting the food tent wearing boxer shorts and my very muddy shoes. Fortunately, I did have a dry shirt and a sweater. I should also add that this race was extremely well organized and it was evident that Run Wild Adventures really cares about the participants. Beef stew, vegetarian chili, Great Harvest bread, hot chocolate, apples, and pears were all served in the food tent. Aaron came in while I was eating and we talked about our race experiences. I became curious as to how I had placed and visited the results area to find that I had won my age division! I noticed that there was a raffle with the bib acting as the raffle ticket, and there was also an open bottle of Fireball on the awards table with cups nearby. Participants could just walk up and take a shot. This was definitely another unique element of this event. I claimed my age division award and decided that it was time to head back to West Linn.
Not surprisingly, I turned the wrong way and though I was headed in the right general direction, I was not on the right road. I ended up on the 213, which runs parallel to the 5, and it ended up being a much more scenic route. My craving for salt intensified until I finally stopped for a random meal of antipasto salad and Chinese food. The rest of the day wrapped up quickly and concluded with a delicious dinner of Chicken Parmesan courtesy of Pam and marionberry pie courtesy of Safeway.
Since the half marathon on Sunday started at 9:00am, Jim and I were able to leave after the sun rose and enjoyed a drive back down the 5. Though there was less fog, it felt substantially colder. I’m pretty sure I could have baked cookies in the car with the level of heat that was blasting out of the vents, but I had a half marathon to run! There were definitely more Sunday runners than Saturday – it felt lively and I was excited to re-visit the muddy trails and take a lot of pictures. I took it super easy and snapped some of these blurry shots while I ran.
The half marathon route was essentially the first few miles + the last few miles of the 50K route.
I took it very easy, chatted with a few runners, and snapped a few photos of Jim. While attempting to get a good picture of the last waterfall, I hit my head hard on the rocks I was supposed to duck under. I came home with a bump on my head and some extra humility. The course was muddier, the climbs weren’t too bad on tired legs, and I ran the entire way, plus sprinted the last 2ish miles into the finish. The climb up Nutcracker hill was MUCH more muddy than on Saturday, so that was (not) fun. We enjoyed a post-race beer (thank you Seven Bridges Brewing and Jim collected his 2nd place age division medal. The race director was nearby enjoying a shot of the complimentary Fireball, so I asked him how many runners had completed the double (50K or full marathon + the half marathon). I thought more than a dozen would’ve gone for it, but it was a small group. We warmed up with some more beef stew and Great Harvest bread and then said goodbye to Silver Falls State Park.
I am still a novice trail and ultra runner, and thirty one miles is a long distance to cover on foot, but I feel really good about the fact that I a) ran the entire way except for stopping at 2 aid stations, b) felt much stronger at the finish than in the previous two 50K races, c) genuinely enjoyed the climbing. I was also mentally engaged and had a smile on my face the entire time. I definitely could have run faster and been more aggressive, but why? I really enjoyed the course and found myself sad that it was going to end. I am already planning my next race in Oregon and am looking at either the Columbia Gorge Marathon, the Boring Marathon, or the Volcanic 50.