Tuesday, September 11, 2012

McKenzie River Trail Run 50K

It all began on Friday, September 7, with an early morning departure and drive to Eugene. By 8:30 a.m. we--me, Rod, and my parents--were piled into my car and heading south for the five-hour(ish) trip toward Eugene. I actually drove most of the way, all the way past Salem, which is quite an accomplishment as I am not much of a long-distance driver. Then Rod took over for the rest of the trip to Eugene and McKenzie River.

We stopped in Eugene for lunch and for Rod to get my dad an Oregon hat for his birthday. The shopping expedition was quite an ordeal trying to find just the right hat! In the end the one he got was very nice, and it will appear in several pictures throughout the weekend. At first my dad pretended to be uneasy over wearing an Oregon hat, but it got him quite a lot of attention (people assuming he was a fellow Duck fan) and he liked that.

It was very warm in Eugene, as well as in McKenzie Bridge when we got there around 5:00. It was in the 90s that afternoon...a little nervewracking for the following day!

We stayed in a lovely cabin at the Inn at the Bridge. It had two bedrooms and bathrooms (one each upstairs and downstairs), a full kitchen, nice rustic decor, a screened porch, and air conditioning. It also had a big screen satellite TV...what it did not have was a television station that got the Pac12 channel (which would be airing the Oregon game on Saturday). There has been an on-going dispute between the satellite networks and the Pac12, and satellite TV was all that was available in the rather remote McKenzie Bridge area. Troubling....

For pre-race dinner we decided to get a couple takeaway pizzas from Takoda's Restaurant. Convenient (and also the only restaurant in the area that was open). Takoda's was also the race packet picket site, which worked nicely!

Around 7 p.m. I collected my bib number, commemorative blanket, and bought a $10 shirt while Rod ordered our pizzas. The restaurant was pretty mobbed with pre-race diners. We brought the pizza back to the cabin and made it an early night. I was doing the 6:30 early start, so we planned to leave McKenzie Bridge at 5:30 to go to the start at Carmen Reservoir (it's about a half hour drive).

It was still pretty dark when we arrived, although it did lighten up in time for the start at 6:30. I had expected it to be in the 40s early, and much warmer later, so I wore a long-sleeved shirt over my sleeveless top to begin. It was actually in the 50s, so I didn't really need the extra shirt, but it gave me something to look forward to (taking the shirt off). I did have drop bags for the two aid stations and finish, although in the end I didn't really need them. I left the shirt at the first drop, but didn't even use my bag at the second. I had some extra fuel in each bag, plus bug spray in the first and sunscreen in the second (neither of which I used after the original application in the morning).

We took a couple pictures by the reservoir before heading to the starting spot, which was about 1/4 - 1/2 mile away from the check in. Rod walked over with me, and my parents waited at the car, where my mom was able to get a good picture of me as I ran by her.

The early start was a fairly small group, and the race photographer got some pictures with me in them! Easily recognizable thanks to the bright green cap. (Big thanks to Long Run Pictures for allowing free downloads!)

I had heard that the trails for this were pretty easy as trail races go, but I thought that the first half (at least) was very technical and hillier than I expected (though not as hilly as some of my summer runs). In the first eleven or so miles we ran up to Clear Lake and around it. It was sort of a modified out and back--only part of the trip retraced some trail that we had started on. The first five miles also included beds of black lava rock and a lots of rocks in the trails. These pretty pictures through the lava beds are a little misleading...although the trails are nice and smooth here, they soon turned to rocks.

The race photographer caught us on an uphill. So yes, we are walking. At least I managed to put a smile on my face!

Below, we are looking at Clear Lake on the left. The pictures do not reveal how clear and glassy it really was.

This is the first bridge (of many) that we crossed. The woman ahead of me on the bridge is named Claire. I was lucky to run in her vicinity a lot of the time, though somewhere in the second half she left me behind (meaning I never caught up to her again).

Looking at Clear Lake below...in the distance is where you can rent rowboats (though you can't see it in the picture).  I could be wrong about chronology, but I believe it was just after taking this picture that I took my one fall of the day. (Although I am sure it was before the bridge, so maybe I am off.) Anyway I had just taken a picture, and was going to resume running on a nice wide dirt trail, that had one very large root. Next thing you know, I was sprawled on the ground. My knees had just barely recovered from the bruising the week before, and it hurt. However, I said I was fine (and I was) and got up and went on. I generated a lot of concern along the way, until later when the dirt from the trails combined with the dirt and blood from the fall, and you couldn't really see so clearly that I had fallen down.

Below, the mirror-like clearness of Clear Lake. 
The first aid station was about mile 5.5 (it may have been prior to taking these pictures, it is hard to remember). I grabbed a granola thin cookie and a small cup of Coke and didn't linger. Coke would be my go-to beverage at the aid stations (along with weak Nuun in my hydration pack). The rest of the water pictures are various spots on the river.

Although the lava rocks were done, the trail continued to be rocky and root-laden, with small rolling hills along the way. Also, a lot of the trail was along a sort of narrow ledge, with a drop toward the river on one side. I felt I needed to be very careful with my footing...I didn't want to fall again...or worse!

In the first few miles there were more people around me and I went with the flow on running versus walking in treacherous or hilly spots. When I was on my own I mostly ran (very slowly) but walked in any spot where I felt the ground was dangerous (including both uphill or downhill terrain). I also walked across pretty much every single bridge. Many of them (as you will see) had a railing only on one side, with a drop to a raging river below.

We passed this waterfall from the other side of the river on the way up. I didn't take a picture then (although the view would probably have been better), so I couldn't bypass it again. A lot of my photos have way too much sunlight in them...even though I wasn't in a big hurry, I didn't feel like spending too much time trying to get a "perfect" shot (after all, I wanted to finish in the same day!).

Here is one of the many single-railed bridges. Unfortunately, that is my finger in the frame.

The picture doesn't do justice to this pool, aptly named Blue Pool. It is an amazing shade of azure, best seen in person (or possible in someone else's photo).

 I took a number of pictures from the bridges I crossed.

 Two hours passed between the bridge above and below (10:30 and 12:30). At around 9:00-9:30 I dropped my Eugene shirt at the 11-ish mile aid station. I grabbed another cup of Coke (probably) and maybe a couple pieces of watermelon and a few M & Ms..I didn't really eat too much along the way. I had a little Coke at almost every aid station, and a little bite of something. That included 2-3 cookies, a couple M & Ms, some watermelon, and I really can't remember anything else. I had a good supply of Gu and even a Honey Stinger in my pack, but all I ate of my own stuff was one packet of Sports Beans (I believe in the 21-26 mile section), and a few Mike & Ike's from a ziplock baggie (that was near the end of the run...I didn't eat them all, but did finish them off later in the day after I finished).

By about halfway through, the trail had become much less technical and much more easy running through the woods. Of course, I was getting tired by then so it didn't seem all that easy. The most interesting views were of the river, from bridges, so I didn't really take any in the woodsy sections.

Somewhere along the way, maybe around 13 miles or so, I started thinking about going to the bathroom (not desperately, just thinking). At the 16 mile aid station I asked if there were any porta potties anywhere along the route. That's not as stupid as it sounds; even driving up to Carmen Reservoir I saw a potty along the road and I thought we might pass through some camping areas that had some. The answer, however, was no.

So it was going to be go in the woods, because I knew I couldn't last eight hours without a stop. For the next couple miles I kept an eye out for a good spot. Portions of the trail were narrow, with a drop from the side, and obviously no way I could safely get off the trail. Finally I was approaching a bridge with a lot of trees and stumps around, so I decided to go a ways off the trail and squat behind some trees. As I did so, I saw runners pass by, but I figured they were concentrating on the bridge ahead and probably didn't see me. And if they did...I don't care.

I would have thought that this one stop more than halfway through would have been enough, but apparently I was hydrating well because I had to go again about ten miles later. This time I found a stump pretty easily and there was no one else around to be seen. Ah, relief.
When I got to 26 miles and a little beyond, I was past the longest distance I had ever run (which would be a marathon plus another mile or so). I had long since passed the longest duration of time I had run (about 5.5 hours). I felt...okay. I think by now it might be a little like childbirth, in that the pain that I felt at the time has faded from my mind in the excitement of finishing, but I know that I wasn't suffering desperately.

I wanted to be done, no question about that. But as for actual pain...my knees had stopped hurting from the fall. Somewhere along the way I had felt like I was getting blisters on my feet, but that dissipated. (I did get one blister, but not in the spots that had been sore.) I did start to feel tired and achy in my entire body, not just my legs, but actually I felt less so than I had in the last miles of the Tunnel Marathon, when my back was really aching.

I did start walking a little more, when the trail went uphill (even if it wasn't a steep hill) or just as a little break.  I contemplated trying a formal walk/run pattern, but whenever I walked I didn't really want to keep doing it for even a full minute, necessarily (unless it was uphill). For a while there was a young woman ahead of me who was running faster than me, so she would pull ahead, but then she would walk and I would catch up...this kept up for a while, and there was a portion of time when I was running at my sluggish pace and she was walking and it seemed like the distance between us still remained constant. But eventually I did pass her and, though I expected her to catch up again, she didn't. (Although I did see her at the final aid station at 29 miles, but I took off from there as she and a couple others arrived, and I never did see them again before the finish.)

I had been running the whole way without using headphones and music, which is big for me. In the beginning I decided to keep them out for a while and see how it went. The river was really noisy so that helped a little with drowning out the sound of my breath and footsteps. Additionally, the trail was so tricky, even in the beginning, that I felt like I had to focus all my attention on it, and even the slight distraction of music might make me trip. For a while I had a couple lines of Born to Run (the song) running through my head, but eventually that went away too.

After the 26 mile aid station I decided to go ahead and put on my music. The trail was pretty easy by then, and I really wanted to do something to give myself a kick of energy. (Besides the shot of Mountain Dew at the aid station, which was the BEST.THING.EVER.) I do think it helped, because after a couple of miles I pretty much stopped doing any walking, and after mile 29 I really picked up the pace to the finish. ("Picked up the pace" means a 12-13 minute mile pace...hardly burning up the ground, but fast for me on the trails.)

I took the picture below at 2:00, and it was the last one I took during the run. At that point I was probably about three miles from the finish!
There was a mini-aid station at 29 miles, where I slurped some water and took off for the finish. At that point my Garmin had started flashing low battery. I had not really expected it to last the whole way, so I had my old Garmin with the broken wrist band charged up in my pack to take over, had this one died after six hours or so. I was pretty impressed that it actually lasted over 8 hours! I had used a tip to reset the battery* so it had a longer life, and I guess it worked. I was at 30.25 miles when it stopped, and obviously I didn't bother to get out the spare.

Soon after I saw a guy who told me, 800 yards to the finish! I "sprinted" off, went up a little hill, and there it was!

We received a special finisher's hat at the finish line. I was feeling good, happy to be done, and just happy!

Here I might not look quite so happy....

During the morning while I was running, Rod and my parents went out to breakfast and then he took them on a scenic tour. Here are my parents with the rowboats at Clear Lake. I was somewhere along the perimeter of Clear Lake at the time.

Then they went up to see the lava fields near McKenzie Pass.  The Sisters peaks are in the background.
After I finished we drove to Belknap Resort and took a dip in the hot springs pool. There's Rod and I in the pool...no one wants to see a close-up.
After our soak/swim, we walked a few steps across (another) bridge to view the lodge and pool from the river.
My parents on the bridge.
The McKenzie River. Again.
It's a little hard to see, but this is the hot spring where the pool water comes from.
While I had been running in the wild, my parents and Rod learned some other big news--Dish network reached an agreement with the Pac12 and would air the Ducks game! We listened on the radio in the car, then went back to the cabin to watch the rest of the game and rest.

Later we went to Takoda's for dinner. I guessed that at least one person at every table there had run MRTR.
Still happy to be done!
I had a delicious burger with mushrooms and blue cheese. I stole a few yummy fries from my mom...why didn't I opt for my own fries? Must have been delirious.
I didn't take many pictures of the cabin (I think my mom has some, though), but this is the cool view from the upstairs loft. That is the river outside and a few people in Adirondack chairs.
A few final thoughts...I didn't really mention the heat, because it wasn't an issue at all. I think the temperature got into the low 80s by afternoon, but that was about ten degrees cooler than the day before, and it was much cooler in the woods. It didn't bother me at all.

My final time was 8 hours 13 minutes. Yes, slow....but that's the way I roll. It probably would have been a little less without the pictures--maybe under 8 hours--but this may well have been a once in a lifetime experience and I don't begrudge a little time taken to commemorate it. I had estimated that it would take me 8 hours to do it. I didn't set my sights high!

Speaking of once in a lifetime...I don't know that I intend to do another 50K. This was a special one that I really wanted to do. The area has special meaning to Rod (he has family history here), and it is so incredibly scenic, along the course and everywhere. Many of the other 50Ks I know of are loops of a shorter course and I have no real desire to do that, just to get in the distance. Plus the training was a little overwhelming...it virtually consumed my summer. (I plan to write a separate post on training for a 50K.) There are too many marathons (and half marathons) that I would like to do, to devote another training cycle to running a 50K trail run. (In future, I might do trail runs, but shorter, like half marathon or maybe up to 30K.)

There are some more nice pictures on my parents' camera, but I am too impatient to wait to add them. I might do a little addendum later. There is a good one of me at the beginning of the run, and some nice pictures from their sightseeing as well. I am so lucky that the race photographer posted pictures on facebook just before I finished this!

If you do want to do a 50K someday, and would like to travel to a lovely part of Oregon, I highly recommend the McKenzie River Trail Run. It is a little tricky to get into (there's a lottery), so check out the website for details!

*How to reset the battery on your Garmin 405: Charge battery to full power. Turn on Garmin and let it run until battery is fully drained. Recharge to full power plus an extra hour. I got eight hours of battery life out of mine after doing this!


Juliann said...

Thanks for the great post. I don't see a 50k or even a full marathon in my future but it is so interesting to read your account. Great work.

Lisa said...

Congrats! What a gorgeous race! I would like to run that race someday. I have fond memories of that area from my college days.

Great job training and running the 50K distance. I enjoyed all the pictures!

Anonymous said...

Wow, beautiful pictures; I love how green Oregon is! I do a lot of outdoor activities her in Colorado, but there is no comparison for the lushness of the northwest. I saw u having a bit of trouble with getting the game on TV, and was happy you discovered Dish's new carriage of the Pac-12 network. I love the CU buffs, but when they switched to Pac-12 I figured I'd be missing a lot of games due to the relocation. When my boss at Dish told me the Pac-12 network would be exclusively carried by Dish, in terms of satellite carriers, I was pumped. And good news came today as well, Pac-12 is now set up on HD!! Happy running, Go Buffs, Go Ducks!

Host PPH said...

That bridge looks great. with the wood finish and the small path. it blends great with the surroundings.