Our fabulous friends Susan and John messaged Jesse and me early in the year (while we were still in Australia, in fact) about joining them for the Smith Rock Ascent run and, naturally, Jesse and I were both keen. We signed up for the mid-distance (15-miler) and about a month before race day I finally committed myself to getting in some longer runs. It was easy to slack off on my weekly mileage between a new job, catching up with friends, moving into our new place, etc. But I also didn’t want to be sad during this event; I had a goal time in mind and chose not to have a Goal B as a way of staying on top of my preparation. I was sure glad I did, too – look at this course profile!
The race weekend arrived and the 4 of us set off to Redmond the night before for a big dinner and some pre-race relaxing (we initially planned to camp but admittedly we girls opted for the warm alternative of a motel). We had football-sized burritos for dinner and headed out to Smith Rock to enjoy the sunset.
Later, the surprises of our cheap motel kept us laughing all night and all morning – but our stay at the Hub Motel, in the end, was just fine. The best thing about it: the wi-fi password posted on the bathroom mirror. Just in case, I guess!
It was a chilly morning at the starting line and we were all bouncing around trying to get and/or keep warm. Susan’s distance started about 30 minutes before Jesse, John, and me, so it was fun watching her start her grueling ascent before we began. Eventually our gun went off and the first mile or so was a steep downhill to the river (making for an easy first few minutes, but keeping in mind that we would come back up that hill to finish as well)!
After getting onto the singletrack our course was a little rolling and then the first climb began. We were faced with about 2 miles of fire lane gravel zigzagging up and up. It was tempting to keep “running” at a snail pace, but so very few were and it was easy to justify walking briskly instead to enjoy the view. I wasn’t competitive by any means so I was content just taking my time up this part.
The course once again turned into high-country singletrack and I found myself running mostly alone. The chilliness of the morning wore off quickly as the sun got higher and I began kicking myself for wearing a merino top (I can’t resist it’s lightweight wooly warmth). At the first aid station I grabbed a salted caramel GU and pulled my shirt off (a woman beside me in a purple merino followed suit). I somehow dropped my GU before I ate it (I hope someone picked it up and enjoyed it because that flavor it hard to come by…and also because I hate the thought of having littered during a race…or at all…), but not to worry, I had other energy sources in my pack, I was just looking forward to that particular flavor.
A little more climbing brought us to the section I was nervous about. It was a hands-on-knees type of ascent and it was setting tiny goals that got me to that radio tower on top. Counting steps: “One, two, three, four, fiive, sixx, sevennnn, eeeeight, niiiiiiiiiine, TEN” rest, enjoy the view, repeat, all the way up. There was about a mile of this. I passed a handful of people, and a different handful passed me in return. All in good spirits though, and I was smiling the whole way. And at the top, all the peaks were worth it. We could see Bachelor, Jefferson, Black Butte, Three Fingered Jack, Hood…and some farmland. I was proud of myself just then, and so were some other runners, so we just hung out up there, passing our phones around having a little photo shoot.
Then down we went. The relief was lovely; my heart rate normalized and I began passing people again. At the 2nd aid station (which was really just revisiting the first on the loop back around) I had an orange slice and two Dixie cups of water and was quickly off again. I will admit to seeing sunscreen on the table there and I neglected to apply some, which I paid for in the days following. An important rule of running shirtless – liberally apply your SPF!
On the way down some of the 50K people were catching and passing me, which was a little disheartening. They were, of course, the top finishers of the 50K so they were expected to be fast, but it was still annoying having them speed by and quickly pull away as if were standing still. But I had to remind myself that they were running their race and I was running mine. They weren’t my competitors; they were my inspiration…and also my cheerleaders. We would exchange encouragements and we’d all just keep on keepin’ on.
And then…the photographer. Around the corner into the final descent (remember the zigzag fire lane we came up? Got to enjoy it on the way down, too), I heard some music playing by a bouldering spot so I was looking up in hopes of finding some climbers. Then I heard him clicking away at me and I nearly jumped right out of my hydration pack! He was laughing hysterically at me, saying my confused face would make for some awesome photos. Indeed! Embarrassed, I posed for a good one and continued on. You can see race photos here, here, here, and here. Also, let’s take a moment to enjoy how ridiculously photogenic Jesse consistently is, shall we? You can see him handsomely flying down the trail here.
The final hill to the finish line felt like such a slog that I admittedly walked it as well. To my delight, a speedy 50K guy did too, so there’s that. At the top, the final sprint to the finish put me only seconds off my goal of 3:30. I’m calling that a win.
The finish line had beer and burritos and we sat in the grass enjoying the sun, food, and festivities as the other runners came in one by one. Much to my and Jesse’s delight, we learned that one of our favorite mountaineers, Ueli Steck, had run the 50K! We gawked at him from a few picnic tables over and debated saying “hello”. In the end, we did not. The man just ran over 30 miles – I’d know I’d sure want to be left alone! But cool nonetheless.
We drove back to Portland that afternoon then hobbled to work on Monday with sore quads. As you do.