Mt. Hood 50k – 7/10/16

As you know, I like to do races in far away places. It’s so much fun to explore new areas by doing an event but this time, I chose one close to home. Sadly, a “close” trail run still means 1.5 hours away, but at least it didn’t involve significant travel beforehand.

Per usual, the weeks leading up to the event were filled with training runs, rest days, cross-training, and lots of food. Jesse didn’t run this one so I was training alone. My long runs were sometimes wonderful and sometimes lonely but then I got lucky and found a fabulous new running buddy to make the miles go by faster. Her first 50k was the weekend after Mt. Hood so it was easy to coordinate training days. I am grateful for her company and willingness to adventure! I didn’t know how I was going to run so far without her at this point!

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Jesse drove me to the start line to see me off (he then spent the morning on his mountain bike nearby). I have become so fond of the Go Beyond Racing events and this was no exception. The course skirted Timothy Lake, went out on the Pacific Crest Trail for 7 miles, then turned around and circled the other side of the lake to the finish. With 6 aid stations and only about 2,500 feet of elevation gain, it was a relatively “easy” run. Even more so given that it was gray and drizzly…the ideal running weather. Sadly it meant no view of Mt. Hood, though.

I started strong (arguably too strong) and felt great. I had to stop to pee around mile 2.5 and lost my place in the pack, but easily fit back into my groove and kept going. The miles ticked off so quickly, the aid stations coming and going and I barely felt the need to stop. As always, the aid stations were excellent and the watermelon was an incredible treat! I grabbed some Oreos for the road and carried on.

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I know better than to power up the hills during an event. My heart rate is invariably high already and I’m still learning how my body reacts to “pushing it” in a race. So I hiked (as did everyone else around me, so it felt like a legitimate decision). My heart rate would recover and I’d run again, still feeling strong. I sprinted into the turnaround aid station at mile 13 and heard someone yell my name.

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I was certain Jesse wasn’t going to meet me there and I didn’t know of anyone else running it, so my confusion was justified. Soon my friend Shane emerged with a clipboard; he was volunteering at that far aid station! We hugged it out, recapped the first half of the race, and off I went. It’s always a nice burst of support and encouragement to see a familiar face.

The way back to the lake was a beautiful descent and I ran along with a guy who was doing the 50/50 (the 50 mile version on Saturday and the 50k on Sunday). I was in awe of him and he was rocking it. We chatted for a while and then I felt strong enough to pick up the pace, leaving him behind.

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I entered the “stiff leg” phase coming into the aid station at mile 17. I crouched down, stretching my hips out. Internally and emotionally I felt amazing. It was only some fatigue in my legs slowing me down at that point. When I left the aid station, I was alone for long periods of time and I felt happy. I enjoyed the trail, the moody grayness of the day, and the sound of my heart propelling myself forward (in every sense). Those are the moments I run for.

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I came into the mile 21 aid station and had some oranges and chatted with the volunteers for a few minutes, grateful for their high spirits. When I took off, I could feel something…off…in my left knee and I was pissed. After a few more minutes, with every centimeter of incline the pain screamed under the outer side of my knee cap and I was left walking the hills.

I kept leap-frogging with two guys who had given up on running completely. One guy was from Texas and it was his first 50k, but he was happy to leisurely finish. I didn’t find the peace and solidarity from these two one might hope for and I could only focus on how my leg was failing me. Eventually, after some stops to stretch, some lakeside cursing, and enough walking to screw up my goal time, I ran into the last aid station, leaving them behind, and sat down. I was pleasantly surprised that there were only 4.7 miles left and not 6.5 as I’d thought, and the sweet volunteer checked in on my health when I stood up quite uneasily. I shook it off and got to going.

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I don’t remember how I got through those last 5 miles. They took days, I’m sure of it. I ran and walked and hiked and ran, none for very long. I worked on returning to my positive state of mind with every pain-free step, reminding myself that I’d only run this distance once before. It was reasonable that my body was mad at me!

I started to recognize the trail again from having passed over it that morning, hearing the faint sound of cowbells and cheering. The course markings became closer together, the campsites more frequent. The trail ended with a slight downhill and I “sprinted” over the finish line: 6:35. There was Jesse, caked in mud, waiting in the mist. I ran into his arms and then doubled over out of breath, the tears of a proud runner filling my eyes.

The race director gave me a pint glass and a congratulations and then I bee-lined it to a camp chair. After a recap of the race and Jesse’s mountain bike adventure, we shared a burger and he took me home. Race days are the best.

(You can see the official race photos of me here and here.)

(P.S. My knee is fine. I don’t know what it was that day; if it’s a problem in the future I’ll deal with it. Until then, I am chalking it up to “Well something had to go wrong that day…it couldn’t have all been perfect!”)

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