Ever since April, I've noticed my body going through some interesting changes. Not quite like a second puberty, but it's close. The most evident (and important) is my ability to recover. The month of April was packed with 3 races for a total of 96.2 race miles, and I was able to finish strong for each one of them. Granted, I took good portions of the weekdays off, but running a strong 50 mile race only 2 weeks after running my fastest marathon at Boston?...what once was a lifelong goal was now considered a training run.
June was just as ambitious, considering I was continuing to increase my weekly mileage along with having weekend races. For example, the day after the Timberline marathon, I went for a 15 mile round trip run up Larch Mountain in the gorge. How the hell did I still have the energy for that? Does that mean I didn't run the marathon hard enough? It hurt, but maybe it needed to hurt more...I don't know. My body's teaching me new things these days, and it's taking me for the ride of my life.
Finishing with a 60 mile week, my next goal was a 70 mile week. Why not start it off with another long training run?...
BEACON ROCK 50K
On the way to the start, I picked up a fellow CCC registrant named Jen. This was only her 2nd ultra, but her marathon experience leaves me in the dust (and she runs marathons faster than me). It was nice chatting with her about training and whatnot as we enjoyed a nice early drive through the Columbia Gorge.
Arriving at the start, there were familiar faces EVERYWHERE! The ultra community is so friendly and encouraging, you can't help but fall in Love with the people you share these experiences with. After chatting with the likes of Chris, Liz, Randy, Larry, Stan, Esther, Amy, Marta, and Will, the race began like all typical ultramarathons...a speech, some jokes, and a modest ready set go.
In typical fashion, I ran out fast knowing that I'd eventually get passed by the front runners. This time, I was only winning for about .1 miles. The course involves TWO 25K loops, with two hearty ascents for a total of 3750' of climb per loop. It started with a brief downhill before beginning the first demanding uphill climb. For some reason, this hill woke my demons. A combination of not stretching, not tapering, and not warming up had put me in a small depression due to the tightness and apparent fatigue in my legs. Not even a mile into the uphill, the thought occurred to me to bail out at the 25K mark.
Deciding that I probably started out too fast, I slowed down and made my ambitions wait for my legs. Chatting up whoever I was running with, I was reminded that I wasn't the only one suffering. Near the top of the first climb, there were some steep switchbacks that begged to be hiked. Relief! Chris had caught up to me at this point, which was nice since I was hoping to run with him for at least some of the course. Larry was also directly behind me, and he put out my demons with some choice words..."Go get 'em, Jason".
Cresting the first peak, my feet found the downhill like a galloping horse. Then it became rocky, and it turned into a game of twinkle toes while trying to keep my momentum rolling. Fly like a bird, tread like a ballerina! My legs recovered well on the downhill, and I was finding myself running in a state of trail zen: running strong, breathing easy, and 100% focused on my next steps.
After the first Aid Station, the downhill continued (there was not a single flat part of the course). Waving to Stan at the crossroads, the trail continued down and over a creek crossing. The worst part about creeks is knowing that they are usually found at low points…Thus, the climb to the top of Hamilton Mountain had begun. It started off fairly gradual in a nice shady OW! OWowowowow.... Gah!..Did I just sprain my ankle?! I somehow missed my footing and rolled my right foot over a tree root, and a sharp pain shot up the outside of my foot. I ran like a wounded animal for a hundred feet or so before trying to run normally...and...the pain...went away! Close call...
The climb went up and up and up! Some switchbacks were runnable, others were less runnable. The uphill climb seemed forever! There were tons of gorgeous views along the way, but running on rocks with distracted eyes can lead to a close encounter of the earthy kind (as it did for many runners that day). Thankfully, others stopped to take photos. They were probably the most beautiful views I had ever seen during a race.
Reaching the peak with tired, worn out legs, I was ready for some downhill recovery. It's about time, I was feeling kind of *CRASH*....hello earth, how are you? Yes, I did have a good trip...Without any room to roll, I stubbed my toe and flew forward, creating a scraped shoulder and a water bottle yard sale. I got running again before the pain set in…and then…theeeerrrre it is…Did I seriously kick that rock with my pinky toe? Ugh. The pain went away after a while.
Running with a man named Brent, we chatted for a while as we were headed downhill back to the starting line. He let me go in front for the downhill technical sections, but when we hit the gravel/dirt road he was flying. Knowing we had to do another full lap, I let him go and hung behind him for 4 or 5 miles.
At the starting line aid station, I made a big tiff about them only having peanut m&m’s when my body specifically craved regular m&m’s. I hope they knew I was joking, because the food was phenominal and the volunteers were SO nice! Liz, the spectating pregnant ultra runner, gave a cheer and I waved back at her before heading out for lap #2. Her husband Chris was on the home stretch when we crossed paths and high fived each other. That lucky devil was only doing the 25K, and he had a strong finish despite not running in 2 weeks! Nicely done!
Party on, round 2 has begun! Now that I knew the course, everything was quantified. My legs were feeling great, and leaving my shirt at the start was the BEST IDEA EVER! The first hill that almost destroyed me in the first lap was now quite nice! Finding my uphill forever pace, the first climb was steady and manageable. Brent had started the hill at a faster pace, but he slowed down and I pulled ahead for good about halfway to the top. This second lap already felt easier than the first lap…I was not expecting this. Charging downhill as gracefully as I could, I got to the aid station with two empty 22 oz bottles. Mental note: switch to California Conservation Mode (shower sparingly, no showers preferred).
After refilling, I eventually caught up with the runner ahead of me. We began our ascent of Hamilton Mountain together, but I soon pulled ahead. We were both running/hiking, but my pace was faster and I was able to run more of the switchbacks. The ascent was still slower than the first lap, but I was feeling comfortable. My bottles were emptying quickly, both due to the 80 degree heat combined with dehydration. I was drinking so much my kidneys were feeling sore. That’s a first! At least I decided to carry 2 water bottles that day, because that was barely enough.
Reaching the top of Hamilton Mtn was a relief, and the guy behind me was nowhere in site. The downhill felt good, and I was pushing as hard as I could for the finish. Reaching the final homestretch, I saw my friends Kyle, Nicole, and Lynda cheering me on to the finish. Did I mention how much I Love the running community? My pace was strong through the finisher’s chute, and I couldn’t be happier with how the race went that day.
Results: 5:11:52 - 6th out of 70 Finishers
Pace: 10:02 min/mile
The finish area was full of people relaxing with beer, barbeque, and live bluegrass music. James Varner, the race director, put on a perfect race, and I'll try to run all of his races someday (Rainshadow Running). After shaking his hand, I met my friends (and my new fanclub, inspired by my James Bronder t-shirt). Thank you Nicole, Kyle, Justin, and Lynda for all the support! I’m still amused by Justin downplaying the 50K by saying “it’s only 31 miles. Jason hasn’t even done a 100 mile race”. Cute kid…I’ll try to earn his respect in August. (Notice the shirts.)
The overall course was fun, soft, technical, and vertically challenging. It was the hardest race I’ve run so far, largely due to my early onset of depression on that first hill. The elevation gain and hot weather were the toughest I’ve had to race through (so far), but everything was relatively manageable. I’m starting to grow more confident in my ability to do well (finish) at Cascade Crest…Ha-Roo! Bonus Material Things that got stuck in my head during the race, in order of magnitude: Bury Me In Timbers Green, Harty Boys, and Family Matters (Bruce Lee Episode).