Frölicking trails since 2010

Frölicking trails since 2010
Frölicking trails since 2010

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Jbob's McDonald Forest 50k - Corvallis, OR - May 9, 2015

"May each pilot their own ship, and may your life's passion be a wind to fill others' sails." - Alex Newport-Berra

Photo by Long Run Picture Company.
In 2012, Tom Green carpooled with Nick Triolo to the start of the McDonald Forest 50k in 2012, and Nick won the race. This time, Tom was riding in my car and using my seat maybe I had a chance. But before the race, I frankly didn't care how I would place. My mind wasn't even thinking about the race until the day before when I realized I needed a clean pair of shorts to run in. I just wanted to run with friends at one of my favorite races on a beautiful sunny day.

Talking with Andrew Miller before the race, he bestowed upon me one of his favorite sayings "if you're having fun, you can't lose" (or something like that). Earlier this year, although I placed reasonably well at both the Hagg Lake 50k and the Chuckanut 50k, both races were sufferfests that really put me in an unhappy place. I wanted to run the McDonald Forest 50k smiling, and there was no way in hell I was going to lose this race.


This race was dedicated to Alex Newport-Berra.

Just before the race started, there was a touching speech made by the family of Alex Newport-Berra. Alex was an ultrarunner from Ashland who had passed away in 2014, and there were many of his friends (including his sister) who were running this race. I never knew Alex, but we both ran the McDonald Forest 50k in 2013 (he finished 2nd place, I finished way later).  His family raised him near the McDonald Forest when he was younger, and they installed a bench in his memory just off of Lower Dan's Trail. Just before the start of the race, all of the racers were led in a Bonzai chant by Alex's friend. 

Banzai” is a Japanese cheer that can be translates as “Long life!” or “Hurrah!” It is usually repeated three times to express enthusiasm, celebrate a victory, applause and favor on happy occasion while raising both arms. It is commonly done together with the large group of people.

Bonzai Chant. Photo by Long Run Picture Company.
Shortly after the chant, Ken Ward began the countdown to the race.


Photo by Long Run Picture Company.
It was going to be a hot day, and there were a number of sexy topless runners out there. One of my favorite aspects about this race is that the course changes every year. In 2014, it was run almost completely backwards from the 2013 course. This makes it easy for me to simply unplug my brain and just run. All I know is that there's going to be about 7,000' of climbing, and I decided to just cruise for the first several miles of the race and let the front runners have their own race. So I watched as Andrew pulled away from the group, bringing 3 runners with him. Before too long, I was running alone in 5th place with nobody to sing with. *sigh*...I miss Jeremy Tolman.

Course Profile
The course is a fine combination of logging roads and single track, with a lot of douche grade in between. For the most part, the climbs and descents are long enough to get into a rhythm, making it easy to settle in. The uphills were a generous grind for me, mainly slow but strong with some sporadic hiking, but I was absolutely flying on the downhills. I was having one of those days where I didn't have a care in the world except for just having fun and enjoying the day. And it was a delight to see some of my friends in the early start group as I passed them, and those short interactions gave me extra little boosts of energy.

On the dimple hill climb, I planned my pee break just right to give myself a quick breather about halfway up the climb. Once I got running again, I saw Josh Zielinski running half a switchback behind me. I was hoping for someone to run with, but it didn't work out this time, and I ended up pulling away on the downhill after the aid station.

Windmilling downhill. Photo by Long Run Picture Company.
All of a sudden, the trail took a big drop-off and got super technical. I think this is what they call the 'Maze' section. Contrary to last year, this year the trail was completely dry, making it 90% more fun. I mean, it's nice to be able to stop yourself on a steep downhill, or at least gracefully aim your descent to the next tree-hugging opportunity. The trail had a lot of quick ups and downs, and I was having an absolute blast. Pretty soon, I caught the 4th place guy and passed him swiftly. Well, we'll how long it takes before I catch the next guy. I'll bet Andrew's kicking so much ass right now.

So, right about mile 18, I caught Andrew. Uh oh, something's wrong, why isn't he winning? Turns out Andrew was still a little tired from traveling/running in Italy couple weeks prior. Poor guy. He mentioned to me that he was taking a page out of his own book and didn't want to lose this race, so he decided to slow down and have fun. Smart kid. He proceeded to then tell me that the other 2 runners weren't too far ahead and that I could win the race. Shitballs. One of my strategies for having fun during a race is to eliminate the desire to win. As Buddhism teaches: if you end your selfish desires, your suffering will also end. This leads to Nirvana, an "egoless state of bliss".

Let's just say Nirvana went out the window at the next aid station when I caught up to the race leaders. With 12 miles to go, I took my time refueling at the aid station and getting my bottles filled with ice water. The weather was really warm now, probably the mid-80s, and there was no breeze to keep my half-naked body cool. So, I left the aid station while squirting myself with the ice water from my bottles. It was SO refreshing, and I felt like a new man afterwards! Seriously, the little things you can do to keep your body cool goes a long way to keep the machine working strong. My ice shower basically propelled me up the next steady climb while chasing the 1st and 2nd place runners.

Pretty soon after the aid station, I caught Mike walking up the douche grade hill. He definitely started out the race too fast, but he may have done it on purpose to help prepare for a marathon he was running in a few weeks. Maybe 10 minutes after I caught Mike, I ended up tailing Nick, the 1st place runner. I hiked behind him for a little bit to gauge how he looked, but after watching him early in the race and watching him now, it looked like he was trying to run up every single hill in the race. At the next flat section, I passed him pretty nonchalantly, as I don't think he had anymore thrust in his legs. It's a lesson that took me a few years to learn, and it's greatly changed my philosophy on training and racing: Just because you can run uphill, doesn't mean you should. Key word: efficiency.

Now with 10 miles to go, I was confidently in the lead without much concern about any of the guys I just passed. They looked toasted, hot, and running with 1 bottle, whereas I was barely staying hydrated with 2 bottles. The forest was cooking, for sure. To keep me motivated, I imagined Andrew, Josh, or Neil Olson still be fighting to catch me, so I ran as if I wanted to win.

Over the last 5 miles of gradual downhill, I ran as fast as I could while my hamstrings were quivering. Looking over my shoulder enough times, I felt confident that no one was going to catch me at this point. Cruising into the finish line area, I gave several woops and hollers as I crossed the final foot bridge, turned around, and crossed the finish line running backwards.

RESULTS: 4:25:08 - 1st Place out of 269 Finishers
PACE: ~8:31 min/mile

Surprise finish line hug from Sean Hunter! Photos by Long Run Picture Company.

This race definitely reiterated the confidence I have in my running style. By running a smart race, I stayed strong from start to finish and ended up outlasting some fast people. What it comes down to is everyone shows up to the start of the race with the legs they have, and they have to manage themselves accordingly. Sometimes, the fastest runner doesn't always finish first, and "durability trumps talent when talent breaks down". I'll remember this when I run the Wasatch 100 mile race in September.

I'm so grateful for this race and its community, and I'm satisfied to have run a solid race during its 20th anniversary.

Talking with Michael Lebowitz, the man behind the lens.
Photo by Long Run Picture Company.

This would be my 3rd time running the McDonald Forest 50k. The first time I ran the race was 2013, and I immediately fell in Love with the course. The mix of logging roads and technical single track made it tough, yet fast, and the forest is absolutely beautiful. That, and I found myself surrounded by good people, both runners and volunteers alike.

After finishing the race in 2013, I relaxed by the finish line and watched many of the runners do something peculiar. Seemingly most of the finishers would turn around and cross the finish line while running backwards. I heard rumors that they were honoring Scott McQueeney who had died 10 years prior, and that he was known for running a race backwards. I thought the tribute was very touching, but I didn't bother to learn more about the story until after this year's race:

Years ago, Scott's daughter was being tested for cancer. He bet her that she didn't have cancer or else he would run the Portland Marathon backwards. When the test results came back, they found out that she did have cancer, and so Scott ran the Portland Marathon backwards. After going through several months of chemotherapy and treatment, his daughter's cancer thankfully went into remission.

Scott was an accomplished marathoner and ultrarunner, having run over 50 marathons, Western States, Badwater, and countless adventure runs in the Pacific Northwest. But in 2003, Scott ran the McDonald Forest 50k and passed away moments after crossing the finish line from a heart arrhythmia. (source)

For the last 2 years, I've crossed the finish line of the McDonald Forest 50k backwards, not fully knowing the story of the man that I was paying tribute to. Even though I knew next to nothing about this man, I figured finishing backwards would mean something to this community and to those who knew Scott. And since I had heart surgery in 2012 for a heart condition of my own, it reminds me to count my blessings.


Having learned more about Alex Newport-Berra and Scott McQueeney, it makes me really contemplate my own mortality. It's a good reminder to never take anyone for granted, and to always enjoy the moments you have with the people you Love. We live in a day and age where it's so easy to get distracted from really developing a deep relationship with one another (smart phones being one of the biggest distractions). Just remember that the greatest gift that you can ever give someone is your Time.


Thank you Race Directors Ken Ward and Dennis Gamroth, as well as the rest of the race organizers and volunteers for putting on a flawless race! The course markings were foolproof, and the Aid Stations were perfect.


Thank you Trail Butter for the delicious pre-race fuel that kept me going strong all day. I'm truly addicted.


Thank you Float Shoppe for helping with my pre-race relaxation and post-race recovery. I really can't imagine training for all my runs without float therapy, I'm so grateful for it!


Thank you Evolution Healthcare & Fitness for helping me stay injury free and strong inside and out. I'm stoked for your new facility, and I can't wait to spend time in the High Altitude Room for my Wasatch training!


Thank you Ultra U Fitness for the Strength Training For Runners classes that help me maintain a strong core. I've never been to a more fun fitness class!


Thank you Animal Athletics for the support!


My bib number was #13. Taylor Swift's favorite number is 13. Fun Fact.