The MRTR 50k is popular run. It opens for registration on April 1st and usually fills up the first day. Once you get out on the course you understand why. It is a run with some amazing sights that only a hiker or runner would see. The 3 falls that you run by. Lava beds that dammed up Clear Lake and preserved a forest under water that you can still see. The "Blue Pool" where the Mckenzie river comes back up from its underground travels and forms the most beautiful circular pool of calm blue water. And lastly the a trail that follows the wild McKenzie River. Oh and of course some old growth Douglas Fir that are so big you could build a subdivision with just one of them.
Gail and I once again headed south to the start with an early morning departure of 3:30. She was taking the early start at 6:30 and I was taking the 7:30. I got to the start about a 1/2 hour early. We got out packets, I dropped off Gail and headed down the Highway 17 miles to the finish line. Once there I parked the car, stuck my thumb out and hitched a ride back to the start line. I recognized allot of the runners but none except Sean were on a name basis.
We walked a 1/4 mile down the road to the start. Got the briefing and off we went. I went out slow as usual and my plan was to take it nice and easy the first 6 miles. This is the part of the course that has the most climb. It's only a few hundred feet or so and is actual almost all runnable. We hit the trail and pass by the first fall. I stop at every viewpoint as you don't get to see things like this every day. I don't care if I lose a few seconds here and there. I want to imprint these into my memories. The trail is mixed in with some stairs in places and as usual the pace of a large group slows down. We pass two more falls then see Clear Lake. It circle the pristine lake in a counter clockwise direction. We soon run through lava fields with trails of rock carved through them. If you fall here you probably won't be finishing the race! We soon are back on the soft trails of fir needles in the trees as we leave the lake on a mile or so spur up to the first AS at mile 5.8. I arrive at 1:08 about a 11:40 pace, a bit slower than I wanted but it was uphill and crowded. I take in potatoes and refill the water and off I go. The plan is still to gel every 1/2 hour but I am mixing it up with more chocolate and less sweet gels to keep my stomach happier. Back down the spur I go and soon continue around the lake. I am surprised I didn't trip as I keep looking at the lake as you can see the trees and sandy bottom down to 50 to 100 feet I would guess. It is a cool mountain morning and I still have a chill after about 2 hours. I am still running easy and walking the steep hills. As I roll into AS at about 11.2 miles I am still on the 11+/mile pace but am feeling great. As soon as I head out my gut starts telling me "you are going to have to find a tree soon". So many folks say this happens when they run. Never happened to me. But off I went into the woods to join the club.
Back on the trail it is a mixture of technical rocky climbs and descents and smooth trails with little log bridges here and there. The river has disappeared and it goes underground for some reason,. It is strangely quiet. Soon we get to Blue Pool and I stop at least 3 times to enjoy the view. In this area I start to catch some of the early starters. Must be about 3 hours into the race. Usually my legs start to feel a bit of fatigue here but today they are just fine. I decided to try and take two Ibuprofen ahead of time to see if that makes things easier. (It did!)
At AS 3 around 16.7 miles I keep eating potatoes and a few chips. I also get vaseline as that stop in the woods has created some ugly chaffing. (Do not visualize this!) I am also drinking 2 or 3 cups of water. This is along with my 20 oz bottle I am consuming between each AS. I am going to hydrate on this race! I make sure to take E-Caps so I don't loose my electrolyte balance. We have a few climbs in this section and I run most of them. About mile 18 I run into Gail. She is having just an awful day. Her contacts are messed up in someway and she can't see the trail very well. She says she has tripped at least 10 times so far. I feel so sad for her, trying to think of ways to help. We walk together for 10 to 15 minutes. We talk, she considers dropping out. I don't give an opinion because that is such a personal choice. I just walk with her and try and be a friend. When you are hurting on a run sometimes it's so nice to have someone to talk with and other times you just want to fight the demons yourself. I finally say that I am heading out. I give her a kiss and off I go. I feel bad.
We get a few rollers but mostly the trail starts to follow the River. So it looks flat but mentally I keep telling myself it is downhill. We run a few gravel roads. Funny how when I get on the road I feel like I am so very slow, but on the trail I feel much quicker. Strange....I get into AS 4 which is at 21.8 miles. I ask if anyone has saline solution to clean Gail's contacts. Sadly no one does. I describe her and ask them to help her when she gets in. They agree and off I go still feeling pretty darn good.
As I cruise out of AS 4 I look at my watch. My Garmin is broken so all I have is my stopwatch. I think I was at around 4 hours 18 minutes. I have 10 miles left and 1 hour 40 minutes to break 6 hours. Thats about a 10 minute pace for the rest of the race. I doubt I can do it but I will push the pace up a bit and see what happens. That was the plan anyway. Try to stay strong for the finish. I run easy but with a bit of urgency. Legs feel good, not tired yet. Gut is perfect. Trail is beautiful. The trees are huge. Life is so gooo.....argh...ah...shit..."Bam!" Dirt sandwich. Yep, never saw it coming. Was the quick kind. No flailing around trying to save it. Just quick. I rolled over on my back and looked back up the trail. "Good, no one behind me" I rest for a few seconds...nothing really hurts too bad. Just a knee, hip and shoulder. Good to go. Up and off I trot. Nice spot to crash, no rocks, lucky me.
I start to pass a few more folks from the early start and some that passed me early on. I still feel good. Push it up just a tad. I get to the last AS. I fuel as usual and they say mile 26, same as they did last year. But I know better, its not mile 26. Its only 25.1. So I got 6 to go. A 10k. A walk in the park. I think I was in at around 5 hours but truthfully can't remember. Drink some coke this time with the water. Taters and chips and off to the finish.
Oh how I wish Gail was here with me. Last year I caught up with her at this AS. She drug my sorry ass into the finish. I wanted to walk and she always kept running. She was my tow rope. Today I am on my own. But I feel strong. I push. I thought had only a couple ups. I was wrong. It had quite a few more but nothing severe at all. I ran them all. I have never done that at the end of an ultra before. I just sade "baby steps...baby steps" and I took these tiny little steps up every climb, but at least I was running. I would get to the top and feel fatigued, but it went away after 30 seconds, so I pushed. The flats, I was moving like never before. "God I feel good!" I am tired and want to quit but no where near exhaustion. This is so different. I push more. I pass more runners. I now have my Ipod on. I crank the volume. I rock out. I run hard. I sing out loud. I breath with control. I can do this.
I have no idea how far I have to go. But I know I have a chance. I feel it. I pass more runners who are hurting. I have been there. I feel there pain. I shout "On your left, don't stop I will go wide. Have a good day". Another climb. Damn. Oh that wasn't so bad. I know this area. This is close to the finish. I push.. I keep looking for that short climb we go up to finish. Kashmir from Led Zeppelin comes on. It fits the mood. I see it. The hill. Yee-ha! I push more, rip up the hill and finish. I got it!!! 5:55!! I busted that 6 hour little devil.
Caroline Klug winner of this years womens division of the Oregon Trail Series is at the finish line. I have seen her a few times on the course taking pictures today. I tell her "I wish I could take this feeling I had the last 10 miles and put it in a bottle" It would be so nice to feel that way at every finish. I go over and get a water. Don't really see anyone I know so I walk across the highway and get changed. I grab a Starbucks Frap from my bag and guzzle it down. I feel a bit queasy but not too bad. I head back to the finish for some ice and to check and see if Gail had pulled out. They had no information as of yet. So knowing the battle she was having I figured it might be another hour or so. I got to the car and had another " frap" and thought I might walk a bit. Out of the car and there she is! Wow, she is done already. A killer, long, ugly day for her but she did it. Bad eyes and all. As Sammy Hager would say in I can't drive 55, "Write me up number 25". And that's what she got. Her 25th marathon or longer race. Damn she is tough. Thanks Gail for coming along on this crazy ride. You make it so much more fun.
So this is really the end of the Ultra season. Yeah there are a few here and there but soon we will migrate back to the roads. The marathons. Probably travel to some, new states to get done. I will miss it. It has been ugly, hard, painful and yet fun. And I will be back!
Picture from Tom Riley. Thanks!