I don’t exactly know where to start with this race. It didn’t go the way that I had hoped it would. I’ve been in my head a lot with this one, and unfortunately, I think that is also what influenced my race performance. Either way, these are the ones that help you grow the most, and I’ve certainly gained a lot of strength from this experience. I’m relatively new to the trail and ultra scene, and I think I doubled in experience by this one race alone.
I was given entry into Gorge (thanks to my coach for pulling some strings) after I finished my sub 3 marathon in January, and my confidence was super high after achieving that goal on the first try. My coach had absolute faith in me that I could perform well in the race and I have always seen good (fast) results with her training method. So commenced a time of recovery from the marathon and then a pretty intense cycle of training for about two months. At one point, my training plan had me doing 340 push-ups of different variations 3x a week. And that’s just the push-up portion of the workouts. Needless to say, I spent what felt like every free moment trying to finish my workouts outside of work, baby, house, and husband. But I didn’t miss a workout. I got stronger and I felt really solid on my runs.
The biggest tension wasn’t how hard the workouts were, but more how hard it was to take time away from my family. My husband is truly my champion, and he makes working out so much easier for me by helping me incorporate Cadence whenever we can. We would family hike for cross training, or he would sit with her in our basement workout room while I finished the 340 push-ups. The biggest struggle since Cadence was born has always been getting away to the trails. But I did it all. I didn’t miss a training session and I got in the extras as well as I could.
Arrival in Oregon
We arrived in Oregon on Friday afternoon in the midst of big storms and high winds. Cadence was great, but anyone with a toddler can understand how hard it is to keep an 18 month old confined to one lap for 5.5 hours. As soon as we got our rental car, we drove to Benson State Park to scope out the start line and we also purchased a parking ticket for the next day. We checked into our hotel, got an early dinner, and I was in bed by 7 pm PST, which is really 10 pm EST.
I woke up at 2 am (5 am EST) and waited for my alarm to ring at 3 am. I didn’t feel tired, my stomach was cooperating, and I felt like I was really prepared for the race. So many people had told me that the course was really runnable, and it’s “only” ~63 miles. For all of you new momma’s out there, I am still breastfeeding Cadence, and so far, it’s not ever been an issue with my running. She’s 18 months old, and we are down to mornings and nights now, so I knew that I wouldn’t have to pump during this race like I did during Hot to Trot and the Yeti 100. We packed up the car at 4:45 am and headed to the park. Parking wasn’t an issue at all (we had been told horror stories about long lines to park), and it was a pretty low-key check-in. We waited in the car until about 5:40 am. I got out, walked around, did some lunges to stretch and warmed up, and then waited for the RD James Varner to give final instructions and send us off.
I placed myself near the front because if I’ve learned anything in trail running, the mid and back pack move very slooooowly once you hit single track. On the first little jaunt out of the park, I met a girl named Sara. We briefly chatted and then started the ascent up the steepest climb of the race (until you go back up it again at the end of the race). We were all in headlamps and rain jackets, and I was moving well in the front pack. It didn’t take long to get warm and start to feel the effects of running up about 1600 feet of elevation gain in 2 miles. I started out as one of the top female runners. Then about a mile up the mountain, 3 girls passed me. Then one more. And that’s when I started to think that they were stronger runners than me. I don’t know where this came from, as anyone who runs ultras knows that this is way too early in a race to determine who the leaders will be. But there in that moment, I gave the race over to them. Don’t get me wrong, I was surely working hard, but my head wasn’t in it anymore, and the head is pretty important for any type of performance.
Our headlamps were only needed for the first 20 minutes of the run, and mine was heavy and the rain jacket was hot. And my legs were feeling tired from the climb. Once we hit the downhill, things started feeling better, but I was aware that I didn’t feel fast and I started to feel discouraged. I passed No Name aid station at mile 6 without stopping. As beautiful as this course is, I didn’t like it very much at first. The trail runs along the side of the mountain, and you can see the highway below and hear cars and trains. I expected to be out in the wilderness, but we were always pretty close to civilization the whole time. (My opinion changed as I ran deeper into the fairy tale kingdom).
Yeon Aid Station Mile 13 and Crew stop #1
The course is described as runnable, but there was about ~150-300+ ft of elevation gain within every mile, and that really pushed my fitness level. Also, the course had a lot of rocks, roots, trees, and snow in its path, which is a big challenge to me. The area had seen record winds and washouts, and this was clear by the incredible number of branches, trees, and detritus covering the ground. About two miles before the Yeon aid station, we hit paved road, and that felt like heaven to my tired legs and beat up feet.
I had mapped for Jon to meet me three times along the course for crew, and I couldn’t wait to see him at Yeon. My instructions to him had been that I didn’t want to waste any time at aid stations, so I asked him to help me get in and out as fast as I could. When I got to Yeon, I was 5th female, and while Jon was helping me refill water and food, another girl passed through, making me 6th female. Something in me just didn’t care. My legs didn’t feel strong or fast, and I just didn’t think I had the ability to fight for a top spot. Jon was kind of surprised, but he kept encouraging me and pushed me off on my way as any loving husband wearing a baby would do.
Cascade Locks Aid Station Mile 22 and a surprise crew visit #2
This is where the course started getting magical, and I decided that even if my body was letting me down (which I know sounds silly when the body to which I refer is carrying me 64 miles across tough terrain), I was going to enjoy the run. I had been leap frogging with my new friend, Sara, and I found myself needing to talk to someone on the trails. She was strong and carefree out there. This was her therapy after going through some personal stuff the week prior, and her only expectation from the race was to let the run help heal some wounds. So naturally, we talked about boys and babies and futures. And it really helped me get out of my emotional funk. I fell twice during the race, and the second time during this section did a little damage to my knee, and I was aware of the swelling for the rest of the run. In addition to the knee, my legs still felt heavier than they had ever felt in a race, but at least I wasn’t crying about it as I chatted with my new friend.
The aid stations were spaced further than I would have liked, not because I was running out of food, but because it is such a great way to check off miles when they come in smaller chunks. I ran into the Cascade Locks aid station to find Jon there! I had not mapped this as one of his stops, but he surprised me by showing up. Just what I needed! At this point, it wasn’t just what I needed to buck up and compete, but rather just what I needed to not want to quit the race. That’s how disappointed and disillusioned I felt about it.
The halfway point: Wyeth Aid Station mile ~31 and crew #3
I had to stop to pee in the woods after leaving Cascade Locks and I got passed by another girl while my pants were down. I still wasn’t too far behind in the ranks, but I was slowing down. We ran past several snow covered patches. The RD had tried to dig out little paths for runners to use as footholds, and it really helped. There were also sections of hill completely covered by moss covered boulders. It was pretty magical, and I kept thinking of The Princess Bride when they ran through the boulders (only my prince was several miles away waiting for me with a baby and a honeystinger in hand).
I was at mile 25 when Jim Walmsley past me on his way to the finish in a record breaking time. That was pretty incredible. I passed two girls hiking with their dogs, and we joked. It felt so good to laugh. I realize now how tense I was for this race.
There were several creek crossings that required you to get your feet wet. I have resigned myself to blisters on long runs, so I don’t mind wet feet. The front runner girls passed me when I was at mile 29.5 on their way to the finish. They were 1.5 miles ahead of me and looking tough. It was pretty humbling to think that I could have or should have been running with them. Maybe on another day.
I ran into Wyeth at around 31 miles, and I was so happy to see Jon and Cadence. They were both wet, bless their hearts, from waiting for me in the rain. I was running way slower than my projected pace, so Jon was guessing my aid station appearances the best that he could while also taking care of a toddler. I resupplied, went to the bathroom, and reluctantly headed back out. This race wasn’t ever going to end unless I kept moving.
Cascade Locks Aid Station Mile 40
I came into Cascade Locks wanting to find a porta potty. I had to walk down a hill to find it, and it was occupied, so I decided to just keep moving and pee in the woods. I actually prefer to go in the woods, so I think I just wasn’t thinking clearly. In the meantime, another girl ran through and passed me. I grabbed a PBJ and headed out of the aid station. The frustrating thing is that I felt like I was running in slow motion. Compared to the other runners, I was passing some people, and some people were passing me. But I had been so successful in my training, and I had never felt this slow in a race. A 13 minute mile feels like forever when you have 20+ miles left to go. And I was really trying. The elevation change was no joke (still), and I was moving as well as I could. At this point I was truly thinking that I didn’t ever want to run again. I was thinking through new hobbies that I might like to take up like yoga and wine. Those activities sounded way more appealing and comfortable at this point of the race.
Yeon Aid Station Mile 49 and Crew #4
I switched watches on my way to Yeon, and either my watch was wrong, or the mile markers were off because I felt like I kept running and running without reaching this aid station. I reached Jon and Cadence at Yeon, and Jon knew exactly how to talk to me and feed me. Nutrition and hydration had not been a problem for me all day (at least something was going right), and I relied mostly on Honeystinger gels, chews, and waffles, with the occasional Clif or Bonkbreaker bar as my go-to food. Seeing Cadence both filled me up and made it really hard to leave (because I knew that my new slow pace would mean it would be a long time before I saw them again). Jon suggested that I take my headlamp with me *just in case*, and I couldn’t help but feel depressed that this was my new position. I had expected to finish around 5 pm, not possibly getting back after dark. Through it all, Jon was nothing but supportive (despite the fact that he had been baby wearing and driving all over Hwy 84 chasing me all day).
I left the aid station and started running the two miles of pavement back to the trail. This time, it hurt a little bit more, but it felt good to actually see my paces in the 8s and 9s. The miles between Yeon and No Name felt like forever.
No Name Aid Station Mile 56
Even though I didn’t stop for aid, there is something about reaching an aid station and seeing other people. A lot of trail racing ends up being time solo on the trails. Normally that is fine for me, but I was feeling more vulnerable during this race, and I welcomed seeing faces (unless it was a girl passing me, which was just depressing).
The volunteer at the aid station told me that it was just 6 miles to the finish, pretty much 3 up and 3 down. My watch clocked a bit more than 6 miles to the finish, and those last miles were very hard! We went back up the mountain at about 1600 feet elevation gain, and back down the mountain. The switchbacks felt never ending, and I found the uphill actually more comfortable than the downhill. One final girl passed me on the downhill, and I didn’t have anything left in me to chase her down.
Finally reaching the finish was such a combination of emotions. I was so disappointed in
this race. I invested too much time in training for this to have been the result. But I was also so happy to be finished and reunited with my family. As always, Jon was my biggest cheerleader, and he took care of me by getting me pizza and introducing me to his new friends (while still wearing the baby). I got to see my new friend, Sara, at the finish. She came in 8th place about 30 minutes before me.
I ended up placing 12th female in 13:27 hours. While this was not the way that I anticipated the race to go, I definitely learned a lot from it. And, we got a nice little family vacation out of the deal. Oregon is beautiful, and we thoroughly enjoyed sightseeing around Mt Hood and tasting wine at the local wineries. I have a few more lessons learned, but I think I’ll save that for another post. 🙂
I was talking to my sister the other day about brokenness and how often it is not until we are in a state of brokenness before we truly allow God to work in our lives. I’m not going to say that Gorge broke me, as that sounds a bit dramatic considering this is a hobby and I finished in a decent time as 12th female. But the experience helped changed my perspective on a few things, and I came out a different person. I’ll definitely learn from this one, and hopefully I’ll come out as a better runner (yes, I plan to run again despite what I was thinking around mile 40) and with a better understanding of my purpose.
Have you had a race that was really disappointing? How did you grow from it?
Here is my Milestone Pod data:
And here is my split data (my watch had me going 65 miles and 14,000 feet elevation gain):