Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mt. Hood 50 - Race Recap

"If it hurts to walk and it hurts to run, then run!"
Relentless Forward Progress, A Guide to Running UltraMarathons  

I woke up at 3:45am on July 13, 2013. Ready to roll.  I was nervous, yes. But calm.  I had everything figured out so I showered, I went to the kitchen, ate my breakfast that consisted of two flour tortillas with a full avocado. I shall call them: Avocado wraps. In addition, I ate a lemon-poppyseed muffin. It's hard to eat so much when it's so early in the morning and when you're nervous.  We left the condo at 5:00am sharp and drove the 12ish miles to the race start. We barely made it to hear the last few words from the race director (RD) to the people who decided to start running at 5:30am and we saw them start.  We picked up our bib numbers and went back to the car, it was freezing.  

My lucky number
At 6:10am we headed back to the start line and it was still 35 degrees, but I had already decided I would run with shorts and a light long sleeve tshirt. I had the opportunity to leave drop bags at miles 14, 28 (start/finish area) and 39, but I decided to just leave some stuff at the 28 mile station. My reasoning was: I don't want to lose anything and I don't want to have to worry about my stuff after I finish, so having it all at the same spot where I'd finish just seemed perfect. In my drop bag I had an extra pair of compression socks and shoes (in case they had gotten wet or I just felt the need to change shoes) and a change in shirt. If my calculations were right, I'd be getting to mile 28 around 11:30am or 12:00 which was the time it would start warming up, so changing to a short sleeve t-shirt sounded like the right thing to do.  

At 6:25am, I hugged my man, he wished me good luck and I lined up at the start line with Courtney. We listened to instructions from the RD (like what color the course markers were, where to find porta-potties, and some other general rules), and he sent us on our way. As always, once the clock starts ticking and my legs start moving, it's like the world stops turning and I find my happy place. The butterflies in my stomach went away along with the urge to pee.  There I was, taking the first few steps of my 50-mile journey. 

I wasn't scared AT ALL. 
The first mile and a half or so were pretty mellow, as expected. But there was one short climb that I had to walk around mile 2 which I hadn't considered. I guess it's always hard to come up with your full strategy from the elevation profile alone, but everyone walked it. It was steep and short. Arrived at the top and kept jogging.  I continued to look down at my garmin and my pace was slightly faster than what I had anticipated, so I desperately wanted to slow down, but it's hard to slow down on fresh legs. I tried to go as slow as possible.  The scenery was breathtaking, the trails were soft and people were just quietly running away and no one seemed to be in a hurry. Even when I heard someone jogging behind me, I'd ask: "Do you want to pass?", they'd say: "No, it's ok. We have a long day ahead. I'm in no rush."  After a few minutes, some people would pass me when the trail allowed, without disturbing me.  That was nice and I did the same to others.  Before I could realize it, I was arriving at the first aid station at mile 6. Grabbed some chips, gummy bears and GU brew and continued on. Kept it short. 

Running on soft trails. Picture by Long Run Picture Company
The next section was mostly uphill, and while I had anticipated to basically walk the whole way to the aid, the climb wasn't steep at all. So I was able to jog most of it while walking the steeper sections. Arrived at the aid station at mile 9 fairly fast and definitely ahead of schedule.  Ate some more, had some more electrolytes, used the porta-potty and off I go. From mile 9 to 14 (turn around point) it was mostly rolling with a big downhill to the turn around. Kept up with my jog on flatter sections and downhills and walked the steeper hills. I didn't stay long at this aid station either and ate my usual. On the way back though, I was able to jog to the top of the hill (slowly) and jog the downhills. The aid station at mile 19 sneaked up on me fast. And so did the one at mile 22.  I knew I had been pacing myself smartly and was feeling strong.  While the last 6 miles back to the start/finish area felt like the longest of this "first" section, I still felt strong. Before I knew it, I was back to where it all started.  

Running up out of aid station at mile 14. Picture by Long Run Picture Company
I had aimed to run these first 28 miles at an average pace of 11:47min/mile, but I ended up running slightly faster.  I ran the first 14 miles in 2:34:16 an at average pace of 10:51min/mile and on the way back I ran 2:41:50 which is an average pace of 11:23min/mile. I quickly changed my shirt, handed my hydration pack to the volunteer, used the porta-potty, got my pack and headed back out. My good friend Theresa was supposed to meet me out there but had told me the night before she may not make it, because her little baby didn't sleep much the day before.  I was ok with that and at the 28-mile marker I was in great spirits and again it was a stop-and-go kinda situation where I didn't really feel like I would've stayed back to chat much, so it's probably good that she didn't have to sit there for hours. 

Did I mention that Mt. Hood would make an appearance from time to time? 
Off I go, and the long uphill wasn't overly steep, so I decided to approach it like I did my Vail Pass half marathon: a walk/jog based on time or distance. And I felt like I was making progress.  This is the section where I actually started passing people, even people that had started at 5:30am. I felt like a rockstar. Again, in no-time, I arrived at the first aid station which was 5.5 miles from the start at mile 33.5. At this point, the only thing that really hurt was the bottom of my feet. I wanted to take a seat just to get off my feet for 2 minutes, but I didn't.  I ate some food and continued on.  Another push to the top of the hill and then a nice downhill. This was the only technical part of the course, it was a steeper downhill so I couldn't quite bomb down it. Regardless, I was still moving at a decent speed, before it was time to go back up. These last 1.5ish miles to the turn around were uphill and they felt endless, but I was still in good spirits as I was officially running/hiking the longest I'd ever done in my life.  Along the way someone  told me there were popsicles at the turn around, HOLY COW. That sounded GLORIOUS. I could not stop moving. I reached the aid station again feeling good. I thought: "Who feels good after running 40 miles?". I knew I'd pay for it sooner or later.  

There were several creek/river crossings so we had to go on AMAZING bridges. Picture by Long Run Picture Company
I sat down. My feet were hurting (but that was it). I enjoyed my grape popsicle and was able to get up when I was done.  I dipped some salty ruffles in peanut butter and continued on. Downhill: YES! I ran. The long 1.5 mile up to the aid station on the way out, was a FAST run down and was bummed to get to the river knowing I had to climb for 2.5 miles. Remember when I said it was a steep technical downhill? Now I had to go up it. GREAT. Well, HELLO WALL. My wall came in the form of a, well, wall. An ACTUAL wall I had to go up and over. The good news is that once I got to the top of the wall and over, it was all downhill to the finish. So these were my thoughts: power-hike as hard as I can and not acknowledge that it is a wall or, walk it, recover, re-group, think about strategy, review and analyze what I've eaten and what I've had to drink and THEN run down.  The second option seemed better to me. I walked. Kept putting one foot in front of the other and sooner that later, I got to the top. It's all downhill now. TO THE FINISH, for 6 long miles. 

Let me smile and take a picture as I see the LAST aid station
The last aid station was special. It was the last aid station after all.  I again sat down since my feet were KILLING me. Ate some food, thanked the volunteers and moved on. I was able to run the whole way down.  It was a slow jog at roughly 12min/miles, but hey, I had been at it for 10 hours, so that's pretty good anyway.  I continued to pass some people. The last 6 miles were fast (in my mind anyway) and sooner than expected, I reached the road. You run a few steps on the road, cross over and there it is. The finish line. I cried. As always. 

Here's a couple finisher shots by Long Run Picture Company, the got me good (don't mind my face, I was holding back tears and pain). 

Yeah, gotta stop the watch!
My finish time was 11:14:25, and while I had aimed to finish in 11hrs, I'm not disappointed to finish 14 minutes slower since that translates to an average of 17 seconds per mile slower than what I had aimed for. Which for a first 50-miler, I don't think is bad. 

My BFF who got me into this crazy thing called long distance running and the crazy who finished 2nd place overall female.  Courtney KILLED the race and finished in 7h59m
In the end, I finished 62nd overall and 4th in my age group. There were 127 finishers and 160 people started the race (33 did not finish).  An additional 5 did not start. 

Live Tracker on Facebook!
All my crew was there to see me finish and I was stoked to see them. I had basically gone 11 hours and 14 minutes without support and it was only me telling myself I could do it. While I would've loved to see some of my people along the way, I now feel very accomplished since I embraced the situation as best as I could and did as I planned. Should I have pushed it harder earlier? Maybe, but then again, if I had, maybe I would've hit a bigger wall, one that didn't come in the form of a 2.5-mile climb and it would've been harder to go over. Maybe some other muscles would've hurt. Maybe I would've burned out. Who knows?! So all in all, I think my race was perfect although it was BY FAR the hardest thing I've ever done, but I'll get to that later... Will I do it again?  Maybe, but for now, I have Bear Chase 50K to worry about (where I have a real goal) and potentially the San Francisco Endurance Challenge 50K (which would be a 30-miler on my 30th birthday), but this last one is not confirmed yet.  

Happy running. 


  1. I'm so happy your race went well!! And you should definitely do the San Francisco Endurance Challenge 50k and then we can have a big party afterwards! :-)

  2. Just getting to read this now! Great race report Gaby! You made it sound EASY girl!

  3. Thanks ladies! Can't wait to catch up! :)