Category Archives: Races

To just finish and have fun. A Gorge Waterfalls 100k 2017 race report.

It’s often been said that ultra marathons are a lot like life. It has its ups and downs, both physically and emotionally. Spectacular moments and also times when you want to fall to your knees and just cry. The unexpected can and will happen. How you respond to this adversity will effect you in so many ways going forward. FullSizeRender 8 The challenges and rewards of taking on an ultra are many. As a person who faces ongoing mental health challenges, one reason I took up running ultras was to remind myself difficult obstacles can be surmounted and that I am capable of more than I realize. This reinforces belief in myself from day to day.

My latest race, the Gorge Waterfalls 100k dished out plenty of challenges and rewards. The race began at 6:00 am after race director James  Varner filled us in on some wrinkles Mother Nature provided to this years race.  Because of the rough winter there were still some sections of snow on the course. One snowy spot in particular created a dicey situation. On a steep downward section of trail the snow was still deep and packed. Running down would be dangerous because one could easily slip and tumble down to the water and rocks below, not to mention twisting and injuring an ankle or foot.

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The snow bank before the steps were added.

So kudos to Rainshadow Running for taking the time to actually shovel out steps in the snow bank. We were urged not to run but to walk down as the snow would not hold up to such pounding from some 300 racers. I needed no urging to go slow when I came to the snow bank in the still dark morning. Also, there were more downed trees then usual so we would have numerous opportunities to test our scrambling and limbo skills.

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Just one of the many downed trees we’d have to negotiate.

Lastly, due to one particular mud slide the trail was impassible and we would have to rope climb around that section. All would add to the fun of the long day, right!?

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Readying at the start

Having run this race in 2015 I had an idea of what to expect. Last time I took the first hill climb of some 1,500 feet in 2.5 miles too fast and I vowed to go slower. Well, I did take it at a somewhat easier effort, but I should have gone even slower. Maybe it was my running poles which I was racing with for the first time that gave me more confidence, but more likely it was the emotional high of running my first ultra race in almost a year that overwhelmed any practical thinking at this point. On the descent of this first hill I continued to run harder than I should have. I love taking downhills. Usually running them with the attitude of the harder and the faster the better. So once I did reach the top of the first climb I let loose and didn’t worry about pacing.

This somewhat fast pace out of the gate wouldn’t necessarily have doomed me for the latter stages of the race if I would have handled my caloric intake better. Just days before the race I decided to run with a bottle for the first 13 miles until the second aid station where I would pick up my hydration vest. Packed in the vest I carry various energy bars and gels. Well, I forgot to bring some of those with me so I had to rely on just my water mixed with Tailwind along with the first aid station for calories. To further compound my situation when I did reach the first aid station instead of taking a few extra minutes to take in some much needed calories and even grab something to take with me for the next 7 miles I hurriedly ate just a bit, said a quick hello to a friend manning the aid station and took off again. I believe these first 13 miles put me into a quick calorie deficit which I’d not be able to overcome.

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Upon reaching the second aid station a fellow running friend Drew Dinan who graciously offered to crew me, was there to hand me my race vest and offer words of encouragement. I’ve never had someone crew me in a race before so it was a learning experience. I very much appreciated his help but I had feelings of guilt. Knowing what a long day it would be for him hanging out just waiting for me, moving from one location to the next. At least that’s how it played in my head. Next time I will certainly try harder not to worry about anyone crewing me as it defeats some of the purpose of their being out there. Drew is also a darn good ultra runner so he knew what he was getting into by offering his assistance, so I should have focused on that when feelings of guilt arose. However that is one of my personal challenges I face on a daily basis in dealing with generalized anxiety disorder.  I worry too much about what others think. Knowing that I shouldn’t worry about something doesn’t mean I can stop myself from doing it. Just one of the “little” challenges such a mental health problem creates. To his credit throughout the day each time I saw Drew he always offered words of encouragement, a laugh or two and even reminded me of what really mattered. I was out on a fabulous trail doing what I really loved, trail running.

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Before I left the aid station I dropped to the ground to try and stretch out my right hip and glute. It was an issued I had been dealing with the last couple months and it now reared its painful head once again.  It would literally be a pain in my ass until midway through the race.

As the miles continued to mount I gradually eased up on my running intensity and tried to take in the scenery.

FullSizeRender 9I even stopped on occasion to take a photo or two and sent out short texts to my wife and family who were following me and wanted to know how far along I was. At one point I think around mile 25 I saw on a long straight stretch of trail a runner approaching. I immediately knew it was Jim Wamsley. As he got closer I noticed how fluid and fast he was moving. As he got right next to me I shouted to him to bring it on home. It seemed he needed no encouragement as he looked like he was racing in a 50k race not 100k. Having such an encounter, just the two of us on a stretch of trail, both running in the same race, one being one of the best ultra runners today and the other a mid pack runner is one of the things that makes trail running special. As I later stepped aside for more front runners to run by many of them countered my words of encouragement with their own. Some thanked me for my getting out of their way and one guy even let out a loud primeval scream as he came down a switch back towards me and several other runners. Yelling “You guys look awesome!” or something to that effect. Needless to say moments like that give average runners like myself a nice emotional boost.

The trail continued to offer plenty of sweet trail to run on along with muddy shoe sucking sections and occasional snow packs to gingerly walk over as well as rocks. Lots and lots of rocks underfoot. I almost forgot how the embedded rocks in the trail over time will tenderize the soles of my feet and by races end they were a bit sore for sure.

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By the time I reached mile 31, the halfway point and turn around I was feeling good except for the nausea I was feeling.  I had encountered this once before in a race and knew what it meant. My body was craving food but it was hard to put anything down because I felt like I’d just throw it back up. I forced down as much as I could and indeed after awhile as I’d started running again I regained some energy and the nausea dissipated. But it was short lived. My body seemed to use up any calories I took in very quickly and I’d be back at the nausea stage again. I was to repeat this process the entire second half of the race.

Some 48 miles in I came to Elowah Falls. It’s a spectacular waterfall among many amazing ones in the Columbia River Gorge. I stopped at several spots to take in the view and also on the foot bridge to feel the spray from the splashing water.

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Elowah Falls

As I continued down the trail I noticed a trail marker pointing up off the trail and up the steep hillside. Slowing to look I just thought “Well that can’t be right. Someone messed with the course markings. ” and kept going. Well I came to an abrupt stop. The trail in front of me was washed out.

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View of the wash out from other side of approach.

I thought about trying to cross anyway but one look down the steep hundred foot drop finally nudged my memory from the prerace talk. There was to be a rope at one location to get by an obstacle. Hmmm. I walked back and taking a closer look at the last arrow marker I now saw several pink ribbons leading up the hillside and then I saw the muddy rope which now blended in to the hillside. Another runner came up to me and I said I guess we go up.

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@glenn Tachiyama and @ross comer going up rope section to bypass the trail washout at Elowah Falls

As I packed away my poles he grabbed the rope and went up. I soon followed. It looked worse then it was and I soon had found my way back onto the trail and off the brief detour.

As the race progressed I had some emotional ups and downs as my body continued to complain in so many ways it’s lack of nutrition. But I tried the make the best of it. Taking in the scenery and on occasion taking another photo or two. I had to dig deep for motivation to keep going. It was in these late stages of the race I reminded myself why I did this. Running races was both a motivator to me and a reward. When I started running several years ago I did it mainly because I had found that excercise helped me combat my anxiety and depression. Over time running became one of my cornerstones in maintaining my mental health. I chose running because it was my favorite form of exercise.   Even though I got much enjoyment out of it I often found myself lacking motivation.  When my mental health took a downward spiral I just couldn’t do it regularly. But I soon found that signing up for races helped motivate me to get out and run regularly week in and week out. Because I knew if I didn’t I would pay dearly come race day. And once race day was here I always have three goals in mind. First and foremost is to just finish the event and have fun. Second goal would be a time I feel is a fast finish for me but doable. Third goal was if all the planets aligned and I was having a great day to go for an even faster finish time that would put me near the top 20% of finishers and near the top of my age group. Well today was a day goals two and three would not be attainable so I focused on just beating the cut offs and thus finishing in under 17 hours to qualify my entry into the Western States Lottery. I finished in 16 hours and 8 minutes and was very pleased to have done so. It was a hard earned finish, with many unexpected twists and turns but in the end I got it done and managed to even have a little fun along the way.

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UTMB race report by Denise Bourassa.

A great race report from Denise Bourassa on running her first and hopefully not last Ultra-Trail Du Mont Blanc.  She’s an example of one of many great runners living in my town of Bend, Oregon.  In particular I liked her mental preparation she wrote about as I personally believe that plays a huge role in ultra marathons.

Ultra-Trail Du Mont Blanc: Why 103 miles…because 100 miles won’t get you around the mountain!

Time and time again I am reminded as to why I am drawn to trail running and ultra trail racing.

UTMB– Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc. This race has been on my radar for a few years and because of the fan fare that follows this race it landed on my wish list of races to run.
What is the UTMB? It is a 103 mile race that takes place in the Alps across France, Italy and Switzerland. It boasts 30,000+ feet of climbing and it takes you ALL the way around Mont Blanc.

Continue reading here : link.

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Waldo 100k 2015 Race Report


My last race of 2015 was the Waldo 100k. From their website:

The Waldo 100K Ultra marathon is a challenging 100K loop-type course starting at Willamette Pass Ski Area (70 miles east of Eugene, Oregon) at elevation 5120′, climbing up several mountains including Fuji, The Twins, and Maiden Peak before returning to the ski area. The route is mostly single-track trails with some fairly remote sections and has many incredible views of pristine Waldo Lake. It is not a beginner-level ultra and participation in the race should not be taken lightly.

The last sentence was in bold for a reason. This is a tough as it is beautiful course. Coming in I was confident I would finish the race, after all this would be my third 100k race this year. Having bettered my finishing time from my first to second 100k I hoped to continue that trend here. But it was not to be.

The ride from my home town of Bend, OR to the ski area was a pleasant short drive. I shared a ride with friend and fellow runner Brian Frankle. We took a back road which offered less traffic and more scenery. We engaged in pleasant conversation and as we neared our destination he pointed out several of the peaks we would climb during tomorrow’s race. They looked beautiful and I was excited. However upon arrival my troubles soon began. Something I ate at home before departing did not agree with my stomach and I soon had to find the nearest restroom. Then while setting up my tent I aggravated my back which was just coming around after I injured it a couple weeks ago. Little did I know these were to be just two reoccurring issues effecting me throughout tomorrow’s race.

The morning was on the chilly side and I quickly made my way into the ski lodge for a little warmth to await the 5 am start. Headlamps were worn by all as we made our way to the starting line.

Long Run Picture Company http://gallery.longrunpictures.com/Ultras/Ultra-Trail-Races-2015/Waldo-100K-2015/

First climb comes pretty quick.

Soon after we headed out and in no time came to our first ascent of about 1,100 feet in the first two miles. I reminded myself not to hurry and for the most part didn’t get too anxious. This first climb would soon be over and we would get to run down hill until we reached the first aid station at mile seven. I had taken my running shell off as I had heated up quickly on the ascent. As we made our way to the aid station I dropped off my headlamp and grabbed some watermelon and water. I was so focused on running I forgot a couple of friends were there helping man the aid station until one of them noticed me. I always find it rejuvenating to see a familiar face during a race. As I left to continue on I saw a bathroom available and went for it. Once inside my stomach let me know all was still not well. After what seemed like ten minutes I was back on the trail. We made our way towards the next trail that would lead us up Mt. Fuji and a 2,000 ft climb. As we left a road and got onto the trail I simultaneously heard a buzzing coming from behind a downed tree next to the trail and then felt a sharp pain in my right shin. Dang! Got stung by a bee. Luckily I’m not allergic but I’d feel some pain from the sting the rest of the race. As I settled in and tried to get back into a rhythm I started to get gas pains. Sheesh. If its not one thing it was another. Despite these nuisances I was able to focus on running and the forest scenery. I maintained a steady pace, took in my nutrition and drank from hydration pack. So far so good. As we approached a trail junction I saw two race volunteers sitting in sleeping bags waiting for runners to come to make sure they went in the right direction. I can only guess at what ungodly hour they had to hike up there to be ready for the first runners. I am always so thankful to the volunteers as without them these races wouldn’t be possible. The volunteers at Waldo fantastic. Offering encouragement, humor, and help if needed.
Somewhere after the second aid station at mile 12.4 I began seeing some of the early starters and front runners coming down. I saw my friend Brian during this stretch coming down and he looked composed and running well. I briefly wished I was farther along but then reminded myself I was right where I had hoped to be. My previous two 100k races I did the first half of the race too fast and I was determined not to let this happen again. I had a goal of reaching Charlton Lake aid station between 6 ¼ and 6 ½ hours. My goal if all went well was to shoot for a race time of under 13 hours.
As I approached the top of Mt. Fuji the wind was blowing hard and the views were spectacular in the morning light. Thankfully smoke from various forest fires elsewhere were being held at bay from the winds. I took a moment to take in the views at the top. I pulled out my camera phone to take a few pictures but it seemed not to be working. I played around for a moment with it but I quickly put it away as I was in a race after all. Time to head down.

Near the summit of Mt. fuji.

As I made my way down Mt. Fuji and eventually aid station 3 Mt. Ray we would lose all the elevation we had just climbed up. I usually try to hammer down downhill sections as best I can but I decided to hold back a bit as I figured there was still plenty of miles left to run so it was best to conserve my quads. Even so, more issues started to creep up. My back started talking to me. No sooner then it seemed to go away it was replaced by tight glutes and hamstrings, then the bottom of my right foot started hurting. It seemed all the aches and pains from the running season started to rear their ugly heads. Any one of these by themselves was not a game breaker, but to constantly have one after the other come up and I was only a quarter of the way through the race started to wear on me mentally. Was this how it was going to be the rest of the way? I just didn’t feel right and I wondered maybe I wasn’t totally over a cold/virus I had just the week prior. For the first time ever I seriously was considering dropping out of a race and I hadn’t even reach the half way point.

Despite the various discomforts I made it to Charlton Lake aid station. As I approached I could hear the crowd gathered there. Even as I smiled seeing the first spectators in my mind I was debating if I should continue on. As I entered the aid station I was greeted by a pleasant surprise. My wife Julia had come with our two children. Seeing them always lifts my spirits and today was no exception. But as I grabbed my drop bag and told her of my troubles she asked if I wanted to drop as we both new the second half of the course would be more isolated and if I dropped out there getting out would not be easy. Despite having my doubts if I could finish I was determined to try. Worse case scenario I figured I could always hike out if need be. With a quick kiss to my family I was off again.

Carlton Lake

It was just over five miles to the next aid station and it helped that this section had a slight loss in elevation. It was still tough going mentally and physically, but the farther I ran the better my frame of mind. By the time I hit aid station six I was feeling better then I had in some time. However not long after departing this aid station I had to soon pull off the trail as my stomach issues once again returned. As I was taking care of business the stillness of the forest was suddenly interrupted by what I’d describe as a loud primeval sound. I heard it again, closer this time and then realized it was another runner who was having problems of his own. He was throwing up repeatedly. I thought to myself I was lucky as things could be worse for me. The next seven miles the trail steadily climbed up as we made our way towards The Twins peaks. At this stage of the race some of the other runners were running a similar pace as I was. I’d focus on one ahead of me and do my best to try and catch up to them. Other times a runner would pass me by and I’d try my best to keep pace. A few of us would seesaw back and forth that way as the miles wore on. On one occasion as one guy passed me as I was struggling with my pace. We exchanged a few words of encouragement as he went by. He slowly disappeared from my view as he continued on but I was to see him again. This section of the race was extremely difficult as I’d be forced to slow down to a walking pace at times. Regain some strength to run at a slow shuffle to again be forced down to walking pace. This continued all the way to the Twin Peaks aid station.
After refueling as much as I could I headed out towards the next aid station at the foot of Maiden Peak. When running long races such as this I find it helpful to focus on one section of the trail at a time. Just think of getting to the next aid station, getting over the next incline and sometimes just picking out a spot on the trail a few yards ahead and focusing on reaching that goal. If I think too much about all the miles remaining I’d never get it done. This next section of trail we’d lose about 1400 feet in elevation over the course of 5 miles and this is probably part of the reason I was able to pick up my pace a bit. I passed another fellow runner who a few miles back had passed me up. He stepped aside to let me by as I was now the one going much faster as he struggled along. I said I had gotten a second wind and was going to ride it for as long as I could. He joked that maybe I’d get a third wind later as well and we both laughed out loud. I ran as hard as I could and these five miles seemed to go by fairly quickly as I reached the Maiden Peak aid station. The volunteers here were great, taking my hydration pack to fill it with water and one told me they had popsciles. Oh yeah! A prior aid station had some as well and this was a great way to help cool off and rehydrate before hitting the toughest climb of the day. I was immensely greatful these volunteers where out here in the middle of nowhere and I told them so. As I got ready to leave the guy I had passed previously came in. This helped get me back on the trail heading up as I used other runners as motivation.

For whatever reason making it this far into the race I now knew I would be able to finish. No doubts lingered anymore in my mind. I had no clue how much longer it would take but I knew I’d be able to do it. Climbing Maiden Peak was a real challenge. It had a similar gain in elevation as Mt Fuji at about 2,000 feet, but doing it after running 50 miles made it way harder. As I moved along I found myself slowing down more and more as the elevation went up and up. Soon I heard my fellow runner from earlier coming up behind me so I stopped to let him by. We offered encouragement to each other again and joked again that I could get a third wind. Not likely on this steep trail section. Soon he was out of sight but in time I saw another runner ahea.  I tried to focus on catching up to him. He was a shirtless, bearded, grey haired man who looked much older then me so I assumed I’d catch him in no time. But at some point I stopped gaining and we maintained an equal distance apart. Damn this old guy was fast! As we got closer to the top I lost sight of him through the trees and wouldn’t see him again until after the race. As it turns out this “old guy” was the legendary Gordy Ainsleigh.  And by calling him old I don’t mean any disrespect as I can only hope 20 years from now I’ll still be racing like him. For those who don’t know he is he’s the first person to run what we all know now as the Western States 100 mile ultra marathon in 1974. When he ran it this event was a horse race, not a foot race.  Some say this is were modern ultra marathons began. You can learn more at Where it all began.

Eventually my slow plodding got me to the top of Maiden Peak. I was greeted by three volunteers who where there to be sure people made the full climb up before descending down again. One of them offered to take my photo.

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Top of Maiden Peak.

 

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View from Maiden Peak.

After taking in the views and getting a boost of positive energy from being up there it was time for the home stretch. At first it was slow going as I encountered lots of rocks on the trail but eventually it gave way to a nicer trail. I couldn’t really go as fast as I wanted but eventually reached the final aid station at mile 55. Just seven miles to go. I got a warm reception and lots of encouragement at this last aid station. One volunteer who had finished the race already had come out to cheer people on and told me there were just a few more inclines and then I’d reach a downhill stretch to the finish. This indeed was the case, but as I ran along those short hills they seemed to be more numerous and longer and steeper to my tired legs. Along this final stretch there were several lakes offering a bit of respite with their aesthetic views.

Eventually with about three miles to go it did start to go downhill and I picked up my pace.  I was motivated along by a runner who came up behind me. I asked him if he wanted to pass but he said this speed was good for him. We soon passed other runners including my buddy who shouted you did get a third wind! As my competitive spirit kicked in and I didn’t want this runner behind me to pass I ran even harder and harder. In time he dropped off and I ran alone again. Soon I could hear a truck driving on the highway.  Then I heard the announcer on the PA system. I was almost there. Suddenly I was at a clearing and I could see the finish in the distance. I also saw three figures and one of them came running towards me. It was my family awaiting me. Soon my son Leonardo was running along side me and what has now become a tradition we crossed the finish line together.

Finish line

Finish line!

My official time was 15 hours 10 minutes and 10 seconds. Two hours later then What I aspired for but I did complete my other goals. That is to finish the race and have fun. Although this race presented many physical and mental challenges I did enjoy myself along the way and am left with the great satisfaction of completing the event. I highly recommend this challenging race to anyone and I myself will one day return to try to better conquer it again.

A trail racing season comes to an end

With the completion of the Waldo 100k race my tired body will get a rest from any more long races this year.  This race was my third 100k race of 2015.  The Gorge Waterfalls 100k being the first and Quick Silver 100k the second.  If I include The Siskyou Out and Back 50 miler I completed my own personal grand slam.  Not even close to the Grand Slam of Ultra Running which entails running four tough 100 mile races in one year, but I am proud of my own accomplishment  regardless.  This being just my second year running ultras I almost bit off more than I could chew.  But that’s what drives many of us who run these challenging races.  To test ourselves physically and mentally.  To see what are limits are.

Trudging up a steep, rocky section during the Quicksilver race. So fun!

Trudging up a steep, rocky section during the Quicksilver race. So fun!

I’ll spend the coming months reviewing how my races went and try to figure out what went well and what didn’t. For example was my fueling strategies adequate, how was my running pace, do I need to concentrate more of my training on hills etc.  It is a good time to reflect not just on the past year but also what the future may hold.  I will start considering what races I may try to get into for next year.  Two races on my bucket list are Western States 100 miler and the Lavaredo 119km in The Dolomites of Northern Italy.  The stars will need to align just right to make either of these happen, but who knows. That’s the fun part of race planning. Imagining oneself taking on even greater challenges in new locales.

The Dolomiti along the Lavaredo ultra.

The Dolomiti along the Lavaredo ultra trail.