Mt Hood Pacific Crest Trail Ultramarathon 2005!
Ever since adding trail running to my training I’ve been intrigued by the concept of an ultramarathon – any distance longer than the traditional 26.2 marathon distance. Since many of these races are typically run on trails I was all for the idea. Running on softer ground and the awe of completing mega distances…sweet! I trained for the Pacific Crest Trail Ultramarathon to and from Mt. Hood, Oregon. I logged as many miles as I could on trail. I did a long (33 mile) training run in the Olympic National park complete with elevation gains and river crossings. I felt well prepared.
As with many trail ultras, this route included a fair amount of elevation gain and loss. It starts 25 miles south of Mt. Hood at 3500 feet and winds its way up to Timberline lodge at the mountain. Then back down. I planned a whole long weekend. I invited a few close friends and family and we rented a cabin. I had my friends crew for me (essentially they drove from check point to check point to meet me with the things I wanted to eat and drink). Steve even agreed to run the last 6 miles with me to keep me moving and give me company during the last stretch.
After all my months of training and planning, I was as ready as I could be and eager to complete the task at hand. I count myself lucky to have finished and be included in the ultra family. What follows is my race report of that day. There are some great photos of the trail on the official race website:
We were on the road, my crew and I, by 5:30 am. It was predicted to be 75 degrees for the day in the area of Mt. Hood. But, I was down-right chilly as I waited at the start. As in every race I’ve ever run, the RD stood at the front of the pack and announced unintelligible instructions to the crowd before shouting “GO!” and we were off. My feet were actually numb for the first 30 minutes but by the time I hit the first aid station at mile 6-ish I switched from long-sleeved shirt to tank top. The trail was dry, dry, dry and dusty. Everyone took off very fast and knowing that my slow grinding speed would likely be the one to get me to the finish line I was soon at the back of the pack.
One thing I noticed right away is how easy this trail was, technically. All my trail running practice was on much more difficult terrain and I was grateful not to have under-trained in that respect.
Two friends (Beth and Steve) were crewing for me and met me at each aid station. They refilled my fuel bet, handed me my food and gave me updates on my progress. I was right on schedule for a 10:30 finish up until the turn around point at Timberline.
About 3 hours into the run we broke out onto a high ridge and I saw this huge mountain way, way off into the distance.
That’s where were going… then coming back! This was a beautiful sight, but way too much information.
Somewhere in the first half I was running near 2 fellows when we hit a nice, long downhill section. I’ll admit that pride got me running that section way too fast for my abilities… unless the race was suppose to end at the next aid station. Which it wasn’t. Ah, well. They left me behind and soon enough I was back to my usual pace.
It seemed mighty warm and I hadn’t needed a pee-break for quite a long time…. I ended up going 20 miles before I caught up and needed to go again. At about 18 miles my legs started to ACHE in a way I was unfamiliar. My most excellent crew suggested I wasn’t hydrated enough. I downed more fluids and, sure enough, the feeling passed.
The last section before the turnaround is the steepest and ends above the tree line around 6000 feet. It opens onto a sand dune area of rolling hills for what seemed like forever. I counted folks passing me on their return from the top. There weren’t that many… there must be a lot behind me. How did I pass people without seeing myself pass them? Maybe at the aid stations….
I changed my socks at the top then headed back down, grateful to be able to run instead of walk long stretches. In the end I longed for hills so I would have an excuse to walk for a bit!
On my way back down I think I passed 3-4 people on their way up. Holy cow, I’m that far behind with a 10:30 pace? How did this happen? I think ultra-math begins to fail after 20 miles in the sun and dust.
At the first aid station on the way down I saw 3 people dropping out right then and there. I was hot. It sure seemed hot. But, no time for chit chat and off I went. Shuffle run, walk the ups, shuffle run, walk the ups. Drink…eat? yuk…force myself to eat…Ah that’s better…gosh it’s hot…and on and on, mile after interminable mile. I don’t know how you other people can remember such mile by mile detail of your runs…it all seems such a blur to me.
About 10 miles from the end I finally ask, “Just how hot is it? It seems hotter than 75 degrees.” Well, it was 85 most of the day and one aid station saw 95 degrees. No wonder this sponge bath with ice water feels so good.
My friend/pacer jumped in with me for the last 9 miles and I shuffled in to the finish, increasingly aware that, sadly, I would be finishing in over 12 long hours. I did end up passing 4 people in the last 6 miles. My legs weren’t so bad but my feet were pretty sore. Every small trip on a root or rock sent flashes of pain. Every normal step sent flashes of pain. Suddenly one toe developed a serious stinging sensation. In the end, three toenails would fall victim to this race.
Finally we head out onto the road for the final 1/4 mile stretch to the finish line. I’m trying to choke back the tears so I can breathe and I feel like I’m really hustling in at the end. Video of me shows that, actually, I had quite the death shuffle going on.
But I finished.
Considering the heat I count myself lucky to have crossed the finish line.
As an out and back course I was humbled to see the turn around point so far off in the distance when already 3 hours into the race, and I remain in awe that I was able to accomplish this feat at all. How people keep this up for 100 miles escapes me at the present time. I hope some day to understand.