Gorge Waterfalls 50km – April 2014

This past weekend marked my first 50km trail race since November, and I approached it with a much different mentality from last year. 2013 was all about figuring out this whole long distance trail running business, and sorting out newbie issues like fueling, proper footwear, and dealing with chafage (I have the scars to prove it). However, three 50k races have taught me a couple of things at least, and one of them is that 2014 is going to be the year of not making the same mistakes twice!

I’ve been looking forward to this race for a while now… there’s really no better way to gauge how your training for a 50km is going than to run 50km (shocker, right?). Lots has changed for me lately too: I’m now getting coached by the dynamic duo known as Gary Robbins and Eric Carter, my training levels are ramping up overall and I’m finally kicking nagging injuries (hopefully for good!), and I just feel more prepared to tackle this year’s races now that I have a few more trail kms under my feet. I signed up for this race with my good friends Shea and Melissa, and together with the ever awesome Candice (aka CandyPants) who came along for the ride and moral support, we decided to make it a no-pressure race and road trip weekend. [Spoiler alert: we did, and it was pretty damn awesome].

Wet coast paradise.
Wet coast paradise.

This race – one of the Rainshadow Running series – is billed as one of the most beautiful courses on the west coast, and for the most part I would have to agree. It was a veritable rainforest paradise (made more convincing by the fact that it POURED the night before the race, and we battled bipolar weather during the race… starting with sun, then clouds, followed by rain, hail, wind, and then back to sunshine once we’d finished – of course). As the Pollyannas of our group liked to remind us, there’s nothing like a lot of rain to make the many waterfalls more awesome.

Our little posse got into Portland on Friday evening, and promptly made a beeline for Shea and Melissa’s favourite pub, which happened to be right down the street from our Air bnb apartment…convenient, that. Considering that Melissa booked our place, I would also venture to call it more than coincidence. 🙂

No complaints tho.. the food was delish! We had a great little meal and a couple of bevvies, (despite gluten free options on the menu, I played it safe and stuck with a quinoa and kale salad and a glass of white wine…no need to end up with the literal runs on my run). After settling in to our quirky and classic Portlandia apartment, we went for a quick spin around the block to stretch out our legs after the long drive, and headed to bed soon after. Friday night craziness, I tell ya.

Melissa's best angle!
Melissa’s best angle!

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Saturday we were up bright and early, got ourselves to the start line, and were loaded onto school buses to be shuttled to the start line. The sun made an appearance to send us off, and all 250-ish runners trotted out of the gate feeling over-layered for the weather. Shea, Melissa and I started together, and we spent the first 5km or so stripping off jackets and finding our legs. Knowing that one of the two big climbs of the race was in the first 15km of the race, we purposefully took it slow and tried not to get caught up in the overall adrenaline of the crowd. It was hard not to, however, and much of the climb was very runnable… something that surprised me, and definitely made us push a bit more than we otherwise might have.

The trails were squishy single track that wound through lush forests with occasional glimpses of scenic mountainsides as we climbed, interspersed with pretty stunning traverses along mossy ridges that looked like they were populated by gnomes.

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So there I was, running blithely along and watching the scenery more than my feet, I suddenly felt them fly out from under me. I was literally in the middle of calling out to Shea: “Wow, isn’t this beautifu—” when it happened, and the first thought that popped into my head was “well this is ironic”. It was one of those falls where there is nothing you can do to slow it down, and I just tried to go limp and pray for no breakage. I landed with a big thwump, crashing down onto my left kneecap and then banging up my hips, elbows, and other knee for good measure. My first thought was that I must have broken my knee – felt like everything rattled around a lot more than it’s designed to. However, after gingerly picking myself and my pride up and taking some tentative steps with no major pain, and conferring with Shea and Melissa, I decided to keep running and see what happened. At this point, Melissa was just getting stronger and stronger, and I had no idea if I’d even finish the race (my knee was already puffing up and pretty angry), so I waved the two speed demons on, and off they went. [Spoiler two: I could probably write a novel about S & M’s race, but for now let’s just say they came in together with a fantastic time of 6:31, and with one of the most memorable finishes ever!].

The rest of the race was fairly uneventful. I rolled my capri leg up so that I could monitor the swelling on my knee, and trucked along. Climbing felt great and I was pleased at how much energy I had – I ran most of the hills and definitely did most of my passing on them.

Watching the knee inflate...
Watching the knee inflate…

A note on fueling: I was trying to do this race on gels and chews only, and I have to say it worked pretty well. I had no major energy bonks, and aside from feeling hungry towards the end of the race, my stomach seemed to tolerate the gels reasonably well. The flat coke I chugged at the last aid station was a lifesaver, and definitely deserves a shout-out for my hill slaying. The downhill stuff was not so good, unfortunately, and a combination of feeling more cautious of the slippery terrain and dealing with a noticeable increase in pain had me slowing down way more than I should have had to. Ah well.

It’s funny. Every race I do ends up teaching me something that I shouldn’t try at home, and this was no exception. This time it was that I should pay more attention to my feet than to the scenery… or at the very least, don’t try to rubberneck and run at the same time. Despite the wrench that the fall threw into my plans, however, I was actually pretty proud of this race. It was good for me to have to deal with unexpected injuries in the middle of a race (thank you first aid training!), monitor it closely to make sure nothing was getting worse, and play to my strengths (hills) while protecting my knees on the downhill (aka gingerly walking them). I never took it for granted that I would finish the race, and instead took it aid station by aid station.

One note on the course: Just after the second aid station, there’s a 3 mile connecting section of road that runs parallel to a fairly busy hwy before the trail picks up again. It was a very long 3 miles. I’ll just leave it at that, but considering how remarkably beautiful the rest of the course is, I’d say my strategy for that section was to just suck it up and look forward to being on the trails again, while repeating the mantra “I am not a road runner. I hate roads.” over and over again.

Views like this one made it all worthwhile...
Views like this one made it all worthwhile…

The most challenging part of the course was definitely the last 12km or so. When we left the last aid station, I knew we were heading into the biggest climb of the race, which was immediately followed by a steep descent that pretty much spat you out at the finish line. In hindsight I would have loved to take more pictures of that section, as the course climbed in a series of steep switchbacks alongside three stunning waterfalls, but the only thing I kept thinking was that the more uphill we did, the more downhill would naturally follow it. (My powers of deductive reasoning are particularly impressive after 40km, I assure you!). I felt really strong on the big climb though, and continued to pick up speed as we went. We finally crested the trail, and the dreaded downhill kicked in and kicked my butt.

The trail had turned into a mini waterfall from all of the rain, and all of the speedy runners in front of me had helped create little mudslides that reduced my progress to an almost literal crawl. The same switchbacks that had featured so prominently in the climb now taunted me with their relentless downward pounding, but I could practically taste the gluten free pizza at the finish line, and I hobbled along as fast as I could. One last bridge crossing past waterfall #15 million, (give or take), and I was practically home free. The last stretch was a couple of flat kilometres, and I managed to pick off a few more runners and finish strong, where Candice was waiting for me at the finish line with a MUCH needed hug. 🙂

My official time was 6:51, third female in my age category, and a 6 minute PR from Baker Lake. Considering this course had quite a bit more elevation than Baker, and with the knee shenanigans, I’d call it a great finish for me, and one I’m proud of.

The last time I saw S&M during the race was leaving the first aid station and I had no idea how far they were in front of me, but it turns out they’d finished a solid 20 minutes before me. Yeah! We all shoveled post-race food and beers down- major kudos to the Rainshadow Running crew for truly first class aid stations and post-race celebrations, btw – and decided to head back to our apartment for some much needed showers. (Turns out Candypants got her own solid 30km trail adventure run in before we all finished, so I’d say our whole crew got an “A” for effort on Saturday!).

After showering and cleaning up we celebrated the day’s exciting events with some well-deserved burgers and bevvies, and I think I had one of the best sleeps of my life that night. One of the most underrated benefits of being an ultra-runner is the fact that you sleep like a baby. It’s so good.

Post-race knee.
Post-race knee.

This week has been all about ice, ibuprofen, and hot yoga. TGIF, and I’m soooo excited to get out on the trails for a little bit this weekend.

To all of my friends doing the Diez Vistas 50km tomorrow…better you than me! 😉

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