Monday, May 16, 2016

McDonald Forest 50k: Numero Cinco

Well, I don't race as often as I once did and I am not a gifted--or creative enough--writer to make training updates/run-babble exciting enough to share with the handful of people who read this so the blog's a bit slow these days...  but I am still here and still running.

I just looked back a bit and this blog pretty much started with a 50k race report back in 2012.  I've continued to run and jot down some thoughts here on that same race, McDonald Forest 50k, every year since which is pretty neato for a regular ol' dude like me.  2016's event would be my fifth consecutive running of the race.

When you run the same(ish--ok, this may be a stretch as the course has featured several semi-dramatic changes each year) course, with the same(ish) crowd, on the same(ish) weekend year after year you start to build a relationship with the whole ordeal that is pretty special.  Here's how it went this time:

Pre-Race (boring!):

I went into the race with a winter full of longer, slower, and bigger vertical weekend runs and many other workouts/training blocks were often interrupted by bouts with illness--mostly cough/sinus stuff but even a couple of flu type deals which I guess is a parental right of passage when babies go to daycare/germ factories.  This constituted the training build up for the Backbone Trail adventure in early March.  I got back after that trip and got sick again before finally seeing a doc for some antibiotics that had me feeling somewhat relieved of symptoms at last but with a battered set of lungs.

I still had hope that in 2 months I could use the base from the winter stuff and sharpen things up with a good dose of quality workouts beyond the "treadhills" I ran all winter in the garage.  I had an inclination to sign up for the Mac but it was a done deal after a surprise FB message hit my wall from the world's greatest running blogger Pat T (of cult classic site "Mountain Made, Molehill Paid") that showed he had registered for the event and he even wanted to "put a 6 pack on it."

Just when my morning runs were starting to see some daylight I was forced back into darkness and up even earlier, often around 3:30 to be up and rolling around 4 or so in order to be at work by 6ish (summer hours).  That's always a brutal transition but I pulled off a few longer weekday runs and "shorter long runs" (in the 2hr range) on weekends that were encouraging but my optimism was always shadowed just a bit by the constant flow of "life stuff" that a busy Spring shipping season at work always brings on top of an already full plate.  I missed more than a few runs that probably wouldn't make a big difference in my fitness overall but at the time seemed like critical pieces to the puzzle.  That can create a stress that only a runner knows and only a long time and confident runner can shrug off in the moment.

Come race day I deduced that the Mac would serve it's perennial purpose of inspiring me to just do whatever I can during a hectic time of year and I shouldn't have any expectations (good or bad).  Just finish feeling stoked no matter what.  Which is a fine place to be mentally anyhow no matter what the race or how the training goes...

Race Day:

One thing that was super "cool" about this year was the weather which was hot all week (like 80s) was expected to take a quick turn over Friday night and we could expect highs in the 60s and possibly some rain.  Like clockwork the thermostat was dialed down and the rain came in over night with some thunder.  It was dry skies (wet ground) at the start but someplace earlier on it began to rain and did so constantly through my eventual finish (and beyond).

Even cooler than a little cold front moving in this year was something else coming in for the event:  Michael McGraw, my faithful Backbone Trail adventure partner, jammed over from Outer Mongolia (Joseph), Oregon for the big event.  It was so fun to share this experience with him.  I initially thought he was a bit crazy to drive 6 hrs for such a down home little 50k it later occurred to me that this gig perfectly matched his laid back attitude and desire to run challenging kick-ass courses.  He did awesome in the race and in the pre and post race daddy duty assistance (my wife, Kattie, had a very busy weekend on tap).

Race (Jesus, it's about time):

The race itself was pretty amazing.  I don't profess to be some kind of "soul-runner" but this thing went down in about the most hippie fashion I can muster.  I've mentioned a couple paragraphs back that my less than epic training (I don't know if I'll ever feel I've obtained epic status there) helped me pitch the expectations out the window.  Screw it.  This would just be a celebration of running joy (hippie term), friends (hippie for "competition"), and beauty (hippie for "trails").  So, that no expectations attitude coupled with the fact that I don't currently own a functioning wearable timepiece of any sort (can't even find the trusty Timex, yet alone the power cord for my Garmin) put this gig firmly in the "RUN PURELY BY FEEL/RUN YOUR OWN RACE" category.  And that is about as hippity-dippity as it gets.  Bro.  Dude.  DUDEBRO.

The runners yelled "BONZAI" 3 times at the start and the Forest became alive with all the energy released.  Oh man...  there it is again, sooo hippie.  Then the bang of the gong and we were off.

picture taken by Michael Liebowitz

I went out with the front-ish runners and after a few easy miles ended up in 3rd after a couple guys who were a hundred yards up or whatever.  The pace was likely brisk but the trail is easy and the effort felt appropriate.  Without a watch was fine for running a trail race but a big change when it came to fueling.  I needed to think about things and pay close attention to my energy levels to guess when it was time to fire some gels and salt tabs down the hatch.  This was weird at first but then became pretty instinctual; kind of a nice departure from the robotic/automatic timing I usually try to stick to when fueling for races.  I would never recommend this on a completely new race/route but it worked well for me here and fit even better with my hippie-soul runner theme for the day. 

After AS1 at 8 miles or so I didn't see 1 and 2 anymore.  I don't think they stopped at all.  I did stop but not for long, just enough time to be way overly friendly, "Water?  Oh man, that would be sooooo awesome.  You guys are awesome.  Thanks everyone!  Thanks for filling my bottle duuuuudesss!" (The teenage kids looked at me like: "uhhhhh, weirdo.") 

On the long climb up (which I ran all of but was very cautious to not push because it's too early for those antics) to the top of Dimple AS2 (14ish miles) number 4 runner was closing in a bit.  He continued to close and caught up to me down in the Maze's mud and steep treachery (quite fun actually).  We bopped along together in there for awhile which was nice.  I like company when it's slower going due to the technicality of the trails.  He was running really well and eventually pulled a way a bit.  Then I stopped and did a quick backtrack when I thought I missed a turn which probably put him further ahead.

I finally poked out of the twisting, muddy Maze trails for some words of encouragement from Dennis and Sharon before rolling down to AS3 for more "Hey everyone!!  Mr. Happypants is here!  Whoooweeee.  Coca-Cola?  Cool, ALL ABOARD THE COKE TRAIN!"  The older folks laughed (like sophisticated people do in situations were they don't know how else to address the weirdness) and again the teenagers just looked at me like I had 2 heads or something.  I turned to head up the road/trail to the top of Extendo and realized, unexpectedly, number 3 guy (one of the original 1-2 guys) was there at the AS too.  I left the station alone with a big huge "THANKS EVERYONE" but he promptly joined me for most of the climb before I lost him back in the muddy singletrack of the Maze section.  I tried to be steady throughout this section as I knew I'd be taking the last really big climb (Alpha Trail) pretty easy with some longer stints of hiking before arriving to AS4 (26ish miles).  I've learned that the last 5ish miles can be quite enjoyable if that hill is played right/cautiously.

I arrived at the last AS feeling pretty tired but not nearly as bad as I have felt in all previous years.  I was expecting to see Kattie and Alyce (now a year a change old!) there but didn't notice them after glancing around.  I had my "duuuuudes" fill the water bottle again and for the first time in the whole race I asked the AS volunteers "they're aways up, yeah?"  They said, "maybe 6 minutes."  Which actually just put me in a state of relief knowing I was going to finish this puppy the way it had been going all along.  On my own.  No chase.  Well, to make me feel invigorated they suggested it would be a chase but I just said "only if he loses a damn leg!  THANKS EVERYONE FOR EVERYTHING IN THE WHOLE WORLD!"

The last 5ish miles were awesome.  I ran every step up the last climb and all of the following miles felt effortless.  It even bordered on an outer-body experience at one point (but I won't go too far down that hippie path...)  I blazed the last mile (downhill, mostly, so that helps) smiling and whooping that I was going to get a podium finish in a race that means so much to me after all these years.  I couldn't believe 3rd was happening in a race that my not have big names running it but always features some of the best local talent--guys that work hard at their training, run smart, and race this thing like it's their Olympics (and honestly would likely scare the shit out of national level talent runners if they were to go to the "big dances").  Provided I didn't lose a leg it seemed the race was settled and "just stay upright" became a focus for a little bit in the last half mile.

Then I heard the sweet sounds of the bluegrass band and knew the finish was close.  I jammed over the bridge and crossed the finish backwards (tip of the hat to a local character perished during the Mac that famously ran the entire PDX marathon backwards). 

Kattie and Alyce made me feel like I was on top of the world with their excitement and I was so happy they made it to the finish in time after missing me at the last AS.  It was after a few minutes that I thought for the first time that day, I wonder what time it is...  The guy behind the computer at the finish line heard me ask Kattie what time it was and said, "you finished in 4:15:50something."  4:16!  I really had no idea I was getting a course PR (it was very similar to the '14 course for comparison purposes), I kind of figured the 3rd place was due to a bit slower crowd or some other factor but that's a pretty good time for a 50k with 6800' of elevation gain and plenty of technical sections along with the faster/smoother stuff.  Further stokeage to my already off the charts stoke. 

Since becoming a dad I also like to add a new category to the whole age group thing: Dad.  If you don't think it's worthy of a separate category that's fine but it's a game changer more than going from 29 to 30 is (from my perspective)...  anyway, best I can tell I was first dad to the finish line.

I got changed and grabbed MM's stuff from the car parked aways away from the finish but didn't make it back to the finish in time to catch his impressive 4:36 finish.  He freaking rolled the thing up for a first time in the area and first 50k in 3 years (he's largely moved on to 50+ mile craziness it seems).  We eventually got drier and warmer with a bowl of soup and cookies and called it a day picking up our tasty finisher beers on the way out of the Forest.

The event was epic.  Thanks to everyone who helped out.  Special congrats to my friend Dennis as he retires as RD for pulling off another fun day in the woods.  Looking forward to next year already.

vroom.  airplane wings at age 33.

Additional notes: Wore Nike Wildhorse, old fraying brooks shorts with pockets and singlet.  Ate 10-11 gels (mostly Vanilla GU with caffeine plus 1 or 2 Hammer from AS when those ran out), 9-10ish Salt Stick salt tabs (I was worried about my right calf as it felt almost like a cramp was coming for much of the race so I just kept them coming at a warm weather rate).  Drank 3/4 of bottle (16 oz?) between each AS.


  1. 10-11 gels seems a little light for such a commanding performance. I think you're forgetting the caloric content of the Rad that was coursing through your veins. It's gotta be, like, another 500 easy. And it's vanilla flavored, too. Killer run, bruh. Don't change!

    1. I can't wait to read your account of your oregon travels. Please do it and show the planet that blogging isn't dead... Yet. P.s. Rad is the best movie of all time. Watch it.

  2. Nicely done, well run. And good on ya for the airplane wings.

    Although the thought of 11 gels in a 50k sounds horrid.

    1. when David told me Megan ate 14 at Way Too Cool last year (3:40something CR) I decided that it was humanly possible to consume lots and run. Because I've got nothing to lose I tried it and it worked (for me). I know it sounds ridiculous but it's strange that replenishing as many calories as possible--and still running a huge deficit--isn't a more popular idea in ultrarunning, especially at 50k level of output.

    2. Always a balancing act there ... load the gut too much and there is the gastric distress.

      Just putting together that Molehill Paid made it in this event.