After a great debut experience at the Kodiak 50 miler in August, I was definitely eager to try my hand at another 50 mile race – and maybe, just maybe rack up a few more UTMB points in the process. With that said, the rest of the year was already shaping up to be travel-heavy for my work, and so I needed to find a race that was (relatively) local and would not require any cross-country flights.
After scouring UltraSignup for possibilities, I found one that seemed to fit the bill: The Run the Rock 50 miler on November 10 at Smith Rock State Park, Oregon. It looked like a beautiful course of two 25 mile loops through the park, and was a perfect excuse for Roger and I to visit the Pacific Northwest – something we’ve been wanting to do since moving out to California 3+ years ago! I was feeling strong coming off Kodiak, and looking forward to this next fun event.
The weeks leading up to the race were, naturally, hectic for work travel: from October 31 – Nov 2 I was in L.A.; from Nov 5 – 7 I was in Philly for work. I did my best to get in taper runs around 4am on hotel treadmills ahead of 14+ hour research days in the weeks leading up to the race. On November 7, I flew back from Philly to San Francisco. The next day, Roger and I packed up and began the 9 hour drive up to Oregon.
On the way, we passed by the now-infamous Camp Fire. Being on I-5, we were several miles east of it, but could still see the hillsides burning – an incredibly eerie and sinister sight at night, underscored by our knowledge of devastating impact of the fire. Our heartfelt condolences go out to all those who have been affected, and our immense gratitude goes out to the firefighters who have been battling these blazes day and night. If anything, the fire – the severity of which many government officials and scientists have linked to climate change – has also brought home the importance of the work that our family does on behalf of the Alliance for International Reforestation (AIR) to plant trees and curtail the effects of climate change (for those who may not know, AIR is this blog’s namesake and the organization that we are proud to represent in our races).
We arrived in Oregon safe and sound, and after picking up my number we turned in for the night to get as much rest as possible ahead of what was sure to be a long day.
The morning of Saturday, November 10 – race day – was freezing. Literally. The temperature gauge on our Prius read 19 degrees as we drove to the start line. We knew it would be cold, and had packed the requisite cold weather gear, but I was still nervous: I had not been training in these types of conditions, and knew that in the cold, your body often requires significantly more energy just to keep itself warm – in addition, of course, to the energy required to run 50 miles in the mountains.
With that said, I did my best to get in a good ‘warm up’ (in the loosest sense of the term), and toed the line. I knew it would be a fast, competitive race as there were a few pros in the mix. The announcer counted down and sent us off! I put my head down and committed to run strong, have fun, and enjoy the experience.
The first 4 miles took us down from the rim of a canyon to a riverbed that skirted the edge of the picturesque and eponymous rock for which the park is named. This first section was relatively flat and fast, and I just focused on finding a comfortable pace and enjoying the sunrise hitting the rock, turning it varying shades of gold, pink, and rose.
The next 6 miles were a long, steady climb up said rock – back and forth across SO MANY switchbacks that afforded us unobstructed views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson, which were stunning in the early morning light. On this section, I focused again on keeping a steady effort, and ended up passing one woman on the switchbacks, at this point running in second.
After the climb, the next few miles offered a fun run along the ridgeline before a fast descent down a fire road, and then a turn onto undulating trails that twisted and turned through canyons before taking a turn back up to the ridgeline and aid station, around mile 21. Just before the aid station, I was joined by two other strong women runners, and we ran together for the rest of the first lap.
After a fast and steep descent, we arrived back at the start/finish line more or less together at around 4 hours – much faster than my previous 50 miler (although to be fair, the Kodiak 50 miler was at altitude and had about 2,000 more feet of elevation gain).
At this point in the race, with the mid-morning sun overhead I was warm enough to take off my jacket and pass it off to Roger – who was a total champ in crewing for me on such a cold day!
The two other women who ran in with me ended up leaving the start/finish seconds before I did – so I left out of there in 4th, on my own. This ended up being a drawback, as literally hundred of meters after leaving I got turned around by ‘detour’ signs on the trail. These signs were printed in similar font as the race signs, and so I followed them for a ways before realizing that something was off. I turned back to retrace my steps and found the race route, but this detour ended up costing me a few minutes. At the time, I did not realize how much this would affect my race, but 2nd – 6th woman all ended up finishing within 9 minutes of each other – which is very close and rare for a 50 mile race!
The second lap was definitely tough. I was wondering if I had been overly optimistic in getting rid of my jacket, because there were many sections where we were running in the shadows and I was definitely getting cold in them. I also think my body was requiring a bit more fuel to stay warm, and around mile 30 I was starting to experience some early signs of bonking, so I made sure to fuel up well at the next aid station.
Somewhere along the way, I ended up getting passed by two more women – they were incredibly strong and I cheered for them as they went by. It is such a privilege to run with such strong competition, and seriously every one out there was such an inspiration!
By the time I got to the last steep descent my legs were definitely feeling it, and my entire body was tired from shivering and trying to stay warm. At mile 49, I was running along the river bed, and silently dreading the steep climb back up the canyon to the finish. At that point, though, I heard Roger cheering for me, which was like a straight injection of double-caffeinated espresso. I perked right up, rallied up the final climb, and ended up in 6th place, finishing around 9 hours – minutes behind the other top women. Check out the race file here! I had no idea we were all so close until I looked at the results, and I likely won’t see another race that close in my career.
A huge thanks to the race director, Janessa, and Alpine Running for a great event. And of course a huge thanks to all the amazing volunteers – including the local high school XC team! – who braved the cold temps and came out with warm smiles to cheer us on when we needed it. Thanks as well to Smith Rock State Park and everyone who supports the Oregon State Parks and the thousands of acres of public spaces they protect for both wildlife and human enjoyment.
Interested in visiting Smith Rock? Check out the park website here for information on things to do, along with relevant permit information.
Fee? Yes – $5 day use fee. Dogs? Yes – on marked trails.
Finally, as a reminder: We run to support the Alliance for International Reforestation, our family’s organization which invests in global conservation efforts through community-based reforestation programs. Please take a moment to check out the website here, and consider a donation to support their work in fighting global climate change.
Thanks as always for following, and here’s to our next adventure 🙂