Friday, April 3, 2015

Gorge Waterfall 50 k Race Report

The Gorge Waterfall 50 k was going to be my second Rainshhadow Running race after completing the Sun Mountain 50 miler in May of 2014 (check here for my race report).

After some tough negotiations we decided to go to Oregon as a family.

Going into this race I was confident about my gear and nutrition choices. The only tossup was my shoe choice, but in the end I had to opt for my slightly beyond broken-in Altra Lone Peak 1.5 over my newer still somewhat shiny 2.0 version. Why? Because I have trained in the 1.5s lots, but I haven't raced in them yet. I tend to remember my past footwear by the events I ran in them and the Lone Peaks deserve to be remembered after they fall apart down the road ... or rather down the trail.

Finish line high fives are the best high fives

When it comes to racing I am a bit spoiled I must confess. This race was something like my tenth ultra (depending on how many of the fat ass events I participated in you count). To this day I have not had a really bad race in which I had to suffer mightily. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I wish for it or that it's been all bees and butterflies. It's just that some rites of passage like losing a toe nail or puking my guts out mid-race have not been part of my racing experience yet. Things just happened to go well for me thus far. Going into this race I envisioned myself frolicking through a balmy springtime Oregon while enjoying the sights. Aside from one big climb towards the end of the race the course is very runnable and I was dreaming of maybe earning a sub 5 hour finishing time. That's not quite how it played out though.

Here are a few details on how the day went:


expected: 9/10
actual 7.5/10

Don't get me wrong. There were portions of the race that were clearly a 10/10. The course has singletrack, mossy rocks and beautiful vistas of the river valley till the cows come home. Just the road portion, which was not quite as low traffic / quaint as advertised or imagined,and the virtual absence of waterfalls in the first 2/3 of the race course were a bit of a bummer.

Multnomah Falls. Good news: You get to see it during the race.
Bad news: you'll have to climb up and over the hill it flows down.

Technicality of the course / ankle twist potential:

expected 4/10
actual 6.5/10

Running on North Vancouver trails, I found in the past if people tell you trails are technical, they are usually not all that bad, since we have some pretty gnarly conditions to train on around here. In this particular case my "North Van technicality adjustment factor" was off though. There are a lot of smooth stretches of singletrack in the race for sure, but there are a whole bunch of really rocky sections along the course that really demand your attention too. More often than not these are in the more scenic sections of the course too which doesn't help with focusing on the task at hand (i.e. staying upright and keeping both ankles intact).

Cheering / aid stations / finish line:

expected 7/10
actual 9/10

There is limited access and parking for spectators along the course. Therefore there was a higher concentration of family and friends in certain areas, which made for a great atmosphere. Cheers and cowbells always help to lift my spirits.

My finish line welcome committee.

My surefootedness:

expected 8/10
actual 4/10

One fall. One near ankle twist and several stumbles weren't what I was hoping for. Reciting the trusted Caballo Blanco mantra of "Easy, light, smooth, fast" in my head didn't remedy the troubles with my footing. I think going out too fast had me pretty knackered by km 30. If a world class athlete such as Krissy Moehl puts down a 5:13 it's not entirely realistic for me to be ahead of that by any margin. Stupid UltraSignUp algorithms put me at about 4:48. I think there was a course change at one point. So the course record on which this prediction was based could have been a wee bit off to say the least.

Mental Fortitude:

expected 8/10
actual 4/10

My head was a bit of a whiner during the race. For the better part of the first three hours I was running in a group of somewhere between 3 and 15 people. To my surprise there was zero chit chat going on though. Maybe we were too focused on moving somewhat swiftly across the ground. As a result I spend a bit more time in my head than I would have wished for. You know how it is with those heads. They are never happy:

"If you just ran slower this might actually be fun and it would definitely hurt less"
"Who comes up with these things? Why would you pick a hobby like ultra running anyway?"

I was well prepared physically, but hadn't really prepared myself mentally to race and run hard. During the tougher stretches of the race all I wanted was to sight-see, run with a friend, take pictures and take my time. Now that the event is over and the memory of the challenges I overcame faded, I am back to thinking: Let's race harder and crack the top 50, 30, 20 or whatever number it might be in a given event.

By the way if you're just some random guy or gal who slips by me towards the end of a race , be my guest and "out-kick" me. 9 out of 10 times I couldn't care less...unless I know you. That usually triggers my ego and I will give chase. I should probably develop a strategy for digging down deep and finishing strong regardless of who is around me.

Soreness after completion of the event:

expected 4/10
actual 8/10

I was about as sore as I have ever been after any race. On a few occasions in the past I raced hard and recovered really well. This time I was absolutely wiped for a couple of days after finishing with my legs, upper back and shoulders being the main areas of discomfort. To make matters worse, this happened after I was really, really good about strength training in the 4 months leading up to the race. Therefore I foolishly expected less soreness than usual rather than more. Baffling.

Gastrointestinal distress:

expected 1/10
actual 8/10

I promise I won't go into too much detail, but in the last hour of the race I had to step out of line twice, including a visit to the Multnomah falls visitor centre washroom with only about 5 mins worth of course left ahead of me. My tummy didn't agree with something I ingested pre-race, although I wouldn't know what it could have been.

In the end I finished a few minutes under six hours, but more importantly we spent a great family weekend exploring the beautiful area around Portland and, if nothing else,the experience of this race helped to keep me humble and reminded me that things don't always go as expected.

The Gorge Waterfall 50k is a very well organized event that lived up to its awesome reputation. Thanks to all the volunteers and to everybody who helped to make it such a memorable day. Special thanks to my family and race director James Varner for smiles and finish line high fives.  Also a big shout out to the fine folks working the wood burning pizza oven trailer for making a special meat and cheese free pizza for me and for being very generous with the serving size.

See you on the trails,