September’s run selection was done according to what fit in the family’s schedule. As that wasn’t too much, the options were limited. So it was my good fortune that the one that worked had such a fine course. It was my first time out there, a nice bonus.
Coming off of last month’s Pike’s Peak Marathon, I figured this one had to be easier, even if it required going an extra 5 miles. In reading the Northwest Trail Run’s overview of the course, nothing about hills jumped out at me. And I figured since we were in the Cascade foothills, the climbs wouldn’t be so bad.
I was about half correct. It was easier than Pike’s Peak, but then just about anything is. However the Middle Fork course had its share of ups and downs. This made the last third of the event interesting.
Getting to the start took us about eight miles up a forest road, which meant I needed to rise early. Driving up while it was still dark was a reminder that fall is here. Just before eight, we gathered around for race director Eric Bone to give us a rundown on the course. He noted :
the trail gets pretty remote. you probably want to be more careful than you usually are. if you get hurt, it’s likely that you’ll need to get yourself out, or rely on another runner to help you.
Good advice, particularly given the footing over the rocks along the trail. The first stretch was pretty easy, with a short up/down. An amusing thing about the start was that the 50kers needed to run in the opposite direction from the 22 milers. So we lined up facing each other (each behind our starting line), and when he sent us off, we ran through the other pack. Might have been the most unorthodox start I’ve seen.
We did a couple of miles of out and back before heading out along the river. We ran above the south bank, enjoying the narrow trail, perhaps 30 feet above the river. A few miles farther, it got even nicer – with us running next to a drop-off of several hundred feet above the rushing water. Ordinarily this would have made me more nervous, but that’s the virtue of needing to focus on running rather than worrying. Shortly before hitting the third aid station about eight miles in, we crossed a really interesting set of log “bridges”. We walked along cut logs, about 15-20 feet above the water. Not something I get to do every day.
When we passed the aid station, this is where some of the real climbing started. We crossed the river again, and then started a steady, unrelenting incline that seemed to go on for a long time. At this point we’d gone about 15-17 miles, and I was feeling it. I started to walk more of the hills, and eventually made it out to the decline, along a nice broad forest road. Here I developed an appreciation for how far we’d gone up, because the river was visible far below. Unfortunately, my GPS lost signal, so I don’t really have reliable route or incline information, but it definitely felt like we’d climbed a good ways.
By the time we hit the bridge again, I was pretty ready to be done. Problem was, we’d only done about 20 miles. I plugged along, trading places with several other runners as we went. At mile 25, Eric greeted us with food and drinks (needed!). I took heart that we were now just a weekday training run from the finish.
Aside from a few hills, and a couple of more difficult rocky stretches, the final six went pretty smoothly. I crossed the finish line in 6:30. During the first (easy) part of the event, I ‘d thought I might be able to break six hours, but that clearly didn’t happen.
Gathering at the finish and talking with some friends, we all agreed that the route turned out to be more difficult than we’d thought it would be. We all
complained marveled at the steep climbs on the lollipop section after the third aid station. We all loved the stretches along the river. And we all rued the coming fall – there were leaves down, and the day was cooler than we’ve had recently.
But despite the hills and the cooler weather, it was a nice day for a run in the Cascade foothills.
note : I don’t have splits from this race, as my GPS signal was very spotty. I noticed one early sub-eight split (probably not smart), and do know that I got slower in the late miles. Not the most well-executed race.