RD gets a flat tire. Race runs late. People thrown off of pre-race rhythms and rituals. A twinge of tension, anticipation and confusion. Alas, James Varner shows up in good form, standard ear-to-ear grin in tow.
And so, the hunt for the finish line commences…
Herd mentality. Checked out, just trust the leaders…but miss your first right-hand turn. It’s 20 seconds into the race and there’s already a 200 person pile-up. More confusion, a sigh of levity and everyone gets back on track. Three gels decide to DNF from my pocket and I am reduced to a third of my nutrition in the first minute of the race.
Taking the shoulder to regain a view from the front, I assess the field as we all trot forth past Multnomah lodge towards the Wahkeena climb:
• Max King (2:13 Olympic Trials Marathoner)
• Eric Skaggs (New Balance)
• Ian Sharman (North Face, U.S. Trail 100 Mile Record Holder)
• Jeff Browning (Patagonia)
• Yassine Diboun (Udos, Drymax, etc.)
• Jace Ives (just plain fast)
The list goes on, and they all continue powerfully uphill…
Major Climb 1: Wahkeena.
Steep and civilized. A trail effectively bastardized by asphalt to entice the urban warrior to break through city woes for some fresh air, yet successfully avoiding any genuine contact. The field spreads as we are all swallowed into the mouth of the sacred Wahkeena. Legs and lungs are already screaming, as the past week exploring Rocky Mountain vertical with Joe wasn’t probably the best tapering strategy.
Red-lining, I nestle into 5th place.
Reaching Trail 420, I ride the familiar Gorge ridge down to the top of Multnomah Falls. Slush and rocks leave me negotiating a technical downhill ice-rink. Hammering this section, I feel strong all the way down. Dirt and rock becomes paved again and rhythm is stunted by such dense regularity. I welcome the quick right-hand reconnecting trail which takes me through an No Name Aid Station and onto a nondescript rolling section of trail. Side stitches irritate my pace and nausea creeps up into the esophagus. Mush on.
Trail shape-shifts into flat, cold road and I am faced with a 2.5 miles of asphalt monotony. The aggressive tread of Inov8 Talons aren’t fit for the job, and this last-minute course alteration is not welcomed. I feel out of place but crank against the strong headwind that accompanies. A runner unknown to me passes, effectively taking the wind out of my sails. At Yeon Aid Station (Mile 14.3), it’s cookies and gels for the short out-and-back to Elowah Falls. I am surprised how close I am to the leaders as they pass me on their return. I tag the turnaround and it’s 6th place and 15 more miles until the finish.
Grunt. Labored breath. Stiffening muscles.
Only two things satisfactory about the return road section: One? Giving and receiving support for the 200+ passing runners progressing towards the turnaround. Two? Wind is working on my side. I reach the trail and power through this mellow but rocky singletrack back towards the foot of the Multnomah climb, where the 3-mile, 1500 ft. climb weighs on my conscience.
Return of the Living Cramps. Legs seize, despite adequate salting and watering. Sometimes there’s just no formula. At No Name Aid (Mile 23.3) Jace and Ian are running together and catch me. We all run together for a few miles, then they lose me. Reaching Multnomah Falls, it’s is a zoo. Tourists line the trail, providing smiles and encouragement, and looks of confusion as to why one would run these relentless switchbacks.
Major Climb 2: Multnomah.
This is my moment. I run all of the switchbacks hard, passing a hiking Jace. I spot Ian only one switchback away. Eye-contact. I am driven to catch him next. Then I lose it. My applied surge fissles and I am left a heavy ball of seizing hamstrings and defeating thoughts. Jace catches me hiking a steep rocky section and I never see him.
Finally making it through the tough climb, a British voice calls from behind. Ian. Apparently he took a wrong turn. Looking chipper and effortless, he passes me and disappears down the hill. No fire left to chase. The descent is fast and sloppy and I pop out at the Multnomah Village haggard but pleasantly in good spirits. A few glances behind me confirms no one else is creeping and I glide into an 8th place finish in 3 hours, 49 minutes, among some of the best in the business.
A race offered in my backyard. Familiar trails, familiar faces. It doesn’t get much better. The post-race festivities include rehashing the race, detailing the dogfights with Jace and Ian. These are memories immortal. It’s true that the poignancy of those painful moments digging to your depths seems to live on in our minds and hearts. And to be part of such a community centered around simple human propulsion is something pure. Something unmodified. Something real. It’s something for which I am continuously thankful, with each and every outing into the mountains.
Reconvening with friends.
Reconvening with the wilds.
Reconvening with myself.
Next up? Capitol Peak 50 Miler, and a 12-week countdown before it gets real. Weekly mileage is increasing, and with it a physical and psychological hardening. To practice your passions. To give. To give time to your loved ones. To feed wholesomely and rest adequately. I am finding that to strike this balance is the real magic in the matrix, not necessarily a stellar 100-mile finish come June.
Though, this too would be nice.
All photos: The one and only, GTach.