Being a tale of the Gorge Waterfalls 100K
Moss covered boulders and piles of shale
Scree covered hillsides and boulders to scale
Slick river crossings from burbling springs
Late in a race these are quite vexing things
When the sun sets
When the legs cramp
When I’m feeling bad
I don't pay attention to rocks up ahead
And then I fall on...my ass.
Ok ok, some rocks are OK in my book.
The @&(%*$ing fallen trees on the other hand…
Tl;dr: The Gorge Waterfalls 100K was one of the hardest races, if not the hardest things, that I’ve ever done. It runs the amazing Columbia River Gorge in a rugged, technical out and back just outside of Portland with about 12,000 ft of climbing. I finished in 16:25:21 (yay, C goal!) and I’m happy to report that it didn’t break me! All in all, a good day. But man, those trails are challenging...there was a 25% DNF rate!
Tired David gives this race one thumb and two handheld water bottles up!
The long version:
Like Strava, I have a metric to quantify suffering during a race. A race’s overall difficulty is all about the integral of suffering, the area under the suffering-time curve. Yes, a marathon is shorter than a 50K but infinitely more miserable (OK, not infinitely) You just have to add up all those infinitestimal time slices where you wish you were somewhere else, then give up and have a beer.
While no one particular thing about the Gorge Waterfalls was especially heinous, overall this was the hardest race I’ve ever done. It didn’t have the raw heat of the Overlook 50 miler. I didn’t bake during it like I did during Cuyamaca loop 2. It didn’t have the soul crushing ascent up Maiden Peak at the Waldo 100K (or the wasps, for that matter) The weather was actually great, the aid stations well stocked, and some portions of the course were runnable. But, as promised, this race was TOUGH.
So why did it take me > 1.5 hours from my next slowest 100K?
- The most technical terrain I’ve encountered (See above section: rocks). This slowed me down even on the way out (along with, say, 10 minutes for the pictures!) for a 7:22 50K split. On the way back, the dark made this extra challenging and I slowed way down so as to not, you know, fall to my death and have my body washed downriver. Kidding. Mostly.
- 12,000 feet of climbing meant I was always climbing or descending
Still though, there’s cause for celebration!
- I ran this solo from start to finish. No pacer, no crew. A first for me on the 100K
- I didn’t blow up my muscles. I still had the legs on the back half to run some of the runnable portions at a decent speed. Squats and deadlifts are paying off. FORTIFY!
- Surprisingly, although I was hurting and mood swing-y, at no point did my psyche feel shattered or like I wanted to drop. I think it’s finally toughening up or just getting used to being continually tested (and testy).
- I finished a race where a full 25% of the starting field DNFed! OUCH!
- My hydration was spot freaking on the entire day. Rarely will you find someone so happy to be peeing in the woods as me.
- Likewise, I’ve found a pretty good gear combination. Dual amphipod 20 oz handhelds, a mountain hardwear Fluid race vest (pretty minimal) and Hoka Mafate 4’s. They got it done and I didn’t feel the need to swap out anything during the day.
- I’m not injured! I’m stiff and sore, of course, but nothing that broke during the day. Awesome!
- I still have all 10 toenails somehow!
What needs work
- Consistent mental motivation. Especially near the end, where I’d have long portions of walking. Uphill. In the dark. (See, I’m even feeling sorry for myself again here) A pacer would be amazing (but not allowed in this race)
- Consistent fuelling. I removed the eGels from my race nutrition plan, thinking they were causing my stomach to go south after about 12 hours. No stomach pains here, no nausea! However, I forgot that I needed to be more on my game taking in calories late in the game. Again, a pacer would have been amazing. But you know what else was amazing? Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter cups. (I also think taking in more fat and protein helped prevent muscle breakdown)
Could I have raced faster on Saturday? Perhaps. This was a not an all out, pedal to the metal race for me since I got my ticket to the big dance at Black Canyons only 7 weeks ago. (Translation: I qualified this year for the Western States 100 Lottery at the Black Canyons 100K in February) While I didn’t have high performing finishing time, I sure had myself a good time running those trails
Doris and I flew into Portland on Friday morning. After some excellent Thai food and a visit to the Multanomah Whiskey Library, I was ready to retire to our AirBNB and prepare for an early start.
The gun (ok, James Varner yelling GO) went off at 6 am as planned and we settled in for a fast mile followed by a 1500 ft climb. I won’t bore you with the narrative of exactly what went on for 16 odd hours, but suffice to say there were some great views, some rolling hills, and plenty of rocks. The views were breathtaking and I tried not to stop too much to take pictures. I chatted with some great people and the aid stations 7-9 miles apart were energetic and well stocked. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights from the day
- Peeing on a narrow, well trafficked trail is...challenging. My move was to wait for a trail branching off, then to go “take in the views” behind some trees
- About 13 miles in, I came across an optional stream crossing. The course markings seemed to indicate that we should go across the 5 feet of swiftly flowing but shallow stream, even though a footbridge was only a small detour away. Of course I wanted to ford the stream! Charting out my footing, I boldly strode ahead…and promptly fell on my ass. Thankfully, I landed on my handhelds so all I took away from that was some wet buttcheeks and a rather chagrined look. Also, I drank a bunch of Tailwind before realizing that my impact probably sucked some stream water in. If I get giardia, it’s my own damn fault.
- I got chatting with a newbie 100K runner about 10 miles later and he told me he saw the entire thing. Whoops!
- Running and and back, while requiring constant attention for trail traffic, was really cool. Here are M1 and M2 (go Mocko!)
- The pollen was horrendous. At times, I looked at the sun filtering through the trees and saw a minor snowstorm. There was a gent who basically couldn’t see without his eyedrops and some folks were dropping from allergies. Damn growing things!
- We got to run under a waterfall. It was freaking amazing.
- I was surprised at several miles that were run on or near the road. Running trails was excellent, but being able to hear the traffic from the nearby interstate like, totally harshed my vibe, man.
- As many of you know, I don’t like snakes. There are a LOT of snake shaped roots and branches on this trail. I was doing just fine until I SAW A FREAKING SNAKE AND JUMPED (nearly into the bushes) The dude behind me ran past and just gave me a sidelong glance. It was a garter snake about a foot long. Whoops.
- My Garmin died after only about 15 hours. In one respect, this was a relief and prevented me from checking it every 15 minutes. On the other hand, I was starting to get nervous about the cutoffs and this didn’t help!
- Running on technical terrain in the dark is hugely challenging. I don’t know how people do it. I was managing ok with a combination headlamp and handlamp, but I was still really freaked out at being so close to a slippery slope and fast flowing water on a dark, steep hill.
- One of the doubts looming in my mind at the end of the race was how I’d ever run 38 more miles. Surprisingly, though, in retrospect the GW100K actually gives me confidence. I made some good decisions even when racing on my own. My training and conditioning routine is getting the job done. And my mental state can best be summarized as “bent, but not broken.” So when the time comes, it’s gonna hurt to run through the night...and I can’t wait to see what I can do.
Big thanks to Rainshadow Running for putting on an awesome race and congratulations to Matt and Kristin for earning their WS qualifier on a hard, hard course.
And now, offseason! Gotta get rested to get started training for that hundred miler...
Warning, not for the faint of heart