Gorge Waterfalls '50K'

It's been over a week, which is longer than I like to wait before writing a race report (my thoughts get stale after a day or two if they aren't refrigerated), and I'm tired after a long day of driving and running so I"m prone to writing nonsense, but what the hey?  I've said before that this blog will publish anything, and it's as true today as it was then.

At the beginning of the year, I decided that I wanted to focus on running primarily WA's classic ultras in 2013.  Like most of my New Year's resolutions though, after about a month I gave up on that idea. "Screw it", I thought, "I'm just going to run a bunch of Rainshadow races again".  I ran Chuckanut, and I'm on the waitlist for Cascade Crest, but other than that James Varner is pretty much setting my racing schedule this year - Orcas in February, Gorge Waterfalls last week, volunteering at Yakima Skyline Rim in a couple weeks (and previewing the course today), Sun Mountain in May, El Camino de Santiago 800k in June (just kidding on that one - that one's put on by the bones of St. James - no relation to Varner, I think). Rainshadow races just end up being more precisely what I want my running experiences to be - the toughest grunts in the prettiest locations, followed immediately by a bunch of food and beer with good people, all produced without pretense.

In my one year of trail running experience, I've already done five Rainshadow races: Yakima Skyline Rim, Angel's Staircase, Deception Pass, Orcas Island, and Gorge Waterfalls.  If I were to give out high school superlatives to those races (and why wouldn't I?) they would be: Yakima - "Most Athletic",  Angel's Staircase - "Best Features", Deception Pass - "Most Friendly", Orcas Island - "Most Popular", and Gorge Waterfalls would probably be "Most Likely to Succeed".  It's only been around for three years, but it has drawn some of the most competitive fields of all the Rainshadow events (and the biggest name racers - Max King has the course record, and Hal Koerner was there this year - allowing Angel a treasured opportunity to flirt shamelessly: "If you ever need a place to stay in Seattle...").  And the race, which has a bigger field than some of their others, sells out in about an hour.  It's an amazing course, but my theory is that a big part of their success has to do with location.  It's in Oregon in the Columbia River Gorge (it starts really close to Multnomah Falls), so is super close to Portland and is reasonably accessible for both Washington and Oregon runners.  I'm happy about that - Orcas seems to be a relatively high profile/well-known 50k, but it's great to see another one of James' events becoming important in the trail running world, because it draws attention to the fantastic job he's doing putting together races that are, in my opinion, better than other races.

Also in my opinion, if we're gauging just by this year's course, Gorge Waterfalls is actually one of the less Rainshadow-y of Rainshadow's races.  There's about 6000 feet of climbing, which is on the low side for one of their events, about 7-8 miles were on blacktop including about 10k on a road in the middle and a couple miles of paved trail going up and down Multnomah Falls, it's mostly run on heavily trafficked trails, and the course was actually significantly shorter than 31 miles.  Varner miles are supposed to be longer than normal miles!

Having said that, it's undeniably a great race, for the following reasons: 1) By my count, there were literally a gazillion waterfalls on the course, including the awe-inspiring Elowah Falls at the turnaround and Ponytail Falls that you actually ran behind a couple of times, allowing Glenn Tachiyama to take awesome photos of you getting passed by some guy who has at least 10 years on you.  2) By my count, there were literally a gazillion parties associated with the event - so many parties!  They hosted the first (of hopefully many) Trail Running Film Festival the night before at McMenamin's Edgefield, had free local microbrews and fresh pizza cooked on this amazing stone oven pizza trailer after the race, and then had another party at the Edgefield where their signature old-timey band, The Pine Hearts, played around a fire.  We had perfect weather for the race - 70 and sunny! - which made it a lot more fun to hang outside and drink for the post-race festivities.  3) The short course and glut of blacktop made me feel like I was so fast!  I ran a 4:34 50k (that was only 26 - 27 miles long)!  

All joking aside, the run did actually go well for me, at least as far as time and placing goes.  I didn't expect much because I raced Chuckanut 2 weeks before and only ran once during the week prior to Gorge, so I started slow, not really trying to work my way up in the pack in any intentional way.  Not expecting much and starting slow have historically been the key to success for me though, because I think I tend to run by feel more that way, rather than trying to establish a place in the pack and blowing up, or trying to follow some half-baked race strategy that doesn't work.  It's hard to really figure out whether my time was good for the course, because I don't know the actual distance, but I did finish ahead of a lot of people who usually beat me handily, and I mostly kept up with my friend Adam Gaston - who usually destroys me and who'd been tapering for this race since last September.  Based on that, I think I continued my string of solid races since turning in a stinker at Deception Pass in December.  It was very much a "slow and steady wins the race" approach for me - I started out probably in the back third of the pack for the first major climb, and didn't really start picking people off until about a third of the way in when I settled in with Adam and basically used him as a pacer.  He gave me a great tip at Baker Lake - if you want to run faster races, just find people you know are faster than you and stay with them.  That was actually kind of my strategy.  He dropped me during the last mile or two when my stupid legs started to cramp, but for the most part it worked.  Next race I'm just going to look at the favorite on Ultrasignup and run with them.

In terms of how I felt, this one actually didn't go that well for me.  I'm not sure if it was the heat, a faster pace, my decision not to take electrolyte tabs, the lack of one of my normal key foods - potatoes and salt - on the course, or lack of running during the week, but I cramped more on this race than maybe any other I've run since my first marathon 2 years ago.  It started up in my legs at about mile 17 - 18, and shifted intermittently between muscle groups for the rest of the race - calves, hamstrings, groin (which has never happened before), glutes.  It was worst on the final downhill on a busy trail near Multnomah Falls, to the point that my foot was stuck in a constant flexed position due to calf cramping and I had to hobble along, cursing under my breath, offending grandmothers and scaring small children.  I don't usually run through cramping, but this time I told my calves that I hated them and was going to hurt them, and I forced myself to keep running and eventually it let up for the most part.  I was pretty beat at the end of the race, and I've had a rough recovery this week.  It took a couple days longer than normal to feel like I had my legs back, and I was in a really bad mood for most of the week.  (That could be partly because it was my first week back to school after spring break though.)  Don't worry though.  I seem to be better now.

Among the real runners, it seemed to have been a relatively fast race.  Christopher Kollar from Montana finished 3 minutes off of the course record set by Max King on the same route last year, finishing in 3:22, ahead of some obviously fast guy named James Bonnett from Arizona and a bunch of notable PNWers - Zach Violett, Ian Sharman, Yassine Diboun, Jeff Browning, Jonathan Heinz, Jason Leman and Hal Koerner.  I include the whole list basically because, man, Oregon has a strong racing scene right now.   Among women, 11 of the first 12 women were also locals, including Stephanie Howe, who got second at the North Face 50 mile championships this year, and who destroyed her own previous course record by 18 minutes, finishing in 3:49, ahead of Catrin Jones, an Arc'teryx athlete and killer marathoner from Victoria.  And hey!  I just noticed that my friend Shamai Larsen finished 9th overall!  Nice showing Shamai.  


Nice read Tim!

It seems most everyone has issues with cramps during their first warmer run and you doubled your odds by not consuming any electrolytes. :)

I can't wait to get out there again.
Unknown said…
Yeah - I've been messing around with my electrolyte intake. I haven't really been able to associate my cramps with electrolytes clearly, so I've been trying to figure out what works. They come pretty reliably with long periods of exertion (3+ hours) above my normal training pace, and I usually cramp at least a little bit in races (calves or hamstrings most commonly), but I've had them in both warm and cool weather runs, and I've also gone through both types of runs without cramping at a pretty high level of exertion.

My understanding of the science of it is that there's a theoretical argument that sodium and potassium levels should affect muscle function because they are used in muscle contraction (along with Mg and Ca), so those are the most commonly supplemented. But there haven't been any studies actually conclusively linking deficiency in those nutrients with muscle cramping, so a lot of people think they have to do with overuse and the electrical/nervous system side of things. (Na deficiency is actually really rare for people with a western diet, and the body is great at regulating both Na and K from existing stores). Other people thinks it's primarily about carbs/glucose stores. Cramps are pretty perplexing.

Personally, I'm guessing there might be an 'all of the above' thing happening. I haven't had fantastic luck with S-Caps (I took one on this race and my cramps actually got worse in the next 30 - 45 minutes), but there have been a few cases where I felt like they helped. I have, however, seemed to have good luck with potatoes and salt (a good natural source of both K and Na), and that was the one thing notably missing from my race at Gorge. I've also had races where a Gu seemed to fix my cramps really quickly, and where slowing my pace seemed to make them go away. The experiment continues!