3am came early on Saturday and my Dad (Dr. Larry Dunlap) and I headed up to the start from Eugene, OR. I was still coughing from a cold I picked up last week, so we had a good discussion on how to approach a race when you’re still under the weather. Luckily he would be volunteering at Charlton Lake (the 50k point), so it made sense to just take it easy and see if I could make it there in one piece. Karma threw a few more elements at us as we arrived – I forgot my socks (thank you Tom Riley for the loaners!), I didn’t catch that there would only be one drop bag delivery on the morning of the race (oops), and I forgot my Sudafed. That’s okay though. I was still so excited to be here that I couldn’t get stressed about anything.
At 5am we donned our headlights, got a few words from the Race Directors, and headed up into the hills. I got a good luck hug from Olga, who was racing here and then pacing at the Cascade Crest 100 next weekend. Dancing headlights circled like fireflies ahead of me as I walked the first hill and made conversation with other runners. The consensus was there would be three big challenges today – heat (projected to be near 100 degrees by 2pm), mosquitoes (wha?), and Maiden Peak (the fifth and most brutal climb, which comes right about 2pm natch). Right now it was a pleasant 60 degrees, and the first two miles warmed us up enough to tackle the single track on the back side. We got into a mule train and chugged down the hill.
I paced with Laura Gould from Sequim, WA, and we shared stories of kids invading drop bags before races and other mischief that occurs when little ones help with training. Maybe Sophie is cuddling up with my socks right now! Laura was tackling her first 100k, but had some solid 50-milers under her belt. She asked “what’s it like going 100k?”, and I shared that in my limited experience it is physically similar to a 50-miler, but the mental/emotional roller coaster gets a few more larger dips and peaks. The smile on her face told me she was going to do just fine (which she did, finishing 4th Woman overall in 12:26).
We tiptoed through a camping area at the bottom of the hill and arrived at the Gold Lake aid station (mile 7.4) where a frocked Sean Meissner helped me refill my bottles and drop my headlight. I was coughing more than I would like, but it could just as easily been from drinking dust on the busy single track. I let the pack go ahead of me and walked up the first section towards Mt. Fuji, watching the morning sun light up the meadows.
The meadows were pleasant to view from a distance, but up close they unleashed a black cloud of Oregon-sized mosquitoes. Every time we got close to a meadow I could hear thigh slapping up and down the trail as the little devils feasted. I paced (quickly) with two gentleman who swore to me that the next aid station would have repellant. Just when we thought we had it bad, we watched another guy pull off the trail to relieve himself and was quickly subsumed in a swarm of hungry insects. His arms swung wildly to slap away the pests, and he fell over, arcing pee all over the place. When he caught us a few minutes later, he said “in case you didn’t see that, I wouldn’t recommend stopping to pee near a meadow”. Now that’s an understatement!
We hit the steep section up Mt. Fuji, and Hal Koerner and Nate McDowell were already heading back. That meant they were nearly 3 miles ahead of us and we were only at mile 10! Amazing. The chase pack was hot on their tail, with Sean Andrish, Neil Olsen, Troy Howard, and Jeff Browning within a couple of minutes. The course record was in joepardy for sure.
The Mt. Fuji aid station (mile 12.4) did have repellant and the volunteers ran us through clouds of Off! like hot wax at the car wash. The mosquitoes were instantly a non-issue, and we all heaved a sigh of relief. We climbed up to the top of Mt. Fuji, passing the Women’s front runners Meghan Arbogast (defending champion), Prudence L’Heureux, and Krissy Moehl all within a minute of each other. Doug Randels from Eugene, OR, arrived at the top with me somewhere around 30th place, and we got a visual tour of where we would be headed from the volunteers. We were covering some serious ground!
The Mt. Fuji aid station (mile 14.9) set us up one more time before we tackled the rolling single track out towards Mt. Ray. This section was so much fun it was hard not to feel like a kid jumping on fallen logs and weaving in and out of the short valleys and creeks. Any time you needed a break, a meadow crossing would pop up and give your legs a rest.
The Mt. Ray aid station (mile 20.5) was a quick stop for watermelon, Pringles, and ice water. It was getting hot enough now that the sweat rate was constant, but the sponge-wielding volunteers were happy to wipe us clean. These guys were amazing! I loaded up and hit the trails again.
That nasty cold of mine started to give me a run for my money on this next climb. My cough was producing far too much phlegm, my head was throbbing, and it felt like my throat was swelling shut. I had brought some DayQuil with me, but wondered if that was too much of a wild card to take during a race. I didn’t want to end up napping on the trail after all! Instead I passed on the drugs and just chalked it up to “crap you have to work through on an ultra” and pressed on to The Twins aid station (mile 27.1). I met some super-nice runners along the way, and we traded off the lead until we saw the sign that said “gypsies ahead”…I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it was definitely going to be fun! The gypsies were charming and accommodating, soaking us with cool water and feeding us frozen fruit pops. I could have hung out there all day. I took some aspirin, chugged a ton of liquids, and grabbed one more ice pop for the trail. Refreshing!
We crested over the third peak on the course, and took the fast single track down towards Charlton Lake. The sun was really on us now, and each exposed section of the course felt like a convection oven (for a nice, even browning). Luckily in this section of Oregon, there is an acre of shady tall pines at every turn so the heat was short-lived. I had to take a bio break and hoped to make it to the next aid station, but my bowels cried “final warning” about a half mile before I got there. I spotted a perfect set of fallen logs to do my business, and was pleased to find a newspaper (sports page no less) right there. I guess I wasn’t the only one who thought this was the perfect spot! I took an extra minute to get caught on the Olympics and jumped back on the trail with Bekele speed. ;-)
I arrive at the Charlton Lake aid station (mile 32), where my Dad was happy to help me out. He noticed my coughing right away, and I took a seat to reapply some sunscreen and think about whether it made sense to drop. My head kept going back and forth…the cold symptoms had me spooked, but the rest of me was doing fine. One of the volunteers told me the next section would be the hottest and very challenging. I asked my Dad if I dropped how long he would need to keep volunteering, and he said two hours. Two hours? Screw that. I’m at least going to the next aid station! My Dad sponged me down, filled the water bottles, and I was off.
Like many times I have contemplated dropping before, it often helps just to get on the other side of the decision. I walked along the lakeshore trail pondering deep thoughts and let a bunch of runners pass me. As they did I noticed that most of them were coughing, had fever-like symptoms, and a few had even lost their voices from the dust and heat. Hmmm, maybe I wasn’t that sick after all! It inspired me enough to pick up the pace and get runnin’.
I soon hooked up with Kevin Troyer from Portland, OR, who was running this race for the second year in a row and looking great. We soon found out that we shared favorite haunts in Portland, both worked in tech, and were drawn to ultrarunning for similar reasons. Like a two man crew team, we ran in stride through the hottest sections of the course and quickly found ourselves at the Road 4290 aid station (mile 37.2). We each took a refreshing cold sponge shower and picked up the pace. They let us in on the news of the frontrunners – Hal Koerner had dropped, citing foot pain from a recurring injury. That left Neil Olsen and Nate McDonald setting the pace, with Jeff Browning, Joe Grant, Mark Lantz, Jason Bryant, and Sean Andrish in the chase pack. The Women’s race was also close, with Krissy Moehl and Prudence L’Heureux slightly ahead of Meghan Arbogast. All of these men and women were well on pace to beat the course record even with the hot day.
Kevin stopped to take a bio break about two miles later, leaving me to run alone up the climb to the saddle. It was very peaceful…eerily peaceful in fact. That’s when it donned on me that I couldn’t hear a single plane, car, or person. We were serious out there in the boonies! I think Oregon is one of the few places on the planet where it can be this peaceful for hours on end. When all you can hear is the wind, trees, bees, and your own breathing, you've definitely found a special place.
My runners high was kicking in nicely, and I felt that magical moment where I could hear the heartbeats of everything around me…trees, flowers, bees, the earth. They all beat at different rates, but if you listen closely you can hear the harmony that syncs them together. When I matched the rhythm of my steps to their collective beat, I felt like my spirit connected, and the running became effortless. “This,” I repeated to myself, “is why we run.”
I caught up to two runners as the climb got steep enough to walk, and cleared my throat to say hi. Much to my surprise, my cold symptoms had pretty much vanished! I guess I didn't need DayQuil, I just needed a heavy dose of daylight. I had caught up to Chris Thornley (brother of RD Craig) who had come up from Flagstaff, AZ, to do this race a fifth time. We hiked the steep stuff together, chatting with another runner who had caught us. I did my best to keep up the chatter, but was still drunk from my dance with Mother Nature over the last few miles. As we reached the saddle at the top, I wished him luck and charged down to The Twins aid station (mile 45).
At this point, there was no doubt in my mind I was going to finish this race. My spiritual tanks had been topped off, my cold was gone, and the gypsies at the aid station had me flush with food, water, and frozen fruit pops again. I even pet the monkey for good luck!
The heat was formidable on this side of the mountain, so I kept up a fast pace on the downhill to get the benefit of the wind. One runner I passed yelled out “it’s 101 degrees on my watch…we’re officially f**ked”. It did feel toasty on the exposed sections, but so much of the course was in tree cover I don’t think it was quite that hot. We would certainly find out as we climbed up Maiden Peak, the steepest part of the course.
As we entered the Maiden Peak aid station (mile 50), 55-year-old Dave Stevenson blew by me like I were standing still. It is always so refreshing to have a super-master school you like that! About four of us loaded up as much fluids as possible for the 3.8 mile climb, and grabbed whatever calories we could stomach. I paced along with Tony Huff from Boise, ID, and we found a good pace running the flats and walking the uphill. Within a mile it got REALLY steep…probably a 18-19 degree incline. The conversation quickly shortened to yes/no answers as we focused on getting up the hill without blowing our calves out. But much in thanks to Tony’s pacesetting, we made it to the top in one piece.
Tony bombed down the steep scree like a banshee, while I took it easy and hung back. The clouds were moving in now, and a few claps of thunder were a prelude of fun to come. The last aid station came quickly (mile 55), and volunteer Bev Abbs was there to set me up. She said the climb had been tough on a lot of folks, pointing to Sean Andrish who was laying on his back and nursing his calves. I had to applaud those who went out hard - this course would certainly take down anyone it could. I wished Sean a speedy recovery and headed down into the last section.
The last section was what you would hope for in a 100k…lots of easy downhill, with plenty of lake and mountain views to keep you distracted. The thunderstorms continued to cheer us on, and threatened with the occasional light rain. I felt good through the finish, and brought it home in 13:13, good enough for 28th place (7th in the open category). Oddly I felt better at the finish than I did at the start!
My Dad and brother were at the finish, and we chowed on BBQ and beer as I learned about the top finishers. Neil Olsen had come from behind for the win in an amazing 10:06 course record (read his account here), snatching the overall and Masters 100k national titles. Nate McDowell claimed second (10:10) after leading the pack through much of the race, while 25-year-old Joe Grant took third (10:11). In fact, eight runners had finished under 11 hours with seven under the previous course record! Prudence L’Heureux charged to the finish to win the Women’s title in 11:12, with Krissy Moehl (11:24) and Meghan Arbogast (12:03) completing the podium. You can see the full results here.
My thanks to c0-RD's Craig Thornley and Curt Ringstad and their team for putting a fantastic race. Hopefully we were able to raise a few bucks for the well-deserving Willamette Pass Ski Patrol who really take good care of this area. The course markings were perfect and you have one of the most superb volunteer teams I have ever experience. It was truly epic!