I initially entered the lottery for the Mt. Hood 50 miler but was not lucky enough to be one of the 200 people accepted, and to add insult to injury, I was about 180 deep on the wait list (meaning my name was picked 380th or so). I held out hope for a while, and did move up the list quite a bit, but I wasn’t confident I was going to make it. Fortunately, the forest service approved an additional race, the Mt Hood 50k and I immediately jumped at the chance when I got the email from Go Beyond Racing!
Having done all my ultra racing in Utah, I was really looking forward to racing in another location with less altitude and less climbing, just to see what it was like. This race also represented a couple other firsts besides being in another state, being at a lower altitude, and having less total climbing – it was going to be my first official 50k, and my first race on a Sunday. I’ve run the distance in the past as a training run once or twice, and as part of a few 50 milers, but i’ve never officially done a 50k.
Traveling to a race adds some logistical challenges you don’t consider when you race near your home such as flights, accommodations, and transportation. Fortunately I travel a lot for my day job, so I was able to arrange all of this in short order and at minimal cost (thank you Delta Skymiles and National Rental Car free rental days). The one challenge I did have is that the race takes place in the Mt. Hood National Forest, and aside from camping, there aren’t too many hotels near by. I settled on the Best Western Inn in Government Camp, OR – a small hamlet about 55 miles east of Portland that happens to be the closest town to Mt. Hood.
The race was on Sunday (which is something that never happens in Utah due to the predominant religion), which made it really convenient for travel since I could fly out on Saturday afternoon and fly home Sunday after the race. Proximity to Portland makes this race very accessible for out of state racers due to numerous flights, and a relatively short drive from the airport.
I arrived in Portland early Saturday afternoon, grabbed my rental car, and quickly realized I forgot the car charger for my phone back home. A quick stop at a gas station and $5 later I was in business. Since this was such a short trip, I didn’t bring any other communication devices (laptop, tablet, etc.) so having a dead phone wouldn’t have been ideal and would have made it difficult to check in with my family, pull up my boarding pass, or find directions to my hotel and the race!
Since I arrived early enough, and packet pick up wasn’t until the morning of the race, I decided to head over to Multnomah Falls and check it out. Multnomah Falls is the second tallest waterfall in North America, and it’s only about 30 minutes away by freeway from Portland in the Columbia River Gorge. I was surprised at how busy it was, but there was ample parking despite the hundreds of other tourists like me. The parking lot is below the base of the waterfall and provides for a nice view of the two-tiered falls but there is a trail that goes up to a bridge above the lower tier, and then continues to the very top of the falls. I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity, and figured the extra few miles wouldn’t hurt especially if I walked instead of ran! The views from the top were impressive and worth the hike up, and I highly suggest checking out Multnomah Falls if you are ever in the area.
Once I got back to the car, I headed out for some dinner, hit the grocery store to grab some breakfast (oatmeal and a banana), and headed over to Government Camp to check-in to my hotel, the Best Western Inn. The hotel was decent, especially for the price ($89). It was comfortable, although the property does not have any air conditioning, which is something I didn’t notice when I booked it. Fortunately, it was a cool evening and they did provide fans in the room, so not having air conditioning wasn’t an issue.
Since the race is out in the middle of the forest, packet pick up happened the morning of the race which I thought was great since it saved a trip. I woke up a bit early (thanks to the 1 hour time change), got dressed, had some breakfast, packed up, checked out of the hotel, and hopped in the car for the 20-25 minute drive to the race. The race venue is a ranger station on the side of the road, and there is plenty of parking along the road. In hindsight, I wish I had arrived 20 minutes earlier to get a closer spot which would have made the post-race hobble back to the car a little easier, but all in all, I was only about 1/4 mile away from the start/finish area. After 31.1 miles, what’s another 1/4 mile?
I checked in, got my bib, a sticker, and a complimentary issue of Trail Runner Magazine and headed back to the car to pin my bib on and warm up a little before the race since it was fairly cool out (about 50 degrees). The other great thing about this race, the shirt is optional, and I opted out of buying it. This is great because it means the price of the race is lower, and it’s one less shirt collecting dust in my closet where all my other race shirts have gone to die. Once I had about 30 minutes left until race time, I made my way back to the start area, used the bathroom, and stood around with 200 other excited racers waiting for the requisite pre-race announcements and eventual start.
My strategy for this race was to rely primarily on my single bottle Orange Mud VP1 pack, Tailwind, and Honey Stinger Chews and supplement with whatever I felt like at the time I hit each aid station. The weather was cool enough and the aid stations were close enough together (every 5 miles or so) that I didn’t feel that using my Orange Mud VP2 pack with two bottles was necessary. I planned on consuming a single packet of Tailwind between each aid station, and was easily able to pack 6 single-server packs of Tailwind and 4 packs of Honey Stinger Chews in my Orange Mud VP1. For the most part, I stuck exactly to my schedule.
One of the best things about the Mt. Hood 50k is the start time of 8:00am. Anyone that knows me, knows I absolutely am not a morning person so not only is 8:00am an acceptable time for me, but since I live in the Mountain Time Zone, it was really 9:00am my time which was the icing on the cake. The Race Director addressed us for about 5-10 minutes before the race, giving us instructions on trail markings and covering other race related logistics and then we were off!
The course leaves the ranger station and almost immediately drops you on to single track which made it a little challenging to get in to my desired pace (you end up passing and getting passed by 200 other people trying to find their own pace), but within a few minutes the group spread out and I feel in with a smaller group of 6-8 other runners going at a comfortable pace. I ended up hanging out with this group for about 4 miles before hitting a wider section of trail where I was able to pass them up and catch up to a smaller group going slightly faster. Shortly after this, the trail turned on to the famous Pacific Crest Trail. All my training for Squaw Peak the month prior was really noticeable as my pace was much quicker than usual on trails, and my effort (heart rate) much lower. I’m sure the lower elevation and lack of climbing was a contributing factor as well, but either way, I was really enjoying it!
I hit the first aid station around mile 6 which was a welcome surprise since my watch was having a little difficulty maintaining accuracy due to the extremely dense tree cover in the area. I grabbed a few calories (Pringles and Watermelon primarily), grabbed a drink of water, and hit the trail. One great thing about the aid stations is that most of them, if not all of them, were vehicle accessible so they all had quite a few spectators with cowbells, and other noise making devices and it really made for a fun and festive experience.
The first significant climb was shortly after this, although difficulty is all relative, I still ended up walking a little bit of it in anticipation of the remaining 25 miles or so that I had to run! After leveling off, the second aid station appeared, again with a lot of noise and fanfare. I refilled my Tailwind, ate a lot of watermelon (I really love cold fruit), grabbed some Pringles and hit the trail.
The next few miles were a gradual uphill mostly through a dense forest. This is the section where the leaders of the race started passing me (the course is primarily an out and back), and as is typical in every ultra race I’ve done, everyone was so encouraging and nice and just genuinely friendly. I started counting just to get an idea of where I was, but I quickly lost count and interest and just wanted to enjoy the race. I also got distracted by the best view of the entire race, it’s namesake, Mt. Hood. Fortunately the clouds that were enveloping the mountain earlier in the day had burned off, and it was a spectacular site to behold. I did stop briefly to take the requisite picture, and then continued on my way. About 12.5 miles in, the trail drops down in to a clearing where the third aid station (aka the turn around) is. Just like the previous stops, I refilled my Tailwind, grabbed some watermelon and Pringles, and headed back out.
I’m not generally a fan of out and back races (or repetitive loops), but now it was my turn to pass people and encourage them and that helped the miles fly by. On top of that, it was now mostly downhill, so I was able to pick up the pace and focus on the trail. I got to the 4th aid station in short order, went through my usual routine, and got back on the trail.
Somewhere around mile 20 I got to the 5th aid station, and this is where the out and back portion was over, and the course wrapped around the west side of a lake (we had run around the east side of the lake at the start of the race unbeknownst to me due to the dense forest). Interestingly, this is also where I started passing runners, never to see some of them again. Up until this point, it had been mostly a game of leapfrog. That meant that I was primarily running alone now as I wasn’t getting passed and I wasn’t passing anyone, except for the occasional group of campers spending the weekend at the lake. This side of the lake was also a less dense forest, which meant nice lake views, but it also meant I could see the far end of the lake (if I squinted), and the reality that I still had that far to run sunk in!
After what felt like a much longer gap, I hit the 6th aid station after catching up to a guy who had tripped and fallen, and scraped himself up pretty good. We jogged in to the aid station together where he got patched up a bit. I skipped Tailwind since this was the last aid station and just went with water instead, ate some watermelon, grabbed some Pringles and I was off. According to the sign at the aid station (all the aid stations indicated the current mileage and the mileage to the next aid station which was really helpful), I only had less than 5 miles to go. I was feeling pretty tired at this point having run a full marathon already, but I had a renewed energy knowing that the finish line was so close.
I ended up playing leapfrog for the last 5 miles with a few folks, which helped motivate me to push a little harder to the finish. At this point, we had wrapped completely around the lake and we were back on the trail we started the race on. I could hear the announcer as I got closer to the ranger station, the cheers and cowbells from the crowd, and I could smell the burgers on the grill. A quick look at my watch and I picked up the pace and sprinted (or what felt like sprinting anyways) to the finish line in a time of 5:34:46!
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from my first 50k, but this was probably one of my favorite races all year. Everything from the price, registering, the location, ease of travel, the course, the aid stations, the medal (pint glass), the finish line food, and the people made this one of the best ultra experiences I’ve ever had.
The 50k distance is probably my new favorite race distance, even though it’s not necessarily as difficult or challenging as the 50 mile distance. It’s still an ultra, it’s still harder than a marathon, and it’s still on trails which are all plusses in my book! I think my favorite thing about the 50k distance is that it’s long enough to be challenging, but not so long that it takes all day and wears you out for a week. Much like a half marathon in the road running world vs. a full marathon.
For selfish reasons, I didn’t want to tell you how great this race was because it may eventually go to a lottery like the 50 miler and I won’t be able to get in, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take because this race is too good to keep all to myself! If you’ve been thinking about doing this race, or you are just learning about it for the first time, I highly recommend signing up. I haven’t done any other Go Beyond Racing races yet, but I imagine they are all equally great and I look forward to trying some new ones in the future!
What I Wore
Socks: Smartwool PhD Run Ultra Light Mini Crew
Shoes: Altra Lone Peak 2.5 (see my review here)
Shorts: Nike Dri-fit
Shirt: Nike Dri-fit Short Sleeve
Hat: Orange Mud visor by Headsweats
Jacket: Salomon S-Lab Light Jacket (Carried but didn’t use)
Underwear: Under Armour 9″ Boxerjock
Accessories: Fuel Belt, Orange Mud VP1, Body Glide
Watch: Garmin fenix 2
Nutrition: Honey Stinger chews, Tailwind