I had been looking forward to the Gorge Waterfalls 100k since I signed up for the race in October of last year. This was going to be a “golden ticket” race, which meant the top 2 finishers would receive automatic entry into Western States 100. This also meant that it would be highly competitive and draw top runners from around the country. After a poor race at the North Face 50 in December, I made sure I would be more prepared for the Gorge.
The race had gone out fast and I was perfectly fine hanging back somewhere around 10th position. We made our first 1,500’ climb up to Wahkeena falls. I tried to stay relaxed during this early climb, but in retrospect feel I pushed too hard during this section. The morning sun had now begun to rise and my surroundings quickly made themselves known. The gorge was beautiful. And, I do not mean that it was nice. It was un-freaking real.
I would run over rock beds lined with thick moss, cross bridges over thrashing creeks, and go passed and underneath countless waterfalls. And it wasn’t just visually stunning. As you passed by a waterfall the mist would reach out and cover your body. You were inundated with the sound of the water crashing on the rocks below. It almost reached a point of sensory overload. However, I must warn you. The beauty is only a façade. This course is a true Northwest bruiser. The terrain is seriously rocky. You must have strong ankles as well as the ability to run technical sections with ease. There are only a handful of big sustained climbs, but the rest of the course is relentlessly rolling up and down 100-200’ at a time.
I made my decent down to Multnomah Falls. I let my body simply fall down this decent and did not push hard. I was now headed east on the Gorge Trail 400 and had now entered the rolling sections. This type of running is my favorite. The trail is constantly moving up and down, left and right. Jumping over logs and avoiding sharp rocks. The trail was like this for many miles and I simply tried to keep a steady effort despite the constant change in terrain.
I had been running with two other guys for the first portion of the race, but they seemed to be picking up the effort around Mile 20 in between Yeon and Cascade Locks. I preferred running with the group, but made the decision to stay on my own pace.
I reached the Cascade Locks aid station at Mile 22 and I was delighted to see my wife. She was crewing for me and was on point all day long. She handed me my nutrition and a fresh water bottle. I snuck a quick kiss and I was on my way. She mentioned that I was 10 minutes off the lead. This didn’t bother me at all. It was so early in the race and the guys ahead were really pushing hard. I felt that if the lead guys were able to sustain that pace, then they deserved the golden tickets. The thing I was concerned about was that despite my effort to contain myself, I was still ahead of my goal pace.
I was headed out to Wyeth which is located at mile 31 and is the turnaround point for this out and back course. I felt comfortable during this climbing section and began to pass several runners without making any change in effort. I moved into 8th position. I was nearing the turnaround point and began to see the lead runners. It was a little disheartening to see the leaders were definitely ten minutes ahead and looked strong. But, I told myself it is a long race and you can only do what you can do. So, I tried to stay positive and focus on my own efforts.
I made it to Wyeth, loaded up my pack and was headed back west. I did a quick self-assessment and determined that my legs still felt strong, my nutrition had been good throughout the day and I had not incurred any niggles throughout the course of the day. My early pacing was too fast, but I was back on track and felt I was in decent position to now make a move. Over the next several miles I would move from 8th into 5th place.
I made my return to Cascade Locks aid station (Mile 40). My wife asked me how I was feeling. I replied,” Well, I feel like I have run 40 miles.”
40 miles completed with 22 miles to go and this is where the race truly begins. This is where you answer the questions,” did you pace correctly for the first 40 miles, did you eat early and often, did you drink enough water and get your electrolytes, did you train your legs over the past several months to withstand 12,000’ of climbing and descending.” Because at this point your body will answer those questions for you.
I was headed back out and realized I was still moving well, nutrition and hydration were good, I just felt really tired. The next twenty two miles were going to be a mental battle. I was trying to remain positive and grind out the best splits I could mile after mile. But I was tired and the negative thoughts kept creeping in. I needed some positive thoughts and I reminded myself that my sister (Amy) would be at the finish line. This immediately helped my attitude. My sister is battling cancer and is currently 2 ½ months into chemotherapy. She has been nothing but positive and has maintained a good attitude despite her very difficult journey. I thought of her a lot during these last 22 miles. Not only did I stop my negative thoughts, I began to reflect on how lucky I was to have a healthy body that can race for 62 miles. This is something that can be taken away from me at any moment.
I finally arrived at No Name aid station with only six miles to go in the race. However, there would be a 1,500’ climb and descent in between me and the finish. I gave it all I had on the ascent up to Multnomah Falls and beyond. There were tourists everywhere and I was tired. I must have looked like quite the site. I was running, but the climb had taken its toll. I was on my way back up to Wahkeena Falls when I clipped a rock and went head over heels rolling to the edge of a cliff. My water bottle was sent flying and I could hear a group of tourists gasp. Luckily, my pace was so slow that only half my body went over the edge and I was able to hang on with my upper half of my body. There was a 20ft drop with only water below and it could have been really bad…but what do you do? So, I crawled back up, found my bottle and continued running up the hill.
I was relieved to finally reach the top and went on to run the 1,500’ descent fairly well. After I reached the bottom I knew I only had a few miles to go and really tried to savor those final moments. I rounded the corner at Benson State Park and saw my entire family cheering for me. It made me so happy to see my wife and son, my parents and my sister and her family. I crossed the line in 9:38:11 and finished in 5th place.I had not reached my ultimate goal of obtaining one of the two golden tickets. I made a few pacing errors early on, and I did not run with enough confidence late in the race. I will definitely learn from these mistakes. But, I am a big picture kind of guy and the reality is…none of that really matters. I had a wonderful day in the gorge. I was constantly inspired by its beauty and I was able to spend time with my friends and family. I will never take my health for granted. I will never take the beauty of our world for granted and I will treat them both with the respect they deserve. I will continue to push the limits of my body’s abilities and the boundaries of our amazing world.