Mt. Hood 50 Miler

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Ahhhh. Mt. Hood 50 had finally arrived. My wife and I always put a lot of effort into these weekends as they make for such a great mini family vacation. We had reserved a few nights at the Resort at the Mountain and had coolers of food packed on ice that could have fed us for a month. We arrived at the resort and without hesitation our five your old son immediately wanted to go swimming. We made our way to the pool and I told Steph and Drew I was going to head back to the room and rest my legs for the race in the morning. I walked back to the room and shut the door. I sat down on the bed for a full 2-3 seconds and thought to myself…what the heck am I doing? It’s not like I’m some professional runner trying to make a living off running. So, I immediately jumped in my swimming shorts and walked back to the pool. We played “shark” which is just me swimming under water, with my hand up like a fin, chasing after Drew. It was a silly game, but it made him so happy. He could have played shark the entire night.

Mt. Hood 50 was going to be an interesting race. Just two months ago I had raced against two of my friends Rick Stilson and Kyle Ormsby at the Smith Rock 50k. We all finished on the podium at that race and we would all be in the Mt. Hood 50 as well. They are both very strong runners and I knew it was going to be a competitive race. My plan was to go out conservative during the first 26 miles of the race. I wanted to conserve energy and focus on eating and hydrating. I figured I would be about 2:30-3:00 minutes behind at mile 26 and then I would pick up the effort on the back half of the course and make up ground on the leaders as the miles and hills progressed. But, of course plans never work out exactly like you would hope.

Rick, Kyle and I all lined up at the front of the pack. Rick turned and asked me if I was going to go out hot. I replied, “oh no”. I’m going to keep it easy. All three of us ran together for less than half a mile and then Rick and Kyle were gone. I told myself just to be patient and stick to my plan. I eventually caught up to Kyle around mile seven. He looked strong and was running a nice pace so I ran with him. We reached FSR 58 aid station around mile 10 and the volunteers told us that 1st place was up by six minutes. Holy crap. Rick wasn’t messing around. At that point, I remember thinking that I was right where I wanted to be and my early conservative pacing would pay off in dividends later.

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Photo credit: Paul Nelson (Kyle Ormsby and Rob Russell)

I continued to focus on eating and hydrating. Kyle and I had been running together for about 20 miles and I kept hearing him cough now and again. I remember reading on his strava that he had a head cold a week or two ago and I thought he might still be under the weather. We reached the Little Crater Lake aid station at mile 22 and I ran right through the aid station trying to put a gap on Kyle. He did not pursue me and I didn’t see him again until mile 37 at the turnaround at Warm Springs. This was Kyle’s first 50 miler. He ran with a lingering cold and still managed to finish in third place with a 6:43.

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Photo credit: Paul Nelson

The course at Mt. Hood 50 miler is absolutely gorgeous. It is almost all heavily shaded singletrack. The trails are fairly buffed out. However, don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security as you will surely set yourself up for an ankle sprain. There are phenomenal views of Mt. Hood as well as several river crossings. The course is a double out and back with the first 26 miles being predominantly flat to rolling and the back half having much more climbing and descending. It is a true Northwest Classic trail race and an excellent choice for someone attempting their first 50 miler. The race is organized by GoBeyondRacing and I cannot say enough good things about Todd, Renee and Trevor. There is always a friendly and positive vibe at their races and that is simply a reflection of these three.  

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Photo credit: Paul Nelson

I was now running alone and headed back through the starting line at mile 26. My wife and son were there waiting for me. I ran over and gave Drew a big high five and off I went. I was headed out to the back half of the course and told myself that I was really going to pick up the effort now. I was climbing up to Red Wolf and realized that I just felt ok. I thought if I ran composed through the first 26 miles that  I would really be able to hammer on this climb. But, that just wasn’t the case. I started to worry about my plan. Maybe after 30 miles you are just tired regardless of your initial efforts. Maybe, I had simply lossed time by running too conservatively on the front. These thoughts were not helping though. I just needed to stay present and focus on the things I could control. I made it up to the top of Red Wolf aid station (mile 31) and they said I was still six minutes back. I figured that meant Rick was still running well and I just needed to hammer the downhill. I started down from Red Wolf and my stomach felt great, my quads felt strong and I was able to fly down the hill. Rick had made the turnaround and I was able to do some recon on him. He still looked peppy. He had a nice short cadence and his form looked solid. After assessing him as we passed each other. I thought uggg. He’s not gonna give this up easily. One thing to note: as we passed by each other we tried a high five and completely missed. I mean…that’s pretty weak. Not even like a three finger high five, just a complete whiff!

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Photo credit: Paul Nelson (Rob Russell)

I arrived at the Warm Springs aid station (mile 36) and really tried to make it a quick stop. Although, I was able to see the always positive person Laura Kantor at the aid.  We talked for a quick moment and I was out. I now felt really good coming out of Warm Springs. I thought…ok this is it. Just kill this section. I ran the downhill really well, but struggled a little on the climb up to Red Wolf (mile 42) I ran it with all my effort. But, I was all hunched over running Grandpa style. The other runners headed out to Warm Springs were so positive and really helped me through this section. I received a lot of good job, keep it up and I think it was Jeff Fisher who yelled at me GRIT!…yeah…GRIT! It was awesome and really gave me a boost. I must have looked like a mess though. I kept telling myself that I needed to put myself in a good position at Red Wolf so that I could really make a big push to the finish. I continued to work hard up that hill and was relieved to hear cow bells in the distance. I had finally reached Red Wolf aid at the top (mile 45). I asked them how far and they said Rick was still six minutes ahead. Aaaghh! What the heck. I hadn’t made up any ground? I will admit that was a pretty big blow and I could actually feel it in my stomach.

Ok. Quickly, no time to feel sorry for myself. I grabbed a wedge of watermelon and drank a little water. I took a deep breath and made my final push to the finish. It was almost all flat or downhill and I would not leave anything left in the tank. My quads felt great, my stomach felt great and I was moving very well despite being at mile 45. At each corner I kept looking for Rick in the distance only to continually be disappointed. As the miles passed by I realized I was not going to catch him. Rick had obviously run a great race, he put in a serious effort and was strong enough to hold on until the finish. You have to give him his credit. I was not upset at myself though. I gave it a solid effort, I was patient and stayed true to my original plan, but Rick simply ran a better race. I finally reached the point where the single track meets the road and I knew the finish was only 30 seconds away. My body was immediately filled with endorphins. Overall, I was fairly happy with my effort and I was very relieved to finally be done. I finished 2nd place in 6:23:30 and ran the 5th fastest time in the 18 year history of the Mt. Hood 50.

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Photo credit: Renee Seeker (Rob Russell officially tired)

The race was over but my job was far from done. Drew walked over to me and said, “good job Daddy…now let’s go play shark”.

 

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