Gorge Waterfalls 100k Race Report: 04/02/16
Columbia River Gorge, OR
9th overall 10:25
I arrived to Portland mid-day Thursday and headed to the race site to check out a few portions of the course and get in a little running on the trails. I made an effort to visit the aid stations so I could better visualize what I would need to do and where to go on race day. This also allowed me an opportunity to try out a couple different pairs of Hoka’s to determine which one I would feel the most comfortable with based on the terrain. This is my first trip to OR and the weather was absolutely gorgeous. That along with the scenery of waterfalls, rolling hills everywhere, trees everywhere, and green moss growing on just about everything made this by far the most enjoyable and beautiful place I’ve ever ran.
I’m not going to bore you with everything I did from the time I woke up so I’ll skip the pre-race rituals and begin at the starting line. This is the start of the Gorge Waterfalls 100k. Can you find me?
I’m in the neon green outfit towards the right of the start. I positioned myself at the front so I could get ahead early and not have to worry about position going into the first climb. It’s actually flat for the first mile and half so it was comfortable running and allowed the group to spread out before we started the first major climb. We went over a few quick rollers which started to separate the front pack, and then began the longest climb of the day. It’s roughly two miles and the elevation gain is 1500’. The leaders went off the front and I stuck with what I felt like was the most sustainable for me. Being a flatlander from TX I don’t have the legs to climb like most of these guys on the west coast. I’m at a disadvantage but I have to conserve as much energy as I can early on and rely on my endurance to catch as many as I can towards the end of the race. My comfortable pace up this hill was alternating between power-hiking and running. If I felt like my effort was too high or heart rate spiking from running, then I would power-hike. I was probably in the top 15 and there were three or four of us sticking together. It actually didn’t seem that bad going up and before I knew it we were at the top. I took a Hüma Gel 30 minutes and then every half hour on the dot which made it very easy to stay on top of nutrition and ensure I was getting a constant flow of fuel. Coming down on the other side I had a close call with my ankle. About 4.5 miles in I stepped on a rock and my foot landed wrong which caused it to roll towards the outside. This is the same ankle that I sprained in January and forced me to take off five weeks to let it heal. (Blog on Ankle Injury) It was a sharp pain and enough discomfort that I had to hobble for a while and try to shift more of the load onto my left foot. After about five minutes the pain went away and I was running normal again. The trails were covered in rocks ranging in all sizes and there were some sections were completely covered in rocks which was difficult to run and meant I had to slow down enough to not take a chance of getting beat up too bad.
No Name Aid Station #1: 6 miles
I wasn’t completely out of fluids, but running low so made a quick pit stop to fill up my handheld bottle, knowing it is another seven miles until the next aid station. I was surprised nobody else in the group stopped to refill their bottles. Most of them were wearing hydration vests or had more than one bottle. I have used a vest before on training runs but it’s uncomfortable, and leaves bruises on my rib cage from the bottles bouncing. I made notes of what others were wearing as I may try some other kinds in the future.
I was now behind a group of five runners, the top two females and three other guys. They were strong climbers and seemed to move up the hills with little effort. I felt content where I was until the trails started to flatten out and then I was more comfortable pushing harder. I had another close call around 9.5 miles with my foot as I landed on it wrong again. It was the same sharp pain at the ligaments and I was getting more upset because I knew I didn’t have a chance of running well if I jacked it up. An issue with running behind the group is that I wasn’t able to focus as well on the trail and choose the best path. The next time the trail opened up I took the opportunity to get around them.
I noticed another group of five or so runners up ahead that were initially with the front group. I and one other guy Andy Lefriec, gradually caught up to them and went by without a lot of effort. We approached a section of road that was two miles to the next aid station at Yeon State Park. This was a nice change and a chance for me to open up my stride and pick up the pace. Andy was obviously a good runner so I maintained a relaxed effort about 15 yards behind and we opened up a nice gap from the pack behind us. We averaged a 6:45 pace and came into the next aid station with a sense of urgency to keep the distance between us and the group behind.
Yeon Aid Station #2: 13 miles
I could hear Corey (my one and only support crew) up ahead hollering my name so knew exactly where I needed to meet him for a quick exchange. I already had my visor, headlamp, and handheld bottle in my hands ready to unload those and takeoff with a new bottle. It went very smooth and I didn’t lose a step other than not thinking about removing my gloves. So I stopped for a few seconds to take them off and kept going up a short climb. It wasn’t cold enough for gloves but I had them on in case I fell earlier in the race and could protect my hands from the rocks. (Video)
Mile 13 – 22
For the next nine miles there was more rollers but it was runnable for the most part. I adjusted my pace to what felt the most sustainable and kept pushing forward. I got passed by a couple guys who put some distance on me, and also the first place female, Jodee Moore, was making up some time. I went through most of my fluids pretty quick in the first half of this section and had another five miles at least to the next aid station. Most of the aid station after the first two are spread out about nine miles. I had to manage what I had left so I would have enough water to continue to take my Hüma gels and make it to the next aid station. It made me little nervous because I knew I was going to get behind with fluids and could end up a little dehydrated if not careful. I limited my intake to small sips of water every mile which was enough to keep my mouth from getting too dry. With about a mile to go I was completely out.
Cascade Locks Aid Station #3: 22 miles
I came into Cascade Locks and Corey had everything laid out for me. Before switching with him I refilled my bottle with water to chug really quick. I took off with a new handheld bottle that had Tailwind, a bottle of coconut water which I knew would help me out, and a small flask with water. I carried the small flask in my shorts and held the other two bottles. I told Corey to have the Hoka Claytons ready for me at the turn around, and that I had gotten a little behind on fluids, hoping he would read my mind and have more ready to go at the next aid station. As I left the aid station a volunteer said you’re doing great, but there is still 40 miles of racing to do. (Video)
I was a little tired mentally at this point and starting to struggle. I thought about what the volunteer said and decided it was best for me to slow down and focus on getting in more fluids and taking care of my body. I was good on time and figured it made much more sense to take care of hydration and nutrition for this next section. Andy and one other runner went ahead and I let them go, hoping I would see them later. Another runner Pat came up and we hung together and chatted for a while. He was going through a low point as well and we joked around how crazy ultra-running is. Just 10 minutes ago he wanted to quit and now he was in good spirits and happy. Pat is a local runner and trains quite a bit on these trails so he’s familiar with the course. He gave me a quick overview of the next section which involved climbing for a while, before descending for a couple miles to the turnaround point. The first place male, Rui Ueda, came zooming by and I looked at my watch to see how far he was up on us. We were both shocked as we were still two miles from the turnaround. The guy is apparently Japan’s number one ultra-runner and was crushing it. Not too far behind were the top four guys. I had been running a pace that was faster than last year’s overall time, and now thinking there was no chance I would catch these guys. Andy was ahead about a mile and half and another guy was maybe a mile up. I was surprised he put that much time on me but I was okay.
Wyeth Aid Station #4: Mile 31
We made it to Wyeth Campground Aid Station around 4 hours and 48 minutes, which is the turnaround point. Corey had the Clayton’s ready, another bottle of Tailwind mixed with water, Klean Athlete Electrolytes, Beet Elite mixed and ready to chug, and the dude even had another bottle of coconut water. I decided to change shoes to the Hoka Clayton’s which are a lighter shoe that breaths well and overall have a better fit and noticeable difference to my gait. The only downside is that it’s a road shoe so there’s less grip and will be less traction than the Challenger. I knew the terrain now and felt like I could switch shoes and be fine. As I changed into new socks and shoes Corey gave me my stats and told me some guys are obviously looking good, but a couple were looking rough. (Video)
Mile 31 – 40:
I continued on at about the same effort that I had ran for the last nine miles and continued focusing on my nutrition and hydration. I ran a smart race up to this point and was in good spirits, and pleased with my overall position. If you pushed too hard early on or didn’t stay on top of nutrition, then there is higher chance for something to go wrong during the back half. Those that don’t stick to a plan will likely struggle. I never noticed what others were doing for fuel other than taking in fluids which doesn’t seem like enough. The Hüma Energy Gel is my main source of fuel and then the Tailwind allows me to increase my intake of carbs and sodium. This has always worked well in training and hasn’t backfired on me. Within a few miles I caught one of the guys ahead who was walking at this point. Somewhere around 34-35 miles I had another close call with my ankle, stepping on a rock wrong, and went through some discomfort like I did earlier. I felt like I ran better back to Cascade Locks Aid Station #5 even though there was more oncoming traffic with runners coming into the turnaround. Most everyone moved to the side or stepped off the trail and let me by which was nice to not have to slow down or guess what they were doing.
Cascade Locks Aid Station #5: Mile 40
At Cascade Locks I poured water on my head to cool off and picked up pretty much the same stuff I had for the previous two aid stations. I was in good spirits and told Corey I was feeling good. It was a quick transition and I went on my way. (Video)
Mile 40 – 49:
The female leader had been on my tail since the turnaround and was with me out of the aid station. We ran close together for a couple miles on a climb and then she eventually got away from me on a descent. I was experiencing some pain and discomfort in my abs on the descents, and my knees were starting to ache a bit from the rocky terrain. It was the extra pounding and shock to my core which was beating me up pretty good. I experienced this at The North Face Challenge and did a little more core work leading up to this, but it was apparent I should have done more. In addition to the pounding I was starting to get tired of the Tailwind and coconut water. After drinking about half of the coconut water I would pour it into the handheld with the Tailwind. I think the combination was too much for my stomach and it was beginning to get a little upset. It wasn’t a good combination and also left my mouth really dry. I got tired of it really quick and used the water I had in a flask to chase down the gels and keep my mouth wet. The way things were going I decided it would be best to change it up and go back to water and gels for the last 13 miles
Yeon Aid Station #6: 49 miles
As I approached Yeon Aid Station I quickly told Corey to dump the Tailwind and fill it up with water. I had another volunteer help me refill my handheld bottle with water. I chugged that and poured the last bit on my head. Corey had extra ice cold water bottles so I took one in place of the coconut water. (no video because I bossed Corey around)
Mile 49 – 56: 10th place
The next two miles are back on the road where I was cruising earlier on the way out. I was a lot slower and averaging around a 9:30 pace and was ready to get back on the trails as my knees were hurting on the asphalt. Also without the shade of the trees it was warmer on the road. I placed the cold water bottle on my neck and wrist to help cool down my body temperature. That along with a slight head wind did the trick.
I could see the female leader about a quarter mile up. Occasionally she would stop and walk and then go back to running, but I never felt like I was gaining on her. She must have stopped for a bathroom break because I was on her heels as I entered the trails. I went by her pretty quick and she seemed to be struggling on some of the climbs. The next person I came up to was Andy and he was bent over and had been throwing up. I was just a couple seconds late from seeing some projectile vomiting. Apparently he drank some coke at the last aid station and it really messed with his stomach. I asked him if he was ok and needed anything but he didn’t say much so I went on. Had he said he needed something I would have stopped and helped. I seized the opportunity and began running the hills with a sense of urgency to try and put time between us. I’m aware how well both Andy and Jodee can run on the flatter sections, and knowing the last mile and a half of the course is flat I wanted to avoid having to race them at the end.
There are lots of tourist on the trails the last 10 miles so some sections got congested and made it more challenging to navigate. I just made sure they were alerted or heard me coming so I could get by quickly and not have to slow down too much. There are quite a few more waterfalls and bridges to run over and everyone is out sightseeing. I missed a lot of this on the way out because it was dark. It was beautiful and there were waterfalls everywhere. There were also smaller ones right off the trails that I would stop for a few seconds to get under and take a quick shower. The water was cold and felt refreshing. It was nice to rinse off and get the salty sweat out of my eyes.
No Name Aid Station #7: 56 miles
I made it to the last aid station and filled up my handheld, and refilled my small flask. Crew are not allowed at this aid station so you’re on your own to get what you need. The spread of food looked tempting and I was searching for something to munch on. I grabbed a handful of gummy bears and went on my way. My watch battery was drained and turned off so I no longer had the ability to see my pace or distance.
Mile 56 – 62: 8th place
There’s one last climb which is the longest of the day. It’s a fun 19% incline for about a mile and a half which is basically 1500’ of climbing. It starts out with a steady incline which isn’t that bad but then starts to get steeper. There is a paved section of switchbacks that are crazy steep and probably 40-50 yards in length. I was unable to sustain a run for these so power-hiked as fast as I could. By the fourth one I noticed a sign that said 4 of 11 switchbacks. I wish I would have never seen that sign as I didn’t care knowing how much more I had to suffer. I could see someone closing in on me quick and eventually passed me on about the sixth or seventh one. I had not seen this guy all day but he was looking strong and had a faster cadence than me and longer stride. I tried to stay close to him but I was fighting my own beast in my head with this stupid hill. There was a false summit at the top and we had another 500’ or so to go. I tried the best to tune it out and kept telling myself what goes up must come down. I didn’t notice anyone else behind me so felt safe once we reached the top. I wasn’t too concerned about getting caught at this point and ran as fast as I could down the other side. There was a bit more weaving in and out of traffic and a few photo bombs as groups were taking family pictures with the waterfalls in the background. My legs were pretty much shot at the bottom and my body was done. There were a few shorter sections with a little climbing and when I started walking I felt zapped and wanted to literally stop and close my eyes. It felt like I was going to fall asleep and I desperately needed some caffeine. It took a few slaps to my face to get a rush and some adrenaline flowing. I just tried to keep moving forward and not go down before the finish line. The last mile was rough and probably as slow as I could possibly go without walking, but I eventually crossed the finish line and thrilled the race was over.
I’m extremely pleased with how well I ran. I was shooting for a sub 10-hour finish but considering my circumstances with the limited training, and the amount of climbing (12,000’) I’m completely satisfied with the result. I ran smart by running my own race and dug deep at the end to make it across the finish line. The Gorge Waterfalls 100k has a spectacular course with some very rugged and technical sections that make for an epic trail race. I’m glad I chose this as my first 100k race.
10 hours 25 minutes
4th M 30-39 AG
Check out my run on Strava. Click here
I could not have done it without Corey Oliver’s help as my support crew. He had everything ready for me and it was one less thing to have to worry about, and nice not having any stress going into the race. He also gets some huge bonus points for keeping everyone in the loop with live updates on Facebook. Corey and Brittani were awesome to open their doors for me to stay with them in Portland. I enjoyed hanging out with them and the kiddos for a few days. Corey works for Nike and gave me a tour of Nike’s headquarters. I know it breaks his heart that I am a huge Hoka fan, but I did go home with some Nike swag for the entire family.
Thank you to my Sponsors!!!
Sterling Ridge Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine for helping me rehab from my ankle sprain and allowing me to train on the Alter-G.
Stephen Clouthier at Alternative Health Center of The Woodlands for the treatments and accelerating my ankle heal in time to still get in some decent training and the maintenance my body needed before the race.
Klean Athlete for supplying athletes with the best and safest nutritional supplements. Can’t go wrong with the Endurance and Electrolytes followed up with a great tasting Recovery drink.
Hüma Gels for making some amazing tasting and 100% all natural energy gels that are easy to go down and settle well on my stomach. Took about 20 during the race.
Click HERE for more about how my sponsors help me stay fit and perform at my peak
Race Day Gear and Nutrition