Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Silver Falls State Park, Oregon - 50K Trail Race

I ran my first 50K trail race at Silver Falls State Park this past weekend.  I had planned to do this race last year, but a last minute ankle injury dashed those hopes, forcing me to watch the race from the sidelines.  Fortunately, this year's training was more successful, and I headed up to Portland on Thursday night to meet up with Keith and Melissa.  We left Portland on Friday afternoon for the hour and a half drive to Silver Falls.  Everything seemed vividly familiar from last year's trip; it was hard to believe that an entire year passed.  The only thing different was the pre-race jitters that I didn't get to experience last year.  We stayed in an Upper Smith Creek cabin this year and found it to be a much nicer than the lower cabin we had last year, despite the fact that the showers were in a nearby building.  The cabin was very cozy and spacious, and part of me wished I didn't have to race the next morning so that I could relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

Upper Smith Creek cabin 7

After getting settled at the cabin, we headed over to the packet pickup area to collect our race items.  It was quick and efficient, but we were disappointed that there wasn't a roaring fire or an unattended beer tap like last year.  We decided to head back to the cabin and make our own fire in one of the nearby fire rings.  The wet conditions and damp wood made starting a fire a bit of challenge, but Keith always manages to get one going.  We sat around the fire for a few hours, surrounded by beautiful old growth forest, enjoying the quiet with some good pre-race beers.  Then it was off to bed for some sleep before the big race on Saturday.

Keith ran the full marathon at 8am, and I ran the 50K which started 30 minutes earlier.  We headed over to the start line around 7am in total darkness.  I  hadn't anticipated it being so dark, and some runners were wearing headlamps at the start line.  I stood around the starting line, being overly anxious, noting that almost everyone had warmer clothes and trail packs.  I decided to wear shorts and a long sleeve shirt, a running hat, and gloves.  I am a warm exerciser, even in cold conditions, so I didn't want to be overdressed.  I also hate wearing hydration packs, so I was hoping the aid stations every 6 or so miles would we sufficient.  In the end, my choices were perfect, and I was glad I didn't have excess clothing or a pack.

At the start line for the 50K
Keith at the start line for the marathon

At 7am, I was off for a 31 mile run through the beautiful forests of Silver Falls State Park.  The first few miles looped us through the campground and then back past the starting line, so there were quite a few people out and about.  After that, we headed into the backcountry, and we were on our own in the quiet forests of Silver Falls State Park.  The rain began to fall about an hour into the race, and it continued for the rest of the day.  It wasn't a downpour, but it was a continuous light rain that made the muddy trails even muddier and full of puddles.  Staying dry wasn't an option.  The scenery was absolutely beautiful, and as the runners began to  spread out, it became more and more peaceful.  I attempted to keep up with a leading pack of runners, but everyone turned out to be much better downhill runners than me.  I didn't have the confidence or experience to run down slippery, wet hills at full speed.  Eventually I fell back a bit, frequently passing people on the uphills, only to be re-passed on the way down.  It was a little frustrating, but I didn't want to risk a fall after finally making it past the starting line.  Around mile 12, we ran through a very cold, shin deep river.  The ups and downs continued until around mile 20, when the course took us down into the canyon containing the many famous waterfalls of Silver Falls State Park.

Entering the canyon
One of the many beautiful waterfalls of Silver Falls State Park

Behind North Falls
On the climb out of the canyon

I was beginning to feel fatigued before entering the canyon, but the incredible scenery and beautiful waterfalls really brightened my mood.  The trail takes you behind some of the largest waterfalls, offering a unique way to view the cascading water.  The 5 miles inside the canyon really flew by, and it wasn't long before I was faced with the steep climb out of the canyon behind South Falls.  At this point in the race, you are very close to the finish line.  You can hear the cheering and the music, but you take a sharp turn away from the finish to do a  loop above the canyon.  As you head back towards the finish line, the course takes you on another detour, a painfully steep hill with a sign at the bottom proclaiming it to be "nutcracker hill".  After nearly 31 miles, the name was accurate.  Finally, a steep, muddy, extremely slippery descent takes you to the finish line.  I finished with a time of 5:15, right were I had estimated, and 25th place overall.  I was pretty happy with the results for my first 50K trail race, especially in wet, slippery conditions that I'm not used to.  The rest of the afternoon consisted of beer, celebration, and warm fireplaces.

Keith after his marathon
Keeping warm at the finish line

Melissa and Jane ran the half marathon on Sunday.  The weather was much nicer, with blue skies and lots of sunshine.  While both of them ran, Keith and I wandered around the waterfalls and cheered them on at various points during the race.

Melissa and Jane ready for their half marathon
Jane running through an aid station
South Falls
Keith at Middle Falls
Melissa running the half marathon

Everyone has great races at Silver Falls this year.  A big thanks to Keith, Melissa, and Jane for making it such a fun weekend!  The Silver Falls Trail Runs are wonderfully organized and incredibly scenic.  It is a top-notch event, and there is good reason why it sells out so quickly each year.  I am so thankful that I was able to participate this year!

Celebrating our great races