Gorge Waterfalls 100K…Still Learning…

I remember it clearly…it was October 22nd of last year, the day before my birthday.  Still hunting for a Western States qualifying race for the upcoming year to keep my lottery streak going when someone from the Wasatch Mountain Wranglers posted about the Gorge 100K.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to run a 100 miler in 2016 after still feeling the effects of the Bear in the previous month, so a 100K sounded ideal.  I glanced at the race; an out and back course in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge in Cascade Locks, Oregon.  Having never been to Oregon, and joining on the heels of 14 other members of the Wranglers, I decided to sign up (which was a good thing because it sold out in a day).



As race day crept up, instead of flying up, my buddy Ryan and I decided to pull the pop-up camper out of storage for the first trip of 2016 and make an adventure out of it.  We stayed at Ainsworth State Park, which was about 5 miles away from the Start/Finish area for the race.  If you have never been to the area before, let me say that there is not a lot of real estate between the mountains and the Columbia River, which means that the campground and the train tracks were right next to each other.  I think I may suffer from PTSD for some time to come at the sound of a train whistle, but hey, we did say we wanted an adventure!  Train whistles aside, the views were absolutely worth it.  We arrived Thursday night and did the tourist thing on Friday.  Here are some pics:

 Columbia River Gorge from Vista House Overlook

 In front of Horsetail Falls

 Trail leading to Ponytail Falls

I must’ve been tired from the loaded day on Friday because I managed a solid 6+ hours of sleep despite the best efforts of the passing trains.  I felt ready to go in the morning.  My only concern was an out-of-whack right knee that was bothering me for the 8 weeks leading up to the race and was about 80% healthy (which thankfully did’t give me any problems).  We started in the dark at 6am from Benson State Park with the first big climb of the course up to the top of Multnomah Falls (the second highest waterfall in the U.S.).

The course was absolutely magnificent, while brutal at the same time.  The 50K out to the turnaround point took us past 13 different waterfalls.  Being from the Wasatch, I am not used to this much green!  The first 10+ miles were quite a bit rockier than I expected as we passed by, up and down,  a number of waterfalls.  This made the course a bit trickier to navigate, especially with the rocks being slippery from the wet, mossy terrain.  After the first 10 miles, you come out onto the only significant portion of pavement on the course, a 2.3 mile stretch leading to Yeon Aid Station.  While I don’t normally enjoy pavement in ultras, it really wasn’t all that bad and afforded me some time to ease into a relaxed, but speedy cadence.  Despite the unexpected difficulty of the terrain early on, I was feeling good and on track.  Shortly after leaving Yeon, you arrive at Elowah Falls, which was my favorite waterfall on the course.  Here are a couple pictures:

 Elowah Falls

 Me in front of Elowah Falls

After Yeon and Elowah Falls, the terrain smoothed out a bit.  It seemed that once you got past the larger waterfalls, it wasn’t as rocky, but a bit more “rolling”.  Rolling, or course, is a relative term as I would have described it as more “up and down” than “rolling”.  Still, it was a pretty uneventful ride to the turnaround at Wyeth campground.  Little did I know that I was about to get a rude awakening…

I pulled into Wyeth in 6:50, which was somewhat respectable compared to everyone else on the course and only about 20 minutes off of what I was shooting for.  After a change of shirt and shoes, I got out of the aid station at exactly 7:00 and began my journey back to the finish line.  Unfortunately, that would be the last time I ate anything as my stomach decided to revolt about 2 miles into the return trip.  In 5 years of ultra running, I have never had nausea problems.  I suppose there is a first time for everything, but I honestly had no idea what to do.  Eating and drinking was a fruitless effort.  What was worse is that each of the next two aid stations were 9 miles apart, which translated to a long, miserable grind.  I got to mile 40 and relied on the volunteers to help revive me.  After sitting for 20 minutes and eating some food, I started to feel better so I decided to continue on.  Unfortunately, shortly after getting on the move again, it flared right back up.  It seemed that movement alone was more than enough to make my stomach unhappy.  As I reached mile 46, I started to get dizzy after 14 miles of no calories and was having a problem walking straight.  I had no choice but to slow it down to a walk.  That 4 miles to the next aid station at mile 50 was the worst I have ever felt in any race…EVER!  The only redeeming factor was this picture that I took as the sun was setting:

  Moss covered rocks in the setting sun

When I got to Yeon again at the 50 mile mark, I knew I was done.  Without a pacer and without being able to solve the nausea problems between the last two aid stations, I didn’t feel it was safe to continue through the most technical part of the course in the dark.  Still, I sat for a bit to make sure.  My stomach was literally in painful knots and I ultimately decided to call it a day and save it for another battle.

It is still early in the season and there is no reason to jeopardize that.  While I always hate disappointing people and DNFing is never easy, I feel great about my 50 miles on that day and still believe I made the right decision.  As I said, nausea is new for me (would love to hear in the comments how you all combat it).  I clearly still have a lot to learn and I need to figure out how to react to it better in the future.  I will not likely search out another Western States qualifier this year.  In fact, I once again find myself thinking that I really want to focus on the 50 Mile distance (it is still my favorite by far).  Only time will tell for sure, but I still have a lot coming up this year, so stay tuned!

As far as the race itself, this was my first Rainshadow event.  Overall, I felt the organization was fantastic!  The course was well marked and the aid stations were well stocked and staffed with some great volunteers.  The post race pizza and beer was great, although I could barely choke down a slice of pizza and had to skip the beer because of my stomach.  My biggest complaint were some things that I thought were missing.  For $150, the only race token that you got was a small sticker; there was no swag and no finishers medals for those that crossed the line.  This may not be a big deal for some, but I like to have something more tangible to remember these events by, especially since I am from out of town.  Second, you had to pay $5 to park at the start/finish area.  This should have been worked into the registration fee.  That being said, I loved the event overall and would definitely recommend it.

As for the thank you’s, I would like to extend my gratitude to Rainshadow and the volunteers for the support, especially with the day I had.  Second, thanks to my friends and family that continue to show their unwavering support as I continue along this ultra running journey.  Lastly, thanks to all of my sponsors for enabling me with the best gear ever.  Please show your love and check out my “What I Use” page for discounts on everything that I use and trust!  Here is what I used.

  • Topo Athletic HydroVenture: WOW!  This shoe performed as advertised and the waterproofing was perfect for such a wet course.
  • Injinji Trail 2.0 Mini-Crew: The no-blister streak continues.  I don’t know why anyone would use anything else.
  • Orange Mud Vest Pack 2: This is about as dependable as hydration gets, allowing me to have a separate bottle for water and electrolytes.
  • Headsweats Go Hat: Kept my head cool and the the sweat out of my eyes.
  • RAD Roller and Rod: For helping me take care of my body before and after race day with their complete muscle care kit.

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!



Race Report: Buffalo Run 100

There is no better time to sit down and reminisce than while sitting around eating junk food and recovering from a 100 mile finish…so that is what I am going to do.  About this time in 2012, I was recovering from my first 50 mile finish at the Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50.  It is only fitting that I returned to the same race this weekend to shoot for my first 100 mile finish.  Going into the race, I was feeling excited and a bit nervous, but also ready.  My training this year was strong leading into race day and, after four years of ultra running, I was feeling ready to finally join the 100-mile club.  Unlike many other 100’s, the Buffalo Run starts at noon, which was awesome.  I got a good night of sleep in which I did not need to set an alarm or stress about making it to the start line on time.  The course itself is a 50 mile route, so the 100 milers run it twice.  This is difficult mentally because you actually pass through the Start/Finish area three times, making it really convenient to make excuses to quit.  Despite this, it didn’t end up being a problem for me at all; I was going to finish no matter what!

Buffalo2015-5     Buffalo2015-6

At the start, my first goal was to not go out as quickly as I normally do.  I wanted to stay somewhere in the middle and really focus on my pace.  I feel like I did a good job sticking to this, but still ended up being about 10-15 from the back in the first couple of miles, which begins with a steady climb.  Either way, I continued to run my pace and stuck to my plan pretty well, regardless of what everyone else was doing around me.  Honestly, the first 50 miles was rather uneventful.  I was in a great mood and feeling pretty damn good.  Most of the climbing on the course is in the first 19 miles, which makes a figure eight-type shape on the map.  My goal was to get through this in about 3:42; I ended up coming through in 3:38.  This section is followed by a long out and back to the ranch on the Southern part of the island.  This is a pretty flat section compared to the first part of the course, and takes a different kind of running than the more mountainous front portion.  The most exciting part of the first loop was just before the ranch at about mile 32, where a herd of pissed off buffalo were blocking the trail.  We had to take a wide path off the trail to get around them before we could get back on course.  One other great thing about this course…the animal life on the island offers such a unique running experience!  After that, I continued pushing forward until I got back to the Start/Finish tent at the halfway point.  I got in at 10:14, which was about 15 minutes behind my pace, but was still feeling strong.  I planned a nice and long aid stop here to change clothes and rest a bit, but with the good weather and the fact that I was feeling pretty good, I managed to use only 1/3 of it, which got me back ahead of schedule.  I also picked up my boy DJ here to pace me for the next 35 miles.  The timing was perfect because I was definitely starting to get a bit lonely.

At this point, I was still running fairly strong, but took the climbs easy (which was my plan) to make sure I didn’t overdo it.  We got in to the Elephant Head aid station again (you pass through this aid station a total of six times in the race) and received a great reception.  This aid station was being manned by members of my running group, the Wasatch Mountain Wranglers.  I can say, without a doubt, this is a great group of people and was the best aid station on the course.  I am grateful for the support from each of them here, but have to give a shout out to Craig Lloyd as well.  Craig introduced me into the Wranglers group and his positive attitude and confidence in my journey helped keep me going.  It was in this part of the race, about mile 65, where my stomach started to get a bit upset.  Thankfully DJ had some ginger chews.  He gave me one which almost immediately did the trick. Luckily, that was the only noise my stomach made all day.  Coming through the Start/Finish area at about mile 70 for the last time until the finish I was still moving decently and turning around aid stations quickly, but it was about this time where everything started to catch up with me.  Of course my feet were getting sore, but they were manageable.  My muscles too were in good shape.  What started to get me were some breathing issues.  I developed shallow breathing and a wheeze, which never went away (in fact, I still have a bit of it even 24 hours later).  This kept me from running for long periods of time, so I had to switch between running and walking for the next 15 miles.  DJ did a great job at safely urging me on and keeping me moving forward (not to mention that he is always great company on a run).  Once we got to mile 85, he switched off with my wife who was going to go further than she ever has before to get me to the finish line.  At this point, there was little to no running because of my breathing, so I just tried to speed hike as much as I could.  She was definitely on me about keeping a strong pace, even though I was getting a bit grumpy!  I told her she could never pace me again, but I was secretly glad she was there with me.  In the end, I cross the finish line in tears of joy in about 25:38 for my first 100 mile finish.  Waiting at the finish line for me were family and friends to help share in my accomplishment.  While I learned some lessons to apply in the future and seem to have a breathing issue I need to sort out, I cannot be happier.  I set out to accomplish what I meant to do and finished my first 100!  It is just now starting to sink in as I sit here, sore and still recovering, but I feel great!  This will definitely be something I will never forget!

Buffao2015-1 Becci pacing meBuffalo2014-4 DJ meeting me at the finish after pacing all night

Buffalo2015-2 Well earned beer and buffalo stew!

Buffalo2015-3 The prize!

First, I need to thank my pacers.  DJ got me through the night, my wife got me across the finish, but without either of them, this would have been infinitely more difficult.  I am thankful for having such awesome support.  As always, my family deserves much of the credit for being so supportive of my crazy hobby.  Thanks to Jim and the rest of the race staff and volunteers for putting on another great Buffalo Run.  Lastly, I need to thank my sponsors.  They provide me with the tools I needed to get the job done.  Thanks Orange Mud, Injinji, Gargoyles, Honey Stinger, Headsweats!

What I used:

  • Orange Mud HydraQuiver pack
  • Injinji Trail 2.0 (not a single blister over 100 miles!!!)
  • Headsweats Go hat/Beanie
  • Gargoyles Breakaway sunglasses
  • Honey Stinger waffles and chews
  • Salomon Sense Mantra (50 Miles) / Scarpa Tru (50 Miles)

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!

Pacing at the 2014 Wasatch 100

We Utah trail runners are so fortunate! We have one of the oldest, toughest, and most classic 100 mile races in North America right in our back yard. The Wasatch 100 is iconic for sure, but definitely not a race that you should ever take for granted.  If you do, it will destroy you (of course, it is likely to do that even if you don’t).  While I have not run it before myself, this year marked the second occasion that I have had the privilege to step in as a pacer for a “lucky” soul who decided to give it a go. This year, I jumped in to support my buddy DJ Loertscher for his first attempt, pacing with him through much of the night from the Lamb’s Canyon aid station at mile 52 until the Brighton aid station at mile 74. As always, I wanted to take some time to share my perspective and observations from this years race.

I arrived at the Lamb’s Canyon aid station a bit early at about 3:30 on Friday afternoon.  At this point, I just missed seeing the eventual winner, George Grygar, but saw everyone behind him starting to roll in.  The Lamb’s station is always a party, with lots of people there to see their runners, pacers waiting to join the party, and an awesome crew of volunteers.  Here I ran in to a bunch of Wranglers and we chatted and messed around until our runners came through.  It is interesting seeing the runners at this point because you can tell a lot about how their day is going.  At just over half way, some came in very energetic and some just looked like hell.

Lambs AS Wasatch 2014 Lamb’s AS starting to get busy

At around 7pm, DJ rolled in as part of a “Wrangler conga line” with Kenzie Barlow, Matt Williams, Kendall Wimmer, and Scott Wesemann.  Despite being 52 miles in and coming off of the hottest, most exposed section of the course, DJ was looking in good spirits despite going off course for a bit (thanks to Aaron Williams for going and getting him).  After a quick turnaround time of 3-4 minutes, DJ and I got heading up the road towards the turnoff to climb up Lamb’s Canyon.

DJ at Wasatch 100 2014 DJ having fun!

The section between Lamb’s and Brighton is probably the most familiar to a lot of us from the Salt Lake Valley, but during Wasatch, most come through it in the dark which gives it a very different feel.  We made most of the climb up Lamb’s before it got too dark and didn’t have to throw on the headlamps until around the top of Bare Ass Pass.  Once at the top we hydrated a bit (I will neither confirm nor deny that there may have been some Jim Beam involved) and started down into Millcreek canyon toward Elbow Fork.  We were able to run most of this section at a pretty steady pace down to Millcreek Canyon Rd, where we then started the second climb up toward the Upper Big Water aid station.

The climb up the road takes us about 2 miles and over 1000 feet to the back of Millcreek Canyon and the Upper Big Water aid station.  Here, we took a bit of extra time to take care of some blisters DJ was getting on his heels (the only time you will ever catch me touching another guys feet – but that is what a good pacer is willing to do), change socks, and get into some warmer clothes.  After that, we were back on the trail.  Over the next 5 miles, we would head down past Dog Lake and up our next climb, which took us to the Desolation Lake aid station.  This is my favorite section of the course and one I run often, but again, it looked totally new in the dark.  At this point, DJ was starting to struggle as the fatigue of 65 miles and 18K ft of climbing started to catch up with him.  We were able to do a little running during this section, but it was mostly speed hiking.

Wasatch 2014 DarknessHave seen this trail many times…uh, where are we?

After leaving Desolation Lake, we began another short climb up to the Wasatch Crest.  DJ had to stop and sit for a few as fatigue was really starting to set in, but after a couple minutes we were back at it and pushing toward the Scott’s Pass aid station.  After a few miles along the ridge, we arrived at Scott’s where we found that they had a warming tent with a cot…this was too tempting for DJ to pass up.  He took a 15 minute power nap in order to recharge a bit.  After waking up, he drank a few cups of hot soup with noodles and we began the final push to Brighton.

This section is mostly downhill, starting with Puke Hill and then out onto the Guardsman Pass road.  This downhill was really causing issues with DJs knee and he was starting to experience pain, so we resorted to speed hiking as quickly as we could until we pulled in to Brighton.  When we got there, luckily, fellow Wrangler Steve Frogley was there to work his chiropractic magic on DJ to help get him going again.

For me, this was the end of my journey as I passed the pacing torch to Jeremy to get DJ to the finish line, which he did, for a finish time of about 31:30.  I was glad that I got to be a part of that journey.  Despite seeing the trials and suffering on the course, it still makes me yearn for my first 100 mile finish.  We ultra runners are a sad, psychotic bunch of people, but there is nothing more fulfilling than pushing the limits and conquering.  Congrats to all first timers and veterans that crushed Wasatch 100.  I will get my turn soon enough!

Lessons Learned:

  1. DJ Loertscher is tough as nails and a complete badass!
  2. The Wasatch 100 experience cannot be put into words…it is amazing!
  3. The Wasatch Mountain Wranglers are the best running group out there…we all are totally there for each other.
  4. I need to get off of my ass and finish a 100 miler.

What I used:

  • Orange Mud Vest Pack
  • Salomon Sense Mantra
  • Injinji Trail 2.0
  • Garmin Fenix 2
  • Headsweats race hat