My second year heading down to the Rainshadow Running Gorge Falls races, I was looking forward to absolutely everything. How can it get any better than combining waterfalls, technical single track, awesome familiar and new faces, Portland, Hood River, some silliness, and road trip?! No. it doesn’t! And this year, there was more to love with a 100k option. The choice between the 50k and the 100k was an easy one. More trail = better!
Back in winter I misguided Tara into signing up with me, and a week before the race, the two of us then misguided an entourage to road-trip down with us– Ryan, April, Nate, and Julien formed the groupies. Groupies are very important to a successful race, they help you get in the zone. We shared an AirBnB flat, and the owners definitely thought we were nuts. (You know there’s only one room for all six of you, right?)
It didn’t really matter, because we were going to be running and volunteering so long that we wouldn’t be home much, anyway. I approached this race with a lot of respect, thinking that I had only done one 100k before, a much easier flat one. I knew there would be a lot more climbing, so I just pretended I had never done anything like this before, I was a total freshie. I was excited, except for the 4am start! Tara was extra-excited, because she didn’t have any appropriate running shoes for the sharp rocky course. Naturally, we buy her new shoes that she can wear for the first time ever in the race. 100k is a good test for new shoes, right?!
After a heck-load of mac & cheese, Tara and I go to bed at 9:30, to the sounds of a movie playing on the other side of the room, which our groupies are watching intently. I so want to watch, but I decide that 2:55am will come way too soon for fooling around, that kind of alarm takes no prisoners. And if I’m not careful, I will still taste any beer I consume at 4am! Scary.
2:55 arrives and I’m actually super energized, I don’t even need coffee! We jump in the car and take off, circling around looking for exits at that early hour. Not west! That goes to the ocean! East! Where is east?!
It turns out that with the right bedtime, (9am?) a 4am start is awesome! I absolutely love night running, especially the comfort of night running with other people, and so I’m totally in my element getting going in the pitch black at the start of the run. I don’t come with brakes, so I run like a crazy person down the technical cliff-sides, darkness doesn’t need to slow me down.
I’ve bonked tons of times in the past year so I planned to eat lots of dried fruit, it was going to be glorious! But a few bites into my dried mango, I realize that I’m not a fast enough eater to be worthy of real food today. Yup, I’m going to have to eat gels. Suddenly I switch plans and I decide to eat 3-4 gels every 10 miles. (I end up eating like 25! So many that I develop cuts on my mouth from the repeated plastic abrasion!) Thank the trail god, Heather Pola from PocketFuel had given Tara and I a pretty good stash of real-food-gels before the race, so between every fake-food gel I demolish, I treat myself to Pocketfuel’s gels, which make me feel like a human being again. Blueberries and almond butter?! Yummy cold brew coffee?! Ironically, I’m wearing my old McDonald’s staff jersey as I down these organic, locally made whole foods products. (They should have called them crack candy, I feel like I would sell my dignity to get more once they’re gone.)
The race is going super well, although it feels weird that there’s not too many people in front of me. There must be something weird going on. Ah, well. I’ll just keep on trucking! Running through mind-blowing waterfalls, on rocky wonderful flowing trail, I’m totally in flow state, to the point that it’s difficult to remember the details. It’s all a beautiful blur. At some point we get to run on the PCT for a while, at several points Dave comes and goes with his Project Talaria video camera, and I feel pleasantly in an alpha, maybe even theta, state of brainwaves.
At halfway, I’m greeted again by Heather, and I greedily get to take another massive boatload of candy crack (Pocketfuel). I ask for a cheeseburger and fries at the aid station, and they don’t seem to get that I’m joking just yet, until they notice my McD’s jersey, and my good ol’ nametag.
A conversation mid-race goes something like this.
runner to me: XYZ girl back behind us, she’s sponsored by ABC [sports brand].
me: That’s cool. I’m sponsored by McDonald’s. I get all the pies and fries I could want, that’s all I need.
runner: [no comments. Awkward silence.]
Somewhere in the second half, I get to run with some of my groupies, Julien and Nate. Julien ends up running the farthest he’s ever run in his life, and Nate runs, perhaps the farthest he’s run in jean shorts? Actually, I don’t want to make that bet…
The two of them are the best pacer groupie friends you could ask for, like running whisperers, they just understand the pace and the level of excitement or anger (road stretch!) that’s needed, without me even needing to communicate… They get me through the two mile road stretch by telling me near-death stories, which is ironic because I feel like death on that seemingly never-ending road! Maybe it’s because it’s right next to the highway, after we’ve run miles and miles of beauty?
After the road stretch, everything is glorious again, and the rest of the race is kind of history. I get to run with another runner, Justin from Ashland, and the three boys and I run and power hike a huge amount of miles together, until the final switchbacks, where I escape ahead while pretending to be a pterodactyl. (Thanks, spellcheck!)
We run back into civilization, and looping the final lake, it’s hard to believe it’s been almost 12 hours, and that it’s all coming to an end. From about a kilometer away I can already hear people cheering from across the lake, and it spurs me on big time. (Later, I discover Heather also cheers like crazy!) What a day! We finish just over 12 hours, and Tara kills her debut 100k not far behind us, with brand new shoes to boot! The fresh pizza-eating, friend-making, band-listening and microbrew-sipping commence, and it never ends really. Shout out to April, our other groupie turned pacer, who ran one of her first trail races as Tara’s pacer!
The Gorge Falls races are my favourite races, ever.
If you’re considering running the 50k or 100k, definitely make it happen! The trails are addictive, the race is so well-run by Rainshadow, and combine that with Portland and Hood River… winning formula! And bring the groupies too, Portland is such a fun town for all, and they can check out the waterfalls as well!