Running Through the Mist: Oregon Coast 50k, Part 2

Streak Day:733
YTD Mileage: 8 / 2017
(2112 miles for 2016)

October 8th, 2016: Oregon Coast 50k race day arrived. We picked up our packets in a meeting room at the lodge, shortly after the 7 am packet pick-up start. Packet pick-up was well-organized, and the volunteers were very friendly. The race registration for the OC 50k does not include a shirt, but registrants can buy a shirt or a hoodie at the time they register for the race. The registration site has a warning that items purchased at the time of registration will not be shipped to race registrants who cannot run the race for some reason, so one does take a risk paying for a race garment he may not receive if he orders it when he registers, but then has to miss the race for some reason. I accepted the risk and ordered a race shirt for Phillip and a Rainshadow Running sweatshirt for myself when I registered the two of us for the race. I slightly worried that somehow we would have a problem with the purchases when we picked up our packets, but all went 100% smoothly.

One reason I love running races on the West Coast is that the races begin at 8 or 9 am, which means 10 or 11 am Texas time, so my body always feels more ready to run at race start. With bodies set to Texas time, we were awake far earlier than we needed to be on race day, so we wandered to packet pick up about the time it started: 7 am. Since the pick-up was in the same lodge where we were staying, we had about an hour and a half to prepare for the race after picking up our bibs, before we had to board the shuttle that would take us to race start. We spend some time in the room, taking our time doing last minute preparations for the race, then we wandered to the parking lot to people-watch racers waiting to board the shuttles.

At 8:30 am, runners boarded the shuttles to be bussed to the race. Racers had a few minutes, upon arriving at the start, to use the bathrooms, take pictures, and prepare for the start.

After a little while, racers gathered on the beach to start the race. This race start is probably the most uncommon I’ve ever experienced. After a couple of last minute race instructions, Mr. Varner yelled, “Go,” and that was it! We were off and running on in one of the most beautiful settings in which I’ve ever run.

While planning my race attire, I had trouble deciding whether or not to wear a light jacket. The weather was damp and cool, but I (like most runners) very quickly become hot in a jacket in all but the most extremely cold weather. I decided to wear a light windbreaker, and before I had run a mile I was too hot and so stopped to tie it around my waist (and take the above picture). Because runners cannot avoid running through water in the beach segment of the race, information on the Oregon Coast 50k race site recommends that runners leave a drop bag with dry shoes and socks at the first aid station which, at mile 7, is also the finish line). As a barefoot runner, I had no need to drop a bag with dry shoe and socks at that first aid station. Phillip, did, though, and when I reached the aid station I looked hurriedly for his drop bag in order to drop my jacket in his bag. I couldn’t find it, and I was wasting time looking, so I just tied my jacket around the straps of the hydration pack I was wearing and went on my way.

At this point I should have realized that Phillip was having some trouble. He should have been right behind me. I didn’t see him anywhere, though. I ran on ahead, knowing that if I ended up with my usual stomach issues I’d end up walking and he’d catch up with me. I had little under an eleven minute pace when I reached the mountains, about mile 9. Once I hit that first trail up the mountain, I knew my pace was going to slow dramatically. The trail was straight up hill. My hill training sessions definitely prepared my hill-climbing muscles for this task, but I ended up walking most of the straight uphills anyway. I began to feel the pressure of the strict, short cut-offs at the aid stations; however, at this point I still felt confident that I would finish a little earlier than the finish line cut-off of eight hours. I even stopped to take some pictures of the vistas visible from the trail.

Since I was walking those inclines and going more slowly than I had hoped I would, I decided to wait for Phillip at the mile 14 aid station. I waited and waited, but he never showed up. I talked to a couple of people who had been running with him at various points along the trail, and who, knowing his wife was running barefoot, connected him to me when they saw me at the aid station. One of the runners told me that Phillip was struggling and had fallen behind, so I did what any good running wife would do: left the aid station, running as fast as I could to make up for the 20 minutes I had lost waiting for hubby to catch up with me. I confess that I ran another five miles before my annoyance at having lost time waiting for Phillip turned into concern that perhaps he had something seriously wrong.

About the time my concern for Phillip began to grow, I began to seriously bonk. I was walking straight up hill to the mile 19 aid station, and running  totally on empty. I don’t eat before races, nor do I fuel with food during a race; I worry too much about my tendency to suffer stomach problems when I run distances. Finding that balance between fueling enough to keep going, yet little enough to protect my stomach, continues to be my main challenge in running races longer than 5ks. I kept moving, but I slowed even more, even having to pause a few times to get over my light-headedness. Finally I reached the aid station and chose an orange and some M&Ms from among the offerings, most of which contained gluten. I also drank some ginger ale, having a volunteer fill my hydration bottle (which I carried in a pocket on my hydration pack) so that I would have something with calories in it for the remainder of the race. I had twelve miles to go, with one aid station left (the mile 14 aid station was also the mile 24 aid station), but I was cutting those cut-offs too closely and figured I would not have time enough to stop at that last station.

While I was finishing up my fueling at the mile 19 aid station, a volunteer yelled out to the other runners and me that we needed to leave that station right then, if we wanted to make the next aid station before the cut-off. Most of us left at that moment. I passed a couple of runners who were a little ahead of me, but most of the runners who left the aid station when I did never caught up with me or passed me. I was alone on the trail, pushing myself as hard as I could to get to that next aid station before the cut-off. The trails were damp, rocky in some places, but having run the course to the mile 19 aid station turn around, I knew I could finish the entire race without ever having removed my running sandals from my hydration pack. I knew I would achieve that goal, which comforted me some, but I was pretty bummed that I may not make the cut-off at mile 24 and faced being pulled off the course. As I fell for the third time, rushing down the steep muddy, slippery trail, I decided that if I missed the cut-off I would finish 31 miles by running the remaining miles along the beach when the SAG wagon dropped me at the finish.

The course for this 50k was beautiful. It’s filled with little running creeks and lush green vegetation, the likes of which don’t exist anywhere in Texas I think. I probably did not appreciate it as much as I would have in a different situation. Being and feeling alone on the trail was a little un-nerving at this point, and I worried that I hadn’t seen Phillip at all, not even after the turn-around. I had no clue what had happened to him. Watching the time on my watch, I also worried about finishing the race. I knew as I approached the last aid station that was barely going to make the cut-off. The aid station was at the bottom of a hill and as I ran into it I yelled the question, “Did I make the cut-off?” A volunteer who was shooing some runners out of the aid station yelled back, “Yes, but keep going! Don’t stop!” I kept running and caught up to, then passed, a runner who had just left the station. I asked her how closely I was to having missed the cut-off. She told me that the aid station volunteers had told her and the others that they had only about a minute left until the cut-off. I had barely made it.

At this point I just concentrated on getting to the finish line in eight hours, so I just kept going with that as my goal. I did a fair amount of praying, too. I felt surprisingly strong at this point, and glad that I had thought to have my hydration bottle filled with ginger ale the last time I had stopped at an aid station. It gave me the calories I needed to get through. I thought I would never get out of the mountains, as time seemed to stand still while I pushed myself to the finish. Finally, I exited the mountains and had about five miles of flat road to run to the finish. At this point I passed two other runners, so I finally felt I was not alone any longer. I still felt strong and I ran every last step of the race course, which is one of the triumphs I felt that day. Upon reaching the grassy lawn of the resort, a few feet from the finish line, I saw Phillip waiting for me – definitely a welcome sight – but he looked pretty ill. (He had developed a stomach virus that took him down so that he had to DNF when he made the second aid station – it kept him down the next couple of days of our vacation, as well, but I was ready for down-time, anyway, so we just quietly enjoyed resting in our amazing rustic, coastline surroundings.) I crossed the finish line at eight hours, and shook RD James Varner’s hand. He stood at the finish shaking every finisher’s hand! What a perk for those of us who finish last, especially. He made us feel as important and worthy of those who finished much earlier!

Pre-race feet, taken two hours before race start.
Post-race feet, taken an hour after race finish.

As soon as I finished this 50k, I was ready to run it again. The course is beautiful. The race organizers and volunteers are amazingly supportive and friendly, and if feeling spoiled while running an arduous 50k is possible, these people made runners feel absolutely pampered. I ran it more slowly than I had hoped I would, but the only time I walked was when I had to get up the steepest parts of the trail, so I felt I had prepared for it well. I never walked from fatigue. I had to pause a couple of times between miles 14 an 19 to settle my lightheadedness due to lack of nutrition, but I got over that after my stop at the mile 19 aid station. I was able to run the entire course barefoot, although the area that has what looks like lava rocks gave me some problems both times I passed over it. I didn’t even have any nausea or intestinal issues the entire day! We will run it again some day. I want to finish it with a better time, and Phillip wants to rectify somehow the only DNF he’s ever had in a race. Other than local races, we don’t usually run races more than once. The Oregon Coast 50k is the best race I can think of for which to break that rule!

Author: TD Morris

I am a small business owner (ATX Ultra Eats, gluten-free, grain-free products www.atxultraeats.com) who loves God, my family, my dogs, running, barefoot running, cooking, eating, and reading!

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