I seemed to be on a roll as McKenzie turned out to be another good run for me. My recovery after Waldo was going well so when the chance to enter the McKenzie River 50K came, I jumped on it. McKenzie is another local race that is well run, competitive, has plenty of history, and is incredibly beautiful. We in Eugene are lucky to have such great races so close to home. Many of the racers, their friends and family stayed in Ice Cap campground the night before the race, so I enjoyed an evening of laughter and campfires. I was thankful for the late(ish) 7:30 start however, I didn’t sleep all that well and probably would have been ready to go at 5:00. Due to a bridge replacement project at the Carmen reservoir and construction at the Ranger Station, the race course was modified this year. The race started up in the Ice Cap campground, the turnaround was extend (uphill) on the Santiam Wagon road, and the finish came prior to passing Paradise campground but instead took us uphill on a gravel road for about a half mile before a quarter mile downhill to the finish.
At the start Jeremy Tolman, Steve Richards, and I decided to take the lead. Jeremy was leading us quickly up the trail towards Clear Lake. After a brief wrong turn towards the waterfall overlook (I think I did that last time also), we rearranged our order and Steve took the lead. The three of us stayed together up through the lava field on south side of Clear Lake. The twisty-turny technical sections are slow but don’t seem too bad when you are running them. However, as the day progresses you realize they really take a toll on your body. At the north end of the lake we turned right onto the out and back portion of the course and started passing the early starters. At the Santiam Wagon Road aid station (6.1mi.) I met Tom Atkins who took my warm cloths, and gave me my water bottle. We then had a short out and back section along the road that took us a short ways uphill.
During this whole first hour together the three of us were having a good time joking and taking in the scenery. We were of course wondering the whole time how the rest of the race would unfold. On the west side of Clear Lake Steve met his crew and stopped to exchange some clothing, and I think decided to back off a bit for a while. From that point on Jeremy and I were on our own.
Like Waldo, I made a real effort to stay on top of my fluids, calories, and sodium. Jeremy led the entire way, and I felt comfortable just drifting up and back depending on our various trail strengths or if I was fumbling around with gu’s. I always kept him in sight however.
I always feel a little guilty racing at McKenzie River because it is such a beautiful place. I gave a ½ second glance at the blue pool as we passed, but I really couldn’t spare more than that without tripping.
I had no idea what pace we were running. The pace felt comfortable from the Trail Bridge aid station all the way to the last aid station at Buck Bridge. I had hoped to beat my 3:44 time from four years ago, but based on how I felt, I wasn’t sure if that was going to happen. I had recovered well from the Waldo race three weeks ago, and I had a surprisingly good 10 mile steady run the week before. However I just didn’t have enough confidence in how my body would handle the late miles. I was content to focus on racing and not worry about the time. The great thing about having run a 100k recently is that this 50k was feeling short. I remember thinking “wow we only have an hour left of running”. Jeremy was still looking relaxed and I was starting to think about the end of the race. Tom met me at the Deer Creek aid station (23.5mi) and swapped bottles with me again. His work had saved me a lot of transition time through the aid stations. He wasn’t going to be able to meet me at Buck Bridge because he needed to go back and crew other friends. Jeremy and I only had about 7.5 miles to go and it was only 3.3 miles to the next aid station. The pace quickened. I decided I would fuel up, drink almost all of my fluid, take a few more S! Caps, and just blow through Buck Bridge. I knew I had a good hard 4 miles left in me. Jeremy was still looking relaxed and was also drinking a lot. I was starting to think he had the same plan. Things were going to be interesting.
As we approached Buck Bridge the trail widened and I was getting ready to go. Then suddenly Jeremy caught a root and went down! I didn’t know what to do, my body was starting to push and my head said to stop. It didn’t seem right to make a move when he was on the ground. I stopped, jogged back a few steps. He seemed ok, and was getting up so I jogged ahead. As he made his way over to exchange bottles with his crew, I decided it was ok to go and took off. I went hard to the finish and aside from some calf cramping it felt great. My final time was 3:35:14, second fastest time on the course. I had an awesome time and enjoyed seeing everyone else come in.