As summer officially drew to a close last weekend, I put the fitness from all those mountain summits and trail miles to the test in my first 50k. Flagline begins and ends at Mt Bachelor with a tour of some of Bend’s finest high country trails in between. While I’ve covered the distance before, doing so as a race, with no breaks and at breakneck speed, would be a new experience. It also served as the US 50k Trail Championships, ensuring a battle at the front.
Nike & co took it out hard; we ran the first 7-8mi downhill in 43:00. I let the leaders go during this section, running with a couple others in a chase pack, but we were still moving pretty quick. So this is ultra pace, huh? In an ideal race I wouldn’t have gone out that fast, but it was a bit like the track where the train takes off and you’re either on it or in no mans land. I chose the company and hoped others would fade after going out even faster. Things mellowed out over the next few miles as the course climbed and I felt fresh, eating gummies (both sport and kids variety) drinking gatorade, and curving the singletrack. Claire refilled my bottle halfway and her solitary cheers in the woods quickened my cadence. I ran with Sam Robinson from California for almost all of the first 20mi, and we were optimistic about catching a flare out or two in the latter stages. They can’t keep going that fast, right?
After catching a view of Broken Top and a big downhill on dirt road to mile 20ish, my running partner pulled away as I slowed to eat some food. Suddenly I was by myself on the climb back out of Happy Valley, struggling a bit. Legs started feeling like cement, and no amount of GU, salt tabs, or high knees mid stride would loosen things up. Mostly tight hamstrings and glutes, which probably shortened my stride and dampened turnover. There were flat to downhill sections after mile 24 that I knew I should be rolling, knew I should be gaining, but I probably only managed 8:00 pace. No one to catch like that. I lost about 5min to Sam over the last 10mi, obviously not great but not bonking either. From the sounds of it post race, most were going into damage control mode the last few miles. The final mile of the course crossed the highway and zigzagged endlessly to the ski lodge parking lot. I kept audibly saying “come on!” hoping the finish was around the next corner. Finally, it was.
I ended up 7th in 3:45. Probably came through 26.2 in around 3:05. The top two (Ryan Bak of Bend in 2nd) were under Max King’s old CR, going 3:24. That’s US Champs for you. I may have been taking up the rear of the fast group, but it’s still not a bad time; I’ll take it for my first 50k, especially how hard the last 10 miles were. Big thanks to the aid station workers for their quick service, especially at the last two stations where my state of being fell somewhere between exasperation and exhaustion.
I’m finding out that 50k can be pretty fast …but it’s still serious ground to cover. This summer has been about keeping calm in stiff, national caliber fields. Loon, Pikes, and Flagline have been no joke. I may not come away with a single win this year, but I’m cutting my teeth.