Mary’s Peak 50k Race Report
Yesterday I ran the Mary’s Peak 50k, which was the training race leading up to the SOB 50 miler this July. Everyone met at a school in Blodgett, OR for packet pickup, and to be bused to the starting line at the base of Mary’s Peak. The starting line was nothing fancy, just a mark on a gravel road. No timing equipment or starting guns, just a “5, 4, 3, 2, 1..Go!” and the roughy 100 50kers set off on their way.
The first mile and a half or so was a gradual downhill on a gravel road until we reached the trailhead to start the Mary’s Peak ascent, 3000 feet of climbing over the next 8 miles. My strategy was to run anything flat, run the steady climbs, and then let momentum dictate when to power hike the steeper sections. The strategy seemed to work well, and the 8 miles of windy, dirt trail through fern and fir forest was over before I knew it. The first aid station was just above the tree line still on our way to the top. I was using a hydration vest so I didn’t need anything other than some cold, clean water to cleanse the palate of the Tailwind I had been sipping on. At the top of Mary’s Peak (which is part of the Coastal Mountain Range) you get an amazing 360 degree view. Out to the east you could see peaks of the Cascade Range in the distance, and to the west off in the far far distance was the ocean, which is apparently only visible on the clearest of days. It was all beautiful.
What goes up must come down. The next 8 miles was a very welcome trip back down the mountain. I thought the hardest part of the course was over, 3000 feet of climb in the first 8 miles, and the remaining 2000 feet were spread over the remainder of the course. Cake! That’s a whole lot of nope. The next aid station was somewhere around the 14 mile mark, and the signage said the next station would be another 5.8 miles away. On my training runs a 2 liter bladder has lasted me as long as 20 miles so I decided not to refill. The aid station was very well stocked with variety of food and lots of smiling faces. I grabbed some Oreo brownie bites and water before departing. I was also carrying fig bars to eat as needed in my pack. A few miles before the last aid station I had started to encounter other runners, and kept pace for a while with a lady from Eugene that had ran this course last year. The conversation and camaraderie was very welcome, and before I knew it the first half of the course had come and gone. After a while, I needed to slow things down a bit so I could eat, and my running friend powered on. She was looking strong so I didn’t think I’d see her again.
I eventually arrived at the next aid station and it was time to refill the bladder. While I was there I had some water and a few heavenly drinks of coca cola. I was still running solo, and set off to discover what was to be the hardest parts of the course. The race director warned us not to underestimate the climbs in the later miles of the race. When you look at the elevation chart on the site, everything else looks deceptively minuscule compared to the mountain. Besides the steep climbs the day was also warming up. I was starting to encounter more runners again, and would play leap frog and converse off and on with a few as the course played to our strengths and weaknesses. It turns out that I am a strong power hiker. All of the miles I’ve been logging for my field biology work were really paying off. I was able to go strong up the steep pitches and recover enough to keep a steady cruise when things would flatten back out. I eventually came to an unmanned water only aid station and decided that I was done with Tailwind. Ladies and gentleman, our nutrition plan has just gone out the window. I dumped most of the Tailwind and filled back up with pure water. I don’t know if I just mixed it too strong for the day, but with the climbing temps water was the only thing I wanted. I was hoping leaving the small amount of Tailwind I did would at least give me a little bit of electrolytes since I didn’t have any S-Caps or Endurolytes with me. I had also only eaten two fig squares thus far, when I would have normally eaten 4 for this mileage, but I was going based on hunger and how I felt, and I was feeling great. Normally on training runs my stomach would rumble every 4-5 miles. That wasn’t happening today.
Things continued to go well, and the course would go through a mix of logging roads, winding exposed meadows, and the usual green forests. To keep things interesting there was the occasional downed tree to scurry over, or sometimes under. Not always any easy task on tired legs. Some of the wooded areas we’d enter would have signs hung by the race director, probably to give us something to remember and maybe even chuckle about. There was, if I remember the names right, Imagination Land, Mohawk Alley, Collarbone Ridge, and most memorable of all…Carl’s Adventure. I don’t know who Carl is, but I don’t think we’ll ever be friends. There will climbs so steep up dirt single track that I was power hiking up them on my tiptoes. I arrived at the final aid station, 4.6 miles from the finish, still having fun and feeling strong. I had actually caught up to some familiar faces too! I joked with the aid station crew about Carl’s Adventure, and one guy laughed and said it’s a blast on a mountain bike going the opposite direction we had to run it. Since I ditched my Tailwind I had to rely on aid station fare now. I had a few shots of Coke again, and ate part of a Nutella and jelly sandwich. If that wasn’t enough I still had my fig bars, and some emergency gels with me. I thanked the aid station crew and headed out on the final stretch. It was all gravel road. A mile or so after the aid station I had managed to catch up with familiar faces, one was even the lady from Eugene. I was riding a high point and kept pushing on. Just as I was approaching the sign marking the final mile I could here footsteps gaining on me. It was the girl from Eugene with a big smile on her face feeling strong for the final push. Not long and we made it to the demoralizing climb for the final half mile. There would be no sprint to the finish for this race. It would be a slow trudge battling through random muscle cramps, exchanging encouraging words to get to the top before circling around to the finish line. I crossed the line with an official finish time of 6:25:10, which put me 43rd out of 100. Always the venerable midpacker.
Overall it was a great race, and a great experience. The course was definitely challenging, but I had a blast. I couldn’t believe how fast the day ticked by. It was just what I needed to get the confidence up for my 50 miler. I met a lot of great people, both on and off the trail. Aid stations were well stocked, and everyone was very friendly and supportive. You can’t beat the trail and ultra community.