Siskiyou Outback 50 Mile Race Report
This past weekend I completed my first 50 miler. Words honestly can’t describe the experience, but I will do my best to try. The event was the Siskiyou Outback 50m, aptly abbreviated as the SOB. The SOB is a very beautiful and challenging course that starts at Mt. Ashland and follows the Pacific Crest Trail out and back, racking up just over 7000 feet of climbing along the way, and even taking you into California.
My day started at about 4am with a fairly standard runner’s breakfast of a bagel with peanut butter, a banana, and coffee. All of this was quietly prepared and consumed in the dark parking lot of a campground about a half mile from the starting line. Race bibs and timing chips could be picked up any time after 5:15am for a 6am start. That hour and fifteen minutes went by entirely too fast. I didn’t have any plans to wake any of my supporters to see me off, but my friend Landon, whom I’m actively roping into trail running, surprised me and woke on his own. I gave my sleepy wife a goodbye kiss, and Landon and I took off for the start line. As I was standing at the table to get my bib and chip, none other than Hal Koerner himself energetically approaches the table like a kid at Christmas, and asks if their are any extra 50 mile bibs. He decided at the last minute that he wanted to run. Hopefully not looking too eager, I gave a quick hello and a handshake.
6am arrived quickly, and before I knew it I was running the first steps of many toward whatever physical and mental challenges lay ahead of me that day. I felt calm and my mind was surprisingly blank. The group of 100+ runners quietly set off down the forest road, but the silence was broken with loud cheers once we made the first glimpse of a bright pink SOB sign pointing toward the PCT trailhead. Once on the PCT it was clear this was going to be a beautiful race. Within the first couple of miles we’d already passed through gorgeous meadows, crossed springs, and you never had to turn your head too far to see mountains. Before I knew it the first aid station was coming up.
For nutrition I decided to stick with Tailwind in my bladder, but with a more diluted mix, and supplement with whatever was at the aid station tables. I figured peanut butter and jelly sandwiches would be all but guaranteed. Arrived at the first aid station, and no peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were made. The ingredients were there, but not combined in their glorious trinity. There was a box of donuts, but I wasn’t that brave. I opted for a few banana halves and an orange wedge.
Aid stations were roughly every 5 miles. I continued with the fruit throughout the race, and it seemed to work well. I had bananas, peaches, grapes, watermelon….oh the watermelon. Talk about a slice of heaven. Calories and refreshment all in one. I’d also grab a PB&J square or two here and there for fat and protein. On my first trip through the Jackson Gap aid station (roughly mile 15), I was greeted with a live Bluegrass band!!! I don’t think there was much that could have surprised me more.
At around mile 18 I encountered the first place runner on his return. 5 minutes later Hal passed with a high five. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to run at their intensity.
Wards Gap aid station marked 22 miles, and up until this point things seemed to go by fairly quickly, and I still felt like I was running strongly. The next 3 miles to the turn around were all uphill though, and that final mile….it was really uphill. At the top of a scree pile named Big Rock, there was a volunteer handing out little green army men that we were to take back to Wards Gap to prove we made it all the way to the turn around. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard for a toy in my entire life. The only good thing about the 3 miles of all up was the fact that I now had 3 glorious miles of all down. On the way back I was trying to come up with a way to celebrate the occasion of picking up my new battle buddy. Once the aid station was in sight I yelled out my best “Gooooooood Mooorning Vietnaaam!!!” Robin Williams impersonation. The volunteers all had a good laugh.
That was probably the last time there was any laughing, at least for a while. Several people had told me to be sure and save something for the 3 mile climb around the 44 mile mark, but no one ever mentioned the 6 mile death march that started at the 28 mile mark. To me, this was the longest and most difficult portion of the race. Unfortunately, there was a lot of power hiking. Anytime things would even remotely flatten out I’d run, even if it was for 20 feet, but most of it was too steep for my current abilities. I kept moving though. At one point I had a pretty nerdy motivational moment, and had a scene from V for Vendetta play out in my mind. “Creedy: Die! Die! Why won’t you die?… Why won’t you die?
V: Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof!”
The 6 mile uphill trudge did eventually come to an end, and once it did, I was back to running…at least for a few miles. All the power hiking wore out my hip flexors and they were starting to cramp. I tried to run through it, but they tightened up so much that my stride was that of someone with their shoelaces tied together. I stopped, shot a gel, and took an S-Cap. The relief was near instantaneous. Placebo effect, neural chemical response, whatever. I was grateful. I started to run again. Up until this point I had relied on sold food, and the electrolytes provided by my Tailwind, but it looked like I was going to have to supplement some more.
I arrived back at the Jackson Gap aid station (the 35 mile mark), sadly the band had gone home. I followed my usual solid food regimen, but also grabbed a couple more gels just in case. This time taking off, I could really feel the extra effort my body was taking to process the solid food. I felt sluggish and my heart rate was quick to spike. It eventually passed and I was running with relative ease again until hip flexor cramps returned, this time not as debilitating though. I shot another gel and took two S-caps. My body just needed faster energy and more electrolytes in the later miles.
When I arrived at the 40 mile mark aid station I just went for gels. My stomach hadn’t turned on me, but the gels were just far easier to process. I ran the last 10 miles in the best I could. I was amazed that I could still run so well, and even at a decent pace when the terrain permitted. Aside from the hip flexor cramps, I hadn’t had any other issues other than just being fatigued from running so long. The weather was perfect. We started the day in the mid 40s, and the high was in the mid 60s. Running at elevations of 6000-7000 feet didn’t seem to affect me. My feet didn’t even hurt!!! I was in pretty good shape!
I eventually made it back to the same road that initially led to the PCT. The finish line was only a mile away. Before I knew it I was crossing it at full stride, and someone placed a medal around my kneck. It took me 11 hours 34 minutes and 35 seconds. It was a long day, and it was a hard day, but I enjoyed every step. Would I have liked a faster time? Sure, but I finished, and that was the primary goal. There is always room for improvement, and there will most certainly be more 50 milers in my future.