For me, trail running isn’t about competition, it’s about exploration; it’s about freedom. To me there is nothing more freeing than embarking on a self supported adventure. No marked course, just a desire to run from one place to the other and see what’s along the way. I recently completed my second longest run to date, 40 (ish) miles point to point along the Rogue River Trail. There was no start or finish line, no crowds, no crews or aid stations, no swag. Just 40 miles, what I could carry in my pack, and my own two feet taking me from East to West.
We were just a small group of four, and while we were all covering the same distance and route, we all had different goals in mind for the day, so there wasn’t much of a plan for any of us to stick together, just all end up at the finish. Dave and Mark, two great guys whom I had never met prior to the weekend, chose an hour and a half earlier start time to allow for a more relaxed pace. Mark had a 100 miler the following weekend so he needed to keep things nice and easy so he didn’t blow his race (he finished his 100 miler in case you were curious). I was in the later camp, starting with my friend Anne, who was also going to make the 40 mile return trip the following day completely solo. She was one of the first trail running connections I made before moving to the Northwest. She has continued to make it a point to include me in adventure plans and volunteer opportunities, and always has great ultra wisdom to share.
Anne and I ran the first few miles together, but for 30+ miles of the 40 I was alone with my thoughts and the river, and what a beautiful river it was. Sometimes it was so gentle you didn’t really notice you were running along side it, other times its force was so violent you thought you were running along a series of water falls. The trail itself would alternate between exposed rocky cliffs and densely forested areas. One of the most interesting things was to see the vegetation change the further West I went. Everything started out relatively arid, but the closer to the ocean you traveled the more lush and green things became. While the Rogue River itself drains into the ocean, the trail, unfortunately doesn’t take you that far. How amazing would it be to just run to the end up dry land though? The stopping point just be an exposed cliff staring out over a vast, watery, abyss? One can only imagine. As far as encountering others along the way, I didn’t see more than a handful of hikers. The trail was ours.
The run itself went well for the most part, but it had its low points. The first 20 miles absolutely flew by and I was having a blast, the last 20…not so much. My seemingly effortless run was starting to slow, and my mood began to sour a bit. Overall, I’m sure I just went out too fast, but there were other factors as well. The balls of my feet were starting to hurt a bit, and that has never been an issue before. It’s possible that the harder granite surface was taking its toll, but the trails I run in the Gorge are pretty rocky, and my feet never felt beat up on those. Even by the end of my 50 miler last July my feet felt fine. By mile 30 my right IT band, which has never given me any problems at all, was making the outside of my right knee hurt. I suppose it’s possible I wasn’t fully or properly recovered from Yakima, or that this was simply a more runnable course than what had been training for since Yakima was all about steep ascents and descents, and that’s how I focused my recent training. I had new problems, and no solutions, but one thing ultra running teaches you is to expect the unexpected, and sometimes it’s just an exercise in pain management. When things started to break down I just reminded myself why I was really out here: to have an adventure. I was still moving forward, the scenery was still beautiful, and I was going to have great company to share cold beer and dinner with at the end of the day.
A couple of miles from the end, Anne was heading back in my direction. She had unknowingly passed me while I was underneath a bridge filtering water around mile 19. She was very relieved to see me because she had managed to catch Dave, and neither of them had seen me. Apparently, our shuttled vehicle wasn’t where it was supposed to be so she was going to head out to where she thought she would have cell service and find out where the truck was. It turns out it was just a little further down the road at the boat ramp instead of at the end of the actual trail. Dave had already managed to get it and drive it to our expected finish just as I was running up. Yay for not being stranded! Anne showed up a bit later after her side adventure to make the phone call. Cold beers and stories from the day were shared amongst the three of us over a Technu wipe down before driving to the lodge we were staying at. Mark wasn’t due for about another hour so Dave drove back to greet him with a cold beer after dropping us off to get cleaned up. The four of us wrapped up the day’ adventure with an all you can eat buffet dinner. What more could trail hungry ultra runners ask for?