Beacon Rock Recap

I was nervous going in to this race. The elevation profile was just scary. I had hiked the Hamilton Mountain trail enough to know just how steep that section of the course was going to be. 7500 feet of climbing and descending in 31 miles, running up and over two "mountains" along the way. Was I really up for the challenge?

The weekend before Adam joined me for some hill training in Forest Park. We started at Germantown Road and instead of sticking to the main Wildwood trail, we took every side/hilly trail that we could. We climbed up Firelane 10, went up Saltzman, then up and down Trillium, up and down the full length of Ridge Trail, and up Hardesty. It amounted to 3400 feet of climbing in 15.5 miles. I was whipped at the end. I didn't know how I was going to run another 4100 feet of elevation and double the miles the following week.

Climbing up one of the steeper portions of the trail.
Sunday dawned sunny and bright. The alarm was set for 5:10, but I woke a few minutes before it went off. The nice thing about waking up at 5 am for a run in the summer is that it is already light out. Makes it much easier to actually get yourself out of bed. I did the usual pre-race routine, and before long I was heading out the door. Left the house at 5:50 and arrived at the race site at 6:45 - which gave me a solid hour and fifteen minutes before the race.

I met up with a fellow Portland "Running Chick" and we chatted for a bit. We got to watch the early starters head out (you could take an hour early start if you didn't think you could complete the course in the 9 hour time limit). I had previewed the entrant list the night before and had counted 14 women registered for the 50k race. I scanned the early starters - there were probably 15 or so and 10 of them were women. Uh-oh. This concerned me. Should I be taking the early start? I was really thinking worse case scenario would be an 8 to 8 1/2 hour finish. The race director's really don't want you to take the early start unless you actually need it (i.e. they don't want you starting early so you can finish earlier). I had a few moments of panic about there only being 4 women starting the 50k at the regular start time. Would I be last?

I picked up my bib and readied my drop bag. The 50k runners were doing 2 loops, so we would return to the starting location at the halfway point. We could have a drop bag here, and at the aid station that was out on the course. I was trying to be as self-sufficient as possible, so I just had the one drop bag at the start. I was going to try out my hydration pack for this run. Instead of using one 2-liter bladder in it I instead loaded it up with 2, 1 liter bladders - filling one with grape drinking vinegar and the other with Gatorade. I had 3 gu's and two packets of Margarita shot blocks in my front pack pockets, along with my inhaler. I was hoping the pack would prove to be comfortable for 31 miles. Just in case it was bothering me at the halfway point I put my amphipod belt in my drop bag.

I met up with TrailMike from Daily Mile before the race. This was his second 50k and he was also daunted by the hill climbing we were going to face. He had decided to go light for the race and was going to carry just one handheld bottle. We would hit aid stations at 5.5, 11.8, 15.5, 21, and 27.3 so it isn't as though we had too much time between any one station.

Soon enough race director, James Varner, was giving the race instructions. In his words there were several "confusing intersections." Having gotten lost during a marathon two weeks ago I paid close attention. He had put arrows attached to garden stakes at all intersections, but at those two particular intersections he had also included written notes - first time through go left, second time through go straight - as we would be hitting those intersections twice during each lap. Seemed straightforward enough. He also assured us that there was flagging tape or an arrow appx every 1/4 mile. And without much further ado we were off!

We crossed the starting line and ran down the gravel road the group campsite was located on for 1/10 of a mile, then made a hard right turn onto pavement, went down 150 feet in .3 miles (damn that was going to hurt having to come back up that!) then a hard left onto gravel. From there it was trail or dirt road the rest of the way. The climbing began with a relatively gentle grade for the next mile 1.8 miles as were still on a "road." I ran this section knowing that we had much worse climbing to come. At the 2.2 mile mark we hung a left and had a bit more gentle climbing before hanging a right onto a STEEP trail. This is where everyone started to walk. It was up, up, up for at least a mile and a half before we topped out at 2500 feet on Hardy Ridge. Then it was down, down, down on steep, rocky, technical trail for another mile and a half to the aid station. I got passed by more than a few runners on this downhill as I am not a good descender. TrailMike caught up to me, then blew by me on his way to the aid station.

I passed up the first aid station feeling as though I was pretty well stocked. The next mile was more downhill, and then we hit the first of the confusing intersections. It was very well marked and there was even a volunteer pointing people in the right direction! TrailMike caught up to me again and we ran together for a bit before he passed on by me. This next part of the course was my favorite with a little bit of rolling terrain and several pretty bridges. But before long the joy ended as we made the turn up to Hamilton Mountain. We were probably at about 900 feet and had to climb up to 2350. I "ran" for the first 1/4 mile or so, passing TrailMike on the way, then started power walking. I figured I was wasting more energy in attempting to run than to just walk it. I passed a few people on the uphill.

Having done this trail numerous times I knew when I was closing in on the top. As soon as I hit the saddle I took off running. This section was still pretty technical but relatively runnable. Some steep downhill, some gentle downhill, a beautiful crossing of a wide open saddle to a dirt road - one of my favorite stretches on the course. Then on to a cutoff trail that had a few obstacles in the way - downed logs to hop - along with lots of rocks and roots. TrailMike caught back up to me and we chatted for a few minutes before he continued on. There was a pretty new bridge had been put in and there was some work going on along the trail.

The trail husky - happy as can be!
Then I was back at the aid station - mile 11.8. There were several people running the race with their dogs. There was a husky with his owner at the aid station and she was just having the time of her life. He fed her a peanut butter sandwich and she was just all wiggly and full of energy. I had 1/2 a peanut butter and jelly sandwich along with several cups of water and continued on. I wanted to make it back to the 15.5 miles before the 3 1/2 hour mark if I possibly could. It wasn't long before the pup and her owner passed me. The next stretch of the course was a bit of a steep hill on the road before returning to the confusing intersection. This time we went straight and the volunteer was still there to direct us. This part felt a bit like a cross country course - lots of running over grass that had taken over the old road. The temperature was starting to climb and it felt a bit steamy. This stretch ended at another intersection that I hadn't even noticed on the way up. We were at mile 13.7 and it was down the gravel/dirt road we had climbed up at the beginning of the race. I started to see runners who were heading back up the road on their second lap for the 50k. I cheered them on as they passed me - impressed with their ability. It didn't take too long before I was back to the pavement and got to climb that 150 feet back up to the start.

Trail puppy! Doesn't she look like she is having fun?
The air felt hot and my temperature was rising a bit. I pulled in to the aid station at the halfway mark at 3:17:05, hitting the time goal I had set for myself. I greedily sucked down two watermelon pieces. It was cold, wet, and delicious! Had another 1/4 of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as well. TrailMike had pulled into the aid station just before me, so we set out together for lap 2. I have to admit there was a part of me that really just wanted to call it a day. It was getting warm, and the runners who had completed the 25k were lounging on the lawn enjoying cold beer and hamburgers and hot dogs. Looked like a nice way to relax. But I had signed up for the 50k so I wasn't going to quit now.

TrailMike and I stayed together for the first mile and then I continued running up the hill while he decided to walk. This second lap was much lonelier. I was on my own for the majority of this trip. I passed 4 or 5 people on my way up to Hardy Ridge. Knowing what I was facing made the second trip up Hardy Ridge a bit easier. A guy caught up to me on the descent from Hardy and we ran into the aid station together. Another 1/4 of a peanut butter sandwhich and more water. The air was warm and the sun was beating down. My clothing was soaked and I could feel the salt on my skin. I wanted to make sure I kept getting enough fluid and salt in to prevent cramping. I was about 3/4 finished with my Gatorade and was probably 1/2 way through my grape vinegar at this point. I had been take a margarita shot block just about every 3 miles since the beginning of the race as well.

I let my legs loose out of the aid station and went through the next section pretty quickly as the terrain was the easiest of the entire course. Not much time later I found myself back at the climb up to Hamilton Mountain. This time the climb felt harder and I walked all but a very short rising traverse section in the middle. I got to the top and set out to run again. Then a quiver, a spasm, and I stopped. What was that? Something felt very strange in my upper thigh/groin area. It was definitely the beginning of a cramp. I sucked down some fluid, at another block, and tried to massage it out. I was a bit scared at this point. I was a good 3.5 miles in either direction from the aid station and I had no other runners around me. I really wasn't sure if I could handle the cramps completely on my own.

After massaging it out for a couple of minutes my leg seemed to want to work again. I took the descent gingerly, being careful not to make any sudden or awkward movements over rocks or logs. I ran over the rocky saddle, hit the dirt road, then back to the cutoff trail. Every minute I pulled closer to the aid station I was happier as I knew they might have something to help me if the cramps started. I was feeling ok, and started down the next technical descent. There was a log in my path and I had to get over it. I stopped to a walk and cautiously picked up my right leg. BAM - thigh seized with a vengeance. I screamed an obscenity at the top of my lungs it hurt so bad (not that anyone was around to hear it). It was a bad cramp, the kind that leads to my whole body cramping and I was terrified that was what was going to happen. The two times that has happened I have had someone there with me. They have helped me to work it out and get me functional again. No such luck this time. I tried to relax knowing that tensing wasn't going to help anything. I worked on rubbing it out hearing Janet's voice in my head telling me to rub away from my heart. After 4 or 5 minutes it started to release a bit. I slowly started to walk again, being extremely careful this time not to make any sudden movements. The slow walk eventually turned in to a very slow jog to the aid station.

I walked up and said I was having trouble with cramps. They pointed me to S caps and told me to take two. I was willing to try anything, so I downed two with three cups of water. I grabbed a handful of M&M's as I was getting really hungry. I ran the downhill stretch much slower this time, uncertain of when or if the cramps would return. It was on this stretch that my watch died. I had turned of the auto-lap feature in hopes of getting more life out of it, but apparently 6 hours and 40 minutes is the maximum battery life of my watch. I was a bit disappointed not to have the watch as a guide for the last few miles. I had a slim hope of making it in just under 7 hours and it was going to be hard without the watch. Bummer.

I made it through the cross-country section of the course and was at the final turn onto the gravel road. I cruised down this the best I could, trying to pick up the pace a bit. I hit the parking lot, .8 from the start, ran down the final gravel stretch and then made the turn onto the .3 mile uphill stretch to the finish. I pushed up the hill the best I could and tried to bring it in strong. Just as I was closing in on the finish line I caught sight of the race clock - it was just turning over from 6:59:59 to 7:00:00. I was disappointed but still tried to finish strong - crossed the finish line in 7:00:12.

Overall a good run. I was pretty happy with my effort. I didn't have any negative thoughts during the day. I knew I wasn't going to do overly well in the standings, but I felt happy to finish 7500 feet of climbing in 31 miles of running in a single day. If I could figure out how to keep the cramps away from good I know I can do better. I did end up coming in one minute and twelve second faster than in the Gorge 50 and this was a harder course - so I feel as though I am making progress.

Stats (Updated 6/16/11 - They updated the results and I moved up a spot)
Finish time: 7:00:12
38 out of 71 overall
9 out of 21 women


  1. Sarah you did a wonderful job! In the top half of the women and a finish time of 7 hours for a 50 with all the elevation gain - that's fantastic! I'm so happy you didn't have any negative thoughts and super proud of you. Now, if only I were in Oregon getting to run and hike on these beautiful trails!! Super jealous .. thank goodness for the Rim trail at least :)

  2. This is beyond my capacity for comprehension. I am in awe of both of you (Sarah and Amy)for having the stamina and patience for this sort of racing. I'm not sure I could race for 4 hours(why I haven't attempted a marathon yet) let alone 8 or 12 hours. I put you both in the class with ultra-runners - truly awe-inspiring! Nice work!


Getting Back on the Horse

My fearless GOTR outfit. The weeks leading up to race day were not fantastic. I had a solid long run at the end of August, and then thi...