First thing first, we were so lucky with the incredible weather that was unexpected and a beautiful blessing. The large blue sky with creamy white dollops of clouds dotting the canvas promised a dry morning of running. We enjoy mild temperatures that didn’t chill you but certainly didn’t let you overheat while going through the paces. I knew all my friends running Portland Marathon on Sunday would not be so fortunate!
This was a minimalist footwear race. I didn’t see any barefoot runners but there might have been a couple. The 50k runners started at 8 AM and the 25k and 10k each started 30 minutes after. I didn’t really see every runner like you can on a flat course. Most of time I was alone on the trails, I only saw less than 10 other runners during the entire race. I did talk to several of the 50k runners for a few minutes before the race started which was easy since there were only 3 of us! They were both much younger than me so my joke of the day was I had age group win in the bag. There was 1 more 50k runner who started late and got lost on the trail more often than not.
The race director blew into a bull’s horn (a real bull’s horn, not a bullhorn) and we took off down the trail. The leader was wearing Nike Free or something similar, I followed in my Vibram Fivefingers KSO Treks and the 3rd runner was wearing Luna sandals. The positions would not change the entire race and 6 hours later I would finish 2nd overall. If my wife would let me, I would race in Luna sandals too, however I am pushing the limits of her fashion sensibility with my KSOs and the Luna’s just go too far. I did see one woman wearing Ecco sandals for the 10k and those looked fine. Maybe I will try those later.
I wasn’t planning on spending 6 hours on this course but the trail was a bit more technical (read lots of ups and downs) than I counted on. Next week I celebrate my 49th birthday and I was feeling those years by the end of the race for sure! But my slowest miles were the first 8 miles which I spent talking to the 3rd place 50k runner before he dropped back. Maybe that will be my new racing strategy, talking so much that the other runners drop like flies!
The trail did try to trip me up on a number of occasions and a blackberry bush stole my hat once as well. But I managed to stay upright and did retrieve my hat, only my toes getting the worse of it. The course is 3 loops and the first loop I jammed my toes 3 times, the second loop 2 times and the last loop I was very, very careful and didn’t do any additional damage. A couple hours after the race a large swollen bruise would appear on the top of my right foot, but I suffered no pain or blisters. If I could change the KSO Treks a bit I would add a little more toe protection for trail running. Overall, the Vibram Fivefinger shoes were great at gripping the trail, comfortable and a pleasure to run in.
The course was nearly perfect except for one confusing section which made it very easy to miss a dogleg switch back. Basically the whole course is a series of loops with two out and back doglegs. The first out and back is the start/finish line and the second is what I called the three flags dogleg. The first place runner and I did run the three flags dogleg but no one else did. I even took a photo of the flags just to show I had been there (just for myself). This dogleg was the most technical portion of the course as it was a steep hill; the trail was a loose rocky stream bed which challenged the minimalist footwear runner. The guys who skipped purposely or accidently this dogleg really missed out on the best, most rewarding part of the trail race. Completing this section of the course really made me feel that I had accomplished a difficult obstacle and earned being called a real trail runner.
The run went well and I finished strong, healthy, and happy. Barefoot Ted McDonald of the novel ‘Born To Run’ fame was there at the finish to welcome us. I had brought my copy of the book for him to ‘foot-tograph’ for me. BF Ted signs and then steps on the signature for a unique foot print autograph. I also showed BF Ted the photo of him, me and Caballo Blanco at a potluck party over 2 years ago. I was 30 pounds heavier and hadn’t run more than a 10k then. The run today was my 4th ultra and 12th marathon or greater distance this year! BF Ted was impressed and happy to know he had a part in my success.
Overall I would say the ‘Born To Run Trail Run 50k’ was a success, a fun run, and does have room for improvement. But this is a trail ultra and a good trail ultra is a semi-self-supported, challenging and maybe a bit dangerous race to prove to yourself that you’re more than the sum of your parts, you can do something beyond what you imagine you can, and you can finish what you start.