By Beverli Barnes
I’m about to do the thing I said I would NEVER do. Run an ultra. My “bumpy” journey started last May in Vancouver, B.C. and ended in a hurricane October 10th, on the Oregon Coast!
I decided last May to track my training and races leading up to this event so I could remind myself of what it took to get here.
My “50K Ultra Training the S.M.A.R.T. Way”, blog links (www.ca12345.ca), to my five month journey start here:
When your mind says go…
But your body says “no”
…your mind asks “why”?
While your body feels “die”.
If you are eager to go…
Trust your body and take it slow.
For in the end you will fly…
…and that, my friend – is the RUNNERS HIGH!
– Beverli Barnes
HURRICANE OHO – OREGON COAST 50K 2015
I think people would rather hear how much you’ve suffered rather than how smoothly and effortless your race went. But honestly speaking…unless you are a runner or athlete yourself, you could probably care less either way.
Well, for those of you who have been following my five month, self indulgent blogging rant about my rocky & ridiculous journey to my first 50k, you are in for a treat!
I picked the Oregon Coast 50K for my first ultra for two reasons. My family used to drive down from Vancouver B.C. most summers to camp on the coast – so I have very fond memories of the region. The second reason is because it was rated a 1-1 (out of a 5-5 score), by Ultrarunning magazine for ease of terrain & difficulty.
By the time we’d arrived in Yachats, Oregon on Oct 8, we had driven over 800k. Deb, our dog Tailor & I felt like we’d already completed the “driving ultra”, just getting there!
…ok, so I don’t actually drive or know how to (stop laughing), but as a person who is used to standing, walking, running or at least moving most of the day – sitting on my butt for hours on end was excruciating.
I was however, able to enjoy a warm, sunny “test the sand” trot along Cannon Beach, with Tailor earlier that afternoon. No wind & evenly packed sand had me feeling confident and eager for race day.
There was no time goal on this race because #1: I’ve never run this far and #2: I’m in it for the experience & adventure.
Well Bev, be careful what you ask for. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to encounter.
Running 50K in a hurricane!
24 Hours Before Armageddon
Friday morning, we get up and can’t see across the parking lot.
The surf is crashing up onto the rocks with white water and foam everywhere. Gusts of wind can barely move the fog and we are having trouble standing upright! Seriously. Hurricane OHO is coming!
Tailor loves the wind but even she is skeptical about going outside and wants nothing to do with her favourite place…the beach.
We meet some other runners from Canada doing their first 50k… all of us laughing nervously about the approaching hurricane. That would be my motto for the duration. “Keep laughing”.
The only thing that rivalling the howling wind was the ice-machine outside our hotel room door. Every 30 minutes a SURGE of ice would dump into the tray – reverberating like a dump truck in the hallway. My earplugs were jammed so tightly into my head the night before the race, it’s was amazing I didn’t need surgery to get them out. But I slept.
Going Into Battle
Race morning and the weather had evolved into a full-blown hurricane! My snap decision to break the first rule of racing by grabbing equipment I’d never used before was probably the smartest decision I made that day.
I knew there would be much sand blown into my face, up my nose and into my ears, running into the headwind on the beach decided to cover my mug with our TNT buff. I grabbed Deb’s handheld hydration unit too…as I suspected the first 10k would probably take me over an hour considering the headwinds. With the first aid station at 10k – there was a good chance I’d be dehydrated by then.
Dehydration that early in the race could be the start of my demise. We load onto the buses for the 10k drive to Waldport and I immediately start making friends with other “newbies” and seasoned ultrarunners. Everyone is so friendly and a wee bit crazy.
Outside, the rain is pelting down and we catch glimpses of the surf off in the distance. When we unload and walk down to the beach, my inside voice is escaping, “it’s like we are all headed to Armageddon”. It’s a good thing I have mine on. My ArmAGetIns .
Even still -it’s freezing. There are barefoot runners, a bare-chested man, lots of beards and two super wiry, lean guys who are out for gold. Whispers amongst the group refer to them in an envious way as the “a-holes up front”.
The huddle of shivering runners waits for the 10-second countdown to the start.
Strong winds are gusting into our faces along with salty spray, pummelling rain and sand. I immediately start looking around for the biggest guy I can find to tuck in behind, so I can catch a draft for the duration.
The group I started with were too fast, running a 6:30 km pace (my usual long run pace on trails), so I got dropped pretty quickly and ended up staggering between random runners for the first 5k like a nomad lost in the desert.
It’s impossible to describe the intensity of the wind, sand and rain in my face but it felt like that dream where someone has their hand on your forehead and you can’t run. There is little motion forward; only strained effort to stay upright and not get blown over! My TNT helps to keep the sand out of my nose but I wish I would have left those ear plugs in. The wind is SO LOUD and I’m gradually starting to freeze from my toes up.
Then a tall slender woman about my age runs up next to me and asks if I want to join their “caravan”. I’ve been welcomed into the herd!
I’m so grateful. I offer to “pull” for a while. So a larger male runner and I get up front and lead the group for about 1k, which feels like five. We drop back into the pace line which resembles a peloton.
We gather other runners as we go, winding and weaving through the wind and sand like a flock of birds. It was mesmerizing and beautiful to see the other groups ahead doing the same. Working together in unison; water splashing up around us as we cross streams and tide pools of icy salt water. We’d flow from double wide to single file and into clumps…all moving together as one.
Off in the distance I see Deb & Tailor crouched down in the sandstorm. I wave frantically but I don’t think Deb could see me through the sand and wind.
Tailor escapes Deb’s clutches, as my caravan runs by and decides it would be a good idea to “herd” us into the first aid station. For a second I think I should stop and grab her leash but remember I’m in a race, so push onward.
By the time I got to there, I couldn’t feel my hands or feet which were completely soaked and shoes filled with sand. My calves were SHOT from 82 minutes of sand running (which was not hard packed due to the storm but soggy & sinky). This was officially my slowest 10k EVER with a 1:22 (almost two times longer than my fastest road race).
Time to suck it up princess!
Fortunately, I had left a change of shoes and towel with my hydration pack, at aid station 1, so carefully cleaned my feet of sand (to avoid blisters and growing pearls between my toes); gathered up my gear & headed out for 40k of trails.
Although I had an emergency rain poncho in my pack, it NEVER occurred to me to put the darn thing on! Seriously Bev?
Still not out of the wind but heading further south, on pavement for about 3k, I was able to regroup and forget about the previous 10k of brutality. I had trained really hard for this event and wasn’t going to stop, whine or complain. After all, no one was forcing me to do this.
“It feels like another runner is banging into me but NO, it’s the wind forcing my ankles and knees to knock together! Seriously? I’m not a small woman. At 5’9” & 150 lbs plus the carb loading, I’m pretty sure I’m carrying a few extra pounds on top of this darn hydration unit.” My inside voice is escaping again. I’m talking out loud to myself and I’m only 13k into this thing!
The trailhead starts out as single track, soft, relatively easy grade lined with ferns and the best part is being out of the wind. I’m in a group of 5 -7 runners, who like me are fine with slow, even pacing. Somehow I end up in front for the next three hours, which is MOSTLY UP! I offer to let others pass but they’re like, “no –we’re good – we like your pace”. Ok then. We stick together – laughing and joking.
Annoyingly, I was the one joking about the wretched conditions but reminded everyone how beautiful the forest was and why we were doing this. No, not for money. We don’t get paid for doing this…we actually pay strangers to allow us the privilege.
Ultrarunners are a curious bunch.
I convinced myself that if I had to walk the entire thing, I could do it in eight hours (the cut-off), so was quite enjoying the “hike”. It felt good to not be so focused on speed and pace for a change.
Except there didn’t seem to be any downhill so that arrogant strategy probably wasn’t the best one. I did try to run whenever I could without letting my HR get into the “red zone”. I was afraid I may not recover, bonk or worse. DIE OUT HERE!
Were we on a secret passage to the moon? I thought this was classified as a 1/1 for ease of terrain and difficulty????? Really? These ultrarunners really are HARD CORE. I’m starting to think my bib number is going to represent the # of hours I will be out here!
There was UP. There were switchbacks UP. There was a lot of UP UP UP and then more UP! Generally, I find the forest protects us from the rain but NOT TODAY! This was a Rainshadow Running Event but my friends, I can tell you; none of us were in the “rain-shadow” today. EVER!
I got pretty warm, very fast with all the UP so removed my sopping wet ArmAGetIns just in time to reach the bluff where super gusts of wind pelted hail onto my bare arms and face. Microdermabrasion in its purest form.
At this point my focus shifts into survival mode. I’m asking myself why I’m doing this and what if I get lost.
My sense of direction is crap on my best days and soon I’ve dropped three of my female comrades somewhere in the abyss of the storm. Joe is my lone companion (at least I think he’s real), so we plod along through the forest talking about our dads; who we think may have known each other back in the 1950’s at the University of Oregon. The conversation & connection is as this 50k…surreal.
Joe waits for me at aid Station #3 while I pee. Seriously? During a race. Maybe he IS an apparition.
I emerge from the Porto-pee-pot to find him chatting away with the volunteers, sheltered from the torrential downpour eating chips.
I want some chips too so join him & decide to put my soggy ArmAGetIns back on. It must have taken 15 minutes with my frozen fingers…but I somehow managed and off we went.
It might sound surprising but there was more UP! Good Lord. My ass is developing new muscles every step and my brain is telling my feet to “just keep moving”. Everything in between is just maintaining.
I’m not sure when it happened but Joe was gone by the time I got to 33k and the last aid station (I think). Or maybe it’s while I was hunkered down in the bathroom dealing with “Paula” (as noted in my September blog).
Lucky for me there were REAL bathrooms. And there was a hot air hand dryer which I pressed my face into before heading back out into the bullshit, pissing rain & wind. I was becoming a crazy person and didn’t give a rat’s ass!
The rain didn’t disappoint and increased its eagerness to drown the Oregon Coast and me.
The volunteers pointed me back toward the trail (whom I wasn’t really listening to or comprehending at this point). “There is one more aid station if you’d like to leave your hydration pack”. “NO THANKS…I’m good”. What? Like I’m going to lighten the load and sprint the final 17k.
Here I must thank the AMAZING volunteers for their laughter, encouragement, real food & overall stamina for standing out there in the wretched conditions for hours on end.
Off I went in what I was hoping was the right direction only to find myself alone for a very long time. A funny thing happened as I slogged along in my solitude. It was either the onset of insanity or inner calm. Maybe I was becoming a bit delirious? But I was SO HAPPY…like maybe the feeling one gets before they drown.
I was so grateful for being here…being there…in every moment. I wasn’t “racing”. I wasn’t running or walking or stumbling. I was just breathing and being real. For the first time since maybe I was a kid, I felt so alive and so free and totally safe that I smiled out loud and just kept going, knowing that this is what I was supposed to be doing right now.
At the last aid station, I was told I only had one more mile UP and then it was all downhill to the finish. I would be “home free”.
Let me tell you what 1,600M uphill feels like when you’ve already been going at it for five-plus hours.
But I have an ass of steel apparently, so up I go and my female posse catches. As do some speed goats who pass.
Right on dudes. You go for it!
The “promised” downhill at hour six approaches my bleary eyes. But it’s not looking the same as when I climbed it before. The lovely, soft single track trail I was so looking forward to scrambling down at record speed is now a semi-raging river with tributaries and the path is a slick, rooted, muddy, slippery, steep slope of death or at the very least a few broken bones, ankle and face (my face), waiting to happen.
So I quickly abandon my calculated fast descent and opt for a side to side – lunge –hop – shuffle – slip – recover – hop – skip – jump into the ferns kind of frantic approach. The hill is so steep I can’t stop the momentum!
This is my first attempt at this new “technical” drill. Suddenly I catch a sliiiiiide on one foot as I surf for at least a vertical meter down the slope. Reacting like a squirrel being chased by Tailor, I catch my balance before I crash head first. I hear a scream behind me and realize my “mini caravan” of female runners have caught up and are following suit like a roller coaster of dominoes.
Who needs their quads? NOT ME!
I wish I were still frozen so I couldn’t feel the agony in my legs. And why do my arms hurt? My coach warned me of the descent in the last part of a 100k but in a 50k? Maybe because I’ve been out here for SO MANY HOURS!
It’s a miracle but I finally reach the road. Home stretch. It’s so flat. I’m doing a 5:45 KM pace and it feels too easy. I walk. It’s almost like I don’t want this to end.
OK I’m lying.
There’s a tailwind pushing me along. YES! Can you carry me? Where the F is the finish line? My Garmin says I have another 4k but I can see the hotel.
I’ve been out here for almost 7.5 hours! What am I thinking at this point? “I wonder how long it would take to do 100k”. I have officially lost my mind.
I round the last turn toward the hotel. I don’t recall this part….
Deb & Tailor are there cheering me to the finish.
I’m in shock. I’m frozen. I’m numb from my numbskull brain to my curled up toes. (Which are actually too short to curl).
As I approach the finish line…no fanfare as you might expect, I run past the finish chute into a gopher hole and almost twist my ankle. Ironic.
There are no medals, no prizes & no AG Awards . I don’t care. We have to pay $5 for our beer glass and I don’t even drink beer. I still don’t care. Deb got me some Jaigermeister which is my favourite. I’ve earned it. This was the toughest physical event I have EVER done but only care about being DONE!
PRIZE: 2nd oldest female competitor + 3 PB’s in STRAVA
TIME: 7:22 = 6:44 actual moving time (the rest spent in shelter of aid stations or porto-potti)
FUEL: Not much…2-1/2 of Deb’s super cacao balls, 7 pieces of crystallized ginger, and 3 huge handfuls of salty potato chips BUT (48 hours after race: ate everything in sight excluding the dog!)
HYDRATION: 3.5L water + 1 salt tablet + 2 packets electrolytes
ELEVATION GAIN: 6,929 feet (for you American’s)
PACE ZONE: According to Strava – Active Recovery – BITE ME!
Editors note: UR apologizes for this race being ranked a 1,1. When our race calendar was switched to the current format, many of these rankings were lost and the default ranking was 1,1. We are working on getting all of the races in the calendar properly ranked.