By Rod Schoene
A few years ago, my brother-in-law and I were heading out to one of our favorite obscure trailheads in the Columbia River Gorge to log some miles. The morning started off as so many others did, bounding down the trail pre-dawn, conversing about life and solving world problems (as trail runners tend to do), when we started talking about the increasing popularity of trail racing. It seemed like trail races were popping up everywhere.
By this time, we had been around the trail running/ultra scene for a number of years in a variety of trail races ranging from 5k to 50k – and even a few longer runs.
What separated the exceptional races from the mediocre? When you check into a race and they hand you that bib, does it feel like just another number or an invitation? One thing we both wholeheartedly agreed on was that an engaging, supportive, passionate community can make the event.
It was only about a month later that I convinced my brother-in-law to sign up for the inaugural Post Canyon Half Marathon. He was undertrained, and was trying to find balance in life while raising two toddlers, and I was still deep in denial that plantar fasciitis had creeped into my life. So, naturally, we decided to give it a crack.
The Post Canyon area is a large trail network that is located just outside of the outdoor recreational destination of Hood River, Oregon. Hood River is about 75 miles east of Portland – most of which is a straight-shot along the banks of the Columbia River. The race starts and ends next to the Kingsley Reservoir Campground.
It wasn’t long after arriving on race morning that we realized the event was put on by the type of community we were discussing previously.
It was clear that this race was a labor of love by a passionate community that wants to share this trail oasis with others. In fact, when I asked race director, Heather Pola, what the motivation was behind the Post Canyon 50K, she summed it up, “This is my hobby, my passion, my sanity and my inspiration. These are the trails I play on and I want others to love them as much as I do.”
Whether in her fun and dedicated volunteers (who, by the way, have the discretion to hand out random prizes), or in the costume contest or the dirt tan competition, Heather’s personality is reflected all over this event.
All that being said, don’t let the positive vibes and fun-loving nature fool you. The lack of seriousness doesn’t mean this course is merciful. Post Canyon will test your comfort zone with its winding, technical, single-track trails. One section is even simply referred to as the Boulders from Hell.
Along with the physically demanding nature of the trails, you can expect over 5,500 feet of elevation gain in the 50k and 2,500 feet in the half. You are in for a tough day, which just makes that finish line all the more gratifying.
As for that finish line, you will not find any blow-up arches or shiny medals. What you will find is plenty of high-fives, hugs, cold beverages, and an energetic tailgate atmosphere cheering you on to the finish. The cool and refreshing water of the Kingsley Reservoir only 50 feet away was quite the bonus.
After an amazing day on the trails and making new friends, Heather caps off your race experience by handing you what she calls a Destiny Card, which has a list of local businesses that you can explore and redeem for an assortment of goods, like a complimentary beer at Dirty Finger Bike Shop or a cup of coffee and donut at Kickstand Coffee. This exemplifies what the Post Canyon team is all about: sharing and spreading their love for the trails as well as engaging the community they live in.
I recall that first year we stopped on our way home for a quick bite at one of the outstanding brew pubs in Hood River. As I was hobbling the couple blocks from where we parked (Post Canyon forced me to recognize my plantar fasciitis was real), we both reflected on our conversation from that spring morning in the Gorge with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction that we had found a race in Post Canyon that defined everything that is right about the trail community and trail racing.
Every August I make the trip back to Post Canyon for the sheer simplicity and to share some struggles with friends and every year I leave with that reinforced feeling of satisfaction knowing why I fell in love with trail running to begin with.