Many forces worked to bring this one spot along the Columbia River into prominence and fill it with history and natural beauty. The Columbia Gorge Running Club recognized the potential for a race location and designed a clever little 10K course in North Bonneville, WA, that weaves in the river, the “historic” forest, strawberry fields and some elegant little climbs and descents. And finally, during this unique time of worldwide pandemic, the low rate of COVID virus infection in Skamania County allowed race director Anna Bates to keep the race on track, albeit cut down to about 50 participants for the four events. The final okay to hold the race came just days before race day.
Were it not for the circumstances of the pandemic, I would never have been shopping around for a race, but again, fate brought me together with the Strawberry Fields Forever 30 Hours and it turned out to be a wonderfully well run and satisfying ultra with just 3,200 feet of elevation gain. The beauty of the 10k loop is that it is long enough to count for something, but not so long that you feel like you’re running an endless stretch as the miles pile up near the end of the race. Also, the path/road/trail is constantly changing underfoot so you’re on asphalt for a while, a twisty single track in the woods, a field of smooth grass, and a jeep road that finished with a steep plunge from the top elevation on the course down to the start/finish. The footing was good and we had a very nice breeze with moderate temperatures to keep us cool despite the late June date of the race. Sunday morning brought in some stronger winds, fog and rain, but nothing that a waterproof shell couldn’t handle.
Wildflowers lined much of the course and filled the nearby fields, especially wild peas and of course, the strawberries. The Columbia River flowing nearby is wide and majestic and was a great place to park your mind as the leg soreness grew. Lengthy freight trains were often chugging along on the Oregon side of the river and set up a soothing clacking sound that drifted over the water. The forest was full of moss, and snakes, rabbits and slugs kept things lively underfoot.
The course was well marked and became second nature during the later loops. Each of the six miles were also designated with a clear marker so you could count down your progress as you went. The aid came at the start/finish where you crossed the timing mat and then pulled up to a hand washing station. With your buff up, you could then order quesadillas, hamburgers, PB&Js, or soup.
The social distancing was not a problem and the only obstacle were the miles. As RD Anna wrote in the race introduction, “This is a great opportunity to test all your gear or your stamina with limited consequences!” I agree.