Last year the Flagline 50k was created outside of Bend, OR to be the USATF 50k National Championship. I was fairly excited for this race, not so much because it was a national championship, but because I thought it'd be a fun course at the foot of Mt. Bachelor. But then I went into a funk after Western States last year and finally just decided I needed a month off to regroup. So no Flagline 50k for me.
This year the race was only two weeks after the 100k World Championships, and so I figured I'd be sitting this one out, too. But I wanted to get out there and had put it on my schedule weeks in advance, planning to volunteer. But after Worlds, I found myself perusing the website and the course map...Maybe I was longing to get back to trails after a summer of road training for worlds, or maybe I panicked that my ultra-running was done for the year (I am concentrating on a sub-3 hour marathon at CIM for the next two months), or maybe I worried this would be the last good weekend before the beginning of the endless Oregon winter, but something in me really wanted to run it. When I signed up, I was still sore from Worlds and I hadn't run a step. I knew I wouldn't be at my best, but I didn't care, I was really just looking for a fun day on some great trails.
I headed out to Bend after work Friday and caught up with William Emerson at race check in, and I got to hear some of this guy's crazy adventures which include hiking all of the PCT, the AT and much of the Continental Divide trail. Then it was off to my very fine $42/night hotel. Nothing says class like wood paneling and pastel floral bedspreads!
Race morning was cool, but not cool enough to be optimistic about the afternoon temps...it looked like we were going to be in for a hot one in the high alpine air (low point on course: 5,800'). The first 8 miles had a gradual downhill and I was running so well. I felt quick and light and unbelievable given the circumstances. I was only a minute or two behind the two front runners at the first aid station. One of the women was Stephanie Howe, who was second at Flagline last year in her only other ultra. I knew she was fast (and a top notch nordic skier), but maybe inexperienced. And the second woman was running her first ultra. So for a brief bit I had stars in my eyes, thinking maybe these two would go out too fast, not fuel right, etc. and burn out in the end.
Right in the mix
But very quickly reality smacked me in the face...well, in the quads really...as the trail then began one of the major ascents. Now who put 20 pound sandbags on my back?? My legs had NO power, there was just nothing there. Normally, I am better at uphill rather than downhill, especially the gradual runnable grade stuff, which was pretty much everything at Flagline. I tried to keep myself running even though my quads were burning, but it was such a slow jog, I got passed by four guys on that first big climb. I like to do the passing on the uphills!! It is usually the downhills where people pass me. By mile 10, it was really obvious that I would NOT be in it to win this one. But in some ways that made the race more fun as I can get into a bit of tunnel vision when I am racing, and on this day I was able to avoid that so that I could look around, enjoy the trails, even joke with most of the volunteers.
Hey, maybe if I eat more, I'll run faster!
My legs were worthless on the uphills, but they were turning over great on all the downhills and I even got four guys back (though, not all the same ones). I figured if I could keep the turnover on the downs, I could maintain third place. The second big climb was particularly ugly for me and I walked WAY too much of it, but that is what I had on that day. About a mile from the top I came upon two bow hunters completely decked out in camouflage, including full face paint! As I passed I commented,"I am glad I am wearing hot pink today." One of the bow hunters just leaned in close in front of my face and with big eyes said,"Boo-ga, Boo-ga, Boo-ga!" That put a little extra spring in my step to the top of the hill as I just kept thinking,"Don't shoot me in the back...do not shoot me in the back."
The last seven miles rolled to the finish and it was a major roller coaster for me: "I am flying...I am dying...I am flying," just depending on the slant of the trail. The last little uphill grind on the road was a killer especially as you had a good view on the straight road of runners WAY up ahead and you felt the full heat of the 80 degree day.
I kept my third place and scored a $200 check. After race entry, hotel, gas and dinner, I figured I netted about $26. Who says you can't make money in ultra-running? ;) But truly, I got a lot more out of the day than that - a beautiful day on the trails, enjoying the scenery and the post race taco-salad in the sun, and hanging out with lots of great people. It was a nice reminder that not every day has to be your best race to be a great run.
Stephanie Howe pulled ahead of Natalie Bak in the final mile to take the women's win, while Max King once again had the Midas touch on the men's side, outpacing Natalie Bak's other half, Ryan Bak.