The McKenzie River Trail Run in Blue River Oregon had its 22nd annual running on September 12, 2009. While it's the oldest ultra in Oregon, it was just the second year the new race directors were in charge. The RD's made their share of mistakes, but most went unnoticed by the 174 starters and 149 finishers, the largest field ever for the race.
Race day brought together a beautiful late summer day and an equally beautiful trail; the National Forest Service literature describes the trail like this, "The McKenzie River Trail closely follows the McKenzie River, a scenic whitewater river originating in the high Cascade Mountains. The trail crosses over several tributaries of the McKenzie River via log bridges. The lower sections of the trail pass through 600 year old Douglas-fir forests, while upper sections of the trail pass spectacular waterfalls and lava flows."
Great weather, a beautiful trail in great condition, and a field including defending champion and course record holder Todd Braje, 3 time MRTR winner John Ticer, 2009 Mt Disappointment 50K winner Thomas Crawford, 2009 MT Hood PCT 50 Mile and 2009 Hagg Lake 50K winner Lanny Gower had anticipation high for a fast race. The course record held,Â but Braje was challenged by a surprising newcomer before winning with a time of 3:35:59.
Last year Braje led the entire race; this year he was challenged and ran in second most of the day to Jeremy Tolman. Tolman was running his first ever ultra, but his running history made him a legitimate threat to the veteran Braje. While Tolman has run just two marathons (PR of 2:37), he's a former 5-time NCAA All-American while attending Weber State University, was an elite steeplechaser for a while and is a former sub-4 minute miler. Tolman had been running recreationally for the past 5 years, but set his sites on MRTR and showed up to run it hard for the win. He was on track to do so, leading from the start through the final aid station. But experience eventually won out when Tolman cramped up at mile 28 and had to slow his pace, allowing Braje to pass him and capture the win. Tolman went on to finish 2nd, about 3 minutes behind Braje. For the second year in a row the McKenzie River Trail Run saw at least the first five finishers break 4 hours.
The women's race saw Stephanie Crawford from New Hampshire establish a 3 minute lead over last year's winner Denise Bourassa by the 20 mile mark and maintain that gap to the finish. Denise's 2nd place finish wrapped up a season where she ran 5 of the Oregon Trail Series races, finishing among the top 5 women in 4 of them. Oregon runner Liz Kellog improved the Women's 60+ MRTR course record by more than 30 minutes with at time of 6:06.
Race proceeds are donated to the McKenzie High School track and cross country teams. This year a $2,500 check was presented to them at the awards ceremony. The 2010 McKenzie River Trail Run will be on Sept. 11. Registration will open in April.
I've been more of a recreational runner over the past 5 years and really love running the trails. That's why I started looking into ultras.
I knew Todd Braje was going to be there and I didn't know what kind of shape he was in. I didn't even know who he was until I talked with him after the race. I took the race out pretty hard as soon as we turned on the single-track trail up the hills to the highway. By the time we reached the road crossing, I couldn't even see Todd. He gained some ground on me by the time we got to the first aid station. After that, I really started to get in a groove and was rolling right along. By the time I got to the 2nd aid station, I felt like I could push a bit more so I did. I opened up a 2 min gap on Todd by the 22 mile aid station and felt really good. I could tell I was getting a bit tired though so I started pushing gel and fluid. The doors started to fall off around the 25 mile aid station and I started cramping at 28. By then I'd gone from running 6:30 miles to 8:30-9 min miles. Todd blew by me right about then and I had no way to respond. I knew I didn't hydrate well enough from the beginning...call it beginner's stupidity! I struggled the last 3 miles just to finish. My left hamstring kept cramping (especially on the hills) and my tank was dry! I was VERY grateful to see that last little climb to the finish!
The gun sounded and I found myself immediately pushing to keep up with the early race leader. Frankly, I was surprised, and pleased, that someone was taking it out so hard. I thought that if I could latch on to him, we could go after the course record. It only took a mile for me to figure out that this was not an option. I was redlining immediately and was still being dropped. I tried to settle into a more realistic pace but found myself pushing whenever the leader came into view. At the first aid station (5.7 miles), I was about 45 seconds down and starting to get frustrated.
I told myself to relax and maintain contact, there's a lot of racing left. The terrain from 5.7 to the next aid station (11.2) is some of the most challenging -- lots of twists, turns, rocky sections, and short hills. But, this section also passes some of the most dramatic scenery on the course.
Arriving into the second aid station, I saw the leader leaving so I knew I hadn't lost much time and I was starting to gain some confidence. Over the next 5.4 miles to the third aid station, I focused on running hard but relaxed, trying to move quickly through the rocky sections and sharp turns, keeping in mind that the smooth, fast sections were still to come.
At the 16.7 mile mark and fourth aid station, I was told that I was two minutes down. This was devastating to hear as I felt that I was running well and my left heel was becoming more and more painful with every step. After quickly filling my bottle and taking a few pulls of Vitargo, I set off thinking more about maintaining my position than racing for the win.
I pulled into the critical 4th aid station at 21.8 miles at 2:35. I knew from this point on the course was extremely fast and non-technical. As I was leaving the aid station, someone called out that I was four minutes down. Four minutes! I had lost two minutes over 5.1 miles! I knew that the race for first was over at this point and I was running for second. I couldn't possibly make up four minutes in less than 10 miles. So, I settled into running comfortably hard and enjoying the race and scenery.
At the final aid station at 25.1 miles, I wasn't in much of a rush to fill up my bottle. No course record today and I was securely in second. I had spent the last 3.3 miles thinking about how to adjust my training and get back on track and what I was going to do with the rest of my season. Again as I was leaving, I was told that I was less than two minutes down. I was shocked! I was convinced that they had made a mistake but told myself to run hard for three miles and to see what happens. I couldn't have possibly made up two minutes in 3 miles.
After 2.5 miles, I rounded a corner and for the first time since the 11 mile mark I saw the leader. The pain in my foot suddenly disappeared and my legs felt fresh! I had to fight the urge to catch him as quickly as possible and told myself to remain smooth and to gather myself for a tight finish.
Within half a mile, I moved into first and surged, running a 2:56 next half mile. I continued to run hard to the finish, feeling more fresh than I did at the beginning of the race, and broke the tape at 3:35.59.
I was thrilled to be able to pull out the win, but do think that I was a bit lucky. I also learned some valuable lessons. Coming out of the 21.8 mile aid station, I was down on myself and ready to throw in the towel. Its good to experience some adversity and I need to remember that anything can happen in ultras. Keeping a positive attitude and an open mind, despite what others are doing, is of utmost importance.