This past Saturday September 25th I unexpectedly toed the line in the inaugural race held in the Mt. Bachelor area just outside of beautiful Bend, Oregon. The quick trip gave Erica, Farah, and I an opportunity to venture out from our home a little, see some friends, and for me to get my "trail fix". I missed the trails for pretty much six weeks around our pregnancy and as I was training for Portland Marathon...so I was kind of yearning for some trail time. I'm so thankful for my awesome wife Erica who knows me so well and for her offering to come with me. Also, it was Farah's first time being at a race....I may have set a record for youngest baby at an ultra! (one month old!) Overall we had a great time but it was also a learning experience in many ways. Having a newborn baby is a lot of work and I think we'll wait at least a couple months before we try that again!
We rolled into Bend Friday night and crashed at the Browning's who so graciously opened their cozy home to us. 6 a.m. rolled around very quickly and Jeff made his way to the start with us as he was planning on getting a little trail footage on his mountain bike and helmet cam. It was chilly up at 6,000 feet early in the morning but I was amped up and ready to run with some fast guys on these epic central Oregon trails. I noticed Erik Skaggs, Max King, Hal Koerner, William Emerson, Josh Nordell huddling around before the start. Then I ran into a couple of Inov-8 teammates Dave James and Scott Dunlap and showed off my new red X talon 190's. All of these guys would be contenders not to mention some other fast guys who flew in under the radar.
(Josh Nordell, Max King, and me (freezing!) just before the start...photo: Scott Dunlap)
RD Dave Thomason gave us his spiel about the trails, aid stations, and general race information. The course sounded fun and I was excited. It was supposed to warm up into the seventies and the description of the race and terrain sounded like it was going to be a fast one. I was predicting somewhere around 3:45 or so if I ran well. OK....on your mark.....get set....GO!
Here is a little video by Richard Bolt of us being sent off from the start. We ran down the highway for about 1/8th of a mile before we turned into the trails.
Dave James darted out in front and before long pulled away from the pack. Skaggs and I ran together for a few miles and I would occasionally look around for Max King who I knew would be gunning for the win. I felt really...really good. The pace was effortless and I was stoked to be running in the new 7oz Talon 190's. They were perfect for the terrain in central Oregon too. It wasn't long before Max caught up and about the same time Erik started pulling away from me. Max and I ran together for a couple miles and he was ok just tucking in behind me. We were also joined by Hal and Jeremy Tolman from Eugene for a while as the miles ticked by. The weather was ideal and the trails were super soft as we bounced over blankets of pine needles.
(Hal, Jeremy, Max, and me about thirty seconds behind James and Skaggs...Photo by Shahid Ali)
Before long we started hitting some little climbs that separated our rhythmic foursome. Max pulled ahead and Jeremy dropped off the back a little while Hal and I leap frogged a couple times. Eventually on some downhills around mile 15 I started really turning it on and put some distance between Hal and I. Probably around mile 20 I caught a glimpse of Dave James and continued to reel him in. I eventually passed him and tried to bury him but was unable to do so. I was really surprised how well he ran given that he ran just over 100 miles in 24 hours the weekend before.
We hit a 1000 foot climb at around mile 22 and this was one of the only places I power hiked briefly. Dave and I motored on as fatigue started setting in. Also, I was having some issues with a recalcitrant hip. Nothing major but just a little discomfort that made my running a little less enjoyable. Around mile 29 with Dave hot on my heels and Erik and Max about 5 to 10 minutes ahead the race was on for third place. I was saving a little for the end to hopefully out kick Dave. We came to a "Y" in the trail with an older man standing there directing us down. There were also flags lined up down the trail and we thanked him as we rolled past him at a gravity assisted 7-minute pace. About a mile later we came to a highway....uh oh...something doesn't seem right here....we continued onward on the trail across the highway and then immediately saw Erik Skaggs and Jeff Browning walking towards us. Jeff says, "You were directed the wrong way by the volunteer...Sorry guys...he made a mistake!" Initially I was bummed out for obvious reasons but we all decided to head up the highway to the finish area which was very close. I was baffled..."How did...uh...but....the flags...I don't get it!" I knew the course and studied it and I am confident that if there weren't any markings there that I would have been able to deduce the correct way. But with a person standing there pointing you down and the markings reassuring you it wasn't even thought about twice.
When we made it to the finish line area we saw Max King standing there waiting for us (as seen in the picture below) and we told him what happened. Apparently the same thing happened to him as well but he knew the area and went up the highway instead of continuing down the trail.
(Max King waiting for Tolman, James, Skaggs, and myself...Photo: Erica Wagner)
We all tried to be good sports about the whole situation and handle it the best way we could in the moment. We decided that Erik was on fire all day and deserved the win. Max said that he was feeling horrible and that he didn't think he would have been able to catch him. There was no way that I would have caught Max... and Dave James admitted that he didn't think he would have been able to out kick me. Jeremy was a little ways behind Dave and I so there wasn't any confusion there either. We all agreed on the order and finished together. I really didn't care that much to be honest. I was and am still open to whatever works for everyone. I was kind of deflated after it happened and was content with my experience out there. The whole point of me going out there was to race and enjoy the trails of this stunning part of the country. Yeah, of course I was competitive but I raced for 95% of the race and had a lot of fun out there on Saturday. In situations like this you just have to accept the circumstances. I was talking to Kami Semick briefly afterward about the whole UTMB situation too and we agreed that acceptance was just the best and really the only choice.
I have done a lot of races and I must say that I never experienced something like that. But....I also can tell a quality race when I see one. Dave Thomason and his crew put on a great event. The course...the volunteers...aid stations, overall vibe, etc. were awesome. Thank you all very much!!!! I wanted to hang out longer but with the newborn baby we had to get back on the road fairly quickly. It was really nice seeing some familiar faces and meeting new ones.
Congrats to everyone who ran the inaugural Flagline 50k!
Full results are HERE
(I was touched to see Erica and Farah holding this sign when I came into the finish! photo: Erica)
(Jason Moyer, Me, Dave James, Max King, Jeremy Tolman...Photo by Erica Wagner)
My next Race: Portland Marathon on 10-10-10 :-)