At the end of 2012 when browsing around for fun races to run, the Gorge Waterfall 50k caught my attention and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I mean, pictures of running by and behind amazing waterfalls in Oregon will do that to a girl. After a couple of persuasive gchats and texts with Jojo, we were ready to sign up right when registration opened on December 20th. Last year the race filled within one day, so we knew that this year would be another fast year. Sure enough, just over an hour later all 300 spots were filled, and just like that I was planning a trip to Portland the last weekend in March!
I used this race as an excuse for a mini vacation to visit family, hang out with Jen, run in Forest Park and take in Portland since I hadn’t spent much time there previously. I flew in early Thursday morning, spent the day with family a couple hours outside of Portland, then spent the rest of the weekend with the amazing hostess Jen. We ran Wildwood Friday, ate delicious food, explored her neighborhood on walks and took in Portland’s first sunny weekend of the season. It was simply a great, great weekend.
Saturday morning I woke up early and was dropped off at the start by Zach (Jen’s husband) and Justin (Alisa’s husband) who were both volunteering at an aid station. It was so fun to be in a different state but actually know people volunteering! Jojo and I found each other easily at the start and we huddled together in the cold, windy morning. We also ran into Andee (my second time this month!) and chatted with her for a bit. Everything was very easy logistically and timing just fell right into place very stress free.
Then it was time to run! The course is an out and back due to some trail damage last year, with the first big climb right at the start. We didn’t have plans to run really hard or fast (for us) this race, it was more about taking in the scenery and enjoying running on new trails.
We started seeing the waterfalls right from the start and wow they were incredible. My legs were working hard on this first long climb, but we just settled into a pace right in the middle of the pack of people we were with. Going down the other side of this big climb was pretty tough. Technical downhills are not my strong suit and it was tested a lot here. I wasn’t able to look around much since I was focusing on my footing and all the slippery rocks. Eventually we made it down and were in the more “flat” section.
The first aid station was where Zach and Justin were, so it was fun to see them and chat for a few minutes about what we were experiencing out there. Zach ran the race last year, so was able to give us some tips on what was coming up. It was also fun to know we would see them on the way back a couple hours later.
We made sure to stop and take in each waterfall and everything around us. This course was a lot more technical and rocky than I had anticipated, so it did make it hard at some points to not be constantly staring at the ground in front of me. My feet were slipping a lot on the moss covered rocks, my ankles were tired, and it was just a little tougher than usual mentally for me.
Since it was an out and back we saw the leaders coming through which was really fun. I was fascinated by how fast they were able to run through these technical parts – their feet must not touch the ground!
We hit the road section, which is about 1-2 miles and were able to cruise along here. There is a last trail section at the end of the road that you have to climb up, then go down and are rewarded with the biggest, most amazing waterfall. The runners had you pick up a poker chip to return at the aid station as proof that you went all the way down.
After a fuel and bathroom stop, we headed back and continued running where we could, hiking where we couldn’t, but we were definitely moving faster on the way back. Everything looked a whole lot differently this time, both from the angle the sun was out now, and also because I missed a lot the first time. Where the technical descents were before, we were climbing and I was able to take in my surroundings a bit more. The crowd of runners was also very spaced out at this point, so I felt less claustrophobic in my running on these trails.
We saw Zach and Justin once again at the last aid station and stopped to take in some fuel. We were the only two this time, where the first time it was packed with runners.
We only had a few more miles to go, but that included the biggest climb and descent and some tough rocky sections. We kept going strong and Jojo was pulling me along when I was cranky. There were a lot of tourists out at this point too, so we had to do a lot of weaving around people, dogs and strollers to get where we were going. We were rewarded with some great views of the river from up high and continued to be mesmerized by all the waterfalls, but pushed it to get to the finish line.
Eventually we were almost back to where we started and turned the corner to the finish line. We saw Jen and Penny cheering us on, and Jojo and I crossed the finish line to another adventure together.
The course was really beautiful and I would definitely recommend it to people wanting to get out and explore the waterfalls – it was such a great way to see it all. It was much more technically difficult than I anticipated though, so make sure to have your mental game on for that.
It was such a great weekend in Portland that I am so glad I was able to experience. I left feeling so happy and grateful for such great friends – both in Jen taking me in all weekend and really having the chance to connect on a personal level that you don’t get over email and texts, and Jojo always being up for an adventure and being the best running friend a girl could ask for, and not just while running.