2014 Best Dam Run: Joe’s recap

Women’s winner Susan Smith cruises to the finish with a new PR. (photo by Janelle Dickerson)

The Oregon Road Runners Club’s Best Dam Run 10k in Estacada is fertile ground for PRs, with its gradual net elevation drop, quiet rural road, and forested setting.

I ran my all-time 10k PR there in 2005, when for some mysterious reason I was unable to keep myself from hanging onto to the shoulder of a must faster runner. I knew better, but my mental accelerator got stuck, and I had no choice but to maintain that crazy pace.

Most of my fastest races happened like that. If I was a car, I would have been recalled years ago for safety reasons. But the Best Dam Run downhill will do that to you too.

After skipping the race for several years, I decided to return for the 2014 version and revisit this classic course. No PR was on the agenda this time, just a solid effort at a familiar and favorite event.

After a short bus ride to the start (coincidentally around 6.2 miles), the runners and walkers milled around near the start, warmed up along the road, or made the short trek to the porta-potties at the boat ramp. A U-Haul truck was parked near the starting line, ready to accept bags and transport them to the finish, which was a welcome touch on a somewhat crisp morning.

I warmed up with a short easy run along the course, and looked back up the valley to see a small cloud of smoke far upriver, the only noticeable effect of  the 36 Pit Fire that had burned a large area in the previous weeks. There was a very slight reddish tint to the air, but I didn’t really smell any smoke, or detect any problems with the air quality during the race. In fact, a light cloud cover kept things relatively cool and made for ideal racing conditions.

At 9:30a the walkers took off, many of them serious ORRC competitors. That gave them a half-hour lead on the runners, which was perfect, because by the time the runners caught up to them they were spread out enough to provide encouragement without any congestion.

At 10:00a the countdown hit zero and the runners were under way. I tried to rein myself in, knowing quite well that the course can lure you into a foolish pace early on, causing a lot of agony in the final stages. I paced myself relatively well this time, but I still felt the effort as the race progressed.

In fact, I was only half-joking (maybe only 25% joking, in fact) when I passed ORRC veteran Ralph Brown somewhere around mile 4 and asked him if I could walk the rest of the race with him. I was seriously thinking about stopping, but the other familiar walkers were so encouraging I had to keep going. Though it was far from a PR, that same mechanical error that kept the throttle open still hadn’t been repaired.

As I entered the final miles, I could tell I wasn’t gaining on the runner ahead, and I couldn’t hear anyone behind me. As I approached the course’s one significant uphill, where the road rejoins the highway, I braced myself for the climb and welcomed the last landmark before the final stretch into town.

I saw the photographer up ahead, and was trying not to look too wiped out, when I suddenly heard footsteps right behind me. All of a sudden a tiny young woman was cruising by me as if on air. It turned out to be Susan Smith, on her way to the women’s championship and a PR of her own! I managed to gasp a “Good job!” just before she was out of earshot. She crested the hill, and within a few strides was overtaking the runner ahead of me.

Inspired by her example, I gathered whatever energy I had left, concentrated on maintaining my form, and pushed on to the finish. A right turn (strangely unmarked, and with no volunteers – the sole flaw at an otherwise well-organized event) led to the finish arch. As I made the turn, I saw the clock ticking up toward the next full minute, and made a mad dash to get across the line before it hit :00.

I found a comfortable spot on the curb and cheered on other finishers for a while, then headed over to the refreshment line for pretzels, bananas, cookies, and Red Vines (not necessarily in that order). It was another successful installment of a great event, and everything tasted better knowing I hadn’t given in to the urge to quit. That recall notice may show up one of these days, but until it does I will just have to keep racing.

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