I was standing in front of 10 Barrel Brewing in Bend, OR, waiting to start the 1.5 “shake-out” run to kick off the Under Armour Mountain Series event in Mt Bachelor, and I suddenly realized that I was in the company of some very fit participants. Running has become more and more of an “every-man” (and “every-woman”) sport over the years, but trail racing is some serious business. And I suddenly realized that the race I was planning for the following day, the one that meandered up a volcano was .. Well, perhaps more extreme. Or crazy. Maybe I was in over my head. But I had traveled a long way for this race and there was no turning back now.
The pre-race festivities planned for this event were great. After that 1.5 mile run outside of the brewery in the heat of the day (on a thankfully flat road,) I got to enjoy a free beer, happy hour, and an inspiring Q&A with some elite runners on a panel. They answered a lot of questions about trail running and what to eat and how to prepare. There were also people on hand to help us with any questions we had at all about the course and terrain we’d be experiencing the next day. By the time I got back to The Oxford Hotel to get some rest, I was feeling nervous but excited for the experience I was going to have the following day. I knew that it would not be forgotten.
This particular series has a distance for every runner. There was a 5k, a 10k, a half marathon, a full marathon, a marathon relay, and a 50k to choose from. There was also an event called “The Vertical Challenge,” but more on that later. I opted for the marathon relay, as I thought it would be a fun one to try with friends and it didn’t sound as scary as some of the bigger distances. The marathon course was just the half marathon loop twice, so with 4 runners on a relay team, 2 team members run the same course at different times. Any way you looked at the elevation profile, everyone was going to have some challenging hills. The 1st and 3rd loop had a steep incline to start on, followed by a long downhill before it climbed again, all in about 6.7 miles. The 2nd and 4th runners had primarily all uphill terrain to contend with for about 6.4 miles. And for those of us who weren’t acclimated to the elevation, there was that challenge to consider as well.
After watching the elite 50k runners take off, all the marathon, half marathon, and relay runners lined up. Our 1st runner took off and I, being runner #2 of our 4 person team, had to get in a van to take me to Aid Station 3, which is at mile 6.9 and where the pass-off was to occur. The van took us only so far before dropping us off in a spot on the mountain where an ATV picked us up for the final climb to the aid station. It was a fun ride and all the people on the mountain were very informative and friendly. Once we got to the exchange, we had to wait for a long while before our runners arrived. There were only 2 of us relay runners who had 4-person teams, and we were offered chairs to sit in an all the pre-race GU, jerky, PowerAid, and granola bars we could possibly ever want.
This exchange point was actually one of my favorite parts of the day because we got to see so many runners come through. They were all in various stages of happiness to see us and pain from the course. The 50k runners especially amazed me. Most stopped for a couple of minutes to grab some more water or electrolytes and then headed back out, looking strong. We noticed more than a few people with bleeding knees and dirt-covered clothes, a reminder that falling was a common occurrence. Many were walking, and I again realized what a challenge this was. I started to feel like one of the volunteers out there, cheering everyone on, asking if they needed anything, pointing in the direction they needed to go. As I waited there longer and longer, I started to hear a lot coming through on the walkie talkies and a lot of runners were telling us they were getting lost on the course. The runner I was waiting for communicated via Instant Messenger that she’d gotten lost a few times. I was getting worried. Finally, she arrived and told me she’d run 8.5 miles, so she had really gone off course but she was in great spirits. It was an adventure, after all. And now it was time for mine.
I knew that I couldn’t go full-speed at this race like I would some others. The trails would be taxing and I needed to pace myself. Also the ground was rocky, and it was different from the sort of gravel most people experience on trails. This was pumice and basalt and it was softer and rockier than what I was used to. I was also worried about getting turned around or taking a wrong path, so I paid very close attention to where I was at all times. Luckily, the trail was pretty obvious and I just had to follow the orange ribbons tied to trees along the course. I never felt like I didn’t know which way to go and though many of the hills were challenging, it felt entirely doable. A lot of participants were walking, and I was never passed by anyone. I passed some people and felt a little guilty because I knew a lot of these people had been out here for much longer than me. The views were absolutely spectacular and really helped push me along when the hills got to be challenging enough for me to feel like I had to walk. Before I knew it, I was running back to the start area where I passed off to our 3rd runner. She had no issues on her leg of the course, so whatever issues people had on the 1st loop had been fixed to make it easier to find the way. Our 4th runner reached a point where she wasn’t sure where to turn but she made it back to the finish too. Our whole team was exhausted but elated to have accomplished this.
The fun wasn’t over for me. I’d signed up for the Vertical Challenge, a 1.77 mile climb that started at 6371’ and ascended up to 7724.’ My team was done with the relay by 3pm, so my husband taxied the team back to their lives while I hung out in the sun for a couple more hours before the challenge, which was to begin at 5pm. Luckily, everyone was very welcoming and there were games of cornhole and Jenga going on, so it wasn’t hard passing the time. When it was time to line up for the event, I noticed there were very few women standing among our group. It was, in fact, a pretty small group, all fit and young. There were about 350 people who had participated in one run or another that day, and only 22 people had signed up for this race. I began to doubt my choice to do this, and then when we were told it would take us around 40 minutes to complete the less-than 2 mile course, I considered walking away.
But no, I’d stuck it out this long. I’d been out on the mountain in the heat since 8:15AM and I wasn’t going anywhere until this was done. So I did it. I’d been running approximately 5 minutes before I had to walk. I walked almost all of it. It was the steepest climb I’d ever attempted as far as I can remember, and the terrain very rarely relented in any way. My calves and my quads were screaming and every hill gave way to another one. It was also some of the most beautiful scenery I’d ever seen. It kept me going. I finished in about 34 minutes and it was truly amazing. When I crossed the finish, I knew I’d made the right decision to stick it out. My husband had gotten a ride up on the chair lift to greet me at the top and we got a relaxing lift back down to the bottom together. It was the perfect way to end the day.
The bottom line .. it was the inaugural year and there are a few small bugs to work out. I have no doubt that the course will be marked much better next year. The race officials were on top of it and did the best they could to rectify the “holes” in the course as quickly as possible. Everyone out there was very friendly, helpful, and accommodating. The aid stations were well stocked with all sorts of grub to keep runners fed and hydrated and the post race food was pretty decent too. There were cookies, oranges, bananas, chia bars, and peanut butter. There was also live music and the vibe was very chill. The lodge was serving some yummy burgers and street tacos and some other stuff too. We all got another complimentary beer (or 2 if you ran 2 events like I did) and there was coffee, water, and PowerAid. The quarter-zip tech shirt that came with the registration was a nice one also. Even with the snafus, everyone seemed really happy afterwards. All of my team said they’d do it again. Success!!
There are two more races in the series and I’m sure that the Mt. Bachelor experience will only help to make those even more epic. The Killington, VT Mountain Series event will occur over the course of two days, August 19th and 20th. The Copper Mountain, CO Mountain Series event will happen September 9th and Sept 10th. I plan to run the Copper Mountain series and am really looking forward to seeing how amazing it will be. There’s still time to sign up for these other races, so check them out (or read my race preview here to get more details) if you are looking for what’s guaranteed to be a beautiful and challenging event of a lifetime.