The inaugural Salem River2Ridge came to the Capitol City on Sunday, September 18th and was a unique take on the triathlon – a paddle/bike/run course that traversed multiple miles in the mid-Willamette Valley. I always go into first year events with a focus on the positive and a willingness to understand that unforeseen challenges may present themselves. Overall, I think Breakaway Promotions and the entire planning team did well with navigating almost 61 miles of course across three mediums (water, roads, and trails). Impressive stuff AND great fun at the same time.
Our day started off with doing a variety of drop offs along the course. We started by dropping off our cyclist’s bike at Spongs Landing Park in Keizer and the kayak at the Wallace Marine Boat Launch in West Salem. We remarked on both of those drop-offs that, while not an endless sea of bikes and river vessels, there were actually more than we anticipated for a first year event.
After these drop offs, I headed over to the starting line at the new Peter Courtney Pedestrian Bridge at Riverfront Park. A week or so earlier, we were notified that instead of a .5 mile run to the boat launch, it would be extended to a full mile (was actually about 1.2). While this made complete sense to me – we have a cool new bridge that, to my knowledge, has never been part of a race – it also made it so that it was probably a bit too long for my father-in-law. He’s a whiz out on the water, but knee problems would have been too much. I was happy to see that the race directors made it possible for someone other than the paddler to run this stretch, and I was happy to oblige.
Participants lined up just on the SW side of the bridge and spectators lined the rails offering verbal support. We were given some race directions, a word of encouragement from Salem’s ex-mayor – who was significantly responsible in bringing this event to town – and toed the line with anticipation before heading out on our way.
That first mile was actually a blast. It was probably as close to a sprint as I had done in a LONG while, and I knew I had at least 4 hours before I was really doing anything else. So I pushed it. Pushed it to the point where I was crowned the champion of one Strava segment and cruising through the handoff at a 6:04 min/mile pace (super fast for me) and allowing my father-in-law to push out in 3rd place.
His recounting of the river section was that there are some legitimately fast paddlers out there. From kayaks to SUP’s to Outrigger canoes, the river was littered with vessels. We stopped at Keizer Rapids boat launch area to offer support (about 4 miles into the 6+ mile course) and was surprised to see him come along so quickly. In retrospect, he stated that while he was familiar with that part of the course and where the rapids and currents flowed, he was less familiar with the final few miles. He came cruising into Spongs Landing and completed his handoff, already saying that if (when?) we do this again, he will be better prepared in knowing where to position his kayak for optimal speed.
My brother-in-law, a great cyclist (and finisher of the crazy long STP), took to the roads to complete the 46+ mile course to Silver Falls. As with many of us, his fathering of three young kids, along with doing lots of work on his huge Salem property, had left his training less than optimum over the summer. He may have had concerns about his time, but I did not. Long story short, he ended up doing about as well as he could, even though he (and a few other riders) took a wrong turn at an unclear intersection, which left him putting in an additional mile or so, as well as left him without a second aid station. This is easily a simple fix, but definitely a necessary one.
I took the handoff just north of the main South Falls parking area. Being as I have run numerous races in Silver Falls State Park, I was pretty aware of what lied ahead. I started with a decent climb along the Rim Trail, which was followed by some rolling hills over the next few miles. There was an aid station at the North Falls area and then I headed behind the falls (always a fun experience, no matter how many times you have done it), and made the trek down into the canyon. As this course was not closed to the public, there were many people out enjoying the park while the race was going on. I made extra sure to thank each hiker or photographer I passed, as I knew it was probably not in their plans to have to watch out for runners along the trails. Right around the 4 mile mark, I ran into a few runners who were running the opposite direction – which concerned me. They were ahead of me, but had backtracked because they thought they had taken a wrong turn. I was aware that they were indeed backtracking and we ran a bit together. While I never felt like I was in the wrong location, I realize that I am pretty familiar with where I was at. For those runners who were not as familiar, or those who had never been to the park before, I could see how there could be some concern. I personally think that the RD’s did a great job at having staff at any major intersection (there were only 2-3 of these) to keep people on the right path, but there were some smaller connecting trails where people may have had second guesses. GPS can be a beast in the canyon (I was apparently running under 4 minute miles at times according to my phone – LOL), so just a handful of colored ribbons or streamers every little bit may prove a good idea in certain areas.
The most challenging part was the switchback climb out of the canyon and back on the Rim Trail. I walked a bit given the continuous climb, but overall felt that I was running more than walking overall – a definite success in this section. The rain picked-up a bit on my journey, but hadn’t reached the point where the course was sloppy or unmanageable. We ended up finishing as the 3rd Male relay team and received a logo pint glass and a bottle of beer – Capitol IPA – a collaboration between all of Salem’s breweries (read my review of this beer here). I promptly filled that glass with some beer from Salem Ale Works and had some delicious post-race food as well. Even with the rain coming down hard, it was a successful and extremely fun day. There were a few things that could be improved upon, and knowing Breakaway Promotions, I anticipate they will be quickly taken care of. This is slated to be back next year already, so be on the lookout and mark your calendars!