I had a long, frustrating winter of not running due to injury and as a distance runner, this drove me completely mad. After a few short, but challenging events out of state, I was ready to “get back out there” and start logging some proper miles – I knew the Spring Fling Half Marathon was the perfect event for that.
Mike, the race director of all Oregon Trail Runs, is a super great guy and I knew if I needed to drop to the 10K or 5K leading up the event, there’d be no issue. Additionally, I knew if my injury flared up during the event, I’d be well taken care of. While this is a challenging course (~2,000 ft of elevation in the half) and probably not the wisest of choices I could have made to make my spring debut, I couldn’t resist the soft, singletrack trails at Alsea Falls. Plus, I’m a sucker for trail races with a small community vibe. Everyone is working hard, supportive, and inspiring, which was exactly what I needed.
I made my way from Portland to the trailhead on race day – the event had a 10 AM race start, so even with the 2+ hour drive, it wasn’t an obnoxiously early morning. The drive was easy, the trailhead obvious. I arrived about 30 minutes early, but wish I had given myself a few extra minutes, as parking was already difficult and I was rushing to park, use the porta-potty, pick up my packet, return to my car to shed layers, and return for the race briefing (it’s always good to know about slippery bridges in advance!). Pro-tip: have crew who can drop you off and/or arrive earlier than you think you need to!
It was a beautiful spring morning and it luckily didn’t rain all day! It was certainly brisk – I wore a long-sleeved merino (green, since it was St. Patrick’s Day and all) with capris – and felt like I made good choices, though at first I wished for my gloves, but the course begins with a steady climb for about 2.5 miles, so I warmed up quickly. The race is on fantastically maintained mountain bike trails, though I didn’t see a single cyclist all day, so it was fun to round the berms and zig zag up the switchbacks (then subsequently down them, as the half marathon is a lollipop).
I’m a solid back-of-the-pack runner but had a good group around me up the first few miles, before they broke away as the climb continued. The trail spilled out onto a logging road for a decently steep descent into aid station number 1 and I found myself running alone at this point, bombing down the hill, knowing I’d have to claw my way back up around mile 10. This run has a really fun elevation profile, don’t you think?
The course joined up with the road we all drove in on, then cut to the other side for aid station number 2, more singletrack goodness, the notoriously muddy section, those slick bridges we were warned about, and the other thing we were warned about: the hill. The steepest bit of the course, climbing about 500 feet in just a mile (for the record, this is how steep Pikes Peak is). Hands on quads, head down, I powered up, thoroughly unprepared but loving every minute of it. Additionally, we all know that what goes up must come down, and indeed it did. It leveled out slightly onto a gravel road, then flowed down more singletrack, more switchbacks, and more Pacific Northwest forest for another half mile before returning to the same muddy course we came in on, headed back the same route to the finish.
Somewhere in here I also met up with the race photographer – you can see me hamming it up enough to become the 2019 featured photo!
I came back through aid station 2 (which now became 3), crossed the road, powered hiked / jogged the logging road back to aid station 1 (now 4), and was back to the hill climb I so enjoyed coming down on the way out. I had passed 2 other racers back at the steep section and hadn’t seen anyone since. As a personal rule, I don’t race with headphones and I was thoroughly enjoying the forest, the trails, and the work. I reached the top of the road, hit the narrow trail, and geared up for the last two miles of downhill.
I was feeling my injury quietly nudging me to slow it down and when I did, adding insult to injury, a side ache also kicked in. At this point, some other runners caught up to me and being able to chat with them eased the discomfort. While I didn’t have a goal time (I only wanted to avoid a DNF for this one), I came in 1 minute slower than I projected. I’m going to blame it on the friendly volunteers and their encouraging conversations!
Giddy, yet tired, I grabbed a Coke from the cooler and sat on the rocks to take off my shoes and cheer on the rest of the finishers. When the cold set in, I made a pass by the food tent (BBQ, cookies, beer…typical post-race treats) and made my way up the hill to my car to warm up. Before leaving, I had a quick chat with the race director to commend him on another beautiful race, and drove the 2 hours home, happy as a clam.
I wholeheartedly recommend the Spring Fling event – it’s low key, family run, a good challenge, and those trails are really a tough act to follow. It was a really great adventure and a lovely way to remind me what I was missing all winter! It’s good to be back.