We all have our running bucket lists. Sometimes that is a distance, sometimes it’s a specific event, and for some people it is just to simply become a runner. The Tillamook Burn as an event has been on my running bucket list since it’s inauguration and I couldn’t wait to run it this year. I made sure to put it on my calendar early, rushed through some early spring training, and showed up on race day excited and ready (albeit arguably undertrained, but we don’t have to talk about that).
Our friends at Daybreak Racing host this event (among other great trail races in the area) and not only do they have beautiful courses, they have thorough information, impressive websites, and give an all-around great experience. A few days before the event, I received my pre-race email with all the info I could need and want. Race morning came and my friend and I made the quick 1 hour drive from Portland to the trailhead to enjoy the fire pit, coffee, and camaraderie. Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards for me that morning, as early morning runner brain set in and we ended up in the wrong place. Quickly driving to a place with cell service, then racing a bit more to the start line, we arrived just in time to pin my bib on my shorts, listen to the race briefing from the porta potty line, and took off at the back of the pack. It was an anxiety-filled morning. Fortunately it was all sorted…we were off!
The 20 mile course is an out and back along the Gales Creek Trail; beginning at Reeher’s Camp, just about every step I took was on perfect singletrack trail. We started with a muddy downhill right out of the gate, and it was a nice, slippery way to remind yourself to not go out too fast.
With heavenly singletrack comes the complication of passing large groups of people. Our downhill lasted less than ½ mile and our 3 mile, 1,400 ft climb began, so it wasn’t an issue up front, but the dreamy downhill on the other side provided some leapfrog challenges and lots of awkward “on your left”s to only gain a little momentum. Luckily everyone was understanding, gracious, and friendly about it!
At the top of that first hill was aid station number one, complete with all the distance runner goodies: Oreos, gummy bears, Goldfish crackers, bananas, oranges, chips, pickles, gels, Coke…the whole 9. I snatched a few Oreos and enjoyed them on the ankle breaker descent, as I unilaterally dubbed it due to its technical and steep nature.
Eventually the downhill became more gradual and the water crossings became plentiful. All were easy enough to either long jump or rock hop and my feet never got wet the whole race. Arguably that means I was doing it wrong, but that’s neither here nor here!
Invariably miles 7-9 are my best miles in any run I’m on and this race was no exception. I broke away from the pack (reluctantly leaving my friend behind) and found myself alone on the trail. I enjoyed the dense forest, the soft ground cover, the wildflowers, and at one point, a sign with an arrow that said “Logo Inspiration”!. Indeed, to my left was the twisted remains of a massive tree, identical to the artwork on the race website. It was a lovely and unique insight to the race and I appreciated the connection.
The course was well marked with orange and black ribbon, though knowing it was an out and back on the one main trail made it easy to just run. After a bit of rolling terrain, we enjoyed a brief little downhill into the second aid station / turnaround at mile 10, where more of the same goodies were waiting, along with a bit of a party! The volunteers were full of energy and everyone was in good spirits – knowing the way back would be every bit as challenging as the way out, it was nice to take a few moments to enjoy the playfulness!
Power hiking out of the aid station, I saw my friend and the others looking forward to the turnaround. It was a challenging course, to be sure, but I must say, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, the day, and their accomplishment. Trail running is quite special that way.
After passing the last runner, and eventually the sweeping crew, I was alone for most of the trip back. Remembering the turns, the scenery, the bridges, the miles ticked away. That dreamy downhill I so enjoyed on the way out provided a “dig deep” moment going back. Back at aid station 1 (now 3), I took a moment to stand still before the steep descent to the finish. Here I caught some other runners and had some company from a runner from Bend as I battled a side ache on the way down.
Slipping our way through the mud back to the finish line, we were greeted with cowbells, the smell of burritos, and the race director with our finisher’s glasses. Hours of glorious running and I was ready for a seat by the fire.
That course is humbling. It’s a tough 20 miles with about 4,300 ft of gain and descent and we all earned our sore quads and hams that day. But it was everything I dreamt it would be and I hope to take on the challenge of the 50K next spring. If it’s on your bucket list, sign up early and make it happen – it’s a tough act to follow.
Results and photos are here!