If you’re looking for a beautiful journey, the Mary’s Peak Trail Run will certainly meet your criteria. This 25k, 50k, and 50 Mile trail run is a challenging race, but if you want to get to some stunning views, you gotta climb some mountains to reach them. Mary’s Peak is located in a little town called Blodgett, which is about 20-25 minutes from Corvallis. The Peak is at the highest point on the coast range of Oregon, 4097 feet above sea level. There is 9400 feet of gain for the 50 Miler, and not one but TWO ascents of Mary’s Peak, with 5000 feet of gain in the first 17 miles! 50k runners will encounter 5400 feet of gain for the 50k, (3000 feet in the first 8 miles) and over 6000 feet descending. The 25k is no joke either, with 2500 feet of gain and over 3000 feet in descending. What all this really means is that you’ll be climbing up and down a lot of hills, and they don’t call this Mary’s “Peak” for nothing.
What you’ll also get is an absolutely amazing race and the Suislaw National Forest will afford you some of the most breathtaking scenery in Oregon. A lot of the course is on private land, so it’s a real privilege to have access to the Starker Forest. They have been incredibly supportive to allow us to be there, and anyone traveling to Oregon for the first time for this race is in for a treat.
This was my very first 50k race and I was terrified. Not only was I about to encounter a distance I had never run before, but I was going to climb up and down a MOUNTAIN of terrain. What was I thinking?
The race director was great about emailing us several times before the race with all the details we needed. We knew where to go and what was expected of us. He even gave everyone his cell phone number in case anyone needed him out on the course. This is a part of the ultra race culture that you wouldn’t get anywhere else; that sense of family among the runners and the organizers. On race day, he gave us another rundown just before getting on the shuttle bus at the Blodgett school, and again before we took off at the start line. He was clear about where to go and which markers to watch out for. To someone like me who gets lost very easily, it was comforting.
We were blessed with great weather, and though it was cold in the morning, I didn’t completely freeze despite my choice to wear shorts. The forecast for the day was around 79, though I believe it actually climbed into the 80’s by the afternoon. Without a ton of dramatic fanfare, we were instructed to go, and we were off on a gentle downhill, which was easy on my joints and a great warm up. I had to remind myself not to take off too fast, as I knew I was going to be out there most of the day and I was excited to finally be on this trek I’d been anxious about for months. Before long, we were on lush trails and surrounded by big glorious trees. The climbing began and I walked the hills, again saving myself for the miles ahead.
A little after mile 5, a group of us found ourselves at a fork in the road that had no markings to tell us which direction to take. We remembered our speech from that morning, telling us to stay left at a point along the course, and we were all hoping this was it. The path to the right was a logging road, and there were ribbons on the trees but they didn’t look like race ribbons. We made the correct choice, but we all felt that this turn would have been a good place for a big “X” to be visible on the righthand road. There were several “X” signs at other turns that we were all grateful for and though there weren’t race ribbons everywhere, the course was really well marked other than the one turn I just mentioned. As previously stated, I get lost pretty easily, and I never felt lost at this race despite the fact that I was alone out there a lot.
As we got closer to the summit, we were greeted with fog in the trees and it kept getting thicker and thicker. It got a bit chilly and there was some light rain. Running through the fog was a surreal experience, especially as my body was growing more tired, but it was an amazing dream-like experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. It was so quiet up there at the top, and I was disappointed that we couldn’t see the ocean through all the fog, but I was grateful to not feel the sun beating down hard on my shoulders.
As we began climbing down, I had a burst of energy that I took advantage of, running for long stretches and breathing in the forest air and checking out all the trees and woods while trying not to trip and fall at the same time. After a lot of descent, we began climbing again, and this time the steep hills seemed relentless. This was where a lot of people would want to give up, but I knew there would be a reward at the top. And there was.. At mile 22, the view at the top was worth every step to get there. By the time we got to the last aid station, my watch had long since died and I was disappointed to find out I still had 5 ½ miles to go. I was getting tired and sore and had no concept of how long that would be, but it felt like it would take forever. Luckily, I had found a friend along the course to run with, as we had been finding each other over and over again all day, and I think we were both grateful for some company for that last part of the race. The end was mostly downhill until we finally got to the road that we knew would lead us to the school where we would finish. The road to the school was uphill, but I knew it was the last hill I’d have to conquer that day, so I ran it with the last bit of energy in me. And just like that, I’d finished my first ultra marathon.
The experience of an ultra is like no other. The volunteers are wonderful and the runners are geniune people that are truly out there for the sake of running. There are no medals at the end of most ultras, not a lot of fuss or ballyhoo. It’s all about the voyage ahead and digging deep inside yourself to find your way to the finish. The feeling of accomplishment at the end is better than any medal I could hang around my neck. Despite the fact that this race was challenging, it will forever be cemented in my memory as one of the best.