I’m a self-described mountain person as opposed to a beach person. Give me forests, timberline, rock scrambles, and singletrack. Alpine lakes and waterfalls, pine needles, views worth the effort. That’s not to say I hate the beach – the ocean is a magical place and I appreciate all it offers – but given the option, I’ll pick the mountain any day of the week and twice on Sunday. So, needless to say, I don’t visit the Oregon coast very often.
This year, our friends who host the Three Capes Relay and Ultimook XC, had a new race on their calendar: The Ultramook 50k and 30k on July 8th. I’m always keen for inaugurals and was hoping this race would change my mind about running at the coast! It’s certainly not a fast, on-the-sand, type of event and with over 6,000 feet of elevation gain in the 50k, it was anything but flat.
I do love running in Tillamook State Forest but have always been on the east side. Up and over the range, just outside of Tillamook proper, the Ultramook started/ended at the Hydrangea Ranch. My most favorite thing about the entire day was that the finish line was just on the other side of a river! Wading up to your thighs (or wave to stop your time and just plop right on down) after hours of running through the woods was the most spectacular feeling! But that meant to start the run, we had to go the long way around to avoid soaked shoes before the gun even went off. So around we went, the 3/4 mile walk. Groggy and obstinate, we all walked, starting us about 10 minutes late.
Both distances took off together. Each had a small field on their own, so starting off simultaneously gave a bit more community through the initial miles. Down a gravel road for a bit, then veering off into the woods, we hit AS1 and were all a bit confused by the mileage – all the watches read 2.5 and the AS sign said 3.5. Shrug. We had a few big hills to climb and I was sure the discrepancy would sort itself out as the course went on. Trail running distances and GPS signals are often taken with a grain of salt.
Miles 2-6 were grueling, gaining about 2,000 feet. AS2 was at the top and had the usual, beautiful ultrarunning spread. Chips, cookies, gummy bears, oranges, potatoes, PB&Js, water. The works. I was hoping for Coke, but seeing none, I opted for the Gatorade. They were in medium-sized bottles for the taking, which was a bit awkward, so I just dumped some in my extra handheld and took off. A small climb on soft singletrack was a nice break from the rocky 4-wheel drive track we just came up and then a steep downhill section was a fun way to start the next section.
After a few more rollers, we detoured quickly upwards to Top of the World for our earned views (damn, socked in. typical of the coast.) then down again and onward we ran.
After a while another detour to Top of the World 2 (more fog? wt actual f, Tillamook?) I found myself alone. I made up some time on the breezy downhill, then entered what I believe to have been Alice in Wonderland’s Down the Rabbit Hole tunnel. Overgrown raspberries, tall grass, and uneven terrain made for some mentally frustrating miles.
I watched for the plentiful, yet often-too-subtle green course marking ribbons carefully. I caught up with two girls and felt relieved that I wasn’t lost. At the end of the long bushwhacking section, we hit an unbearably steep downhill. Grab-onto-trees-for-stability type downhill. It was short but challenging! At the end, it was more downhill, completely runnable, into AS3 (or the finish, for 30k-ers) and the start of loop 2 for the 50k. Back on the same gravel road, back to the same AS 1 (now 4), but this time our climb was along the creek, rather than the rocky road. It was beautiful in here, with numerous water crossings. I took every opportunity to dip my hands; the cold water refreshing and helped to ease my frustrations with my progress. Because it was such a small field of runners, I was pretty certain of my placement, but I was moving so slowly I expected someone to surely catch me. Reaching the top of the ridge, I popped out at AS5 and got my bearings about what was to come. I was back on the original course now for the same bushwhacking and the same steep downhill. I pressed on.
The second loop didn’t require the detours to the viewpoints – as tempting as it was to see if the fog had cleared, my legs didn’t want to extend the effort of those climbs. Back in the rabbit hole, I came upon another runner. Excited, I had been running alone for hours now, I was keen for some solidarity! He was from Texas and the hills were testing him. He was great company and it’s always fun to chat about running while running with other runners. We’re a special kind of people, aren’t we?
Back down the grassy downhill, onto the gravel road, dodge right to the river, and wade across to the finish line. It was over. I raised my fist triumphantly, completing my first 50k in over a year, and couldn’t wait to stop my watch. Just under 28 miles. I guess it didn’t sort itself out. It’s hard to know if the course was short or the GPS was off, but either way it’s an ultra and I’m proud to have done it! That cool, breezy, foggy Sunday at the coast gave the best of both worlds: mountain and beach.
There were pulled pork sandwiches at the finish, along with beer and Gatorade. I sat in the grass with some other finishers, all of us giddy, yet exhausted. The Hydrangea Ranch is a beautiful spot and I wished I had brought a blanket or lawn chair to hang out on for a while. I look forward to seeing this event grow in the coming years – it’s a great way to explore the lesser run part of Tillamook Forest!