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Race Recap: 2018 Elk-Kings Mountain Marathon (Tillamook State Forest)

Go Beyond Racing puts on phenomenal events, one of which being the Elk-Kings Trail Series. Traditionally this event has included a 50K and 25K, but this year they decided to add a Mountain Marathon.

The Mountain Marathon is just a handful of miles shorter than the 50K so it could be looked at like a step down in difficulty. However, this race had OVER twice as much elevation as the 50K, which meant that the race was about 8,000 feet of elevation gain according to the website. But based on my legs, watch, and other runners, it was closer to 9000. Either way, it was a TON of elevation gain!

I was originally signed up for the 50K before they announced the Mountain Marathon, but when I saw they had added this torturous event, I couldn’t resist doing it. I was using this race as a training race for an upcoming 100K and what better way to do that than to get in ALL the elevation. I soon found out, there are probably way better ways to prepare.

One thing I absolutely love about this race is that it doesn’t start at an ungodly hour. The race began at 9am at the Elk-Kings campground in the Tillamook State Forest. The scenery is gorgeous and full of lush trees there. It was a cold morning and we all stood around shivering as we listened carefully to details of the races (we were starting with the 25Kers). Finally, we were off and we ran down the road towards the trails. Once we reached the trails, the 25K and the Mountain Marathon turned in different directions and began our ascents up our respective mountains.

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The Mountain Marathon started with Elk Creek Trail climb, a gradual single track upwards for a few miles. It was nothing too treacherous, yet of course this was the point in the race where I took my biggest fall. At the “saddle” of between the two main summits was the first aid station, staffed by the outgoing and helpful Wy’East Wolfpack. The view for this aid station was phenomenal, but I can only imagine the torturous effort put forth to get all the water jugs to this point. After this, we headed up to Kings summit and began to head down to hit our first repelling site. You read that right – repelling…during a race. So unique and awesome. At this point we had met up with the 25K so we waited as we took turns using the rope to lower ourselves down the rocky terrain. This was quickly followed up with a steep climb – and by steep I mean literally on my hands and feet climb to the top of the summit. Once we reached this point, the views were unbeatable. Absolutely stunning in every way.

We continued to work our way back down before ending at the next aid station over a section that was sort of the Bermuda triangle of aid stations. 50Kers, 25Kers, and Mountain Marathoners were all reaching this point at the same time with the 50Kers and Mountain Marathons continuing left as 25Kers were ending at the end station coming from that same direction. This was the only part of the race were I felt a bit frustrated. And it had nothing to do with the race itself, but with the runners. I was running against 50Kers on a single lane trail, so I would hop to the side and let them pass every time I saw one. On more than one occasion I got seriously shoulder checked and rudely passed with no words. As a trail runner, I find that respect and courtesy to all runners on the course is important and it was a bit frustrating to be treated so rudely by other runners.

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Nonetheless, a few miles later we reached another aid station. Here I loaded up on potato chips and asked where I was supposed to head at which point the aid station volunteer pointed to the trail I had just come from and said, “right back up”. I stood frozen staring at him as if he had lost his mind. We were 12 miles in and we were headed into our second summit. This is literally the turning point in the race. Mountain Marathoners legs were tired from the first summit and now we headed back up. This climb is again an all extremities climb – hands, feet, knees, elbows, everything. I was literally crawling my way up the steep rocks while stopping occasionally to breathe. As I came across hikers I would ask, hopefully, if the summit was near in which they would always respond with a “No, sorry”. There weren’t very many people running the Mountain Marathon, but I finally found another racer on the course with me. He was my saving grace as we talked about our goals of being mauled by a bear as we suffered together. Another solid chunk of miles, which took hours to complete, landed us back at the Wy’East Wolfpack aid station and allowed me to get watered down. I looked at my watch and knew I had to seriously push it to make the 19 mile time cutoff. Never have I ever been close to a time cutoff, so I was really stressed!

We headed back down the same way we had on the original summit with a big repel and climb before a nice steady downhill. I pushed so hard on that downhill and just barely made the cutoff. With just eight miles to go, we trekked off on another single lane wooded trail that went up a ton before heading down for another aid station before finishing through the Jones Creek campground and the Tillamook Nature Center bridge to the end. EIGHT hours later, I finished the race.

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Despite the pure exhaustion, I was so happy. I pushed, I tried, I did not cry and I learned a lot along the way. This was by far the toughest race I have ever done. But it has also done wonders for my mental game. I now know that if I can do that, I can do anything. Go Beyond put on a wonderful race and volunteers and other runners were amazing.

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I told myself a million times during the race that I would never do it again… but a week later, I am thinking I probably will. Who can resist that challenge!

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