It’s been a wild couple of weeks. Siuslaw Dunes, making its debut on March 7, seems like an eternity ago. It was one of the last races to be held before the cancelations started pouring in. Before kids were out of school for spring break and then…just…out. Before we were all working from home. Back when I could hug my friends and give high fives and share Chapstik or water bottles. And it wasn’t even that long ago. Before I let you take a break from COVID-19, I want to say thank you to Daybreak Racing for taking precautions during the race to remind us that something big was coming, but that we were still able to safely do what we came to do. Thank you to my fellow racers for acknowledging the impending pandemic but still showing up for love of the run while we still could. And while I’m at it, thank you to everyone staying at work right now to help those in need, whether that’s in a hospital or a grocery store, in a delivery truck or van, or at a food bank or still making school lunches, or figuring out how to educate children remotely, or one of the countless folks endlessly scouring the world’s updates to make informed decisions about keeping our communities not only safe, but supported. Remembering and writing about Siuslaw right now seems like it was a decade ago, when less than 3 weeks have passed. But I remember it fondly.
I was running the 25K that day and was stoked to share the course with all the dogs! I’ll lead with that – it’s dog-friendly! Both the 50K and 25K allowed fit, well-trained, and leashed dogs and I was just as excited to see all of them as they were to be out there! The day was typical Oregon coast weather: sunny, then cloudy, then pissing rain, then windy, rinse and repeat. The day-use area where the race starts and ends has a beautiful sheltered area for packet pickup, complete with proper restrooms, and the morning was a breeze. Parking was a bit tight, so I suggest carpooling or getting there earlier than normal, particularly for the 25K racers (as the 50K-ers were already off and running), but there were no stressful moments around it, just a little FYI.
Jeremy, the fearless race director, lined us up for the race briefing and told us to follow the orange flags and for the fast people to get up front, lest any bloggers complain about bottlenecks! As such, I found my way to the middle of the pack and we took off!
We had a quick ½ mile jaunt through the trees on the muddy trails and then spilled out onto the sand for a straight (up) shot to the dunes. We climbed, getting our bearings in the deep sand, sorting out traction and navigating how to blaze a trail, and at the top, the dunes stretched out as far in front as I could see. The Pacific Ocean to my right, gorgeous lush forests to the left, and ~16 miles to go. It was so beautiful and so unlike any other trail run (is it still trail running?) I’d done before.
Up and down the sand we went. There weren’t really any big, sustained climbs, it was just decent-sized rollers in deep sand, which was the more challenging bit. The elevation profile makes it look tame, but the terrain was an energy-zapper. The crowd spaced out early and it was loads of fun to just bomb down the dunes in the soft sand, spill out onto the flats for a jog, and power hike the ups. Out on the dunes it was so easy to run side by side, pass or let pass, and spread out. The course markings were plentiful and easy to follow; added bonus of being able to see runners ahead and behind for quite literally miles.
Mile 5.5 brought the only aid station (the lollipop-style course hits the same aid station twice, for a total of 2 in the 25K) and we were greeted with our friends at Wy’East Wolfpack, with the ever-smiling Yassine wearing a fishing getup, dangling sweets! Per usual, Daybreak’s aid stations are fully stocked with everything you could want / need (though they are cupless, runners were surprised with branded reusable cups as swag at packet pickup!). From Oreos to chips, Muir gels, pickles, candy, Coke, oranges…the gamut.
Leaving the aid station brought some relief from the sand with a little singletrack before popping us out on the beach for some proper ocean-side running. Running south, we eventually hopped back up into the woods for more singletrack (and some very slippery bridges!) which completed the lollipop and then we headed back the way we came.
My legs were toast on the way back. My quads were fatiguing from the sand and I walked more than I care to admit. I relished the tiny bits of the course that were on pavement around the aid station, excited to be back on solid ground, if only for a minute.
The last few miles had more of the 50K finishers mixed in and getting their respective levels of “doneness” was the solidarity we all needed. “The scenery never got old” was the general consensus. “It’s so unique and beautiful” was a common phrase. “Holy crap, this was tough!” was another shared sentiment!
At last, the descent down that final hill, into the trees, through the mud, rounding the parking lot, and across the finish line. Jeremy personally greeted every finisher with a wooden “medal”, logo’d pint glass, and meal ticket. Serving up soup, cookies, chocolate milk (my personal favorite), and beer of course, it was great to sit inside, or outside, watch the finishers, pet all the dogs, enjoy the sun (and then the rain, and then the sun, and then the rain), scope out the really awesome raffle prizes, and enjoy the start of the running season.
Before heading out, I took a moment to chat with Jeremy and thank him for the great event and offer congrats on another successful inaugural race. “No 25K PR for me today!” I joked and he offered some food for thought before bounding away to greet a new finisher – “It’s something I’m trying to push back on in the trail running community”, he replied. And I’ve let that sit with me. I’d love to know more about his reason for saying that, but would also love to know if you agree or disagree with that concept. Comment below or start a thread on our Facebook page. In my opinion, being a fast runner and being a distance runner are two very different sports that have been colliding recently. For me, I want to go to the pretty places, away from the crowds, where I can take photos and enjoy the work of it. Even if that means slowing down a bit.
Siuslaw Dunes is not your run-of-the-mill trail race but it is absolutely worth checking out. Florence is a very cool coastal town so make a weekend out of it – recovering at the beach can’t be all bad! Registration for 2021 opens August 1st. You can see 2020’s results here and photos here.
Be sure to check out Daybreak Racing’s other great events this year, including the inaugural Cloud Cap mountain marathon (+ half and 10K) on Sept 26th! As always, free inspiration can be found on their Facebook and Instagram as well.