Friday, April 3, 2015

Athlete's Corner: Gorge Waterfalls 100K

Race Report and Profile: Alexa Laidlaw and Hilary Matheson 

When: March 28, 2015
Where: Benson State Recreation Area, Oregon US
Distance: 100K
Elevation Gain: about 12000' feet of gain
Time limit: 16 hrs
Full race results: (here)
Alexa finished: 12:56:09 (9th female)
Hilary finished: 14:12:34 (18th female)

Alexa with Dennis.
Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

Years trail running: 1.5

Favourite trail race: Gorge Waterfalls 100K

Best result: 4:57:22 Oregon Coast 50K (2014)

Worst decision made in a race: Not looking at the Sun Mountain 50K course profile. I saved nothing for the last climb and found it emotionally and physically devastating. Good lesson though.

Favourite aid station food: Trail Butter! Espresso flavour – so good!

Three things I’d never race without: Morning coffee, SportShield, and a strong belief I can achieve my race goals

Go-to recovery treat: no alarm clocks the next morning

Favourite trail to train on: Mt Fromme. Up Mountain Highway and down the various mountain bike trails, to work on extended uphill running and technical descents (both weaknesses for me)

Average weekly mileage: around 80K

Something most people don’t know: I grew up traveling the trails by horseback rather than by foot

Coach Gary, Racer Hilary, Pacer Brice


Years trail running:

Favourite trail race: Squamish 50K

Best result: Beacon Rock 50K (5th GP, 2nd age group)

Worst decision made in a race: Not pulling over to deal with blisters and having to run the next 40K with them consuming half of my feet

Favourite aid station food: Coca-cola and Gummie Bears

Three things I’d never race without: hydration pack, bandaids, nut butter

Go-to recovery treat: an entire pizza the day after

Favourite trail to train on: Mt. Fromme (esp. Seventh Secret, Ladies Only)

Average weekly running time: 10-14hours

Coach: Gary Robbins and Eric Carter of Ridgeline Coaching Services

Something most people don’t know: I sing – metal band, jazz ensembles, acapella group, and I'm with the Good Noise Vancouver Gospel Choir

Chloé: Alexa, you’ve ran ridiculous ultra distances as adventures runs in the past, why did you pick Gorge as your first 100K race?

Alexa: First, you can’t go wrong with a Rainshadow Running event. Their courses are beautiful, challenging, with such an amazing community. That crew really does something special, and I love being a part of it. I knew that the course was incredibly scenic with spectacular waterfalls and lush forests, worth spending a 100 kilometers on. I was also drawn to the race’s reputation of being very tough and sneaky. This race would give me the test I was looking for.

The timing was perfect. I’m signed up for Fat Dog 120 in August, and an early season 100K would put me in a good place physically and mentally in my training. It was good to test the waters early, give me enough recovery time if I got injured during this race.

Alexa coming into the Wyeth aid station, at the 50K point

Chloé: How about you Hilary, why was Gorge your first choice for a 100K race?

Hilary: I fell in love with the course last year during the 50k, plus I can’t get enough of Rainshadow Running’s races. I’m not normally a fan of an out and back course but in this particular case it appealed to me. It seemed like it would be a mental boost getting to the half way mark and know exactly what to be facing on the way back.

Chloé: ... what was your main goal, and how did you plan for this race?

My primary goal was to finish. The cut off time was not exactly generous, so after consulting with Gary, I decided to take the early start. There was no real doubt that I would finish under 16 hours, but really didn’t want to think about cut offs at all during my run.

In my pre-race planning, I may have broken a couple of the cardinal “thou shalt not” rules, but only after careful consideration, with backups for my backup plan in case something went wrong (I have learned a few things after nine 50Ks and a 50miler).

The first gamble was experimenting with my nutrition. In the past I’ve struggled with massive GI issues, having to rely on what I could stomach at aid stations. This time, I fuelled 80% on high fat, high calorie nut butters (Justin’s). And topped-up with Coke and Gummie Bears at aid stations. Result: no energy crashes or bonks. I definitely want to experiment more going forward, but this was one of the most successful nutrition strategies so far. 

The second gamble was my gear. My past hydration packs have felt too bulky for races. I got the new Slab Sense Ultra pack the week before, and used it on race day. The soft flasks were finicky when I first tried them out at home, but went into the pouches easily once they were filled. The pockets allowed to stash plenty, such as nut butters, salt pills, windbreaker, headlamp.

My Pearl Izumi N2 were worn out. I was debating whether I should run in a brand new pair or stick with the worn, familiar ones. I went with the new pair, but had backup shoes at aid stations along the course – better safe than sorry! No issues, aside from minor blisters.

Hilary. Photo by her pacer Brice Ferre

Chloé: Alexa, you were singled-out as a wildcard contender for this race. Was it your plan to crush the competition or was this intended more as a training run?

Alexa: My goals were to finish and avoid injury. Gorge was a training run, a stepping stone on my journey to Fat Dog. I was curious to see how my body would fair after running 100K at a higher intensity than any of my longer distance adventure runs. I’d been dealing with chronic back issues over the past couple of months, and unsure if it would flare up during the race.

The course didn’t play to my strengths as a runner. I consider myself a strong hiker, even on tired legs, but the majority of the climbs were very runnable. My plan was to start conservatively, listen to my body, and maintain a sustainable pace. I estimated about 14 hours to finish. Getting to the 50K point in six hours felt like a good pace, giving me enough time (ten hours) to cover the last 50K if something went terribly wrong.

Chloé: Gear, nutrition?

I wore my new Brooks Pure Grit 3. The grip was stellar on wet rock, soft dirt, even on pavement. The cushioning allowed for hard downhill running even 95K into the race, and the strike plate was key in the rocky sections. Overall, I was super impressed with their performance on this course, zero feet issues all day.

It looked like maybe rain, so I settled on a lightweight Smartwool long sleeved and New Balance shorts. Ultimate Direction pack, hydration bladder, gels and chews, and I left a bag of avocados, dates, and baby food with my crew. My nutrition plan was to eat mostly sugar (dates, gels, chews) between aid stations, and to eat something more substantial and high fat (an avocado) when I saw my crew.

I was really lucky to have my boyfriend, Matt Barry, and good friend Adam Harris (both running the 50K next day) as my amazing, super efficient crew for the day. I saw them at four points during the race. Thank you so much!!

Alexa's crew Matt and Adam killing it in the 50K

Chloé: Hilary how did your day go, what were the highlights, any issues?

Hilary: As mentioned I did the early start, so it was strange being passed by the lead pack. The first guys flew by less than an hour after my start (seriously?). I struggled at first with not knowing exactly where I was in the race. It’s hard to be competitive passing people wondering if they are a minute or an hour ahead, or, behind you. I decided to run my own race 25K in, and ignore everyone else.

Overall, this race was a fantastic experience for me. Being my first 100K, I was paying attention to my pace, especially in the first half. I knew the big climbs were at the beginning and at the end of the course. I was terrified about going out too fast, but my first half was 7 hours, and the second half only 12 mins longer.

I felt my strongest from about 60K to 85K, consistently running the hills without difficulty. I probably could have pushed the pace a bit more in the beginning, but considering it was uncharted territory, better to have finished on a high note with energy to spare rather than a faster start and later have the wheels fall off.

A highlight was running much of the race with badass Vancouver runner Vera Horsman. The first 30K flew by as we chatted, and even as we subsided into silence, it was comforting to have company nearby. One issue was my right glute kept seizing-up. It didn’t affect my gait much, but I was stopping every 8-10K to stretch.

At Cascade Locks, my training partner and good friend Brice Ferre joined me for the last 35K. He came along for the weekend just to pace and support me. It was fantastic to run with someone that can read and monitor my suffering. It was a great boost, especially on the last climb where I put my head down and just followed his feet up to the top.

Having done Gorge 50k last year, I knew it would be a stunning course with deceptively challenging terrain. Rainshadow Running races are exceptional. Such enthusiasm from everyone involved, particularly at the aid stations and the volunteers who cheerfully checked runners in at 2 o’clock in the morning. Thank you all for the memorable experience!!

Alexa at 65K

Chloé: Alexa, how did it go for you?

Alexa: This year, the 100K race was part of the Montrail Ultra Cup, and the top two male and female finishers were to receive a ticket into this year’s coveted Western States 100 race. This definitely added to the excitement of the event, as both the men and women’s fields were stacked with strong runners, including some BC favourites Alicia, Tara and Gary.

I was up by 1:30am, at the start by 2:30am. Coffee, get organized, visit with friends, then before I knew it James was sending us off. The race began with a run to the other side of the lake, before climbing up a moderately steep section of switchbacks. I hiked most of this section, soaked-in the wild image of hundreds of headlights dancing along the hillside above and below me. The 500 meter climb was followed almost immediately by a 500 meter descent down muddy and slick switchbacks to the first aid station (No Name at kilometer 10ish). The next few K's felt easy, and even the 4K stretch of highway went quickly. The trail between the second and third aid stations rolled up and down through beautiful, lush, old growth forest and past the most spectacular waterfalls.

I felt good at this point, and settled into a comfortable pace, chatting with another racer, Travis. I saw my friends Graham, Dennis, and Dave in this section along with the sunrise. I was super excited to see my crew Matt and Adam at the Cascade Locks aid station. I wanted to chat, but they kept me focused and to the next aid station (Wyeth at 50K).

I hit a low-point climbing out of the aid station, but ate my way out of it with a bag of dates. It was super uplifting to see the leaders coming back along the 50K turnaround. I felt better, running well to the next aid station.

I thought I wouldn’t like an out and back course, but being able to connect with the other runners, saying or nodding an encouraging “good job” in passing was a special experience.

The last 21K felt very long, at this point marking the furthest I’d ever raced but I kept a steady pace. The 4K of road felt a hundred times worse than it had in the morning … yet the finish was nearing. I gave a good push over the last major climb, accepted the pain down the switchbacks. Then realized there was a chance I could finish under 13 hours. I hustled around the lake to the finish line.

It felt so amazing to high-five James and finally stop running.

Incredibly happy with how my race went, I had so much fun! And so proud of all of my friends who ran this weekend. The Rainshadow Running community put together such a stellar weekend, I recommend this race in a heartbeat.


Chloé: What’s next for you two?

Alexa: A couple weeks of relaxed runs with my dog before ramping up for Fat Dog 120 in August. Training will include Broken Goat 50K in July, and otherwise adventures runs that inspire me.

Hilary: Less racing and more adventuring is my focus this year. I’m also signed-up for Broken Goat, followed by Fat Dog 70 mile, likely will do another 50K, and a few of the Coast Mountain Trail Series races.

Learn more:
Instagram: alexalaidlaw

Instagram: thehilaryann
Facebook: Hilary M.  Ambassador for: Pearl Izumi Canadian Champions team

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