After getting into running a few years ago I’ve slowly progressed with further and further distances. My first race was a short 10 miles in the fall of 2014. I then did what any logical runner would do and jumped right into a 50 miler the next spring. Immediately after the race I stated I would never do another 50 miler. I was green with nausea and could barely walk. A week after the race I was online looking for a few races to progress up to the 100 mile mark. I was bit by the running bug and excited to try and figure out how to perform and feel a little better for the next race. I researched a few that would work out well with regards to location, elevation gain, and distance. I entered lotteries, paid my entry fees, and hoped for the best.
My first two races of the year were the Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Miler and the Castle Peak 100k. I feel that I performed really well in the first half of these two, with nausea setting in around the 30 mile mark on both. This seemed to be a common theme. After Castle Peak I had a conversation with a friend about food timing and started to string together a different plan than I had for the first two. I really hoped this was going to be the solution to my finicky gut.
Step forward four weeks and I’m driving up to Oregon from Reno for the Mountain Lakes 100 Miler starting at Olallie Lake Resort. If you haven’t heard of the location that’s because there isn’t much more than a few camp spots and small cabins for rent. The rough, rutted out dirt road to get there was hard to navigate at 5AM in the dark but when we arrived the sun started to peek out and unveil beautiful Mt. Jefferson towering over Olallie Lake. The water was like a pane of glass reflecting the snow capped peak, and a subtle layer of fog could be seen hovering above the shoreline.
The race was touted as one of the most beautiful 100 milers out there. I figured if I’m going to spend a long time running, I might as well enjoy the views. The elevation through the course was around 10k feet of gain/loss which seemed pretty mild compared to the first two races of my season. The timing seemed to be great for weather, so this race was shaping up to be pretty plush in my head.
The race started unusually late, 8AM, but I actually enjoyed starting in daylight. We began by heading south of the lake on a bit of fire road and eventually ended up in some rocky, beautiful single track that had more views of Mt. Jefferson.
The trail took a long drop into a dense forest where tall trees gave way to soft dirt that was gentle on the feet. A constant mist lingered beneath the tree cover making the air moist and cool.
But all that drop meant that we had to gain it back. We climbed what seemed like a creek bed for about 3k feet over several miles. As the climb may have seemed rocky and arduous, it was overshadowed greatly by the wondrous lakes that would seemingly pop out of nowhere. Their water was clear and smooth like that of Olallie Lake where we began. Colors of red clashed with the evergreens and against the blue sky, making it hard to keep my eyes looking down at the trail to avoid tripping or jamming my toes.
After 26 miles the course looped back to the starting line where we could meet our crew. I was already an hour ahead of my goal time, and I knew my wife and pacer were going to be concerned that I was too fast out of the gate like a few of my races earlier this year. After grabbing some solid food and a secret blend of coconut water, Skratch Labs electrolyte mix, and magic spells I set back out for the long haul north on the Pacific Crest trail towards Timothy Lake. With advice from my crew I slowed my pace down significantly to save some energy for the long hours of the night.
The way north on the PCT was generous with regards to incline and ground texture. I chatted with a few guys running my same pace along the way to keep me from thinking too much about being ahead of schedule. After some long sections of downhill cruising and quick aid station roll-throughs, I finally made it to mile 54 just after dark. Surprisingly, my stomach was solid, and I even felt really hungry! I also had a bit of mental relief to find my pacer and share some miles with a friend.
From mile 54 the course made a big loop around Timothy Lake, just south of Mt. Hood, and met back at the same aid station where we picked up our pacers.
At this point we had cruised from 6k feet to just over 3k and had a 16 mile section of flat, easy running. In the past 30 miles quite a few people ended up passing me which I was OK with. I knew if I could save my main effort for the return trip back I would have a better race. During the loop around Timothy Lake I began to start making a dent back in the number of racers that passed me earlier. So much so that I arrived back at my crewing station before the time we set for my wife to get up and be ready for us! Unfortunately my pacer was picking up some type of stomach illness from the day prior and lost all her food and water from vomiting. We decided it to be best if she didn’t make the trip deep into the woods were there wasn’t much access to medical attention. After waking my wife and doing a quick change of gear for the night temperatures I was back on my way towards the finish line. This time, I was heading south on the PCT and back uphill with 30 miles to go, solo.
Temperatures dropped into the 40’s and I was glad I decided to put my tights on (thanks to my wife for tricking me into it). I was running most of the mild hills, but some were too steep to run at 70+ miles in. I began picking off more runners as it seemed they were running out of steam. My food plan of stuffing my face with as much food as possible at each aid station seemed to be working. Some of the highlights were pinto bean and avocado quesadillas, bacon, soup broth with rice, and warm mashed potatoes. As I passed more runners, my spirits began to brighten. I started to check the time and mileage and try to do some quick math in my head. If I maintained my pace, I would make it back to the finish before my goal time.
I’m now at 90 miles in, and my mind is beginning to show signs of mental fatigue. I start to see some things in the woods that I know aren’t there which makes me worry. Checking my watch I know that I’m starting to slow down, but well on my way to a sub 24 hour finish. I make quick time at the last two aid stations and do my best to keep my legs moving. Daylight starts to break, so I know I’m getting close.
As I rounded the final turn on single track and can see the fire road that leads me 100 yards or so to the finish line I hear foot steps behind me. Another runner has caught up to my sloth like pace. I look forward and see my wife and pacer who have just jumped up from their chairs to finish with me. In an effort to maintain my position, I sprinted the last bit and held the runner behind me off. In the process of doing so, I outran my wife and pacer as well. I knew that if I held the guy behind me off for almost 100 miles, I could do it for another 100 yards.
I managed to hold off the runner behind me and after finishing I was greeted with warm coffee, a change of clothes, and a leg massage. Daylight was once again showing off Mt. Jefferson above Olallie Lake, and I couldn’t believe I actually finished in less than a day. My final time was 23 hours, 27 minutes, and 17 seconds which earned me 26th overall. I couldn’t be more proud of my race.
Reflecting on the course during the long drive back several things stood out about this race. It was exceptionally well marked. There was no point at which I felt confused on where to go. Even at night, all the course markers had bright reflectors glaring back at you. I don’t think there was a stretch longer than a quarter of a mile without seeing a marker, and when you’re delirious at 3AM second guessing yourself, that ensures a huge level of comfort.
The aid stations were very well equipped and very friendly. I know most races have this, but most of these volunteers seemed to be runners themselves and really helped keep people from lingering, in a nice way.
The amount of beautiful scenery was amazing. I honestly think I jammed my toes 50 times from looking up instead of at the trail. I wish I had more pictures to justify my claim but I didn’t carry my phone with me as I ran.
This was, for me, the right 100 miler. It wasn’t a test of how much elevation change I could handle, or how extreme of an environment I could run through. It was a beautiful, fun run through the woods and mountains of Oregon. I talked to some really inspiring people along the way, and had a lot of time to think to myself. It tested my perseverance and grit, but also made the miles so easy because of the views. If I were to pick a first 100 miler for anyone, I don’t see how I could pass up recommending the Mountain Lakes 100.