Smith Rock 50K: My Back Yard

Grinding up the first climb below Burma Road. ©Paul Nelson

Grinding up the first climb below Burma Road. PHOTO: Paul Nelson


Less than a mile to the finish on the river trail back into the park. Awesome day at Smith Rock. PHOTO: Paul Nelson

I jumped into the new Smith Rock 50K as a trainer for Hardrock 100 coming up in 4 weeks. I only took two easy run days on Thursday and Friday before the race, as I was training right through this with Hardrock on the horizon. Also, Smith Rock area is a big spring/early summer training ground for our ultrarunner crew in Bend, plus I lived next to the park during the 2008 season. Needless to say, I know the park like the back of my hand. Such a special place. So, running a 50k on my home training turf sounded awesome.

Race day start was overcast and cool. We were off and running a bit after 8am and local Brandon Drake went out like a shot. I was thinking, uh…okay. We descended to the footbridge and my buddy Ken Sinclair was directing us up the river trail. He pointed at Brandon and made a gesture like, “What’s up with that guy?!” As I came across the bridge, I just shrugged and said, “Whatever.” I knew a few dudes that could run like that and hold it and I was pretty sure Brandon was going out a little hot. He’s fairly new to ultras, so I just relaxed and still ran the first mile in 6:15. Brandon was 30 seconds in front of me. I just settled into 2nd to bide my time. He was either gonna fly through this course or blow up. We’d see.

We were soon grinding the Goat Trail that gains Burma Road. It’s close to a 1,000 foot climb in one mile. I settled into a comfortable uphill pace for the climb and noticed I was gaining on Brandon. I just relaxed and caught him about 2/3 of the way to the top and passed him.

We ran the Gray Butte Trail traverse on our way over to the south saddle of Gray Butte to the first aid station at 5 miles. Brandon caught back up about a 1/2 mile from the aid station and asked to get by. No problem…early. I jumped aside and let him cruise on by. He quickly gapped me again.

We were in and out of aid #1 quickly and climbing Cole’s Trail up to the green gate. I kept Brandon within 20-30 seconds for the next 6 or 7 miles, content to let him lead and I just tried to relax. After the big descent down to aid station 2 (with killer views toward the Cascades and Mt. Jefferson), we settled into the 1,700 foot climb back up to the NW side of Gray Butte.

I was gaining on Brandon again on the climb, but just relaxed and reeled him in. Josh Zielinski was in 3rd and only 20-30 seconds back. He was climbing well and figured he was going to be my main competition later. He looked relaxed. I raced him last fall at the very muddy Silver Falls Trail Marathon and caught him in the last 1/2 mile for 2nd place. So, I knew he’d run smart.

About 2/3 of the way up the climb I caught Brandon and passed him. I quickly got a little bit of a gap as I topped out the climb at the old corral. From here it’s a long rolling down for 3 or 4 miles and out toward Madras in the Grasslands. I’ve only run this section one other time (as we usually stay in the park and around Gray Butte in for more vertical training). The mellow downhill is pretty fun with little technical spots. It’s BLM crazing land too, so I jumped some cows along the way. On this section with the help of the rolling donwhill, I felt good to pick it up and ran a sub-19 min 3 miles to get a gap on Brandon and Josh.

Once you kind of hit the northern end of the course’s lollipop loop, you hit a straight gravel road section at mile 17 or 18 for a mile and some change. After a few roller hills. I could see Brandon and Josh running together and maybe 2-3 minutes back. I just put my head down and pushed the pace for the next 10 miles back up and around Pine Ridge and Skull Hollow. After that I just relaxed and ran the climb back up to the last aid station at mile 27 at the South Saddle. Right before topping out the saddle and aid station I ran into Yassine. He was running down to meet me and run back up (he was volunteering at the aid station). He and I chatted for a few minutes as I ran up into the aid station. I topped off my water, grabbed a couple of Gu Roctanes and cruised the remaining 5 miles to the finish.

At this point, I knew I had a good lead and just kept a relaxed pace into the park in 4:07. I came across the line to see my youngest son (3 years old) running to greet me, then my daughter and oldest son and wife. Sweet. With a little one in the house the past few years, I’ve been racing solo most of the time. Awesome to have my family there. Always such a blessing to have their support in person. Fun to see them all at the finish line and especially being fortunate enought to grab a win to top of the day. The kids were stoked.

The aesthetics of the course are pretty darn sweet, it is 2 miles longer than 50K, be warned. I hope they just keep it as is. Course should always be about the route first, mileage 2nd. Close enough. All in all, solid training run with 33 miles and 4,700 feet of ascent. Great race and really well run by Go Beyond Racing. Todd, Trevor and Renee put on a stellar event.  Very well-marked course and great finish line. I’ve always thought Smith Rock was a perfect place for a 50K. They nailed it. This is going to be a classic in the NW.

Gear List

Clothing: Patagonia Duck Bill Cap, Patagonia Cap 1 Sleeveless Jersey & Strider Pro Shorts

Footwear: Patagonia EVERlong

Nutrition: Gu Roctane + S Caps

Handheld Waterbottle: Ultraspire Isomeric Pocket

Eyewear: Rudy Project Rx Zyon


In the home stretch. PHOTO: Paul Nelson

In the home stretch. PHOTO: Paul Nelson

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