Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Mountain Lakes 100

Last weekend I participated in the inaugural Mountain Lakes 100, er 71 miler. The National Weather service issued a special weather advisory on Thursday warning of possible record rainfall from Friday through Sunday with almost continuous rain accompanied by heavy winds. They were not wrong. It didn't sound like the nicest way to run 100 miles, but my fundamental stubbornness (thanks Mom) didn't let me seriously consider not starting.

Somewhere in the first loop. Photo by Michael Lebowitz, Long Run Picture Company
It rained almost all of the time with occasional high winds, particularly in a few sections where the trail wasn't sheltered by trees. Astounding amounts of water either pooled on or ran over the trails keeping the lower half of your body well soaked and chilly most of the time. The PCT was generally an exception to this which I interpreted to mean that the construction and maintenance of the PCT was done to a much higher standard to minimize erosion to the trail. Running through so much water was definitely hazardous since you couldn't see potential obstacles under the water but I was fortunate to only fall once. This race video gives a good feeling for the conditions.

Despite the poor conditions, I had a really good day of running. I stayed on top of my nutrition mixing in a significant amount of real food for the first time. I had recently purchased Feed Zone Portables, and made rice souffles, basically scrambled eggs mixed with rice which went down really easily and were more satisfying than constant gels, although I ate plenty of those as well. I really didn't have any major low points and did a much better job of staying in the moment, focused on taking care of myself and running as well as I felt. I did not spend really any time calculating how much time or mileage was left and this made the day much easier mentally. Unfortunately, when I reached the Clackamas aid station for the second time at mile 71, I was told the Race Directors had decided to cancel the race due to the poor weather and concern that runners were having trouble staying warm as the temperature dropped during the night. I was very fortunate to get a ride with another runner's pacer (Thanks Kirby!) almost immediately. By the time we got back to the starting line an hour and a half later, the rain was turning to snow and my car had an inch or two of snow on it. This is the second time that I have been in a hundred mile race that got canceled and it pretty much establishes me as the hundred miler weather jinx. You might want to be sure that I am not signed up for any races that you are contemplating next year.

The portion of the course that I ran. The remainder of the course was to finish the out and back down from the red loop at the top back to the arrow by the green loop at the bottom.
For readers who might be curious about the course and whether they should enter this race in 2014, I will attempt to describe the course and scenery although there is a big caveat that the bad weather limited our views and may have negatively prejudiced my impression of the scenery. The course is a double out and back, or more properly a double lollipop since each out and back ends with a loop. The course sits between Mt. Jefferson to the south and Mt. Hood to the north, neither of which we ever saw but I am assuming on a clear day there would be some good views of one or both mountains. Approximately 60 miles of the course is run on the PCT which was highly runnable sweet single track with modest grades and minimal technical sections. The two loops at either end had more technical sections, but not bad. The first loop had a lot of dirt road, but it also had one of my favorite sections of the race, trail 719. This trail was more technical with some climbing but it passes by a bunch of nice lakes. The second loop is relatively flat as it goes around Timothy Lake which I got a few brief glimpses of before darkness set in. Overall, it was the most runnable 100 mile course that I have done (despite not finishing the race, I did run all of the trails that the course covered). The PCT generally stayed well under the trees with only a few spots with the potential for broad views. The course does not really climb any mountains per se, although there is about 12,000 feet of climbing (if we had been able to finish the entire course) according to my Suunto.

Elevation profile
This was a first year event and for the most part the logistics worked okay and the course was marked reasonably well. The distances and elevation profile posted on the web site seemed accurate, or at least consistent with what my Suunto recorded. There were some great volunteers working at the aid stations and I suspect that they suffered from the weather conditions more than the runners did. However, there were a number of issues that the race directors could improve upon next year.

1) Consistent trail marking--most of the turns were marked extremely well with big white signs. But that made the turns which were more casually marked much easier to miss. A bunch of us missed the turn onto trail 719. My one serious complaint about the race was an almost complete lack of trail markings between Timothy Lake Dam and Clackamas. I can only imagine that the person marking ran out of markers, but I am not sure why that could not have been fixed or at least why we weren't warned. The trail markings that were used in this section did not have any reflectors so they were extremely difficult to find in the dark. I guess it is possible someone vandalized the markings, but the section affected lasted several miles. At one trail intersection, there were no markings on either possible trail for a half a mile or more resulting in the following trace on my GPS recording:

Portrait of an unmarked turn
2) Chairs at aid stations--I know people warn to beware the chair, but when I get to an aid station with a drop bag, I want to sit down briefly while I get the stuff I need out of the bag, change socks, etc. Given the weather, I really want to do this in a dry place. Inexplicably to me, the largest aid station (Clackamas), did not have a good dry space with chairs to do this.

3) Better course description on the website--the website had really nice maps and elevation profiles, but no details on what trails the course would take beyond the PCT. At the two turns where I got lost, having a written table listing the specific trails/turns we would take would have solved the problem very quickly. I took the printed out maps with me, but they were no help.

Overall, I would recommend this race to people who are checking it out and I think it has the potential to be a really outstanding event. I am disappointed that we did not get to finish, but I still had a positive experience and would consider running the event again one day.