Race: Go Beyond Racing’s Mt. Hood 50K
Location: On the Pacific Crest Trail and around Timothy Lake, in Mt. Hood National Forest, about 1.5 hrs from Portland, Oregon and at about 3,225 ft above sea level
Time of Year: 50 miler on Saturday, 50K on Sunday, in July, aka peak berry season aka ideal Oregon visiting season
Race Size: Small — just 145 people in the 50K. Sign up early for this one or else you’ll find yourself on the waitlist!
Logistics: I tried to keep the costs down for this one, and it made my trip a little more logistically complicated, but it really wasn’t too bad. First I flew from BWI to Portland, with a short layover in Salt Lake City. I stopped in Detroit on the way home. I am usually nervous about non-direct flights, but everything went smoothly and I even got to log some Priority Pass lounge time at a couple of airports during this trip. I left DC early on Friday morning, took an Uber from the airport to my Airbnb near Portland State University (great, walkable spot) and spent Friday afternoon and Saturday morning touring Portland. I walked way too much and destroyed my feet/legs. Oops! Then I picked up a rental car (back at the airport!) and drove out to the Mt. Hood National Forest. I camped for $30/night at the Clackamas Lake Campground (HIGHLY recommended for this race given proximity to start and the price, but note that the campground has no running showers/mirrors/sinks/flushing toilets in the bathrooms). I drove about 0.5 miles to the race start on race morning, picked up my bib, and headed out for the run. After the run, I drove back to Portland, where I stayed for another night at a Courtyard Marriott (my jam with the points) before leaving late Monday on a red-eye. This was one of my more logistically complicated trips, but I feel like I saw and did a lot and maybe saved a little money in the process.
Expo and Swag: This race had no expo, which was fine with me. Packet pickup was the morning of the race. Race finishers were given a cool glass (to be filled with free beer at the finish), and I also happened to win a hat in the raffle.
Course: The 50K takes place on a nice, heavily-shaded trail (yay, no sunburn!) on the Pacific Crest Trail and around Timothy Lake. Runners start by running north from the Clackamas Ranger Station, along the eastern edge of Timothy Lake, and then to the Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT section is out-and-back but I didn’t mind it at all. The race was small enough that sharing the trail wasn’t hard, and it definitely wasn’t boring. There are many miles with views of Mt. Hood, and photographers on course to capture the backdrop with us running in the foreground. When we returned to Timothy Lake, instead of retracing our steps, we ran counter clockwise around its other side. There were six aid stations on course, and they were well-stocked with very nice volunteers and the essentials such as soda, sports drink, a variety of gels, Pringles (my fave), candy, PBJ, etc. There were no crews or drop bags, but they were really not necessary. I didn’t even eat any of the food I brought! The trail was generally soft with good footing, although there are some technical sections with rocks and roots. VERY different than the Dirty 30. Total elevation gain was approximately 2,723 feet, making this a gentler trail ultra.
How It Went: This race was low-stress for me, having already completed the much more difficult Dirty 30. I did not do any targeted training for this race and honestly hadn’t been doing much running. I didn’t wear a watch and didn’t check Strava on my phone. Given this attitude, a big par of me wanted to do more chatting during the race, but I wasn’t able to find a running buddy to pass the miles with. That said, I loved seeing this part of the country, and the views of the mountain did not disappoint. But my biggest takeaway from the race was a revelation that is almost too shameful to admit: I’m not sure that I like ultras. I love running and I love trails, so it seems like ultra running should be my jam. But it’s just so much freaking time out on course. And a 50K is considered the pansy ultra distance! And this wasn’t even a hard race! Going into this race and even during the first several miles I thought that maybe next year or in a couple of years I could come back and do the 50 miler. But by mile 27, I was just thinking that my body and mind were both over it. It was nothing against this race, but after two ultras I’m thinking maybe 26.2 is just my sweet spot… So as lovely as this race is, I might be taking a break from ultras for now. I’ll definitely still be running and enjoying trails, but at shorter distances.
Overall Impression: I am going to give this race a LOVE IT, because it was really well organized and low-key, had awesome volunteers and aid stations, and was in a beautiful part of the country.
Things To Do/See in Portland:
- First stop: Washington Park, especially the International Rose Test Garden (free!) and the Japanese Garden ($15). I walked from downtown, potentially a mistake before the race because my legs and feet were exhausted from all the walking. But it can be done.
- Head to the Nob Hill neighborhood (near Washington Park) for shopping and an amazing ice cream treat at Salt and Straw. For the latter, be prepared to wait 30 mins to an hour, even in non-peak times. If you have the time to wait, it’s worth it! Sample the flavors — including special seasonal options — then pick a favorite or two for your giant waffle cone. Oh, and btw, this was maybe my favorite ice cream ever. (Maybe even better than the deliciousness I had in Monterey?). On Monday after the race, before I headed home, I also got a massage and facial at the Dragontree Spa in Nob Hill. I opted for the Muscle Melt massage with a combination of relaxing Swedish massage, deep tissue hurts-so-good-at-least-I-think-that’s-good massage, and the house-made oil version of Icy Hot. Then I got a facial too, because #treatyoself.
- Do not pass go, do not collect $200, go straight to the Saturday morning farmers’ market at PSU. Verde Cocina is serving up amazingly fresh huevos rancheros made with tortillas being made right in front of you, along with griddle-cooked kale and carrots. Grab a breakfast burrito from Enchanted Sun as either round 2, or lunch later. I got one to-go and ate it while I was driving out to Mt. Hood. Be sure to taste ALL THE BERRIES and decide which of the 2309 versions of blackberry is your favorite. And of course pick up some cherries from Baird Family Orchard’s kiosk. This was honestly one of the best farmers’ markets I have been to!
- I also had some yummy rice bowls. By far the best was from Kure, which had a menu pulled straight from my dreams. (Unfortunately, the Golden Elixir I was excited to try was way too sweet for my tastes. Everything else I had there, including a bottle of Happy Mountain Kombucha, was delish.) I was hoping for similar success at Prasad, but it fell well short of Kure.
- On Sunday after the race, I was dying of hunger, and the two bean burritos I got at Taco Bell during the drive home weren’t cutting it. I decided to use Uber Eats to order Pok Pok Noi to my hotel room. I got some amazing noodles in coconut broth with mushrooms and tofu. Incredibly satisfying.
- On Monday morning, I was starving again. I walked a short distance to one of Portland’s famous food truck squares and grabbed what was potentially the culinary highlight of a very bright trip: Bing Mi. The Bing is a vegetarian breakfast crepes. Don’t ask questions, just order one. Egg, a little spice, a fried wonton, some herbs, plum sauce — the perfect balance of flavors in a nice to-go package.
- Another random but amazing find in Portland was Casey at 77 Salon. I wanted to get my hair cut before I started my new job, and I had some extra time on Monday in Portland, so it seemed as good as any time to get a new style. The first place I called didn’t pick up, so I ended up booking an appointment through Yelp, which I didn’t realize was possible. Casey was so fun to hang out with (I’d sort of been lacking human contact for four days…) and my hair looks awesome, if I do say so myself. Added bonus: the cost was about half of what I pay in DC for a cut.
- OF COURSE, go to Powell’s Books. Wander the aisles and get lost in random books about the linguistic traits of south-central Iowa and how to avoid bears when you’re salmon fishing. Check out the staff recommendations so you can buy them on Amazon to read on your iPad.
Things to Do/See in Mt. Hood National Forest:
- Heading to Mt. Hood from Portland, turn left on Bluff Rd. and drive to an overlook area. Snap a photo of the mountain.
- Go for a little hike and snap another photo at Mirror Lake. You’ll know you are at the trailhead when you see a ton of cars parked on the side of the road. Don’t fear; there is a second parking area about half a mile further down the road.
- For a more raucous time, or for a picnic or float, head to Trillium Lake, which also offers some nice views of the mountain. No hiking required, but you can walk along the edge of the lake.
- There are a ton of other hikes in the forest, but I didn’t do any because I was desperately trying to rest my legs. If I had done another, I probably would have checked out Cooper Spur, which takes you very close to the mountain. Either way, you’ll see it a ton during a trip to the forest and during the race.