The last thing you want to hear someone say at mile 28 of a 31-mile race is “you’re going the wrong way.” “Shit” really is the only proper response. Which is exactly what I said when I ran into Jeff Browning on his mountain bike when he uttered this simple, factual yet annoying statement.
I was really looking forward to finishing with no drama.
I asked what the lead men had done, and Jeff said they just continued on, which is what I also chose to do. Although the altered course would take us almost an extra mile out of our way and require more climbing, it seemed better than the anguish of retracing our steps, adding two miles to the course. In my mind, I rationalized that a course official had sent me on this route, which is where the mix up was for all the leaders. Apparently he had received some incorrect information and was routing runners down the wrong trail. Only one other runner was routed the wrong way, and then the race management changed the flagging to the correct route.
The Flagline 50k started under a beautiful cloudless blue sky near Mount Bachelor, about 20 miles south west of Bend, Oregon. Last weekend I ran a half marathon under dark clouds and occasional drizzle. This was enough to give me flashbacks to my France hypothermic debacle (see previous posts), so I was happy and smiling at the 50k start. Although not quite warm, with temps around forty-five at the start, the day warmed up beautifully into the seventies by the finish.
This was the inaugural run of the Flaglane 50k, and it was also playing host to the USATF National 50k Trail Running Championships. From looking at the course profile, I thought the race would be decided on the second major climb at around 20 miles. Starting at around 6,000 feet, the climb ascends “only” 1,000 feet total. But as I found with the entire course, it was hard to get into a rhythm on the trail because of dips in the terrain, numerous turns, and creek crossings.
I believe most of the trails in the area were built by Central Oregon Trail Alliance whose primary membership for it’s formative years were in mountain biking but is quickly expanding their membership to include runners and hikers. Some of the race proceeds were going to COTA because COTA is the foundation for trail building in Central Oregon. It seems mountain bikers generally don’t like to ride in a straight line, thus swervey curves in the trail. It’s fun to run on this type of terrain, but it requires constant shifting of gears for runners and takes us out of the rhythm of the just running in a straight line. But that is what roads are for, and why we love to trail run, right?
The course hit some of the best trails that the “high country” in the area has to offer. Runners and mountain bikers alike revere the Flagline trail because it is closed until August 15th every year for elk calving. Not taking a pounding for the full season means the trail is covered with a soft base of pine needles. It’s not rutted out like the lower trails, and it has beautiful rock formations lining the route. The second trail favorite that the race covers is a pristine section of the Metolius Windigo Trail. This is the trail that climbs out of Happy Valley at mile 20. And this is where I tend to excel in races, feeling comfortable grinding into the next gear and getting up the hill while most of the runners around me are trying to survive the climb.
I was happy to finally see the finish, especially since the reroute dealt me with a steady uphill climb for the last two miles on the Cascade Lakes Highway. Apparently not only did I win the women’s open, but I also was dubbed the fist old person (over forty) male or female, across the finish line. I never really think of myself as a Masters, but when I can be in front of all the over forty men out there, I’ll take that title too.
I then heard about the drama of the men front-runners. Apparently after being misrouted in the last three miles, the men disbursed and went separate ways because they were not within sight of each other. At the point of the misrouting, Erik Skaggs was about a minute and a half in front of Max King. But, since Max is from the area, he knew how to get back to the finish. When he arrived at the finish line, he realized none of the other misrouted runners had showed up, and he waited, something like twenty mintues, not willing to cross the finish line until the others found their way in. Then he graciously took second place, handing the win to Erik. First class move by a first class runner.
This was the first Ultra distance race put on by Super Dave’s SuperFit productions, and it was beautifully executed with only one hiccup being the misrouted front runners. Flagline 50k is definitely one to put on the list for next year.
Here’s a link to the top 25 finishers: