I’d wanted to run in eastern Oregon for a while. Over the last year, I’d taken a few road trips through it, but never took the time to stop and check it out. So when the race director and fellow Durangetan Sean Meisner gave me an excuse, it seemed like the perfect trip. The Sister’s area is ideal for fast trail running. The grades are mellow. The curves are smooth, and needles cushion each step through the pine forest. Although there are some massive volcanoes offering huge climbs, this course sticks to flat forest service gravel roads and winding single track.
Sean has been putting on this race since its start as a fat-ass 16 years ago, and the details of the race reflect his preferences: Sean is not a morning person, so the start isn’t till 8 for the ultra. Sean loves dogs, so they’re allowed to run in the 20 miler. Sean has too many race shirts, so shirts are replaced by some quality socks for finishing prizes. The aid stations are filled with the snacks Sean loves (cookies, Nuun, and discounted Easter candy) and absent of things he doesn’t (notably watermelon and coffee). And of course, the race proceeds benefit the Sister’s High School cross-country team that he used to coach.
Ten days before the Rumble, I had a calf cramp that wouldn’t release for days. Luckily, I was able to get in to see a Mercy PT and get some dry needling therapy done on Thursday night before we took off for the race the next morning. When the race started, I was pretty cautious with it in the beginning stages, but the calf help up well the whole day. I’m always impressed with how well I respond to and recover with dry needle therapy.
After a 17 hour drive the day before, I went out with Patrick for a 4 mile fartlek. I probably should have found a way to do this sooner than, literally, the day before the race, but I wanted to see how my heart rate changed for different paces at 3,200 feet versus the numbers I get in CO. I’d never raced with this strategy before, but I wanted to run at a heartrate I thought I could run at for 4 hours. Based on the last metabolic test I took at Durango Performance Center, I wanted to keep my HR between 150 and 160 which equated to a 7:15-6:45 on a treadmill in Durango. Turns out that about the same for a flat trail 3,000 feet lower too.
Especially considering this race was a local fundraiser, after looking at the names on the start list, it was freaking stacked. Between a couple former Rumble winners, a multiple Leadville 100 champ, and a 2:14 marathoner, Sean warned me that it would be much faster than in years past. And that I had no shot to win. In a sport that requires you to take on enormous miles and challenges, it’s sometime tough to swallow your ego, but the reality was that I couldn’t run the kind of time needed to win if the top runners were on their game. I just had to run the pace that I thought would let me run my best race possible.
For some reason, like in seemingly all ultras, this one started unsustainably fast. I was through the two mile loop that the race starts out with at sub 7:00 min/mile pace, but was at least a full minute back from the leaders (PS, it’s really nice to drop off cold gear at the end of this loop too). When the lead pack started to gap the rest of the field around mile five I was in 10th place and at least a minute back. Because of the nice, wide, flat, smooth jeep road road we were on, I could still see all the runners up ahead. Without much bunderbrush, the visibility was great and I could often see runners ahead, even when they were a few minutes out.
After the first few miles were in the bag and my nerves had calmed down, I was imagining how the ideal race would play out for me. I was hoping just stay at my predetermined HR for the first quarter of the race that is mostly climbing. From there I was hoping to get in “pacman mode” and try and catch the rest of the field one by one. Ryan Bak was way out, and I knew I wouldn’t see him again. If it went well, I imagined the late stages of the race would leave the of passing last year’s winner Sam, and if the race went great, I could catch Altra athlete Ian Sharman in the final miles. But at mile five, Ian stopped. He rolled his ankle earlier on the first small loop. Adjust and keep moving forward…
From mile 5 to 12 is a gradual climb where I settled in and chatted with Nick from Corvallis and Jonathan from Virginia. This is the only part of the race where I seemed to struggle with footing, but I think it was just because I was following too close to other runners. As we peaked the top of the first ridge we got an awesome view to the west of some volcanoes and then began the some fast miles.
On the gradual downhill from miles 12 to 22 I averaged just under a 7 minute mile. I followed about 30 seconds to a minute behind Jonathan as we passed the early starters on some super smooth single track. Then came the small section where we overlapped with the 20 milers and the dogs. It was a bit crowded for a few minutes, but it was fun to see other runners in the race. By this point, I had worked my way up to 6th place, and when the trail reconnected to the smooth gravel road, I could see 5th and 4th place within a quarter mile as we closed the first loop of the rabbit ear looking course route.
Starting at mile 22 began the most difficult section of the race as it climbed about 700 feet on a 5 mile section of jeep road with a strong headwind coming from the west. I was struggling between running a pace that would be competitive but also keep my HR low enough where I wouldn’t bonk before the finish. I passed a few other runners on this section even after slowing to ~7:40 pace. I was fairly sure I was in 4th place when we got to the aid station at the top of the climb around the marathon mark, but you never can be sure between the early starters, pacers, and the whoever else is out there.
The weather was odd all day, but great for racing. There were snowflakes at the start, a fierce wind most of the day, and then late in the race we were getting just a few drops of rain. It ended up being descent weather and I think I even got a bit of a sunburn. The trail conditions were ideal: it was dry, well marked and well maintained. The only section where I would have liked some extra confidence markers was a jeep road around the 30 mile mark. Because of the wind, some of the markers got caught up in the trees. I hadn’t seen Jonathan in a few miles, and would find out later that he missed a turnoff around this part.
About a mile before the last aid station, I got a visual of Sam moving along. I tried to run smooth and silently as I caught up trying to maintain enough reserves for a surge as soon as I caught him. Like everyone else, the fast miles were catching up with me. I ran my third fastest marathon ever (3:11) and a new 50k PR (3:46) in the middle of this race, but everyone else in the front ran at least that fast too!
At the last aid station with just over 4 miles to go, Amy Sproston let me know I was 18 minutes back from “the next guy up”. After passing Sam, I thought I was in 3rd and Jonathan had seriously gapped me. From there there were a few rollers, but it was generally downhill and I eased up on the throttle to run some of my slowest miles of the day and cursed Sean for not putting us on the gravel road that ran parallel to the road. With less than a mile to go, I happened to look back and see a former Rumble champion Rick only about 100 feet behind me.
The self-talk turned into: “Kyle, you’re an idiot. How could you relax this much at this point in the race?” I got scared and turned it up big time for the last 1000 meters; enough to hold onto second and even catch up to Christina and Arty finishing the human plus dog combo 20 mile route (dogs cannot run alone at the Rumble, yet). It was awesome to be able to see and finish near another Durgangutan! I was pretty certain I was 3rd at that point and didn’t find out till at least an hour later when I checked the finishers posting.
There was some pretty cool swag that came with second place. In addition to the DryMax socks every finisher got, I got a nice running vest, some Trail Butter, Nuun and fifty bucks! I’m attributing the successful race execution to some early on patience and accurate pacing. It’s much easier mentally to start out slower and pass other racers all day than the opposite. By also not bonking out earlier, I was able to surge to pass 3rd place and then drop a 6:36 last mile to hold onto second place. If it didn’t involve a 36 hour round trip drive, I would definitely be back next year, but we’ll see if the fatigue of driving has worn off by this time next year.
Sean deserves a big thanks for putting on yet another successful race that raised thousands for the Sister’s CC team. He also hooked me up with this 80’s style “hand-tine” water bottle since I forgot to bring my own. I wore Altra Superiors 3.5 without the rock-plate and thought they were the perfect shoe for fast smooth trails. Altra and Durango Running Company hooked up the race shorts and singlet that worked without concern. Thanks!