McKenzie River Trail Run Reviews


John Ticer came to McKenzie with a quiet but fierce determination to get the course record that he'd missed by nine seconds last year, and oh yes, win again. The competition, former winners Brain Wieck and Craig Thornley, very fast newcomer Larry Jackson, Oregon Series dominator Jeff Riley, and who knew who else, were all going to push to make John work to reach his goal. Brian was the only one to hang on for the first half, then he paid for the fast early pace and slipped to fourth. Larry ran smartly and closed everyone out but he couldn't catch the 'old man' ... Ticer's sixth at WS was no fluke ... this guy is beyond tough. The record did fall, by 36 seconds. There are soft records. This is not one of them.

Meghan Arbogast seemed like a safe pick to win on the women's side because she has been so strong all year. But her five minute winning margin over Kendra Borgmann was the closest race we've had here among the ladies. Both winners took home beautifully hand-crafted pine Adirondack chairs for the patio ... John now has a matching pair. Sara Ticer set a course record for the women's 50-59 age group, so we can assume that couple had a pretty good weekend.

116 finishers is a new high for us, actually more than we are supposed to have, but it's been hard to keep people away from this 'feel good' event and hold onto our 100 limit. If you want to experience all the MRTR has to offer, the entry form goes online April 1, and is gone by the next day.

The McKenzie River 50k Trail Run was yesterday at 7:30am at Carmen Reservoir.

My friend and training partner Christian Beck has run many ultras and so I tried to follow his lead in preparation and training for this event. I felt ready.

I was trying to keep a positive frame of mind. Anxiety lurked in the shadows. Based on my training I knew I should be ready to run 50 kilometers but anything can happen. I could fall. It was raining, but was supposed to stop. What should I eat for dinner and breakfast? Have I tapered enough? Maybe the Bohemia Half Marathon last Saturday was too close. I‘ve been sneezing and I have a hint of a sore throat. Is it the beginning of a cold?

Walking into Harbick’s Country Store in McKenzie Bridge is like stepping into a time warp. The classic “General Store.” They have generally everything. Hot food, cold food, dry goods, cleaning supplies, clothing, fishing and hunting supplies, tools etc. My specific goal was to find the right pair of gloves. I ran the McKenzie 50k Trail Run in 2002 and fell six times. I needed gloves that were light, breathable, but tough enough to protect the palms of my hands when I fell. Not if I fell, when I fell. It was inevitable. Strangely, it was never in the technical, rocky, winding, chiseled lava sections, it was usually after that when you take a deep breath and relax and start looking more than three feet down the trail, or taking a drink of water or messing with a GU pack. Catch a root or small rock and Wham! Get up, brush yourself off and start again. Each fall reminding you to pay attention and I managed to forget five more times.

Harbick’s must have a hundred and fifty types of gloves to choose from. I settled on some stretch nylon gloves with rubber coated palms and fingers. The rubber was a dense light gray coating that I figured would do a great job of protecting my palms from rocks and gravel. My thoughtful and caring wife Shelly thought they might not breath enough so I cut the fingers off. Now they resembled biking gloves. Perfect.

It rained continuously Friday night and I revisited thoughts of running the race in a downpour. That would not be fun.

Shelly, my sons Weston, age four and Callahan, a year and a half and I spent the night in a leaky teepee behind the Log Cabin Inn. Seemed like a fine idea when we booked it a month ago when it was 90 degrees out.

I got up at 6:15 and it was raining lightly. I stepped in a puddle and my right sock got wet. I hitched a ride with Jim and Dave to the start.

Pre-race at the McKenzie Trail Run is like a reunion. Many in this unique and eclectic crowd only see each other at ultra races. Smiles and hand shakes created a very warm gathering on a cool, misty morning.

Phil Vaughn is the race director and he announced we had three minutes until the start. The crowd stepped behind the line and Phil started the race. It’s about 50 degrees and not raining.

It was only then the anxiety subsided. I was finally running the race I’d spent so much mental and physical energy training for the last 5 months.

The race leaves Carmen Reservoir over the McKenzie and up the trail past Koosah and Sahalie Falls. It is so beautiful and surreal you want to stop and take it all in but I can’t because I have a goal. A time to beat. That time is 4:37:40. Christian’s PR at McKenzie is 4:37:41. What a coincidence...

The trail continues up river and across the highway and around Clear Lake. There’s about a mile long out and back and we see the leaders coming towards us bombing down the trail. The four lead runners remind me of a fast moving train. The combination of speed and power is impressive. John Ticer, a 48 year old firefighter from Eugene went on to win the race for the second year in a row, setting a course record in 3:42:50. Simply unbelievable.

I hit my splits fairly close through the first two aid stations. I eat a brownie, take a couple sodium/electrolyte capsules every hour, try to drink a bottle of water between each aid station and I feel wonderful. My water bottle leaks if I squeeze it too hard so I have to carefully sip without applying too much pressure. It’s a minor nuisance.

I’m running at a pace that feels effortless. Running shorter distances I’m always pushing to keep pace, checking my watch each mile. Up here you just run. You run at a pace you think you can maintain for more than four hours. I run really well through some of the most difficult and beautiful parts like the Blue Pool area but I can’t take my eyes off the trail for a second. Every step is critical. No sight seeing today.

My only concern now is my wet socks. By mile seventeen I really want to change my socks and my crew, Shelly and the boys appear like angels right next to the trail and help me change. I’m back on the trail within minutes.

The minutes and hours melt together as I cruise along fern lined trails, moss covered rocks around tall firs and cedars and over log bridges. I arrive at the fifth and final aid station at mile 25.1 and I’m three minutes ahead of schedule. I feel awesome with six miles to go. In fact I see three other runners so I leave the water bottle at the aid station so I can run harder and I target them to try and pass. It doesn’t seem to be working. They are slipping further away with each turn. Is it me fading or them getting stronger? It must be a combination of both. With three miles to go it’s definitely me fading. I’m struggling. With a mile and half to go I need to really concentrate hard to keep running and try to ignore the pain in my tired legs.

I come around a corner and a young kid calls out my number and I see the finish line at the top of the hill.

The race is over and I’m done. The clock reads 4:37:56, 16 seconds off my goal and 18 minutes faster than 2002. I’m tired, teary, relieved and very hungry. My crew attends to my every wish. I need a chair to sit in and it appears. I drink two Pepsi’s, eat some brownies, a banana, orange slices, cookies and I’m feeling better. I look down and realize my customized fingerless gloves are clean and dry. I can’t help but smile. It’s the perfect ending to an amazing and unforgettable race.

Christian PRs by thirteen minutes. He raises the bar by lowering his time just when I thought I was closing in on him. I think the leaky water bottle he loaned me was no accident.

The McKenzie River 50k has been on my wish list for years, but had taken a back seat to any fall marathon I felt compelled to train for. This year, I decided to give it priority, although the timing of 3 weeks after “Where’sWaldo” was less than desirable.

I was fortunate to train the last 15 miles of the course twice with Jeff Riley and Ed Willson, so was familiar with that portion of the race. The first half I had run only once last summer, and had images of the course, but they were scattered and incomplete. My race plan was to go out with some effort, keeping my heart rate around 170 for the climbs, and 160-165 for the downhill and flat sections. I anticipated a finish time somewhere between 4:15 and 4:20 based on the training runs. I also planned on practicing self-preservation and intelligence, being ready to sacrifice race plans and times for finishing in a somewhat healthy body.

Race day was cool and damp, but started during a dry spell that would last for most of the race. I warmed up with Theresa, said hello to many friends, and was ready to have some fun. Kendra Borgmann was the one woman who concerned me the most in terms of speed, and I heard she was there, but didn’t see her at the start. I wished Ed, Craig, Jeff and John luck, as I knew they were going to race hard. John gave me words of advice “keep your head in it” and after some words from Phil Vaughn “don’t fall in the lava”, we were off.

I started off with a nice long stride, and watched the lead men stretch ahead to the trailhead. We began the long, gradual ascent to Clear Lake, and I was constantly checking in with myself. My heart rate settled into 175 for the climb, but I felt good and in control. We meandered up the trail, with the sound of the falls ever increasing. The line of runners were going at a good pace for several minutes, when suddenly, they came to a dead stop, turned around and tried to go around a dead end trail. Finally we found a wrong turn had been taken only about 20 yards back. The line was reordered now, and over the next mile I passed a couple of runners.

We crossed the highway and began the loop around Clear Lake. As was advised, I kept my eyes on the trail, and didn’t rush. I only slipped once during this part, and swore at myself to be careful. The two men in front of me were setting a great pace, and stayed with them for a few miles. We reached the only out-and-back section of the course, and I anxiously peered ahead looking for my friends to come blazing through. Within minutes, John came through leading a pack of 3, followed closely by Craig. “You can DO it!” I hollered. Next came Jeff, smiling as always, looking very comfortable. And just before the bridge aid station, here came Ed, having a great start to a great day. It buoyed my spirit to see them all.

I crossed the bridge to the cheering aid station crowd, and Brian handed me a bottle. I drank as much as I could between him and the turn-around and back, handed him the bottle, and headed across the bridge again, right towards Kendra. We exchanged cheerful greetings, and I was off the bridge behind one of the men I had followed up. He said “it’s all downhill now,” which I was relieved to hear although I knew there were some rollers that weren’t insignificant. He introduced himself as Jeff, had run this race 8 times, his best time was 4:13. We ran on for at least a mile together, chatting, and once the trail widened and he slowed, I went on by. I was feeling really good, and felt like putting as much distance on Kendra as possible. I crossed the road again, then the river, and made my way down a dicey section towards the first aid station. I could see Ed ahead and hollered at him. Brian was coming up the trail with my next bottle. I drank from it all the way to the aid station, passing by Laurie who said she was doing fine, and then caught Ed in the aid station being crewed by Julie. I ran through in 1:31, gave him a slap, and told him to get out of here. I dropped my bottle for Brian to find, and scurried out.

My heart rate was now in the working range of 160-165. Perfect. I heard steps behind me but didn’t look back. I wondered if it was Ed, but they were much too quiet. Then it was silent again. I was thinking about the next aid station, and how from that point on the course would be familiar. I was enjoying the sound of the river immensely and being alone in it all. Perhaps it was being lost in nirvana that was my undoing, because I found myself on the ground with a very sizeable rock in the lower quadrant of my abdomen. I was pissed. I was also in pain. My race could be over. My life could be over. I gingerly got up, swore at myself, and started dazedly walking, then jogging, to severe burning in my gut. Gradually, the endorphins won, and I was running again. I had difficulty finding a good rhythm again as I was now into the thick of the lava beds near the Blue Pool. I wasn’t so sure I liked this course after all. If I hit my foot at all and felt a stumble I was sure it was over. I managed to take a glance at the wonder that is the Blue Pool, and was as stunned as ever at its beauty. Then I focused on getting to the next aid station. Finally, the lava thinned out, and I was cruising again, and remembered John’s advice, and kept my head in it.

I ran through the aid station at Trail Bridge in 2:21, to the smiling face of Julie and the greeting of Phil amongst the many well wishers. I had run this section in training in under 2 hours, so felt like my time prediction was right on. Brian would be waiting for me about a half mile down. On the climb from the aid station I encountered a fellow massage student who stunned me with her presence as the last I had seen her she could barely walk due to an injured back. Amazing what the body can do to heal itself.

When I reached Brian, I told him about my fall, and asked how the others were doing. He said John was still in the lead, and Jeff was running with Craig. He told me that Kendra was quite a ways back, to which I was relieved. I drank from the bottle as I ran across the next bridge and dropped it for Brian to pick up. I moved steadily forward, on my own, with occasional passing of some early starters, who very cheerfully urged me on.

I was now in the section of relentlessly run-able trail. I repeated John’s words, and checked my heart rate – 160. I knew I could do that for a very long time, so had no reason but mental fatigue to slow down. So on I went, doing some math to determine when I might expect to see Brian. He came sooner than I expected, which was a nice surprise. I drank through the aid station, and on to the last 10 miles of the course, and 3:03. I didn’t expect to be near 70 minutes for this section, but thought under 80 was definitely doable. I kept up the pace, and not too long afterwards, heard steps coming from behind. I didn’t turn around, but very soon, Jeff that had run with me earlier came by. He looked very good, and I second guessed my tactic of putting space on Kendra – if I had run with Jeff, perhaps I would be looking as fresh as he – but I had no idea how far back he had ever been, and what would be the point of second guessing? He asked how I was doing, I told him about my spill, and he said he always falls in twos. Great, just what I wanted to hear. However, his quicker pace brought out some speed in me and I picked it up a bit. He was soon out of sight, but I was starting to smell the barn. I arrived at the last aid station at 3:31, and hoped I could make the last 5 or so miles in 45 minutes. Brian followed me out again, picking up my bottle one last time.

On and on I went - no one in front or behind. 3:45 came, and I realized the guys must be coming in by now. Dang, they’re fast! I crossed the road from Belknap, tapped on the post for Andy Mercer, and just kept going. In the distance I could see another runner. He heard my steps, and picked it up. I picked it up too, and I worked on chasing him down, anything to keep my legs moving, and keeping my eyes open for the “11-minute-road” where on a good day you can get to the finish in 11 minutes. We crossed one road, I did some math and realized there was no way that was the 11 minute road. Finally, I caught the prey, and sped on, and to the Paradise Campground road, which was indeed what I had been looking for. I looked at my watch – 4:06. Great – I might run 4:17 – it has been a good day after all. I pushed and pushed and craned my neck and strained my eyes looking for the last hill that ends at the finish. I checked my watch – 4:18 – well, so much for 11 minutes. Finally, a young volunteer with a radio control sees me and says “number 5 is coming in” and I pumped my arms and grunted my way to the finish. 4:19. Whew. Kendra flew in about 5 or 6 minutes later, so I was glad I kept after myself.

The good fortunes of the day were many - to run in such fine company, to have a great crewman and support of many volunteers, and enjoy the Beauty and Beast of the McKenzie Trail.

For the curious – my lower right abs swelled to about the size of a large goose egg. It hurts to touch, but not to walk. So for all my drama, it appears that I will live to see another day.