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It was 1987, and after many good marathoning years, I had run my first 50 miler in Siletz. A running friend, Jeff Sherman, asked if I'd be interested in participating in a 50 miler on the McKenzie River trail if he could get it organized. I told him that anytime he had a race on that trail, I would be there. (I had no idea at the time I’d “be there” for the next 20 years.)
Also in that year, five-year-old Drew Bryenton was growing up in Indiana.
When I showed up for my seventh-straight McKenzie start in 1994, RD Anne Raftree, a native of Indiana and a longtime McKenzie Bridge resident, told me this was the last MRTR. I strongly objected to this news. She told me I would have to take it over if I wanted it to continue. The next evening I was giving out the awards, and I was suddenly the MRTR RD. (Again, I had no idea at the time what I was getting myself into.)
At the same time, Kelly McKean was a high school runner who would later have a successful college cross-country career in Nova Scotia.
Now somehow, it's 2007. My goal to get McKenzie to year ten is long past, and it's the 20th anniversary. I had just spent a third of my life involved in Jeff's dream run!
We had a great weekend. More runners than ever finished…151. Drew (25) and Kelly (29) ran their first McKenzies and for the first time, both our winners were under 30. The new wave? The bees were noticeably absent, but many of our regular family members attended, including Wayne Farrar, who has been here 16 times. Liz Kellogg, Jeral Godfrey, and even injured Big Steve came to celebrate number 20. Clem was there, not to run, but to hand out Series awards and be a part of the scene where he started his ultra career. We have never had a year when things didn't go well, but this time the “smiley face” early-morning nimbus moon seemed to promise perhaps the best day ever. And that's what it was.
But we weren't done. Assistant RD Tim Hooton had an idea last winter for a special 20th anniversary event, and so was born the Sunday McKenzie River Invitational. We wanted to have former winners and top runners to come and compete just for the fun of it. And did they. I don't think we dreamed that we would have the Western States winner (Hal Koerner), the Way Too Cool winner (Lewis Taylor), and the Where's Waldo champ (Meghan Arbogast) all at the starting line, but they were there along with several other very fast runners. The talk all summer was how many will go under four hours, and will John Ticer's 3:42 course record hold up. I didn't hear anyone mention Lyn Nelson's seemingly untouchable women's record of 4:01. Eugene's Dan Olmstead, a 2:25 marathoner running his first trail ultra, blasted through the aid stations well ahead of Ticer's record splits. And very quietly Meghan was beginning her assault on that 4:01. Cramps finally took their toll on Dan, but he was able to hold off a charging Koerner and run a near-record 3:44. Now the excitement turned to "Can Meghan do it?" Read her report. She is amazing! It was an exciting way to end our McKenzie run. I really appreciated that these top competitors would bring their season-long tired bodies to participate in our "fun run."
So Anne is moving back to Indiana this winter, and Tim and I had a great long discussion with her after Saturday's run. This has been coming for some time, but we finally agreed. The McKenzie River Trail Run has been a very enriching and rewarding experience in all of our lives, but the time has come to close the show. We've lowered the curtain for the last time. Not an easy decision, but the right one. Jeff wanted me to tell everyone how blessed he and all his kids have been because of their association with the event. They will have fond memories the rest their lives, highlighted by their all-time favorite—Big Steve, forever a legend in the woods of the McKenzie River.
I love the McKenzie family and look forward to meeting you on the trails in the future. It has been a wonderful time in my life. Thank you all.
To capture my experiences from last Sunday and adequately put them into words will be harder than running the race, but as I did on race day, I'll give it my best shot.
Flash back to 2005, my first running of the MRTR 50k. I had run well, taken a tumble on the way, died a few times, but set a 50k PR of 4:19. I loved the race, although I wasn't too savvy in the technical stuff, and like most of my races that year and last, I limped around with a sore foot and hip afterwards. The real treat of that day was having Lynn Nelson, course record holder (4:01!) congratulate me with a big smile, and tell me I could break her record. Of course I wanted to believe her, but running 18 minutes faster felt like a huge stretch.
Fast forward to 2007. In March, my hip issues finally came to a head, forcing my first DNF. I was encouraged to see a PT, whose name I should tattoo on my body. Robyn Pester. 'Nuf said. She has been working with me since April and has turned my running life around, so for today I can say '46 is the new 30!'. I have had 3 races (including MRTR) this summer that have exceeded my expectations, and my expectations were not sand-bagged predictions. I felt they were a bit aggressive, but if you're going to shoot for the moon....
I was toying with idea of going after Lynn's record. I had 2 great training runs on the course beforehand, so I got some splits from Craig, based on his sub-4:00 performances there. I wrote the splits down on the course map so Brian would know when to hopefully expect me. I knew that if I was close to the splits from the get-go, I would be inclined to keep pushing. The last measure I took was as simple as calculating the average pace for a 4:00 hour 50k - roughly 7:45 pace - and I believed that I could do that. It meant I would have to really get after it on the runnable sections, be diligent and relaxed through the technical sections, and to stay fueled.
Given that this was the 20th anniversary of the MRTR, co-RD Tim hatched an idea to have 2 races. The normal race on Saturday with 150 entrants, and an invitational race on Sunday, with competitors who have won the race in the past, or who have equivalent performances. That meant Sunday's race had roughly 15 men and 4 women, and gosh, 3-4 spectators per competitor? The event had a very personal, family feel, and the day felt special from the start. It also meant that each runner needed to provide their own crew, so as not to have to set up aid stations again for such a low number of runners.
The weather was perfect - sunny, clear, cool morning. With little fanfare, the race started, and I actually led the pack to remarks of 'Let the Waldo winner lead the race', and 'better follow Meghan, she knows where she's going'. My lead lasted about 50 yards, when a few of the boys, and the woman I knew would go out hard (Wendy) positioned themselves before entering the single track. Fortunately, I was right behind Craig, and felt comfortable knowing he would be running the pace I wanted to. He was right behind Wendy, and we steadily climbed at a good effort. I was glad to see that Wendy wasn't pulling away, although I would have let her go that early in the race. Soon, she made a left turn in the wrong direction, and Craig began yelling 'right! right! right! right!' to no avail. I yelled 'Wendy! This way, this way!' and she finally responded with a thanks, turned around and got right back with us. Craig's pace gapped her a bit more, and I stayed right on his heels. We crossed the highway, and began the single track around Clear Lake. I felt good. Craig was already sweating, and asked if I was. I thought maybe I was through my lungs. I assured him I was going to be carrying a bottle after the first aid station, but was going free for the first 5+ miles. I was finally getting warm under my 3 layers and hat, so planned on chucking one shirt at least.
I could hear voices catching up to us, one of the them being Wendy's. I worried a little, and asked Craig if we were on 45 minute split pace to the first AS. He assured me we were on sub-4:00 finishing pace, so I relaxed. The group behind got closer, and we soon had a 'Craig Train'. Crossing a foot bridge to begin the dog-leg portion of the course, Craig offered me the lead of the train, and I was soon overtaken by Hal and two of his trailers. Hal disappeared so quickly I was stunned. Craig and Wendy stayed on my heels, and we soon encountered the front runners - Dan, Lewis, and a couple of men whose names and faces I haven't connected. We crossed the foot bridge to our first informal AS, where our personal crews awaited. I had taken off my hat, and was taking off my long sleeve shirt, while running, and inadvertently took of my Sunsweet running singlet. I still had on a shimmel, so I guessed I would be warm enough. I checked my watch at the turnaround cone, and it was 45 minutes! Perfect! I relayed the info to Craig, and encouraged Wendy who was about 20 yards behind, grabbed my bottle of fluids from Brian, and boogied out. Sean was coming across the bridge right before Jeff, and many wishes of luck were given.
Next time goal was 1:25 at Carmen. Craig and I put more distance on Wendy, and I focused on long strides on the downhills, getting after it on the flats, and being conservative on every climb. Craig's strategy was more steady running, as he would drop back on the downhills, and come back on the climbs. I called back to him as we crossed the last foot bridge before the road crossing, and he closed the gap. Having him back on my heels encouraged me to run strong. We crossed the highway again, I tossed Brian my bottle knowing I would see him with a fresh one in a few minutes. I skittered back in front of Craig and flew down the trail, just having a blast. Crossing another bridge, we started into a very technical section. I relaxed and let myself go down the rocky trail. Craig was getting further behind at this point, until finally I heard a very feeble 'Good job, Meghan.....' I would find out later that his calf had cramped and his race was over.
The trail continued twisting on beside the rushing water and falls of the beautiful McKenzie River. I had the wherewithal to keep my eyes on the trail and only imagine what I was missing visually. I reached the Carmen AS to hoots and hollers to the faithful crews. Normally Brian would be quite vocal and obvious so as to get me out of there quickly. I didn't see him, so came to a complete halt, my blank mind. A couple of people asked 'what can we get you?' and I meekly replied 'my husband?' No one knew what to say exactly, as I glanced around. Finally, Tim Turk says 'what do you need? what can we get you?' I said 'water!' and he handed me a bottle. My watch read 1:26, just one minute off what I hoped for, so really, right on. I thanked everyone, and told them to let Brian know I came through. Someone said 'he loves you!' to which I replied 'I know! He's the best!' I knew he would be disappointed and worried when he found out he missed me, and of course, when he did arrive, someone had mis-interpreted my words and told him 'she's been here and she said you're off the list'.
Now I was on my own. The next section has a long runnable section before hitting the lava beds around the Blue Pool. I stuck to my plan, pushing where I could, easing where it made sense, and felt the effects of my effort. I saw no one, and heard no one. As I got to the lava beds, I began to sense that having energy right now would be a good thing. I was light headed, but thankfully not woozy. I dug deep in my brain to focus as hard as I could and not biff. I fared very well for the most part, only having to save myself once, jamming my toe hard into the end of my shoe. The accompanying shot of adrenaline probably served some purpose as well, and I was soon cruising along. I finally saw a runner, taken down at some point in the lava I assume, scratched up and limping out. He assured me he was okay, but it was a sad sight. Then Brian appeared, which relieved me, as I wasn't sure what I would think if he wasn't at the next AS. He handed me the much needed bottle of energy drink, apologized over and over for missing me, and told me Ed was ready at the AS with another bottle for me. I assured him everything was fine, ran on and swigged away at the drink. Feeling revived, I pulled the gel out of the bottle handle and ate it just as I got to the AS. Ed was hooting it up for me, as was everyone, and I cruised through. I checked my watch, thinking I needed to be at Trail Bridge AS at 2:05. It read 2:10. Rats. That didn't look so good for the course record.
The next section is one of the hardest - some longish, not steep, climbs, but to get a fast time, one needs to keep running them. I kept a conservative pace, and told myself I can keep working this hard, and getting 4:10 would still be the best I have ever done, no shame in that. I heard footsteps and voices, both male, so I didn't panic. In very short order, Sean came CRUISING buy. He was on fire! Jeff was right behind him, and he started talking me up. He told me he was tired, but that I looked great, my form looked good, and I could get the record. I started the sandbagging all the way to the next intersection, and gave him the lead. He kept telling me I was right on pace, and I wouldn't believe him. I asked him where Wendy was, he said he passed her in the lava, and she wasn't moving too fast. He told me about Craig, and that he would be at the next aid station. As he was talking, he was moving faster and faster, and I was keeping up. I told him I liked where he was because now I was working harder. Finally, I got it all back together and said I would like to pull for awhile, wanting him to hang on. I went around, and he yelled - 'you are going to get the record! You are going to get to Deer Creek AS in 2:50!' which is right where I needed to be.
I was inspired to try, so I left him behind, revived by camaraderie, gel, and fluids. Suddenly I was near the AS, and the crowd had grown as well as the intensity of the cheering. Brian was standing at the top - handing me a bottle and offering me gels. My watch read 2:50! Craig yelled 'Seventy one minutes to the record!' and I yelled back 'Game on!' I was pumped, and did so with my fists in the air. I had run this last 9 mile stretch as fast as 64, so figured with the fatigue I could still pull off the 71 needed.
Alone again, it was harder to keep the pace going. Ebbing and flowing, I kept going forward. I hit an open road section and felt absolutely flat. I yelled inside to keep going, keep the legs going, and making a mental note that at the next AS I would get a gel as I seemed to be fading. I arrived at 3:15, to another bottle from Brian, pulled the gel from the handle, ate it, threw the wrapper to Kelly as he was yelling at me that I had the record. The excitement of the crowd was immense and I felt ready to do what it took make it happen. I knew I had 45 minutes, so imagined I was running home with 5 miles to go, and I knew I could run hard every step of the way.
About one mile later, I spotted someone in blue ahead, and they came back pretty quickly. It was Sean, and he was struggling. He stepped out of my way, but I didn't want him to give up so quickly. I told him to stay, he was fine, and I stayed right on his heels. When the trail widened to double track I ran beside, then around in front of him. I said 'C'mon Sean, lets get the sub-4:00'. No response, and I knew he was hurting big time. I ran by and touched the post in memory of the fallen XC runner, drawing energy as I went. Cruising, cruising, cruising, up over some rollers, and the downhills were starting to feel a bit harsh. Not much resilience left in the legs, but plenty in the mind. Finally, I saw Tom Riley taking pictures, so I knew I was close to the last place I would see anyone before the finish. He yelled '11 minutes to go!' I popped out at the crossing to Brian, Craig, and Ed (?), tossed my bottle to Brian, and Craig yelled '3:47! 11 minutes to go!' Clem was down the trail a ways, clicked my picture and advised me to not slow up.
Just then, my hamstring started to cramp. I did not panic, I only relaxed a bit, and mentally visualized it relaxing. I only had to run a bit easier for a couple of minutes before it was no longer an issue, but was it too late to make up the time? I had a lot of people invested in this race now, and I relished in that fact and just started giving it everything I had. I was looking for the last, tightest turn in the race - 2 large trees very close together that the trail snakes through. FINALLY I was there, and I then I could see the last climb that ends at the finish. I was spotted, and the crowd went bananas (well, that is how it sounded to me!) and I charged my tired legs up the hill. I crossed the finish without knowing my exact time, but I knew I had done it. Brian hugged me, telling me I made him cry. The good kind. Craig gave me my finishing time - 3:58 - which is what he had predicted at some point. Nice work! I even got a kiss from RD Phil.
This exceeds any experience I have had in a race, where I became part of a bigger picture, I am honored to be the one that got do the running! Thank you everyone for your support and enthusiasm!