Due to the tragic 2020 wildfires, the Oakridge Triple Summit Challenge was pushed back a month, which meant I would be able to run and volunteer for the race. I told race director Devin Vanscoy I would run or volunteer either race on the weekend, so he assigned Liz and me to run aid stations 2 & 4 (see video) of the Dead Mountain 30k on Sunday so we could run Larison Rock 15k on Saturday.
The Oakridge Triple Summit Challenge is a pet-friendly three-day stage race of 40 miles and 8500′ of ascent among the classic trails of Oakridge, OR. The trails have been designated as a “Gold Level Riding Center” by the International Mountain Biking Association. For one weekend a year, those trails are taken over by trail runners. Each race features a steep incline through subalpine forests of old-growth evergreens and exploding fall colors of mixed conifers. Once at the top, runners get to bomb down the sloping curves of the single track trails.
2020 Race Stages:
Friday, October 23
Alpine Westfir – A 20k starting and finishing from the Office Covered Bridge in Westfir with 2700′ of incline that features the Alpine Trail.
Saturday, October 24
Larison Rock Ascent – A 15k starting and finishing from Greenwaters Park with 2600′ of climbing where runners touch the rock at the top.
Sunday, October 25
Dead Mountain Ascent – A 30k starting and finishing from Greenwaters Park with 3048′ of ascent. This route goes under Highway 58 and along Salmon Creek in Oakridge before rising up the Dead Mountain Trail. At the top is the Devil’s Backbone and a view of Hills Creek Reservoir and the Cascade Foothills.
Leading up to my Saturday race, I knew I wasn’t in very good shape. I hadn’t been running much due to summer fatigue from running around several of the Cascades Volcanoes. Liz and I checked in by having our temperature inspected as part of the COVID-19 protocol. All runners were required to wear masks before starting in one of three waves separated by two minutes.
I started in wave two and left the starting line at what I felt was a leisurely pace. We ran through Greenwaters Park and crossed a bridge over the Middle Fork of the Willamette River. The course looped on a little trail and to a forest road before climbing the Larison Rock Trail just over a mile into the race. I decided to let the small pack of runners go ahead of me because I knew I was going to be slow up this hill. A year ago I was in good climbing shape due to running several Nasties in Portland’s Forest Park. I would have loved this challenge. But today I knew it was going to be a lot of hiking.
I ended up doing about equal hiking and running. It gave me time to enjoy the sun rays occasionally breaking through the fog and trees. Around mile two, we hit a ridge that went above the fog that allowed a glimpse of Hills Creek Reservoir. The hill kept going for another mile to a small plateau that allowed some running at a decent pace. This was short-lived, however, as the trail seemed to get steeper. The lead runners started heading down the single track. Each time I stepped aside and pulled my buff over my mouth and nose. Eventually, I found the aid station supported by music, cowbells, and enthusiastic cheers from the Thurston High School cross country team at mile 4-1/2. There was still a half-mile to go until I reached the summit. Just before I made it there, I let Sarah Mueller, who came all the way from Idaho Falls, ID, pass me as I started to fatigue. To touch Larison Rock required a little rock climbing. I turned around and slowly made it back to the trail.
I love a good descent, and this did not disappoint. Although I wasn’t very fast, I was still able to enjoy the steep decline of the sloping MTB trails. There were just enough roots and rocks to make it technical, but very runnable. I actually caught a few runners on my way down to the bottom of the mountain. I made it back to the road and my legs reminded me again that I am not fit enough for a challenging race like the OTSC. Luckily it was only about a half-mile to the finish, as I was barely running.
As I crossed the finish line, I immediately told Devin that I am going to get myself in hill shape again and run all three races next year. Who wants to join me?