It was a blissful, beautiful, gorgeous day in Central Oregon… Oh wait, who am I kidding? It was kind of a you-know-what show, if you know what I mean, at least as far as the weather was concerned, but let’s go back a little bit before I take you to race day.

About 6 weeks ago, I raced Hagg Lake 50K and had a blast. The weather was ideal, with temps in the upper 40s by the time I finished. Most everyone was in short sleeves as they crossed the line. There was no rain, little wind, mud wasn’t terrible, and it felt like a nice late winter, early spring day. A couple of days later, I decided I wanted to jump into something in April and had already highlighted Peterson Ridge. Sean, the race director, is a dear friend, and I thought it might be fun to chase some friends for this event in Sisters. I also made the assumption that the weather would be even better come early April. Yes, this is how ultra runners do logic. There’s no math; we just spitball it.


Selfie with Sean at the finish line.


By the time it got to the end of March, I had been over to Bend several times for different reasons, including harrowing drives in the snow. I watched the weather forecast, and by Thursday before the race, there was an extreme winter weather advisory in effect, threatening to dump as much as three feet of snow in the Cascades, including the 3 Sisters mountains and Mt Bachelor. At the beginning of the week, the RD sent an email alerting us to the impending storm and a heads-up to expect some snow on the trails at higher elevations. By the end of the week, we all got emails letting us know the course had been shortened from 40 miles to 36.7, but the race was still on.

On Saturday, the day before the race, my wife and I checked the road conditions before heading out, discovering that both Mt Hood and Santiam passed required chains. The cameras showed doom and gloom. The forecast showed the same (although Sisters looked clear and dry). We headed out, taking the long way through The Dalles and Maupin but getting to Sisters at the same time as if we had gone over Mt Hood. As we got out of the car in Sisters on Saturday night to get some dinner, the temp had dropped to 28 and included a lovely wind that reminded me of all my years living over there. Fortunately, I knew what to expect and came prepared. The only thing I wasn’t sure about was the amount of snow on the trails. Unfortunately, there is only one way to figure that out, which brings us to race day!


Deer playing in the snow the morning of the Peterson Ridge Rumble.


The following day brought frigid conditions. The snow was falling lightly, deer were playing on the hotel property, there were next to no souls outside (other than crazy runners), and the wind was still a thing. The start/finish is at Sisters Middle School, and as we pulled into the parking lot covered in snow, the white stuff started falling even harder. I hustled over to give Sean a hug and grab my bib, then returned to the car to suit up. Around 7 am, the sun came out for a brief moment, and I thought it would clear. Nope. 5 minutes later, it started snowing harder. As 7:30 neared, I journeyed to the starting line, got in a quick ½ mile warm-up, stretched, gave my wife and pup a kiss, and put on my game face, which primarily consisted of snowflakes.


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A dozen or so runners headed out at 7, taking advantage of an early start option. The rest of us, about 60 or so gathered to hear the RD make a few announcements. Just before we had walked to the start line, I had heard a rumor that the course might be shortened again. Sure enough, Sean announced we would not be venturing out on the second loop that features the Windigo Trail. There was simply too much snowfall from the night before, and the chance of missing a course marker in the deep snow would be too great. Instead, we would run out to the south Peterson Ridge Trail system to a snowgirl (think snowman, but with a pink ribbon around her neck). Our total mileage would be just under 27, and it would have to be good enough because, just like that, we were off!


The pink ribbon scarved snow (wo)man turn around point.


I pushed hard at the start like I often do, leading the pack along the single track that leads to Brooks Scanlon Road, a mere 1 mile into the race. At that point, I dialed it back and watched the top 3 guys go by. We were running in about 1-2 inches of snow along the cinder/gravel road that leads southeast to the trail system. At mile 3.5, we jumped onto single-track and immediately began our climb. There are only about 1,800 feet of gain in this section, and it all comes in these next 9 miles. As the snow got a little deeper, I watched another few guys slip by me as I purposely slowed up a bit more to have plenty of gas in the tank to push the back half. By mile 10, the snow had not been terrible, only getting to about 4-5 inches deep in most spots. And with the other runners in front of me, I ran on fairly trampled-down trails. But that all changed when we crossed Three Creeks Lake Rd.

The original plan for the course was to do a little lollipop loop after reaching mile 10. The first change the snow forced was to eliminate the lollipop and instead have us do an out and back. This was where the snowgirl came in. We knew we had to get to her, run around her, then return to Three Creeks Lake Rd, where we would take the PRT East trail back to Brooks Scanlon. From the moment we crossed Three Creeks, the snow kept getting deeper. By mile 11, it was 7-8 inches. By mile 12, it was nearly a foot deep. I jumped off the trail near the snowgirl to allow another runner to pass, going the other way. It was up to my thighs. Fortunately, we were not in this deep snow for long as we made our way back. Still, I was thankful to have had a few people post-holing before I arrived. I did my best to keep running, using the footsteps that had been recently created. The going was not quick and required some serious high-stepping. I worried a little about burning too much energy but knew I would be out of this soon and back to something runnable.


Deep snow tracks from runners on the trail. Yes, that’s a course marker.


Just after the turnaround, I watched Ashley Nordell slip by. I was hating the deep snow, perhaps cursing it a little. I conducted a short-lived pity party of one and soon thereafter decided that Ashley was exactly what I needed to pace me to the end. At first, she began to pull away, but after a mile, I had reeled her back in and hung on. Soon we were moving quite well, and it wasn’t too long before we had reeled in a runner that had passed me earlier. By mile 20, we had chased down another, and for a second, I thought I might get back one more spot. But that was not to be as he found another gear with 2 miles to go. As it turned out, my second-half push nearly caught another runner to boot, with places 5-8 finishing within 2 minutes of each other.

At the end of the race, I definitely felt the toll that the snow had taken on my legs. Those 3 plus miles of high stepping were not something I was prepared for, nor had I even thought to train for (who does?!). And even though this was not my first exposure to snow in an ultra, it was more of what I was expecting versus what I actually experienced that had me shaking my head a little. The more ultras I do, the more experience I gain in managing expectations on more than just what I expect from myself but also what I expect from the course, the race director(s), the volunteers, the scenery, the weather, and of course, the other runners. With that in mind, everything else about this event was stellar, as my fellow runners were all amazing, the volunteers were perfect, and the scenery was something out of a Thomas Kincaid painting. The course, while shortened, was fantastic. The weather was the variable in this case, and the snow was the unforeseen monster that snuck up on me and made me feel old.


The Peterson Ridge 40 (26.8) mile finishers 1-23.


But that’s why we race, right? To discover all these things about ourselves so we can experience something deeply personal, never trivial, always tough, but always rewarding. It would be easy to walk away from an event like this with bitterness for the harsh nature of the weather and terrain it created, but to do so would be to overlook all of what makes running ultras so magical. The RD was so stressed and yet made it a point to let me know that his parents were celebrating their anniversary that day, so I congratulated them because, of course, I did. My fellow runners froze their tails off just like me, and yet we were all smiles as we scarfed down our burritos (while we shivered). I got to race, which is in itself a privilege. More than that, I got to see friends and wish them well. And I got to suffer a little, which I have determined is good for my well-being. It keeps me humble. And also keeps me hungry. For I will race again soon.

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