Smith Rock State Park is located in central Oregon’s High Desert north of Bend. The State Park is a famous location for rock climbers, hikers, and mountain bikers with Monkey Face being an iconic rock formation. The trail system runs through the park as well as adjacent public and private lands.
The Smith Rock Ascent, which is put on by Go Beyond Racing, had a 50K and a 15M option in 2021. The 50k was on Saturday and the 15 Miler was on Sunday. Me and my family, including our three kids and our dog Pete, booked a super cute Airbnb Thu-Sun, so we had some time to enjoy the area. Runners were encouraged to pick up bibs on Friday at FootZone, the local running store in Bend, and we combined the bib pick up with a stroll through Bend and also got ice cream, which made everyone happy.
Looking at the weather forecast, the entire weekend was going to be pretty hot. I heard from some friends who ran the 50K on Saturday that a lot of runners really struggled with the heat. The temperatures for Sunday were supposed to be even warmer with a high of 90 degrees! Of course, this meant shorts, a tank top, and carrying water!
Getting to the race start and parking was super convenient. The race organizers reserved an entire section of the park with parking spots close to the race start and a race volunteer handed us a day pass. The race started out close to the Information Center, on top of the canyon. I had run the race previously in 2019, so I was familiar with the course and trails.
Runners started at 8:00 am in waves of five that were sent off every 30 seconds. Waves were based on Ultrasignup scores and predicted race times to avoid runners having to pass each other too much. Runners had to wear face coverings during the start and when passing each other on the course. Everyone was quiet at the start – full of anticipation and race start jitters, but the wave system worked out perfectly.
The race started with a short descent into the canyon. Since the course is a lollipop-style the descent would turn into a climb for the finish, but nobody thought about that part during the start as we happily ran down the trail at a fast pace. We then crossed the bridge over the Crooked River and turned right to run a flat stretch along the river. Runners then take a right turn onto the Wolf Tree Trail, which is a short slightly technical trail that drops you off at the bottom of Burma Road. Burma is an old BLM road with some rocks and a gradual but significant grade. From afar the road looks like a diagonal cut into the mountain and can be seen when driving past the park. I had the goal of jogging up as much as possible. When I got to the climb, this turned into a power hike for most of it with a few steps of jogging here and there. I told myself I’d be saving my legs for later, ha! At Burma Road, I recognized some familiar faces from other races, which is always a fun part of racing. Everyone was super friendly and happy. Once on the top, we were greeted with a spectacular view over the Crooked River canyon including views of Misery Ridge and well beyond Smith Rock State Park.
The section that follows Burma road is the pretty flat Grey Butte trail, which leads to the aid station at mile 5.1. The aid station was hosted by the amazing and always cheerful Wy’East Wolfpack, this time dressed up as an 80s rock band and Yassine in a black long wig. I refilled my water bottle and continued along the trail. The next section was a slight climb that leads to the infamous Grey Butte trail. When I got to the bottom of the climb, it was less steep than I remembered and I happily started my way up. As I was ascending, the trail got steeper and steeper and was definitely more intense than in my memory. There were a few steps during which I was sliding down on the rocky screech more than getting up. I told myself that it was going to be over soon. And it was! It’s a 0.6-mile section with an average grade of 26.5%! Once at the top, I took a few steps to recover and briefly enjoyed the view before making my way down on the more gradual side of Grey Butte for 1.6 miles until hitting the aid station again at around mile 10. My bottle had leaked somewhere along the climb so I got a refill. The racecourse then traced back the same way we ran out with the fairly flat Grey Butte trail leading to the top of Burma Rd. Running back towards the park on this section gives runners stunning views of the mountainous skyline showing off the Cascade volcanoes with Mt. Bachelor, the Three Sisters, Broken Top, Black Butte, Mt. Washington, Mt. Jefferson, and Mt. Hood.
We then met up with Burma Rd again for a great descent, got to Wolf Tree Trail before meeting upon with the River Trail along the Crooked River. Paul Nelson, the race photographer, was waiting at this section and not only snapped some pictures but gave me some cheers, yay! After crossing the river we got to the final, and at that point, tough climb. Again, my vision of me running up the entire trail didn’t manifest itself but turned into a power hike with a bit of jogging interspersed. Spectators usually line themselves up at the top and have a great view of runners coming in. This year, there were only a few spectators, but this was motivating nonetheless. After crossing the finish line, I got a cheer from the race directors Todd and Renee and a super sweet volunteer handed me a finisher glass filled with much-needed water. I could definitely feel the heat and got myself a refill plus an ice-cold coke (other adult beverages were available as well, but I didn’t think that would fare well with the heat for me). After chatting for a few short minutes with fellow runners, I picked up a tasty burrito by Longboard Louie’s and headed back to our Airbnb to load the family into the van and head home.
Runners were definitely spaced out pretty well due to the staggered start, but I did see others around a couple of hundred yards in front and behind me during the race, which gave the event a race feeling and also let me know that I was on the right trail (I always like to be sure…). When we finished, rankings weren’t final due to the wave starts, and overall plus age-group awards were mailed out to runners a few days after the event.
Overall, I was super excited to race again and had fun running on the trails in one of my favorite areas in Oregon. The race directors and volunteers did an amazing job making this a safe and fun event and I hope I will be able to join this race again next year! I’ve loved all Go Beyond races that I’ve run, but this one is definitely of my favorites. If you’re looking for a shorter trail race that has a punchy climb, you’ll love it, too 😊
Cover Photos by Paul Nelson Photography and Film are the beautiful views along the Crooked River and the start-finish line.