HollyAnn’s Gorge 100k Race Recap
Nearly a year and a half that I’ve been apart of the sport of trail running. This sport is raw, gritty, relentless but immensely rewarding. Running has always been an integral part of my life but nothing yet has touched the joy that I feel as I venture off the asphalt and sidewalks. The quiet of the woods, the burn of a climb, the splash of a creek crossing, or the feeling of soaring along a ridgeline over technical terrain. The highs and lows of racing have taught me so much more about myself than a decade without running ever could. We as humans are truly limitless.
After my Rim to River 100 finish in November, I have been eager to keep pushing my limits. I have been beyond excited to put myself in bigger fields, gain more trail experience, and compete alongside other strong, gritty women. I was fortunate to have Gorge Waterfalls 100k come up as an option to help me pursue all of these. Gorge Waterfalls 100k has historically attracted some of the strongest fields in the nation with a course that is breathtakingly beautiful and passes dozens of waterfalls including Multnomah Falls (tallest waterfall in Oregon coming in at a height of 620ft) that we climbed up and around. Gorge Waterfalls 100k was previously a WSER golden ticket race but after a wildfire in 2017 (Eagle Creek Fire) burned 50,000 acres in the Columbia River Gorge followed by the pandemic, the race was temporarily discontinued. This past weekend the race returned after 5 years under new ownership (Freetrail & Daybreak racing) and a brand-new course!
As 2022 rolled around, I wanted to expound on a few areas of my training; setting goals to slowly build my mileage and add more vertical gain into my daily training runs. As a result, this has been one of the best training build-ups for me so far and I was able to start my 2022 racing season with a 4:17:54 (7th OA/1st Female) finish at Cabin Fever 50k in Fayetteville, WV. But I definitely knew I had a lot more to lay on the line once my peak fitness started to show signs in my weekly training the following month. Going into Gorge Waterfalls, I knew the hardest part for me would be finding the appropriate pace since I had never raced anything between 50k and 100 miles- where a 50k has always felt MOSTLY like an all-out race to me and my 100 milers have been long hours of grinding. I knew it would be somewhere in the middle but wasn’t totally sure what that would look like. As for goals, this was tricky since this was my first 100k. I didn’t really want to give myself a placement goal knowing there would be so many amazing athletes out there, so I started with looking at time goals. Although the course had changed a bit from the OG course, a majority of the trails and climbs were exactly the same but kind of in a different order so I went looking at past results to set my time goal as I knew it should be relatively comparable. Ultimately, I wanted to run a time within what the top 5 all-time women had run (boasting names like Amanda Basham & Jodee Adams-Moore) and knew I would be happy with any time between 10:00:00 and 10:59:59.
Coming into the final week of training, my biggest fear was that I hadn’t backed off enough with my ‘taper’ but I knew that my body was more than ready to go regardless. Thursday morning I woke up to head to the airport with my throat burning from my sinuses draining all night. I was initially super frustrated because the timing of getting sick couldn’t have come at a worse time than two days before my big race. But immediately I pushed any negative thoughts aside, refused to dwell on it, drank some immunity Nuun, and carried on. I had worked far too hard to let anything come in the way. Once our flight landed in Portland, Ellie Pell (TC Elite teammate, ON running professional athlete, Beast Coaster, 100k comrade, and total BA Western States golden ticket qualifier) picked us up at the airport and we made the 40min drive through mountains of evergreen trees into North Bonneville, WA (just across the river from the race start in Cascade Locks, OR). We had the fortunate of having the loveliest AirBnb hosts- Peggy, Kevin, and their labradoodle Casey. As we drove through the community of North Bonneville we noticed dozens of sasquatch statues around the neighborhood and our AirBnb hosts let us know that North Bonneville was the location of one of the first documented sasquatch sightings.
After dropping our luggage, we made a quick trip into town for lunch at Thunder Island Brewing and then to the store for a handful of groceries and Mucinex to try and knock out my crud, we came back and spent the evening hiking 3.5mi with Ellie around the paths and trails within the North Bonneville community and taking in all of the stunning landscape around us before settling in. Friday morning we enjoyed coffee & breakfast before taking another short hike to watch the sunrise before coming back to get ready to meet Ellie’s crew, Keeley Henninger (Altra Running) & Hillary Allen (Brooks Running) for a short shake-out run on the Pacific Crest Trail.
By the time we all finished, my parents were just arriving into town and met up with us to take a short trip to Hood River for lunch and to explore around. We made it back into town by 5pm for packet pick-up and decided to eat what we had back at the AirBnb for a pre-race dinner so we could get everything organized and head to bed at a reasonable time.
Race day is finally here! We started the morning very early (3-3:30am) as we prepared for the 5am race start. Back home this would’ve been a bit tougher wake-up but we had attempted to keep our East Coast schedules which meant that the race start was actually 8am for us typically. Thankfully our AirBnB was only 10-15min away so we didn’t have to rush around (although we all had a scare as we headed out the door at 4:10 and Ellie mistakenly saved the address for and plugged in a Marina Park in Vancouver that was 45min away- which thankfully wasn’t the case). This race morning was the same as always; started with a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee before donning my kit and braiding my hair. I even got in a round of stretching and ankle mobility work. My throat wasn’t nearly as bad as the prior two days so I was optimistic that sickness wasn’t going to hold me back in this race. I tucked my vest full with the essentials: a bottle filled with Nuun endurance, a handful of Science in Sport gels, a vanilla honey stinger waffle, my thin rabbit running gloves, emergency toilet paper, and my headlamp. I threw my vest over my rabbit running kit and tightened the BOAs on my Speedland SL:PDX shoes.
Soon we were out the door to find that the weather was cool and crisp in the low 40s. The forecast let us know there was a slight chance of rain so we came equipped with our rain shells. After enduring the long porta potty line, I hung out in the main shelter area to try to keep warm and loose before all runners were instructed to head to the starting line. Dylan gave a wonderful and encouraging message before handing the mic over to his talented mother-in-law who sent us off with a lovely poem she had written about the Columbia River Gorge. Then the time was here; the field was off!
We rolled out of the park, through the streets of Cascade Locks, before making it onto an asphalt pathway for a mile or so. I tucked in behind the lead men and started to find a comfortable groove. A light rain had begun to fall but everyone was light-hearted and cheery as we made our way down the path with our headlamps guiding the way. I started to mold my racing strategy in these first few miles. This past year I have really tried to work on my climbing abilities and often make it a goal to snag as much elevation as possible on my training runs throughout the week, I’m still very new to the trail world and have a long way to go in this regard. As I studied the course before heading out to Oregon, I knew there would be a section around mile 16 that had 1500ft of elevation gain in just 2 miles. I have never experienced a climb like that in any of my regular training runs (or honestly ever) so I knew this would be a weak point for me as a majority of the strong women in this race have extensive experience with racing major climbs and some even train with them as part of their daily mileage. I wanted to push just enough in the beginning to give myself a cushion with the women’s field for the climb without wearing myself out too early and I feel like I executed that perfectly as I started to form a small gap.
As the early miles began to click away, I found a group of three men (including a fellow rabbit elite runner: Keith Laverty) to hold on to the heels of. The rain teased us with a short break followed by another round of harder and colder rain. I could feel pressure start to build in my head and my sinuses start to relentlessly drain as I became drenched from the cold rain but thankfully my body was still feeling great. Before I knew it, I was approaching the first aid station (Yeon) at mile 9.7. It was still dark but I finally spotted Chris & my parents in the crowd and traded them my two empty gel packets for a bundle of 6 to help me get through the next 20 miles before I saw them again (since the next two aid stations didn’t have crew access).
As I left the aid station, I was pleasantly surprised by a 2-3mi road section where I just relaxed and let the pace roll as I kept my sights on a few men down the road that I could work towards. At this point I had created a small gap of 2min on the women’s field but knew that it wouldn’t last long as the biggest climb was quickly approaching. As I got back onto the trails, I continued to work with and chase a couple of the men runners until we came into Oneonta only stopping a brief moment for assistance in getting my rain jacket into the back of my pack. As I left, I tried to take in some gels but nothing was wanting to go down. My sinuses were draining so bad it was making it hard to swallow and I began feeling nauseous. I kept pushing onwards and before I knew it, I was at Multnomah starting my 2 miles of ascent. I felt like I was back at Rim to River 100 in 2020 being filmed for the ‘Into the Well” documentary again, everywhere I went I was being chased by someone with a camera (special shout out to both Sean Haworth & Freetrail for the greatest race coverage of all-time).
When I started the climb, one of the live footage crew members (Bret Jorgensen) started with me, following every move. I remember reaching a point that I wanted to power hike for a bit but definitely wasn’t going to stop running on camera. I told myself that he wouldn’t follow me for too long and that I would have a few strides of power hiking as soon as he left but I swear this guy followed for an entire mile and I’m not sure why he didn’t sign up for this race because I was impressed lol. As I was nearing the top, I tried to take a gel again but nothing was wanting to go down and I was already a lot further behind on fueling than I wanted. The entire climb was a series of switchbacks and I peeked down to my left to see what I had already anticipated, Hannah/Tara/Ellie just behind powering up the climb.
The trails started to flatten out before descending back down over the falls. The rocks were SUPER slick from the rain and my feet were sliding all over the place but thankfully I stayed focused and in control. Around this time, Hannah came barreling down the trail past me and I could tell this girl was on fire. She was absolutely dropping the hammer and I could tell by the look on her face that she came to take names. For the next few miles back to Oneonta Aid Station, I could feel my energy dropping and knew I desperately needed to catch up on fueling. I grabbed a quarter of a PB&J once I arrived and headed out at the same time as Tara Fraga. I got to start working with her through the trails going back and forth since she was a bit stronger than me on the super technical areas-she cruised right through gnarly, rugged rocks with ease without breaking a stride. It was quite beautiful to watch and she has certainly mastered trail running as an art form. My one and only fall during the race was in this section. I stepped on a slick jagged rock and lost my footing. I was back up as soon as I was down but I had sliced my finger and had blood and dirt all over my PB&J so didn’t end up getting to eat it.
Finally, the lack of fueling hit me like a brick wall and I could feel it from my head to my toes. I entered one of the darkest ruts that I’ve ever been in during an ultra. My legs started to lock up a bit and I was absolutely terrified since I wasn’t even halfway into the race. Around the time I got to see Chris and my parents at Yeon again, my sinuses finally seemed to have the slightest bit of a break. I took a gel and was successful. I have always fueled really well in races so this was a completely new experience for me. I attempted to get myself out of my rut by coaxing and convincing myself that I could “makeup” for lost time with my fueling even though I wasn’t completely sure that that was even a ‘thing’ or could even be possible for anyone.
I got a half of a PB&J (again) at Yeon and took off not too long after Tara and Ellie had stopped and breezed through. My focus from this point until Cascade Locks aid station was just to keep moving, grinding, and steadily taking in fuel. It seemed to be working, I couldn’t fully makeup for the muscle fatigued but I could feel my mental rut break and my energy start to boomerang back. At Cascade Locks I was surprised to find that I was only 8min behind, as I was totally expecting more with my approximately 10mi of struggle. I grabbed some more fueling and started to finally feel back in the race again.
A few miles in I passed Leah Yingling and Mike McMonagle (spectating and taking phenomenal race photos) letting me know that I was now 7min back. It was so awesome to have everyone giving me updates and encouragement along the way-it really helped keep me motivated to keep pushing. At one point, Dylan Bowman was chasing me as he was recording for the live stream and he said “MAN you have a big following back in West Virginia. Everyone’s rooting for you!” and my heart was absolutely busting at the seams. I also felt truly lucky to be able to have Chris there to pace me for the last 13. I was looking forward to just making it to the Wyeth aid station and turn around so I would have him with me on the way back. When I rolled in, Tara and Ellie were just heading out and I was now only 5min back. I grabbed some potato chips, swapped my bottles, and we were off. He really helped push me to keep moving and grinding during those last few miles.
By the time we were at Cascade Locks before the final 3mi stretch, we were told that I was only 3min back. I knew it wasn’t impossible but a bit improbable to make up 3min in 3 miles but I gave it a big push. Before we got to the aid station, Chris asked me if there was anything I was going to need and I told him that I would really love a few more potato chips but as we started to get closer I changed my mind- “nope, we are just blowing through.” We had one last section of rolling trails before getting back on the last stretch of asphalt again. I looked down and saw the time with 2 miles to go: 9 hours and 40min. OH MY GOODNESS, I’m going to break 10 hours!? My legs were in so much pain but I buckled down and gritted my teeth with one last surge. I came through the park and crossed the finish line: 9:55:08 for 4th place female. Ellie and I celebrated together as she told me about her amazing race and 3rd place finish in 9:50:50. Beast coast truly showed up and showed out for a beautiful day in the PNW!
It was beyond magical in Cascade Locks, OR and I’m just so thankful I was able to come out to this wonderful race and have an experience like this. Freetrail and Daybreak racing put on an outstanding event and I can’t recommend this race enough. I was overwhelmed by an upward of a hundred different messages of encouragement, love, and congratulations when I went to check my phone. I feel so unbelievably blessed by the community and support I have around me. I think about it often in my training and racing and its often what powers and motivates me more than any other intrinsic or extrinsic factor.
Trail running teaches you so much about yourself that you can’t just get from any other experience in life. It taught me this weekend that ‘bonking’ early didn’t have to mean the end of my race or that my day was ruined. I learned that I’m more resilient than I sometimes give myself credit for and that I DO have the ability to power through mental and physical ruts to come back and keep rallying. See, that is what is so unique and special about this sport- there’s usually no way to truly predict how a race will play out. You can be the ‘fittest’ individual on the starting line but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be the first person to cross the line or that you’ll always have your day. Instead that just means that you are equipped for only one small portion of the equation. These races are long and rugged. Trail running takes a ton of mental grit and typically one of the greatest things about being apart of the trail running community is meeting and learning about the really freaking amazing people that are out on the course around you that have this attribute and learning what drives them when they push themselves through 50k, 100k, 100mi and beyond distances. I know I sound like a broken record, but I can’t reiterate my gratitude enough for the amazing people that support and lift me up and the people in the trail running world that inspire and empower me to keep pressing forward.
Until next time,
Other notes from this weekend:
Only ~12 gels were taken of the intended 20. And most in the later half.
It was really freaking cool to be deemed the ‘dark horse’ pick for the race
Ryan Ramsby was the official creator of my race mantra “All you gotta do is HollyAnn shit and it’ll play out just fine”
Peggy (our AirBnb host) shared her great words of wisdom as well “Be nice, play fair, have fun”
I’ve always been told that the east coast trails are far more technical than west coast trails- you all are liars- that was the most rugged race I’ve completed to date.
I got to hangout and after-party with some seriously amazing folks this weekend that are shaking up the industry- professional runners (including Trail Society’s Hillary Allen & Keely Henninger), Freetrail’s entire crew (including Dylan Bowman, Zac Marion, and Ryan Thrower), and Speedland co-founders Kevin & Dave. It’s one thing to be inspired by what these guys do through social media but even more special when you meet them in person and they are even more wonderful human beings.
And the overwhelming number one thing I need to work on is…. time at aid stations! Good grief, I spent a solid 10min in aid stations with no sense of urgency. Dually noted and will be better next time!
Snag my race-day essentials: