Neil Olsen follows Bend's Rod Bien at the Hagg Lake 50K, photo by Jasmine Nahorniak
The Hagg Lake 50 Kilometer Trail Race kicked off the Oregon Trail Ultramarathon Series this past weekend. We were lucky to catch-up with this year's winner and new course record holder, Neil Olsen. Here's what Central Point's trail master had to say about his day:
"February in the Willamette Valley predictably means rain, so I was mentally preparing myself for a long cold soggy windy mud-fest like last year. The weather report even the day before predicted rain at least into the morning. But weather forecasters, like national security advisers, somehow keep their jobs even when their predictions are wrong. It was crisp at first, but clear skies, no wind to speak of, and beautiful.
Unlike last year, I was determined to be at the starting line before the race started. I set three 3 alarms- one mistakenly for 6:30 PM, one I didn't hear, and thankfully one that got me up. I didn't linger over breakfast at mother-in-law's in McMinnville, but instead ate a big cup of cheerios in the car on the way.
Don't ask me where this came from, but they have a skirt competition at the start. Sean Meissner (Peterson Ridge RD from Sisters) looked as cute as ever, but I thought the stocky guy in the jumper took it up a notch. I didn't see Ken Ward (Mac Forest RD, whom my bother works for in Corvallis). Unless he did a better job of shaving his legs this year that may have been just as well ;-)
Sean may not be smart enough to stay out of the cold while he's got laryngitis, but he's great company. We watched some guys go out fast on the dirt road out-and-back. By the dam they had about a 1 minute lead. I did some mental math and figured it would take 7:20 miles to hit the course record. On a muddy day that wouldn't be plausible, but there were long stretches with good footing and little mud. We were on pace and I felt good, so I started shooting for that. From the 1st to 2nd aid stations I drafted off of Rod Bien (from Bend). He shared advice from longer runs, and I tried to learn from him how not to have a near-dialysis CK level of 9500 and how not to spend 2 days in the hospital after 100 miles. We caught up to the leaders about half way through, and other than some hamstring tightness I was still feeling good, so I put in a little surge to stay ahead of that 7:20 average. Shortly after this I got a boost from catching my friend from Central Point, John Lotts, who had taken an early start for his first trail 50k.
True to it's advertising, there was still mud. It was only shortly after the "Abandon All Hope" trail sign that I gave up keeping my shoes clean and dry, and this is where I took my first fall. My next was on a bridge after the start of the second loop. There were 164 registered for the 50k, 123 of which finished, and almost all the 249 25k runners finished. So each of them had crossed that bridge at least once, and they transferred just enough mud to make it slippery. I reached my hand out in time to squash open the Gu packet I had been carrying in the palm of my glove and got Gu all over my glove and GPS watch. I got road rash and a bruise on my shoulder. My other battle scar came later from a blackberry bush as I swung wide to pass a 25k runner. The blood dripped from mid thigh to my knee. I feared for another skin problem as well, but it has now been two days and no poison oak has shown up yet. A huge amount of trail work must have gone into getting the trails ready.
The second lap I was able to hold fairly steady, ticking off each mile on my GPS watch, which only lost satellite connection a couple brief times. The flats I was able to go well below pace, and the hills and winding sections generally are fairly short at a time. I ran somewhat negative splits, so I was confident I had the race, and with a couple of miles left I knew I wouldn't die hard enough to keep from going under the record. I saw 2 other friends from Central Point, Brett Mitchell and Ken Ellgen doing the 25k. Some of the many 25k runners I passed probably didn't realize I was doing the 50k, and I'm afraid I surprised some of them from behind. One of them called out to me "strong finish!" with 1/2 mile to go. I definitely surprised the guy working the finishing chute, because at first he tried to send me on for another lap.
I was happy to see Southern Oregon well represented with Marily Bailey (SOB RD), Ben Benjamin, and Phil Finch. I went on a very long cool-down, and ran awhile with Ralph Hirt (Redwood Wild River Run RD) who was fresh off his first 100 miler since turning 70. Half the fun of these runs are the quality people. The aid station folks were wonderful. Cheapskate that I am, I just used a Walmart water bottle, but they were able to fill it through it's narrow neck before I even had my 2nd handful of M&M's. And I hadn't tried pumpkin bread on a run before, but it was quite good."