Since the upswing following the economic downturn, demand for jobs in Bend has been burgeoning; a large contingent of highly skilled Californians have been willing to accept less pay in return for a job in the city. We knew it would be a risk moving here and I'd gotten to the point where I sent my resume to just about any open position that had the word "engineer" in the title. I came to the conclusion that my dream job of working for a company that values life in Central Oregon as much as life in the office would probably not come to fruition for several more years. I was okay with the idea that I would have to settle for something now in exchange for living in my dream city.
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Over the week leading up to Halloween, Kinsey told me she had some friends coming down from Alaska to run an Ultra, not 40 minutes from town. I looked up the race and noticed there was a 50k option; following our trip to Kona for Kinsey's debut at the World Championships, I developed an itch. I wasn't particularly keen on racing on the Big Island but for some reason, I was ready to race again. Fall has always been my favorite time of year to train and race. Some of my most indelible memories out on the single track were forged around the same time the leaves changed shade and littered the ground. Though my longest training runs over the summer topped out at 90 minutes, I could hardly resist the temptation to register.
Following my most recent effort at a 50k in January of 2012, a string of injuries ultimately pushed me out of ultra-distance trail running and into triathlon. I didn't want to be done, though, and indeed, I managed to register for the Mountain Mist 50k for what would have been my 5th year in a row to compete. Sadly, my achilles wouldn't have it. I didn't understand much about injury prevention at the time and took for granted the need for maintenance work on my body. As more time separated me from long days on the trails, I learned to manage the issues and take a more proactive approach to running injuries. Still, six years later, I wasn't 100% sure the pains wouldn't come back; I needed to prove to myself that I could do this again.
The monolithic facades of the ridge lines in Smith Rock State Park were still cast in shadow as the race director of Run the Rock 50k gave us a few short lines of instruction about today's race. Within the first mile, we'd be tackling Misery Ridge to get our legs woken up before heading out towards Grey Butte and returning through Skull Hollow. The single track carved along the sides of the hills yielded stunning views of desert valleys and Cascade Peaks, capped in the season's latest snow fall.
Two hours in and I was getting a rude reminder that I had not fully prepared for this distance. I'd done plenty of races and training sessions that had been in excess of four hours but never solely on my feet. My lungs and heart had plenty to give but my running muscles were not happy with me, threatening to seize up in areas I'd never had problems with before. In many respects, I was traveling uncharted territory. I had to keep reminding myself to calm down, be patient, don't look at your watch, stay positive, breath right. This won't be forever.
For the next three hours, I fended off the voices telling me this was a stupid idea, that I'm not the ultra runner I once was, that everyone here is stronger than you, walk, stop, find a ride back to your car, go home. Or...just run to the next flag, keep moving, continuous forward motion, be patient, it's supposed to hurt, remember how much you have to be thankful for. I fed of the small stream of positive thinking and eventually made it through to the last aid station atop a climb that I thought would never end.
I scarfed down a slice of crepe and nutella and eased my sore legs down the long, dusty trail to the finish. So much of the race was a struggle to ignore the pain and press on and that was made all the more difficult by how little of the trail was actually flat. Though it was by no means a dominating performance, I beat my biggest competitors that day: the course and my own head. While the South has so many good tails and forests to offer, I'd fantasized many times about going out West for a long race, to experience those vast landscapes where you can see for miles and climb the biggest mountains you could imagine. After missing out on Mountain Mist back in 2013, what would have been my 20th ultra distance race of my career, toeing the line at Run the Rock after a 30 mile drive from my new home was an incredibly humbling experience and a powerful reminder about how much my Father cares about the details.
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For the second time, I buttoned up one of my new "work" shirts for a meeting with some more folks at G5, one of the fastest growing IT companies in Oregon, specializing in digital marketing and bringing your dog to work. I'd already had one face to face interview two weeks before so hopefully a second was a good sign. When I initially applied for the position, I had few hopes of making it to the phone interview stage. On paper, it seemed I did not have enough years experience and the likelihood that I would land a job at a company that's made it on Outdoor Magazine's top 100 places to work list three years running seemed slim. Following the second on site interview, I was told they would get back to me in the next few business days.
Not two hours after returning home, I got the call. My first day is the Monday after Thanksgiving.