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Feeling the Burn — The Tillamook Burn 50K

on Thursday, 30 May 2024. Posted in Blog & News

I started running ultra-marathons six months before turning 50. My goal was to successfully run the White River 50 mile Endurance Run to celebrate my 50th birthday. What I thought would be a short lived phase has turned into a lifestyle. I absolutely love the challenge and excitement of pushing my body on 30-plus mile runs. And the overwhelming sense of accomplishment of completing them as I progress through my 60s. And I love seeking out routes with lots of elevation gain through beautiful forests, along tumbling creeks and over ridges and mountains. Oregon’s Tillamook Burn 50K piqued my interest.


However, since running my first 100K last October; I let my ultra-conditioning slip as family, travel, and work obligations wrestled control of my time. I kept a decent training base going, but was only able to muster a couple of 20 milers over the past few months. And I let a few extra pounds sneak up on me over the winter months. I would not be in my best shape on race day May 12th. But never-the-less I signed up for the race and accepted the challenge. Half the battle of conditioning is sticking to a plan—and my 2024 running plan was now in place to get back into 100K shape.


Tillamook Burn called me for several reasons. I needed an Oregon race in my quest to run a marathon or ultra-marathon in all 50 states; and I happened to on a book promotion tour in Oregon at race time. I had never hiked or run any of the trails in the sprawling 364,000-acre Tillamook State Forest. So, it would be a great introduction for me to this corner of the Oregon Coast Range and an opportunity to explore some new ground

 Tillamook Burn is put on by Daybreak Racing, founded by Jeremy Long. Well-respected within the trail running community, Long has produced a dozen mainly in Oregon runs which are well supported and well-attended. I ran Daybreak’s Backcountry Rise at Mount St Helens two summers ago. It was a challenging run that kicked my butt, but I was pleased with the support on the course and Long’s race directing.

Tillamook Burn wouldn’t be as difficult as Backcountry Rise, but it would still be pretty challenging with its 6300 feet of cumulative elevation gain—and to my chagrin an unexpected heat wave on race day. Seems like I’ve been there before with heat being a factor during my recent 100K as well. It would definitely mean a slower time, but I was confident I could keep my body core from overheating while racing. There are copious cascading creeks to cross on the course, and I planned on dipping my hat and splashing my face in many of them.

I grew up on the East Coast and have a high tolerance for weather extremes. I’ve runs race in temperatures ranging from 4 degrees to 90 degrees. I know how to run smart in these potentially dangerous conditions. However as I’ve gotten older, I’m definitely noticing that my tolerance to temperature extremes is not what it used to be. As I age I am finding that I need to be more vigilant than ever preparing properly for a demanding athletic performance. My mind may still think that I’m in my 40s, but my body will quickly remind me that I’m in my 60s if I try to do things the way I did in my 40s.

I’ve been an endurance athlete most of my life and the hardest thing for me to accept at times is that I’m slowing down. In the Tillamook Burn 50K I was one of only two runners over the age of 60. And while I get frustrated that I can’t run the speeds that I once did, I have to remind myself that I am still out here doing what I love. And being among a field of younger runners shouldn’t make me feel old, but empowered!


And I’m grateful! Grateful that I can push my body to extremes in ultra-marathon events. But for me to continue I must be vigilant in my training. Aside from putting in the long training runs, rest and adequate sleep for recovery are paramount. I take days off when necessary and I sleep on a regular schedule allowing my muscles to recover and my body to recharge. And I maintain a heathy diet that shuns added sugars and processed foods as much as possible. I eat plenty of protein in the form of eggs, yogurt, lean meats, beans and nuts. And I load up on fruits and vegetables, regularly eating salads and potatoes. Potatoes not only provide me complex carbohydrates for fuel while running but the essential nutrients vitamin C and Vitamin B6. And they contain iron and are a large source of potassium, which help my muscles from cramping while exercising.


While race day was warmer than I’d prefer—with temps pushing 80, the course except for one brief section across a recent clear-cut was all forested—with much of the way along tumbling creeks in cool ravines. The clear-cut section was tough being on the biggest climb on the course (and a steep descent on the return) but the views! They were sweeping taking in four volcanoes, Mounts Rainier, St Helens, Adams and Hood.


The creeks were flowing providing my feet some relief (I just plodded through them) and my head and neck some much-appreciated cooling. We passed several waterfalls with the prettiest of them, 55-foot University Falls being the half way point and turn around spot. While this forest burned three times from 1933 to the 1951 (hence the race’s name), afterward it was the site of one of the largest reforest campaigns in the country and leading to its establishment as a state forest. Our start was from Reehers Camp, originally established as a CCC camp for a battalion of Roosevelt’s tree army to help reforest the Tillamook after its first burn. While the forest is now mostly second and third growth, there are still pockets of impressive mature trees. Trees grow fast in this one of the wettest corners of the Pacific Northwest.


The course followed trails that followed old logging roads and rail beds. There was even some remnant tracks we had to cross at one point. But in recent years user groups (such as the Northwest Trails Alliance, which is a beneficiary of this race) have helped build trails here transforming this forest into a wonderful recreational destination less than an hour from Portland. Daybreak Racing is based in nearby Hillsboro and it was at Tillamook State Forest that Jeremy and company staged their first event in 2016. So this race now in its 8th year holds a special place in Long’s heart. And for me too as another ultra-run completed (I finished with a 7.51.12, content with my time) shared with wonderful participants from near and far—and made possible by a large and dedicated group of volunteers that provided support, aid, and cheers along the way! And more than a few commented on my Team Potato attire prompting them to share their appreciation for the famous tuber. Spud power all the way! I’m recovering nicely now and already have my eyes set on my next big race.

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