The alternate title for this race write-up? There Will Be Mud.
Our friends Matt and Christian came in from San Francisco to spend Valentine’s Day weekend in Portland, and we’ve got a little tradition every time they visit the Pacific Northwest: Trail runs of escalating distances, which are usually sprung on them at the 11th hour (I’m lucky they’re such good sports — and strong athletes).
Last time it was a half marathon, so this time it was only fitting to bump it up a few miles to a 25K. And since the Hagg Lake Mud Run has been dubbed by Runner’s World Trail Edition as one of the top trail races in Oregon, we figured it’d be a great way to round out their trip.
If you’re interested in all the details, keep reading. But if you want the short version, I can illustrate the run in just three pictures:
First, here’s the “before” from when we made our way over to the start.
Next is the “during,” which I took at the first aid station, a little more than six miles into the race. That right shoe had just been submerged (and was nearly lost) in a huge pile of muck.
And, finally, the “after,” which pretty much speaks for itself, doesn’t it? This shows Ben’s and my feet about half a second before we hopped into the lake — shoes and all.
If you want all the gory details from in-between, I’ll start over at the beginning…
After a few dreary weeks of fog and intermittent rain, we got lucky with some unseasonably spring-like weather the week before the race. And since our last event was a cold, rainy one, we were thrilled to have ideal conditions for this one: 40’s at the 9 a.m. start and up to mid-50’s by noon.
Hagg Lake is about 45 minutes outside of Portland, so we left around 7:30 a.m. to allow time for packet pick-up and a port-a-potty stop. The parking lot is about a quarter mile from the start, so we had ample time once we got there to get organized.
The start area itself was clean, quiet and super mellow — a.k.a. another reason why I love trail races!
We casually lined up, took a quick group selfie and waited for the round of pre-race announcements from the race director.
After the gun went off, we shuffled over the start line chip-time mats and made our way down the road for the first portion of the race, which is a quick out and back on a gravel road.
They tack this portion on for two reasons: First, to make up the difference in distance (the path around the lake is just a little less than 25k); second, to help runners space themselves out a bit before they hit the single-track trails.
Also interesting about this section? It’s the largest elevation change in the race, so we ended up climbing most of the first mile.
But the good news is that ‘what goes up must come down,’ so we also got to descend the same distance before hitting the lake trail.
Talk about some great scenery — and terrific running conditions! We eased in with some lovely damp, spongy footing as we started out on the trail headed counter-clockwise around the lake.
The temperature was perfect, the sun was shining, we were all warmed up, getting into our respective grooves and in high spirits. How much better does it get than this?!
Well, it was right about then that the mud hit. And shit started getting real…real muddy, that is.
Any hopes I had for keeping my shoes clean(ish) and dry were dashed as we slogged through the slop.
Try as we might to avoid the worst of it, we eventually gave in and just ran straight through. Between navigating the rolling hills, managing the slick footing and avoiding roots and rocks, it just simply wasn’t worth the extra mental and physical energy to go out of our way around it.
In between the rolling stretches of single-track trail, however, we enjoyed a few breaks on pavement and through open fields. Both were a welcome respite — not only were they flatter so we could catch our breaths, but the surer footing also allowed for a mental reset for what would come next.
And what might that be, you ask? Well, more mud, of course.
In my estimation, we got to experience pretty much every kind and consistency of the brown, wet, sticky stuff…from quicksand-like mud that grabs hold of your shoes to murky puddles that are deceptively deep with squishy bottoms…
…and from fluffy brownie-batter mud with footprints that disguise dangerous tree roots to thick clay mud so slippery and sticky that they have to throw hay in it to keep you from going off the rails around corners.
And then there’s a combination of ALL of these kinds of mud in one place dubbed the “Pig Pen.”
In fact, this segment even came marked with a warning that if you somehow managed to keep your shoes clean up to that point, you should abandon all hope of keeping them that way.
It was around this point, as Ben and I slipped, slided and skidded through the nastiness, that I wondered if Matt and Christian might be cursing me and cancelling any future travel plans.
Last race it was “Nutcracker Hill” that was the final insult, yet this race may have had that beat with a muddy mess of a stretch that was both physically and mentally demanding.
Even though the mounting mileage was starting to wear on us, Ben and I both managed to keep our shoes. Whew.
A small, but much-needed, victory to get us to the finish!
After we emerged from the Pig Pen, we had about a half of a mile to go, so Ben and I picked up the pace to bring it home.
Because we were both admittedly under-trained going into the race, my loose goal for the day was to complete the course in fewer than three hours. We crossed the finish line together in 2:51:54.
Matt and Christian, who are both training for the Big Sur Marathon this spring, finished together in an impressive 2:28.
The best part of the race, though? You cross the finish just steps away from “Hagg Lake Spa,” which is also known as wading into the water, shoes and all.
Waterlogged and jello-legged, we then made our way up to the (heated!) pavilion for a delicious feast of chili, hot dogs, grilled cheese, beer, cookies, candy and all the other usual ultra fare.
After chowing down, we hobbled to the car and began the process of stripping off filthy clothing, scraping off caked-on mud and getting ourselves just clean enough to get in the car for the ride to our next destination…brunch!
And, of course, my wheels are already turning when it comes to planning the excursion for Matt and Christian’s next trip up north…
I’m thinking we continue the trend and shoot for 26.2. What do you say, guys??