13 July 2011

Mt. Misery Ultra - race report

I've thought about doing the Mt. Misery Ultra the last couple years, but I always found something else to do that weekend because it looked too hard. 

It's a 56.5 mile slog from the Snake River canyon in Asotin, WA, with a big climb up and over Mt. Misery and Mt. Horrible of the Blue Mountains, and then a plunge down into the Grande Ronde river canyon in Troy, OR.

Mt. Misery elevation profile

The 6-person relay is by far the much more popular option for covering the distance - only a handful have ever attempted the race solo.  There were a few times on the course I wish I had someone to hand the baton off to. 

I started at 6am, which was two hours before the relay teams. It's a crew-supported ultra, and I was lucky to have my go-to crew of Annie and Sadie helping me out all day.

The first 17 miles is a very gradual climb up Asotin Creek on the road out of the canyon. My goal was to run all of this section to take advantage of the cool morning temps and the runnable grade. 

It was in the 30's at 6am.

Sadie joined me for 20+ miles throughout the day.

Sun rising during the Asotin Creek climb.

At around mile 17 we left the creek and began the big climbs into the mountains. One of the challenges of this course, in my opinion, is the lack of variation between climbing and descending -- with a 33-mile climb followed by a near-marathon of long, steep descents, there isn't much chance for your legs to get any much-needed relief.

The serious climbing began just as the sun was warming up, and just as we left the shade-giving trees along the creek. The climbing was big and long and more than a couple times I doubted whether we'd ever start going down.

But no matter how tired I was getting there were always the views. The Blue Mountains and Umatilla National Forest are beautiful. There wasn't a section on the course that wasn't worth stopping to take a photo. I probably lost some minutes for all the times I stopped to soak in the views, but hey, what's the fun in running a race like this if you can't enjoy the views.

Got my climbing legs on.
(and I must've left them around here...because
I didn't have much climbing left after this section)

If this road didn't go straight up, I could run on it all day.

Finally out of the canyon...
now looking at the mountains I still have to go over.

This might have been my favorite section of the course -
big open meadows and spectacular views all around.

The first relay team passed me around the marathon mark. The cool thing about this relay is that there are no set checkpoints. Teams are allowed to exchange the baton as often as they'd like and it whatever order they'd like. The fast teams coming through were exchanging the baton every 1/4 mile - 1/2 it seemed. The idea, I suppose, is that they can keep up a higher pace at shorter distances. I guess it keeps everyone engaged too. Anyway, they all looked like they were having fun. But I guess most everything looked like fun compared to what I was looking like near the top of the 30-mile climb.

The course started playing tricks with my mind as I neared the high-point of the course (over 6,000 ft). In the trees it's hard to see the summit, and there were several mini false-summits that kept taking a bit of wind out of my sails -- just when I thought I'd reached the high-point, there was another climb around the corner. 

When I finally did begin the descent, it was a fast four miles seemingly straight down.  And then sure enough there was another big climb around mile 38. I knew it was coming too. The RD told me that just when I thought it was "all downhill from here" there was going to be a nice two-mile climb to greet me. After that, it really was "all downhill from here."

I act like I'm running when cameras are around.

Still some snow up top. This road just opened
the week before because of the late snow-melt.

Near the top of the mountain.
I'm headed to the bottom of the canyon seen in the distance.

I was struggling a bit with my fueling during the second half of the race. Temps were warming into the 80's and my stomach wasn't responding well to solid foods. I still haven't figured out a consistent fueling plan for my 50+ mile runs.

I took a couple long sit-down-and-look-out-across-the-mountains-while-drinking-a-coke breaks that felt really good. Because it feels so very good, sitting down in the middle of an ultra isn't always the best idea. This was a small, low-key race with nothing at stake for me except some good training miles, so when thoughts like "it's been 40 miles -- that's enough for today" start popping in my mind I knew I had to get up and keep moving.

When I got off the mountain the roads turned a bit rocky and nasty. But I plugged away. It was a great feeling when I reached the top of the canyon and could see Troy and the river below. I saved enough on the climbing earlier in the day to make that last 3 or so was steep and hot and fast miles down the canyon not hurt so bad.

But it still hurt.

Off the mountain and headed toward the bottom of the canyon.

The last couple miles is a steep plunge down to the river.

Sadie crossing the finish line with me.

Finishing in the small river-town of Troy, OR.

Official time: 11:02:30. 
It was a tough course. The double-cheeseburger and two milkshakes at the end helped though.
(Many more photos.)

Race Gear:
Shoes - Brooks Racer ST5
Shorts - Brooks HVAC Synergy Short
Shirt - Brooks Podium SS

White River 50 was next on the calendar, but it looks like I'm going to have to skip it this year because of conflicting things that weekend. I'm going to try to squeeze in a couple more 50+milers in the next two months to prepare for The Bear 100.  Can't wait for that challenge.  In the meantime, I'm sure I'll find some shorter stuff to run too.

Keep running!



  1. My pleasure. Glad you had a great race. Amazed your spirits stayed so high. Must have been the elevation ...

  2. Amazing! I haven't heard of this race before, but I have a great interest in it now. Thanks for sharing about it!

  3. Absolutely beautiful scenery. I don't know how you motivated yourself to run again after sitting doen though - great running!

  4. WHOAH! Way to go! Your pictures are beautiful, but definitely evident that the course was tough. I still haven't figured out why soda tastes so good during and after a marathon/ultra. I dont drink them on a regular basis, but when surrounded by running long- YES!

  5. congrats!!! you run in the most beautiful places.

    how do you like the Race ST5s? I love them but am hesitant to wear them on longer runs because of my achilles.

  6. Well done! Seems like quite the challenge and you handled it really well. Lovely views, you are right to stop for them. Rest well!

  7. Great Job on Mt. Misery!! Must have been tough doing a relay solo.

  8. Great report and photos. I had never heard of this event. Now I want to come do it next year.

  9. Nice! You are just so amazing!

  10. I ran misery with a relay team last month. Just now blogging about it myself and came across your post. As a team of non-runners we were duly impressed by your solo! Congrats on an amazing time.

    You are right about our strategy of short relay legs, it kept us engaged, fairly loose, and relatively fresh for the long day.