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McKenzie River Trail Run Reflections with Sam

Written by Sam Cochran

McKenzie River Trail Run occurred September 11th, 2021

Started the race with the lead pack and stayed with them up until we crossed HWY 126 for the first time. At that point I was holding steady in 4TH place. My idea was to stay in the 4TH position as long as I could, so I was running a little faster than I probably should have. 

Everything felt good, my breathing was a little heavy but overall I was comfortable. Took a few sips from my water bottle but tried not to gulp everything I had right away. Wasn’t very thirsty at this point in the race.

Once we made our way around the East side of Clear Lake I lost sight of the 3 lead runners. Then came the Santiam Wagon road. The road (trail) was in pretty good shape and there weren’t too many obstacles to avoid. The Wagon road quickly turned into a climb and I felt my breathing get heavy. I decided to walk/run for the first time, finding tree stumps ahead of me as a marker to start running again. All in all I walked twice on the Wagon road climb. Soon after the reaching the peak the lead pack was heading back in my direction. At this point in the race they were about a half mile in front of me. I was still very comfortable and maintained an “even effort” pace. 

Once I made the Wagon Road turn around I quickly learned that the 5th place runner was right on my heels, followed by the 6th & 7th place runners. They were all within 100 yards or so of each other. I decided to pick up the pace a little and then on the down-hill section of the Wagon Road I kicked it into gear… running as fast as I could while still feeling comfortable. When I approached the Aid Station (Aid 2) I was feeling thirsty. I had just swallowed my first gel on the approach of the Aid station and needed something to help wash it down. I drank a half bottle water at the aid station and then filled the other with electrolytes and got back onto the course. Rick Putman said, “hey man, you’re in 4th place” in which I replied – “for now”

The course along the west side of Clear Lake was wonderful and was just what I needed. It seems to have some nice “rolling hills” and the trail itself was in really nice shape. I approached Hwy 126 for the second time and the volunteers pointed out that 1 car was passing by and another was coming in the same direction. Instead of stopping to wait for the 2nd car to pass I took the risk and did a full stride-out in front of the car. Again, I wanted to maintain my 4th place position as long as I could. 

Ran down the west side of the waterfalls and found the Carmen Aid station. Once I arrived at the Aid station I veered off the course to find my drop bag. I quickly located my bag which had a new singlet, hat and larger water bottle. I franticly changed my singlet, threw on the dry hat and tightened the water bottle on my left hand. My water bottle had a small zipper pouch where I stored a “pre-made gel” mixture that I kept in a soft silicone flask. Once back on the trail I opened the flask to get some gel and the thing squirted all over my singlet and shorts… it was a small distraction, so I let it go and kept my head up. 

The course from Carmen to Blue pool sucked! The trail was narrow and brushy and this is the first time I noticed the sun popping out from behind the clouds, this made me feel hot and thirsty. The creek crossing bridges along this section were not great, they were logs with single and double rails, most of them bouncy while trying to run across them. By the time I arrived at Blue Pool I was really getting thirsty as I had all but diminished my larger hand water bottle. I started to forget where the Aid stations were and I was hoping for water at the Blue Pool turn. There was no water at the turn. 

The 5th place runner had closed the gap and was only a few steps behind me. I maintained my lead for about a mile after the Blue pool turn but realized I wasn’t going to hold it. At that point I started counting the other runners… 6th place, 7th place, 8th place. After the 8th runner there was a huge gap, the 9th and 10th place runners were very far back and so this is when I decided that finishing in the top 10 would be my goal from that point on. I then signaled for the runner behind me to pass and said, “hey, I could use a rabbit to chase.” 

IOnce back at the Carmen Aid station I took a quick break and filled my bottle with electrolytes and ate a pickle. Should have had something else to eat but didn’t want to stand there very long. From there I headed back up to the waterfall section and walked most of the stairs. I was VERY thirsty near Sahalie Falls and was seriously considering going down to the rivers edge to take a sip. Right around the corner from the Sahalie Falls parking lot I found Jenny and Jesse’s uncle and all but begged for some hydradation. Jenny gave me a couple of chugs from her Gatorade bottle and was nice enough to run back to the parking lot to retrieve some additional water to fill my bottle. I got back on the course and things started to fall apart. I could barely lift my legs and both cramping started to take hold. Crossing HWY 126 was slow, as I shuffled my feet. 

Running the east side of Clear Lake for the second was almost impossible. Every other step was a battle and my left foot kept catching, no matter what I tried to do. This is where I fell, twice within a mile. Luckily I fell on soft ground and avoided the rocks. During the paved section another runner passed me and I didn’t care, I was in survival mode. I then veered off the course again, near the campground, where I found someone pumping water asked them to fill my bottle. This is where another runner (Ian Fuller) passed me, but I could tell he didn’t realize that he had passed me because I was kind of tucked back in the parking lot. Once I made my way across the bridge at the north end of the lake I was relieved to be heading home. Suddenly my left leg cramped and completely locked up. I had to stop, I could not move my leg. I stood there for about 20 seconds, wincing in pain and thought the race was over. To my surprise, the leg cramp seemed to help by loosening things back up. I was able to lift my legs again and seemed to get my stride back. 

Once I hit the 2nd to last Aid station (at the Clear Lake Lodge) I was feeling much better. The volunteer announced that I was in 8th place. I ate another pickle and filled up the hand bottled with water. It was only 3.5 miles to the finish and I was feeling confident. My pace increased and I wasn’t worried about falling anymore. The trail along the waterfalls was really hard because my legs were tired and there were plenty of rocks to stumble on. Nearing Carmen I could hear the band playing and knew the finish line was up ahead. 

The last half mile was great, I knew I was going to finish in 8th and ran smooth and care free!

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