Bunker to Bonneville 50k is a low-key local race held in the Columbia River Gorge and is an event that I've wanted to run for the last couple years. In 2011 I went to support some friends that were running and I really liked the vibe out there. Another aspect that really appeals to me is that the course is a point-to-point race almost exclusively run on the famous Pacific Crest Trail.
Although this year I didn't plan on running it until spontaneously jumping in a few days prior. Sometimes the last-second decisions are exciting and fun! I must say it's always nice to sleep in your own bed for a race and this one finishes in a special place for our family. One of our traditions is that every Mother's Day we go out to brunch at Bonneville Hot Springs Resort and we've done it for the past few years.
Early Saturday morning we arrived at the resort parking lot to get shuttled to the start line which is at Panther Creek campground. On the way there it was pretty cool to see a big black bear cross the road and disappear at a 5-minute per mile pace! It was also nice to see some familiar faces and to re-connect with friends that I haven't seen in a while. Once we got to the start line I noticed another guy who apparently spontaneously jumped into the race: former Badwater winner Zach Gingerich!
Ok...with the addition of him, Mike Wedemeyer, Jason Leman, and who-knows-who-else this race was going to get competitive which was typically uncharacteristic for this event. I guess the sport is changing even for the low-key races like B2B!
As you can imagine the race went out quickly and a few of us led the way. Zach disappeared out of sight and a small pack of three or four of us followed behind. Depending on the race this is a time I like to "get to know" other runners (if they are okay w/ it) and I took the opportunity to meet a couple guys from around the area. Then about 4-6 miles into the race I started having a little stomach distress. I was forced to slow down, visit the "bathroom" (the bushes), and all of the sudden I was in like 4th or 5th place. Not quite what I was expecting but I knew we had a long way to go with some climbs waiting for us.
The stomach issue ended up being a "blessing in disguise" and I rebounded quickly and nicely. After the second aid station I was back running strong and I could tell I was reeling people in as I wasn't stopping at the aid stations either (I was testing out a hydration pack for the upcoming Volcanic 50). Before long I moved into 4th, then passed Zach surprisingly. I was sitting nicely in 3rd place on our first climb. Just near the top I caught glimpse of Mike W. and passed him heading towards 3-Corner Rock (mile 20-ish).
At this little out-and-back to 3-Corner Rock you are able to assess where you are in the race in terms of your competition. I worked hard to the aid station and as I was making my way up first place (Brandon Sullivan) came blazing down the trail at me. He was looking strong and had a good 7 minutes (approx.) on me. I was surprised but made note of it and re-fueled still knowing that we had a good chunk of race ahead of us.
What I didn't realize that I was being hunted as well! Around mile 22 I realized that my bladder ran out of water (I'm not used to racing w/ a bladder) right when I was chewing a PB&J. I was forced to slow down a bit and choke down the chalky sandwich. Coincidentally the temperature was rising too and I was feeling that "low spot" that so often visits us ultra runners. These feeling are all too familiar and I rolled with the punches. However, I was pretty surprised when my buddy Mike W. blew past me on a downhill just before the mile 26 aid station. I tried to latch on to the back of him but couldn't hang. I needed some nourishment and hydration.
When I finally made it to the aid station Mike was just leaving. I took a second there and refueled and rehydrated. I knew much of the last section of the course and that it included a lot of downhill which I love. The hunt was back on!
I surged and surged and eventually after a couple miles I got a visual. Things were hurting all over but I knew that feeling and used it as my accomplice. Before long I came right up on him and by now I was grunting and making all kinds of animal noises ;-) ! I think I might have freaked Mike out a little but when I could I passed him and kept charging the super technical downhills. Every so often I would turn my head just a little to the side and I couldn't see anyone or hear anyone in my periphery. I eventually hit the paved road that takes us over to the finish. The smell of ripe blackberries, the glistening of the sun on the water next to the road, and the warm breeze was the epitome of late summer/early fall and it invigorated the senses despite the pain and fatigue. I tried to just focus on the fact that I would be soaking in a hot spring pool very, very shortly!
I came into the finish in 2nd place overall in 4:28. Michael W. came in just two minutes later and ran an awesome race for not training a whole lot and becoming a new dad recently. Also, Jason Leman killed it despite his injuries and surgery lately...It was also exciting to see Sarah Duncan and Paul Nelson finish off this burly 50k in preparation for their respective mountain 100-milers this month. Nice work everyone!
Big thanks to Anna and all the volunteers, and to the Columbia River Gorge Running Club! This is an awesome event in one of the most beautiful places in the pacific northwest....and there were times during the race where I just felt so grateful to be living in this area....Happy trails!