Swan song: A final accomplishment or performance (www.dictionary.com)
Rogue River Trail run became my personal swan song for long distance running. Here’s why and how.
Background. How do you celebrate your 62nd birthday, early social security age? I had a crazy notion to run 62 miles/100k … but after a single 18 mile test run in early 2016 I thought 62 miles was beyond my pain-free ability and would require too much training, effort and time.
In the summer of 2015 I had thought of going on a runners’ vacation. You know, a trip with like minded people jogging scenic places, camping, singing around campfires and generally having a laugh. I searched the internet and found a few sources or places but was shocked by the price tag the organizers wanted, and, there’s always the travel to and from to consider as well. All the organized trips felt financially beyond what I was prepared to pony up for.
One trip, however, sparked my imagination. The Rogue River Trail … a 40 mile (descending) trail run … that is normally done over 3 days with supported and catered camping or overnight lodgings en-route. A couple of companies advertise this exciting venue with trips in Spring or Fall, (it’s too hot or too cold at other times of the year!). It also happens to be within one day’s driving distance from my home.
Because I’d already done a 50 mile trail run 8/18/11 and a 32 mile/50K run 6/7/15 I knew I was capable of 40.6 miles/65K which satisfied my purpose of celebrating my birthday closely enough as a km/yr instead of m/yr … well, I am English after all and kms replaced miles in 1972.
So the seed was set in my own mind, but according to BLM/Forest Service information bears can be an issue in the last 10 or so miles. I was probably prepared to jog the trail solo but preferred the idea of companionship, so who should I pester?
I was cardio fit throughout most of 2015 but missed a window of opportunity in Fall due to other commitments. My faithful, fun-loving, do anything brother was due to visit in May/June 2016 (late Spring) for ski mountaineering and other activities with an extended stay of 6 weeks now that he has reached full retirement age in UK of 65. So I planted the seed of Rogue River to him late 2015 … which unfortunately did not germinate because he was depleted from the flu only a couple of weeks before visiting. We had a great time together though otherwise.
Rogue River was put on the back burner, again!
Throughout 2016 I had reverted to my normal weekly running routine averaging 15-20 m/wk. This keeps me in a decent state and is a good jumping off point if I have a goal I want to achieve and step up the fitness. In August Ingrid and I spent 2 weeks sailing in the San Juan Islands and Canada which involved no jogging at all … but I started to think about Rogue River again!!!
Could I get myself fit enough to complete the 40 mile run in a single push?
Who could I entice to join me?
Bill Kenneweg. He’s the guy, if he has an opening in his busy schedule of International Shipping Captain/1st mate, Sky diver, Base jumper, Mountaineer, Marathoner and Ultra-marathoner with the White River 50 completed 7/30/16. Bill was once described to me as an adrenaline seeker (and probably an endorphine seeker too). Bill’s pedigree is second to none: 8 marathons in 2012, a couple of Bostons and Marine Corps and others too numerous to mention. Bill is currently 61 years old, superbly fit, reliable, easy going and a great person to have on anyone’s team.
It didn’t take long to hook Bill, though tying down a date was sketchy. I would have preferred the end of September to give me more time to train but we decided on 19th September IF his wife, Rachel, could act as our driver to collect us at the trail’s western terminus???? (Ingrid was unable to take the time from her busy schedule). Thankfully Rachel agreed, though was extremely nervous of driving the notorious road to our western terminus.
So the scene was set and I had 4 weeks to prepare myself. Bill and I had 4 training runs together and discussed “tactics”, such as motels, driving arrangements, nourishment, liquids, running apparel, safety and first aid gear. It wasn’t a big deal as we were both experienced and I met Rachel twice for lunches to allay any fears she may have about sharing a room with me and to help quell her fear of driving alone. Apparently she can get lost in her own back garden so she’s extremely nervous when left alone in unknown territory. But, she agreed to join the road show.
Sunday 9/18/16 – 9 hour drive to Galice Resort where we’d booked a cabin for the night. We drove 6 more miles to the eastern start of the Rogue River Trail at Grave Creek to familiarize ourselves and see it in daylight. Then we backtracked, with Rachel driving to the road that would take her to the turn off heading west to our collection point after traversing the trail. All was well so a couple of beers and a meal were in order on the deck overlooking Rogue River.
The Run. Monday 9/19/16 – We arose at 4.50 am and had a spartan oatmeal/raisin breakfast with coffee and both felt a bit full from the previous night’s meal. We left the cabin at 5.40 am and carefully drove to Grave Creek trailhead in pitch darkness arriving just before 6 am. Rachel took a couple of photos of us donned in head torches and ready to run. A waning moon illuminated the clear western sky and shone bolts of light onto the Rogue river beneath us. We said our goodbyes to Rachel and bolstered her morale to drive the notorious road and collect us at Foster Bar later that same day.
I had guesstimated our arrival time could be anywhere from 4 to 6 pm, or beyond. I based my timing on a 10 hour trip if all was going really well but most likely close to 12 hours. Rachel was instructed not to call for help if we did not show before noon the next day should we encounter a problem. We were both carrying survival bags if we got benighted, or if one of us got injured and the other one could make it out to alert any authorities. It was all an unknown to us.
By head torch Bill and I navigated our way along the narrow and sometimes precarious trail, winding its way high above the river with cliff faces above and below us. An undulating single track necessitated care with every foot placement. Temperatures were already quite warm though we both wore an extra layer to start with. We walked all uphill sections and jogged all the flat and downhill sections lured by moonlight and followed our head torch beams lighting leaf strewn single track.
The trail follows the north bank of Rogue River and never actually descends to river level. It is often quite high above the river and climbs higher to traverse any spurs. Its total elevation gain is around 7,000ft and elevation loss around 7,300 ft. There are numerous creek bridge crossings which are sign posted by name and mileage. We found this very useful to ascertain our pace and easy to follow on our Forest Service map.
Before 7 am we’d removed our second layer and head torches, and enjoyed the totally quiet early morning run, still being guided by moonlight through a shaded tree canopy. Occasionally we’d see rafters’ camp down below on beaches and bars but no movement yet … too early.
The trail was very much the same and very much different all at the same time. It kept going. Undulating single track in and out of tree canopy and sheer sided cliffs with breathtaking views of the river below, and the south shore’s steep side walls of rocks and near vertical trees. Time ticked, legs turned, distance was moving underfoot and our pace was excellent.
By mile 16 I needed a quick break for food, drink and a pee. Bill elected to carry on which meant my break was minimal and it took a while to catch him again. We took a side trip down to Zane Grey’s cabin at mile 17.3 to see where the famous author wrote his westerns. He built his own cabin, now a historical site, on an open bench well above the river; there was an orchard too. Running through the parched long yellow grass was fun as we returned to the trail. Soon afterwards we encountered a young couple out for a stroll, they carried no gear so we assumed we must be close to “civilization”.
At mile 23.9, Marial Lodge, we came off trail onto a 2 mile section of dirt road and encountered 2 people on dirt bikes. Thankfully they were courteous and didn’t stir up clouds of dust for us.
At marathon distance, 26.2 miles, we were still on target for a 10 hour trip. We were both getting low on water and had seen only dry creeks since mile 23. According to BLM information there was to be many places for potable water and creek water for filtering. We only saw one spicket outside Marial Lodge (which we didn’t take advantage of ??) other than the creeks we’d already crossed.
Somewhere after Mule Creek, mile 23, the bridge creek crossings were not sign posted with identification or mileage. This made it a little more difficult to judge our progress and keep tabs on our whereabouts but otherwise had no affect on us.
“Inspiration Point” was truly a fantastic part of the wild Rogue. The plunging river canyon was partially lost to sight due to its steepness but also offered wonderful tranquil views in lazy sections of river as our narrow trail meandered high on the cliffs. It was exhilarating running that made you want to slow down and take in the scenery … which we did.
Water was now becoming an issue and the beautiful day was a solid 80*F in full sunshine. We consulted the Forest Service map and thought we could get water from a creek in a couple of miles. Running the cliffs beyond Inspiration Point I’d noticed that I was weaving a little and decided to walk for a while. I needed to eat and also drank the last of my liquid.
By mile 28 I was in a mess, I’d bonked. I tried to sit down but almost got cramp in my left quadriceps and nearly kicked my backpack over the edge reflexively. Both hamstrings were near to cramping, but didn’t. Bill had some salt tablets and a drop of water which he generously donated and after a few minutes we set off again … walking until I could regain a proper breathing rhythm. Eventually I started to waddle-jog with very sore quads … slowly!!
My quads had been “talking” to me since mile 12 but I’d not listened intently enough to them. The long, hilly training run I’d done 6 days before must have stressed them but I’d failed to notice until 3 days later during my last 4 mile run before Rogue. Oops! So I knew my legs were tired before setting off.
At mile 30 we encountered two ladies with enormous backpack loads coming towards us. I asked them if they’d passed any water sources recently. They thought we were about 4 miles from a water source which deflated me somewhat. One lady asked if we had any water, no, and offered to give us some as she had about 7 pints in two camelbacks. After initially refusing, I graciously accepted a pint from her and drank about half of it before continuing.
Bill and I marched on then jogged again. A mile later I finished the water. Almost another mile down the trail I ate a chia bar and made very little saliva in my mouth to swallow it. I knew I desperately needed water before the next 2 miles where the ladies thought we could find water. Bill was completely dry as well and we decided to descend to the river at the next opportunity.
At mile 32 the trail dipped towards the river and a fairly easy rocky descent led to a sandy beach. Bill romped down whilst I tentatively stepped down slowly with hugely painful quads. Bill filtered Rogue river water for 20 minutes whilst we both drank our fill and reloaded our bottles for the remainder of the trip. I drank 3.5 pints immediately to satisfy my thirst and stocked up with 4 pints for the trail. I also wet my shirt and put cold water on my head and face. This was the longest “break” we had on the entire trail.
Feeling refreshed and recovered from the bonk I was able to set off waddle-jogging again and Bill was perfectly OK … I was holding him back due to my slowness but he wanted to stay with me for safety reasons in the bear section of the trail. My quads just wouldn’t allow me to run at normal gait or pace and it was annoying. During mile 28 to 32 and re-watering we had lost more than 1 hour of projected finish time.
Back on the trail we encountered bear poop in many locations and passed one tree where the bark had been claw scratched off above head height!! Progress was slow. We continued snacking and drinking while walking uphill sections. At mile 35 we found a wonderful waterfall with fresh water pool where we topped off our water bottles again, each with 3 pints to complete the remaining 5 miles. I wet my head, face and shirt again with cool, fresh water.
The trail intermittently became open or even “park-like” and you could tell that the Rogue’s valley was starting to widen westwards. We were homing in on trails-end, but not before two annoyingly high switchback climbs which had us both moving slowly. Descending each of these was no picnic for my aching quads, all I could attempt to do was turn my legs over fast and try not to use my quads as brakes.
Bill’s I-phone and Garmin tracker watch batteries quit before mile 36 but gave us various running facts and figures. Just after Billings Creek, mile 38.9, we entered wide open fields and passed just south of Illahee Lodge. That last mile felt really good and we soon reached the western trailhead sign before continuing on blacktop road to Foster Bar Boat Ramp at mile 40.6 where I even managed to increase my waddle-jog to near normal run but not a sprint finish!! Total elapsed time 11h 37mins.
I was relieved and very happy that it was “done-and-dusted” and could stop forcing my legs to run. Bill kept repeating “Epic, Epic” with a wide grinning beam over his salty, craggy face. We found Rachel sitting in her car reading a good book. She was very pleased to see us, took the customary “finish-line” photos and then we were off to our motel room, a celebratory beer and good hot shower.
Neither of us suffered any joint issues, hot spots or blisters. Bill was in basically fine condition though tired (to be expected) and I just suffered from extremely over-worked leg muscles. I walked with painfully stiff legs for the next 1.5 days, however I managed a 1.5 mile walk and 1.5 mile run at normal pace 2 days after Rogue. Bill cycled about 10 miles to flush his legs. Four days after the run we are both back to normal – whatever that is????
Our mini-expedition cost us less than $200 each which included 2x lodge/motel room nights, 5xmeals out, fuel for the car. Our leisurely return journey headed north on Oregon’s coastal 101 highway. A very scenic way to end our sojourn.
Martin’s Stuff – 12lbs at start.
- 1 packet, 5.2oz (150g) Gumbilees wine gums – 420 calories total – not eaten.
- 2 packets Planters salted peanuts – 290 calories each – not eaten.
- 3 packets raisins – 90 calories each – not eaten.
- 1 apple – 90 calories.
- 4 Cracker Barrel cheddar sticks – 90 calories each – ate 2 only.
- 1 Epic Turkey, almond, cranberry bar – 150 calories.
- 1 Epic Bison, bacon, cranberry bar – 200 calories each.
- 2 Clif Shot w/caffeine – 100 calories each
- 2 chia bars – 250 calories each
- 2.5oz Spam – 210 calories
- BLM/Forest Service Rogue River Trail Map.
- Iphone/camera and Topomaps/GPS app.
- Ibuprofen (for pain relief if injured only – not used).
- Various elastoplasts – not used.
- Extra Accelerade powder to make another 2 pints.
- 1 quart bottle of Accelerade/water.
- 1 quart bottle water.
- SOL Core Lite – survival knife, whistle and LED – not used.
- Grabber mini hand warmers – not used.
- Space Brand emergency bag/survival bag – not used.
- Petzl e+lite headtorch.
- CamelBak Rim Runner pack with bladder removed.
- Lightweight peaked cap – not used.
- Windproof/showerproof lightweight jacket – not used.
- Wind/rainproof lightweight overtrousers – not used.
- Salomon X-Mission 3 trail running shoes. (Excellent)
- Champion Duo Dry C9 anklet socks + spare pair.
- Lightweight long sleeved fleece.
- Wicking/breathable lightweight running shorts and long sleeved shirt.
- Total Calories available = 3,040
- Calories ingested during the run = 1,530
- Calories used per Bill’s tracking – around 5,000
- Fluids carried at start of trail – 4 pints = 4 lbs
- Total fluids drank during the run – 4 pints Accelerade + 6 or 7 pints water.
Note: I did not have enough mineral replacement which is why I nearly suffered cramps. Thankfully Bill’s salt pills sorted that out.
Accelerade was used for cellular uptake of water to protect my joints and was successful. Unfortunately it didn’t have enough minerals within it to also act as replacement.
Martin’s (barely adequate) Training Schedule:
- 8/21/16 – 4.5m
- 8/22/16 – 4.0m
- 8/23/16 – 8.0m with Bill
- 8/25/16 – 4.5m
- 8/28/16 – 10.5m
- 8/30/16 – 12.0m with Bill
- 9/01/16 – 12.0m
- 9/06/16 – 21.0m with Bill
- 9/09/16 – 12.0m
- 9/13/16 – 16.0m with Bill. (Dosewallops Trail including 4700’ ascent/descent)
- 9/16/16 – 4.0m (realized quads had not recovered from 9/13 run)
Note: Bill was already endurance fit and just maintaining since White River 50 Ultra 7/30/16
Bill’s Stuff – < 6lbs
- $20 REI packable day pack. Attached buckles to shoulder straps to make chest strap. Worked ok.
- Brooks running shorts – wicking/breathable.
- Short sleeve shirt – wicking/breathable.
- Long sleeve shirt – wicking/breathable.
- Socks – no spares.
- Hoka ATRs trail shoes (soles starting to give out)
- Hat – peaked cap.
- Sawyer mini water filter – quick and easy to use. Also acted as extra backup water container.
- 2x 16 oz water containers.
- Sun block.
- Lip balm.
- Foam tape for blisters – not used.
- Toilet Paper – not used.
- Forerunner 25 watch (battery died around 10 hours).
- Iphone (Battery went low after 6 hours using Strava App).
- Food items:
- Accelerade powder to make 1 quart (used after 6 hours)
- Tailwind (did not use at all)
- 4 ProBar Bolt organic energy chews (ate 2)
- 4 GUs (ate 3)
- 4 Lara Bars (ate 1)
- 1 Peanut Butter Jelly sandwich (ate 1/4)
- 2 chia bars
- 4 home made protein bars (see recipe below).
- 2 Clif Bloks (ate 1)
Bill’s Fueling thoughts: Drank a lot of water and ate sparingly. Did not chase carbohydrates with a carb drink which seemed to keep the belly in good shape. I want to look into some foods like sweet potatoes (salted) and other easily digested foods.
Bill’s Protein Bars:
- 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
- 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1/4 cup ground flaxseed meal
- 7 medjool dates, pitted
- 2 scoops vanilla protein powder
- 1/3 cup natural peanut butter (any nut butter will do) 2 teaspoons honey (or agave syrup)
- 2 teaspoons mini chocolate chips
- Method: Blend oats and coconut in a food processor until it resembles a coarse powder. Add dates and blend together. Mix all ingredients in a bowl until it starts to get doughy, and then press into a lined square baking pan. You might need to add more honey or agave syrup if the mixture is still to crumbly. Refrigerate for 30 minutes and then slice into 16 even squares. Store in an airtight container in the
- refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Bill’s tracking up to mile 35.8 (neither of us think it’s totally accurate)