Elk-Kings Trail Mtn Marathon Race Report – Ashley Nordell

elk kings mountain marathon
Photo: Go Beyond Racing

Race: Elk-Kings Trail Mountain Marathon

Runner: Ashley Nordell

Race Date: 10/13/2018

Location: Tillamook National Forest, Oregon

Results: 5:27, 1st gal

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  1. The weather made the entire day amazing – we don’t often get sunshine from the beach to the mountains in mid October in Oregon, but I could not have asked for a more blue bird, perfect fall day. To go along with this, the race has amazing views, which we were able to see without rain, fog, or clouds. It’s a beautiful area!
  2. The course- OK, this was a love/hate. The race was 27.5 miles and gained 8,000 ft (my Garmin showed over 10,000, but it was probably wonky in the woods and with all the swtichbacks). There were several sections of literally crawling on hands and knees to get up the climbs, there were ropes to help us down from the steep sections, it was rocky; the race was gnarly. I can’t think of any other races in Oregon that offer so much elevation in such a “short” distance, so it was a unique event and so different from what I usually run. I have done the Elk Kings Traverse 50k, and it shares a small section of the course, but the mountain marathon actually peaks both Elk and Kings Mountain twice, so you get a lot more climbing, views, and technical running in the marathon (my marathon time is slower than my 50k time at this event). I have not done much climbing in training, especially since Superior, so my legs were like jello by mile 8. I absolutely loved it, although I had serious concerns I would need to just lay down in the trail and re-group a few times throughout the day.
  3. The RDs/Event- Go Beyond (Todd and Renee) are very seasoned RDs and they put on great events. You know if you are doing a Go Beyond race, it will be well organized. There races are also cup-less, which I think more events should be doing!

* Bonus “best”- This race is great if you have kids because it is 30 minutes from the beach, so my family dropped me off, went to the beach and the Tillamook Cheese Factory, had a great day, and then made it back 10 minutes before I finished. The finish is at the Tillamook Nature Center, so there are things for kids to do/see right at the finish. So its a win/win for families.

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

Nothing really! Maybe some cold sodas at the finish would have been nice, but they do have beer and chocolate milk.

The only thing I did not love is that there are a few sections where (one in particular) where you are coming upon the 50k runners going out, plus the faster 50k runners going back, so there was a few miles of single track that became a bit of a traffic jam. If the Mountain Marathon got much bigger, I could see this being an issue. Plus, it was such a nice day out, there were a lot of hikers on the trail as well.

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

Three ropes sections to descend – you don’t get that too often in Oregon races.

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

I signed up on the last possible day (this is a theme for me), so I did not actually plan to do this race. Because of this, I went in relaxed and could just enjoy a long day on the trails. I think I ran happy and positive, even when I was silently cursing the climbs and worrying I may have gotten in over my head. The last 7.5 miles are slightly more rolling (instead of straight up and straight down), and once I recovered from the last steep downhill, I was able to get my legs back a bit to finish strong. I used Tailwind (three packets throughout the day), one cup of coke, and few gummies. My stomach was fine, and it seemed to be enough. I was pretty thirsty by the end, so might have needed to drink a bit more.

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

The race is essentially three climbs – one long, somewhat gradual one before becoming steep at the end, one super steep (hiking the entire thing) and one rolling. There are two runnable sections- the stretch after the first steep downhill before you climb back up Elk and Kings, and then the final 7.5. Both runnable sections still have climbs (the second one includes the last climb of the race, but after the first two climbs, it seems tame). The race ends with a net downhill, which is always nice. So, save some legs for the end if possible.
There are two other race options as well – the 50k is also challenging, and has an out and back along the river, and then a different out and back that climbs the base of the mountains. The 25k climbs all the way to the top of the peaks once, before finishing the same way as the 50k and marathon.

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

Practice climbing/descending – I know I am not a great technical downhill runner, so I would definitely work on this a bit. I think I could have run a bit better if I had done some more training on climbs, especially steep ones. Even some leg strengthening exercises or stair work would be helpful. Also, I think my shoe choice wasn’t great- I am loving the Hoka Torrents, but my feet slide around in them a bit, especially on something this steep. I love their traction, but I think a tighter fitting shoe would be helpful for the nature of this course.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

If it were to be rainy, this course could be even more gnarly. The higher points are technical, the lower parts are more buffed out trail. Overall, the most important thing is just to be prepared for the amount of climbing and descending. The second climb gains over 2,000 ft in about 2 miles.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

Very! Think PNW greenery, single track, finishing across a river. There are amazing views if you are lucky enough to hit the weather jackpot. The location is between Portland and the beach, so you get a cross of vegetation between these two areas.

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

10/10 in difficulty. It does not have altitude as a factor, but the steepness makes up for that!

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

Super well run-  seasoned RDs, so you know if you are doing one of their races, it will be organized and have great volunteers.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

I think it varies year to year – there are three events going on at the same time – 50k, mountain marathon, and 25k, so between the three you have about 200-250 runners. It is close enough to Portland that it always seems to draw a fast crowd from the locals.

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

There is even race day sign up, so you can be a last minute decision maker like me and still get in (if not full!). The race is close enough to Portland or the beach that you could stay in either location if coming from out of state. Because the marathon started late (9:00), I was able to stay in Corvallis at my parents’ and drive up race morning. The last time I did the 50k out here, we camped near the start area in some dispersed camping. Most campgrounds nearby are closed for the season.

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

The aid stations are every 3-5 miles, so I only carried one bottle. Some of the aid had just water/gu, but there were several fully stocked aid stations with the standard fare. The race is cupless, so I carried an Ultraspire collapsible cup in my pack.

Weather and typical race conditions

This time of year, you can get anything. Being close to the coast, it can be fogged in even if the valley is clear. You can also get inversions, rain, fog, sun, wind, you name it. We had a cold (40 degree) start and about 70 degree finish, but I would say rain or fog is more likely.

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next guy?

Good traction trail shoes are pretty helpful, especially for the descents, most especially if it is wet.

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

The finish is really the only place to see people unless you have family out hiking. But the finish is at a great location with a river, so its not a bad place to wait. Or send you family to the coast for the day and meet up at the end!

How’s the Swag?

I think all finishers receive a pint glass and socks. There is beer and hot food for finishers and family (donations). I also received a free pair of Nike shoes, an extra pint glass, and a really special glass made locally with Mt. Hood designed in the bottom as a prize – plus a gold crown for being queen of the mountain. There are T-shirts and other swag available for purchase. I believe they also had some great raffle prizes.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

I would give this race a 5/5 stars – It was really a great event.

Ashley Nordell is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about her or to work with Coach Ashley, check out her coaching page.