In August, my sister and I signed up for the November 8, 2015, Silver Falls Trail Half Marathon, my fourth and her first trail race. Registration for the super popular 1,000 participants race, in existence since 2010, typically fills up within an hour. We looked forward to the chance to run along the Trail of Ten Falls in northwestern Oregon.
Days before the event, I realized I should have read the fine print, “This race takes place in early November in Oregon, so be prepared for anything! Rain, wind or maybe a touch of snow or ice is a possibility.” Race weekend we followed weather forecasts for the nearest city, Silverton, in hopes of sun, in spite of what the fine print said. We arrived in Salem, about a 45 minute drive from Silver Falls State Park, the day before, on a Saturday that saw 0.68 inches of rainfall, and debated what to wear the race day for the predicted weather conditions: clouds and rain with temperatures from the mid-forties to low-fifties.
On Sunday, we left Salem at 7:00 am and followed a meandering road with views of rolling hills and tree farms 27 miles to the park, arriving 90 minutes early for our 9:15 race start time. Organizers handed us a free parking pass as we entered the gate and directed us to an enormous parking lot. We found our way to a packet pickup inside a huge white tent, collected our race bibs, safety pins, t-shirts, goody bags (containing only coupons), race chips and orange plastic zip ties. Race shirts were for sale in all various sizes for twenty bucks, only five dollars more than at registration. We returned to the lot and chatted with a couple of gals parked next to us with a Washington state license plate. Turns out the car was a rental. They’d flown in from California, same state as the winner of the race: Andrew Wagner from La Jolla, who completed it in 1:15:42 with a blistering 5:48 pace! Most participants were Oregonians, but about an eighth of came from sixteen other states, primarily Washington and California.
Racers were divided into two waves with a 2:15 completion time cutoff. We’d signed up for the slower wave, which turned out to be a mistake. On race day we heard from others that the second wave was larger, so we’d be running in a bigger pack. As 9:00 am approached, we stood near course and cheered as the first wave took off. A fellow runner pointed to a small patch of sky less cloudy than the rest. We held out hope for a break in the clouds as we awaited our fifteen minutes later start. Then we were off.
We began on park roads. According to race info, “The first 1.1 mile is on a scenic paved road to allow runners to spread out before hitting the trails…Amazing views, huge fir trees, several bridge crossings and lung busting hills make up this picturesque 13.1 mile course that passes under and near several waterfalls!…trail mixed with portions of paved paths and gravel.” Our plan was to run together with JoDee setting the pace. At first she was hesitant to pass other runners, which meant we were stuck in a long line running at a pretty slow pace. At mile three, we returned to the area near the start where we dropped our gloves and jackets. At about mile five, we heard moving water and encountered our first falls. Much of the course ran along a river, which was rocky in places and scattered with maple leaves. Shrubs, ferns and lichen-covered trees lined the sides. As we neared one of the falls, the sound of the water cascading over the rock ledge was deafening and got me all verklempt as we ran under an enormous rock ledge and behind a colossal waterfall. For the most part, the course did not seem hilly, though the total climb was around 1,500 feet.
I’d brought a small camera along, so I’d stop to take a few photos, then speed up to catch my sister. In a few spots, we were slowed by steep, rocky, narrow stairs. By about mid-race, JoDee had figured out how to safely pass. But all good things must come to an end, and did as we reached mile 11 where my sister hit the wall. While we were running along a flat section, she suddenly said, “If I see a hill, I’m walking.” I was like, “Um…it’s flat here…?” She had reached a distance that took her beyond her comfort zone (her longest training run had been 10 miles) and had had enough. I reminded her that we could expect a hill in about a mile. She got quiet as we continued, but had lost her spunk and her speed. We soon passed near the finish area and could hear the announcers calling out times and racers’ names. We’d reached mile 12, the start of the muddy hill and walked. As did nearly everyone else around us. Half a mile later, we arrived at the top and returned to running. We found ourselves slipping and sliding down the other side.
Minutes later, we returned to the flat area, crossed a little bridge, and saw the finish line. I called to my sister, who was a short distance behind me, “Get up here.” Her reply, “I’m going to throw up or fall down.” I smiled. I know when to shut up. We crossed the line, handed off the bottom part of our race bib to one volunteer while another clipped the chip from our shoes, and stood in line in front of an elementary-school age girl sitting on a chair who was following a slow, specific way of removing the medals slung over her arm to hand to finishers. While waiting (Jeopardy song in my head), I realized I hadn’t stopped my watch, did so, accepted my medal, and high-fived my sister. We’d completed the race in the top half of the pack (barely), two of the 505 females and 313 males who completed the course. The overall average finish time was 2:17:06.
Living near Deception Pass State Park and the Anacortes Forest Lands, I have high standards for scenery. And Silver Falls Half Marathon did not disappoint. The race was well-organized and the course: gorgeous. I’m not sure I’d be willing to spend 12 hours (round trip without traffic) in the car in order to run it again, but I highly recommend the race for an awesome once in a lifetime destination run experience and the park for its abundance of beautiful waterfalls.