Me and two friends from college decided to end our road trip through the West by doing some sort of race in the Pacific Northwest. I searched throughout Oregon and Washington and was able to find this random trail race that fit well with our schedule. After a day of traveling from northern California to Smith Rock State Park, we were greeted by equal part beautiful/menacing rock cliffs.....even more menacing because we knew that they must've been the rocks that we would be racing up the next morning.
Can't say much about the surrounding town of Terrebonne, OR (it seemed like a nice quaint town), but for someone who loves camping, I couldn't have asked for a better experience than camping in the same park I was going to race the next day. Camping was $5 in a designated area about a half mile away from the start line of the race. There was plenty of room to not be on top of the other campers (most of which didn't seem to be racing the next day). Finally, it was awesome sleeping under the stars and seeing the sunset behind the rocks we would climb the next day. Once it got pitch black you could still see the towering shadows of the rocks, almost taunting you in a "bring it on" type of way.
I was able to pick up my packet an hour before the race, and my one friend was able to register the day of right before the race as well. This demonstrated the locality of the race and was refreshing in a way knowing that there was probably only going to be a couple hundred people at most, opposed to the normal multi-thousand for the smallest 5k in Chicago.
I believe I passed three aid stations (twice because it is a two loop course). Funny enough on the first loop the leaders were climbing the mountain at the same time as the volunteers were trying to drag up gatorade,water, and other supplies for the runners. It was early enough in the race that it didn't really affect anything/you had to give the volunteers credit anyways for trekking up the mountain (1,100ish ft. climb) with all this gear. All the volunteers were super friendly at the aid stations and had numerous options of fuel (including candy).
The course itself was my first ever trail race. Additionally it was my first race (and longest run by 7 miles) in about 6 months. I definitely hoped to be in better shape when I registered for it, but it proved to be an all around great mental/physical test. The course is a two loop course, and you start at the bottom of this canyon. The first mile is rather flat, but then mile 2-3 is pretty much the entirety of the elevation climb for the course (so you then repeat the climb at mile 8-9). The hill is a little over 1,000 ft. of elevation over the course of one mile. For me I stuck with someone who knew the course for the first loop, knowing that nothing would be worse than screwing up the hill the first time and then having to do it again 6 miles later. This was also my first experience with having to walk up a hill during the race (I'm fairly certain everyone walked at one point or the other). Once you get to the top of the hill there is quite a bit of relief knowing that you really just have to get down the mountain at that point. I'm not the best at technical running down a steep mountain, so I knew that I would have to make up time on the second uphill. There were lots of switchbacks and sharp turns so it was definitely something to be careful with. They warn you about rattlesnakes and other wildlife but unfortunately I was not greeted by any such spectators.
Finally, the scenery while you are running is enough to make you forget about any pain that you might be in. There were points where I had to make sure I didn't stop to simply look at the sights because the backdrop of the cliffs and expansive land was overwhelming. You also run right under the namesake of the race, the Monkey Face cliff.... If I wasn't completed destroyed afterwards (and had more time) I would've loved to have spent more time in the park. The final 1/4 mile or so is pure shot uphill, and it's just as bad if not worse than the previous hill. I personally checked to make sure I wasn't about to be passed, walked the entire hill, and then sprinted in the last .1 mile to the finish.
All half marathon finishers get a "painted" canvas "medal" on string. I believe top 2 overall and age group awards are given. The community seems to cater the event afterwards, lots of great/random snacks afterwards for the runners. O. And a keg from local Deschutes brewery. Although it probably could've been Keystone and I would've said the same thing....after one of the hardest races I had ever done, it was by far the best beer ever. In addition to the medals, they gave us a bright lime green tshirt (with the Monkey Face emblem on it) which is sure to get comments by anyone intrigued by the name of the race alone. They also gave us a classic drawstring race bag.
All in all, this race was one of my favorite races I've ever done, and was certainly a highlight of my trip. The small scale of the race was a great change of pace and all of the people were a blast to talk and hang out with. Hopefully I'll be able to race it again one day.