Latest reviews by Tim Murphy

(2016)
"BATH time - so much fun!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

This is a tricky review because a lot about the race doesn't fit into normally race review categories. But, here goes!

First off - this is a track half marathon (with a full marathon option), which means 52.5 laps (105 for the full). OK, that might sound boring, but it was actually a lot of fun. Because you were on a track with about 20 other runners, you were able to get a regular sense for how everyone was feeling that day, and it was cool to watch each runner's race progress through each lap. There was an aid station and table where you could grab your own water/energy drink bottle, Nuun provided on course, and an easy place for people to cheer and take pics. And because it was 52.5 laps, dropping an extra layer if you got too hot was obviously quite simple.

Elevation - quite manageable.

Scenery: This might be counterintuitive, but I actually really liked the scenery of this race. The track is right next to one of the biggest hills in Portland (Terwilliger), which also hosts a ton of huge trees and greenery. So you have what looks to be a large, green mountain of sorts right next to the track and that provides some great views on each lap.

SWAG - Even though there was no t-shirt or medal at this race, I still gave it 5 stars for SAWG because that was exactly what we all expected - the race was FREE!! They did have some magnificent trophies for the top three place finishers though, and due to a string of injuries, maladies, absences and probably oversights, I was able to grab a 3rd place finish. There was also an amazing spread of "Optional Finisher Tacos" from Taco Bell, which was a phenomenal touch. Not sure if that was provided by the RD or by an employee from one of the local semi conductor companies, but as a runner I didn't care. There were tacos.

Parking and access was super easy, and we got a lot of encouragement from other runners who just showed up to do their own workout or cheer us on!

Race management - BATH stands for the Bill Aronson Track Half, and Bill does a great job building excitement for the race all year. He definitely delivered on race day, and he was also one of the unfortunate souls who completed the marathon distance. More on the history of the BATH here - http://runoregonblog.com/2015/12/16/one-runners-quest-to-run-an-accurate-half-marathon-the-bath/

Overall, this race really over-performed in my estimation. I expected a quite, solitary slough. Instead I got a jovial group of Portland runners all thrilled to be running around and around... and around.

Highly recommend!

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(2015)
"Cougar Mountain 50K – Eaten Alive"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

This was my 8th trail race, fourth ultra-distance effort, and first 50K (My full BR profile - http://www.bibrave.com/users/4). I paced a friend for 52 miles of the Leadville 100 this year and maintained a pretty decent schedule on the trails since August. I live in Portland where hilly trail runs are easy to find, so I felt fairly confident going into this race.

Holy. Shit. I knew this would be a challenging race, but the elevation gain over 50K (31 miles) ended up being MORE than I experienced in Leadville over 52 miles – about 7,500 feet over 50K. Three days later I am still extremely sore :).

So, overall I thought it was a really good race. There were about 100 total runners across the 50K and other distances (I think 20 and 9 miles). Getting to the race was easy, registration super simple, and the SWAG was really nice (long sleeve shirt and a large sport bottle – in addition to tons of pizza at the end). This was also a no-cups race, which from a trail/ultra runner’s perspective makes a ton of sense because almost everyone has their own bottle anyway.

Race start was right on time after instructions from the RD (Aaron – super nice guy). Not a huge deal, but it was confusing and seemed unnecessary to start all distances together. If they’d just started the shorter distances 2-3 minutes earlier, those runners would have been off and gone - very unlikely to be caught by the slower ultra distance runners. Really, any separation would have kept the three groups separate and avoided confusion (there were lots of people saying, “What distance are you, what distance are you?”). As it was, the field was pretty small so congestion wasn’t the issue – was really more a matter of wanting to know who my competition in the 50K was so I could try to stay with them. For non-competitive runners, this likely didn’t matter, so not a huge complaint.

Along the same lines, all three distances had identical bibs. So again, if you were looking to stick with the 50K runners, they were indiscernible from the 20 mile runners. Different number schemes, colors – anything to set the runners apart would have been very easy and very low cost. Again, on the trail you heard a good amount of (“What distance are you?”). As the race went on, I’d ask aid station volunteers (who were great) “Any other 50K runners come through yet?” Most had no idea. But, I finally got word I was in 2nd (back 3-4 minutes) at about mile 10.

Here’s where my own screw up comes into play. Shortly after the aid station at mile 10, I took a wrong turn and went off course. This ultimately added distance to my race, added about 200 feet of extra climbing, and moved me from 2nd to 4th. The next climb – Squawk – was one of the most intense I’ve ever experienced, so even if I’d stayed on course I can’t say I would have kept 2nd or even 3rd. That climb absolutely demolished me. But I was definitely frustrated by the misstep.

Of everyone I talked to – zero other people got lost, so I’ll definitely own that the wrong turn was likely my unique screw up. I did feel there were dead zones in the race that had long patches of no marking – usually on straightaways so I get why there were fewer markers – but sometimes on windier sections too. When there were lightly marked areas, I definitely ran slower because I was constantly looking up for markers, rather than down at the trail, so I also stumbled more. Again – I didn’t hear this from anyone else, so maybe I just go paranoid after my little detour :).

Post race was super laid back – much like other trail races, but with lots of pizza for which I was eternally grateful. During ultras, I ONLY take in a liquid fuel source, so solid food afterward was a real treat.

My Race
Up until mile 11 I was moving really well and feeling strong, then I got off track, fought my way back on (lots of aggressive off-trail plowing), hit Squawk, race collapsed a bit, then I got passed with authority so slipped to fifth place, entered a dark emotional place, kept on going just trying to pick up whatever pieces I could and telling myself to keep going because you never know what’s happening ahead of you. Then with about 1.5 miles left I saw someone having a worse day than me and I was able to pass him to finish in fourth (and won my age group). Huge character builder and a good reminder that I still have a long way to go before I can contend in a race like THAT in the PNW.

Fun race, good SWAG, nice post-race food, outstanding challenge, beautiful setting, and solid management. If I’m glutton for punishment enough, I’d do it again!

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(2015)
"Lungs were a burnin'!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

This was the second in the Portland Trail Series Fall race line up, and I had a blast. I'd never done a race like this, relatively short, super laid back but very professional and definitely a trail runners race.

Cost
Normal price if you sign up in advance is $69, and for that you get five races and (what I'm told are) a ton of free raffle prizes. I thought these giveaways were each week, but I didn't see any last night. I might have just left before they were handed out though. Either way, just by the sponsor list and word on the street, I'm sure there are some killer giveaways.
CORRECTION: Just found out there WERE giveaways last night on a big board with bib numbers, but yours truly missed it. Doh!

I paid $20 for day of registration, and was happy with what I got. Clearly marked course, instantaneous online results, and access to an otherwise sold-out, fast, fun, challenging trail race. Chatted with the RD for a while too and he was great. Plenty of water and sports drink at the start and finish, and easy access to porto johns. No shirts or medals which was just fine by me. (I ranked SWAG on the above mentioned items)

The Race
I went out fast with my buddy Chris (who'd won the first race in the series) and we held the lead for a little under a mile before we got passed with authority by the eventual winner. Chris slowly (then quickly) pulled away and I never saw the two leaders again. Elevation gain was about 850 ft, and overall it was a really nice mix of up, down, and some flat.

My lungs were really burning, and I realized how few ~10K races I've run, and how freaking hard they are! You are just redlining the whole time and it is TOUGH.
I felt the fourth place guy closing in on me a lot faster than he actually was, so that pushed me to keep the pace up as much as possible and I made it to a 3rd place finish.

Conclusion
I'd definitely recommend this race and the series to anyone who's already into trail running or looking to start. There were about 100 people running and it felt like just the right size and mix of people - wonderful vibe. I loved it and can't wait to run another one.

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(2015)
"Rockin' Course!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
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Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

This was my first Rock 'n' Roll Seattle, and my second R'n'R race overall (Chicago was the other). As with Chicago, R'n'R just doesn't disappoint - great course, SWAG, and overall race management.

Seattle is a beautiful city and the race course takes full advantage. You start at the Space Needle, wind up and down some pretty big hills, along lots of waterfront, and across several bridges that provide awesome views of the city. Weather was sunny and 60s - just perfect (though would be warm if I was running the full or trying to PR).

Expo
The expo was at Century Link field, which was really nice. Very spacious, logical layout, and lots of exhibitors, easy to get to (parking was $20). Packet pick up was a breeze.

Race Day
I was lucky enough to be given a VIP tent pass, so I got to drop off my bag and warm up at the lounge overlooking the finisher area. Obviously this was a very nice treat before the race, with private porto potties, food, coffee/juice etc. More on the VIP tent and post race amenities below.

Race
The starting area was well organized and the race started right on time, with the Space Needle serving as "The Worlds Largest Starter Pistol" (meaning they shot fireworks off the SN to start the race, which was pretty cool. Aid stations were all well organized, with paper cups and Gatorade before water at each station (as it should be!). Great volunteers.

One of the coolest parts of the race was a full mile takeover by a group called Wear Blue: Run to Remember. They had pictures of fallen US military personnel, and people holding large American flags lining the course for a mile. The visual was very moving and extremely cool. Loved it.

The course is hilly, but it's not crazy. There is a large hill at the end of the course that's pretty tough - otherwise the hills are manageable.

Finish line was great - always solid finisher treats (including a new chocolate milk product called RE-fuel, by Darigold). Only thing is that I wish they gave you a bag so you don't have to struggle to carry a lot of the stuff they are handing out.

Post Race - VIP tent
The VIP area for post race was just awesome. Being able to pick up my bag at the VIP area was really nice - no wait, no hassle. They had tons of food (incl two types of breakfast burritos), massages (!), pastas, deserts, and free Michelob Ultra and mimosas. Plus lots of seating and tables which made it easy to relax and eat after the race.

Jess and I sat with three delightful ladies [Nikki Scott (@ndscottnygren) http://slownewfast.com/, Jackie (@Jacki_66) http://1happypace.com/, and Sarah Arsenault (@Wyers31)] and had so much fun chatting with them about the race and running scene in Vancouver (where they are from).

Normally the VIP tent is $80, which might sound like a lot, but Nikki made a great point that with parking (included w/ VIP), massages, pre race food, post race food, post race drinks, and private gear check/porto potties - you really do get a lot.

Overall, I had a fantastic race experience and would totally run this race again. It'd be a tough race to PR, but I'd stilly highly recommend.

*Full disclosure: I received a free race entry and VIP tent access, though all opinions are my own.

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(2015)
"Phenomenal Race, and Views to Match!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
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Easily one of the most beautiful and challenging trail races I've run. Solid five out of five.

The race takes place in White Salmon, WA, which is just on the north side of the Columbia River from Hood River, OR (about an hour from Portland). Sign up is FREE (definitely the first free race I've run), but you can donate to their local run club, which benefits from all race proceeds. I managed to miss the registration deadline but was able to sign up the morning of with no problem. Tons of staff on hand, water and electrolyte drink available at the start, extremely clean flushing toilets and porto potties, on time start - all very well done.

COURSE:
You start at a park in White Salmon and run on the road for about a mile before turning into the trail. I got a tip from some locals that the bottle neck at the trailhead can be a pain, so I tried to stay at the front for the first mile. We were moving pretty fast but some guys were flying.

Once that mile on the road was over, it was pretty much non-stop climbing for the next 6 miles. The trail was in good shape, but the climb was steep and by 3.5 I was feeling pretty smoked. Took a good fall when part of the trail edge gave out under my foot, but no big deal. Was able to settle into a group of two other guys and push on to the top, where I got absolutely stunning views of The Columbia River, the gorge, and Mt. Hood (not to mention awesome views of Mt. Adams just before mile 4). The day was clear so Hood looked just incredible and I really wanted to stop and soak in some views. But I was only half way, so kept moving on. Stopped at the aid station at mile 7, took some electrolyte drink, peanut butter pretzels (awesome!), filled up my bottle and kept going.

The descent was extremely dicey. The top of the climb took us into a logging area, so the way down was a few miles of single track mixed with long stretches of baseball/hardball sized rocks that the logging trucks drive on when taking down trees. These rocks create very unstable footing, so you really had to concentrate when running down hill on those bad boys. No big blow ups and I was starting to make good time, passing one of my group of three who'd passed me when I stopped at the aid station.

The rest of the course was a mix of rocks and trails until I exited the woods and hit the one-mile road section back to the park. As soon as I hit the road, I saw a guy way out in front of me and didn't think there was any way I could catch him in time (he was one of the people absolutely FLYING at the start of the race). I just kept a steady clip for that last mile and ended up passing him with about a quarter mile to go. That landed me with an 11th place finish, time of 1:53:35.

Everything was extremely well marked - no getting lost on this race. Aid stations were well stocked and the post-race scene had a band, tons of food and drink (mostly Hostess snacks, which was weird but also cool), and a poison oak washing station. Apparently poison oak is a big problem on this trail, but I had compression socks on and never had an issue. But kudos to the race for providing a wash station with TECNU (some anti poison oak scrub). There were no medals, and you had to buy a shirt, but again, this was a free race and I gave it a five star SWAG rating for how well everything else was stocked.

I would do this race again in a heartbeat - extremely well done, FREE, staggering views, killer workout, and really nice post-race scene (which is where the pic below is taken from). Easy five out of five for me.

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