The Hagg Lake Experience

The start of the 2012 Oregon Trail Series is about a month away! Hagg Lake 50K has about 50 slots left for those looking to get an early jump on their off road endeavors

For those who’d like a little extra prep, the race is sponsoring a training run on January 21 at 8:30 a.m. Folks interested in participating are meeting at the big parking lot next to the dam. Check out the event Facebook page for additional details.

For those of you looking to spend a little more time at the Lake and would love to help make the trails a little more enjoyable for all of those who share in it’s recreation, Todd Janssen will be leading a Trail Work day on Saturday, February 4 at 8:30am at Henry Hagg Lake. Click on the link to be directed to the Facebook Page for additional details.


Laura Kantor was kind enough to share her race report from the 2011 event. Hagg Lake started her Ultrarunning journey in 2010 and since then she has gone on to complete most of the events in the  Oregon Trail Series. The 2011 event was unique in that it provided stunning race day weather, but lived up to the race’s billing with epic race day mud! You can read more of Laura’s reports at her excellent blog, Running in the World.

Hagg Lake 50K 2011- An unforgettable experience!

Just over a year ago, Hagg Lake 50k was my first ultra-marathon. I didn’t know what to expect other than a notoriously muddy trail around Henry Hagg Lake southwest of Forest Grove. I had hiked/run around the lake once during the summer several years prior when training for my first 1/2 marathon, so I knew what to expect in dry conditions. Although I finished my first 50k, I didn’t have a really good time and wasn’t sure I would return for a second year. Fast-forward to Fall 2010. I was watching the 2011 race fill up, when FOMO (fear of missing out) hit me. I was afraid if I didn’t sign up, I’d wished I had. So I signed up. Boy, am I glad I did; it was one of my best race experiences ever!

The day before the race was quite rainy, but race day dawned beautiful and clear. As I drove out to the lake just before 7am, the waning gibbous moon hung low in the western sky over the power-sugar-snow-dusted Coast Range. It was so beautiful! I already knew it was going to be an awesome day! Roads and parking lots around the lake were covered with a thin sheet of ice, making for a slippery race start, but it quickly melted as soon as the sun rose above the trees.

All that light brown stuff is deep, watery mud!

After a 3-mile out and back on a gravel road, it was onto the muddy trail for the next 28 miles (two 14-mile loops around the lake). The first truly exciting part of the route was a washed-out section of trail where we essentially ran up and across a stream bed where a bridge had been washed out in a previous year. There is a sign on the trail indicating that the bridge is washed out and that hikers should detour up to the road to go around, but we’re ultrarunners— we don’t need no stinking bridge, or even a trail!

I was feeling really good and strong the first half around the lake. I thought that perhaps the mud was not as bad as last year and that maybe, just maybe, I could run sub-6 hours. Ha! Little did I know what was ahead! During this stretch I got to talk for a few minutes with a couple different people. The first was April. She was just ahead of me the first few miles during the same race last year and pulled away as I slowed farther into the race. I had seen her at every one of the races in the Oregon Trail UltraMarathon Series that I ran last year. I did four of the races in the series. She did all seven. I want to be like her, and I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity to meet and talk to her! I learned that she had qualified for and applied to Western States 100 (yes, that’s 100 miles!), the grand-daddy of ultras, and her name was dawn in the race lottery for this year’s running in June! How exciting! Many people qualify and apply for years before their name is drawn! This is my big aspiration for 2011: to qualify for and apply to Western States for 2012. I believe in visualization and being able to draw those things to you which you desire. I’m not worried about qualifying later this year, but am already visualizing my name being drawn in the 2012 Western States lottery. Also, April is getting married at the Dimple Hill aid station during the McDonald Forest 50k (which was her first ultra in May 2009) on May 14th!

View across the lake looking west from the dam

Next I spoke with Robert from Southern California. A friend of his who had run this race several years in a row had convinced him to come up and run it. Like me, his goal was also to break 6 hours, but the mud was already beginning to get to him mentally. At this point, he said he was just hoping to finish. As we approached the Dam Aid Station at mile 7.63, I pointed out that we were well under a 6-hour pace. I never saw him again after the aid station. Looking through the race results, he had decided to cut it short at 25k.

Then I met a deputy police officer from Aberdeen, Washington. We hit it off right away. His wife was running the 25k and he was so very proud of her. This was also his first 50k race. He was doing really great. We saw each other many times during the next 20+ miles of the race. Our paces were very similar, so we traded places a lot. I couldn’t remember his name, so started calling him “Aberdeen” and he called me “mountain goat.” He was impressed with my uphill running ability. I would pull away from him on the uphills, and he would gradually catch up with me on downhills and flats. If he was anywhere nearby, I tried not to walk a hill. Once he saw me walking ahead of him up a longer hill and yelled “you’ll smash my impression of you being a mountain goat!” I replied, “that impression is all in your head, and I’m not stupid, so I’m walking this one!” We flip-flopped places over and over again during the race. He felt like an old friend already. I loved seeing his friendly face.

A stream runs down it!

The second half of the loop around the lake was a lot muddier than the first half. None of the hills on this course are very long, but there are several short steep ones, and many were difficult to navigate due to being covered with thick, slick mud. It filled the spaces between lugs of my trail shoes and built up on the bottoms, making the soles of my shoes look much wider then they really were. Pine needles, small twigs and grasses stuck in the muck and brushed against my lower legs. This piled-up mud on my soles and the thick, slick mud on the hills repelled each other. For every two steps I took forward, it seemed like I slid back one. Then there were the downhills. Under these conditions, it was a controlled slide down each hill. On flat muddy patches, if there was an easy way to avoid the mud, I did so. If there wasn’t, I just went right through it. There were many deceivingly deep puddles that swallowed my shoes and filled them with watery mud.

I was much more confident in the Hagg mud than last year, however, and did my best to not fight it, but relax into it. Relaxing on a steep muddy downhill is really difficult to do when your brain says “Danger! Must slow down and tense up!” I could feel my face, jaw, and shoulders tighten up when I reached one of these spots. I also caught myself holding my breath. I repeatedly reminded myself to relax and breathe. Sometimes tension does you no good. Your body will automatically hold tension where it is needed (this race was a lot of hip flexors, core, and glutes). I tried to just let go of the rest.

The first loop around the lake (plus 3-mile out and back) took me about 3.5 hours. I realized that there was no way I was going to run a sub-6, so decided to take some time on the second loop to snap a few photos for this blog post and not worry about my time, but still give my best effort. Most muddy sections were even muddier on the second loop, but a few spots in the sunshine began to dry along the edges.

The finish line is across the lake. So close visually, but still 9 miles away!

By the time I reached the Dam Aid Station again at mile 21.65, my legs were beginning to fatigue. Staying upright in the mud took a lot of work from my core, and the small stabilizer muscles in my feet, ankles and lower legs. There were a few times my calves felt on the verge of cramping, but I took an extra salt capsule and didn’t think anything more of it. I took the opportunity to sit in the porta-potty for a bit (no, I wasn’t just sitting there!). It felt really good to get off my feet for a couple minutes! I also drank a cup of cola, which perked me up. I looked at Aberdeen who had come in to the aid station right behind me, and told him it was time to go.

A sweet mud bog!

This course is very deceiving in more ways than one. My Garmin registered just 1,800 feet of elevation gain, but that’s a lot of small rolling hills over 31 miles. Being so muddy, it was also impossible for me to stay in a steady groove. Looking across the lake, the next aid station or the finish line looked deceptively close (just a mile or two away as-the-crow-flies), but since the trail goes around several arms of the lake, they were really 10 trail-miles way.

Just before reaching the Tanner Creek Aid Station (mile 26.77) I had passed several people. I could tell some people were beginning to tire, as more of them were walking. I tend to get stronger as I near and anticipate the finish line. (Only another hour left and I’ll be done—I can do that!) At Tanner Creek the porta-potty was occupied and I didn’t want to wait for it, so downed another cup of cola and pressed on. Pretty soon though, it was my bladder that was pressing. I stepped a few feet off the trail behind a bush to relieve myself. While I waited, I watched all the people I had just pass pass by me! Argh! I was going to have to pick up the pace again to re-pass them! After a minute or two of nothing happening, I decided my apparently no-so-pressing situation could wait until after I crossed the finish line.

I saw Aberdeen ahead of me walking up a hill. “Go Aberdeen!” I yelled. He acknowledged me with a wave of his hand. Soon I passed him again for the final time. Then I re-passed another guy, and a gal. A few minutes later my Garmin buzzed at me indicating it was time for another salt capsule and gel. Even though I was less than 30 minutes from the finish, I knew I should still take them, so I slowed to a walk and did so. Just as I started running again, the gal I had just re-passed came up right behind me. I offered to let her pass. She said no, she liked my pace. Then she said that I was a “phenomenal runner.” (Me? Really?) This floored me. I replied,“then you’re phenomenal too, because you’re right here with me. We’re both phenomenal!” She reluctantly agreed and went on to say that I was inspiring her to keep her pace up when she really wanted to slow.

My mind immediately thought back to a book my coach had me read recently, “Gerry Lindgren’s Book On Running.” It was written by Gerry Lindgren, one of the best high school distance runners of all time. In the book, Gerry tells how he felt it was his responsibility to always run his fastest and give his best effort in all races in order to elevate the performance of other racers. This girl I did not know had now offered the same opportunity to me, and I gladly took it. For the last two miles I had to elevate my race so that she could elevate hers and finish strong. I told myself that I couldn’t walk any more hills. I had to stay strong and pick up the pace for her. There were two short, very slick muddy parts that I walked through. Instead of zipping past me as she certainly could have, this girl stayed behind me. I splashed through mud puddles, and seconds later heard her splashing through them. She was hot on my tail. I was helping her, but I also wanted to beat her.

One of the more slippery slopes!

Together we passed more people that had been reduced to walking the final miles. As I passed each one, I touched them on the shoulder and said “Good work, you’ve got this!” For some reason, the late miles of a long race seem to bring out the best in me. I get outside of myself and just want to love and encourage everyone. The very first time in my life I realized I was truly a nice person was on October 16th, 2010, the day of my first 50-mile race. If you’ve read my first blog post this probably won’t surprise you.

During the final long muddy stretch, I saw another gal ahead of me and focused on reeling her in. She was alternating walking and running about every 20 feet. I passed her just before the last short hill that dumped us out onto the Boat Ramp C parking lot. From here it was across the parking lot, then another 1/4 mile of trail to the finish. I knew it would be just a few more minutes and I would be finished, so I poured it on as much as I could. I really wanted to look back and see how close those two girls were behind me, but I did not want them to see me looking. Besides, if had I looked back, it would have slowed me down slightly, so I just pressed on, imagining they were hot on my tail. My breath was labored, and my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest, but I was smiling and ecstatic!

Showing off my mud-splashed legs, not my butt

I passed through the finish chute and turned around to not see anyone immediately behind me. Those two gals finished 21 and 43 seconds behind me. Aberdeen finished 10 minutes later. His wife, who had earlier finished her first 25k distance race, was there waiting at the finish for him, and they shared a big hug. They were so proud of each other. It was so wonderful to see. I was so proud of Aberdeen!

I offered to get some food for another very nice fellow who had just finished the race (he had flown by me on a steep slippery downhill while I was hesitating, showing me how it should be done). He said, “no, you just finished a 50k too!” On my way to stand in the lake to soothe my aching legs, I stopped by the grill and picked up a grilled cheese sandwich. I offered him half, saying “I told you I’d get you some food!”

Later in the day, after results were posted online, I hesitantly checked my finish time. I had finished just 3 minutes faster than last year, but in much muddier conditions, so I was happy with that. In addition, last year I had finished 7th from last. This year I finished 41st from last! I’m getting stronger and moving up in the world! Best of all, every race teaches me more about myself and I am finally beginning to get comfortable with who I really am.


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