The Ruff has be on my radar for a few years, but I have never made the long voyage down to the Columbia River Gorge for such a short distance race. However, this year I signed up for The Ruff as a unique final workout for the Seattle Marathon. However, this does not mean that I did not treat it as an all out race, because I definitely poured my soul into this one. In some ways, I may have been better prepared for the Ruff than the Seattle Marathon because my previous two races were Mountain Running Races Vert Series competitions which featured short distance mountain climbing challenges.
On the morning of Saturday November 18th, Apryle and I booked a hotel room at St Martin Hot Springs in Carson, Washington and then loaded up the car and ventured down to the Columbia River Gorge. En route we had lunch at an Indian Buffet in Vancouver and then visited Beacon Rock State Park. Beacon Rock State Park is a 4458 acre natural area in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Apryle and I decided to summit Hamilton Mountain as a tame adventure prior to my race. We started from the Hamilton Mountain trailhead and passed by Hardy and Rodney Falls (Pool of the Winds) and then continued up the switchbacking trail to the summit of the 2445 foot mountain. The winds were so strong that it felt like we were going to be swept off the mountain. However, we stayed on the saddle long enough to enjoy views of the Columbia River and surrounding mountains. We descended the Hardy Creek trail to complete the loop and then continued along Highway 14 to our hotel.
St Martin Hot Springs is adjacent to the Wind River and the hotel that we stayed in had a heated pool, which we took advantage of prior to my race. We were able to sleep in since the race did not start until 10AM on Sunday November 19th. However, I took advantage of the extra time and did a quick warm up run at the hotel prior to departing for the Dog Mountain trailhead. Upon arriving at the start/finish area, the wind was gusting off the Columbia River and the rain began falling sideways and after checking in, I ran back to the car to stay warm prior to the start. The race distance was only 7 miles, but it had almost 3000 feet of climbing with a mountain top mid point.
I started out in second place on the climb behind the course record holder, Michael Moore. Then Peter Buckley passed me about a half mile up the trail and I settled into third place. After about 1.1 miles, my body started to feel comfortable in the pace and I actually sped up a little and moved myself back into second position. This seemed crucial because I noticed that the second place runner was losing ground and I did not want to hemorrhage too much time to the leader prior to reaching the summit. The weather was perfect for a fast ascent, it was a cool 40 degrees with a constant mist. The forest shielded most of the wind and I ran nearly the entire way to the summit with the exception of a couple hundred feet that were so steep that I had to hike.
Michael and I cleared the tree line at around 2 miles and 2000 feet and the wind was stifling. It was so intense and cold that I had to turn my head in order to properly breathe. There were no views to speak of because we were ascending into a cloud and the fog was so thick that it was difficult to see more than a few feet ahead. I topped out on Dog Mountain (2948 feet) in about 33:57, roughly 6 seconds behind Michael Moore. I was fairly tired of climbing but was excited and motivated to tackle the descent. Descending has never been a strength of mine but I decided to be aggressive this time.
The 3 mile (ascending) Dog Mountain trail transitioned into the 4 mile (descending) Augspurger trail. The trail surface was muddy and slick and I nearly lost my footing on several occasions. On one occasion I barely kept upright when I slid into a rock, but I managed to keep my balance and more importantly, momentum. Michael must have also been struggling on the descent because once I reached the forested section I was able to pass him. However, it was not long before he was right back on my heels and we dropped the pace from mid 6:30s, to low 5:20s, and then finally to high 4:50s. I thought Michael might pass by me again but when I looked to my right I saw a railroad track come into view, then a parking lot, then I knew we were nearly at the finish line and I threw in a surge.
I pumped my fist as I crossed the line less than a second ahead of the Michael and was so excited that we both went under his previous course record. I finished the race in first with a new record time of 56:47 making it my first short ascent style race win of the year after finishing 5th and 3rd at the Mt Si Ascent and North Bend Skyline races. It was a well organized race, thank you to Devin the race director, Michael for pushing me, and Apryle for supporting me.
Following the race Apryle and I made a couple of quick destination stops including: Dog Creek Falls, Bridge of the Gods, and Beacon Rock for a second time. Our second trip to Beacon Rock was to climb the namesake mountain. Beacon Rock is a 848 foot basalt monolith on the northern bank of the Columbia River. The rock is steeped in history and was first named by Lewis and Clark in 1805. The rock marked the eastern extent of tidal influence in the Columbia River. It is one of the largest free standing monoliths in the world and there are 51 uniquely positioned switchbacks to the summit. Following the Beacon Rock summit, we stopped back at our favorite Indian restaurant and then continued home. Overall it was both a successful and fun weekend excursion.