Monday, May 27, 2013

In God's (Trail Running) Country

When I was researching Portland, for a possible move here, as you can imagine 'where to run' was pretty near top of the list of priorities. Wikipedia, Mens Health, numerous Oregon web pages all called out Portland as one great city for running and being outdoors. Included on those webpages, websites and blogs was Forest Park, and the Wildwood Trail, a 30 mile long park with 70 miles of trails which runs from Downtown to the outer limits of the city. I thought maybe that it was the usual tourist booklet info, promoting highlights, which in reality would be less than the sum of the parts.

My first few months here, as I got more adventurous (takes me a while!), I went further into the trail, onto Dogwood, Cherry, Holden, Maple, Trillium, and the many other interlinking trails. But wherever I ran, I crossed, ran on or saw signs for Wildwood. It's the one trail that runs the length of the park, from the Oregon Zoo just out of downtown to Newberry Road 12 miles (on the road) north, but as it undulates, twists and turns 30.1 miles of trail from end to end.

New York can keep Central Park, I'll take Forest Park and the smaller but more 'tourist' focused Washington Park any day. With those runs and talk of someone recently running 8,45 for an end to end to end run (ie to the end and back again!), the Memorial Day weekend seemed like a good time to at least see if I could get from the Zoo to the end 30 miles away, all the time hoping that the advertised bus service was working at the end of the trail! Now the trail head is 3 miles from my house, and it seemed a bit of a cheat to get a MAX train from home to the Zoo, miss the 300m climb and start on top of a hill. So I jogged slowly to the start of the trail, said a few words to my iphone (aka video camera) and jogged off. The first 10km or so I know pretty well and its typical of the trail - not very technical, beautiful canopied forest, birdsong and a mix of hikers, dog walkers and runners. After an hour or so I passed another runner who asked 'how far are you going?' To the end i replied. 'Me too' he came back with. So I wasn't alone on this Saturday ramble. It was good know.

As you get deeper into the Forest, the hikers thin out and you are left to your thoughts and the company of birds and an ipod! I wanted to run this pretty minimalist, so had my ultraspire pack with 3 GU gels, an energy bar and a wind jacket for the end. No water, as I figured the streams would be regular enough. I didn't really want to know how far I had run so kept my Garmin on elevation which never reached higher than 300m and only occasionally dipped to the 100m's. You pretty much seem to run on a ridgeline albeit an up and down one. I took to measuring my progress by the firelanes you cross. There are 15 between the start of the trail and the end. Each one with a map of the forest, a 'you are here' arrow and distances! The Wildwood Trail is well marked and you touch maybe 50m of tar to cross roads, otherwise its all trail, oneway. As the firelanes ticked by (slowly!) each new section had its attractions, maybe a small waterfall, or a narrow fern section. Sometimes soaring pines, often sunlight piercing through the thick canopy. And always birdsong.

I was hoping for around 4 hours 30 mins for the trail and tried to keep an easy pace, stopping at streams for water and my 3 GU's, otherwise running every step. As you get to the outer end of the park the foliage changes from dense forest to almost open meadow, and you see the sun properly for the first time. The last section between Germanstown Road and Newberry Road is a beautiful mixture of all the elements of Wildwood - forest, firs, pine, ferns, streams, meadow, soaring trees and soft, forgiving trail. 

Eventually I popped out of the trail onto Newberry Road to two cars, a scrawled '30 1/4' on the Wildwood sign and absolutely no fanfare. I did a little whoop' and sat down on the step. 

I guess when you run alone 90% of the time you have to take what you can get satisfaction wise, and just sitting on a wooden step after 5 hours of running is a pretty simple pleasure. I know that when I now run any section of Wildwood, any part of Forest Park, I can remember that I have run it all, in one shot.

I'm sure there are better, and certain more 'normal' ways to spend a Saturday, but that 5 hours was pretty special; to leave my door and run, bar the first 2 miles, on (SINGLE TRACK) trail for over 30 miles, safely, with mountain water, at no cost, and then get a $2,50 bus home, is not something I will ever take for granted, but will also take advantage of while I can. I picked The Farm 'Groovy Train' for my crappy youtube video as it felt like a bit of a groovy train ride on a single track of forest trail.

"Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes
 no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances
 on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the
 approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted
 from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense.
 The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that
 is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that
 the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running
 such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of
 their being -- a call that asks who they are ..."
- David Blaikie


  1. Hi Ian. Amazing blog! This is Sally. Would really like to hear from you. Must be 20 years since I've seen you! My email is X

  2. I'm lucky i have a wife at home or I might find myself spending all day running on Table Mountain...

  3. Hi Ian. I've resorted back to leaving a message here as my emails keep getting pinged back saying your mailbox is full! Is there somewhere else I can send them? Sally x

  4. ah, sorry about that try