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Trail Factor 50K

“Always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name."    - The Avett Brothers
For the fourth consecutive year I returned to the trails of Forest Park in Portland, Oregon for the annual Memorial Day Trail Factor 50K. Trail Factor was one of the first ultras I ever ran and the people who direct, volunteer, and participate in the event have played a big part in my love for the sport and continued participation in it.  I've run it every year since because when I run the trails of Forest Park with members of the Portland Trail Running community I feel like I am among family.
As with most changes, this past year presented a number of challenges and opportunities to grow. We left Oregon so that I could work with my mentors, Greg McMillan and Ian Torrence - two of the best coaches in the sport - while enjoying the flexibility necessary to be the kind of father I need to be and furthering my education. The appeal of the trails and diverse running community of Flagstaff certainly appealed to us, but once I began studying full time at Northern Arizona University and coaching full time for McMillan Running, training took a back seat and essentially became a form of transportation to and from school throughout the week.  Then I'd try to get in some volume over the weekend either by racing or joining others in town for a long run.

Savoring every moment we could spend out of the classroom and in the mountains.
Photo by Anna Lee Landin.
 My brother, Tommy Rivers Puzey, who also moved to Flagstaff to chase his endurance dreams and continue his education in Northern Arizona University's Doctor of Physical Therapy program, has had a similar schedule and training routine: bike, run, or walk commute to and from school each day with the occasional lunch, evening, or weekend swim, run, or ride.

Doing a little climbing on our favorite trails. 
Weekend long runs were a welcome reprieve from the regimented class schedule. 

My brother got fit after about a year of training in Flagstaff before beginning his course work, but was sidelined last Spring when his tibia fractured after racing repeatedly to cover the costs of a second child.  After several false starts when he was cleared to run and the bone re-fractured, he was finally feeling fit.  We had a brief window between the Spring term and the beginning of our Summer studies.  When we realized we might be able to fit in a race between terms we jumped at the opportunity.  The Trail Factor 50K seemed like the perfect way to celebrate our freedom from classes.

Course Map based on GPS data from Strava Run.
Over the past few years the race has gone out conservatively and then the pace has picked up toward the end or the early leaders have faded.  The course is an out and back lollipop with a bit of a net uphill on the way out and a net downhill on the way back.  Despite starting and finishing near sea level, the course climbs over 5,000ft over 50K so there really isn't ever a point where you get a break.
Course profile with pace in blue and heart rate in red.  Data from Strava.
My brother and I figured we'd fly in to Southeastern Washington, visit family in Northeastern Oregon, drive down to Portland, visit with some friends and then wake up and go for a long run through Forest Park. If we were feeling well, we'd get a chance to stretch our legs and test ourselves at sea level - something we hadn't done for a while.  That's essentially what we did.  We flew into Pasco, WA near where we grew up in Northeastern Oregon.  Then we drove home with our parents and visited with them before retiring to bed.  The following morning I was able to join my friend and former co-cross country coach, Marty Beauchamp, for an easy shake out run on the grass before attending church with our family.  Then my brother and I drove the 200 miles through the Columbia River Gorge to Portland.  We had a delicious meal with the Paul and Jocelyn Nelson Family and then did some interviews and filming with Paul Nelson for an upcoming documentary chronicling the adventures that running has afforded my brother and I.

Filming a documentary about our lives as adventurers with Paul Nelson.
Then we drove to the course to measure how long it would take us to get there from our hotel.  Unfortunately, my brother and I are on opposite sleep schedules.  He wakes up early to study before his kids wake up while I tend to stay up after my family goes to sleep to read, write, and work.  He had to tolerate my nocturnal tendencies as we prepared our Nathan hydration packs with First Endurance fuel for the long run.

We decided to go with hydration packs rather than handheld water bottles because the course was closed to crews and we figured we could save time if we carried all we needed in one pack.  I started with a full 2.0 liter bladder and an empty 18 oz. bottle in one front pocket as well as a front pocket full of First Endurance EFS liquid shot flasks and salt tablets.

Getting our watches ready for the start. Photo by Paul Nelson.
Our plan to do an easy, supported long run through the urban rain forest in the heart of Portland changed when two of the fastest 50K trail runners in the country, Mario Mendoza and Ryan Bak, decided to sign up at the last minute. Unlike previous years, Mario took it out hard and charged the early climbs.

Mario Mendoza and Ryan Bak leading early to the first aid station. Photo by Paul Nelson.
Despite now living at altitude, climbing at such a pace still caused my heart rate to spike and by 5K we were already running faster than I had anticipated. The trails undulate enough that I was able to let the pack pull away on the climbs and then I'd catch them on the flats and descents without spiking my heart rate beyond my threshold.

My brother Tommy and I leading the train at about mile 10.  Photo by Paul Nelson.
Mario and Ryan were using handheld water bottles while my brother and I were carrying our fuel with us on our backs so we were able to make up a little time at each aid station.  The lead pack of my brother, Tommy Rivers Puzey, Mario Mendoza, Ryan Bak, and Tyler Green had dropped me around 10K, but as they stopped to refill at the first aid station I was able to catch and pass them on the long descent.  It was about the only part of the race I actually felt good and it was fun to let my legs go and bomb the firelane.  I jokingly commented to Ryan as I passed that I was really only interested in setting Strava course records for obscure descents.  And what do you know? Look what I have to show for my efforts:
When you're racing with the Big Boys, sometimes you just have to embrace the minor victories.
I led for a bit once we hit Leif Erikson until Ryan caught me.  Whereas long straightaways like Leif would normally be where I'd be able to pull away from other trail runners, my relative road speed didn't do any good against Bak's superior track and road wheels.  We ran together for a bit until we regrouped with the others.  Then we took the Wiregate Trail back up toward Wildwood.  At this point I let my brother by and we charged back up the hill.  

Tommy Rivers Puzey pulling away from Mario in the final miles.  Photo: Paul Nelson

Not much later, the pace was more than I could sustain and I backed off in hopes that I wasn't the only one ready to blow up.  I didn't see the top four again until I reached the finish in the same time I've won the race with before, but only good for fifth this year.  

A celebratory chest pounding.  Mario Mendoza and Tommy Rivers Puzey.  Photo by Paul Nelson
Apparently, my brother maintained the lead until the final mile when Mario finally pulled away. Despite not winning the race for the first time in four years, I was pleased with my effort and even more pleased with the breakout race my brother ran.  

Paul Nelson captured the action well.
Paul Nelson capturing every stride.

In his first race back in over a year and his first 50K ever my brother ran with the some of the best in the sport.  Not only did he run with the best, but he made them earn every step they ran with him. Like us, Mario and Ryan showed up hoping to get in a quality, aided long run in a beautiful place, but I don't think any of us was expecting to have to throw down for the entire 50K.  Kudos to Mario, Ryan, Rivers, and Tyler for making it a race.
A stout top three.  Mario Mendoza, Tommy Rivers Puzey, and Ryan Bak.
Thank you to Paul Nelson Photography for taking the time to capture the race and for spending additional time to feed and film my brother and me.  Thank you to Go Beyond Racing for putting on another great event and letting us partake.  

Thank you to the volunteers out on the course and at the finish line, before, during, and after the race so that so many could enjoy the trails of Forest Park.  

Thank you to Territory Run Company for showing us your new digs and embodying the essence of adventuring in your apparel line.  

Thank you to Altra, Swiftwick, First Endurance, Nathan, and Trail Butter for your support and for making products that enable us to do what we love.

Thank you to our parents for housing us, feeding us, and transporting us to the race.  

A slight contrast between the rain forest in Forest Park and the sage country from where we hail.

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