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Sarah Woerner, who described the River Gorge 6.5-miler as a “slip and slide” after winning by a healthy margin, tells us about the race

It seems like Rock/Creek Race Team member Sarah Woerner wins every race she enters, and she’s usually kind enough to write about it. That’s a combination we love to see! She finished first in the women’s category of the Rock/Creek River Gorge 6.5 mile trail race, and here’s her take on the view from the front!

Of all the Rock/Creek races, River Gorge seems to be the one where weather is always a major factor, and this year was no different. I woke up early Saturday morning to the sound of thunder so loud it shook my apartment, with rain coming down hard. “This could be interesting,” I thought, and battled with myself about whether or not to even get out of bed.

I stared at the coffee pot for a few moments before ultimately pushing the start button and getting ready for what was sure to be a wet race. I really had no right to complain considering that the volunteers were already out in the cold, dark rain preparing for all the runners.

When I arrived at Prentice-Cooper, it seemed as if the rain had let up a bit, but a few minutes before the start, it picked right back up. Besides my Montrail trail running shoes, I couldn’t decide what to run in; I knew that if I wore my rain jacket I would probably be too hot, but I was not able to make myself shed it before the start because it was so cold!

The race begins with about 1/4 mile of dirt road to spread racers out before making a left turn onto single track. I knew I needed to start off pretty hard to get ahead of the crowd and was able to avoid any major congestion. The trail descends for about a half a mile before a short climb and another long downhill. Surprisingly, the trail was in pretty good shape except for some puddles here and there. I fully expected to fall at some point and just kind of threw caution out the window and tried to run this downhill part as fast as I could because I knew the second half of the course was mostly uphill.

About 3 miles in, runners come out to a dirt road where the aid station is located. It was here that I quickly yanked off my jacket, with the help of volunteer Jim Johnson who helped pull it off of me. After turning right on the road, you climb…and climb…and climb some more. I don’t know how many hills there are but it is relentless. The last one is the longest and steepest, but once at the top, runners cut back on to single track for the most technical descent of the day.

This part of the trail was more like a river. Chris Gentry was just ahead of me and I did everything I could to keep him in sight. When you get to the bottom of the hill, the trail connects back in with the first part of the course and runners retrace their steps back to the finish, about a mile of steady climbing. I was hurting pretty bad at this point and just kept trying to tell myself it was almost over. After maybe ten or so “It’s almost overs,” I saw the parking lot and finish line.

My goal was to break an hour, which I did by the skin of my teeth. Soaking wet, I walked over to chat with some other runners about how much fun we had running and getting absolutely covered in mud from the waist down. It didn’t take long for me to get chilled, so I rushed to my car, turned the heat on full blast, and changed into some dry clothes.

Thanks so much to Rock/Creek for putting on a fabulous race despite less than stellar conditions. The volunteers really deserve a ton of credit for spending hours and hours in the cold rain to take care of all the runners’ needs. Maybe next year it will be dry… but, then again, there is something cool about running in a thunderstorm!

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