March 11, 2020 - It was 6:20 a.m. and the visitors center at Honeyman State Park was packed. Daybreak Racing, which was started by Siuslaw High School alumni Jeremy Long, was just about to start its inaugural Siuslaw Dunes 50K and 25K races, where cross country runners from around the country would run through tree islands, old-growth rainforest, streams and remote ocean beaches.
The rain had just started to pour as the 50K runners began preparing for the 32-mile journey, in which runners had 10 hours to compete. The runners were looking forward to a day of excruciating pain, punctuated by literal blood, sweat and tears, not to mention a little vomit — all while running in the pouring rain.
And they paid upwards of $100 to do it.
“To know you’re alive,” Michael Wasserman said before the race. His friend, Lisa Kerrigan, nodded her head in agreement: “To know you’re alive.”
There are multiple ultra-race events throughout the word in any given year, the longest being the Self-Transcendence Race in Queens, N.Y. That 3,100 miles race has runners make 5,649 laps around an extended city block in Jamaica, Queens over a 52-day experience.
That race is on flat ground, but the Dunes race is much more complex.
“It’s slower, ‘’ Wasserman said. “It’s totally acceptable to walk.”
“Stop, take pictures,” Kerrigan added.
“A lot more eating, a lot more vomiting,” Wasserman said. “It’s grittier, but more friendly. Chiller.”
Neither of the runners were going to establish a record time for the race.
“I don’t care,” Wasserman said. “Some of the runners here will be going for the win, but not me. Some races I care, but this race I don’t.”
For most of the runners in the Siuslaw Dunes, it was all about the experience.
Alejandro Arreola started racing in regular marathons. But when he found trail racing, he never went back.
“I used to be a road runner, doing marathons and all of that,” he said. “But when I started getting into the trails, I forgot about all the races from the road. Everything is just trails, trails.”
The appeal of the race goes beyond getting a good time limit; it’s about being outdoors for hours at a time.
“It’s also to test your limits,” Arreola said. “For me, trail running is like a roller coaster. You’re running for four or five hours on the trail, it’s going to be up, down, low. You’re going to be tired. You’re going to be hungry. It’s just a matter of how smart you’re going to be just to keep running. It’s just that. It’s just being out there with the elements.”
The rain and cold weather were not a deterrent.
“People are like, ‘It’s nasty weather, why do you want to be out in the rain?’” Arreola said. “But as soon as everyone starts, you forget about the rain. And the 50K — it’s about finding joy in things that are painful.”
The pain can manifest itself in a wide variety of ways, from blisters all over the body to black toes and bleeding nipples.
“Oh yeah, your nipples bleed,” Arreola said. “Whatever you’re wearing, it’s chafing on you. So, it’s going to be chafing on your nipples and every part of your body. You end up getting blisters on everything.”
But the discomfort is part of the appeal.
“You end up finding joy in discomfort,” Arreola said. “It’s difficult to describe. It’s funny, because when you finish a 50K, you’re going to be in pain. You’re going to be beat up. You’re physically done, but you’re thinking, ‘When is going to be my next race?’
Arreola and other runners like him are always looking for the next race. The 50K is actually considered an entry level race in the ultra-community.
“Whenever you finish a 50K, what is next?” Arreola asked. “It’s the 100K. And then after that, for many of us, it’s 100 miles. And then 200 miles. Then more and more. It’s always pushing yourself to your limits. As human beings, we all have limits, but we all try and overtake those limits — just to see what’s beyond.”
A community grows around that mentality. Arreola drove here from Seattle, Wash., with Wasserman. Others in the race hailed from places like Montana, Minnesota, California, Nevada, Utah and Wisconsin.
“You end up meeting people from all over and sharing experiences,” Arreola said. “It’s just a good flow of energy. Even if we don’t know each other, we know each other when we’re running. It’s going to be different speeds, but we’re all going through the same process of pain. We enjoy that. If somebody gets hurt, people stop by, just to check on you."
“Give you food if you need it,” added Wasserman.
“I have had experiences where I ran out of water, and people share their water,” Arreola said. “You’re not going to find that in other races, like road races, because everyone is looking for the win.”
Beyond the camaraderie, the races themselves are good excuses to get out into nature.
“If it wasn’t for this race, we wouldn’t be here,” Arreola said. “We would never think to drive six hours to drive to these dunes. We would never do it. But because there’s a race, that’s what brings us here. And it’s just awesome. Looking at the lakes, the trees, the waterfalls, discovering more trails — Mother nature.”
The runners felt that the sport needed more attention, as it’s growing in popularity.
“When I started 15 years ago, there weren’t that many races,” Arreola said. “I feel like now, many people are finding the joy in races like this. It’s just so cool.”
The Siuslaw Dunes Race is one of five events that Daybreak Racing hosts. The company’s founder, Jeremy Long, had been racing since he was a kid.
“I grew up in Florence, and my brother and I have been running since middle school, into high school cross country and track,” Long said. “It was always a central part of my personality and lifestyle. Running was how I stayed fit and healthy. It was the best stress management, and it was a pretty cheap sport, other than shoes.”
$10 from every entry fee of the Dunes race goes to the Siuslaw School District’s athletic program, to help pay for the kids to go to running camp.
“I went to that camp, and it was one of those foundational experiences that helps frame your perspective of valuing running and being in the outdoors and just leading that healthy outdoor lifestyle,” Long said.
He stuck with traditional marathons into his 20s but took a break when his kids were born.
“And then in my 30s I discovered ultrarunning,” he said. “I just started organizing small runs, which led to bigger ones, which eventually led to the first events I created five years ago.”
He had always wanted to create a course in the Siuslaw region.
“It’s a place I keep visiting,” Long said, pointing out that his family still lives in the area. “Everybody comes to the beach, and who doesn’t have a memory of camping at Honeyman State Park? But I’ve never heard of anyone — even as a runner — traversing these dunes, let alone doing it twice and another 15 miles sandwiched in between. I think it’s a cool draw for the community in general.”
And the climate is perfect for out-of-season ultrarunning.
“Folks kind of get cabin fever, especially in a lot of the mountain states where they’ve been running on snow for the last three months,” Long said. “Hosting a race like this can be done during the shoulder season, where it’s not the prime trail running season of May to September. It was definitely very intentional, hosting this event during the end of winter.”
The limit of the race of 250 runners, and tickets sold out three weeks ago. One of the other draws of the course was its difficulty.
“Running on sand is hard,” Long said. “It’s not something people can train on, so it’s difficult to learn how to run on it efficiently. But I promoted it as something new, different — and difficult.”
Something the runners appreciate.
“I would recommend everybody do this,” Arreola said. “You don’t have to do 50K, there will be races that are shorter. But it’s just awesome.”
For more information on Daybreak Racing future running events, visit https://www. daybreakracing.com/siuslawdunes-50k