This is the complete story I wrote about the Flagline 50k with photos. It originally appeared in edited form on TrailRunnerMag.com.
A fire information board just yards from the startline
Race Director Dave Thomason
Another fabulous Superfit production
Five days until the race, Thomason posted on Facebook:
"Smoke, smoke, smoke. Depending on the wind we either have lots or very little."
Everyone looks happy before the start
The shifting winds meant conditions were fluctuating between apocalyptic and perfect. “I had been up on the course several times the week of the race and air quality was great in the morning but would start to turn ugly after 3 pm. On the one hand most folks would have finished by 3 but seeing how fast smoke conditions changed, this kept me from sleeping well“ said Thomason.
Three days until the race:
"The race start and finish area is now a staging zone for 10 helicopters fighting the Pole Creek fire"
Max King, Tim Van Orden, Ryan Bak & Mario Mendoza at the start
The 31 mile course is run in the shadow of 10,000-foot volcanic giants Brokentop, Bachelor and the Three Sisters mountains. Starting 6400’ above sea level at Sunrise Lodge, runners traverse this rolling high-mountain course in a single loop that is snow-free for just a few months each year. The race begins with a smooth, fast, and dusty 8-mile descent before taking runners up the first of two stout 1,000-foot climbs. The rest of the course features old growth forests, above-tree-line single-track, and a creek crossing to cool sore feet.
Two days until the race:
"OK folks we are getting close and I still can't say with any certainty that the race will be able to go. This is due largely to the smoke being blown in at a moments notice."
One day until the race:
"Very hopeful for tomorrow. After being up their today and having clean air and sunshine. See you all in the am."
Finishline under clear blue skys
In addition to elite runners competing for national championship titles, athletes from ages 15 to 73 and coming from 10 different U.S. states toed the starting line. On the men’s side, 2011 World Mountain Running Champion Max King pulled away from fellow Bend speedsters Mario Mendoza and Ryan Bak to take the win. A few hours later Max would be on a plane to Utah where the next day he would also win the XTERRA Trail Nationals. “I was feeling pretty relaxed and comfortable during the 50k race and I'd done the double last year so I wasn't too worried about Xterra”, said King.
As the fire burned on distant ridges, favorable winds kept the course smoke free all day. A race director’s nightmare was averted but that didn’t stop Dave Thomason from thinking about what challenges the race could face in future years. “I know we are going to have a snow year at some point so that will be fun to tackle.”
Complete race results can be found here: http://www.time2race.com/Results/Flagline%2050K%202012.htm
Additional race photos can be found on my Google+ page.