Oddly, I had a hard time writing up a race report when this trail marathon has been my most favorite long distance race yet. I even went back and read my Portland and Boston marathon ones (which are entertaining and deserve an archive post later), and found that I remembered so much, mile per mile. This time all I really recall was having a great time the entire race, which means either I’m in good shape or, more likely, I didn’t push myself enough. So…nothing epic, terrible, or crazy to report, just that I had really fun time running up and down the mountain of Ashland, Ore.
Up and up from the start
Now don’t let me paint such a rosy picture. Exhibit A for contradiction: the elevation profile.
The first eight miles concerned me. After Grey Rock, I wanted to run a trail marathon, not walk the steep parts. We were heading down to support TC, and although everyone knew I’d regret standing on the sidelines after my Portland marathon envy, I wasn’t convinced. But after an awesome 18-miler–in the rain, no less–I was signed up for the Lithia Trail Marathon with three weeks to go.
Famous for it’s summer-long Shakespeare festival, Ashland is now becoming a strong anchor for trail running. Being the venue for the USTAF National Trail marathon with $6000 purse money, Ashland drew a fast crowd for this race. Our favorite nomadic friends traveled from Truckee to join us for another outdoor adventure. Typical Andy decided the night before to pace TC (he’s “injured” and couldn’t race) and RebK started out with me. At the start, I was telling RebK to keep an eye out for party girl, “la brujita”, in Born to Run, when a man zoomed past answering, “she’s not here.”
I didn’t bother warming up; I figured there were plenty of miles for that. But that meant starting out cold and excited which turned into too fast: I knew I wouldn’t keep up that first 8:40 mile pace. The uphill warmed me up pretty quick, and later I regretted passing my headband to RebK when she turned around.
Alone, my legs burning from the constant climb, I felt the hill only getting steeper. Every turn, I hoped it would level out, just for a few seconds to stretch out the legs, but it was relentless. Several folks passed me. That’s OK: breathe lightly and take it easy. We were, after all, just getting started. I took a goal of making it to the first aid station before stopping, expecting it before mile 4. But since they pulled the start line back (apparently last year’s course was short), I failed to recalculate that it was not until after mile 5. At the pace I was going, I didn’t drink until it was almost an hour into the race!
But the aid stations were well worth the whole run. Stocked with Gu, Clif shots, Gu20, chips, and more, my only problem was eating fast enough. The volunteers were amazingly helpful and supportive, ready to fill up bottles, open up Gu packets since our fingers were frozen, take our trash, and just cheer us on. I almost didn’t want to leave the aid stations (which shows in my splits), and it was wonderful to have something to look forward to.
At the top
The last stretch of the big climb was on a single track trail through the forest, which I should be used to, but after 8 miles of uphill, I was D-U-N. I had reached the top in 80 minutes: S-L-O-W. My goal of 4 hours (slightly arbitrary because it’s hard to tell what pace you’ll do on unknown trail terrain with elevation) was looking like a stretch goal now; I clearly needed to make up time on the way down. But despite folks’ attempts to be encouraging, it wasn’t all downhill yet and certainly the worst was not over.
At almost 6000ft of elevation, it had started to snow. At first I didn’t recognize what it was! While I did appreciate washing the salt off my face, I wished for my headband as my wet head switched quickly from sweating to cold. I should note that my body was fine, thanks to my fancy new, breathable yet warm Patagonia wool longsleeve! It’s been hard to switch back to polyester.
The middle stretch
The course turned into a lot like Leif Erikson: a wide dirt road with gradual ups and downs but overall downhill. It was nice to stretch out the burning legs, but only as much as I could bare. My next few miles were still pretty conservative (9’s?) and at mile 13, my watch read 2h10. It usually takes me awhile to do math while running (which is good; it’s something to do), but it didn’t take me long to figure out that I needed to shave off almost 2 minutes/mile in order to hit 4 hours.
By now, everyone was spread out and I was running near, sometimes with, the same few folks. One woman, who had powered up the hill and motivated me to follow, seemed to be having a great time. When I finally caught up right behind her, I thought she was talking loudly to me, but then I realized she was just singing a long to her music.
I noticed that everyone else was so efficient at the aid stations. It became this pattern where I’d pass them and then they’d catch up with me at the aid station. Their trick was that they knew exactly what they wanted, and would holler out 50 feet away while the volunteers were ready at hand. I had to think about what my body was craving, make conversation with the nice volunteers, and drink since I’m never good at gulping while running.
At some point, after using the “bathroom”, I caught up to one man.
“What are you eating at those aid stations? You seem to be getting faster and faster,” he asked.
I had to laugh. The aid station was a mile ago, but I couldn’t respond because I was still trying to work off that Clif shot block stuck to my back teeth. But it was true: I was in the zone and kept a cruising pace of 8s.
“All DOWNHILL” they wrote
Throughout the race, the miles were clearly marked (but early on I lost the energy to take splits). At mile 20, they had written on the ground “THE WALL.” A joke, I guess? A mile later, where we turned off onto another dirt road, there was a larger aid station accessible by cars. Paranoid about hitting the wall, I took my second goo. Again, I must comment how nice people were at the aid station: one woman offered me a new pair of gloves!
Leaving the aid station, it was written “ALL DOWNHILL”. Sure enough, ahead of me was a very, very steep decline. My knee had been starting to notice the general wear and tear, but my legs were feeling good so I opened up my stride and galloped down. I passed several people who were hurting; I certainly have been there before and felt their pain and frustration.
I don’t have splits, but I remember doing 7s. I was making up time! But it didn’t last forever. All of a sudden, the hill came to a halt and we turned UP onto a single track trail. My legs were so surprised they almost locked as I attempted to switch gears instantly from a downhill sprint to an incline. Ok, in retrospect it was a small one–but still: it was NOT all downhill!
After a rolling downhill, the trail became very technical: steep, tight switchbacks, with rocks, roots, and steps to juggle. This has never been my forte. I tried to watch and imitate the footwork of a few guys that passed me, but they were too fearless with their banked turns! My knees and quads also limited me from going that fast. At least this time my stomach didn’t cramp up, which is usually my problem.
“Where is the finish?!” I demanded
This last stretch seemed like forever. I missed the mile markers. I was expecting to see the crew at some point to run the last few miles with me. And I knew there was still at least a mile to go once I hit the pavement. When I finally reached the road, I felt relieved but also pretty much done. My calf spasmed; I stopped and stretched it for a few seconds. I wasn’t breathing heavy; my legs were just ready for it to be over. Finally, I recognize the last half mile from the start and picked up my pace. As soon I heard and saw the crew, this is the look I gave them:
“Where is the finish?!” I half-asked, half-demanded. When they told me it was just around the corner, I had a sudden burst of energy and sprinted in. As usual, my finish was way too strong for the end of a marathon–but it looks good in pictures 🙂
I finished in 4h06, 13th in the women, and in the top half overall. I am pleased with this, considering the fast field and elevation and my last-minute entry. TC came in 6th, one place short of getting prize money.
We were excited to find out that Ashland will again host next year’s national trail marathon. The Rogue Valley Runners (RVR) club put on an excellent, well-organized, amazingly equipped race. And despite the elevation, Lithia is a fast course with its good footing and downhill finish. I just need to train more in a triangle form, and run uphill nonstop for an hour.
One thing I can definitely improve on is drinking and eating. I have come a long way since running my first marathon in 2004, where I survived only on water and gummy bears. In Boston, I was paranoid about the 80-degree temperatures that I stopped to drink at each aid station, which cost me some time. Through the years, Slow Boy and I have been on many epic, longer and slower runs, where it’s become easy to eat a candy bar, or get up from a bacon and egg breakfast and run, or constantly sip from a pack. Lately, I’ve been trying out the Gu, in limited flavors, and this past year, Mr. Toed sold me on salted Gatorade.
Still, even this time, I think I could have eaten sooner and more. I only ate two Gu, the first after two hours, when I really should have eaten it at the top of the climb. I tried to sip out of my handheld bottle (I’m sold on these too, as long as it’s not freezing because my hand gets cold), but found that I barely finished half in between aid stations. One man offered me an S-cap, saying it helps with cramping. I felt a little silly taking a random pill from a stranger, but was pretty confident that “S” stood for salt.
We had such a fun time strolling around “downtown” Ashland, which fortunately for our legs, is not very big. With absolutely no agenda, we spent the afternoon store hopping down the main strip. Ate lunch for a few hours. Talked to the owner of the restaurant, also a runner. Went into the RVR store and talked to those owners. Got coffee and ice cream. Tried on shoes. Petted cats. It was wonderfully lazy.
We were staying at our friend’s parents house (DBers would know them as our #1 fans), which was such a luxury. The Andersons camped in their (25 acre) backyard. By the evening, all we wanted to do was veg in front of a movie. They opened up their home to us, and Saturday night was Bourne Identity, pizza, and leftover Halloween candy.
Thanks to everyone for the prerace good luck vibes–look, the rain never came! Thanks to our gracious hosts in Ashland–it was so nice to come home after the race. Thanks to the Andersons–has it been two weeks already? Wait, when’s the next adventure? Coach Potato practiced her freelance photography and took pictures of the event. Check out her website: her gimmic was “if you beat her sister, you get your picture taken.” And thanks to Slow Boy, who had to sit this one out. He never pressured me but always knows when to push me just a little–it’s a delicate balance that only he has mastered.