Sunday, July 17, 2011

Where the Trail meets the Road [Runner]

Mike Guth's Timberline Trail Marathon Race Report...

[ Just an FYI, sorry about the length of this recap.  This is my attempt at writing a One-Flight book ]

As an accomplished marathoner (road marathoner that is) the thought of running on the trails seemed like the breath of fresh air that I needed.  After running almost 2000 road miles and 13 marathons in 2010, I seemed to have lost my competitive edge along the way.  I called my cousins from Oregon and Idaho and tried to drum up support for a family gathering at the base of Mt Hood, Oregon.  The reviews were favorable and it was close to the cabin my cousin bought a few years back.  Both were in.  Six short months later I was on my way to Oregon to run my first trail marathon on June 4th, 2011.  It was held at Timothy Lake, approximately 20 miles south of Government Camp, OR and Mount Hood, an inactive volcano.  (If any of you are classic movie buffs, about 3.6 miles down from the peak of Mount Hood is Timberline Lodge, where the movie “The Shining” with Jack Nicholson was filmed).  The Timberline Lodge is a product of the US government work project in the 1930’s and the official starting line of the famous 200-mile, 15,000 participant relay race, Hood to Coast.  As if that wasn’t cool enough, sitting atop Mt Hood is the Palmer Glacier.  Combine that with the high elevation and what do you get?...Skiing all year long…that’s right, the lodge and ski slopes are open ALL YEAR LONG!

On the Thursday before the marathon, my cousin and I drove up to the lodge for dinner.  I sat in the dining room enjoying fresh Mussels over local wild morel mushrooms and spaetzle.  Not the typical “week-before” dinner, but I didn’t see spaghetti with garlic bread on the menu.  I had to improvise.  I’m glad I did as it was all very succulent.

Pleasantly full, we pushed back from the table, paid the bill and took some pictures of the massive timbers of the lodge.  The three to four feet thick timbers were simply amazing.  The last stop before heading out to our car was the windows around the main gathering area that has a impressive multi-sided / multi-floor fireplace in the center.  The snow was all I could see…mainly because the depth of the snow outside the windows was higher than the window.  Did I happen to mention that I was on the second floor?  For all you numbers people, that’s about 25 feet deep at the lodge.  Deep enough to hide a ranch style house and all but cover a two story colonial.

We walked out the door and something was different.  The temperature dropped, sure…but it was a whiteout.  It’s one thing to walk around areas that still have snow in June…but to walk 150 yards to your car in June…in a blizzard.  How cool is that?!?!  I overheard a ski patrol talking to a snow boarder about fresh powder in the morning.  Sold!  I’m bringing my skis next time!

Race morning...I woke to 40 deg F and a mostly clear sky.  Government Camp, OR was going to get up to 65 deg F and windy that day (Milwaukee was in the middle of its first heat wave and was going to be 92 deg F and humid).  I dressed in my racing garb, second guessing my last minutes choices of apparel.  My cousin had coffee, oatmeal, bagels and fresh fruit waiting for me when I quietly strode down the stairs.  After a good dose of pre-race nutrition, I drove the 45 minutes to the starting line.  Leaving 15 minutes ahead of schedule, I had plenty of time to have a nice relaxing drive.  Then I saw it…a road construction sign that wasn’t there yesterday telling me that the road is closed at Government Camp.  Now what?  After a few moments of panic, I realized it was only for a block and I just had to detour through downtown.  It had the feel of all the great ski villages like Whistler, BC or Dillon, CO.  Back on the highway, my mind wandered to my expectations of this race.  The problem was that I really wasn't sure what to expect as far as time and how it was going to feel.  I just ran the Green Bay Marathon 3 weeks before so all I wanted to do was finish and not get injured for the above mentioned Ragnar Relay I was committed to the following weekend.  But I'd be lying if I didn't want to place in my age group.  Right around 3:35 should secure at least 3rd in my age group based on the previous years’ results.  That’s within reach.

I arrived and picked up my packet at the “Historic” ranger station.  My thought is that it’s ‘historic’ because of the really, REALLY old sign that says so.  It’s a really old sign.  Sunny, 48 deg F, low humidity and breezy.  I surveyed the competition and finish line.  I didn’t notice the sign above the refreshment area that read, ‘NO ALCOHOL.’  What the!?  Later, I found out that it was because this is a state park and one of the agreements with the race.  Other than that, the table was full of all the things a long distance runner could ever want at the end of a grueling race…or after a grueling long run…or any long run…or any run!  Heck, I run so I can eat, so I’m set any time my running shoes are on.

The first thing I noticed different from all my previous marathons was the start.  We went out one at a time with the faster runners going first, followed by a 15 seconds lag and so on.  After the first two guys started out, no one was eager to be the third.  I jumped up and started my watch and my first trail marathon began.  Less than a minute in and I had this guy on my heels.  The same guy I talked to an hour before...the same guy who's girlfriend mistakenly signed him up for the full marathon two months prior, instead of the half.  This will be his first marathon...actually his first race over 3.1 miles.  And he is right on my heals.  I digress.  We make about 5 turns and the first two runners are no where to be seen.  Are you kidding me?  I can see 150 yards of nothing...they dusted me in the first half mile.  Well this is going to be fun!  As we cross the first road, about three quarters of a mile into the race, I darted across the road and down the trail before I heard a voice behind me yelling it's the wrong trail!  What?  Sure enough, no green ribbons in the trees.  I might want to pay attention as I'm fairly certain I don't want to make this into an ultra.  And they have big cats that prey on third place runners because the first two guys are too freaky fast for them...and probably in the next county.  Must be Jimmy John's delivery guys.

So 25 miles to go and I already lost 3 spots and am now behind the virgin and two other guys, not to forget about the first two guys who are indeed, in the next county already.  I caught up to the good-Samaritan runner, Paul, and tucked in behind him to find my “happy pace.”  As we entered the lake loop, which we did twice, a series of switchbacks welcomed us, but didn't seem too bad except for a lot of technical areas with rocks and roots ready to jump up and grab our shoes.  None did, thank goodness.  According to the park ranger, this section of our race is part of the original Pacific Crest Trail.  The next five miles proved to be a great experience as I talked a bit to Paul and picked off one of the runners.   We ran through patches of snow, a few over a foot deep…in June.  That’s so AWESOME!  We reached the first water station and everyone ran through.  I walked, had a GU and some water and started back at it.  It took me about ten minutes to catch up to them again and by the time I met up with Paul, the marathon ‘first timer,’ was out of sight.  Crap, I was losing ground.  It was at this point that I realized I was losing to a first time marathoner, which is the same as losing to a mascot or anyone that is dressed in a ridiculous outfit…?

That question occupied my thoughts for the next few miles as we approached the second water stop.  Paul stopped to fill his water bottle and I ran through with thoughts of "The Duel in the Sun."  I began to speed up and almost missed the view of Mt Hood across the lake.  Breathtaking!  Okay, focus...Back to reeling in the mascot...which my mind had turned into the Brewers running Polish Sausage.  It wasn't long before I saw him up ahead.  How was he keeping that pace in that giant outfit?  The imagination is a powerful thing.  As I passed him, I could tell he wasn't going to put up a fight.  A lesson he will hopefully learn in going out too fast.  Been there.  I was also pleasantly surprised to see the second place guy not far in front of him.  He gave a little more fight but still looked beaten as I ran past.  I'm sure Paul would catch them soon.

We ran through many campgrounds on this side of the lake.  There were now campers in kick boats and float boats on the lake trying to catch a fresh trout for breakfast.  The smell of campfires, coffee brewing and breakfast cooking....SUCKED!  That's worse than running country roads through smoke of some jack wagon’s burn pile after he thought it would be a good idea to burn an old tire.  But it wasn’t a foul smell…it was bacon, BACON…oh I wanted bacon so bad.  Again my mind wandered to the Beggin’ Strips dog treat commercial.  I chuckle to myself.   Maybe they'll have bacon at the next water stop...Oops, wrong turn.  Probably shouldn't be running through someone’s camp setup.  Pardon me, excuse me, ...there’s a ribbon, back on the trail.  Should have zigged when I zagged.  I'll remember it for the second loop.

Made it to the next water/aid station...I surveyed the table…water and gatorade.… bacon.  Humpf!

I thought I was about a mile from the start of the second lake loop.  It was at that point where I looked behind me.  With no one in sight I realized that if I wanted to stay in second place and hopefully reel in the first place guy, this was going to hurt.  As I used to say in high school cross country, "Pain is Good, Rest is Evil!"  I high stepped through one of the longest and deepest snow patches.  I asked myself, ‘are you willing to let this hurt to feel victory?’  I can't remember the last time I flat out won a race.  My college spring 5k probably.  I was willing to let it hurt...and told myself, with my outside the trail took a violet turn upwards and to the left into the unseen, "This is going to Hurt!" Again with a louder and bolder outside voice, I confirmed, "This IS going to Hurt!"  It was right at that moment when I crested the hill, only to be confronted by about ten or so half marathoners who started an hour and half after I did and were just starting their lake loop portion of the race.  They looked in my direction, either scared or laughing to themselves.  I’m sure I turned a few shades of red.  I could almost read the minds of a few of them, "What's going to hurt? When is it going to hurt? I didn't sign up for a lot of hurt?"  My thoughts turned to Kramer in a Seinfeld episode when he was blubbering something about being in a relationship, breaking up and begging forgiveness as in 10 seconds.  Anyways, I was at the start of that first series of switchbacks that, if you remember, didn't seem all that bad on the first lap.  But apparently with a couple of hundred runners trampling over them, the rocks and especially the roots, must have said, "ENOUGH!, let's get 'em!"  Never flat out falling but after a few good, hip-jarring, momentum killing stumbles, I was past the switch backs that proved to be much steeper and longer than I remembered my first trip through.  My legs were burning and I was gasping for air.  This was going to hurt...indeed.  I kept that thought to myself this time.

So now I was in the middle of the faster half marathoners.  As the miles melted away, the second lap seemed longer than the first.  There was a runner in front of me that I caught glimpses of every now and then.  He was wearing the same top as the first guy in the marathon.  He seemed like he was scrambling to keep in front of me as he was looking back each time I got within sight of him, I was convinced he would fold in the final five miles.  I heard footsteps behind me.  I stole a glimpse on one of the many switchbacks and each time I did, either the sun was full on him or his bib was covered by brush.  I couldn't tell if he was a half or a full marathoner.  Probably good I didn’t know.  I focused on the guy in front of me and tried to make up ground.  I knew I had a good kick but he was tall and the finish was flat.  I wasn't confident I could out kick him.  I would have to beat him by mile 24 or 25.

As I was imagining the footrace in the final miles, I forgot to zig.  I was a little too focused on making up ground because I zagged again.  Pardon me, excuse me, love your that bacon?…aaaaand back on the trail.

As we turned the corner off the lake and back to the start/finish line (we being myself and that pesky runner behind me) there in front of us was a mountain.  It was another series of switchbacks and two sections where the trailbreakers were just plain lazy and laid out the path straight up.  I didn't remember this at all.  How the heck did I run down this from the start without falling a** over teakettle.  This must be why my quads were screaming, hitting these sharp declines during mile 2.  Well now it's time to climb.  I looked back at my friend.  He was my friend at that moment because I wasn't sure if he had climbing ropes that I was sure we would need.  Looking back up the hill, I grabbed roots and was on hands and knees at a few spots to get up over the crest.  I allowed myself a second or two at the top to walk a few steps only to realize there were two more switchbacks in front of me.  Crap!  Really, I didn't remember this much downhill running the other way.  Since I didn't need him anymore, my "friend" turned back into the pesky runner I couldn't shake.  Except that I did shake him…he was beaten by the hill.  I turned and started running again.

The 25 mile mark...1+ mile to go…and no sight of the white shirt in front of me.  Crap!  I called myself a wimp for not pushing it harder.  “DIG! DIG!” my outside voice urged.  There was someone walking ahead but at that time, I didn’t care if anyone heard me talking to myself.  I finished the final mile in sub 7 minutes, flying over the hills with reckless abandon.  There he was, about a hundred feet in front of me with only two turns and about twice that distance between me and the finish line.  He wasn’t running as fast as I was and I had the element of surprise on my side.  My seamlessly impossible attack was on and I cut the distance in half only to have a root reach up and pulled me down to an almost full out crash.  I caught myself, turned upward and started toward the finish line again.  He glanced back.  My element of surprise was gone and he took off.  The stumble took too much energy out of me but I kept going and ran hard through the finish line.  I was content with my effort.  I was spent.  The finish line never looked so sweet!  My name was announced over the loud speaker as well as my hometown and unofficial place.  2nd...

When the dust settled the guy in front of me and directly behind me were half marathoners.  As far as the marathon finishers go, the winner came in whopping 25 minutes ahead of me.  I think he has already showered and was delivering Jimmy John subs…(maybe?  Yes, it’s my story.) …he indeed was freakishly fast.  Mmmmnnn, I’ll take mine with extra bacon.  My time ended up being 3:20:59...a BQing time and a trail marathon PR.  Not bad for having put in less than four miles of trail running before this.  The third place marathoner was only a minute behind me so it's a good thing my pesky half marathon friend pushed me.   Fourth and Fifth place finishers were close behind him.

I know a lot of you have hardware from your races but this is my first (non-age group) award for a single race in a long time.  Very exciting.  I didn't, however, bask in the glory as I ended up walking down the trail to cheer on my cousin and her friends who ran the half marathon.  Missed the awards ceremony but it was well worth it.  Plus if I didn't keep moving, I was afraid my body parts would stop moving all together.  That would make the next days hike to Ramona Falls a bit difficult.

I've attached some pictures of the race and the area.  If you want a destination trail marathon in a mountain setting, this one comes highly recommended.  I may even do it again next year, but I’ll be sure to bring my skis or snowboard.  One thing is for sure, I’m going to be running more trails now.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them in the past few weeks.

My trip back from the cabin was topped off with a sceinic drive along the Charles Riverway and a fresh crab dinner with my cousin and he r husband.  Crabs that the guy behind the counter confirmed were better than any I could catch in Wisconsin.  Phew!  Good to know.  And yes, they were.  Portland is known for food and good food at that.  What a great place for a long distance runner.  Oregon, you’ll see my shadow again.

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