Haulin' Aspen Trail Marathon Race Report

All I had to do was finish the Haulin' Aspen Trail Marathon and it would mean another state in my quest to run a marathon in all 50 states. I was not expecting to have a great race since my training leading up to the marathon was less then stellar - at least in terms of long runs and "traditional" marathon training. I knew all along that I was taking a slight risk when it came to my end of season marathons by not running a signifigant amount of mileage and not having my usual long runs. I also knew that if I wanted to get better at the bike for the Xterras, running would be taking a back seat in training focus. So when I found myself in a postion to contend for the women's title at the Haulin' Aspen I was pretty surprised. Then pride kicked in and I turned my "long run" into a race. And it was a close race - after 26.2 miles of ups and downs and rolling single track, less then five minutes seperated the top four women.

I'm happy this was my Oregon marathon. The trails were great for running, the scenery was pretty, the course was challenging and race organization was outstanding. The course was marked really well, there were more water stations then anticipated and there were plenty of friendly volunteers through out. This was a much better choice then any of the road marathons (and there are a lot) that Oregon has to offer. I would highly recommend the Haulin' Aspen Trail Marathon to anyone. And to think I picked it just because the name was cute!

The morning started out pretty chill - after all, there was no bike to worry about, no wetsuit to deal with. Just my running shoes and the fact that I was fairly under prepared for a marathon. I ate my oatmeal, drank my coffee and headed over to the race start. The owner of the hotel had given good directons to the school where the races started and it took less time then we thought to get there. Plenty of time to finish my coffee and find the porta-potties. There had been an early start for the marathon, with those runners taking off just as we arrived. There was also a half marathon and seven mile run, but those events were scheduled for later in the day. With it just being the marathoners, the lines moved pretty quickly and the atmosphere was very mellow.

I lined up just behind the starting line as normal. There were a few women around me, and most of them looked pretty serious. I knew that there were a ton of fast runners in Bend and I anticipated that there would be a few on the starting line. The race director gave a few pre-race instructions, showed us the flags that would be marking the course and the mile markers. (He was holding 17 and said that a few of the miles were missing. And what do you know, there was no mile 17!) Then we were off. In about 200 yards, the course turned onto the dirt trail next to the road. The pace seemed comfortable but quick right away. I was in second from the gun, with one woman jumping out to an early lead. I figured that was the race and settled in behind a train of guys running about the pace I wanted.

The first four miles were through gently rolling, mostly flat single track. The trail was pretty narrow, with pine trees on either side, so it was easier to just run the pace of the men around me. We meandered our way around some of the local cycling trails, with the jumps and log challenges on side trails. Up and down and twisting through the trees, the trail wasn't easy running despite the smooth surface. I was able to keep an eye on the woman in front for most of the first few miles - her pink t-shirt and white shorts were easy to spot among the guys. She was pulling away really slowly. I decided to just monitor the situation and continue running my pace. Eventually, it got to where I couldn't find her in the trees anymore. So I just ran, remembering my goal was to just finish.

After about four miles, the trail popped out onto a fire road. The marathon turned downhill for a short time, then headed up. The fire road was easy running, but the hill was pretty steep. I decided that the pace was a little fast and slowed to walk for a little up the hill. In doing so, I lost contact with the group of guys I'd been running with. Oh well. Running alone just meant that I would be able to enjoy the scenery more and not have to worry about the train. We climbed on the fire road for a number of miles. The hill was never really bad - it would get steep for a little, then level off, then start climbing gradually, then kick up again. Finally, around mile 8 or so, we turned off the main fire road onto a smaller double track. This section was level, but the footing was tricky. Again, I decided that descresion was better and slowed a little. No sense in twisting an ankle this early in a race. I was happy running along, enjoying the perfect weather and a nice day in the woods.

Then we turned again - onto another fire road. And this wasn't a gradual hill. This was a steep sucker, and long. I couldn't see the end of the hill from where we were at about mile 9. I walked, jogged and ran up, keeping one eye on the road and the other looking around at the Oregon Cascades. If I was going to be slow, I would take the chance to enjoy the view! Finally, it looked like we were getting to the top of the hill. There was a leveling off, and a very welcome aid station. And a sweeping left hand turn that took the road straight up. This hill was beyond long and steep. It just arced into the sky, with occasional dips for respite. There was no way I was going to run up that, not and be able to enjoy the rest of the marathon! So off I went, power hiking and jogging towards the summit. I'd started to catch the early starters by now, so I had plenty of company walking up that hill. About half way up, two women passed me. They were both running, both looking pretty good. I managed to pass one of them back before the top, but was not able to close down the gap before we hit single track again.

Finally, at mile 13, we started down for good. And we were back on the single track! I was in third and wasn't sure if I would be able to catch anyone, or if I even wanted too. So I decided to run comfortable until about 2:45 into the race, then evaluate how I felt. That down hill was a blast. I was floating through the trees, using the berms like I was on my bike, just loving the trail. It wasn't a steep downhill, just enough to add some good speed to the run. The course twisted through pines and shrubs, ranging from narrow single track to wider trails. I was using all my trail running skills, despite the smooth track, making time up on the men in front. Had no clue where the women were, but I knew I was getting closer with every guy I passed. I'd already exceeded the distance of my longest long run, but was still feeling strong. It was just the pure fun of flying down the trail.

Too soon, the solitude of the trail was gone as our path merged with the half marathoners. It was a bit shocking, going from being the only one on the trail to the busy singletrack after the junction. But it also helped. I was starting to get a little tired, my calves were getting stiff. Having the half marathoners around made me keep the pace high so I could pass easier. I was pleasently surprised - I had no problems with passing at all. Just kept repeating "On the left, Thanks" as I blazed through. The mountain biking has helped with the confidence for passing while running. We reached the mile 21 marker and an aid station. I was able to see the trail ahead because of all the half marathons, and then I saw them.

Both of the women who were in front of me - pink t-shirt and white shorts, pink tank and black skirt, both of them within view. And there was only five miles left. Enough time to make the catch and get a gap, not so long that I might not be able to hold it. My "planning on just finishing" idea went out the door. I picked up the pace, quickly reeling the two other women closer. I had thought to catch on, recover for a little, then attack and try to get some space. But I timed the catch in the only really technical rock gardens of the trail. There was no tacking on the back and attacking later. I needed to use the technical trail to make my chance. I used the trail reading skills I'd developed from mountain biking and took the harder, faster line, making my move in the rock garden. One of the women laughed slightly, saying "Oh, the race is on now!" I didn't look back to see which one. I'd made the pass, made the choice to finish hard and needed to maintain that.

Those last four miles were hard. I kept pushing, keeping the tempo high and the pressure on. I didn't want to ease up and lose the race. The trail was wide now, making passing very easy. It wasn't to difficult, just rolling climbs and descents. But my legs were starting to hurt, my calves were cramping and I just wanted to be finished. We dropped down a short hill, right near the finish, only to turn up the road for a mile. I didn't look back, didn't want to see if I'd gotten a decent gap or if it would be a sprint at the end. Back onto the trail for the last mile. A furtive look over my shoulder revealed enough of a gap. I was good. The race was mine. I would be paying for the effort for a few days, I could tell.

One of the best parts of the race was the cold, mountain stream right by the finish line. I got some water, talked to the local newspaper for a bit, loaded a plate with pasta and watermelon and headed for the stream. Time to start the recovery right! Since there were plenty of half marathoners around, the stream was pretty busy. Most of the guys were sticking a toe in, wading in a little, then dancing away from the icy water. It was funny to watch. I calmly set my plate down, took off my shoes and socks, picked up my food and waded to the middle of the creek. To the amazed stares of my fellow runners, I then sat right down and started eating. That was all the incentive the guys needed. They were in that water so quickly! One of them had a water proof camera - he was taking all kinds of pictures to prove that he and his buddies had actually sat in a stream after their race. I was laughing so hard, it was hard to finish eating! Especially after one of them asked if I made a habit of sitting in cold creeks after marathons. (And the answer is : YES!)

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