The second running of the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon also served as US Track and Field Marathon Trail Championships. It was a who's-who of trail runners. It's like watching celebrities walking on the red carpet to an awards show. Only these people are dressed the in the finest polyester, lycra and spandex.
The Lithia Loop Trail is a monster. A beautiful, green and scenic monster. The trail offers 21 miles of dirt trail, 3.5 miles of single track and 4,700 feet of elevation gain. WHAT? 4,700 feet of elevation? I know this might be considered a mole hill to more experienced runners, but yamma-hamma that is a gain.
I got to the start line at 7:50. Everyone was breathing a sigh of relief that it was not raining. Hal Koerner and Ian Torrence greeted us at the start line and gave us helpful advice about the trail.
They counted us down from 10 to 1 and we were off.
I was wearing a yellow jelly bracelet from my daughter and a livestrong wrist band in honor of my dad who has cancer. I kissed them both and my wedding ring.
I decided that I was not going to push it too hard in this race. I wanted to have a comfortable pace and energy to enjoy to last six miles. After blowing up at Bizz Johnson just a few weeks ago, I didn't want a repeat.
UP, UP AND AWAY
The first eight miles is a 3,000 foot+ elevation gain and then some. The trail went up for the first 9 to 10 miles. It was really important for me to scale it back and run a slower pace. Running on the fire road was a nice way to warm up. At mile 7 we departed the fire road and proceeded on single track. I was running in a line of 6 runners. We all seemed pretty jazzed to be running on the dirt and in the trees. I know I was. One of the runners ahead of me let out a mighty YALP! It was nice to be in a line because it keep me from running too fast. I was power hiking from time to time. I didn't mind. I was keeping pace and enjoying the scenery of lush forest.
We popped out of the single track and met our second aid station. Erik Skaggs was there helping out parched runners. The volunteer's enthusiasm was tremendous. I really appreciated their spirit. They loaded me up and sent me on my way.
IS THIS THING EVER GOING TO GO DOWN?
For some reason I thought that once we finished our monster climb the trail would level off. It didn't. We just kept going up. This really killed my spirit. And just as my spirit was getting low, it got even lower. A very steady drizzle began to fall. BLAH. The forecast lied to me this morning. It said it was going to be partly cloudy. Good thing I was wearing my new Sugoi racing vest. You saved me today running vest. I love you.
The trail started to descend and I was happy. But the cold was really getting to me. It must have been in the mid to upper 30's. My hands were numb, swollen and blue. I couldn't rip open my Gu packets. I had to use my teeth. It was as if I had dipped my hands in novocain. I recall a movie starring Sinbad, where he was impersonating a dentist and had to pull a patient's tooth while both his hands were numb. The simple task of tucking my empty Gu packet into a pouch was a comedy. My hands were so cold, while I was at an aid station I was unable to peel a banana. So I bit through the peel and sucked out the slimy goodness.
I must admit, despite the cold and wet conditions, I was happy as a clam. I'll take that over 90 degree + weather any day.
I appreciate the race organizer's sense of humor. At mile 20 they marked the fire road with chalk. It read "THE WALL." I felt good. I kept waiting for my body to go into convulsions or something. Nothing happened. The mystique of the 20 mile marker lives on.
CATERPILLARS ARE NOT CUTE
An employee at Rogue Valley Runners warned me about the Caterpillar Hill Trail at the 21 mile mark. She said that it looks innocent enough because it's incline isn't fierce. She said that it was the place where people cramp up. To help avoid this I had taken an S-Cap 15 minutes earlier. It didn't work. I cramped up on my first hill. Oh, I was so mad. "Not today calves." I thought to myself. I scaled back on my pace. Every now and then my calves would cramp, but it wasn't severe. Caterpillar Hill can suck it. I mean it. I will never look at a caterpillar the same again. Even those ginormous trucks made my Caterpillar. You get the same distain too.
LET'S GET DOWN, BABY
The last few miles of single track were fast. The trail was ripped apart in some sections. I think the mountain bikers have taking certain liberties with the trail and it shows. Treacherous for runners. Swaths of uneven earth carved into corners and switchbacks. Just when your mind wants to do nothing but go on autopilot, you are forced to focus. This would be a bad place to trip. I don't know how the health services are in Ashland, but I didn't want to find out.
We left the trail for the final time and were running on pavement. People were coming up the trail to root us on. I smiled and thanked each and every one of them. Lithia Park was now to our right and I was recognizing some of the landmarks from the start line. I started thinking about my family waiting for me at the finish line and I couldn't help but get overcome from my emotions. My eyes began to well up. I focused on the road. I looked down at my watch with less than a mile to go, I was going to come under the 4 hour mark. My two goals today were to finish with a smile and under 4 hours.
I began to pass houses. "I hope my family is there." (They missed me at the finish of my last race). I began to pass parked cars. "I hope I can run with my daughter at the finish line." A young buck wander out into the street ahead of me. It looked and me and walked away. There was my friend Jerry, smiling with his had extended. We high-fived. There was my wife and daughter! My wife said, "Emma wants to run with you." I was so happy. I held Emma's hand and we ran for a couple of yards. She was so excited. I was so excited. Tammy grabbed Emma back and I ran up to the finish line.
Go Emma, Go!
I was done. My friend Anne was there taking pictures. I got my cool wooden medal and headed back to meet the family.
Me and my new best friend, the running vest.
I felt great. I wasn't in pain. I didn't need to go off and walk alone. I wanted to be surrounded by my friends and family.
My cheering section.
We went over to a sushi restaurant and then over to Pioneer Hall to check race results. I noticed that people had beer. I wanted a beer. I found a bottle of Rogue beer and poured some into a Starbucks cup and headed back to the car.
I'll take this over a medal any day.
A special thank you to the race organizers. I can't tell you enough how much I appreciate your courtesy, thoughtfulness and generosity. You over delivered. Next year is going to be quite the happening. See you next year.
MY OFFICIAL RACE RESULTS:
MALE DIVISION: 45th
AGE GROUP: 17th
See you on the trail.