Wednesday, August 15, 2007

08/11/07 Crater Lake Marathon

Last year, the Crater Lake Marathon and Haulin' Aspen were my last two races before the cancer fairy came to visit. That made this weekend kind of strange and bittersweet.

Crater Lake is in southwestern Oregon. It is the remains of a volcano known as Mt Mazama, though no one was around to call it that when it was an actual mountain. It blew up... and just about all that remains is a crater. Filled with water. Crater Lake. Now a National Park. It is the bluest fresh water I've ever seen, and it is absolutely pristine. You don't swim in Crater Lake, and no one uses it for boating. It is also really deep - almost two thousand feet in the center. Wow.

The Crater Lake Marathon is a low-key race that circles most of Crater Lake. The point-to-point course follows the Rim Road part of the way around the lake before veering off to a campground. I believe that this is the hardest paved-road marathon in the US. Well, mostly paved. The last four miles are not... and this section is specifically why I think it is harder than Estes Park.

Why is Crater Lake hard? First off, it is up pretty high... the course is between 5000 and 8000 feet. Secondly, it has two major MAJOR climbs, along with lots of not-as-major roly polies in the first half. Some of the hills I'm calling "not-as-major" are over a mile long. That tells you something about the hard ones. Finally, this course is a logistical pain. Crater Lake isn't close to anything, so unless you want to camp, you have a bit of a drive on race morning. As a point-to-point course, it therefore requires a shuttle... in fact, this race requires a shuttle at both ends. Catch the shuttle to the start at 6a. After completing the race, wait for another shuttle and the 45 minute ride back to the parking lots. This is a loooong day.

I like hard races, though. Plus the scenery of Crater Lake is really quite amazing. It is totally worth the logistics.

For me, this started with a 3:45a alarm. After getting ready, driving for a little over an hour to the park, and waiting for the bus to arrive, I got to the start at 6:30a. I spent an hour talking to friends, then it was "throw off all your warmups" (it was cold), "pitch them on the bus", and "get ready!"


The course starts out with an immediate hill. Everyone was huffing and puffing trying to get used to running at altitude. Luckily, the weather was great. It wasn't quite as cold as last year, and it was not windy. The skies were bright blue. We rolled along. Last year, I made the typical mistake of starting out too fast and working too hard to get up the hills. This year, I wanted to go conservatively up the hills and spin down the big downhill as fast as possible. My goals for the race were simple: beat my time from last year (4:38) and not hurt as badly as last year.

At M8.5 we hit the first BIG HILL. This hill goes on for six miles. Six miles, straight up. And these are not rails-to-trails miles with a gentle slope. This hill leads to the highest paved point in the park - Cloudcap. I stuck to my conservative plan, not like I had much of a choice. I didn't walk... but I certainly didn't sprint. Towards the top of the hill, the course takes a little out-and-back detour to the Cloudcap parking area.

I made it to Cloudcap and M14.5 , and what goes up must then come down. This is the fun part of Crater Lake, albeit painful. M14.5-M22 - mostly downhill, some of it screaming downhill. Down I went. I remember walking some of this last year. It's a bad day when I have to walk downhill. Not this year. Many of my miles on that climb were of the 12:00 and 13:00 pace variety. Headed down, I was able to do 7:45s. It hurt after awhile, but I kept it up.

At M22, we turned into the Lost Creek Campground. This is the finish area for the race, and runners get a good view (and the sounds) of the finish. But a marathon is not 22 miles long.

So what now?

Time to go to work. Although the hill up to Cloudcap is longer, it is earlier in the race. It is also before runners have shredded their legs sprinting down a 7.5 mile hill. The last 4 miles of this race are an out-and-back along a switchback-y dirt road. 2 miles up a fairly steep hill, and 2.2+ miles back down to the finish. I tried to run up this hill, but I could only do it for a few minutes at a time without having to walk and recover. I saw some of the faster people headed back down the hill as I went up... but I didn't see as many people as I was expecting. Then it was time to run back down, and the downhill really hurt. M26 went by. I ran. I ran some more. The reason why I wrote "2.2+" above is because I really think there's more than .2 after M26 on this course. But I ran it, and I finished.

Wooo. Hard day. 4:17 - 21 minutes faster than last year, and good enough for 26th overall. This is a small race, but 26th was still a top third finish - so, go me.

I love the challenge of hard races like this, and the sights can't be beat. Cranking out a 4:17 was extra cool. And I did indeed feel great afterwards, once I had consumed 3 full-sugar pepsis, at least.

This is good, because I had another marathon the next day. Haulin' Aspen, which is a trail marathon with 12ish fairly technical miles. I did this last year too. Check back in RealSoonNow and I'll tell you how I did this year!

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