Haulin Aspen is a marathon held on trails in and near Bend, Oregon's Shevlin Park. This was the third year of this race, and I've done two of them. I must say, for a fairly new race, it is supremely well managed. It also attracts the area's best trail runners.
The course is quite challenging (and thankfully well marked). After spending the first three miles on the park's flat trails, runners start heading up the side of a hill. Some of this is singletrack, but most of this is wide, washboarded dirt/gravel road. It is a long, hard grind. Up and up, steeper as the miles go by, until cresting at M14. That's 11 miles up a hill that gets increasingly more difficult.
Towards the top, runners are greeted with particularly stunning views and a flattish breather section between M14 and M14.5. There, the race changes - singletrack, somewhat technical, and downhill. Very downhill. "Look out below" downhill. A few little rollers are thrown in to keep everyone honest, and lots of rocks and roots can lead to a very bad day for the unfocused runner. And low branches. It's like a roller coaster on an obstacle course.
Around M22, the course flattens out. At M24, the trail gets a little easier, though still single track. And then, boom, there's the finish and it's done.
The downhill section is some of the scariest but also some of the most fun running I get the privilege of doing each year. This is especially true after the miles of uphill. However, after all that uphill and the previous day's "hardest road marathon in the country" (Crater Lake), this downhill really does require supreme focus.
Last year, I had a tough day on this course... a 4:46 after a hard day at Crater Lake the day before. I didn't know what to think about the time, but my legs told me for days afterwards that I had had a tough day. It was also the last race that I would run for several months. The cancer fairy came to visit five days later.
This year, I decided to do the same double. Although I've had a less-than optimal month of training heading into the weekend, I felt fresh... and as my last report showed, I did well at Crater Lake - 21 minutes faster than last year. As I got up on race morning for Haulin Aspen, I wasn't sure if that would carry forward. I felt pretty stiff and my stomach was iffy. There are NO potties on the Haulin Aspen course. So huh.
Two things were working in my favor. For one, the weather was fabulous. It was chilly at the start, but probably 5-10 degrees warmer than last year. By M5 of the race, I was down to the pink singlet. For two, I had run the course before. As with Crater Lake, this information helped me develop a plan. My goals, as with Crater Lake, were 1) (primarily) have fun and finish happy and 2) (secondarily) finish faster than last year. I also had an unstated goal of "don't get hurt"... which, depending on how my legs loosened up, might have taken priority over the others.
My plan was simple - don't attack the hill. Last year, I attacked the up, had a fun time on the first part of the down, but completely fizzled in the last miles. So, I decided to run up the hill conservatively and then if my legs would allow, blow through the downhill. And hopefully... HOPEFULLY... keep a great pace in the last miles.
So how did I do? My potential stomach issues certainly helped me stay conservative going up the hill :-). I had to walk some of the steeper sections, but so did lots of other people. I took the time to soak in the views from the top. I missed these last year.
After refilling my bottle at the top's M14.5 aid station, it was time for the fun. And it was. Down and around, over and ducking under, jumping rocks, ooops-tripping, and onward. I didn't see a lot of other people through here, but at the aid stations I encountered a few. A couple bloody knees and skinned hands. Yikes.
Somewhere in here, I had the first of my two "painful reality checks". And the first one really involved a "check" in the hockey sense. I was flying down a hill when my toes caught a limb on the ground. I tripped forward, but before I could go spread eagle, a tree broke my fall. Or said differently - I went full force into a tree trunk with my shoulder. Ouch.
Onward. Down I went. Last year, the half marathon merged in during this section. The half marathoners were running faster than I was, and last year this was where I ran out of steam. It was very discouraging being passed and passed and passed. This year was different. For one, I wasn't out of steam. I also wonder if they changed the time of the half's start. I was not passed by any faster people at all. In fact, I was passing half marathoners. Hmmm.
On I went, into the flat section. I saw the M24.1 aid station about 100 yards in front of me and I fell again. This time, I did a face plant. Luckily, I found the softest part of the whole course on which to plant my face. It even sounded like WE Coyote when he hits the bottom of the canyon - a sort of "thump/thud/slap/poof". And a dust cloud blew up.
I got mud in my water bottle. Yuck.
Like many trail races, there are no mile markers at Haulin Aspen. The aid stations are the only places where I knew kind of where I was. And even there, the volunteers sometimes had it wrong. I wanted to run the last bit as fast as I could, but I didn't really know how far that would be. I tried anyway. I did run fast, especially compared to last year.
Running. More running. Where was the finish. I kept going. I kept not seeing it.
Finally. There it was, and I was done.
Robert Lopez, Seattle Washington.
No great shakes compared to my regular marathon times, but this is not a regular marathon. 14 minutes better than last year! Combined with the previous day, 35 minutes better for the double. That was pretty good.
On the downside, I fell twice. HARD. The upside was that despite the falls, I felt way WAY better than last year afterwards.
What a fun run. Next year, I probably won't do both Crater Lake and Haulin Aspen. If I get to do one, it'll probably be Haulin Aspen. I surely would like to try the screaming downhill without 40+ previous miles of hard running on the legs. Besides, the logistics of Haulin Aspen are much easier.
Next up? Well, I was supposed to do a new low-key local race this weekend (the Rattlesnake Lake Marathon). Supposed to. The night before the race, I did something way wacky to the top of my left foot. I don't know what. We'll see how running goes this week.
I'm supposed to run the Park City Marathon on Saturday. Last year, I was sitting at the airport waiting to fly to this race and I had to turn around and come home. That's when I learned what being cancer buddy is all about.
It isn't fun.
Last year, I had run 30 marathons at this point.
This year, the number is 34.
Not a big difference, but I'm still in uncharted territory. Lots of emotions are coming up from last year as well. Gulp.