Monday, August 18, 2008

8/10/08 Haulin Aspen Trail Marathon

Haulin Aspen: very fun race with the somewhat goofy name. This is the third year I've run Haulin Aspen (which I'll refer to from here on out as HA). So instead of repeating myself, here is my report from last year. The first few paragraphs discuss the course, so it might be worth a look if you've not read it. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Thanks for coming back.

In both 2006 and 2007, I ran HA as the second day of a double, coupled with the Saturday Crater Lake Marathon. I consider Crater Lake to be the hardest road marathon in the US, so attempting HA one day later has made for a tough weekend. My HA time for 2006 was 4:45, just about an hour slower than a regular marathon in that timeframe. In 2007, I pulled a 4:32 - a huge improvement, though still a little less than an hour slower than my regular marathon time. In the back of my mind both years was the what-if question: What if I ran HA on its own, not part of a double? It seemed like this would make for a more pleasant experience, and I figured I could run something more like 30-45 minutes slower than a regular marathon.

That's what I decided to do this year. As far back as January, I planned on doing the 2008 HA as a single. In my goals for the year, the very last sentence mentions a 4:15 target. Then in May, I accidentally PRed with a 3:28 at Eugene. One of the chain reaction effects of this PR was a new possibility for HA - could I somehow manage a 4:00 finish? Maybe I could.

I made a critical judgment error along the way, though. I decided to run the White River 50 Miler two weeks before HA. I knew White River would be hard, but I figured that two weeks would be enough to get back on track. I did not figure on White River beating me down... nor did I factor in the possibility of injury. Sure enough, I messed up one of my heels running on all the crazy-steep downhills for hours and hours.

I came into HA with a bum foot that had been screwed up by running down hills. And what is the last 12 miles of HA? Yes. A very long downhill. Hmmm.

Nevertheless, I showed up bright and early on race morning. As with the previous two years, the Bend weather did not disappoint: bright blue skies and no wind. It was very cold (38 degrees), just like the past two years. And it was supposed to warm up to 75 during the race, just like the past two years. With all that prior experience on the course and the consistency of the race's weather, I knew how to run, I knew how to deal with nutrition, and I knew how to layer my clothing appropriately. I conveniently forgot about my heel. For awhile, at least.

The early starters went out an hour before the regular start. As we were milling at the starting line waiting for the regular start, some of the early starters showed back up. They had apparently gotten lost. Ooops. This would be a theme later in the day, although I didn't get lost. It's a very hard course on which to get lost, actually. There are only a few places where the runner could turn down the wrong road or trail, and they are all marked well.

Regular start. And we were off. Early on, my heel felt fine. More accurately, my heel didn't really have a feel at all - meaning, I didn't notice any issues. I wasn't feeling especially spry, but I knew that we had a long road UP. I settled in, determined to run as much of the uphill as possible. This meant running the first flat 3 miles conservatively. I did. I fell in with some chatty folks early on. I had no idea if I'd stay near them throughout the day, but I figured that the hill would make them considerably less chatty :-).

The hill. As I recall, in 2006, I charged up this hill way too hard in the early miles. The HA hill starts at M3 and crests at M14. There are a few flats along the way, but it is mostly up... and it gets steeper as it goes. The last mile is an especially grueling set of false summits as the road snakes around the mountain. Anyway, I charged up it in 2006 and specifically recall doing a lot of walking towards the top. 2007 was very different. I mixed in lots of running and walking. For 2008, I wanted to run as much as possible, even if it was slow running.

I was mostly successful. Up I went. Up and up. The aid stations were 2-4 miles apart. I stopped at each station... not a lingering stop like I tend to do at ultras, but certainly a full-on "stop" that I would not do in a road marathon. Aside from that, I ran. Sometimes slowly. Sometimes very slowly. I walked a brief steep section in the middle. I mixed walking and running on the last and steepest section of the hill. I felt great.

The hill crests around M14, and then there's a brief downhill to M14.5. This is the aid station where the course veers off the road and onto technical singletrack for the long trip down. Last year, I hit this aid station around 2:40. This year, by focusing on running as much as possible, I hit the aid station... at 2:42. What the hell? I was quite frustrated by this turn of events! However, this aid station was run by a very nice couple - an American woman and an Australian man who was going over-the-top with the Aussie references. They were both very VERY friendly and offered up encouragement to the steady stream of walkers (most with shell shocked expressions from the hill). I didn't share my frustration about my time with the aid station folks. They made me smile.

And it was time to head down. Just before leaving, I offered up encouragement to the downcast folks who had wandered up behind me. Really fun downhill! Best running ever, anywhere! Great fun!

Now. Let's take a break for a second. As you know if you've read my other reports, I am a terrible downhill trail runner. Absolutely terrible. And usually, I don't like these sections. But there's something about HA. For the most part, the downhill isn't steep enough to scare me. There are only a few true switchbacks. It really is fun, and I really AM sincere in my love for this section. Especially after 14 miles, mostly straight up, to get here. It's great fun!

So I told everyone. And I headed out.

Not 50 yards later... POOF. I was down. Some parts of the trail section are rocky, but a great deal of this trail is nice, soft dirt. I was lucky to superman onto a soft dirt area. Hence, POOF. We always hear that our friends to the north have lots of different words for "snow" because they experience many different types of snow. Similarly, I have different words for "falling during a run".

"Superman" is fairly self-explanatory. This is the face first, full extension, land-horizontally fall.

A fall that kicks up a big cloud of dust is what I call pulling a "pigpen", after the Peanuts character.

I managed a two-fer: a superman with a pigpen landing. 50 yards from the aid station. Right after going on and on about how great this part would be. At least it didn't hurt. I did, unfortunately, get a bunch of mud all over my water bottle.

I got up and started running. I had left that aid station at 2:45. With 12 miles left, I'd have to run 12 miles in 90 minutes to make my 4:15 goal. Even with the downhill, this was highly unlikely in a trail race. Plus I had just fallen. I don't really like falling, and so my brain wanted to be extra cautious (that is, timid and slow). Fooey. I ran fast when I could. I tried to have fun.

I don't think I fell at all in 2006, though I stumbled a lot. I also stumbled in 2007, and fell twice. The first one was further down... probably M16ish... it was one of my more evil falls ever: a "George of the Jungle". This is where you fall full speed, but instead of hitting the ground, a tree catches you. And not in a good way. You fall full speed until the tree catches you by your face or your shoulder ("Watch out for that...ooooo... tree!!!"). That fall hurt. I didn't want to do that this year. My second fall last year was a pigpen at the bottom of the hill at M24.5. Right in front of an aid station. Classic! At least it didn't hurt.

Anyway, I had JUST fallen at M14.5. Lots of time left for more falls. So I sped up until I tripped and stumbled. Then I slowed down. Then I'd try to speed up again. The cycle repeated.

A few people passed me going down the hill. I tried to keep up when someone went by, but it wasn't going to happen.

By M16, my heel let me know that it was unhappy again. The downhill. Ouch.

When I got to the aid station just past M17, I was at 3:12 on the clock. Factoring in the fall, I was pleased with the 27 minutes it had taken me to get here. My foot was not pleased, though. So I lingered longer here than I really wanted to stay. I should have lingered even longer.

About a mile down from that aid station, I fell again. Luckily, it was another pigpen... but this one hurt more than normal. I landed on my shoulder. I broke my water bottle. I think I was a bit dazed because I barely remember much except for moving very very slowly from "prone" to "upright". Onward.

I hit the aid station at M20 around 3:40. I had made quick work, relatively speaking, of the previous three miles. This tells me that I was definitely running quickly, again relatively speaking, when I had fallen. The M20 aid station is where the half marathon course merges with the full. Although most of the half marathoners had long since passed this way, I knew that a few walkers would still be on the course in front of me. Because my water bottle was broken, I drank what I could. The next aid station would be in 4.5 miles, the longest gap on the course. I did not linger. It was 3:41 on the clock.

Off I went. Most of the hill was done by M20, except for a couple rocky, steep switchbacks. I was passed by a few runners on the rocky section, so once again I tried to keep up. I tripped. This is one of the very few places on the course where a fall could put a nasty end to the runner's day. When I tripped, my brain finally took over and said, "no, you are now going to slow down." I gingerly went down the rest of the switchback.

My clock watching had really gotten me down by this point. I had 10k after the M20 aid station. I knew the last few miles were flat. I was tired, my brain was telling me to go slowly, I had no water, my shoulder ached from the fall, and my heel was very unhappy. I figured that it would take me at least an hour to finish. That meant something around a 4:41. Almost ten minutes slower than last year... and no Crater Lake the day before. Booooooo.

After articulating all those things that were wrong with me, I decided just to focus on the next few yards of trail. I ran a few yards, and then another few yards. Etc. For miles. I passed a few walkers along the way, as well as a few full marathoners that had underestimated the course.

Where was the aid station? I figured that I was probably running 10:00 pace, so I started anticipating the final M24.5 aid station at about 4:21. This was where I fell last year, so I also paid particular attention to my footing through here.

It didn't come. Wait. Surely I wasn't running THAT slowly. In fact, I was quite sure that I was getting somewhat close to the finish. But where was the aid station?

It was nowhere. I made a turn, and unexpectedly, I spied the park's parking area out of the corner of my eye. I was nearing the finish. It dawned on me that the aid station was simply MIA. I had actually passed M24.5 long ago.

Finish line. As I approached it, I noticed the clock and my watch. I was at 4:29. Oh my. I tried to get there before the clock flipped to 4:30.

My finish time was 4:30:01. HA. Didn't quite make it.

I was a bundle of mixed emotions at that finish. I still am. I had managed that last 10k in 49 minutes. For me ON TRAILS, that's actually flying. And I had done it with no fluids whatsoever. And my finish time is the fastest HA I've run. All good!

On the other hand, it was only about 2 1/2 minutes faster than last year. Without running Crater Lake the day before. My falls had hurt me. My heel was really hurting. And I spent a lot of that last hour disoriented because of the missing aid station. AND it took me longer to get up the hill this year even though I ran (or thought that I ran) more of it. Hmmm.

I try to find the positives when I can, but overall, I was not satisfied with my race this year. Looking back at my training and my race results, I believe it is the number "50" which has been the issue. I hurt my heel during the White River 50. That affected me for sure. But really my numbers have been off ever since the Watershed Preserve 12-hour race back in May. I was a 3:30-3:40 marathoner before then. Not since. Hmmmm.

I think I'll do a different race next year instead of Haulin Aspen. Maybe Crater Lake as a single. Maybe something else. But I need a break from this one. And until my heel heals :-), I probably need a break from intense stuff in general. Certainly from downhill.

A break, yeah. Next up? Yesterday's Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon, a rail-to-trails point-to-point course that is 26.2 miles of gentle downhill. I'm an idiot.

And that gives you a preview of how I did. Sigh. Check back RealSoonNow for the gory details.

The dictionary definition of gory is "covered or stained with gore; bloody." Indeed!

Incidentally, several of my friends got off course while headed up HA's hill. Apparently, one of the crossroads was not marked as well as usual. I assume I missed this because I'm familiar with the course. Anyway, they got lost. And by the time they got back on course, the organizer was picking up all the course markings thinking that everyone was in. D'oh! Sorry, folks.

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