Sunday, 18 October 2009

Oregonian running - about time too!

After trying to move to the US for a very long time to be with my fiancée, Amy, I finally arrived (on a tourist visa for now, anyway) in September. But I didn't get to my home in Bend, Oregon, until later, after several races and visiting several States.

It's just been voted as the best place to run trails in Outdoor magazine, so should be a perfect place for trail running. Excellent - just the sort of news I wanted just before I arrived, although I already know just how beautiful it is. Snow-capped mountains, forests and great views almost anywhere, even in downtown.

So after a visit to some of Amy's family in Portland and the marathon there (see photo with large crowds of runners on a road, above), I arrived in Bend just in time to join the running community in a local half marathon...on trails, of course.

The Dirty 2nd Half is the sequel to the Dirty Half in June each year. As it was the first year for this 2nd Half, people weren't quite sure what the trail would be like, but the times from the June race included some sub 6-minute milers over the trails.

It was a little out of town at the Seventh Mountain resort and started early on a Sunday in October. After really hot weather for the weeks before, it had cooled down to winter-like temperatures. Well, English winter (a fair bit below freezing).

I only did a short warm up due to the cold then lined up with about 300 others on the trail. All we could see were trees, but the race director told us there would be a climb from about 3 miles and that it's generally a hard course to run fast on, but not too technical apart from a few sections.

Sounded ideal to me, although I'd trained hard during the week to get ready for a marathon at the end of the month. I'd hoped to place well, but Bend has a reputation for having a lot of top class trail and ultra runners so I had no idea of who would turn up (or what they look like). Although I had met one guy, Max King, a top American trail and distance runner (63 minutes in the half marathon certainly impresses me).

Everyone clearly gave Max the nod as the obvious winner and he showed it within 100m by sprinting after the lead mountain bike at about my sprint speed. For the rest of us, there was just open trail ahead as we lost sight of Max after about a mile (he slowed down to a more reasonable 5min/mile pace).

The trails were beautiful, but with my body parts freezing I was focusing on keeping up enough speed to get my internal boilers going. After a few miles I felt cosy, but was also tired. I was just behind 2nd and 3rd and the trail started a steepish uphill climb at the 3 mile mark, just as advertised. The ground wasn't icy, but I slowed down so much I wasn't in much danger of slipping on anything.

We mainly followed a mountain access path but the hill kept on for several miles and went from about 4,000ft to 4,750ft (it's so useful to have the Garmin to tell me how much drop I'd have until the finish). I felt bad and was overtaken by several people, just wanting the climb to stop since my legs weren't fresh enough.

It eventually levelled out at a water station at 7 miles, then went on to a single track path. This was more my sort of thing - varying degrees of downhill on more technical terrain. I started enjoying myself again as the path wound left and right, sometimes ducking under branches.

This kept going for most of the rest of the race, but with a few harsh uphills thrown in. It felt great to be in the wilderness with some slight danger of bears, cougars and the like...but not much danger. I'd done trail marathons in the UK but never a trail half and never in such a pretty forest. In fact, all the trail marathons had only involved sections of forest since we don't have as much of it in England. And since I'd never done a shorter trail race I'd never tried to run really hard on the trails and push the speed up.

It was a mental boost to go at about 5k pace on the trails, even if they were downhill. But the last 3 miles or so were back on the flatish/undulating section, overlapping part of the first 3 miles. I could see 2nd and 3rd again after a long absence from them. But I managed to follow 3rd down the wrong way and add on a quarter of a mile before we both turned back. The guys behind had caught up and 2nd was nowhere to be seen. I didn't care that much since I'd had a fun race and the second half had made up for the pain of the first half. I made one last effort to get into 3rd and managed to hold it to the finish.

1h26m was slower than I'd expected but until mile 7 I was on for my personal worst half marathon time. Max managed 1h14m and won by 10 minutes. But at least it gives the rest of us something to aim for...

A really enjoyable start to living and running in Bend and the organisation was great from the local running shop. I'm really looking forward to more races around here and to meeting a whole new set of runners.

Next race is the Tri Cities marathon in Washington State, where Amy's Mom lives. A completely different type of race, it's a dead flat road race. But having that variety is what makes running so interesting and challenging to me. I wouldn't give up any one type of surface or race and am looking forward to including 100 milers in my regular set of races, almost twice as far as anything I've done before.

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