The road home.
Finishing and glad about it.
Finishing and glad about it.
Spot the great outfit on the right behind me.
That outfit again...
My support crew of Amy and the pups.
Another weekend, another marathon. I told myself I'd cut back when I moved to the US so I'd have some time to train when not exhausted. And that's still the plan but I couldn't miss the opportunity to go to the US Trail Marathon Championships at the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon - it is in Oregon and (just) driveable after all.
I'd heard from the guys who'd been 1st and 2nd the previous year and there was a helpful profile on the website so I knew it was a tough course with 3,700ft of climb which was almost all in the first eight miles. Then a flatter section and about eight miles downhill. In fact it was just the last six which went down noticably, but I only found that out later.
Sounded like a good challenge and I wanted to see how fast some of the best US guys are as well as some great scenery in a beautiful part of the country. The fact that the race director is Hal Koener (winner of the last two Western States 100 races) was also a draw.
On race day the weather was about as good as could be expected in November, above freezing with intermittent rain. 150 runners lined up, including Max King who leads coaching sessions in Bend and makes me ache every Tuesday evening. He'd run New York six days earlier and got 2:19 after keeping it to 5 minute miling for 20 miles, but was still the favourite.
I also bumped into Scott Dunlap, a prolific ultra blogger, who I'd met in the bus queue at the Boston marathon earlier that year. Even the US can feel small within the ultra community, but I wasn't quite on first name terms with everyone...yet (give me a few years on the scene and I'm sure I'll get to know the guys who turn up to everything).
So the course started on road and was gently uphill for a mile before hitting fire access roads into the mountains. I went off in 6th behind the lead group but my legs felt tired within quarter of a mile and I slowed down. I later found out that my heart rate monitor peaked at 238 with an average of 201 for that first mile before dropping down to an average of well under 160 for the rest of the race. So either my heart exploded or the HRM wasn't fitted quite right for a mile. My previous highest is 184 in the sprint off at the end of a mile race, so it's a tad unlikely I could raise my beats by 50/minute.
Over the next few miles I dropped back into 20th and felt like I'd need a walking break after less than three miles. Not a good sign, but I felt fatigued from the marathon PB and surprisingly hard effort in the half the weekend before. Or maybe it's just because of trying too hard at the start, but it didn't feel like my heart was working excessively near the start.
The trail kept going up relentlessly and I got a drink at the aid station at mile five, to give me a mini walking break. The trails were enclosed by fir trees the whole way and it made for a good atmosphere with the mist which started to feature as I got closer to the highest point of around 4,900ft.
It wasn't a technical trail although there were some sections of single track. Lots of fun to run on downhill, but I found the uphills a real effort so need to get some hill training in over the next few months...especially if I get a place in the Western States 100 from the lottery in December.
The top section was undulating but at least it was possible to run properly on it rather than a slow jog on the way up. I knew that it would be a really bad run if I didn't do a big negative split, given the profile, but I wasn't sure how much time I'd gain back in the second half. My Garmin went in and out of reception with the trees but it was clear that the mile markers were a bit short, so I went through halfway in about 1h41m but it was certainly short by a couple of minutes. There was some light rain and more mist along the middle section of the race but I was wearing a couple of layers, a hat and gloves so was snug.
I'd barely seen anyone since about mile 4, but had overtaken a handful of people. I was cruising nicely along the top section at close to normal marathon pace but I couldn't wait for the downhill as there was almost 3,000ft to drop and not a long distance to do it in.
As I went past 18 miles I expected to see the slope going down but it still stayed at almost the peak altitude. Only after a water station just after the 20 mile marker (still about the same amount short as at 13 miles, so those middle miles were marked right) did the trail head down. There was a left turn going steeply downhill, reminding me slightly of the latter days of the Trans Alpine race. It looked very cool as the mist covered the trail so I ran straight into a spooky-looking section.
I'd passed a few more people and was hoping to at least get into the top 10 by the end after getting to around 13th before the downhill. I felt strong so was able to really let myself go and fly downhill. I'm always much happier going downhill so I expected to have a fun second half to the race and to catch up a few positions.
I only saw about two more mile markers but had an idea of where I was from my Garmin. I knocked out a 5-minute mile before getting to the one remaining uphill section, for just a half mile. In true McDonald's style I was definitely lovin' it (sorry for the bad pun) and kept approaching guys ahead of me and catching them almost immediately after seeing them in the distance.
Having not seen a mile marker since about number 22 I couldn't be certain where I was but I'd left myself about 26 minutes to do the last 4.2 miles and was going well below 6-minute mile pace, so I expected to be comfortably below three hours. However, when I got to the turn back on to the asphalt road from the start for the last mile and a bit, I knew that the last 4.2 miles would be around half a mile long. That made it a real issue to break three hours and was a bit demoralising after being so certain I was comfortably below that time.
Within that last mile I saw one more runner ahead but he had 200m on me and I didn't think I had a chance of catching him. But I was trying so hard to get that finish time have a two at the start that I knocked out a 4:58 last mile according to GPS (with the help of a little downhill) and ended up 14 seconds ahead of that runner, but just over the target in 3h00m36s. It was slightly long in total which wouldn't normally be an issue for a trail race, but those mile markers had really screwed with my mental calculations.
The first eight miles hadn't been fun for me but the remainder was a great training run with a lot of hard-pushed miles. I squeezed into the top 10 with 8th place, which wouldn't have been a success in my mind prior to the race, but after feeling the tiredness in my legs it was really satisfying. And, allowing for the mile markers being slightly out, I got the most negative splits I've ever run - 1:43 and 1:17.
A really challenging course and some great performances from guys from all over the US. Max King did indeed win, in 2h40m (a course record). Pretty scenery too, although the mist and light rain meant I couldn't see as far over the forests as on a clear day.
Next race is the Seattle marathon at the end of November and I've decided to run as Elvis to get back the silly Guinness World Record for fastest Elvis. Someone recently took the 'title' away from me with a 2h49m run so I think it'd be fun to get it down to about 2h40m. Hopefully that'll be a tough one to beat, although I'd had it for two years with 2h52m. I might even run as Spiderman again within the next year or so to get back the fastest superhero record which was snatched away a few months ago with a 2h43m run...ok, I know they're both weird records but it adds some funky variety to the road marathons. Not every road marathon can be a PB attempt so these records add a fun challenge and the crowds go wild for it. I'd recommend it to anyone, but not to guys who are faster than me :)