Read on for my race report and more pictures from my fourth marathon and my first trail marathon – The 2008 Haulin’ Aspen Trail Marathon.
Results: I finished in a time of 3:37:17 – a new PR for the marathon
I was the second place woman
I won first place in my age category (Female 25-30)!
Background: I’ve been working hard the past two months to get my training to the next level. I invested in a pair of trail shoes a few months back, joined a running club, purchased a Garmin Foreunner 405 and stared running hills like I loved them.
When I signed up for this marathon I thought, Why not? It’s in August and I have plenty of time to train. But somehow July slipped by so quickly that before I knew it the marathon was only a few weeks away. I went into the race with lots of anxiety. Sure, I had run 26.2 before, but never on the trails, never with a 2500-foot elevation climb and never with a 7-mile ascent that was sure to make Heartbreak Hill at The Boston Marathon look like a lump.
Pre-Race Prep: I arrived in Central Oregon on Friday night and met my parents at the hotel. I am incredibly lucky to have such loving parents. They decided to drive from Northern California to be there to support me before/during and after the race. We spent the evening catching up, and visiting with them did much to relieve pre-race tension and stress.
Day Before the Race: Breakfast first! Eggs, sausage, fresh fruit, lots of coffee and lots of water. Later my mom helped me chase away pre-race jitters with some retail therapy. Later we met my dad for lunch: gigantic salad topped with walnuts, smoked salmon and pears. Lots of water. Lots of chit-chat. Beautiful view of the river.
That afternoon I picked up my race packet and rejoiced when I discovered that the t-shirt was not only a cute technical tee, but it was also sized for women. Hurray!
Snack: Cold grilled chicken from a deli. An apple. Some dried fruit. More water.
Night Before: Pasta loading is not an ideal pre-race dinner for me. Instead I nuked a gigantic bag of frozen veggies in the microwave and topped it with kippers. I drank lots of water and ate some raisins and rice crackers while I organized my race bag.
3:45 AM: I am in bed watching the red lights glow on the digital clock. The alarm will go off in 15 minutes and I wait impatiently for the numbers to change… It’s race day. I’ve not slept well.
4:00 AM: It’s all about the pre-race rituals. I shower and shave my legs. I blow dry my hair and check to make sure all my race clothes are in order. Are these the right socks? Do I have a back up pair of shorts? Where is the BodyGlide? Where is my bib number? I put on my lucky earrings, change into sweats and head out to the hotel parking lot where I run about 800 meters in short wind sprints. It’s like saying, “Good Morning, Legs! I hope you slept well even if I didn’t. We’re about to embark on a gigantic adventure so I hope you’re ready.” The wind sprints did their job. I feel like a zillion bucks!
4:45 AM: Breakfast time. I make some coffee, heat up some brown rice and mix in kippers. What? Does the thought of rice and canned fish for breakfast sound strange? Make fun if you’d like, but for me it’s the perfect combo of simple carbs, protein, fat and salt. It’s easy to fix, cheap and does the trick. I am fueled but not weighed down. Energized but not queasy.
5:15 AM: Depart for the race venue. A veneer of calm is spread tightly over a rolling sea of nervousness. Why? Why? Why am I doing this?
6:00 AM: One hour to racetime. It is REALLY REALLY COLD! I am in the high desert of Central Oregon which makes for cold mornings that heat up quickly. I’ve underestimated just how cold it is! Brrrrr. Think warm thoughts.
6:30 AM: Other marathoners are milling around the start area, shivering and exchanging small talk about the cold. I notice a large contingency of Marathon Maniacs. Men and women are sporting ankle tattoos, gaiters, fuel vests and other little signs that make me feel like I’m a poseur among super extreme athletes. What am I doing here, I wonder and immediately head for the porta-potties.
6:45 AM: Last minute prep. The approximate 130 marathoners make their way to the start area. I tuck an inspirational note that I’ve written to myself into the strap of my hand-held water bottle. I eat my first GU, strip off my sweatshirt and shiver in my singlet and shorts. I am torn between wanting the race to start and wanting the race to never ever ever start. My thoughts are simple, “I am about to run 26.2 miles. That is soooo far.” “When did I think this was a good idea?”
The Race Starts
7:00 AM: The start is unlike any race I’ve experienced in the past. We’re lined up loosely. No crowding or pace setting. The race director makes a few jokes, we all laugh nervously, we do a countdown and then we’re off. No chip. No timing mat. No gun. There aren’t enough people to bother with that. We are a compact group of cold looking individuals running in shorts in the early morning. I think we must look a little silly. In any case, we’re off. Just like that… only 26.2 miles until the finish line!
Mile 1- 3: I quickly discover there are no mile markers on the course. The asphalt access road we started on switches to a wide single track that winds back to the staging area. I am cold. I can’t feel my feet or fingers. My legs feel stiff. We pass by the first aid station. I reach out for water, but the aid station is so small I miss the volunteer’s Dixie cup and I’m past it in seconds. I am thankful that I brought along my hand-held water bottle and take a quick swig.
Mile 4-5: We leave the staging area next to the river and start to climb gently toward the ridge and the warmth of the rising sun. I am forced to stop and tie my shoe and the three guys I was running with quickly move ahead.
Aid Station Two: The front-runners have disappeared like gazelles. The handwritten sign on the aid station says Mile 5.1 but Phil (my Garmin) disagrees by more than a quarter mile. I decide not to pay attention to Phil’s distance calculation. If the sign says 5.1 miles I’ll believe that. I take my first GU and remind myself to take it easy despite how great I feel. There is a lot of climbing left to do.
Mile 6: The road – it’s not really a road, more like a loose gravely track with lots of rocks and shale – begins to climb in earnest. I throw back my shoulders and shorten my stride. Run in the present, I think.
Aid Station Three: I catch up to a runner and we move through the aid station. I take a GU and realize I’ve dropped my inspirational note. I dash back to pick it up.
Mile 8-11: I pass a runner or two somewhere, but mostly I am alone. I know I am somewhere on a 7-mile hill that gets steeper as it goes. I spy a runner ahead of me. Maybe I can reach him, I think… I begin repeating my hill-running mantra: “Run Perky, Perky, Perky!”
Somewhere around mile 12: The hill/mountain gets serious. The road continues to climb and it becomes a series of false, soul-breaking summits. I see to the top of the hill and think, I only have to get there… and when I do crest the section, I am rewarded with yet more climbing. Perky, perky, perky! The runner ahead of me, way in the distance, is walking and so is the runner in front of him. It’s trail marathon peer pressure. If they’re walking maybe I should too– but I decline respectfully, shorten my stride even more, throw my shoulders back, smile and say out loud, “Perky! Heather, Perky Perky Perky!!”
Mile 13 or so: I feel like I’m moving backwards. I feel like my stride is microscopic. But I’ve just passed another runner! “Wow, this hill is never-ending” I say to him as I run slowly past.
Mile 14: I slow to walk and take a swig of water, but then all of a sudden I spy an aid station just around the bend. Hurray! I am saved. The people manning the aid station are pros- they ask me if I want my water bottle refilled. I nod yes. They hand me a GU- already open – they fill the bottle, they point me to a single-track hidden on the right and tell me to run down hill to the finish line. Hurray! I’ve just beaten the 2500-foot, 7-mile climb! Hurray! I am dimly aware that I still have 12 disgustingly long miles to run, but I am a rockstar…I can do this!
Five minutes later: I am sprawled on the ground. The single track is very twisty, very rocky, very fast. I am bombing down the hill with a grin. I misstep, trip on a root and fall clumsily into some soft powdery dust (Faceplant #1) I get up quickly. The fall was painless but I scale it back a notch. I realize that continuing so fast is a recipe for disaster. The wall is out there lurking somewhere.
15 minutes later: A rock. Semi-fatigued legs. I trip again (Faceplant # 2) this one hurts a little and I take 30 seconds to walk, drink some water, and gather myself before starting again.
Around Mile 15-16: I am nauseated. Sick in my stomach. I’ve just caught up with a Portland runner I know and am very surprised. He’s a strong competitor and I can only imagine he’s having an unusually bad race. “I’m hanging on by a thread!” he says. I want to say “I think I’m going to be sick” but I realize that if I say the words I am sure I actually will be sick. No need to say it…I just continue on… My thoughts are simple: Try not to throw up. Try not to trip.
Aid Station: I eat a GU despite my swirly stomach. I eventually pass my Portland acquaintance and two other runners in the next section. I am surprised at how good I feel given the hill, but I feel like the wheels are starting to come off. I have no idea how far we’ve gone. Is it 17 or 19. Or 18 miles? Phil tells me it’s been 18:75 miles but I don’t believe it… no way.
The rocky decent into hell: Rocks, roots and divets in the trail demand all my concentration. I try to celebrate the small accomplishments. I’ve remained faceplant-free for several miles. Hurray! I’m not throwing up yet. Hurray! I’m still alive! Hurray! I glance at my watch every so often but the numbers don’t give me much information. 2:45 minutes, I’ve been running. OK. But what I really want to know is when I’m going to be finished.
Mile 20/Aid Station: “Water? GU? Gatorade?” one of the volunteers ask. I don’t remember if I took something or kept on trucking. My mental capacity is approaching zero. The 1/2 marathon race converges at the aid station and all of sudden there are many runners spread out on the single track. I welcome the company, but I’m moving faster, so I have to negociate passing on a single track. Mostly the runners are nice, “Hey, great job, I’m going to pass you on your left,” I say. The runners move to the right and I say thanks in return. What’s the proper etiquiette in that situation anyway?
Somewhere around Mile 21: I trip and fall hard. I do it superman style, with my arms stretched out in front of me and bang my knee pretty badly. A couple slows to ask if I’m OK. I get up and start walking, “I wish I could say that was the first time this has happened to today,” I say with a laugh. It takes me minute to walk off the fall. I am filthy. I am tired. I am falling apart.
Later: Scrapping the bottom…I pass more and more runners and the trail starts to even out. I keep expecting to see another aid station but nothing appears. I figure my pace, whatever it was, fell off when I fell down.
A few minutes later: I keep passing ½ marathoners and I feel like I’m approaching the finish line but I don’t believe it. We pass the covered bridge that we ran in the first section of the race. I recognize the asphalt road. They would at least have sign at the last mile of the race, right? But there is no sign. There is just more trail. I feel panicky. Do I go faster? I could, but for how much longer? Finally I breakdown and ask a guy running the ½ marathon, “do you know how much longer we have to run?” Less than a mile he says and of course I don’t believe him. I pick up my pace a bit, just in case.
Mile 25+: I am consumed by the thought of finishing. Then I hear a faint “wooo wooo.” It’s the sound of my mom! The woo-wooing gets louder and louder. And then all of sudden I spy my parents and their sign. I am exhausted and filled with emotion. Just seeing them and knowing I must be close to the finish. They spot me and go crazy!!
“WOooooooWoWOOOOOO!!! Goooooo Heather. Chugggaaa Chugga WoWOOooo!”
“How much farther?” I gasp.
“Less than a quarter mile,” my mom yells.
I push forward as hard as I can. My mom continues to yell “WOOoooooo! Heather! WOOoooooo.” There are tears in my eyes. I am gasping. I am pumping my legs. I want to cry. There are no banners. There aren’t the thousands of spectators that line Boylston Street in Boston, but I run the last few hundred meters like it is. I am going to do this. I am doing this! I am overwhelmed. I keep running and gasping and then all of a sudden the finish line appears.
Mile 26.2: I sprint, or do a quasi-impression of a sprint to the finish line. Once I’m past the line it hits me –I’m finished! I gasp. I cry. I hunch over. I grab my shaking knees and suck in air as I sob.
Post Race: I leave the chutes. All of sudden I look at my watch and stop the timer. It says 3:38…. I am astounded. I look again and realize that it’s been a least a minute since I crossed the finish line. I am in shock! 3:37 !!! ?? No way!
Official Time: 3:37:17. New PR by 40 seconds!