(warning – this is a super long post but a fun one)
The Thursday before I left for Oregon, my coworker and I were discussing the fact that I was going on a road-trip with two friends (also moms) and how we were headed to do a trail marathon put on by race director and all around ultra-running legend, Hal Koerner. One thing led to another and within minutes the above photo was created and shared on Facebook.
Hal was tagged and my friends laughed. He seems like he has a good easy going personality, so I hoped he didn’t mind. 🙂
First, let’s step back just a bit shall we? How did this all come about? Well, quite a few months ago I decided that in my final year of being 39, I wanted to do races that I have never done and go places and have fun! So I registered for the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon which takes place in Ashland, Oregon and I booked a hotel.
Vans and I have been to Ashland before and we loved it. He told me that he’d go with the kids but that I should really take my friends. So, I did.
Vans tagged us as “the wolfpack” on Facebook and the name has stuck. My girls and I hit the road ready to explore, live and just laugh our bums off!
The drive up was easy. We stopped along the way for photos and rest-stops but we made really good time and were in Ashland with lots of time to explore.
We grabbed our shirts and bibs. We saw that Hal was there but he didn’t seem to “recognize” us from our photoshopped post on Facebook. Whew! Saved (or so I thought).
We walked down the street and had drinks and snacks at Standing Stone Brewing Company. We toasted our weekend freedom and talked about the race.
Then we walked a block or two over to Lithia Park to find the race start and finish area. This park is mind blowing and GORGEOUS!
We wandered the park, taking photos and then came across a little park with THE coolest climbing structure ever.
Stonegate and I couldn’t resist. We had to climb to the top. My kids would love this!
Since we were racing, we made it an early night and grabbed whatever food we all needed and headed back to the hotel to settle in and get ready for the race.
We felt kind of lame going back to our hotel when it was so early but we wanted to be rested for the race.
The race started at 8:00 am which for us, is extremely late. We were sort of thrown by the late start time but realized the next morning that it doesn’t get light out until about 7:45 am. Aaah, now I get it. 🙂
The best part is that we could leave our hotel and walk to the starting area. I love being able to do that.
As usual, we arrived a bit too early and watched as the race directors and volunteers helped put up the starting arch.
We knew this was not a huge race but we also knew that it was filled with mostly Oregon locals. Locals who looked like they could crush this course.
Promptly at 8 am, Hal counted us down and the race started. The first 10 miles are on a partly paved and partly dirt fire road. TEN MILES … UP HILL.
We all started out together and then quickly realized, that NO ONE walks. No one. Everyone was running. Mile 1, mile 2, mile 3 … no one stopped despite the fact that we were climbing some serious hill.
Burning Girl said, “I’ll catch ya later! Good luck!” as she stopped to walk. I must add, that Burning Girl’s farthest run to date had been 12 miles, once. This girl’s life has been hectic to say the least and yet she traveled to Ashland and made a game day decision. She started the race and would see how the day would unfold. Stonegate and I had our fingers crossed for her but to be honest, the odds were against her.
Stonegate and I ran a little further and then she stopped. I kept going but eventually stopped too. Stonegate caught me and we did a run walk combo up that hill. Everyone was looking at us as they ran past but we knew we wanted to be a bit conservative as we still had a lot of climbing to do!
The weather was perfect. All week they had predicted that it would be down pouring rain – first it was for the entire day, then it moved to the second half of the race and then, it wasn’t supposed to rain until late that evening! It was beautiful out. Not too cold. Not too hot.
The fire road was getting a little tedious. It wasn’t ugly but it had this gravel that was just very hard for me to get footing on. I would slide back an inch every so often. The tread on my shoes are also pretty worn so that didn’t help.
Finally we made a sharp right turn onto a single track. I don’t think Stonegate and I could be any happier. The funny thing is, all the people who had ran the fire road, walked the single track. That just made me laugh. I was ready to run at this point!
The trail was well marked and it smelled like pine! It was awesome.
I am not quite sure when it was, I think it was mile 8 or 9, Stonegate told me to go ahead that she needed to walk. So I ran thinking she would catch me eventually. I never saw her again.
I just kept running. I was starting to feel good. My legs were no longer tired from the climb and my lungs felt okay. We had reached the top of the hill and I knew that the rest was just a super flat-ish section until about mile 19 or 20.
There were six aid-stations throughout the course and I just took them one by one. I didn’t really need much as my pack was pretty stocked but the volunteers manning the aid-stations were SUPER nice!
The only downfall with this race is that there is no where, and I mean no where, to pull off to the side of the trail when nature calls. You have a cliff on one side and a wall or mountain of dirt more or less on the other.
This kind of stunk as I had to go twice during the race. Both instances I had to literally climb over a cliff and down an embankment one time and then climb over some downed trees another. That took a lot of time.
Finally I came to the last aid-station at about mile 19.5. I just said hello and was ready to keep running. I almost went the wrong way until they pointed me towards some single track trails. Yes!
It was a short single track that then dumped you onto a short fire road that then led you to Caterpillar Trail. As I understand it from the locals, this trail was newly built and this was the first year the course was running on it.
I hit this trail and it was like a fire had been lit inside me!
I just ran and ran and ran! I felt no pain. I was in heaven. I was smiling ear to ear cheering on runners as I passed them. I think I passed about 10 people on this section of the trail. I had passed about 8 on the fire road the last few miles as well. My energy was strong.
Up, down, up, down the trail was full of little rollers that weaved in and out of trees. There were downward switch backs and tight corners. To your left was a cliff. The trail itself was only a foot or two wide and to your right was a dirt wall. I prayed no mountain bikers were out there (as it turns out, mountain bikers have their own section of caterpillar to ride on that is just for them, how cool!?).
Runners cheered me on as I passed them. Finally at mile 24 I came to this …
I had to laugh and take a photo. Always throwing in stairs for good fun.
Finally the trail dumps you out onto a paved road. After a turn, you realize that you’re on the same road you started the race on and that we only had a mile to go.
I ran hard. I knew the race had a 6 hour cutoff and I had no concept of time. I never once looked at my watch for time. I’d occasionally look at it for mileage when it beeped to see if the mile markers were accurate (they were) but never once did I glance at the time or the pace I was running.
I passed about 4 more runners on this road (they looked like they were hurting). Locals were sitting on their curbs cheering us on! It was so cute.
Then I see the finish arch ahead. I was so happy but then something to my left caught my eye. There was a HUGE buck just standing at the curb, not five feet from me. Four feet from it, was a woman just sitting and cheering.
I looked from the buck to the woman and from the woman to the buck thinking, “Does she not SEE that? Am I imagining this? He is RIGHT there!” I wanted to stop and pull out my camera but I was literally just 30 yards from the finish.
As it turns out, when I did finish, there had been a family of deer to my right as well! Crazy!
I finished in 5 hours even. I apparently snuck past everyone as they had to chase me down to give me my medal and race swag.
I then waited for Stonegate and Burning Girl to finish. I hadn’t heard from either of them throughout the race. The cell coverage was spotty most of the day so that was understandable.
Stonegate finished and was smiling ear to ear. Her time was about 5 hours and 30 minutes and she was feeling good.
We quickly walked down the street to Pioneer Hall where the post-race food was located. Here they gave us growlers!
My very own growler! I was so excited. Stonegate grabbed a burrito. I took a photo of all the local beer being served to send to Vans back home.
Then we went back to the finish area to wait for Burning Girl. Neither one of us had heard from her. I talked to the guy manning the finish area and he said no one had dropped at any of the aid-stations that he was aware of.
Then, we saw Hal, the race director. I wanted a photo so I grabbed Stonegate and we wandered over. We asked if we could have a photo with him.
At first he laughed, then said, “Yea, I think I saw a photo or something Facebook already … that took a lot of work.” 🙂
I assured him that it really didn’t take much! hahaha It was so funny. He truly was a super nice guy and a good sport about it. He shared with us some places where we could go and hang out tonight post race.
All of a sudden, Stonegate gets a text from Burning Girl that she had HIT THE PAVEMENT! She was on her way into the finish! There were 5 runners out there and she was one of them.
Down the hill she came! She looked amazing! She did it! She freaking ran that hard-a$$ marathon with little to no training. Mind over matter she did it! I am so damn proud of that woman. She is one helluva strong runner! Sadly, we did NOT get a post race photo of all of us! Grrr!
But we did stop on our walk back to the hotel at Standing Stone Brewing Company again to fill up our new growlers!
Then it was back to the hotel for a mini celebration and showers. Despite being a little sore and tired, we were anxious to get out and really experience downtown Ashland.
We had drinks, followed by a nice dinner in a great place with locals cheering on the Oregon football team. We told stories of what we all experienced during the run and how we felt at certain points. It was pure bliss.
Alas, we are moms and we were tired so we called it quits pretty early and headed back to the hotel (in the pouring rain). We had our growlers and were eager to get foam rolling! haha
The next morning was day light savings. The time change didn’t really help us, our internal mom clocks had us up the normal time. We grabbed coffee and breakfast from the hotel and went back to pack up and hit the road.
The drive back was good. Again we made it a point to stop at scenic over looks for photos.
We stopped in Redding to visit Burning Girl’s mother-inlaw. She is the sweetest woman. We also stopped in Weed, California to have a little fun – gotta have fun in Weed!
All in all, it was one of the best weekends that I have had in a really long time. I feel truly blessed to have a supportive spouse who encouraged me to go have a weekend with friends and I feel truly lucky to know these two ladies who love to travel, love to run and love to adventure just as much as I do! So thank you Vans and thank you Stonegate and Burning Girl for being the two best adventure pals ever. I love that you are always willing to go on my crazy adventures and destination races.
So the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon was my last trail race in my current age bracket. I have one more race of the season left in December and then I cross the proverbial line into a new age bracket, a new era. So far I have to say that I am not afraid. I am not sad about it. My thirties have been fabulous. I have been so very blessed and so very lucky thus far to have the family, friends and adventures that I have had. This year in particular has been one helluva year for me running wise.
I have met and talked with some outstanding runners and athletes this year and it is all because I love to explore. If my mom’s death taught me one thing (it actually taught me a lot) but most importantly I have learned to live life! There is no telling what tomorrow may bring. So grab life by the horns, and cherish it. Then, let it go and find the next big thing. Make memories (heck make waves if you can). Just do it. And don’t forget to smile.