Yes, it's true. The sisters have reunited again to run another race! This time Susan and I traveled to Bend, Oregon to run the Haulin' Aspen half marathon.
This race is a trail run almost entirely on dirt and gravel paths, many of them single-track. Back in January, when Susan and I signed up for this race, we didn't know that Susan would end up breaking her arm while on a run. Although Susan's arm had healed, I was worried about her running on the rocky trails, falling and hurting herself again. But the plans had been made, the race paid for, so the show must go on!
At the starting line (way early)
There was a forest fire burning in the nearby town of Sisters. Bend had been getting much of the smoke from the fire all week, and the race officials were concerned that the air would be too smoky to breathe, let alone run a race. But by Sunday, the fire was contained, and race day dawned with clear blue skies and nice cool temperatures.
Susan is all smiles before the start
Susan and I parked at Miller Elementary School, the start of the race. We did all of the usual pre-race activities, using the port-a-potty, checking my bag, and then we found a sunny spot to stretch and wait for the start.
The trail widened out about mile 4
The race started on the road into the school. There was probably about 350 or so people lined up across a two-lane road. When the race started, the group of runners ran about 100 yards and then instantly hit a single-track trail. Trying to squeeze all these runners (10 people wide) into a single-file track created an instant bottleneck! The group came to screeching halt, dust was flying, and everyone was jostling for a position onto the trail. Someone in the crowd made mooing sounds (I did kind of feel like I was in a herd of cattle!)
Susan the happy runner
The runners sorted out and continued down the single track mountain bike trail network that paralleled Skyliners Road. There were some beautiful views of Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top and the Three Sisters that I tried to capture in a photo. But it's hard to get a clear photo as you're running down a trail. The course took us through a bunch of small hills and dips that I think the mountain bikers must use as jumps. Interesting to run on that's for sure! All the runners kicked up a lot of dust, and I had to be careful not to open up my mouth too much or I'd get gritty teeth.
Finally at the top of the killer hill!
I'd never run a race on a single-track trail before, and learned a couple of things right away. One - always have your eyes on the ground. There were all kinds of hazards on the trail ready to trip an unsuspecting runner. Two - passing other runners is extremely difficult. When I needed to pass a slower runner, I tried to wait for a wider spot in the trail, and then yelled "on your left." Upon hearing my shout, the runner would try to move out of the way, but sometimes I had to run into the bushes to get around them. We found it difficult to pass people on the single track trail, especially when they were plugged into their ipods and couldn't hear us. My sis had to tap one guy on the back, he was plugged into his music and didn't hear our shouts. Yes, there is a place to use mp3 devices, but I don't think it's while running a race on single track trail.
We ran through this beautiful covered bridge
Around mile four, the trail connected with a gravel road. It was nice to be able to spread out and actually pass people safely. Susan and I were finally able to run side by side. The dust abated a little bit, which was very nice.
We tried to continue our tradition of doing "the wave" at each mile marker. But after mile 4, there were no mile markers to be found. So we had to rely on my trusty Garmin, and did our waves as close to the actual mile as we could (or when I remembered to look at my watch).
Susan waves from the bridge
And then........we hit "the hill." It started out innocently - we began climbing and I thought, "no sweat, I've been running hills every week, we'll be on the top of it around the bend." We climbed about a half mile, rounded a bend and the hill continued! We went a little further, and still we climbed! Up and up and up! Susan took one look and said simply "holy cow!" This hill went on for almost three miles! Almost everyone around us walked at some point, but my sis and ran the whole thing! All I have to say is that my weekly hill training paid off big time. It felt soooo good to pass all the people who were walking (and there were lots of them!)
Views from the bridge
Luckily, the hill (all three miles of it) was on a wide gravel road, so passing was not a problem. Soon after we finally reached the top of the killer hill, we reentered the forest and more single track trail. By then the runners had spread out enough that passing wasn't as much of a problem. We had one nice lady from Seattle catch up to us, and we chatted with her for awhile.
Me running past the bridge
At about mile 10, the courses merged, and we began share the trail with the marathon runners. Boy did they look beat! There were several people that looked like they'd taken a tumble (or two). One lady's white shirt was brown with dirt. Of course, the entire race I was worrying about Susan. I was afraid she'd take a fall and re-injure her arm. Around mile 11, my worst fear happened. Susan hit a tree root and down she went into the bushes! Seeing the look of horror and pain on her face as she fell, I freaked out. Luckily, Susan was carrying a water bottle in her hand, and that kept her from reaching out to catch herself with her arm. Instead, she rolled, and got the wind knocked out of her. But after sitting up and catching her breath, Susan was OK. Big relief!
After regaining her wits, Susan was really angry about falling. She stewed about it for the next mile or so. Later, she referred to mile 11 as her "mad mile." We continued on, looking for the next aid station. It seemed to take a long time before we finally reached it.
We ran on an asphalt road for about a half mile (the only paved road of the race). Then we ran through a very cool covered bridge. I took a bunch of photos, and then had Susan get a couple with me in them. I gave her the camera and ran back towards the bridge for the photo op. One lady thought I was crazy running back in the opposite direction! I was expecting the race photographer to be set up at the bridge (great place for photos), and was disappointed that he wasn't. Good thing Susan and I took some shots!