Thursday, August 11, 2011

Haulin' Aspen Half

Last August I ran the Haulin' Aspen Half Marathon with my sis.  This race quickly became one of my favorites.  The HA takes place on the trail network just outside of Bend.  The course was challenging but beautiful, and the post-race goodies were the absolute best.  They gave out a great t-shirt (which is always a determining factor when choosing which races to run).  And I love the event's name!  When registration opened for this year's race, I signed up right away.

2011 HA race swag

It's been a busy summer, and I must admit I didn't get in the amount of training required to race a half marathon, especially one run on a trail.  And we've had a cooler than usual summer that didn't offer many chances to train in the heat.  All this lack of preparation came back to bite me in the hiney on race day!

Mt. Bachelor view from the starting line

But I was excited to travel to Bend and run the course again.  Race day came, sunny and warm.  I made my way to Miller School, the starting area, and mingled with the crowd.  While waiting for the race to begin, I struck up a conversation with a nice lady named Mary.  We compared notes on races we'd run and training strategies. Mary then asked if she could run with me.  Since I was by myself (no sister this year) I was more than happy to have a companion.

Ready to run!

The race started off the same way as last year.  We lined up in the school driveway and headed toward the trail network, a very short distance across the street.  The mob of 350-some runners all hit the single track trail at nearly the same time creating a huge bottleneck.  Bodies came to a screeching halt, dust flew, and I again heard someone making mooing noises.  Some things never change!

The views in mile one

But the runners managed to sort themselves out, and soon we were all running along a dusty mountain bike trail.  The forest clearings offered great views of Mt. Bachelor, the Three Sisters, and Broken Top Mountain.  The path dipped and humped up, and I realized we were traversing a bunch of mountain bike jumps.  We got a little obstacle course thrown in with our trail run!

The course wound through mtn bike jumps

This year's participants were a really polite bunch.  If you needed to pass, the person in front would always move over to let you by.  And people trying to pass were really good about letting you know their intentions ahead of time.  With all the feet churning up the dirt trail, dust was thick.  Someone made a joke that you could avoid the dust if you just ran faster than everyone else.

Single-file runners

Mary and I stuck together through the first few miles.  She ran a good pace, and pushed me to run a little faster than usual.  Since I'm a slow starter this was what I needed.  The trail began to get rocky, and we called out warnings to the people behind us when we spotted potential trip hazards.  Even with our eagle-eyes, my foot managed to find an unseen rock and down I went, hands first into the dirt.  Afraid of being run over by the people behind me, I popped up quickly.  No damage done, just a couple of dusty hands.  I continued on, glad I'd gotten my fall out of the way early.

My race companion Mary

Mary, like me, carried a camera with her.  We came to a gravel road where we could run side-by-side.  Our cameras came out, and we tried to take photos of each other.  A nice man happened to be running by and saw our self-portrait attempts.  He asked for Mary's camera, and then snapped a photo of us running together.  Thank you kind stranger!

Photo of Mary and I taken by a nice fellow runner

And then at mile four, we hit the killer hill.  Mary knew she'd slow down, and urged me to continue on without her.  I bid her goodbye and good race.  Then I put my head down and concentrated on getting myself up the long climb.

That hill was brutal!  Not only was it 2 1/2 miles long, most of it was in the sun.  And about that time the temps started to get hot.  My lack of training began to manifest itself.  I managed to run up the entire hill without walking, but paid dearly for it.  When I finally reached the top, my energy was gone.  I shuffled along, gasping and sweating.  I finally stopped and sucked down a Gu packet, hoping that would refuel my body.  I couldn't poop out yet - there was still a lot of race left.

I thought the "slow" sign was ironic

After the big climb, the course was pretty much downhill.  But it was by no means a cake walk.  By that point, I was tired, and began to feel a sideache coming on.  The runners wound through a sage brushy forest, and I began to be passed by some of the faster marathoners.  About mile 8-ish there was a group of people standing by the trail ringing cowbells and shouting encouragement.  Boy was that appreciated!  Since the course was almost entirely on forest trails, there wasn't many spectators.  It was really nice of those people to trek all the way into the boonies to cheer on us runners.

Right after I finished

The trail wound down the side of a canyon.  Miles 8 through 12 seemed to take forever.  I was hot and tired and not feeling my best.  Wanting to be done, I pushed my pace as fast as I could without bringing on a full-fledged sideache.  I started to pick off and pass some of the runners ahead of me.  I charged down the hill into Shevlin Park past a small crowd of cheering spectators.  After a quick drink at the last aid station, I began my final surge to the finish line.

Showing off my trail dirt

I ran down the road into Shevlin park - the only paved portion of the course.  I got a laugh from the "slow" sign on the side of the road and attempted to snap a picture.  Then I was crossing the covered bridge, and knew there was only a half mile to go.  Time to put the hammer down and finish this thing!  As I passed a lady, I told her "think of the beer!"  She replied "a margarita sounds good right now."

Enjoying a finish line brewski

I spent the last half mile thinking of nothing but the nice cold beer waiting for me at the finish.  It was good motivation.  The finish line seemed like it would never come, but finally I began to see spectators lining the course, and there ahead was the arch.  My brother Dale was waiting for me, ready with the camera.  But I finished in a knot of four people, and he couldn't get a clear shot of me.  I did remember to shut off my watch, and was happy to see my time was 15 minutes faster than last year's.  It was definitely not my fastest half, but considering the course and my lack of training, I was happy with my efforts.  And later on I learned that I placed 4th in my age group!  Woo-hoo!

Mary and I reunite at the finish

After downing some water, I headed straight for the beer and food.  The post-race goodies were awesome again this year.  In addition to Deschutes Brewery beer, the race organizers provided tons of fruit, yummy brownies, and delicious burrito bowls.  Nothing has ever tasted so good!  All the great food helped revive my thrashed body.

I saw Mary in the crowd and found out she'd finished not far behind me.  I met her family, we posed for a couple of photos, and made plans to meet up at the Holiday Half in December. 

Even though this race is the toughest half I've run, (especially this year!) I still had a great time.  Maybe it's the hiker in me, but I really like trail running.  I'm already planning to be back next year.  This time I'm going to train hard - and kick that hill's butt!


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