Monday, August 13, 2012

Haulin' Aspen X 3

They say the third time's a charm.  Maybe that's true for other things, but I don't think it works for running races.  This was my third straight year finishing the Haulin' Aspen Half Marathon, and let me tell you, it doesn't get any easier.

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger image.

Starting line Mt. Bachelor view

This race is hands-down the toughest half I run.  The course is almost entirely on gravel roads, hiking, or mountain biking trails on the outskirts of Bend, OR.  Running on rocky, uneven surfaces is difficult.  One must be super-vigilant and watch their footing to avoid taking a tumble.  The weather is usually hot and the trails dusty.  Then there is the hill.  Ah yes, the "Hill from Hell."  Two and a half miles of climbing up a shadeless gravel road.

Gettin' ready to race in the hot sun

So why do I keep coming back?  Well, I like a challenge.  It's a great excuse to visit Bend in the summertime.  The swag is great - usually a hat and nice t-shirt.  And the post-race refreshments are amazing.  Lots of good food, and all the Deschutes beer you can drink!  (Did I mention there was beer?)

Mile four marker

Sunday's weather promised nice hot temps.  Our summer so far had been unseasonably cool, so I wasn't at all thrilled to be running in the heat.  Upon hearing the forecast, I pondered picking up my t-shirt and bagging out of the race.  But I'm not one to waste good money.  Or miss the opportunity to sweat in the dust and sun.  Besides, remember I said there was beer at the finish line?  In order to get the beer, you had to run the race.

We begin the "Hill from Hell"

It was already baking in the sun just before the race's 8:30 am start.  Bend is a huge outdoor sports town, and at the starting line I was surrounded by tons of super-fit hardbodied people - some quite a bit older than me.  Yes, mighty intimidating to this chunky, late-40's mom!  I was feeling tired from my hike the day before, and the heat was already zapping my energy.  As I lined up with the other runners, I wasn't feeling much excitement for this race. 

A couch - just in case you needed a break

But off we went - across the road and smack into the mountain biking trails.  The pounding from hundreds of feet made the dust fly.   I tried to keep my mouth shut, but when you're gasping for breath that's hard to do.  I didn't take long for grit to accumulate between my teeth.


Nice lady in red scooter cheering the runners

I'd long ago considered today's race to be my weekly marathon training long run.  So I gave myself permission to run at a slower pace.  It was a good thing, because right away I wasn't feelin' the urge to race at all.  Dogging along the dusty trail, I was passed by dozens of runners.  This wasn't always a bad thing.  I got passed by a couple of shirtless guys (nice eye candy!)  Focusing on the nice scenery (ahem, and I don't mean the trees) got me through the next couple of miles.

My brother caught me near mile 12

After four miles of dusty bike trails, the course emptied out onto a wide gravel road.  The runners were able to spread out, just in time for the killer hill.  And what a  hill it is!  Over two miles of solid climbing.  The past two times running this race I'd prided myself with running up the entire thing, no stopping.  But last year it about did me in, so today I decided there was no shame in walking.  Especially since the hill is almost entirely in the sun.


Headin' to the finish

Up I struggled.  About halfway, I spied an old couch on the side of the road.  Funny to see out in the middle of nowhere. Guess that was for any runner that needed a break!  Near the top of the steepest incline, a nice lady with a red scooter was ringing a cowbell and offering encouragement.  Much appreciated!

Around mile 5.5, in the throes of the heat and hill climbing, I thought to myself "This sucks!  What was I thinking?  Why do I run this race?  I'm not doing this again next year!"  (The very same things I muttered while running this hill last year)

Yahoo!  I survived!

After a few walk breaks, and running the absolute slowest pace ever, I finally reached the summit of "Hill from Hell."  Back on more trails, I was happy to see things were all downhill.  After sucking down a Gu near mile 8.5, I suddenly got a second wind.  Don't know if it was the wonderful downgrade or if my body finally woke up, but my groove came back in a big way.  I felt as if my feet had sprouted wings.  My pace increased and I screamed down the dusty path.  Now it was my turn to pass people.  And pass I did!


A well-earned medal

My competitive spirit restored, the rest of the race I concentrated on holding a fast pace.  Near mile 12, I burst out of the forest and onto Shevlin Park's access road.  I heard someone calling my name and looked up to see my brother Dale behind the lens of a camera.  So wonderful to see him!

Trail running = dirty legs & feet

I motored down the access road, the only pavement on the course.  It felt really weird to be running on asphalt again.  I passed a few more struggling people who seemed to be withering in the heat.  But I knew the faster I ran, the quicker I'd finish, and the faster I'd get that beer!  And about then I was mighty thirsty.

Jumping in the icy waters of Tumalo Creek

The final half mile of the course wound through Shevlin Park itself.  I kept hearing people cheering and many times thought the finish line was just around the bend.  The last 0.1 mile was the longest of my life!  But finally there it was, the finish arch.  I willed my legs to give a final burst of speed and crossed the timing mats.  Done!

Dale was there to congratulate me. After sucking down lots of water, I ambled over to the beer tent to retrieve my reward. And then I followed many other runners into the icy waters of Tumalo Creek to cool off my poor aching feet. The combination of beer and cold water did wonders to revive my tired body. 

I feel much better now!

I survived yet another running of the Haulin' Aspen.  Although my time was slower than last year's, I blame the heat and my hike the day before.  Will I run this race again?  Ask me again next spring when I've forgotten all about the hot sun and killer hill!

After spending the rest of the afternoon sprawled on the coach at Dale's house watching the Olympics, (those women marathoners were incredible - they ran the full as fast as I ran my half!) I recovered enough for one final hike on my way home the next day.  Be sure not to miss my next post, the most wonderful trail in my great Central Oregon weekend.



  1. Love this report! You did great! The couch was too funny - loved seeing things like that in Oregon since you just never know what sort of household furniture (or appliance) you might find on the side of the road here in Tennessee. LOL! Can't wait to read about your last hike.

  2. Good job, Linda! Loved the couch! Reading posts like this inspire me to get off my duff and get moving! :)

  3. Great job Linda! I am SO impressed with you. I couldn't run that to save my soul. You are one tough cookie yourself!

  4. Oh my goodness - what a race! Half marathons here in Illinois are pretty boring road races. I am not one for heat though; with my fair skin...I just have to avoid hot summer days. I am very impressed - great job!

    My husband's retired boss moved to Bend a few years ago and we would like to visit him. I guess we will have to go...and coordinate with this race because my husband would love it!

  5. LOVE the dirty feet photo :)

    Sounds like an awesome race!

  6. looks like a fun race trails are a challenge but fun too. bend has become a favorite place for me. have you run the pac crest half marathon race that is near bend in sunriver? I LOVED that race had my best pr time so far too.

  7. This run sounds so difficult. What an accomplishment! Running on gravel does sound very hard. Good for you girl!

  8. Way to go Linda!! You're such a BAMR!


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