Clearly the Haulin Aspen half marathon I completed on Sunday was my slowest time ever, but honestly I could care less. Let me clarify - when I say that the finish time didn't concern me at all I could give you a bunch of excuses (the challenge of my first trail course, the jet-lag from a flight from the east coast, the fried oreos I ate the day before at a county fair, the altitude difference from D.C., the fact that I slept in a tent in a stranger's backyard the night before, etc), but that's not really what I mean. What I mean is that this race was not about time - it was about getting lost in the race experience; really letting yourself just enjoy the beauty of nature and be immersed in the accomplishment of taking your body 13 miles on foot.
|Are fried Oreos on the approved carbo-loading list? Please say yes.|
For some reason I didn't prepare for this race nearly as much as other races. Usually I'm extremely organized and knowledgeable about a race, but not this one. Maybe it was the excitement of my first vacation to the west coast that took away from my concentration, but nonetheless this race demanded a level of respect that I really didn't give it. I read the description of the race course the night before and it informed me that there was 699 feet of elevation gain and 899 feet of elevation loss.
When I got to the start line and saw almost every runner wearing a Nathan belt or Camelback, I got nervous. I was the genius who packed my bag the night before my flight while drunk and forgot my Nathan belt. I also noticed people wearing gaiters around their running shoes. For the first time in a long while I really felt out of my element at a race. It reminded me how as runners we should always congratulate and support a friend who signs up for his/her first race no matter how long the distance - races can be scary and overwhelming for newbies, and for good reason. At the start line my cousin stood among a few other spectators and said to me "this is like a whole other culture, a different world" and it's true. I love this running world I'm in.
|I love races so much that I don't even mind if guys next to me blow snot rockets at the start line. psych.|
When the race started I almost immediately turned off my music. That was no road race, folks. I quickly realized that along with the mental toughness you need to cross any finish line, trail races also demand a concentration that is crucial to the safety of yourself and other runners. "Keep your eyes and ears wide open," as my mom would say. Within 2 miles I saw 3 people face plant into dirt. No lie. They tripped over roots, rocks, stumps, and just ate it. I was instantly terrified for myself and my unstable little ankles.
|This is what trail concentration looks like...I never said it was a pretty sport!|
I'm not sure if all trail races are like this, but on the Haulin Aspen course much of it was single-track (essentially no room to pass anyone). It's a little chaotic to start off like that without corrals because people are just trying to fall into their own paces. The entire first half of the race was uphill. Not uphill like "gentle incline of 1% on a treadmill," but more like, "here's a mountain. good luck."
Once the crowd thins out and you are amongst people of a similar pace it's quite motivational. A lot of maintaining your pace is simply for logistical reasons. It's amazing how long you can go without walking when walking means you either jump off the path into some prickly bush or you get trampled by the people behind you. Once we got out of the woods I walked quite a bit, (hence the 2:40 finish) as my knees, hips, and lungs were starting to yell at me. The elevation change during the race and the fact that I'm not used to altitudes like that was no joke. I remember thinking "my god if you could see my lungs right now I bet they would look like shriveled little boiled peanuts. I'M SO WINDED." We headed back into the woods and then came the glorious downhill when the ridiculously fit full marathoners merged on to our trail (and flew past us). The next few miles were eerily tranquil - I mean there was that one point where I had to jump over a giant rock and almost slid down a mountain, but other than that it was quite peaceful.
As far as the eye could see it was forest. I had no idea what my pace was, how long I'd been running, what mile I was on, or where in the forest I was. I think that might be what running is supposed to be like. If you've never done it before, I recommend leaving your Garmin at home one day and finding a trail. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised :)
|I'm either about to cross the finish line after 13.1 grueling miles or a skunk just sprayed in my face. Who knows.|
|Oh, hell yes. I feel legit now. That's some serious dirt.|
|That was the most refreshing watermelon of all time. Also, any race with Nutella and Peanut Butter at the finish festival is top of the line in my opinion.|
|I was so happy my cousin Molly was there. She is quite the dedicated spectator - had to hitch hike to the finish line because the shuttles weren't on time!|
|I promise I did not intend to flick you off in this picture.|
|Post-race beans and rice with corn, sour cream, and cheese. Get in my belllyyyy.|
|Multi-tasking: 1/2 marathon recovery in your compression socks while sight seeing? Sounds good to me. Oregon is ridiculously beautiful.|