Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Mud Flies At The 2016 Lake Padden Trail Half Marathon (USATF Championship)

The lure of beautiful and lush Pacific Northwest trails...the company of supremely fast elite runners to help me cap off my 2016 racing season...the welcome embrace of an outdoor community...and a typhoon warning predicting six inches of rain and 60+ MPH winds on race morning. Yup, it was time for the 2016 Lake Padden Half Marathon, and it was quickly shaping up to be one blogworthy adventure.

The typhoon warning was an unexpected twist, but Race Director Tad Davis assured us that it would take more than "some rain and wind" for his hearty crew to cancel the USATF Trail Half Marathon Championships they had hosted for three years in a row now. If we could get to the start, come hell and/or high water, the race would be on.

(Richard Bolt and Morgan Gonzalez share some pre-race smiles)
And so we did, hydroplaning up the I-5 highway to the coastal town of Bellingham, WA, to join ~200 runners for what would certainly be a wild and muddy race. Once again, a world class field had assembled, mixing experienced trail runners with new talent from the track and road in pursuit of $4000+ in prize money and some bragging rights. Andy Wacker (2nd here last year, and the 2015 USATF Trail 50k Champion) was the favorite, but would find fast company with Team USA Mountain Runner and 1:04 half marathoner David Fuentes, Team Brooks' Jared Bassett and Matt Williams (in his trail debut), defending Masters champion Chris Grauch, and a dozen other sub-1:15 half marathon runners.

(Race Director Tad Davis with race founder Al Doyle get us rolling)
(Andy Wacker stays warm with Chris Grouch, Matt Williams, and the other gazelles)
The Women had some new-to-the-trail racers too, including 2:27 marathoner Renee Metivier, Portland OR's Julia Webb (who just set half marathon stroller world record with a 1:22!), Santa Barbara track star and 16:33 5k runner Dani Moreno, and Mammoth Lake track specialist Morgan "Mo" Gonzalez. They would line up with experienced trail runners such as former winner and perennial top finisher Maria Dalzot, Team USA Mountain Running member Ladia Albertson-Junkans, and a half dozen local speedsters that know every step of this course. Would the mud create a great equalizer between the wise trail experts and the wicked fast track runners? There was only one way to find out...

(The busy bees give plenty of support)
Race morning was eerily calm given the previous night of sideways rain, and the 50-degree weather felt just about right for pushing the red line. I was at about 80% strength and nursing a cold from the week before, but it was more annoyance than sidelining super virus. My cough repelled people stronger than a "I support Donald Trump's right to grope women" t-shirt, but among my snot-rocketing brethren, the hackety-hack would likely go unnoticed. Like many of the local runners here today, I got MORE excited with the typhoon warnings, filled with childlike anticipation for a morning of mud slides and puddle jumping, sniffles be damned.

(And we're off!)
At 10am, we lined up for a cross country style start that quickly squeezed onto a bike trail for a few miles of flat stuff. I lined up with Seattle's Don Wesley, glad to see a fellow M45-49 competitor back after he broke his toe at this race last year. I also had a chance to meet Chris Grauch for the first time after chasing him in years of racing (he looks nothing like the back of his head, ha, ha). Richard Bolt and Nancy Hobbs were here from USATF, alongside Tad Davis and founder Al Doyle eager to get us going. As the gun went off, we sprinted across the field and slotted three wide onto the bike path. It was on!

(Onto the bike path)
From the start the pace was insane, and I suspected all those road and track runners were making the most of what they knew best. I love how after a summer of ultra distance training, a half marathon feels like warp speed! Andy Wacker, Matt Williams, and Jared Bassett were flying at a 5 min/mile pace up front, with another four right behind them. I tried to hold back about 30 places back, but was boxed into a close-knit pack that passed through the first two miles in 11:40. Whoa! That's a bit too fast for sniffling Scott. As the climbs began (mile 2.3), I took a short hike break to collect myself while the lead women flew by, with Maria Dalzot passed me in the exact same place she did last year...deja vu!

(Deja vu! Maria Dalzot climbs like a beast)
The single track was gloriously slick, covered with fresh fallen maple leaves and pine needles hiding the shoe-sucking murk beneath. There was ~1,500' vertical of up and down in the latter half of each loop, so everyone was constantly shifting gears. I was pleased the combo of inov-8 X-Talon 212's and Injinji socks seemed to work better the more they soaked they got. I had a good pace on the uphills, but was still lacking that top gear to open up on the downs, where runners like Douglas Hanna (his first trail race!) and Keely Henninger flew right by with rooster tails of mud behind them. As we finished up the first lap (mile 7) in 52 minutes, I was already three minutes off of last years pace, but ear-to-ear smiles as a light rain cooled us down. Douglas and I paced along the flat stuff, commenting on how both of us got drawn into that fast early sprint. It's hard to go slow when everyone else is flying!

(Moving fast in the rain!)
As the two of us followed Keely into the hills again, Don Wesley made a fast and decisive pass and pulled away without looking back. He is super fit this year! As bummed as I was to see that M45-49 on his back go by, I was stoked he was doing so well. Local Andrew Taylor also caught us, and Keely and I latched on to him to pull us through the last few climbs and hurdle a few fallen trees.

(Still smiling!)
We carefully made the last descent, then sprinted across the field to the finish. I came in 38th (1:47), just making the podium for the Masters behind Chris Grauch (12th, 1:33) and Don Wesley (34th, 1:46). Hooray, another "big check" to bring to the kids! (ha, ha) But I was far more proud of the mud splatter we all wore on our backsides...proof of a morning well spent in the typhoon wake. And the bonus gift of a half marathon - you still have the whole afternoon to goof off!

(Don for the M45-49 win!)
(Sign of a great run!)
(Men with rooster tails! Photo courtesy of Nancy Hobbs)
Andy Wacker maintained his ludicrous pace to win in 1:21:02, an extraordinary time given the conditions, with Jared Bassett (1:23, improving from 5th last year), David Fuentes (1:25), Matt Williams (1:26), and 22-year-old Ben Robinson (1:27) making the top 5. Even in the mud, these times were some of the fastest this course has ever seen.

(Our USATF Trail Half Marathon Champs!)
Renee Metivier (14th, 1:34) prevailed in her debut trail race to secure the win, outkicking Ladia Albertan-Junkins by just four seconds. Julia Webb (1:37), Dani Moreno (1:39), Camelia Mayfield (1:40), and Morgan Gonzalez (1:42) finishing soon thereafter. Bellingham local Kathleen Harris (1:57) beat out Boulder's Lizi Bolanos-Nauth by just 12 seconds for the Masters victory, with Seattle's Mary Geddes taking 3rd and securing the F50-54 win. (all results)

(Women's top finishers)

(Men top finishers)

(Masters top finishers, with me trying to help Mary look taller)
I enjoyed meeting many of the local runners as we huddled together under the tents and shared soup and snacks. I gave my thanks to all those who stood out in the weather to put on this great race, many of whom donned costumes and ran the 5k earlier in the day. This is a wonderful running community, and the Lake Padden Half captures it in so many ways. I doubt even a full typhoon could stop these guys. Similar to last year, it was a humbling and fun way to close out a year of racing, and a perfect transition to a winter season of running just for fun. I'll be back again for sure!

- SD