Christi and I drove over from Eugene, OR, the day before just in time to catch up with some old friends, have a few watermelon-infused martinis at the Bendistillery, and dine at the fabulous Merenda restaurant downtown. We had also wanted to try the Sir Francis School Pub, one of the latest McMenamin’s groovy casual dining inventions, but passed to make sure we got a few hours sleep before the race. As much as I love carb loading, it is possible to overdo it ;oP
We arrived at 6:30am to find a chilly starting area (it is the desert after all), and about 80 marathoners scrambling to find parking. To be fair, we had all been warned in the race packet, but like the other racers, we just assumed they meant “other people”. Dale Reicheneder was warming up for the half marathon (his twenty-something’th TRM Trophy Series Race) and we shared our eagerness to run this rugged outback. By 7:10am, he wished me luck, and the marathoners were off.
The race began with about a mile of cement road, which although cement, was wide enough for the racers to spread out before the single track started (always a good idea). About 15 of us took off the front, cupping our hands against the cold. Timothy Vandervlugt, Todd Ragsdade, Sean Nixon, John Stolz, and Larry Abraham were eager to pick up the pace and took off once the single track began. One of them hollered out “this is the one mile mark”, and I checked my watch, looking up just long enough to catch my toe on a root and digger. Nice! Slightly embarrassed, I took inventory of my new dirt rash and it didn’t seem too bad. I said out loud “I looked at my watch for oooone second”…and Brad Bond finished my sentence “and that root looked right at you and said ‘gotcha, runner’”. The humorous spirit of trail running ever present, we laughed it off and picked up the pace.
At mile four, we crossed the river and ran up to the warmth of the ridge just as we heard the gun go off for the half marathoners. They would follow the same path for about 6 miles, so we suspected we would see a few of the front runners before we broke off for the long, exposed climb to the marathon halfway point. Before too long, local Steve Larsen (road cycling, mountain biking, Xterra, and Ironman Champion) went flying by, showing he hasn’t lost much of his former professional form. A few minutes behind him were James Nelson and Jeff Caba, with superstar triathlete Matt Leito and Dale Reicheneder just a few minutes behind them. All were well under a 7-minute mile pace. Dale slowed down a bit to chat with Brad and me, get some “intel” on his position, then took off like a fox when the trail split.
Brad pointed out where we were headed, and it was clear that most of the 2500’ of vertical in this race was going to happen between miles 10-13. We were well into the desert country at this point, and although the pine trees, rock formations, and endless desert expanse were gorgeous, they weren’t providing much shade. But the temperature was still in the 70’s – well below the high 90’s of the previous week – so we worked our way up without too much trouble. I was drinking tons of water (trying to not repeat my Tahoe experience) and feeling good. As we hit the steepest section, 25-year-old Amanda Bullat charged by us, smiling and thanking the volunteers for cranking out the tunes.
I refilled at the top (officially the halfway point) and began the fun descent. The single track was a mountain biker paradise, with natural slalom courses, not-so-natural jumps, and banked corners. This trail was wonderfully maintained, and the banked corners made it easy to just set your running on cruise control. I could hear the other runners laughing and “woo-hoo”-ing as they dove and parried the course. We ran into a few packs of mountain bikers along the way, but they just pulled over and cheered us on (sigh…wouldn’t it be great if they always did that?). I kept a comfortable pace, knowing my race position wouldn’t change much if I pressed too hard…best to enjoy the roller-coaster trail and take a few “jumps”.
There were only a few aid stations in the last eight miles, and one of them was already running out of water (hmmm…and I was only the ninth runner? Must be the grim reality of “please fill my water bottles”). One last runner passed me, humming Led Zeppelin and enjoying the scenery, but I otherwise finished up the race alone. The cool river glades in the last three miles were a welcome retreat, and allowed the finishers to turn on the gas for a strong finish. I finished in 3:40 (10th overall), all smiles…until I had to clean out the road rash from my mile-1 crash, which was dirt jerky by now. Timothy Vandervlugt had finished in 3:06, about 7 minutes ahead of Todd Ragsdade and John Stoltz, while Amanda Bullat held on for 3:32, 8th overall, and first female. Dale had held on for fifth in the half marathon, pulling within seconds of Matt Lieto. We all enjoyed some Outback Steakhouse BBQ, microbrew ale, and piles of fresh fruit while cheering the remaining runners in.
My thanks to Gina Miller, the FreshAirSports Team, and all the wonderful volunteers for putting on a great race. Let’s hope it becomes an annual tradition!
P.S. – Bend Bulletin article can be found here.