Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Going Fast at the XTerra Trail Running National Championships

Last Sunday, I had the great pleasure of joining 200+ trail runners for a weekend of fun at the XTerra Trail Running National Championships in Bend, OR. This 21k river run promised to be a fast introduction to the trails (and runners!) voted “America’s Best Trail Running Town” by Outside Magazine. Trail runners from 25 states were coming into town for the party, and dogs and kids were invited! It was a great excuse for Sophie and I to make some new friends, both two- and four-legged, and have some fun outside.

(XTerra takes over the Old Mill District of Bend, OR)

We had our share of adventure for sure, and for four hours, I had a national age group championship medal from the great folks at XTerra. Only four hours, you say? Well I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it involves my 3-year-old whispering to me on the return flight, “Daddy, I think I left your medal at the grocery store”. Just as suddenly and unexpectedly as I had received it, it disappeared. We laughed so hard the airline attendant had to have words with us, AGAIN. The weekend adventure was epic, and it just kept getting better.

On the way there, my legs twitched eagerly to test out my latest speedwork, so I was pleased to have a perfect checkpoint on my training. Judging by the top finishing times of Max King and Ben Bruce (1:07, 1:08 respectively), this race would certainly be setting a serious pace. Five minute miles on trails? I didn’t even know that was possible. Plus this is Bend, OR, where Susannah Beck has already proven her speed, the likes of Kami Semick train regularly, and the Oregon Track Club Elite Team is known to drop in. Throw in 30 regional XTerra champions from over 50 races across the nation, and this was going to be WICKED sprint. It was good to show up a few days early to relax.

Our Pre-Race Adventures

Sophie and I flew to Eugene, OR, to join forces with “Gramma D” (aka, my Mom) and Tiki (her 18-month old Carolina) for a road trip. We inadvertently arrived a day early, but Bend had plenty of options for us, including a dog show, beer festivals, pre-race festivities, beautiful parks, walks along the river, great food, Saturday Market, and more. The weather was amazing, and it was instantly clear why everyone we saw was fit, tan, and wearing mud and dirt like fashion accessories. How could you NOT go outside with all this going on? The vibe was addictive.

(Defending champion Max King offers some course tips)

Sophie and Tiki voted for the Dog Show (natch), so we picked up coffees on the way to Drake Park to see the parade of local dogs at the Best In Show fundraiser. Sophie promptly applied all the XTerra stickers from my race packet to her arms, and was more than happy to show them to every dog at the show. She even got her picture with the winner! This town seriously loves their mutts.

(Sophie shows her XTerra stickers to Nico, the Best in Show dog)

(Lots of happy dogs in Bend)

(Helping out the local economy)

(Gramma D and Tiki take in the sites)

We relaxed through the hot afternoon, letting the day choose our path, and the conversations go as deep as they desire. Aaahhh, an afternoon with no agenda but to relax! The day of calm before the event may be the most precious gift of racing. I enjoyed catching up with my Mom, and felt lucky to have a relationship where we can converse and share on so many levels. Topic de jour was “how to handle a precocious 3-year old”. As I suspected, she had PLENTY of advice. ;-)

(Sophie and Tiki check out the ducks)

The Race

A warm and sunny morning greeted 200+ trail runners for the 8am start in the Old Mill District, and the 21k “XDuro” runners lined up first (a 10k and 5k were also being run). There were plenty of familiar faces, and the XTerra announcer led everyone in rounds of applause for Max King (defending XTerra National and World champion, winner of the 2009 American River 50-miler, and former NCAA All-American Steeplechase runner from Cornell), Ben Bruce (NCAA All-American, 5k champion, and 2nd place to Max at both XTerra championship races), Susannah Beck (defending XTerra national champion, USATF Ultrarunner of the Year, winner of countless ultras), and Kami Semick (the current reigning 100k world champion...that’s right, WORLD champion!). Not to mention 85-year-old local rock star Charles Hoover toeing the line. Just another local run in Bend!

(Susannah Beck gets a round of applause)

(Max King at the start)

(Ben Bruce is ready to roll)

(World champion Kami Semick gets a round of applause)

The runners exploded onto the course as the whistle sounded, starting with a mile of bike path and brick to sort out the speedsters. I hit the first mile in 5:44, and was already a minute behind the lead pack. Holy speedskates, Batman.

(Susannah Beck takes charge, with Lauren Fleshman on her tail)

I eased up a bit as we set our sights on the upcoming single track. Susannah Beck and Lauren Fleshman (5-time NCAA champion and Stanford athlete now running for the Oregon Track Club Elite Team) both surged to get ahead of me and a pack of others, and kicked it into a power gear. Kami Semick passed me about a half mile later, and was gaining. My Inov-8 X-Talons were loving the dry, sandy dirt, especially as we turned onto a long flat dirt road and got our speed on. I scanned down the trail, and could see that Max and Bruce were well ahead, with roughly two packs of runners spread a few minutes apart behind them. It looked like I was about 15th, just off the lead women leaping in step like a pack of gazelles. I leaned forward and let ‘er rip.

(Kami Semick charges the single track)

(The fast stretch on Haul Road)

At mile 4, we switched onto single track trails that led us up and over a hill of black lava. It wasn’t too hot yet, but the stone was warming fast enough to simmer us on the way back (mile 8). Such fun to have a course that can change climate as quickly as the terrain! The volunteers were fantastic, helping refresh every couple of miles. I got two pictures of Rod Bien (ultrarunner elite and owner of Fleet Fleet), and both of them were of him taking pictures of me. Battle of the bloggers!

(Sprinting the desert trails)

Course markings were impeccable, which came in handy at mile 5 when the sandy dirt road became a little less “defined” and it felt like a cross country race through the trees. I joked with Jeffrey Goetz about following the dust clouds across the grass, and he led us through a good path that kept us out of the deep silt. I surged to pass him, but in saying thanks accidentally inhaled a marble-sized bug and had to excuse myself to ease back and regain my composure. Nice move, stud. Very nice.

(Running along the river)

We circled back to the lava field to climb again, and I saw the pack of lead women ahead of me. It looked like Lauren was leading, showing her NCAA All-American 5k training with long, powerful strides. Within 30 seconds were Susannah and Kami, chasing with their ultra-inspired fast turnover technique. We zigged down through a few switchbacks and quickly found ourselves on Haul Road, the fast straight away, and it was clear the women were about 90 seconds ahead and gaining.

(Jeffrey Goertz from Nampa, ID, takes on the single track)

(Stone cliffs shadow the trail)

(Max King leads the way down the river, photo courtesy of Nils Nilsen)

I passed Jeffrey as we entered the single track along the river, and the cool breeze from the Deschutes refreshed my dry lungs and gave me a second wind. My hamstrings were cursing like sailors as I tried to open it up one more time on the final two miles and catch this guy a minute ahead of me. There’s nothing quite like the motivation of chasing the only guy in front of you who looks like he could be a 40+ year old! I got within 10 seconds of him, but the finish came quickly and Derek Shultz was definitely in control of his race, so I settled in behind him for 12th overall in 1:23:11.

(Heading down the finishing chute)

The Oregon and XTerra champs did well, using the perfect weather to set new course records. Max King had won, besting his course record by 45 seconds in 1:06:48 (next target race for Max is the New York Marathon in Nov), while Ben Bruce (1:12:58) and former Bend local turned triathlete Jesse Thomas (1:14) followed to fill out the podium. Bruce had set the pace early, with Max passing a few miles in and building a lead to the finish.

(Lauren Fleshman sets a new course record, photo courtesy of Nils Nilsen)

Lauren Fleshman won the Women’s division with a course record 1:19:10, with Susannah Beck (1:21:37) and Kami Semick (1:22:07) filling out the top 3. Both commented on the finishing speed of Lauren, estimating she had taken as much as 90 seconds out of them in the final 1.5 miles. We all refueled and refreshed, commenting on how amazing the day was and making new friends. I went to shake Max's hand, but he was already jogging back home to check in on his wife and 5-week old baby.

(Women's winner Lauren Fleshman and husband and third place finisher, Jesse Thomas)

(Susannah and Kami congratulate each other on a great finish and strong season)

Sophie and Gramma D found me at the finish, eager to show me Sophie’s race number and how she can “run the course” through the XTerra Kid Zone. I walked across the bridge and saw dozens of kids and dogs enjoying the XTerra terrain parks. Standing for a moment at the center of the bridge, I could hear the cheering of the crowds on one shore and the laughter and barking of pure joy on the other. You have respect the genius of XTerra’s version of trail running heaven. Good people, good trails, good food, and you can bring your dog! They even have an after-party at the Deschutes Brewery.

(Sophie sprints through the Kid Zone in her Oregon cheerleading outfit)


(Climbing the cargo net)

Unfortunately, we had to make a quick exit and would have to skip the afternoon fun. I was hoping to bring some of this energy to my ailing grandmother in Eugene, OR, before catching our flight back. I said my farewells and thanks to Emily McIlvaine and Trey Garman, two of the many XTerra family that make these events so fun. Emily told me I had won my age group, being the first masters male to cross the finish by a few minutes. Sophie quickly donned the medal, running around the Kid Zone course a few more times for good measure. My Mom smiled with that special twinkle of the eye shared by parents who has seen this pattern before. Just you wait, son. You might be coming to races 40 years from now! Let’s just hope I have the staying power of 85-year-old Charles Hoover of Bend, OR (3:57:04, age group national champion) and 66-year old Amy Galbraith of Venice, CA (2:44:01, age group national champion) to be by her side at the starting line.

(Regional XTerra champions Richard Burgunder and Carl Epley celebrate at the finish)

We packed up the gear and headed off, sorry to miss the K9 Challenge, after party, and the welcoming communities of Bend and XTerra that would have certainly filled another day with smiles and laughs. I was able to visit my grandmother, who was pleased as punch to hear Sophie recount her weekend of dogs and running. In the end, it’s these shared adventures we cherish the most, both in memory and stories retold.

As Sophie slept in my arms on the flight home, I made a note to thank the XTerra family for having us up for the special weekend they put on, and ordered an on-flight beer to toast my fellow trail warriors. We played hard, now we celebrate. A santé, mes amis!

Sophie perked up and smiled at me as we prepared to land. “I had fun, Daddy,” she whispered, “And so did Tiki. And so did Gramma D. And I left your medal at the grocery store. Nighty-night.”. Wha? My jaw hit the ground, but all I could do was laugh. The more I giggled, the more Sophie starting laughing, until our eruption of joy petered out to tired, sleepy smiles.

I already know we will never lose this moment.

- SD

[Thanks again to the folks at XTerra and their sponsors, the good people of Bend, and the very kind Store Manager at Ray’s Food Place in La Pine, OR, who located my medal in the fruit section and was nice enough to send it on. Also special thanks to my sponsors Inov-8 (the 212's are the bomb!), Injinji (another blister free race), 2XU (flawless clothes), Julbo (sunglasses that love shadows), First Endurance (for feeling good), Vespa (the miracle juice), and Nuun (yummy drinks).]


  1. Congratulations, Scott. Sounds like a hard-earned win. That's a pretty fast group in Oregon!


  2. Congrats on your win! Sounds like a sweet time.

  3. Wow, what a great indepth piece, reading it I felt made me feel like I was there - it's only the non achy feeling in my muscles that make me realise I wasn't...

    Seriously it sounds like you had a great trip all round, and the course looks incredible, both for the scenery and to run. Maybe one day I'll get there too!

  4. What a great story, Scott!
    Your "latest speedwork" paid off big time--you're getting super fast. Max King better watch his back next year ;-)
    Congrats on the win and glad to see you got your medal back!

  5. More coverage from the Bend Bulletin.

  6. Holy Speedskates is right! Nice work Scott! Sounds like a great time with canines and humans alike. As a newcomer resident to the state of Oregon that is one race that is on my list. I look forward to meeting you down at Lithia Loop in November! :0)...Cheers! Yassine

  7. It was a great race and a good time. Thanks for sharing the pictures and your story. Be sure to tell us what that fancy speedwork is you are refering to.


  8. So wonderful that Sophie and you could share such an amazing weekend. Trail running dads seem to be a pretty special group. I suspect you would not have batted an eye if the medal had remained in the fruit section. It was probably worth the laugh! Thanks for sharing the story of the wonderful memories you made!

  9. Great race, and great report! I really enjoyed reading this.
    Help me out with the math: How does 21K compare to 13.1 miles; essentially the same?

  10. Sarah - Yes, 21k is essentially a half marathon. I believe it worked out to 12.8 miles for this course, so it felt like a very fast 1/2 marathon. It was interesting to me how this distance attracted competitive 5k and steeplechase runners off the track, while still allowing ultrarunners to be competitive. It's a fun distance.

    Sean - Speedwork is twice a week, one set of 6-10x800 (Yasso 800's) and one fartlek with 3-6 one mile sprints on the trail. They hurt like hell, but seem to be working well for keeping my turnover high.

    Thanks for stopping by!


  11. Scott,
    What an awesome race recap and amazing pictures! Congratulations on your performance, you did extremely well and should be proud. It was nice to meet you after the race and best of luck with the remainder of your season!

  12. Great performance, Scott, and nice recount! See you next week. Will be fun to cross no-hands bridge again.

    Farther Faster

  13. Just make sure you turn around at the end of the bridge if you're doing the double marathon, Scott! ;-)

  14. Scott,
    GREAT report and run and time with family...I will have to learn how to take pictures while running/moving like you do sometimes.
    Regarding your comment about the "speedwork" helping out with "keeping turnover high," it is good to see that you are not only working on linear running speed but also on leg turnover speed (and for ultras, working on the ability to maintain that turnover for several hours is critical). Maximizing this aspect of trail running fitness and biomechanics will surely bring you to the next level--then, no one will be able to keep up with you ;) !! Agility work in the "off season" may also be of help.....but only if you find it fun :). Happy trails, Ann


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