We couldn't have asked for better weather, and judging by the sheer glee of the locals all over downtown Bend the day before, it's been a long time comin'. I love overhearing conversations like "what should we do?", "I don't care, as long as it's outside", "yeah, let's just sit and soak it in". The streets were filled with beautiful people sunning like lizards, only breaking the sound of the breeze for the occasional shout when Team USA scored a goal at the World Cup match. I stopped by Foot Zone to get my packet, and Fleet Feet to congratulate Rod Bien on his awesome Miwok finish. Both stores were packed with eager adventurers gearing up for a summer that finally arrived.
At 8am, the first wave of runners toed the line and RD Super Dave gave us some last minute instructions. There were some wicked fast people here, including locals Max King, two-time winner Lisa Nye, super-master Paul Parsons, Ian Sharman (who just keeps getting faster every year), and always-a-contender Jeff Caba. The USATF championships brought some new faces too, such as the Truillo twins from Eugene, marathon superstar (and wife of Todd Braje) Sopanga Eap, Winter Olympian Morgan Arritola, XTerra star Fujio Miyachi from Japan, and Eric Bohn up from Flagstaff. The gazelles warmed up along the fire road as the rest of us made small talk, and soon enough we were called to the start.
The shotgun sounded, and the first wave runners made their way down a one mile section of fire road before hitting the single track. The speeds were amazing, and I soon found myself in roughly 30th place. I wasn't in peak shape by any means, but I had that post-injury elation that comes when you do your first pain-free race. I'm back! The mile markers had us at a 6:15 mile/pace, but some hills and turns were coming our way that would slow that down.
The single track was really fast, and all of the corners had wonderful banked turns that kept our velocity moving forward. I cruised along with a trio of locals Lisa Nye, Stephanie Howe, and Dave Webster, all of whom were eying competitors up the trail. The hunt was on!
The trail was remote and quite, with the occasional bluegrass band and cowbell-banging supporters. Even with all of us runners snaking through the trees, the peaceful calm pervaded. You would never guess we were only a few short miles from town. Lisa Nye broke out on some uphill, and the rest of us let Stephanie Howe pull us up the hill with her long cross country power strides. The first aid station (mile 3.5) gave us a chance to rinse the dust out of our mouth, and before we knew it, the second aid station (mile 6) filled us up and pointed us down some fire roads. Dave Webster opened up, and I followed him, suspecting he was 40'ish. A little grey hair is all I need to see to keep me motivated. ;-)
At mile 8, the turns got tight and footing got tricky, and we witnessed a handful of face plants up and down the trail as the pace picked up. Scott Wolfe went by us like we were standing still, offering encouraging words as he streaked by. I ran with Don Gallogly from Corvallis, OR, and we started passing runners and moving up.
Don was also a Master runner, and I began to wonder if he, Dave, and I weren't the "competing for 3rd Master" group. I knew Paul Parsons was way up there somewhere and suspected at least one more Master in between us. Hmm, could it be? Well, if so, better put on some pressure. 3rd is a medal, yes? YES!!! Oh, the things I will do for hardware. ;-) My legs were ready to go, so I swung wide and ran down a berm along the single track to pass the pack we were with. Don followed.
We were really moving now! It felt like a 6 minute pace, and we were picking off runners left and right by passing on the outside. I moved up alongside a pack of three, noting that one of them was another Master, and attempted to pass on the berm again. A bit risky, but it seemed to be working.
Then I ran out of berm, and stepped right off the side of the hill. Oops.
I managed to catch a tree in the chest before hitting the ground, just like a Road Runner cartoon. I hit the ground on all fours and buried my camera into the silt (RIP, camera #9). Don slowed to offer help, but I waived him on. Regardless of whether I needed it, there's no time to slow in a half marathon! Go get that medal!!!
There is a crucial 20 seconds after face planting where you can get up and keep moving, so I sprung up and tried to convince myself I was good. I felt okay, but every passing runner said something different - "you're cut on your face", "you're bleeding down your arm", "your neck is scraped". By the time the adrenaline hit, I figured I had lucked out with all superficial wounds and turned up the speed again.
I caught up to Don and Dave at Mile 11, and they were pleased to see me upright. The last little climb at Mile 12 brought a few to walking, but the three of us, along with Bend local Mark Robins, kept the pace fast. I didn't know how long my adrenaline power boost would last, so at the soonest opportunity I surged around them (no berm this time) and put the pedal to the metal. They did not respond, so I kept going and picked off two more runners. The speed carried me to the finish just in time for me to see the third USATF Master finish right in front of me. Alas! I still ran 1:28:25 for 27th place, 4th in my age group, about 40 seconds ahead of our little pack. Turns out Dave was no mere Master, but was in his fifties - he rocked it!
The killer Dirty Half Ale from Deschutes Brewery and live band eased the pain of missing an age group podium finish by 2o seconds, but hey, that's how it goes. In truth, the performances were so good today I would have to have been going a lot faster to post a worthy time. For example, Max King set a new course record of 1:11:03, as did Sopanga Eap with her 1:22:22 (see full results). Holy trail spikes, Batman! All of the finish times were evidence that a USATF championship means business.
I soaked in the sun, and stopped by the medical tent to clean out my wounds. I'm not sure which comment from the medical team was better - "I think you lost a nipple" or "this stick is still sticking out of your chest, let me pull it out". No stitches or anything serious, and compared to the many bloodied knees that came in after me, not even close to the best road rash of the day. Note to self - it's okay to hug trees, just not while running full speed.
My thanks to RD Super Dave and his awesome crew of volunteers and sponsors. Congrats to Max King (good luck at Mt. Washington!), Sopanga Eap (get that Olympic qualified at the Seattle Marathon!), and everyone who came out and enjoyed the day. The Dirty Half is an amazing race and I hope to be back again. Actually, I'll be back in two weeks for the Pacific Crest Half Ironman! Bend, OR, I just can't get enough of you.