Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Fall and Fun at the 2010 Lithia Loop Marathon

Last Saturday, I had the great pleasure of returning to Ashland, OR, to join 240 runners for the 2010 Lithia Loop Trail Marathon put on by the Rogue Valley Runners. This year marked the 3rd running of the event, and the 2nd time it hosted the USATF Trail Marathon National Championships. The weather was great and the competition was fierce - a perfect way to spend the weekend!

Christi and Sophie joined me on this trip after hearing about all the fun I had last year reminiscing about my Lithia Park adventures living here as a four-year-old. Now Sophie is four herself, so it was time to show her the ropes! Such a special moment to share. Grandpa (aka, XTerra age group national champion Larry Dunlap) and grandma brought down the cousins, plus snuck in a pair of his X-Talon's to toe the line for the big race. We were going to pack this weekend full of fun.

(The crazy colors of Lithia Park, photo courtesy of Sophie Dunlap)

The field was stacked with fast runners, particularly in the Masters group. My competition included last year's Masters winner and elite coach Greg McMillan, USATF 10k/15k Trail National Champ and XTerra National Champion Tim Van Orden, Where's Waldo 100k champion Neil Olsen, Brad Mitchell from Team La Sportiva, Central Mass Striders' Dave "Double D" Dunham, 2009 Lithia Loop winner Jeff Caba, the super fast William Emerson, and a half dozen others fit enough to challenge the 2:54 Masters course record. Phew! I was feeling fit, but this age group is STACKED.  But that's how it should be for a national competition, no?

Max King was returning to defend his title, coming off his blazing 2:14 at the Baltimore Marathon last month. He had some new competition in Mario Mendoza, one of the few runners who can keep up with Max in the half marathon, now trying his first full marathon to get a feel for the distance prior to shooting for the Olympic Trials next year. Team Inov-8 member Yassine Diboun would also be giving chase, as would 2010 Where's Waldo and Pine to Palm 100m winner Tim Olson, Colorado's John Tribbia, and Cascade Crest 100m winner Jeff Browning. The Women had Devon Crosby-Helms fresh off her win at the USATF 50-mile championship at Mountain Tusseyback, stacked up against Oregon speedster Katie Caba, Karalee Morris, Tahoe Rim Trail 100m winner Roxanne Woodhouse, and Luanne Park.

I laced up the Inov-8 X-Talons over my Injinji's, slammed a Vespa, and headed to the start. At 8am, Race Director Hal Koerner pointed us up the hill and sent us off into the cold-but-clear hillside. This course starts with eight miles of climbing, but that didn't stop Max King from setting a sub-7 minute pace off the front. I stayed aerobic, which put me at about a 8:10 min/mile pace, cruising along with Neil Olsen and a few others in 20th place or so. My guess was that half of the folks in front were in the Masters group, so the old guys were all going for broke. I would occasionally catch Oklahoma's Chris McClure, who smiled as he took a few breaks to awe at the unfamiliar steep climbs, then would catch back up. Neil and his Rogue Valley brethren picked up the pace near the top, and by the time we hit the Skagg's aid station (mile 8) they were long gone.

I ramped up the pace to 6:20 min/miles, my marathon cruising speed, and started picking off runners who cashed their chips in the climb. I felt fit, but still had some lingering fatigue from Ironman Hawaii, which has taken a surprising amount of recovery for an event where I didn't go 100%. Imagine if I had actually gone hard! I would still be on the beach. But it sure was nice to return to the minimalist pleasure of trail running. Trees flocked in Fall, crystal clear creeks, and the solitary rhythm of fast cranking footsteps. There ain't nothing quite like it!

(The canopy gave colorful shade all day)
Around mile 16, I caught up to Jeff Browning and we had a quick laugh about "this crazy speedwork" for 100-milers like Jeff. I figured I should put some time into him, for I would certainly see him again on the descent. Jeff is as good as it gets on a technical downhill. I was still feeling good and in control, so I pushed on and made the most of the flat stuff. I was drinking about 16 oz/hour, taking in a gel every 30 minutes, plus an S!Cap each hour.

(No shortage of pretty views)
At mile 18, just before the long descent home, I caught Tim Van Orden taking a walk break to gather himself. Tim (or TiVO as he is known on the circuit) is a short-course trail and stair-climbing pro (ie, run to the top of the Empire State Bldg and back), and this was his first marathon. It was pretty impressive to see him jump into this distance with almost no training! He said he was toast, but I suspected he would be revived at the next aid station.

(The single track descent)
I tore down into the descending fire road until my quads screamed for mercy at the last aid station (mile 24). The Caterpillar Trail gave me some ups and downs to relax before the final single track switchbacks. I heard some footsteps behind me and assumed it was Jeff "The Bomber" Browning, but was pleased to see TiVO cruising by! He had found his second win and was taking one step for every three of mine, making a mockery of the technical terrain. That guy has SERIOUS leg strength.

(You can actually SEE my quad screaming in this photo)
I rounded the last corner and crossed the finish in 3:08:59, about four minutes faster than last year, but the same 17th place. I was pleased with a very controlled effort, and was stunned at how fast the others had run. Max King (2:41) won, with Mario Mendoza (2:47), and John Tribbia (2:47:55) rounding out the podium. Brad Mitchell (2:52) set a new Masters record in his 4th place finish, with two other Masters (Allen Rozendaal in 5th, Neil Olsen in 10th) finishing Top 10. Wow! 17th overall, and still the 8th Master. That is a faaaast field. (results)

(Cruising into the finish!)
(Katie Caba, 2010 USATF Trail Marathon Champion)

(Devon Crosby-Helms and Katie Caba)
Katie Caba (3:23:12, 24th overall) won the Women's division, with Devon Crosby-Helms (3:28:36) and Karalee Morris (3:32) finishing up the podium. Oddly the coldest part of the day found us at the finish, so we did a quick warm down. We all said our congrats before heading down to Pioneer Hall for soup, burritos, and beer while cheering on the other finishers.

(Another great photo from 4-year-old Sophie Dunlap!)
I was a bit bummed not to have a Dunlap in the USATF results, but before I could cry in my beer, my Dad came screaming down the finish chute in 4:19, good enough to win his age group. That makes two national championships this year for him! So many memories of Lithia Park are with my Dad, and here's one more I get to put near the top of the list. I'm so impressed he can throw down such impressive times; I guess the Dunlap's didn't get the memo about getting slower with age!

(2010 USATF Trail Marathon Champions Max King and Larry Dunlap)

(Tim Van Orden and me post race)
(A cheery Hal Koerner hosts the awards at the end)
Hal Koerner and USATF reps Richard Bolt and Dave Dunham hosted the awards ceremony, which was fun (and lucrative if you were within throwing distance). It was clear that everyone had a fabulous time!

(John Tribbia, Mario Mendoza, and Max King)

(Men's Top 10)

(Women's Top 10)
We soon showered and hit the Greenleaf Restaurant for family food before finding the closest TV for some Oregon Ducks football. I wondered - is it the childhood memories that make it so easy to chill in this town? Nah, I think it's just a great place to hang out. Good people, good food, all surrounded by Mother Nature in her Fall tapestry. Pretty hard to beat!

(Chillin' with the Ducks)

My thanks to Hal, the Rogue Valley Runners, and the awesome volunteers for putting on a great race. I look forward to returning!

- SD


  1. Looks like it was a blast. Those fall colors are amazing.

  2. Gosh, those are beautiful pictures. How is your four year old taking those? I suspect Dad is helping!!!

    Nice job, Scott. You are looking fit. Best of luck in Hawaii.

  3. Who could have predicted that the laughing boy kicking through the maple and sycamore leaves in beautiful Lithia Park would be back 37 years later to finish among the top 20 trail marathoners in the USATF? That's my kid and I'm ever so proud of him!

  4. nice report, Scott. and the colors in the photos are amazing!

  5. Looks like a beautiful course, will have to make my way up there some time.

    btw- you are looking pretty muscular these days.
    You risk losing your trail nerd status, if you keep that up. :)

  6. Ha!

    Scott's Photoshop lessons on how to look muscular in a picture:

    1) Dress in black.
    2) Run too hard so your muscles are TITE.
    3) Turn the contrast up all the way.
    4) Crop proportionally to make muscles look big.

    See? I'm super nerdy. ;-)

  7. Those are awesome photos, dude; you do the best races!

  8. It is nice to finally meet you. The pics are awesome! Thanks for sharing. Hope to see you at a race again soon!

  9. What great pictures and report!!! Too cool!


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