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)|
|(No shortage of pretty views)|
|(The single track descent)|
|(You can actually SEE my quad screaming in this photo)|
|(Cruising into the finish!)|
|(Katie Caba, 2010 USATF Trail Marathon Champion)|
|(Devon Crosby-Helms and Katie Caba)|
|(Another great photo from 4-year-old Sophie Dunlap!)|
|(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)|
|(John Tribbia, Mario Mendoza, and Max King)|
|(Men's Top 10)|
|(Women's Top 10)|
|(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!