Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Run and Rebalance at the 2015 Lake Padden Half/USATF Trail Half Marathon Championships

From the moment I stepped off the plane in Bellingham, WA, for the 2015 Lake Padden Trail Half Marathon, the Pacific Northwest embraced me in her tranquil arms. Endless green, snow-capped mountains, the perpetual sound of the ocean lapping the shore, the familial "hi's" from strangers on the only needs to be present in this emerald state to feel Mother Nature's maternal grasp and the community eternally connected to it. And I needed that hug, even more so than I was willing to admit, as evidenced by the long sighs of relief squeezed from my soul as I drove down I-5. Although it wasn't planned as such, this race trip had instantly become a retreat, an escape of sorts. Perhaps I would figure out what I was retreating from.

(Calm Lake Padden Park)
I was excited for the race too, naturally. New Race Director Tad Davis had redesigned the course that hosted the 2014 USATF Trail Half Marathon National Championship into a more challenging two-loop version that promised screaming fast sections along the lake, steep climbs through the lush and rooted hills, and a cross country style start and finish that would delight spectators. The weather had cooperated perfectly all week, presenting a mostly dry 55-degree day that would work well for runners and volunteers alike.

(A sample of the trails we would find in the first few miles)
The Lake Padden Half has an ideal mix of small town charm and sponsor-backed professionalism that draws an insane roster of elite athletes. In many ways, it is that perfect balance between the small local race we all love and the big-time throw down of the best in the sport we all love to watch. One thing for sure, it was going to be a challenge just to make the Top 20 with these guys around:
  • Defending champion Patrick Smyth (Nike/Utah), coming off a year that includes being the 2015 US Mountain Running Champion, 2015 Xterra National Champ (he's also the 2013 and 2014 Xterra World Champ), 2nd at the 2015 US 50k Trail Championship, and 4th at USATF XC Nationals. Oh yeah, there was also that redonkulous new CR at the 2015 Way Too Cool 50k (3:04:48). He recently moved from Salt Lake City to Sante Fe, NM, and it hasn't appeared to slow him down.
  • Andy Wacker (Adidas/Colorado), who won the 2015 US 50k Trail Championship in the Marin Headlands ahead of Smyth, was 2nd at 2015 World Long Distance Championship, won the 12-Mile Barr Trail Race on Pikes Peak, and was 2nd at the 2015 US Mountain Running Championship.
  • Max King (Salomon/Oregon), was here just a few weeks after winning the Warrior Dash World Championship for the 2nd time, collecting a $30k payday. He has been enjoying a season in Europe, so you know he has his climbing skills dialed. 
  • Tim Tollefson (Nike/California), the 2014 US 50k Trail Champion, was 2nd at the 2015 UTMB CCC 101km, and is a 2:18 Marathoner.
  • Jared Bassett (Brooks/Oregon), the 25-year-old track phenom (3:43 for 1500m, 8:36 for Steeplechase) who is quickly showing his trail abilities with a 5th at 2015 US 50k Trail Championship.
  • Sam Robinson (California) was 2nd at 2015 Table Rock 27k, 5th at 2014 US 50k Trial Championship, and has finished well here before.
  • Women's defending champion Maria Dalzot (La Sportiva/Bellingham, WA), who was also 18th at 2015 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship in Wales.
  • Kimber Mattox (Nike/Oregon), the 2014 World Xterra Trail Champion (in her first trail run race ever), 2014 Warrior Dash World Champion, and was 6th at 2014 World Mountain Running Championship.
  • Allison Morgan (Brooks/Oregon), with a 4th at the 2015 US Mountain Running Championship, 18th at 2014 World Mountain Running Championship, and a 32:46 10k best.
  • Jamie Cheevers (Brooks/Washington), a fast local who was 12th at 2015 USATF Steeplechase Championship.
  • Michele Yates (Colorado), who cleaned house in 2013 with a win at the 2013 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile Champion, 2013 TNF 50 Mile Champion, 2013 US 100k and 50m Trail Champion
  • Ladia Albertson Junkans (Washington), an NCAA DI XC All American, was 6th at 2015 US Mountain Running Championship, and boasts a 1:13 Half Marathon.
  • Caitlin Smith (California), on a tremendous year that includes becoming the 2015 US Trail 50k Champion, and finishing a 2:42 Marathon.
  • YiOu Wang (California), the 2015 Table Rock 27k Champion, she was also 3rd at Way Too Cool 50k, and boasts a 2:38 Marathon.
  • Lindsay Tollefson (California), who was 3rd at the 2015 US Trail 50k Championship, and is capable of a 2:41 Marathon.
  • Amanda Lee (Colorado), who was 10th at 2015 US Mountain Running Championship
  • Chris Lundy (California), the 5-time USA Mountain Running Team member.
  • Samantha Rivard (Oregon), an NCAA DII XC All American, who has a 16:29 5k, and is the Bellingham Bay Half Marathon Champion.
(Andy Whacker gets into Oktoberfest spirit, while chatting with Race Director Tad Davis)
(Hanging with the elites at the press conference)
(Sam Robinson and Caitlin Smith hamming it up, photo courtesy of Richard Bolt)
(Meeting Kimber Mattox before the race, and learning she trains daily on the tracks of South Eugene High School where I attended...ahem...30-some years ago! Photo courtesy of Richard Bolt)
Wow! Just insane for a 250-person race (another ~100 in the 5k). It was great to hang out at the press conference the day before with the elites and learn more about their various successes, training methods, and hopes for the big day. Most were saying this challenging course was going to test all their skills, from speed along the lake to shifting gears quickly for the hills. It was certainly going to take a trained and well-rounded runner to win here.

By the time I got to the start line, I was definitely in a much better mental state. I had decompressed with some local brews in the charming area of Fairhaven, and enjoyed chatting with some local marijuana dispensary owners about the fast-moving world of cannabis which had become recreationally legal in Washington last year. Such adventurous entrepreneurs! This industry reminds me so much of Silicon Valley circa 1995...passionate nerdy players, a government that quickly changes its tune when the tax coffers fill, curious capital coming off the sidelines from all kinds of investors, and the big and bold thinkers positioning themselves for the game of the decade. A couple of these dispensaries were flat out thriving, and it was clear that outdoor lovers/tourists were a big natural draw - just check out the ads in the local Adventure Journal! Why is that not a surprise? ;-)

(Ad page in the local Adventure Journal...lots to choose from!)
Race morning was a perfect overcast day, and RD Tad Davis, race founder Al Doyle, and USATF guru Richard Bolt lined us up for the national anthem. One last round of applause for the sponsors (Flora Health in particular) and volunteers, and a reminder that this race has already generated $40,000+ for Rebound of Whatcom County, a local charity that helps underprivileged kids get their grounding. Bravo! Then with the sound of the air horn, we were off...

(Getting in the zone)
(Patrick Smyth, ready to roll)

(Max King picks a winner, while Kimber Mattox, and Tim Tollefsen get their game faces on)
(And we are off!)
The course started with 2 miles of dirt bike trail along the river, and it didn't take long for Patrick Smyth and Andy Whacker to start dropping sub-5 minute miles, with Max King right behind them. I slotted in with eight of the leading women cruising at a 5:45 min/mile pace about ten places back. The ladies were smooth and powerful, and running among them felt like galloping with thoroughbreds. I wanted to capture this feeling for my girls! So inspiring. But seriously kicking my ass trying to keep up.

(Running with the gazelles along the lake path)
(Flying! Photo courtesy of the Bellingham Herald)
(The women sprint down into the canyon)
(Maria Dalzot takes us up into the hills)
When we hit the hills (mile 2.5), the runners began to spread out on the single track and I found myself pacing with locals Maria Dalzot (2014 champ) and 50k Masters runner Dominic Battistella behind the lead pack of women. Both were definitely better climbers than me, so we see-sawed back and forth through the switchbacks, me taking photos as they passed me again and again. The inov-8 X-Talon 212's loved the moist-but-not-muddy dirt and crisp Fall leaves that kicked behind us like rooster tails, and gave me the traction I needed to slingshot back to Maria and Dominic out of the tight switchbacks. I counted three climbs in there, the third being the biggest (~700' vert), and we soon descended back to the track in ~48 minutes (mile 6.5). So much fun to run an unknown course!

(Some great long climbs!)
(Hauling ass, photo courtesy of the Bellingham Herald)
(Volunteers were amazing, photo courtesy of the Bellingham Herald)
(Patrick Smyth lays it down, photo courtesy of the Bellingham Herald)
I picked it up to 6:10 min/miles along the lake for lap 2, definitely feeling the mixed terrain of the last hour, and now knowing what was ahead. I clearly had taken the flats too fast on the first lap (ego, please!), so I eased up a bit on this lap so save for the hills. Dominic and Maria both kept a faster pace, so I watched them stretch out in front of me along the lake and into the hills again (mile 9). For this lap, I would be solo, enjoying what redwoods I could see through the anaerobic tunnel vision.

(Lap 2! Photo courtesy of Takao Suzuki)
(Saturation NOT turned up!)
The second lap came effortlessly, completely in flow, up and over the logs and ledges, and skipping down the dirt steps like child's play. My epiphany was instant...I hadn't felt "the flow" this deeply in months. Sure, I have enjoyed my daily runs, but they hadn't produced this deep serenity since the Spring. I kind of knew it then, burying long runs in headphones turned to 11, but didn't want to sort it out. Now that Mother Nature's northern playground had rooted me, the dissonance was deafening in its absence. The culprit was obvious (work, duh), and as it goes with many things, identifying the issue is more than half the battle. The decision to "fix that shit when I get back" came and went as fast as the last aid station, and my center felt calm and warm again. My shoulders relaxed, and I headed down the final descent with an ear-to-ear smile. I crossed the finish in 1:42:17 for 26th place, third Master, and much to my surprise, the M45-49 win.

(Patrick Smyth takes the win, photo courtesy of the Bellingham Herald
The battle up front had been epic from start to finish, with Patrick Smyth (1:18:29) striking out like a banshee on the second lap and repeating as champion. Andy Whacker (1:22:12) and Max King (1:22:35) arrived soon after, the three clearly in a league of their own. As Max King said at the finish, "Patrick was on fire, and when he's like that, it's hard to keep up". Tim Tollefson (1:24:21) and Jared Bassett (1:25:00) came in a few minutes later, followed by Sam Robinson (1:28:13), Ron Tibaduiza (1:29:19), Keith Lafferty (1:31:08), and Masters winner Chris Grauch (1:31:47). All the finish times were 2-3 minutes slower than last year, so it was definitely a more challenging course.

(Kimber Mattox, 2015 USATF Trail Half Marathon National Champion, photo courtesy of the Bellingham Herald)
Eugene OR's Kimber Mattox (1:32:20) prevailed as the Women's champ, holding back a fast charging Allison Morgan (1:34:02). An epic last mile duel between Ladia Albertson-Jenkins (1:36:24) and YiOu Wang (1:36:37) made it all the way to the final grassy field, while Bend OR's Camelia Mayfield (1:37:51), Lindsay Tollefson (1:38:07), Jamie Cheaver (1:38:08), Maria Dalzot (1:41:08), and Caitlin Smith (1:42:42) rounded out the top finishers. (all results)

"There were so many ups and downs in the hills, I couldn't tell if Allison was right behind me or I had a big lead," said Kimber at the finish, "believe me, it's a big motivator to know Allison and the others could be a pounce away. I pushed right to the finish."

(The Patrick Smyth cut out got a lot of love...some here from teammate Tim Tollefson)

(A great video summary put together by Andy Whacker and Richard Bolt) 

We all enjoyed soup and snacks as the remaining finishers came across the field to big applause, and soon had some time on the podiums to crown our national champions. Small town, but big time great! I continued to be blown away by how impactful this race was to the local community too...funds for Rebound, the draw of the nations fastest trail runners, the unmistakable cheers for finishers who had decided to do something big today, and then got it done. This feeling never gets old. I signed over my winnings (a whopping $50) to contribute to the cause, feeling just as much the angel investor as I do in Silicon Valley. Great things are happening here.

(Top Ten Men)
(Top Ten Women)
(Good for AG gold)
I'll certainly be back to see more of this beautiful country, perhaps for the USATF Champs that will be here again in 2016. Or maybe just to have the Pacific Northwest center my soul again and get me on the right track even when I don't realized I am off course. Many thanks to Tad Davis, Al Doyle, and the sponsors of the Lake Padden Half, and the volunteers who made it so special. I will see you again soon!

1 comment:

  1. So this is the event you were talking about. Great to have you visit us at Green Leaf Recreational, the biggest dispensary in Bellingham. We really enjoyed your enthusiasm for our local products!


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