Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Lithia Loop Trail Marathon 2013: Race Report

Race Report:
Lithia Loop Trail Marathon 2013: A Hill for a Climber.

Dave and I drove to Ashland on Friday and went right to Rogue Valley Runners and picked up our packets. The store was very nice and friendly.  We asked about the course and what shoes to wear and whether we should expect snow or not.  Even though the weather was sunny and 68 degrees on Friday we were expecting a severe weather warning for Saturday and were wondering what to wear and how to prepare. We took a minute and looked around and then headed into Lithia Park where the race starts and finishes.  We also wanted to scout the course.  We were both very curious to see the terrain and wrap our brains around the ten mile uphill climb we were about to embark upon.  Lithia Park is a beautiful park and since I had attended college in Ashland it made me realize that I hadn’t spent enough time there during those years.

Dave Harkin, Paula Harkin, Larry Walsh in Lithia Park waiting for race start.
As we approached the signature purple starting line arch it began to rain, the pavement was wet and runners were preparing for the start of the race.  This race is really small and there is not much fanfare.  The clock counted down to start time and off we went.  I had no idea how long I would be running uphill and I am so happy I didn’t. The paved road of Lithia Park soon turned into a soft surface road that turned and twisted up and up and up for miles and miles.  I took it one mile at a time and had to convince myself to continue on without stopping. My pace was steady but slow as I tried to manage my heart rate. Turn after turn after turn of uphill we climbed to 5,000 ft.  At mile 7 we turned off to a single-track trail that also went uphill where we punched out at mile 8 into a clearing.  This was the aid station I had been waiting for where cowbells and cheers met each runner.  I was so happy to make it to this aid station.  Sadly, I wore substandard gloves that were soaking wet and my fingers were freezing.  There was a gal working at the aid station that offered her leather gloves to me.  She worked at the running store and told me I could use them if I would drop them back off after the race.  I put them on and never took them off!!  They barely fit into the handle of my waterbottle but they were dry and warm and I will never forget her kind gesture.  All in all we climbed for 13 miles not 10 miles and it took me 2:30 minutes to get to the halfway point of the marathon. It was the climb of a lifetime.

Rounding the final corner in Lithia Park.  Almost finished!
From this point forward I decided I would run from aid station to aid station not allowing the total marathon distance to enter my mind.  The aid stations were between 3.5 and 4 miles apart.  I wanted to stop and walk between aid stations but I pushed through and was always happy to see the smiling faces waiting at the aid station ahead.  The aid stations were stocked with all kinds of food and drink and electrolyte replacements. I filled my bottle at every aid station except the first and made myself continue to drink through each phase. 

Pioneer Hall, Lithia Park, post race.
Along the course I traded places with a gal that had just finished an Ironman and was not happy with her performance. I followed a man that I imagined to be one of my training partners at home.  I passed a few people along the way however the road and trail were very thin with participants at this point and after mile 10 or so I found myself running solo for most of the race. This felt like an ultra marathon rather than a marathon.  The hardest section for me was from mile 16-20.  It was 4 miles between aid stations and what I thought would be downhill was up and down and felt like it was mostly up but I am sure it was net down.  The hills just kept coming and I was ready for a downhill.  At the Four Corners Aid Station at mile 20 the downhill finally came.  It was nearly 2 miles of steep downhill losing much of our elevation gain until we turned off the road onto a single track trail that headed up hill and then down.  The change back to uphill was mentally tough for me as I had been expecting to go downhill since mile ten.  The terrain was beautiful and the views amazing.  Even though I had been running at 5000ft of elevation for a long stretch I felt pretty good.  My hamstrings were sore from climbing and now my quads were tired from the down but not able to totally embrace the relief because of the fatigue from the uphill.  One mile at a time I finally reached the last aid station at mile 23.  I was very surprised to be pointed onto a single-track trail that went up and rolled along the canyon with an amazing amount of switchbacks and eventually a set of stairs to climb between mile 24 and 25.  The final mile or two seemed to take an eternity however I actually enjoyed the final march down the trail into the park and eventually to the finish line. 4:31 was a long time to be running.  My overall moving time according to my Garmin was 4:20.  Only 11 minutes at the aid stations.  I would have stayed at the friendly well- stocked aid stations all day but the finish line called my name and my bucket list insisted I check off The Lithia Loop Trail Marathon. 

A logoed pint glass and a finisher rose inside of a Lithia Loop Backpack was a great finisher’s gift.  Food and beer were served inside of the Pioneer Hall in Lithia Park.  The smile on my face told the story.  The climb and the rain and the cold and the terrain were a challenge but I finished what I set out to do and I was proud of that. It was an amazing day and an amazing race.  I liked it. It was indeed a hill for a climber. 

Paula Harkin
Lithia Loop Trail Marathon
November 2, 2013

Lithia Loop Elevation Chart