The good news is there’s only one hill, the bad news, it’s 13.3 miles long.

The 34th annual Mt. Ashland Hillclimb Run took place last Saturday and I was one of the 300 lucky (unlucky?) runners to take part.  What this race lacks in length, it makes up for in height, with more than 5600 feet of elevation gain—over a vertical mile.  The only race with more of a continuous hill climb in the continental U.S. is the famous Pikes Peak Ascent in Colorado.

Ashland is a cute little college town in Southern Oregon known for its Shakespeare Festival.  The Hillclimb starts in downtown Ashland in beautiful Lithia Park.  It’s run on mostly shaded forest roads and finishes on the summit of Mt. Ashland ski resort.  Some of the best mountain trail runners in the country do this race each year.  Last year the course record was broken by Oregon’s own trail running stud, Max King.  Max was running the Cascade Lakes Relay this year, so it looked like it was going to be a battle between local legend, Eric Skaggs, raw food guru, Tim Van Orden from Vermont, two-time Western States 100 champion, Hal Koerner, and local up-and-comer Tim Olson.

Personally I didn’t really know what to expect from this race.  I usually always have a goal for each race I run, but for this one I really had no clue.  I figured I’d just take it at an uncomfortably comfortable pace and see what happens.  At the starting line it was cool to be standing next guys I’d seen in running magazines.  However, once the gun went off, these guys were out of sight in less than a minute.  I spent the first couple of miles chatting with a guy from Portland, a Hillclimb veteran, who informed me that there was a half mile section of the course that was actually flat.  Already, I looked forward to it.

At about the 5 mile mark the trees opened up and I caught my first glimpse of Mt. Ashland with its giant golf ball-like orb on top.  I really couldn’t believe that was our ultimate destination.  It seemed so high and so far away.  I took my time at each of the four aid stations, drinking a few cups of Gatorade and chatting with the volunteers before heading off again.  At mile 12, I heard someone gaining on me quickly.  I turned just as I was being passed by an older woman with long blond hair who couldn’t have weighed more than 90 pounds.  As she went by she said in a Southern California accent, “You’re so awesome.”  I don’t think she was being sarcastic either.

So after two hours and nearly 13 miles of almost continuous uphill running, where do I arrive?  At the BASE of the ski resort.  There was the parking lot, the lodge, the ski lifts.  I couldn’t believe that the final half mile would be straight uphill, under the lifts, a thousand feet, right to the top of the mountain.  There was no trail, so everyone was just working there way upwards any way they saw fit.  It was too steep to run and so steep in places that you could reach down on all fours.  I passed a guy who was wearing the same Bowerman Athletic Club shirt I was.  We looked at each other and smiled, too tired to laugh.  I finally made it to the top in just under 2 hours and 24 minutes, finishing in 29th place.

If you’re looking to do a race that’s totally unique, I’d highly recommend the Mt. Ashland Hillclimb Run.  It was probably harder than a marathon, but so much more enjoyable.  It has a real laidback local vibe and everyone couldn’t have been more friendly, including Eric Skaggs, who won in 1 hour 51 minutes and Tim Van Orden, who set the masters record in 1 hour 53 minutes.  Here are a few photos of the event: