Archives for posts with tag: 2011

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:

                 

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Bill Bowerman possessed all the qualities that made the Greatest Generation so great.  He was a native Oregonian (son of Governor Jay Bowerman), a star football player, a World War II hero, a track coach to numerous Olympians and American record holders, a bestselling author and one of the founders of sportswear giant Nike.  I recently finished reading his biography and came away impressed with how much one man could do in a lifetime.  Learning all about this Oregon icon inspired me to sign up for the 2nd annual Bowerman Athletic Club 5K on the beautiful Nike campus in Beaverton.  Based upon last year’s times, I knew there’d be some stiff competition, which would hopefully push me to hit my goal of a sub-18 minute finish.

It’d been 20 years since I last ran a 5K and I must admit I was a little nervous.  If given a choice I’d probably opt for a half marathon over a 5K.  The 5K may be short in distance, but it more than makes up that with its intensity.  From the second the gun goes off you’re pushing it right to the edge and those 3.1 miles can feel like an eternity.

I worked half a day on Saturday, changed clothes, and then biked and MAX-ed out to Beaverton.  I picked up my race packet at the Tiger Woods Center, wondering what crimes you’d have to commit before they removed your name from a building.  If Lance Armstrong admitted to doping, would they change the name of the Lance Armstrong Center?  If there had been an O. J. Simpson Center, would it have been changed?  It’s a real disadvantage naming buildings after fallible human beings.

The 80 degree temperatures were a bit on the warm side, but it was fun to do a race in the evening for a change. There were lots of high school runners in their track uniforms and bright Nike running shoes.  There were even some real Kenyans taking part, as well as a Ugandan guy who holds the NCAA record in the 800m.  Twenty percent of all race proceeds were supporting his efforts to build medical facilities in his native country.

At 7pm, several hundred of us lined up and then took off on a lap and half around campus.  I was planning on running a 5:47 pace, but as usual started off a bit too fast.  My first mile split was 5:40.  I felt alright, and thought maybe I could hold this pace.  I started passing lots of people and hit the mile two split at 11:20 (another 5:40 mile!).  Again I wondered if I could hold on.  Unfortunately, the answer came quickly…no way in hell.  Now I was the one being passed.

My watch showed that I had slowed down to a 6:05 pace.  At that point my brain was in no shape to do the math, but I felt like I was running much too slow.  Finishing in under 18 minutes now seemed like an impossibility.  A Mexican guy in a bright orange running singlet came up from behind and for some reason I decided that I would stick with this guy no matter what.  We ran side by side for those last few minutes (which seemed like hours) and turned the final corner together.  We both took off in a sprint, but he had more of a kick still left in his legs and beat me by a couple of seconds.  Afterwards I thanked him for helping me through that last half mile.  Without him I don’t think would have been able to finish in 17:52 and break 18 minutes for the first time.

Afterwards there was beer, BBQ and a rock band cranking out the classics.  Awards were handed out by 2008 Olympians Dathan Ritzenhein (in a walking cast), Matt Tegenkamp and Amy Yoder Begley.  The top three finishers each received one of those giant cashier checks.  My dream is to win one of those bad boys some day.  If I ever do, I’ll make sure to go to the bank during a busy Friday lunchtime rush just so everyone could see me standing in line with it under my arm.  “Oh this?  It’s just something I won racing against some Kenyans last weekend out on the Nike campus.  No big deal.”

One year ago, on a whim I signed up for the Fueled by Fine Wine half marathon.  Though I’ve been a casual runner for most of my adult life, this would be the first race I’ve run in almost a decade.  The reason I chose this race had more to do with what would be going on after the race than with what would happen during the race.  The post-race celebration included twenty wineries from Oregon’s Dundee Hills offering generous samples of their famous Pinot Noir.  But a funny thing happened on the 13.1 miles I had to run to get that sampling of fine wine.  While running up, over and through those beautiful vineyards something clicked inside of me and suddenly I felt like running was what I wanted do and a runner was what I wanted to be.  I was happy with my time of 1 hour 54 minutes on that difficult course and certainly enjoyed the wine and cheese festivities afterwards.  However, the next day, despite the sore muscles and the wine-induced hangover, the question I couldn’t get out of my head was, “What’s next?

Well, since then I’ve run three marathons (including Tokyo, Buenos Aires and a 3rd place finish at the Pacific Crest a few weeks ago), three half marathons, and several shorter races.  I’ve logged over two thousand training miles, lost 25 pounds, and read several dozen running books.  I’d be the first to admit that my personality borders on the obsessive, but it’s still amazing to me that in just one year I have accomplished what I set out to do—to become a runner.

To celebrate this one year anniversary, I thought it would be fun to do the Fueled by Fine Wine half marathon again.  Lining up for this year’s race I remembered standing in the same spot a year ago wearing ratty old gym shorts, a cotton T-shirt, and a worn out pair of running shoes.  I also remembered feeling a mix of nervousness and excitement, hoping that it wouldn’t hurt too much.  This year I was wearing a white running singlet, knee high compression socks, and a pair of lightweight racing flats.  Again I felt that mix of nervousness and excitement, but for different reasons—this year I was planning on going fast.  The course had been altered slightly, but was no less difficult and once again we had beautiful weather.

I wound up finishing in 1 hour 29 minutes, placing 5th overall, winning the masters class (over 40 years old), and receiving a magnum of Pinot Noir and a Tiffany wine glass.  I honestly didn’t expect to ever win a race and I gave this blog entry the title I did because I know I may never win one again.  Of course I hope there will be more, but it’s the running itself and not the thought of winning that keeps me going.  It really is incredible how much things can change in just one year.  I’m smiling now just thinking what the next year may have in store.