This marathon is logistically easy and cheap. What I gain in convenience I will have to pay for with a brutal course. This should be similar in difficulty to the Mountain Marathon of two years ago and the Gorge Waterfall 50K of last year.
Two weeks ago I scoped out the mountain. It was a beautiful, warm Spring day. I did not have the course map with me, so I just took a trail up to the top, went back the way I had come, and then ran up to the top and down again via the access dirt road. The trails that I ran on were mostly cushy and not very technical. I decided that on race day I would just wear my road shoes. Little did I know that I picked trails that were largely not on the course.
Photos from a sunny day:
I don't know what is up with the Microwaves on top of the 2,300 ft elevation. The deep woods with the government installation did make me think of the X-Files.
Race day arrived with cooler weather and the threat of rain. My scouting trip allowed me to know where I was going and I was able to leave home a little before 6AM to make the 7:30 early start with no stress. This time I have a print out of the course map that I will carry with me. Start at the bottom and run up the dirt road just a little ways. Right onto a "pretzel" trail, back to the road, then another side trail that goes out and back to the road at a higher point. Finally take the road to the top, which completes the blue trail. Next is a 5 mile loop, green on the map. This I had not done any of previously. It is mostly single track technical trail with about a dozen downed trees to go over or under. One creek crossing and a large boulder that I would have to think about before climbing over. The green loop also starts with a crazy long very steep downhill. The loop is actually a "lollipop" and we have to climb up this same hill to get back to the top and aid station. After the green loop, we will take the purple trail back to the bottom. It will descend steeply before another long uphill climb. Finally it merges with the trail that I did run a few weeks ago and is mostly a very nice and runnable downhill. Blue, green, purple completes the course. Except that is just a half marathon. I will do this loop twice for the full 26.2 miles. 50K runners will complete the green loop twice on their second full loop. If I stray onto an orange trail or some other unmarked trail, it could be bad. And I have heard tales of runners getting lost here during this race in previous years. Over 100 in the half, but only 27 will finish the marathon and 23 the 50K. About 7,300 feet of elevation gain in the marathon. Some 50K starters will drop to the full and some marathoners will drop to the half. I know that I must be quick at the start/finish aid station and get going on loop two before I can change my mind and drop to the half.
There are two things about this race that I can not adequately describe. One is the toughness of the course. Many very long sections of uphill that I simply must walk. I actually do alright on the uphills. By the time I am done walking so long, my legs are ready to run on the flats and downhills. The narrow trail, technical sections, especially the downhills are what get me though. I am so afraid of falling, that I tend to pick my way carefully down the steeps, while other runners seem to fly past me. Shout out to Maniac Mama Lisa. I would gain on her on the uphills, but then marvel at how fast she can get down the tricky trails. At times I wish I had my trail shoes, but I never really come close to slipping or falling.
The truly indescribable part of this race is the scenery. No great views, but some terrific forest. The deep forest combined with the weather really struck something in me. After a nice run of warm sunny days, it was like winter was coming back, the end of something. Fog rolling through the woods, wind howling above, damp but not raining. It feels like night is coming on, but it is only 11AM. It feels like winter is closing in, light snow falling, but it is April. It is not spooky, but it seems like the guardians of the forest are lulling me into a trap. During the long stretches in the murky woods, while running alone, I get this weird feeling. Perhaps I will make a wrong turn and wind up on another trail and just keep running in these woods for eternity. Then a fellow runner, often someone I know, catches up or comes toward me as our course has some two way sections, and I snap back to reality.
Loop 1 - 3 hours 10 minutes.
Loop 2 - Now I decide that it would be a good goal to run it in 3:50 and beat 7 hours. On the way down I know that I will make it. My feet are sore and I have just a little right knee twinge. I ease back and do not pound the downhills. My energy level stays good the whole way and I mange to keep my feet mostly dry. Fun to see four of the Kuhlmanns here. And other Maniac friends.
Time wise this was the 4th longest run I have done. Though only a marathon, It took me more time to complete than any of my previous thirteen 50K races (31.1 miles). Unlike my previous difficult trail races, I leave this one thinking that I would do it or a similar event again. In fact, this type of race may become my favorite, over the city road marathon.
18th place of 27 finishers
Race#291, Marathon or ultra #94