Lithia Loop Marathon

The race start
Over the weekend, I headed up to Ashland, OR for Rogue Valley Runners' Lithia Loop Marathon. After meeting Hal at TransRockies, I was keen to take him up on his offer of a great race. They definitely delivered, it was an absolute blast.

I did a "power taper" for this race. After 4 100+ mile weeks (including 122 miles the previous week), which came on the heals of a 1 week recovery from Vermont and the flu, I decided that I would take 3 days completely off leading up to the race and run only 2 quality workouts. On Tuesday and Thursday, I headed out on the flat road and just shook my legs out. I had gotten a really great massage with Scott at Psoas Massage and was feeling as good as I might expect the day before the race after only a few real recovery days.

I have never actually spent any time in Ashland and it was an absolutely beautiful drive up and took a mere 5 1/2 hrs. We spent the afternoon eating good food and wandering around the little town. It was very pleasant and I felt decent, though not really fired up for the race. I am really focusing my energy and efforts towards JFK on the 21st, so it is hard to want to fully go into race mindset lest I race too hard and waste myself. Lithia Loop was suppose to be a good hard long workout, with the nice bonus of being the national championships for the trail marathon which meant I could win some money while I was at it.

Pre-race dance party aka how I warm up for races

I slept incredibly well, woke up feeling neutral and ready to go. I downed a gluten free flax muffin with agave sweetened jam and a banana and we headed out to Dutch Brothers Coffee for my morning fix. After telling Nathan (my crew/support extraordinaire) that I didn't really ever get to races extra early, we ended up arriving before 7 and before they had really even set anything up. It was decently chilly outside, so we stayed in the car and had a dance party instead. It was a good way to warm up for a race. Krissy found me and we chatted it up before the race with Ellen, it was nearly a Grand Canyon girl's weekend reunion. Monica was there in spirit I am sure.

It was pretty cold outside but I opted to just don my skirt, Salomon jersey and sleeves and skip gloves or a warm hat. While I was fine at the start, I would later regret not having gloves. We lined up on the road at the new starting line. Apparently the previous years course had been a mile short and they had adjusted this years accordingly. I chatted with friends and familiars and before I knew it Ian Torrence was making a final little talk and 1,2,3, go!

I tried to stay comfortable and controlled on the road. I knew that the first 8 miles were all uphill and not friendly you won't even notice this uphill, but real what the hell am I doing is this ever going to end hill. I also knew that after that extreme hill, it continued rolling uphill until about mile 10. I planned accordingly mentally.  I just told myself 8 miles of up, 12 miles of rolling flat and 6 miles of down. Breaking it up gave me the ability to map out my strategy.

The uphill was pretty daunting and I was feeling pretty chilly. I didn't feel like I could get warm even though I was running hard up hill. Two women went out ahead of me and I just let them go knowing my strategy was to stay in control and that my goals were to run well but not race too hard. And I am not sure with so little rest that there would have been any point in trying to hang with them on the uphill at the start, it would have been a waste of energy to try and run someone else's race. I was just happy to be able to continue to run, mile after mile after mile uphill. I had opted to not listen to music for this race but probably could have used it on that uphill.

Finally at mile 7 we turned off the fireroad and got to do the last mile of steeper uphill on single track. We popped out of the woods at mile 8 to the smiling faces of Eric Skaggs and other Rogue Valley runners. Eric asked if I needed anything and I said, "the top". He smiled and said, "you are more or less there". More or less means no, but at least I could see that we were back on fireroad and it was much milder. I had also looked at the course profile before the race, so I knew the worst was over. I wanted to spend a few miles trying to pick up the pace and start rolling. But it was freaking cold on the ridge. We had climbed up from 2,000 feet to over 5,500 feet and the temperature was much colder up there. My hands quickly turned into blocks of ice and I was not sweating or drinking at all. To make matters worse I felt extremely bloated and I attribute it to the elevation, though it was very uncomfortable. I felt slow and fat, instead of light and speedy which would be preferable. I rolled with it even though it made me a less than happy camper.

Krissy was about 30-45 seconds behind me and part of me just wanted to run with her and chat and be silly like Grand Canyon, but I also knew that I needed to focus on what my plan was a try to get into the groove. It freaked me out a bit by mile 11 when I still was feeling not great and not warm. I had been hoping to be settled in and have all the hard work I have been doing in training show its stuff. Just after mile 11, I hear two runners charging up behind me, closing fast and I turn to see Krissy and Ellen running up on me like I am not moving. I speed up to match the pace they are running at as the pull up along side me. Despite it feeling a little fast for me, the change of pace finally hit the on button and I found the pace much much more comfortable than the pace I had been running. We clicked along together, though Ellen dropped off less than a mile after she caught up to me, she had real stomach issues and lost her breakfast on the side of the trail. Krissy and I zoomed along, legs churning, feeling good. We chatted while we threw down 6:30ish miles and started passing handfuls of men in front of us like they were standing still.

I was finally feeling good and really grooving after that. My first half split was 1:47 which is slow, but with the hill, not that bad.The lights came on somewhere after mile 15 and the mid 6's just felt easier and easier. I decided at mile 16 that I would hammer as hard as I could for the last 10 miles in order to give myself a good hard speed workout. I figured that I should practice running harder than comfortable pace and get some confidence in knowing I can hold that kind of pace. It worked. I was flying. Around this time, Krissy and I stopped running together and I pulled ahead, but never looked back. I took a gel at mile 17 which proved really difficult. My hands were so cold, I could not move my fingers and I didn't want to slow down at all, so I just struggled to get into my waterbottle pocket and get the gel. Then I fought to get the top off and finally got some of the nearly frozen Clif Shot into my mouth.

I clicked off the miles in a very focused fashion. I felt like I was flying. The miles turned over in what felt like seconds and I lost contact with effort, with resistance, with pain. I passed a few more men and passed the mile 20 sign, knowing that I would be hitting some great downhill soon. I started thinking about maple syrup and post race breakfast at Morning Glory and I got even more motivated to keep on flying.

The previous day Scott Dunlap had told me that the last 4 miles was a pretty gnarly technical steep descent, so I was looking forward to ripping and roaring down that. Soon after mile 22ish, I hit another aid station, dropped my trash and then dive bombed down the firetrail heading back towards the finish. I really got rolling and just allowed my strength carry the blow and pounding of the downhills. I passed Mark Godale from Ohio and he told me that he had been with the 2nd place female at the last aid station and she should be right ahead of me.

"Well then, I guess I should go after her", I thought! And took off at a tear. I was still feeling good and speeding up. I was still running within myself as I didn't want to kill myself literally (on the crazy descent) or figuratively (for my next race). I hit another aid station, not sure which mile it was at as the mile markers had ceased to exist. And then I saw her. Becca, a SRC XC teammate of mine, was flashing along just below me made a minute-minute fifteen. I dropped the hammer to get her as we both zigged and zagged down the switchbacks. It is hard to get enough speed on a descent like that to really catch someone when they are running decently. She hit the road below and I popped out soon thereafter. Ian Torrence was there and he said she was about 45 seconds up. It was mile 25. I wasn't sure that I would be able to run 45 seconds faster than her, especially with her knowing I was there trying to get her.

Trying to reel in 2nd place, after being 45 secs back at mile 25. 
Finished 6 seconds back.

It was funny to try and sprint to catch someone like this at the end of a trail marathon. I hadn't seen her all day, yet she was really within striking distance all along. Maybe if I had known, I may have done things differently, but I doubt it. I was pretty much running as hard as was smart to do for the last 10 miles. I worked and worked and worked to try and was gaining and gaining and gaining. I saw Nathan with less than a half mile to go, he snapped pictures, cheered and I tossed (actually smashed) my water bottle to him so I could use my arms (not like I had been drinking anyway!). We came into view of the finish line and her friends screamed for her and she kicked as hard as she could. She crossed the finish line in 2nd and I was 6 seconds back. It felt good to run that hard and know I could probably still go back out and run some more. It was an awesome race. I finished in 3:16:20. Good for 3rd and a great workout.

Krissy and I after the race
Krissy came in less than 2 minutes later with a strong run and we hung out for a little bit after the race. There was a good while until the awards ceremony, so Nathan and I headed over to Morning Glory which numerous friends had recommended and I had been thinking about for more than 26.2 miles!

We are very happy with our post-race food at Morning Glory Cafe
The food was amazing. The marionberry syrup was so good I just wanted to (and did) just eat it with a fork. I opted for a tandoori tofu scramble and hash browns. Nathan got an amazing gingerbread waffle with whipped cream. After filling our bellies we headed back to the race finish for the award ceremony. Krissy, Ellen, Nathan and I sat around and chatted and then really enjoyed the award ceremony. We had finished 3rd, 4th and 5th, all in the money, so that made a great day for all of us!

Yeah for Grand Canyon girls! Ellen in 5th, Krissy in 4th, Me in 3rd. 
All in the money, nice!
Overall, it was a fantastic experience. I really enjoyed getting out of town for a fun roadtrip and a great race. The event was incredibly well put together and the experience a good one. I am feeling pretty good for JFK, with two weeks of taper ahead of me, I am going to focus on eating a ton, staying hydrated, sleeping lots and getting in some quality workouts! We shall see how it goes. For now, I am just going to enjoy my experience from Lithia Loop.

Mt. Shasta on the drive home