rogue valley runners

Lithia Loop Trail Marathon

Photo courtesy of Scott and Christi Dunlap

About 2 weeks ago, I got my first post-Tussey workouts from my coach to take me onwards towards TNF50, the first week in December. Tussey was definitely my big A race. I wanted to savor it, recover from it and generally not rush back in to training but with only a bit over a month between the two races, it also really wasn't an option. On the schedule from my coach, there was a listed a 3:20 long run for November 6th. I did a quick check and sure enough, as I thought, Lithia Loop Trail Marathon (the trail marathon national championship) was that day. And last year, I ran a 3:18. Sounds like the perfect workout to me.

If you were to do a quick search of all of the things you shouldn't do before a marathon, you would find lists and lists of things ranging from eat different things to do big workouts. Usually, we do a nice taper, watch over every last detail and generally wander around in a weird taper induced mental state. But not for me, not this time.

Instead, I kept on as usual. Well, slightly less than usual. Since Tussey, I haven't brought back my second workouts of the day and have tried to keep my mileage relatively moderate. Last week, however, was a pretty hard week. After taking my usual Monday off, I hammered out the hardest track workout I've done in a while on Tuesday and followed it up in the evening with a hard training session with my trainer that included plenty of squats and lunges. Wednesday was a recovery day and my legs were singing and I don't mean that is a good way. By Thursday, my hamstrings and glutes were super tight and sore, so much so that it took most of the day to get me out the door to run. I almost didn't run because I was worried that if I did I might really ruin my run at Lithia. Ultimately, I got out the door and did another hard workout, tempo this time in 14 miles total. On Friday, I drove up to Ashland by myself. By the time I got there, my legs felt horrible. They were seriously tight and sore from the drive and I was actually worried that I was going to do really horribly and not be able to get my legs moving. While Lithia Loop was going to be a training race, it is still a race (and a race with money due to being the USATF National Championship) and I wanted to at least run it as a hard workout.

I spent about an hour stretching in the room of my hotel (Peerless Hotel, super cute) and ate a hearty meal of baked potato with vegetables and a huge vegetable salad from Greenleaf. I was happy to see they had take away since I didn't much feel like eating in a restaurant all by myself. By the time I went to bed, my legs were feeling better but not great. I was feeling no pre-race nerves and fell asleep just fine.

I woke up at 6am, gobbled up a small pb and banana sandwich, put on my race kit and got back into bed for another hour. I knew there was no reason to be super early to the race start (8am) and I also wanted to get a cup of coffee from Noble Coffee, which was recommended to me by Erik Skaggs, but didn't open until 7am. My legs felt okay and I was glad that at least they didn't feel like crap from the start.

I grabbed a coffee and headed off to the start. It was a really pleasant temperature at the start and I was excited that it seemed to be a lot warmer than the weather report had predicted. I was comfortable in a short sleeve shirt, but wore my 3/4 Salomon tights with compression to support my worked legs. The pre-race reports were that there were lots of speedy women in the field and the men's field was really stacked as well. Last year, I came in 3rd place and nearly caught 2nd place in a dash to the finish. My goal for this year was to run a hard workout and place in the top 5. I was hoping that my worn out legs would be able to muster at least that.

I did a quick warmup, chatted with friend Scott Dunlap and some others, then Hal gave a quick pre-race briefing and we were off. Up the big ass climb.

Pretty much the first 10.5 miles are uphill. Thankfully, I knew this and could pace accordingly. Hal sent us off and a huge group of men dashed out. Scott had told me he was going to aim for a sub-3 hr finish, so I knew that whatever speed he was going, I should NOT be going with him. I noticed two women go out ahead of me, right on Scott's heels and figured that things would shake out pretty quickly at that pace. Pretty soon, the two women ahead dropped behind me and I trucked along in the 8:30-9min/mile range. Slow and steady. I was running with Katie Caba and Melissa Shweisguth and just tried to be comfortable. They moved ahead of me, but I refused to change my strategy of going ultra speed up the hill. Last year, I survived the hill, the got to crank out tempo speed on the slightly downhill miles from 10.5-20 and then hammer the steep and technical (in places) final 6 miles. I was hoping that this strategy would again work and simply tried to suffer as little as possible up the climb. Katie moved ahead and Melissa dropped back and we chatted. She mentioned that "everyone has their strategy" for the race and I thought about it for a minute and considered if I did really have a strategy. At that point, Katie was in 1st and 2nd-5th place were all right there with me and I was kind of ready to be running by myself and according to how I felt. But alas, I had to make it to the top of the hill to shake out of a group of both men and woman. When we hit the aid station at mile 8, I passed off my gloves to Erik and dropped the pace a bit. I knew that the fire road continued to roll uphill, so I didn't push too hard. 

My legs were definitely not feeling as spry as I would have wanted, but I was not surprised at all. Considering the hard workouts and the hill we'd just climbed, I was at the very least, not worried. I dropped the pace to the low 7s and made some space for myself. I hit the distinct point on the course when it starts to lope downwards and I let my legs go a bit more. Or I tried. Last year, I was easily able to drop into the low to mid 6 minute per mile range. But my legs were not having it, I felt like a car stuck in 3rd gear, I could manage a decent and steady pace, but as soon as I tried to speed up, the engine (my legs) would strongly object and make a lot of noise. I was a bit bummed by this because I had been secretly hoping for some magic race adrenaline to kick in that would make all of the week's hard work wash away.  But it didn't. And that was ok. I just thought about Nathan telling me to run a hard workout and IF there was someone to chase that I could see (or someone chasing me), to push it and if not, just be steady. I decided to be steady. I managed a few high 6's and low 7's. And the miles ticked off quickly.

It is amazing how fast a marathon seems to go by when you are use to running 50 miles and beyond. Before I knew it, I was filling my bottle half way up and taking a swig of coke at the mile 20 aid station. From there, we dive down a steep hill and I cranked out a few sub 6 miles. I passed a handful of guys on the downhills. Thankfully the one part of my leg that wasn't really sore was my quads which allowed me to float down the hills. I worked my way through the very technical gnarly section from mile 24-25 (passing another guy) then hit the road, eager to be done. It was indeed a hard workout and I was ready for it to be over. 

Learning from last year (and how I nearly caught 2nd place in the last mile), I was slightly paranoid that another girl was going to do that to me. I kept checking over my shoulder, just in case. I didn't want to relinquish 2nd place at that point since I was pretty proud of that considering how messed up I felt coming into the race. I was able to cruise out the last mile pretty strong and finished in 3:28:36, a full 10 minutes slower than last year and in 2nd place. Katie had run a great race (her first marathon since Lithia Loop 2008!) and finished in 3:23:12. 

Katie and I after the finish.
Photo courtesy of Scott and Christi Dunlap

3rd-6th place women all came in pretty close to one another about 5 minutes after I did. I hung out at the finish and chatted with Katie, Max King, Jeff Browning, Richard Bolt and Yassine Diboun. I changed my clothes, as it was getting chilly, collected my USATF 2nd place medal and headed out to make the long drive back to San Francisco. 

But not before a stop at Morning Glory for coffee and an egg scramble. Which, let's be frank, was the real reason I drove all the way up to Ashland. So delicious. 

I got in the car, drove the 5.5 hours home to SF and by the time I got home, my legs were so sore, I walked like a cowboy. But after a nice long walk to and from dinner, the soreness disappeared, the tiredness subsided and I was left with nothing but warm fuzzy feelings for following up my National Championship in the 50 miler with a 2nd place finish just a few short weeks later. A satisfying workout indeed.