Sunday, November 29, 2009

Running Fun in the Willamette Valley

The shorter, crisper days we're experiencing now in Central Oregon are a fun time of year. The high trails are now all settled in for the winter with a few feet of snow, forcing Sascha and me back down on the tamer slopes of Peterson Ridge. The whole Peterson Ridge trail complex is sweet! In the last 18 months, the Sisters Trail Committee has built about 30 miles of new trails around Sisters, mostly part of the Peterson Ridge trails. So Sascha and I have been enjoying some play time a little closer to home the past few weeks.

I spent the weekend of Nov. 21-22 in the Willamette Valley playing, running, and hanging out with friends. After a stupidly slow drive to Eugene on Friday night through a snow storm, I got to Tate and Mike's house, where a good meal and conversation awaited. The next morning I was going to run the EWEB Run to Stay Warm 1/2 marathon. I love road halves!

The morning was much different than overnight - it was clear and sunny, and a bit on the chilly side. Perfect for a 1/2 marathon. My 1/2 p.r. is 1:15:57 and I was really hoping to beat that. So after a good 3-mile warm up, I put on my trusty fast shoes, Nike Lunaracers. I had worn those shoes in only 2 other races - my 10k p.r. and my 1/2 marathon p.r - so I knew they were fast!

Eugene didn't bring out it's big guns for this 1/2, but after finding myself in 12th place at the first mile, I knew there was some good competition. After a 17:43 three-mile split, I decided to change gears and ran the miles 4 and 5 in the mid 5:30s, easily passing some guys who had clearly gone out too fast. I even got a few shout-outs about my attire for the day, my trusty Oultaws singlet. By mile 6 (34:51), I was firmly in 6th place, cruising along and keeping my heartrate in the mid-170s. It was a beautiful day to be running.

I was trying to keep a kid with an Oregon singlet ahead of me in my sights. I made it my goal to slowly reel him in over the next 3-4 miles, running steady 5:45s and inching my h.r. up to 180. I think I startled him a bit around 9 1/2 when crossing the Willamette, he heard something behind him, looked back, and saw me 20 meters back. He threw in a little surge, which I didn't counter.

Across the river, we turned back toward the finish line and into a noticable and chilly headwind. Mile 10 came in 57:40, giving me 18:16 for the final 5k to p.r. Quick math told me 5:50 pace would get me there, but the headwind told me it wouldn't be easy. I easily passed Oregon kid, surging as I went by, then also quickly caught up to single-compression sock guy (he was wearing one compression sock and one regular sock). He matched my surge for a couple minutes before falling back. Now I was in 4th, on the hunt for a podium finish.

The closer I got to the finish, the harder I ran as my h.r. was now in the low-180s, but my pace had slowed to 5:54, 5:50, and 5:51 for miles 11-13. Just before 13, I ran into 3rd place and glanced at my watch to see 1:15:16 at mile 13. 40 seconds for .1 miles, no problem. I sprinted to the finish in 3rd place with a time of 1:16:19. Huh?! The last ".1" took me 1:03. Hm, perhaps it was a bit long...but, that's the way it goes. I was happy with my effort and place. I figure any time I can crack the podium in a Eugene race, I'm doing something right.

After a good lunch with Tonya and Scott, I was off to Salem for a fun night with Ryan and Michele. When I got to their house, nobody was home, so I decided to hang out in their backyard hottub until they got home - very nice. We all enjoyed A fun night of Wii Fit and the movie Bruno, while eating a variety of good, fatty snacks. I always love going to their house - they really are two of my closest friends.

On Sunday I drove up to Portland to watch Parker run in the Nike Border Clash. Border Clash is a cross country race between the top-40 Washington prep harriers against the top-40 Oregon prep harriers. Parker ran a great race, finishing in 18th overall, 4th for Team Oregon, beating all of the Oregon state champs from the different classifications. He was excited, and it was fun to see him finish his high school harrier career on a high note.

The weekend finished with a run on the Wildwood in Portland with my good buddy Ryan (Portland Ryan, not to be confused with Salem Ryan). I always enjoy running with Ryan. We've had some pretty fun battles in races, and some great adventures - we even skied to and snowshoed up South Sister in February for his bachelor party in 2005. So it was fun to kick up some mud on the Wildwood with him for a bit.

And, of course, a trip home from the Valley isn't complete without a stop at Rosie's Cafe in Mill City for a smoothie and to-die-for cinnamon roll. Outlaws head coach Charlie and his son were there doing the same, and we were both glad that Parker had saved us a cinnamon roll.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

XC Running

After running, and loving, the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon last year, I was excited to run it again this year. It was going to be the USATF National Trail Marathon Championships, so I knew it would bring some great competition and no doubt, some faster times. However, something really cool happened 9 days before the race that made me not run it - the Sky-Em League Championship Cross Country Meet.

See, I thought only 3 individual guys from the Sisters Outlaws were going to qualify for State. I was wrong! The boys team not only qualified, they narrowly missed victory by only 5 points. The #4-6 runners all ran big p.r.'s to seal the team's berth to State. The girls teams also finished second, thus, sending 14 Outlaws harriers to the State meet. Since state was the same day as Lithia, my choice really wasn't a choice at all - there was no way I was going to miss out on State!

The day of the State meet started off early for us Outlaws. With fresh snow on the pass, we left the school in the very uncrowded bus at 6:15 for the 2.5+ hour drive to Lane Comm. College in Eugene. Although maybe not the most fun course to run, it sure is very spectator friendly.

The girls were racing first. All seven of them (Emi, Hayley, Katie, Jordan, Tia, Fabi, and Taylor) ran strong. We really didn't think a trophy was in the cards (top-4), but thought that with a solid day, top-10 was within reach. The girls stepped up and finished a strong 8th.

Next it was time for the boys. Undefeated on the season coming into the meet, Parker put a lot of pressure on himself. The other coaches and I tried to mellow him out on the bus ride. When the gun went off, Parker, Taylor, and Seth S. went out strong, while Jeff, Easton, Seth F., and Mason went with the main pack. Parker ran very strong in the lead pack of 3 for 2 1/2 miles, leading the whole way, at which point the other 2 guys made a move on him and he couldn't respond. They had bided their time well and had the kicks to show it. Parker pushed hard to the finish and made all the Outlaws proud with his 3rd place. Of course, he has since run that race in his head at least 100 times, and will at least that many more...he definitely learned a good lesson that day.

Taylor and Seth both steadily moved up within the lead pack throughout the race, finishing 8th and 12th, respectively. Taylor is going to be a solid team leader next year. Thanks to Mason's mid-race surge, he, Jeff, Easton, and Seth F. all moved up big-time throughout the race. And as per usual, once Jeff and Easton hit the track with 300 meters to go, they flew by guys! Thanks to Easton's, Seth F's, and Mason's p.r.'s, and Jeff's big finish, the boys podiumed in a very solid 3rd place and earned a trophy.

That night, we rented a big house on the beach in Waldport, had a great seafood dinner, played a bunch of silly games, looked at all of the pictures Zander and Chris took, watched movies, played in the sand, and just generally celebrated a great cross country season by being together. A sweet way to end a fun year!

This past Saturday, just a week after State, there was a USATF cross country race in Sandy that I thought would be fun to run and get a few Outlaws to go with me. I was only able to get Taylor and Parker to go, but we had a great time!

Taylor ran the Junior Olympic portion of the meet, finishing 5th in his 5k race in 17:39. He outkicked two guys on the track, beating one by .3 seconds! I got Parker to run the Open 8 k race with, or at in the same race with me. He was excited to just run a race for fun with no pressure on him, and it showed. In a small, but very strong, field of 30, Parker ran his first 8 km xc race in 27:18 for 5th place. He smoked lots of 20 & 30 year old dudes - it was sweet! I overheard more than a few guys after the race comment about Parker. As for me, I was reminded that, although I love xc, I really suck at it. Although I never got passed the entire race, and ended up passing 10 harriers, I still couldn't even pull of a sub-30, finishing in 30:02 for 14th place.

I thought about cross country running and what makes a good cross country runner a bit on the drive home. I concluded there are 3, maybe 4, general runner classifications: power, strength, speed, and endurance. I got the endurance down. And crazy as it sounds, I think I even have a little speed (relative to the other categories). Power is pretty much reserved for sprinters and that's definitely not me. But I think it's really strength that makes a good xc runner. I am not a strength runner. To be a good xc runner, you have to be able to muscle up short, steep climbs, and be able to accelerate fast around corners. I'm just not good at that kind of stuff. I enjoy getting in a good groove, then slowly increasing my effort and pace throughout a big bursts for me. And thus, I think that's why I've always sucked as a harrier. But I'll always love it!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Columbia Gorge Marathon and Pilot Butte 5k

The weekend of Oct. 24-25 was one of those really cool weekends that don't come around often, but when they do, I cherish them greatly.

On Saturday, I ran the 2nd annual Pilot Butte Giants Gallop 5k in Bend. I love running PBRs (Pilot Butte Repeats), and I love this little race. The first .7 miles are flatish, then 1 mile up gaining 500', .8 miles down losing 500', and .6 miles flatish to the finish on the track. There was a small group of us, but we had a great time. I wore my heartrate monitor, hoping I would set a new max-h.r. p.r. I wasn't disappointed.

I took the lead from the start, ran strong up the road, tried to just cruise down the trail with thoughts of Sunday's marathon, then while making a sharp left at the bottom, my feet slid from under me and I went down. A bit embarrassed and with bloody knees, I quickly got up and tried to shake myself out and kick to the finish. I could feel and hear Paul quickly gaining on me. On the track with 200 to go I went all out. Paul was right behind me, my h.r. monitor was beeping like crazy, and the finish couldn't come quick enough. Finally I crossed the line, barely squeaking out the W by a foot. I didn't break my c.r. from last year of 19:18, but I was happy with the win, my time of 19:33, and new heartrate p.r. of 201 (I was most excited about the 201)! Unfortunately for the marathon the next day, my quads were pretty sore, so I slowly ran a mile cool down around the track.

That evening I made the drive to The Dalles to stay with my college buddy / cross country teammate, Chad Sperry, who is the race director for the Columbia Gorge Marathon. Chad and his wife were in Hood River doing race stuff and their kids were all at grandparent's houses, so it was just Dixie the dog and me hanging out. After 15 minutes of fiddling with the remote, I figured out how to operate the t.v. and I was happy to watch Perfect Storm while stretching my sore quads. Lori got home and we chatted for a while, then Chad came in and I caught up with him for a few minutes before bed.

A good night of sleep found me excited to get up and run this cool course. As per usual Sean-style, I arrived an hour early, jogged a 3 mile warm-up, and got to the start with 10 minutes to go. There I saw my good buddy Ryan, recovering from a painful crash on the Wildwood a few weeks ago that left his ribs on the sore side. I also got to catch up with fellow Shadle Park Highlander Stan (cheerleading today), his wife Esther (running the marathon), Win, Joel, Kurt, Kelly, and a few others. Then soon enough, Chad said "go," so we went!

Joel took it out a bit harder than I wanted to go, so I enjoyed the two mile climb up to the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail with Ryan and Win. Joel continued to pull away from us on the very scenic trail, which took us through the twin tunnels a couple miles west of Mosier. Ryan recalled how cool, and scary, it was to be time trialing on his bike through those tunnels in the Mount Hood Cycling Classic, another race that Chad directs.

Getting off of the paved bike path / old highway, we passed Stan, who generously gave me a small baggie of S-caps (I had forgotten mine and although it wasn't hot, I wanted a few just in case). After a nice downhill to Mosier, we quickly caught Joel and ran through an aid station where I was able to grab a Gu. Then with Joel right there, my competitive instincts took over and I instinctually took the lead. I knew we had a nice, long, grinder climb for the next 6 1/2 miles, so I took that opportunity to put a gap on Joel, Ryan, and Win.

At 12.5 miles, the course turns onto a gravel road and we run on that for 1.5 miles This was a nice break for the legs from the pavement before the steep, 4-mile descent back into Mosier. There was an a.s. right at the turn onto the gravel, where I called out I wanted a Gu. The volunteer not only got me the Gu, but he even opened it for me - first class service! That was just the little boost I needed to get me over the gravel to the fast downhill. On the way down to Mosier, a helicopter did more than a couple fly-overs; I'm still not sure if they were covering the race or what, but I waived.

Back in Mosier, around mile 18, I decided it was finally time to re-fill my bottle. Hm, only 20 oz. so far in 18 miles, but the weather was perfectly cool, I hydrated up on nuun before the race, and I felt great, so all was good. A steep 1.5 mile climb got me back up to the old highway and out of traffic again (although traffic really wasn't an issue at all anywhere on the course), and I knew I had a mostly downhill final 6.5 miles.

Passing the 1/2 marathoners in this stretch was great for the confidence. Obviously they were moving slower than me, but passing people, especially towards the end of a marathon, helps keep the fire burning. At mile 21, I grabbed my third, and last, Gu of the day. Then before long I was out of the park, passing mile 23, and getting rah-rah'd by Stan again. Smiling and feeling really good, I leaned into the downhill and let my legs run a couple 5:45s - life was good. After winding through Hood River, while crossing a pedestrian bridge with about a mile to go, I went down...aagghh! A guy was walking across going the other way and he didn't really know what to do. I got up quickly, shook myself out while jogging for about 30 seconds, then got back into my rhythm. I happily looped around the marina and very soon finished the inaugual Columbia Gorge Marathon in 2:45:29. Although about 1/2 mile short (about 3 min.), I was stoked to go sub-2:50 on this hilly course (2,000' of vertical), and I was excited to get the win. In 4 marathons this year, I have 3 victories (Redding and Tahoe) and one 3rd place (Hilo). A good marathoning year for me.

After getting a big congrats from Chad and Lori, I anxiously watched the foot bridge to see who would be finishing next - Ryan or Joel? Well, it turns out there was a good little battle for second, and Joel got it in 2:53, with Ryan less than a minute back. Joel lives in Bend, and if Ryan still did, it would have been a central Oregon podium sweep. But, he doesn't. So, it wasn't.

After feasting on some super-tasty veggie soup, bread, and chips, I was axious to see how Laura was going to finish. At 4:21 she crossed the finish line, I gave her a big hug, and in between a few happy tears, she said "Sean, you told me this wasn't a p.r. course." She had just p.r.ed by 26 minutes!!

This was such a great race! I loved the course, the hills, the scenery (leaves, waterfalls, river, farms), the volunteers, the aid stations, the other runners, the weather (high-40s, no wind - crazy for in the Gorge, overcast), the post-race food, the cool finisher's medal, the low-key atmosphere, the organization. Seriously, a great race.

On my drive home past all the fruit orchards south of Hood River, I stopped at an orchard that just so happen to be having a hard cider tasting that weekend from Blue Mountain Cider Company out of Milton-Freewater from eastern Oregon.. I LOVE hard cider. After tasting 6 or 7, maybe 8, I picked out my 3 favorites to buy - a sweet cider, a dry cider, and raspberry cider. Mmmm...tasty way to finish a great weekend of running!