The Trail Triple Crown is hosted by the Trail Dawgs running club. I'm not sure why their mascot is wearing a dress and carrying a purse, but whatever...they still put on some pretty cool races.
Trail runners have a way of falling in love with particular race courses, and like salmon, we'll return to them annually. Unlike salmon, trail runners do not spawn and then die. So maybe that's a bad example.
There are a few other characteristics that I've noticed within myself recently and I know this transformation is a result of spending a lot of time on the trail. If you're a trail runner you may share a few of these traits:
1. Most of the clothes in my wardrobe were acquired at packet pickup. I find myself getting excited when I score a particularly nice race shirt and immediately make plans for wearing it to my next important social engagement.
2. I am constantly refraining from firing snot rockets in public places. This is a very common occurrence during an ultra, but is not acceptable to do inside Whole Foods (according to Jo).
3. Whenever I'm driving down the road and see flagging tape hanging in a tree, I immediately start looking for the trail that is associated with it and make plans to return later to run it. I've learned that people use flagging tape for things other than marking trail running courses. This is stupid and confusing.
4. I have no problem pulling my running shorts to my knees so I can search for ticks. Those bastards hide in the toughest places to reach sometimes and I WILL NOT risk Lyme Disease for the sake of catering to your puritan values. Ticks are bad news. I may not recover from Lyme Disease, but you will most assuredly recover from seeing my bare ass. Maybe.
Sorry for the distraction...back to the race...
In addition to myself, Jo was on hand to run the Half Marathon. We were joined by Shasta Moore and Arron Skutch, both would be running their first marathons. Also, Aaron's beautiful girlfriend Kristen Wagner would be running her first Half Marathon.
We also met up with some of my friends from Runner's World (RWOL) Rik and Stacey Keener. They would both be running the marathon course today.
I want to take just a moment to provide some background on each of these runners.
This is me with Stacey and Rik before the race.
Rik is a certified bad ass on the trails and Stacey is equally tough. This will be her first marathon, despite having run an ultra already. I love when people blow right pass the marathon distance, then return later just so they can say they did it. We all need at least one of these races on our running resume.
Shasta Moore has been a friend and coworker for several years. I've never worked with anybody longer than I have with her. She and I worked together well before we had the jobs that we have now and she was one of the first people that I actively recruited when I got my new job. This means that Shasta knew me when I was fat, and she knew me when I was still trying to run my first mile. She used to tell me that my weight loss effort was a phase and that it wouldn't stick. Now she's lined up with me at a trail marathon.
Shasta...I win again!
Me, Jo, Kristen and Aaron before the race.
Aaron Skutch and I work together and we have traveled together while performing our jobs. As a result, Aaron has run with me on all of my favorite trails and running spots in the distant and remote locations where we work. I never really invited him, but he just kept showing up. Aaron also served as a crew member and pacer for me at the Javelina 100 mile race in Arizona last year. I think this may have been the catalyst that resulted in him wanting to run his first marathon.
Kristen Wagner has never run more than 10 miles in a race (road miles), so this will be a new experience for her. She's super tough and confident, so I was sure she would kill it.
For those people that are somehow unaware, there is a considerable difference between road races and trail races. To illustrate this, I'll take a moment to pick on the most famous road race in the world. Boston!
You may have seen the news reports recently regarding thousands of runners backing out of the Boston Marathon because it was going to be a warm day. This news stunned every trail runner I know. Trail runners are like US Mail (except we're in a much better financial situation). We don't care what the weather is, we just plan accordingly, go out, and do what we came to do. All my trail buddies that entered Boston, ran Boston.
Please note the elevation chart below. This compares Western States elevations and distance to that of Boston. And it's important to note that "Heartbreak Hill" has been highlighted in the profile. This is noteworthy because Heartbreak Hill is the most challenging spot on the Boston course. Western States isn't considered to be among the toughest ultras, but it is the Boston Marathon of trail runners.
The half marathon started at 7:30, which is 10 minutes before the marathon. This is a 13.1 mile course and the marathon runners do it twice. We all gathered at the start line to watch the mass of runners take off. Aaron and I wished our ladies good luck, and they were off!
This left a much smaller group standing at the start line while we waited our specified 10 minute delay. We all made small talk until it was our turn. Soon enough, we were headed on our way.
I went out pretty fast, trying to pace off the fast guys and held a position up near the front for a while. The Navy Marathon Team is always at this race for some reason, and these guys are fast. I knew I wouldn't be running with them today and settled into a nice, steady pace with Rik Keener. We chatted as we ran and I was having a great time.
At mile 3, we had to cross a river that was approximately 240 feet wide and the water came up the bottom of my running shorts. It was ICE COLD. We scrambled through that and ran up the hill on the other side.
At mile 4, we caught up to a huge group of half marathon runners. We were in tight single track now and passing was very difficult. It's not bad when you're dealing with one or two runners, but there were dozens in our conga line.
Evidently, Rik did a better job of forcing his hand and managed to get around them much faster than I did. I was working my way through this mess for 2 miles and I realized some of these runners were deliberately making it difficult for the marathon runners to clear them. I don't quite get the thought process there, but whatever...
By the time I cleared this group, Rik was gone! I tried to make up for lost time and ran hard to find him. I never did catch him and wouldn't see him again until the finish.
At mile 10, the Navy guys came up along side me and asked if I was running the marathon. I replied "Affirmative!" and then they went into a detailed explanation of why they were now behind me. They had evidently got lost on the trail and were now trying to get back to their rightful place up front.
First off...I don't care that they got lost. Keeping on course is all a part of the sport.
Secondly...How do military guys get lost on a CLEARLY marked course? That gave me a lot to ponder while I made my way to the half way point.
I finished my first loop at exactly 2 hours and headed back out for the second half of the race.
There were ample aid stations, but I only stopped at 3 of them during the race. I was trying to make up for the lost time, and I was feeling good enough to press on without much aid.
I enjoyed the second loop much more than the first, primarily because there were far fewer runners to deal with. So I just settled in and enjoyed the ride.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
Jo and Kristen after the race! Good job ladies!
It was at this point that Aaron came in after finishing the first half of his race. He was a little beat up and needed some aid. But he got patched up and sent back out to finish the second half of the marathon.
Aaron congratulating his girlfriend...or maybe Kristen giving him love and support so he could get out there and wrap it up. Either way, it was a great picture and a special moment. I love these guys.
I was the next runner to roll in to the finish. I came in at 4:10 and finished in 8th place overall.
This is a picture of me about 1/4 mile from the finish. The other runner in the picture was finishing up her 5k and I was trying to clear her before the finish line.
Rolling to the finish! Another one in the books!
I immediately tried to find Rik so I could see how he did. I knew he would have done very well if I was 8th. When I found him, I learned he finished 4th overall with a time of 3:58. A sub 4 hour time in this race is a true accomplishment!
The next runner in our group to finish was Shasta. I knew she had trained very well for the race and there was never a doubt in my mind that she would finish.
Shasta got a warm greeting from her sister. Shasta definitely toughed out a rough day on the course. I was very proud of her.
Then Stacey finishes! This chick definitely looks the part of a serious trail runner. She has all the cool gear and simply looks badass! She powered through her first marathon like a warrior.
Me, Rik and Stacey exchanging stories. Another awesome performance.
Another marathon finisher!
After the race, we all shared congratulations and war stories. Talked about the trail, the aches, the water crossings, and all the amazing things we shared together, even when we weren't really together.
Nursing a few wounds and a few recovery beers.
Group shot..Me, Jo, Aaron, Kristen, Shasta, Stacey and Rik. Elite ultra runner Angus Repper kneeling in the back. Angus is among the best runners in our region and was volunteering at the race today. He WON the Hyner 50k last weekend, while I merely survived it. He's good people.
The more I run and race, the more I lose sight of how amazing the adventure can be. I try to find balance by staying close to people that want to run new distances and try new races. This seems to give me a direct link to that enthusiasm and emotions that I once felt as a new runner.
I used to be overcome with emotion when I finished a tough race. While it still happens on occasion, it's rare. But I have that same feeling when I'm lucky enough to be a part of somebody else's excitement.
I find more satisfaction these days through helping other runners. While I still consider myself a novice, I think I can offer a few key insights that might help others along the way.
There will come a day when the fire is gone and can't be retrieved and that will be the day that I hang up my running shoes forever. But that day isn't today. And for as long as I can bear witness to people fulfilling goals and conquering fears, that day will not likely come for many years.
I thank all of these runners for letting me be a part of their day. It's a significant milestone and an achievement that will outlive all of us. Once you've accomplished these things, the results never go away and you're changed forever.
I love being a part of that.