Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wildwood Trail Half Marathon - 7/31/11

After committing to going to Portland, Oregon for the four day long Oregon Brewer's Festival with a number of friends, my next task was to find a race in the area. I knew the exercise would make me feel better about sampling beer for so many days in a row, and what better way to see a new city then to run a race there. As luck would have it, Coastal Trail Runs, who puts on mainly California trail races, was doing a trail race right in Portland that Saturday. I went to work trying to recruit as many people as possible who were going to be up there to run it with me. Four of us signed up. Stacey and I were doing the half marathon, and Annelyse and Donna were doing the 10k. Like Seattle, this was turning into the perfect weekend.

I did my best to lay off the beer sampling on Friday, but there was just so much good beer to try, it didn't go quite as well as I'd hoped. Thankfully the race start time was 8a, and not 7a, like a lot of summer races. Annelyse reserved a zip car that we picked up right around the corner from our hotel, and the four of us made the four mile drive to Forest Park which is the largest forested city park in the United States. As with most trail races, parking and bib pickup was easy. The half marathoners started 25 minutes before the 10k racers, so Stacey and I lined up not long after arriving. After some instructions from the race director, we set off into the forest.


I'd done a bit of research on the race earlier, and I knew it was relatively low on the elevation gain profile, at only about a 925' gain. However, the difference between this race and other trail races I've run, was it was basically straight up for the first half of the course before turning around and running all the way back down, so I knew the real challenge would just be getting to the halfway point. We left the grassy patch at the bottom and entered the park on a single track path. After crossing a small bridge right at the beginning, the paved path quickly turned to a rocky, dirt path, and up we went.

I'm not much into warming up and running back and forth immediately prior to races, but I probably could have used it. My calves immediately cramped up during the first mile from the constant uphill (and likely a bit of dehydration), and it wasn't until sometime in mile two that they loosened up enough not to be an issue. The field of runners spread out really quickly which made running single file along the curvy trail not an issue. Within the first mile, I was already thankful that I'd decided to wear my ankle brace and that I had proper trail running shoes, as the extra stability was going to be much needed.

As we wound our way around Wildwood trail, we often found ourselves crossing small, low to the ground bridges, one of which had a giant plank missing, and another felt like it was about to give way when too many people were on it, all adding to the ruggedness of the trail. The course was actually over a half marathon, at 13.8, which fit in nicely with my training schedule that had me running a 14 miler that day. Since I'd just started to incorporate hill training into my workouts, this course fit in perfectly, killing two birds with one stone, my long run and a hill workout. The great part was that the uphills were very runnable, so you didn't have to stop and walk like you do with a lot of trail races.


After one last huge climb to the half way point, we found our first fully stocked aid station. I took a couple minutes to eat a GU, drink some electrolytes, and top of my water bottle. Shortly after I turned around to continue back down the same path we came up, I saw Stacey heading my way. It's always fun to see people you know on the course, because you know you have someone to compare notes with at the end of the race, and this hill was going to be one of them.

It felt good knowing that the course was mainly all downhill from there, however, within only about a mile, my surgery ankle was feeling it. The tight, downhill cornering, and uneven terrain was tough to take. Trying to make room for the runners headed up, and a few missteps on branches and rocks didn't help. I reminded myself there was no reason to take this last half of the course fast and hurt my ankle, so I took things nice and steady until the end. I won't lie though, my legs were tired from the climb, so the pace felt very comfortable. I did, however, come to the conclusion that my ankle is probably not 100% ready for this kind of terrain.

Since we were in an area so densely covered with trees, the natural canopy created a shaded trail the entire way keeping us cool despite the 80+ degree weather Portland was having. This also caused my fancy new Garmin 610 to keep losing satellite reception. I kept wondering why it was showing my splits as 13 minutes. I knew I wasn't killing this course, but I knew I wasn't going that slow either. It also explained why the miles on my watch kept ticking by so slowly.

The closer we got to the bottom, the rockier and steeper the course got which continued to take it's toll on my lower limbs. The trail was getting more crowded with hikers and other locals, so I knew we must be getting close to the bottom. I was pretty happy when the trail turned to asphalt, signifying the end was not more than a quarter mile away. Annelyse and Donna were at the end of the first bridge cheering me in, and I passed them to head out of the tree coverings and into the open, grass area of the park where the finish was. After I finished, I immediately indulged in the wide spread of goodies they had waiting. After stuffing enough brownies and pretzels in my face, I went to cheer in Stacey with Annelyse and Donna who came by only a few minutes later.

(this girl whizzed right by me at the end)

I finished the race in 2:07:24 (9:14 pace), and got 5th out of 39 in my age group. Except for me, this was everyones first trail race, and everyone did great on such tough terrain. Stacey, who had only run one half marathon previously, finished not long after me, landing 8th in our age group. The four of us all sat in the sun talking about our races while drinking ice cold Diet Cokes. I think everyone was feeling pretty good about our accomplishments that morning, and I'm so happy that I had such a fun crew who wanted to take part in the race with me. The best part about it was that all we had to do the rest of the day was go sample some beer while sitting in the sun, all the while knowing we got a good days worth of exercise in.

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