Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mt Ashland Hill Climb - 08-07-10

Mount Ashland Hill Climb

I had decided back in April while laying on the couch recovering from Topaz surgery (plantar fascia) that I wanted a goal race. I figured that I could be in reasonable shape by August if all went well. I checked some of the National trail championships, but ultimately decided on the Mt Ashland hill climb. It looked like the perfect challenge. One of the longest continuous climbs for a Mountain race in the U.S., and I knew the area having run the Lithia Loop marathon in Ashland last fall. The fact that the race had over 30 years of history made it just that much more interesting. My training was going great right up until two weeks before the race when it decided to flare up badly. I missed 5 days of running and my training was seriously curtailed for the two weeks. I got a cortisone shot, began walking in “the boot” and hoped to struggle through.

Econolodge and OR Welcome Ctr

I got up at 2:30 AM on Friday morning and hit the bike for an hour before heading to the airport. Twelve hours later I was in the tiny Medford OR airport and soon after found myself tooling down the highway in a Kia Soul. The ad with hamsters (or are they hipster hamsters?) going through my mind. Richard Bolt showed up later in the afternoon, driving eight hours from his new digs near San Francisco. He is one move away from being categorized by the census as “transient”. We headed out for a relaxing 4 mile run on the bike path on the outskirts of town. It was 90 degrees and I felt every degree of it. I also was happily surprised that my foot could be categorized as “manageable”. I went from 50/50 to 90/10 as to whether I’d even start the race.
Kia Soul
Race day dawn with near ideal conditions, about 50 degrees and sunny but most of the course was shaded so it would be comfortable most of the way. We showed up at Lithia Park and found very few runners around, someone commented about how different it was from a New England race where the entire field would practically be lined up 45 minutes before the start. We did a nice easy “short 2” warm-up and did our final preparations. The field of about 220 (the Park only allows a permit for 250) headed off for the first couple of miles of paved road. I found myself in the top 15 right behind a group of “gabbers”. I just don’t understand all of the early race chatter, save your breath for later. It made me wish for my shuffle, but instead I upped the tempo and moved into 10th or so. Max King was already out of sight with Eric Skaggs shadowing him.

By the time we hit the first aid station at 3.8 miles (climbing at an average grade of 6.5%) I had moved up to 8th place and was feeling very comfortable. I could see TiVO moving through the pack and I’d passed Richard around 3 miles. I was pretty sure that I was in 2nd in the 40+, but you never can tell. I knew it was too early to worry about place; I just wanted to run as smart as possible. After the first aid station two guys caught me and I started to run with them. I was worried that I’d gotten too conservative and it felt good to up the tempo. My goal was to stay with them to at least the 6.5 mile aid station then reassess.

We passed a couple of guys during the next couple of miles then one of the guys stopped at the aid station and another slowly fell behind. We (me & #85) passed 6.5 miles in 51:39, covering the last 2.7 miles in 23:21 or 8:39 pace. The average grade during that section was 7.5%. I was now in 6th place running with one guy. The course winds so much that cutting tangents is very important, it is not easy to cut 20-30 tangents a mile with another guy trying to do the same. I was happy to be working with this guy, he was stronger on the flatter stuff and I was stronger on the steeper stuff so we each spent a fair amount of time leading the other. During this 3.9 mile stretch I held it together for the first 2.4 but the final 1.5 was super fast with even a little downhill thrown in. I estimated that I was 45 seconds to a minute behind, losing that all in the final downhill mile to the aid station. The average grade for that 3.9 mile section was only 4.5% due to the downhill (actually the first 2.4 averaged 7.4%). I was still feeling good at 10.5 (1:23:16) as I grabbed a water and Gatorade to wash down my third and final Gu of the day.

The next 2.4 was tough single-track with a few switch-backs to help see where the competition was. I couldn’t see anyone behind me and I reeled in #85 catching him about a mile into the climb. I thought I’d blow right by because I’d really made up ground but he had different ideas.   He tucked right in and matched every move I made.  We stayed together to the 12.8 mile aid station which brougth us to the base of the mountain.  The 2.4 miles took me 21:34 (8:59 pace) climbing at an average grade of just under 10%.  I think I was feeling the higher altitude (nearly 7,000' at that point) and the distance of the race was catching up to me.  I had been looking forward to the final steep climb where I hoped to really push.  Now I just wanted to maintain position.

View of the final push from the aid station (on the left of the building) and the finish (by the giant "golf ball").
Checking out the competition
I was running out of gas, but heck I was still running.  Many were reduced to power walking on the singletrack and cat-track on the mountain.  I was still keeping a running form but slowing, just trying to hold on.  I took a look back just before turning on to the final straight up the side of the mountain scramble and was surprised to see four guys pretty close behind.
Just before the scramble
The final part was very steep almost as steep as the Stark Mountain climb (1 mile in 23 min) add to that the 13 miles already covered and it was a leg burner.  I closed on a bandit who had jumped in about 400 meters into the race, but not on any official entrants.  Somehow I managed to hold off the guys closing on me despite my calves, shins, and quads starting to give out.  I staggered across the line, it was so steep that the last few yards had me on all fours. My time was 1:58:05, so the last 1.3 miles were run at 10:12 pace over an average grade of 19%, the final part was well into the 30%+ range.   After crossing the line I moved away and sat down in the shade to try and get my composure.  Tivo ended up having a great race, finishing 3rd overall and breaking the masters record (running a 1:55:33).  I surpassed my stretch goal of 2:00-2:05, and my realistic goal was 2:05-2:10, definitely a surprise to run that "fast.  So all in all it was a sucessful day for me.  Richard Bolt had a solid run in his first race as a master, taking 15th overall (5th 40+) approximately half-way between his two previous times on the course.
View of Mt Shasta

I found the course to be excellent, a classing mountain race (over 30 years old) mostly a steady climb but flatter and steeper sections to mix it up.  After the initial 1.5m of paved road most of the race was on forest access roads (dirt).  There was over a mile from about 9-10 that was flat and down.  The last part was quite steep and the very last unmarked section was a brutal scramble up the ski slope.  Great day, great race.

3.8 - 28:17 (28:17) +1,305’
6.5 - 23:21 (51:39) +1,080’
10.4 -31:37 (1:23:16) +940’
12.8 -21:34 (1:44:50) +1,260’
13.5 -13:16 (1:58:05) +953’

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