Monday, August 10, 2015

I assure you this is real life - Crater Lake Marathon 2015 Race Recap

Well my life officially does not suck!  Oregon is my absolute favorite state that I've been to and my latest trip there did not disappoint!  I first visited Oregon back in 2007 and absolutely fell in love!  I wanted to go to Crater Lake National Park during that visit but it was a bit too far out of my way.  When I discovered there was a marathon actually in the park, I was sold on it being my Oregon race.  

Stunning views of Crater Lake and Wizard Island

In addition to the race, my trip to Oregon also involved a SLEEPOVER WITH SLOTHS!!!!!  I am not joking.  This is exactly what it sounds like.  I had a sleepover with seven sloths!

My friend for the night.
This one was a crazy beggar.
Oh, ya know, just taking a selfie with a sloth.  No big deal.

I basically slept in a tent in a big room where sloths live at a zoological/wildlife center (NOT a zoo).  I wasn't sure how I felt about the place at first, since as a vegan I don't really like to see animals in cages. But after meeting with the owner, I felt like the place was legit!  All of their animals are endangered and they have two species that are actually extinct in the wild.  I asked why the animals were there and not in the wild and the owner explained that there would be no place for them to go due to habitat destruction and poaching.  They also "rescue" animals from zoos (animals that were going to be put to sleep due to injuries or other circumstances).  After the sleepover, I got to have breakfast with a penguin and several lemurs and monkeys.  Again, I'm not making this up!

Josie the penguin
Leeza the lemur
Lemurs and monkeys in diapers.  OMG.
I can't even.
Deep thoughts

So Friday morning after all the excitement with the animals, I headed to Portland to pick up GK so we could head down to Klamath Falls which is basically the largest town closest to Crater Lake National Park (and it's still about a 1.5 hr drive from Klamath Falls to Crater Lake).  It was a LONG drive down there from Portland.  There is no packet pickup for this race.  Your bib and pre-race instructions are mailed to you about two weeks before the race so there was no need to go to Crater Lake Friday night.  You basically just show up at the Rim race morning.  And that's what we did.  We left the hotel super early Saturday morning to get to Crater Lake and didn't have any issues with parking at Rim Village and catching the shuttle to the start line!  I about froze to death at the start since it was pretty much winter for this Mississippi girl with temps in the 40s! 

Bus-to-the-start selfie
What a view at a start line!

This is a no frills race (who really cares though with that view?), so nothing fancy at the start.  Remember you're running in a NATIONAL PARK, so that should be frills enough for you.  Someone basically said "go" and we went.  There are three different distances at the race - 6.7 miles, 13.0 miles (NOT a half marathon), and 26.2 miles - and we all started together.  All of the races are point-to-point so if you are a marathoner you will pass the other two finish lines.  The course follows Rim Drive and the views are absolutely spectacular!  This makes up for the hella hard course!  I think this is the hardest course that I have done as we had both significant hills and high altitude to contend with.  Check out this elevation profile (all is correct except the last 4.2 miles, which I'll explain later).

It is as brutal as it looks.

We started at about 7600 ft and on a hill, but soon after we went down for a bit.  I decided that was going to run the flats and downs and walk the ups.  The first significant hill was right after the mile 2 marker.  It lasted about a mile and I definitely walked.  After this hill, we were rewarded with several downhill miles. At some point I warmed up and was able to take my long sleeve shirt off.  The temp was pleasant for much of the race and we had a nice breeze. 

First significant hill

I'm going to apologize in advance for the obscene number of lake photos in this post.  But, DUH, that's the most amazing part of this race!  

Many many views of the lake and all its awesomeness.
I had to stop for a picture every single time!
It's as awesome as it looks.

At mile 6.5, we began to roll a bit until the mother of all hills started at mile 9.5!  Your life will basically suck for almost 5 miles!  You will go UP a very steep hill with almost NO relief!  You will climb from 6700 ft to 7900 ft over about 5 miles.  You will pass the 13.0 finish line and continue to go UP for over a mile!  I walked every bit of those miles.  Soon after the 13.0 finish, we did a short out and back to the highest point on the course at Cloudcap overlook (7900 ft).  

We also had this view opposite the lake for much of the race. 
Almost done with this most awful 5 mile hill!
Cloudcap Overlook.  Our efforts were definitely rewarded.

After the torture of the previous 5 miles, you are rewarded with almost 10 miles (from about mile 14.2 until 24) of basically constant downhill (a few short ups, but nothing terrible).  Of course, the scenery continued to be amazing.

Coming back down from Cloudcap Overlook.
No ugly part on the course.
Of course, more views of the lake.
More awesomeness.
And more.
And more.
It really never stopped.

I ran just about all of these downhill miles (which probably explains why I'm pretty sore today).  We hit mile 22, which is where the finish line is.  I guess last year, the course turned here and went UP a very steep hill on a trail for ~2 miles before you turned around to go back DOWN that hill for the last ~2 miles to the finish.  Well this year they decided to have us continue straight down the road for ~2 miles.  I was flying at this time but I noticed that every single person that was on their way back to the finish was walking.  The hill didn't feel that steep going down and I was actually making pretty good time.  I wanted a sub 5:30 finish.  When I hit the turnaround just past mile 24, I was right at 5:00.  Surely I could do the last ~2 miles in 30 minutes.  WRONG!  I soon found out why everyone was walking.  Two miles up a very steep hill to the finish.  I finished in 5:35, which I consider an excellent time for this course and my current level of fitness.

Happy finishers

Since this a no frills race, there was not much at the finish line - some sports drink, water, soda, and watermelon.  GK said maybe some bagels too.  Again, you just had the opportunity to run in a NATIONAL PARK, so don't get your entitled panties in a wad over the lack of festivities.  The aid stations were very bare bones too - only water and sports drink, so bring your own gels/etc. if you require them.  You get your medal, shirt, and bag at the finish line.   We headed to the bus to get back to our car (you had to take a bus from your car to the start and also back to your car from the finish).  Our bus driver was no less than 1 billion years old and was driving the school bus like a MANIAC!  He was for realz going 60 mph in a 20 mph zone along a windy mountain road with steep cliffs.  Once safely at our car, we snapped some shots of the lake before heading back to Portland.

I assure you that what is behind me is very much real!

Obviously, this is a FANTASTIC race.  It is definitely no frills, but you are running in a NATIONAL PARK (have I said that enough times)!!!!!!!!!  Crater Lake is a bit out of the way, so prepare to do some driving.  You'll be in beautiful Oregon though, so relax, sit back, and enjoy the ride!  Here are the deets for my travel/logistics:
  • Registration was $95.  High, but you are running in a NATIONAL PARK.  Totally worth it for this one.
  • I flew into Portland, OR.  My flight was pretty expensive at around $460 (ouch)!
  • I rented a car out of Hertz in downtown Portland (not at the airport) for $120 for Thurs-Sat night.  By not using the airport rentals, I saved a significant amount.  The Red line takes you from the airport to downtown Portland for $2.50 where I picked up my car no problem.  I dropped the car off Saturday night and took the hotel's free shuttle to the airport Sunday morning.  GK and I shared the cost of the rental and gas. 
  • Hotels - Thursday night I stayed with sloths, but I'm not counting that as part of my race expenses.  Friday night we stayed at the Golden West Motel ($80) in Klamath Falls (1.5 hr drive to Crater Lake Saturday morning for the race).  Highly recommend this motel.  Saturday night I stayed at the Quality Inn Airport in Portland ($122).  No room share, so this was all me.  
  • This was obviously a very expensive trip, but totally worth it.
Next up for me is the Lake Michigan Trail Marathon in Wisconsin Labor Day weekend.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Party of 4 - Mad Marathon 2015 Race Recap

The Mad Marathon in VT made a late appearance on my race calender for this year when I scored a free entry and free lodging in mid-May.  Turns out, in the five years that the race has been going on, no one from the fine state of Mississippi had ever signed up!  They needed a Mississippi runner to be able to claim "we've had runners from all 50 states run our race"!  I quickly remedied that situation for them and moved the Mad Marathon from my 2017 calender to my 2015 calender (yes, I have races planned that far in advance and even further).  It was a mere coincidence that my choice rate for VT ended up seeking me out!  I picked the Mad Marathon for my VT race because of its challenging and scenic course.  Obviously I picked this race when I was in much better shape. 

We drove nearly 3 hours round trip to get a picture with this sign!

This trip was interesting on several fronts.  After a very dark drive down a very windy mountain road (and having to call someone to help me navigate a detour), I arrived at my bed and breakfast in Waitsfield very late Friday night.  I had been in contact with the Innkeeper over the past several months and was informed that I would have an envelope waiting for me with keys and directions to my room.  Well, Krissy arrives and while there were several envelopes, not one had my name on it.  I wasn't really sure what to do since it was late and no staff were on site.  So, I did what any self-respecting squatter would do and I roamed around the Inn until I found the room that was listed on my reservation.  The door was open so I let myself in.  I didn't get a great night's sleep because I kept worrying that someone was going to come into the room.  Upon looking back at emails, I realized that I inadvertently told the Innkeeper a few days prior that I would be arriving Saturday night and not Friday night.  I was never sent a reservation change notice so I assumed I was still good to go for a Friday arrival!  Doh!

Once I woke up, I realized that my view was fantastic.

The next morning I met up with my Hawaii friend KW (we met at Jackson Hole Marathon and then ended up being travel companions for the Indy Monumental and Marshall races back in November) for a quick tour of Ben and Jerry's, lunch in downtown Burlington (where we saw two wrinkly homeless people making out hardcore on a park bench), and a stop at the Shelburne Museum to learn us some Vermont history. 

Enjoying some tasty mango sorbet.
Lake Champlain
In the slammer at the Shelburne Museum

Once back at my bed and breakfast, I realized that my neighbors were having a sort of "party of 4" that seemed to go on forever (if you're my Facebook friend you know what I'm talking about).  I laid out my race stuff and tried to get to bed early enough.  As is my life, race day was going to be HOT and SUNNY!  Oh, and did I mention that this race course is challenging (think mountains) and that I am totally out of shape?  I had 6.5 hours to finish, so I was pretty sure that could at least do that.   I drove to the start and got a pretty good parking spot very close to the start/finish.  I dropped my bag off at bag drop (I never do this but I did not want to carry the giant rental car keys the entire race) and then said a quick hello to Dori, the amazing RD of the race that I can thank for getting me to VT on such short notice.  The race started on time and the first mile was pleasant, meaning not up a hill.  We ran through two covered bridges throughout the race (each of them twice too) and the first one was in the first mile.  I stopped for a quick pic.

Hey, will you take a picture of me?

I planned to do my run/walks as much as I could, knowing that I'd have to adjust based on the hills.  The first mile was all good and then we started up our first of many many many hills.  Of course, I walked it.  No sense in even trying to run.  The course was lovely and there were many things to keep your mind occupied - mountains in the distance, cows, farms, and even other runners (many out and backs throughout the race).  

Pretty much the background the entire race.
Covered bridge #2
Hello friends!
That's a hill ahead.

Besides the second mile, the first 8ish miles were fairly "easy" (meaning either downhill or flat).  We also had plenty of shady bits.  Around mile 8, it seemed that we started the hill that would never end.  The hill right at 8 was rather steep.  It was even hard to walk up it with any sort of speed. And the hills (or mountains) never really stopped until it felt like after mile 20!  And the shade went away around mile 16.

One of the many barn sightings on the course
Needed to get a selfie with my new friends.
Breathtaking views
And breathtaking hills!

Somewhere around the halfway point we started on a rather long out and back.  It was nice to see other runners coming down the mountain while we were going up!  I couldn't wait until that was me.  The picture above is of what is known as "The Dip".  Down one steep hill and then right back up on the other side.  We would do that twice.  It seemed that we were NEVER going to come back down.  I'll say here that the aid stations were plentiful and the volunteers were amazing.  

Tell Vince I found his CD.
A field of new friends
Well that's unpleasant news.
Not sure what a cheese course is.........
Finally the last 10k!

At some point we did start to go down a bit more than up.  It seemed like that was after mile 20. It was hot so I was walking the ups, run/walking the flats, and running the downs.  I never really felt bad during the race, just a bit on the hot side.  There was a nice breeze, so that helped a lot.  At one point there was a man with large buckets of ice and large sponges!  This was the absolute best thing that ever happened to me during any race.  Squeezing that sponge over my head was pure heaven!

They were not passing out wine.  Rude!
The course ran past my bed and breakfast around mile 24 - The Inn at the Round Barn - and they had beer but I didn't partake.
More quaint Vermont countryside

We finally made our way back to downtown Waitsfield and to the finish.  I finished around 5:47.  Marathon #40 and state #30 were DONE!  I got my hug from Dori (she hugs everyone as they finish).  

Dori - the BEST RD ever!  Seriously! Go do her race!

Overall, this was a fantastic race!  It is definitely challenging though.  You have heat, sun, and mountains to contend with throughout the 26.2 miles.  The course is super scenic though and you'll have many cows cheering you on!  My entry to the race was comped, so I can't comment on price.  I stayed at the Inn at the Round Barn for three nights, which was also comped.  This was a fantastic bed and breakfast.  They had pre-race box breakfasts for all the runners on race morning.  They even asked about dietary restrictions so mine was specially made vegan just for me.  I flew into Burlington from New Orleans.  My flight was $316 but I had a $50 Delta credit, so it ended up being $266.  The drive from Burlington to Waitsfield was about an hour.  My rental car was about $107 for Fri-Mon and I spent about $30 on gas.  I cannot thank the kind people of Vermont (especially Dori the RD and Kim at the Inn) enough for the amazing time I had!  After the race, Hawaii KW and I went to taste some maple syrup and see the world's biggest zipper!

Quick!  Someone get me a stack of pancakes!
Yup.  This is the kind of stuff we drive almost 2 hours to see!

Next up for me is Oregon next month.  I'm doing the Crater Lake Marathon and I can only imagine how tough it will be.  If I'm going to be there, it will of course be HOT!  Combine that with mountains and altitude and a good time is sure to be had!  What could possibly go wrong?