Monday, August 14, 2006

Oregon: "I'm pretty tired. I think I'll go home now."

Crater Lake Marathon

Crater Lake is one amazing place. Just to visit the park is worth the trip. As a runner, it’s even better to have Rim Drive all to yourself and experience it on foot.

I normally don’t fly out of town to run a marathon. My decision to run the Crater Lake Marathon was mostly due to my left hip flexor, my cheapskate mentality, and my love of tough, scenic marathons. My injured hip flexor kept me out of the Boston Marathon this year, and I’m just too frugal to let that unused airline ticket go to waste. So Crater Lake here I come.

The Park and the Event

This was my first trip to Oregon… and I loved every minute of it. I found Oregon to be a very friendly state... they wouldn't even let me get out of the car to pump my own gas!

Some quick facts…

  • Crater Lake (surface elevation 6,178’) is in the caldera of Mount Mazama which collapsed in on itself roughly 7000-8000 years ago from an original height of ca. 11,000’.
  • The rim varies in altitude between 7,000’ to 8,929’ (Mount Scott)
  • Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S. (ca. 1,950’ at its deepest), and the seventh deepest in the world.
  • The park is the fifth oldest national park in the U.S.
  • This is one of the few marathons run entirely in a national park.
  • The altitude of the course ranges from 5,980’ to 7,850’.
  • The marathon was mostly on paved roads (not trails) circling the lake (or about 2/3rds of 33-mile Rim Drive). A small part of it was on a dirt road, including a lovely 2-mile long, 500’-high hill around mile 22.
  • All 3 races start at the same time and place ("The Watchman"). Most of the great views of the lake itself are on the first half of the course when you’re relaxed and can soak it all (before the last half which requires more focus and grit).
Here’s the elevation profile (although this plot is off at the end):
Miles 0.0-14.5
Miles 14.5-26.2

My Goals and Strategy

I didn’t say a lot about my goal for this marathon in advance. I knew most marathoners ran about 20-40 minutes slower here at Crater Lake than at their PR’s. I hoped to run 3:30, but I knew that would be a stretch since I don’t live at altitude. Anything under 4:00 would be a good effort and a tough run. Even as I talked to Brian (aka Gearshift/Ridgeliner from the RW/RT online marathon forums) as we ran the first 3 miles together (he was doing the 13-mile race), I pretty much conceded 3:30 was not doable for me and I should expect something more like 3:40-3:55.

In advance, I knew there were three significant uphill sections (among many other shorter ones) that I’d have to watch out for:

  • The small one = miles 2.0 to 3.0 (going up about 200’ non-stop)
  • The long one = miles 9.6 to 14.5 (going up 1100’ from 6718’ to 7850’)
  • The brutal one = miles 22.3 to 24.5 (going up 470’)
When I drove the course and saw these climbs for myself on Friday, they really scared me. The long one was relentless. After going up about 2 miles, you can look up and see the road going to Cloud Cap still high above you and know that’s where you’ve still got to go. But after 14.5 miles, there’s a long stretch of downhill until you reach Lost Creek Camp around mile 22.

I decided the best strategy would be to hold back and make it to the top of Cloud Cap (7850’, the highest point on the course) at mile 14.5 without overdoing it. Then if I felt good, I could start pushing the pace more on the way to Lost Creek. I figured maybe I could run around 8:30-9:00 on the uphills and 7:30s on the downhills. Maybe.

Race Day

Cold (low 40s?) and breezy at the start, but it could have been much worse (and it was much windier when I went to the rim at sunrise on Sunday, the day after the race). All of us huddled wherever we could get out of the wind.

BTW, I think a few of the mile markers were misplaced. Mile 13 and 26 seemed too short which makes me think mile markers at 12 and 25 were too long.

  • Mile 1 – 7:45 (7:45) – good first mile; mix of uphill and downhill.
  • Mile 2 – 7:03 (14:48) – mostly downhill
  • Mile 3 – 8:01 (22:50) – mostly uphill
  • Mile 4 – 6:58 (29:48) – downhill. I can see Cloud Cap across the lake. Holy freakin’ cow, I’ve got to run over there? …and that’s only halfway?
  • Mile 5 – 6:55 (36:44) – downhill
  • Mile 6 – 7:10 (43:54) – downhill
  • Mile 7 – 8:16 (52:11) – some brief uphill mixed in
  • Mile 8 – 7:25 (59:36) – mostly downhill
  • Mile 9 – 7:46 (1:07:22)
  • Mile 10 – 8:53 (1:16:16) – starting the big climb to Cloud Cap. I have over 4:38 in the bank towards a sub-3:30. Get ready to give quite a bit of that back.
  • Mile 11 – 9:24 (1:25:41) – steep uphill at the start of this long 4-mile climb
  • Mile 12 – 9:35 (1:35:17) – still climbing. Going slow but gradually passing people.
  • Mile 13 – 6:49 (1:42:06) – MM must be misplaced because I didn’t run that fast on this uphill mile. End of the 13-mile race. No one but us marathoners on the road now.
  • Mile 14 – 8:35 (1:50:42) –This is an out-and-back spur and I realize I’m in 7th place overall.
  • Mile 15 – 7:50 (1:58:32) – going up to the highest point of the course and starting back down
  • Mile 16 – 6:54 (2:05:27) – Hello downhill!!!!
  • Mile 17 – 7:20 (2:12:47) – This is fun! Wow what views of southern Oregon!
  • Mile 18 – 7:04 (2:19:51) – Weeeeeee! Pass runner #6. I’m now in 6th.
  • Mile 19 – 7:14 (2:27:05) – Good bye, lake. Turn down towards Lost Creek.
  • Mile 20 – 6:31 (2:33:36) – Weeeeeee! Long long straightaways. I’m catching up on the 5th place runner (1st female). I’m on her heels. Uh oh, hello sidecramp. Oops, overdoing it a bit.
  • Mile 21 – 7:58 (2:41:35) – Ok, walk out the cramp, pick it back up, I haven’t ruined my race. I’ve got nearly 7 minutes in the bank towards 3:30.
  • Mile 22 – 7:23 (2:48:58) – Ok, get ready for the long steep climbs. I’ve got 7 minutes in the bank. If I can just manage 11:30 miles on the steep 2-mile hill, I can get 3:30.
  • Mile 23 – 7:19 (2:56:18) – get ready for the climbs
  • Mile 24 – 12:46 (3:08:05) – This is brutal. Walk, run, walk, run, walk, run, walk, run. Hopefully, no one else is catching up on me. I can’t imagine others are doing much better on this hill.
  • Mile 25 – 12:15 (3:20:21) – When will this end? So much for 3:30. Starting downhill. Ouch, calf is cramping and locking up. Ignore the pain. Run baby run!
  • Mile 26 – 5:35 (3:25:56) – What the heck? MM 24 must have been out of place. I didn’t think I ran 12 minutes for mile 25 which partially downhill and I certainly didn’t run sub-6 for mile 26, even with the downhill.
  • Finish in 3:27:02 – Turn the corner, wow, there’s the line. Yes! Mission accomplished! Wow, 6th overall out of 116 marathoners. I wasn’t expecting that high of a placing. 2nd in AG (1st was the overall winner).

What a great event. This is definitely my kind of marathon. It’s a tough course, but very doable if you don’t obsess about your finish time.

It felt like a pretty even effort for me despite the course (splits in 1:42:51; 1:44:11). I don’t think I could have done anything much differently to finish any faster. I felt like I ran a PR on a non-PR course. I’m finally learning to be patient in the opening half of a marathon… and it felt so good to finish strong. Believe it or not, that last climb was a strong effort.

That last 2-mile hill was brutal and ugly. I had heard horror stories about it in advance. Even past champions admittted they slogged it out by having to walk some and give back some time. Most everyone of the top finishers I met admitted they had to walk some or at least jog with tiny steps. What a tough way to finish a marathon. But no complaints here. If I wanted to do something easy, I wouldn’t be running marathons.

Weather was perfect. Cold at the start but only 60s and sunny at the finish. Breezy at times, but not too much wind at all for being so high up.


Sitting in the mountain creek afterward felt soooooo good on my legs. We all relaxed and chatted at the finish line for quite a long time waiting to ride a bus back to our cars.

Why not eat lunch on Mount Scott (8,928’), the highest point in the park? I changed clothes, drove over to the TH, packed up my camelbak and headed up the trail. It’s only 2.5 miles to the top (and only 1300’ elevation gain). I didn’t push the pace and was on top in 40 minutes. Wow, what great views from on top. I can easily spot most of the marathon course and volcanic peaks in all directions. I can even spot Mt Shasta over 100 miles away in California. I’ve gotta come back and hike a bunch of these peaks, especially nearby Mt Thielsen (the "lightning rod of the Cascades"). What a great day!

Here's a couple of newspaper articles about this year's marathon: Klamath Falls Herald and News and Southern Oregon's Mail Tribune. Here's the official race results. At first, they incorrectly listed my time at 3:37:02 instead of 3:27:02 which is obvious by the times listed by those who finished behind me, but after several weeks the race officials corrected it. [Note: it took another 6 months to get which had picked up the initial typo to correct their results so that I'm now correctly listed as 3:27:02.]

Here's my race photo which caught me mid-stride with quite a goofy-looking smile.

In 3 days time, I got to see over 700 miles of Oregon and what a beautiful state it is. I drove most of these miles on Sunday since I had a late flight and I was too sore to do anything else. (Just getting in/out of the car was painful!)

Friday, I drove down from Eugene on Hwy 58 and 97 to the north entrance of Crater Lake National Park. After driving most of the marathon course, drove 60 miles south to Klamath Falls to spend the night there (the park campgrounds were already full). K-Falls (as the locals call it) is a great little city on a Klamath Lake. Beautiful wide open farm land stretches for miles and miles with picturesque mountains as the boundaries to these lowlands.

Saturday, after the marathon and hike up Mt Scott, I camped in my new tent in the park at Mazama Campground. I was asleep by 9:30.

Sunday, I woke early (before my alarm... and sunrise). I went ahead and packed up and pulled out at 5:00am. I drove up to the rim and photographed Crater Lake with warm purples, oranges, and pinks of the pre-dawn light. I then drove Hwy 138 to Roseburg and Hwy 42 to Coos Bay on the coast (famous at the hometown of Steve Prefontaine). From there, I drove roughly 100 miles up US101 along the Oregon Coast. Absolutely beautiful scenery... morning fog, sea lions, rocky beaches, lighthouses, picturesque bridges, quaint towns, etc. After lunch in Newport, I drove through Corvallis and on up to Salem to see the capitol.

On the flight home, I had a window seat and easily spotted Three Sisters, Mt Thielsen, and Crater Lake. The pilot even treated us to a nice close up of Crater Lake by waiting to make his left bend turn until we directly over the lake so we were looking right down on it. It was really incredible to see an aerial view of the whole marathon course.

I saw quite a few interesting sights on my trip:

  • The pinnacles at Crater Lake which are tall (100'?) narrow spires formed by lava vents that fossilized.
  • The volcanic peaks of the Cascades are spectacular. Mt Thielsen (the "lightning rod of the Cascades") is very noteworthy since it sticks up like a rocky horn in a sea of trees. Mt Mcloughlin is a beautiful snow-covered cone peak south of Crater Lake. Three sisters are very impressive.
  • The canoes, kayaks, rafts, and fly-fishermen in the innumerable rivers, streams, and creeks of Oregon.
  • All the great bike paths in Oregon. There's an extended designated bike path that goes along US101 up the coast. Quite a few cyclists on extended rides since they were carrying saddlebags and extra gear. Oregon is a very cycling-friendly state.
  • The juggling unicyclist in Corvallis. No kidding. On a paved bike path off the road, some guy was juggling 3 basketballs (sometimes by tossing, other times by bouncing them) while going down the path on his unicycle. It was such a sight, I almost wrecked the rental car watching him.
  • The bull that was standing in the middle of Hwy 42 early on Sunday morning. Evidently, he had escaped his fence and a big RV was patiently waiting for the bull to move so he could drive on. They were having a motionless stare-down when I came up on them. Pretty funny to see.

This is a beautiful state. I regret that it took me 38 years before I ever visited it. I've definitely got to come back with my wife and kids so we can experience this state on a more extended trip.

On Sunday night as the pilot leveled the plane and we departed from over Crater Lake, I remembered the words of another adventurous long-distance runner, "I'm pretty tired. I think I'll go home now."