Is it too late to change one of my responses in last week’s Best & Worst of Racing post? Because this weekend’s Silver Falls Half Marathon just took the cake as the most beautiful course I’ve ever raced.
Of course, it’s November in Oregon, so the start was cold and wet. Here are Hubby and me waiting for the gun to go off with our friends Christian and Matt, who were in for the weekend from San Francisco.
And the finish? Well, that was just colder, wetter and even more windy, as you can see from this shot taken as we bolted from the post-race party at the pavilion back to our warm car.
But the best part was all the awesome stuff in between. Here’s a quick look at the elevation chart to see what we were up against for the day. Note to self: Study this more carefully next time before the race, so you’re not surprised when you start hitting the wall during mile nine’s hills.
The half marathon started in two waves — one at 9 a.m. for runners who estimate they’ll finish in less than two hours and another at 9:15 a.m. for the runners and walkers who will take more than two hours. Knowing how trail races go (and knowing that it’d be a mere two weeks after my full marathon), I had signed us up for the later wave.
After standing around casually at the start (love that about trail races!), we took off down a paved road for about a mile before winding around on a few smaller trails. The first four miles or so were pretty flat and uneventful — we looped around by the parking lots and saw some gorgeous fall foliage, but no sign of the waterfalls for which this race is famous.
Between the chill in the air, the race-day adrenaline, the elation of being with friends and the awe-inspiring scenery, we ambled along, giddily bantering, and (in hindsight) probably took off a bit too quickly, considering the length of the race, the coming elevation changes…and the fact that I’m still not recovered from my 26.2.
But restraining yourself can be tough when there are mid-run WATERFALLS to be seen!
Up and down we went over rolling hills before we headed out on the large Rim Trail loop, which took us along a whole series of waterfalls. The footing was technical, at times, with sharp rocks jutting up from the mud, a thick layer of leaves on the trail and plenty of slick stairs…but we made our way through the lush landscape, just trying to take everything in.
That’s about when “racing” evolved into “stopping and taking photos at every waterfall” because each was more gorgeous than the next. Case in point: when we got to run not only directly next to, but also behind three of ’em.
I don’t care how fast you’re going or what kind of time you’re aiming for — seeing this mid-race will stop you in your tracks.
Yeah, I guess you could say we were pretty pumped with the experience from the looks on our faces. And please disregard my knuckles in the shot; I was too excited to notice them at the time!
Up and down, we ran.
Around and around, we wound.
Then came more stairs to tackle, and the fatigue started to set in.
We stopped to catch our breaths on the ascent, turned around and saw this.
Matt and Christian charged ahead like champs — it was Christian’s second half marathon and Matt’s first, although they’re pros at tackling the Bay Area’s trails. Hubby hung back with me because I tweaked my right ankle around mile eight just before the wheels started coming off around mile nine.
I distracted myself with more picture-taking and tried to use the scenery to help inspire me to get through miles 10 and 11, but fighting through fatigue and trying to navigate technical terrain was starting to take its toll. I think we all breathed a collective sigh of relief when we saw the marker for mile 12 — one more mile! — although it was short-lived because we turned the corner and saw a sign for “Nutcracker Hill.”
Hm, I thought, that can’t be good. And true to its moniker, we began trekking up the steepest, muddiest, slipperiest portion of the whole course, stepping gingerly to avoid rocks, sliding despite our best efforts to remain stable, and not making much progress compared to our overall effort.
But we continued marching forward with a purpose and soon found ourselves navigating the steep descent on the back half of the hill toward the finish. Arms raised above our heads, Hubby and I crossed together in 2:24:03, with just six minutes to spare to make my loose goal of “under 2:30” for the day.
Awaiting us at the pavilion was a roaring fire, hot beef stew, apples, pears, peanut butter and gummy bears. After spilling half of my bowl of soup down the front of me, we proceeded to huddle in a corner and devour our remaining food before making a beeline through the wind, rain and cold to the comfort of our car.
All in all, a great race experience — I’ll battle the elements and crawl my way out of the pain cave any day to be able to see these kinds of sights along the way. And I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Trail running rules.