Race Report: Vernonia Half Marathon

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After a year and a half hiatus from racing, it feels SO good to be back in the saddle!

When my plans to race 26.2 last fall got put on hold (because sleep > running), I set my sights on what felt like a more manageable challenge: the half marathon (my 15th!).

My PR was 1:47 and change from a few years ago, so when I signed on with a coach to help me with my postpartum comeback and restrain keep me from over-training, I told him I was eyeing not only a PR, but also an even bolder post-baby goal of 1:45.

We started working together in early January with a mission to get me safely to the start line of the Vernonia Half Marathon on April 9. Training went smoothly; after figuring out my paces, we exchanged emails each week as I eagerly tackled my nap-time workouts on the treadmill.

It felt good to be on a schedule. It felt great to be running regularly. And it felt awesome to finally start pushing myself again.

Although I was nailing workouts, my coach was frank about setting expectations when it came to race day: Based on my tempo runs, overall paces and our conservative build-up of mileage (I started at square one, so my long runs maxed out at 10 miles by the time we got to race day), he warned me that a PR may not be in the cards this training cycle.

By that point, however, I was just happy to be toeing the start line well-trained and healthy, so I figured it’d be a good opportunity to set a baseline from which I could work for my next race. It also meant that I’d leave my watch at home and just run by feel.

Fast forward to race day, and I was battling a serious case of self-doubt. Would treadmill mileage translate to the roads? How would I handle the last few miles (which I’d likely be running on fumes)? Could I even get in the head-space to go hard? Hell, I wasn’t even sure if my race kit from 2016 would fit.

We arrived about an hour and a half before the 9 a.m. start because the course was point-to-point and there was a 20-minute bus ride to the start. Luckily, it’s a super low-key event (~150 marathoners & fewer than 400 half marathoners), so everything went smoothly and we soon found ourselves inside Stub Stewart State Park at Hilltop with a little more than an hour until the gun went off.

To say it was cold for Oregon in April would be putting it mildly; there were more than a few “penguin” jokes circulating as several hundred of us huddled in a shelter, hopping from foot to foot, in an attempt to share body warmth.

Several cups of water and trips to the HoneyBuckets later, Ben, Matt and I lined up at the start barely able to feel our feet. The race started without much pomp and circumstance; no National Anthem or so much as a countdown or warning before we were off.

The course took us uphill for the first mile or so before joining the Banks-Vernonia State Trail at mile two, so my plan was to A) warm up for the first mile, B) go out conservatively so I didn’t expend too much energy, and C) try to run separately from Ben and Matt because they were anticipating slightly slower and faster finish times, respectively.

When we hit the first mile marker and I was still next to Matt, I figured he was having an “off” day because I just assumed my first mile would be around a 9:00 pace due to the hill. But when he said we were at 8:20, I decided to double-down and go for it.

The next six miles or so took us along a paved trail, through scenic woods on an abandoned railroad bed. And since we had a gradual downhill until mile seven, everyone was taking full advantage of it.

Things were going well until somewhere after mile eight when we hit an open section of the course and the wind picked up; even though the final stretch was flat, the previous downhill had taken a toll on my quads. That, combined with a lack of mile markers at this point made for a total mental battle as I fought fatigue and wondered where I was on the course.

Not wanting to tempt the GI gods, I had also avoided any kind of fuel for the first hour or so. But after mile seven I paused at each water station to take a few sips of Gatorade. Somewhere around mile nine, I felt the first gut flutter and around what I think was mile 12, I pulled over to take a quick nip of Gu to help get me to the finish.

For those final few miles my brain was squarely at the intersection of “I-just-wanna-walk,” “the-faster-I-run-the-faster-I-am-done” and “uh-oh-my-gut.” But words of encouragement from my coach and fellow mama runner friends kept me pushing along.

When we turned off the trail and into town I knew we had to be close to the finish. In a matter of minutes, we turned in to the Banks High School parking lot and made our way to the track where we had one lap to complete the race.

Per usual, that last lap felt like the longest portion of the race. I didn’t allow myself to look at the finish line until we rounded the first curve, then silently cursed because it was, indeed, a full lap.

As I rounded the last curve, I saw the clock read 1:46:XX. With one final kick, I crossed the finish line, found Matt, then headed straight to the bathroom; thank goodness for ample facilities at this race!

Matt had finished in 1:42, an impressive PR. Ben ran a 1:49, which was fantastic for the amount of training he didn’t do did for this race. And my official time was 1:46:06, which was good enough for a new PR, a 4th place finish in my age group and a top 20 finish among women.

Immediately my mind went to what I did well (in order to replicate it) and what I can improve upon (i.e. remove a negative variable) next training cycle: Having a coach was beneficial in so many ways, as was the consistency of my training and speed-work. But I definitely need to focus on improving my nutrition going forward — not only fueling during the race, but also the days/weeks leading up to it.

And although I’m still in shock about the outcome, the wheels have started turning about what’s next. My coach assured me that 1:45 is doable with more mileage under my belt, which is tempting. But I’m also mulling over going shorter and faster; I’d love to finally beat my 5K PR from my high school track days.

But just as life evolves, so does a runner’s relationship with the sport. And as good as it feels to nail a new PR and chase after the next one, I’m also realizing that there’s much more to it now than just the numbers.

I run because it makes me feel alive. Running makes me feel like I’m unstoppable. It makes me feel as though I’m capable of anything.

But now I also run because I’ve got an example to set for Wyatt. I want him to see his mom setting goals and working hard to achieve them. I want him to learn that it takes dedication to reach our goals and that we can do hard things.

And my ultimate goal is that he’ll be inspired to chase after his own dreams, running or otherwise.

Race Report: Corvallis Turkey Trot

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Although my pregnant running days are quickly waning thanks to a cranky ligament on my left side, I can never seem to resist a good pre-Thanksgiving Turkey Trot. So by the time our holiday plans were solidified this year, I was online searching for a local event for Ben and I to do before the traditional festivities (family, food and football watching) commenced.

Enter the Corvallis Turkey Trot, a family-friendly event in Ben’s hometown. A short race-morning commute, plentiful parking and a flat and fast course through surrounding neighborhoods made this one a no-brainer.

As race day drew nearer, however, my gut told me that my original pick of the 10k over the 5k was a bit overly ambitious considering my current condition. It’s never fun going into a race worrying about whether or not complete the distance, so at packet pickup I opted to drop down to the 5k distance instead.

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Ben stuck with the 10k group, which started at 8:05 am, so I stood on the sidelines to cheer them on as they took off. Then it was back to the car (ample race-day parking FTW!) for 10 minutes to stay warm until the 5k’ers took off.

The temperature was a “balmy” 27 degrees, so I spent my final moments trying to figure out what to wear because I still hadn’t decided whether I’d be jogging or walking the 3.1 miles. In the end, I figured I’d at least give jogging a shot, so I ditched my coat and gloves before I locked up and headed over to the start line.

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Here’s how the next half hour or so played out in my head after the gun went off:

  • Mile .1: Wheee! I’m running again! 
  • Mile .2: This feels AWESOME. Why did I ever stop running?! I should go FASTER! 
  • Mile .3: Hm, I think I might have to pee. 
  • Mile .4: Why am I so out of breath?
  • Mile .5: I definitely have to pee.
  • Mile .6: Pregnancy support belt has migrated from below belly to above waist and is now crushing my bladder. Pull over to re-adjust.
  • Mile .9: Strava crashes, my music dies, and now I can’t take any mid-race pictures. Bummer. 
  • Mile 1.1: Pull over to adjust pregnancy support belt for second time.
  • Mile 1.3: Why are my shins tight? Oh, that’s right; I haven’t been running in a few weeks, and now I’m trying to “race.”
  • Mile 1.4: I’ve really gotta pee.
  • Mile 1.5: Pull over to adjust pregnancy support belt for third time.
  • Mile 1.7: Yep, still have to pee.
  • Mile 1.9: Screw the support belt. Note to self: Never again wearing it over slippery spandex tights. Resort to tugging it down while running.
  • Mile 2: Only one more mile to go! 
  • Mile 2.2: Curse support belt while tugging it down. Again. Debate letting it just ride up and letting the belly fly for the rest of the race.
  • Mile 2.3: Seriously, is this baby using my bladder as a trampoline?
  • Mile 2.5: Slightly loosen support belt while shimmying it down around my hips. Stay put! Only a half mile more to go. 
  • Mile 2.7: Support belt, you are now the BANE OF MY EXISTENCE. Tug, shimmy, grimace. Repeat every 100 meters.
  • Mile 3: This feels AWESOME. What have I been complaining about?! I LOVE running! 
  • Mile 3.1: Where’s the bathroom? And the food?

Final time: 30:38 at a 9:51 pace, which was good enough for 12th in my age group.

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And that, my friends, is why I think this may officially be my last race — not only of 2015, but also this pregnancy. Of course “famous last words,” and I’ll never say never (especially when those holiday events come calling…), but as you can see it’s starting to be more trouble than it’s worth.

Luckily, though, I was done in time to get some water, grab Ben’s phone from the car and watch him cross the finish. His final time was 57:19 at a 9:13 pace, which placed him 10th in his age group (not bad, considering he had a porta-potty pullover that cost him a few minutes).

Racing and running aside, we’ve got a lot to be thankful for this year. I hope you and yours had a happy, healthy holiday, as well!

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Did you trot or not this year? Either way, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! 

Race Report: Rattlesnake Run 5k

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When I knew I’d be home in Michigan this month for a childhood friend’s wedding, the first thing I did after booking plane tickets was look up local races. Because why not squeeze in a little of my favorite fall activity — running through the brilliant foliage of the Midwest — as the colors near their peak this season?

Ok, I’ll admit it; part of me was also hoping that my trip would coincide with the Detroit Marathon so I could sign up for the half and run for fun. But I’m nowhere near trained up for that, so it ended up being for the best that the only options were a few nearby 5k’s.

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I settled on the Rattlesnake Run 5k since it supports a cool cause, is located pretty close to home, and the start time was a very friendly 11 a.m. — aka I could sleep in after the wedding festivities and get a leisurely workout done before lunch. Once that was decided, I set about badgering recruiting my favorite running buddy (my sister), who begrudgingly agreed.

The race is put on by the Michigan Nature Association, and its purpose is to promote efforts to preserve habitat for the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, a species of special concern in Michigan. It’s The Mitten’s only venomous snake, in fact, and is a rare sight for most state residents.

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Another upside of this event is that it’s relatively new (in its second year), so it’s not super crowded. And it’s a trail race, so it has a nice, laid-back atmosphere.

The course is a 1.5-mile out-and-back along the Paint Creek Trail, which is an 8.9-mile linear park, located in northeast Oakland County. Fun fact: It was also the first Rail-to-Trail in the state of Michigan, as it was converted to a trail from the former Penn Central Railroad.

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We arrived around 10:40 a.m. to pick up our race numbers and t-shirts, and there was no line so we breezed right through. After a quick pre-race bathroom pit stop (no movement yet, but Baby H loves to make his/her presence known by standing on my bladder), we lined up at the start to listen to final instructions from the race director.

Typically I hang back in the pack, but I was feeling good so I toed the line behind a few folks who looked like they’d be taking the lead pretty quickly. My sister was feeling under the weather, so we decided at the last moment to run separately; I was aiming to run and finish in fewer than 30 minutes, while she decided to deploy a walk-jog strategy.

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The race director counted us down, and we were off — I was the second female out of the gate and remember thinking I’d just try to maintain that position for the whole race, body-permitting. About a quarter of a mile in, the lead female dropped back while I simultaneously got passed by the third place woman, so I figured I’d pace off of her and try to hold on for as long as I could to the end.

The course was flat and gorgeous — there was plenty to look at with the leaves changing colors — but I was more focused on maintaining my breathing and staying hyper-aware of how my body was feeling because of Baby H. Although my legs felt great, it was just shortness of breath that was holding me back, so I tried to walk the fine line between keeping a steady pace and making sure I was getting enough oxygen.

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At the turnaround, I saw a few other ladies coming up behind me, so my goal was to run a steady second half and try to hold them off until the finish, which I managed to do. After grabbing water and a banana, I got back to the finish area just in time to catch a shot of my sister running across looking awesomely strong!

I’ve got to say — it’s been a while since I’ve run (or, well, raced) a 5k, but Lauren Fleshman hit the nail on the head when she called the distance “freaking awesome.” It’s enough of a challenge (especially in my current state), but “you can train and still have a life, race hard and walk normally the next day, and get really fit really fast.”

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Talk about the best of both worlds! It just might be my new distance for as long as running while pregnant still agrees with me (it’s seems to vary by day at the moment; some days I’m itching to run, and others I can’t bring myself to do it).

Final time — 26:15. Not a PR, but good enough for second place female overall and first place in my age group. And first place for the <1 age group, if you’re counting Baby H in tow 🙂

Big thanks to our parents for coming out to cheer us on. It reminded me of my cross country days having their smiling faces to look forward to at the finish line.

And I can’t forget the SNAKES! Yes, there was an aforementioned rattlesnake on hand (caged, of course), but there was also an Eastern Fox snake being passed around for photos ops (can you tell I’m not a snake fan!?).

For more information on the Rattlesnake Run 5k, visit RunSignup.com.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy fall?

Race Report: Bridge of the Goddess 10k

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Want to add a Gorge-ous event in the Pacific Northwest to next season’s race calendar? Look no further than the Bridge of the Goddess half marathon and 10k in Cascade Locks, Oregon.

Not only is it an easy, hour-long scenic drive from Portland, but it also features a safe, supported course that’s great training run for fall marathons or a destination unto itself. The course starts on the deck of Bridge of the Gods (which you may remember from the movie Wild) over the Columbia River Gorge and spirits runners away from it all along the historic Columbia River Highway Trail.

And, as it turns out, Race Director Paula Harkin wasn’t kidding when she said that. “If the inclines don’t take your breath away, the views from on high surely will.”

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Because LUNA is one of the sponsors of the event, Team LUNA Chix Portland Run was invited to participate. Two of us team leaders (Nicole and me) decided to run, along with three of our community members, Anne, Katie and Debbie.

The event is only in it’s second year, but it’s gotten rave reviews for course, scenery and spirit, so we were pretty excited to check it out. Plus — nerd alert — I’ve been wanting to visit this landmark after seeing Wild, so it was a great way to do one of my favorite things: mix some sightseeing with running.

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I was a tad nervous, however, since I’d be running this one with an unpredictable little stowaway in my uterus. Even though my OB cleared me to run (and even encouraged it — yay!), I haven’t done much of it over the past few months since A) I’ve been sidelined with fatigue, which is putting it mildly, and B) frankly, my favorite form of cardio hasn’t felt that great.

My longest run in the past four months has been a seven-miler during which my right hip flexor got excessively angry and after which I spent the rest of the day on the couch feeling like I was mid-marathon training and had just finished a 14-miler. And although I seemed to have turned a corner last week and finally (fingers crossed) gotten some energy back, I knew this would be a bit of an experiment.

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So as we walked toward the start on the Bridge of the Gods on race morning, I had my OB’s parting words of wisdom in my head:

  1. Keep it conversational. After I inquired about that old keep-your-heartbeat-below-140-bpm rule, she said it’s more important to take it slow and be able to talk while working out. It makes sense — if you’re getting enough oxygen, so is the baby.
  2. Stay hydrated. If you’ve ever been or ever get pregnant, you’ll quickly realize that water — and getting enough of it — will quickly become the bane of your existence. Too little, and I get a headache, or enough/too much, and I am constantly in search of a restroom.
  3. Don’t get overheated. You want that bun in the oven fully-baked but not cooked through. Luckily, it was a nice, cool morning, and I wasn’t over-dressed, so keeping my body temperature steady wasn’t too much of a concern.
  4. Take in sugar throughout. Going in, I was very up front with my OB about fitness being an important part of my life. Aside from telling me to listen to my body, she’s ok with me staying active as long as I take in a steady stream of calories while doing so.
  5. Have fun. This is not the time to be attempting a new PR or getting crazy when the gun goes off. So I’m enjoying running with friends — not only to keep it social, but also to keep it more about completing the event than competing in it.

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Nicole, Anne and I planned on running as a group at around a 10-min/mile pace, while Katie and Debbie lined up farther back in the crowd to run together. We decided to regroup at the finish to grab some food, take some pictures and see how everyone’s race went.

It was a clear morning, so the starting area (on the bridge!) made for some beautiful pictures with the Gorge as a backdrop. Although I didn’t know the entire bottom of the bridge was a see-through grate until we stepped onto it; not only did my stomach drop just looking down, but I clutched my car keys hoping that I wouldn’t lose them while we were up there.

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The gun went off for the half marathon at 8 a.m., so we got to watch them take off before our 10k gun went off at 8:15 a.m. There’s a costume contest component, too, so many ladies were clad in togas as they made their way off the bridge down to the Historic Columbia River Highway Trail for an out and back.

We’d heard the course was “challenging and amazingly beautiful, well-supported and safe from traffic,” and I figured three out of four ain’t bad. Although I was interested to see what “challenging” meant, since I’ve come to find over the years that it’s a pretty subjective descriptor for races.

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A few minutes later, we were off! The course began with a nice downhill that curved gently back underneath the bridge and dropped us right into the trail.

It’s a pretty well-known area; several U.S. Forest Service trails intersect this segment of the trail including the Pacific Crest Trail. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, though, although I speculated that we might be running along side the highway for the majority of the race.

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Wrong! Instead, we were treated to ferns, moss-covered rocks, waterfalls and delicate, shaded wildflowers that flanked the nicely-paved trail.

And as soon as the scenery changed, so did the course from an elevation perspective. Nothing too crazy, of course, but lots of long stretches of low-grade inclines followed by low-grade descents.

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And since it was an out-and-back course, we knew this meant one thing: What goes up must come down. For each uphill, we’d be treated with a downhill on the way back…and vice versa.

Over the next three miles we navigated the hills, stopping to walk through aid stations for water and Glukos, making sure we didn’t get too winded on the ascents and taking advantage of the descents. Side note: This was my first experience with Glukos, and I was impressed; it’s got a nice, mild flavor like nuun but without the fizz. 

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Just as we hit the turnaround point, we saw the stairs that the half marathoners would climb to get to the second portion of their course. Although I’m sure the views from the top made the trek well worth it, we were all too happy to be able to circle back and tackle the second half of the 10k (especially because I felt like I needed to pee pretty badly!).

Up and down the rolling hills we ran toward the finish in Marine Park. As we turned the final corner into the park, we could hear the music and smell the food at the festivities, and everyone gave one last push to get across the finish. Final time ~ 1:03 (my Strava said 5.6, Anne’s said 6.4 and Nicole’s said 6.2, so we went with hers).

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After grabbing water and our finisher’s necklaces, we went straight into the pavilion to warm up and refuel. Well, if I’m really being honest, my first priority was to hit the restroom (thanks to BabyH bouncing around on my bladder for an hour), but then we dug into the feast of burritos, chips, salsa, fruit, cookies and beer.

On our way out, we stopped by the LUNA booth to say hello to the event team. They were passing out samples of the new Chocolate Salted Caramel protein bar, which we got a sneak peek and sample of back in March at Summit.

It’s yummy — especially if you’re in the mood for something sweet yet savory. And if you’ve got any dietary considerations to take into account, it’s gluten free and low glycemic, plus it’s got 12g protein, 3g fiber and if a good source of iron and Vitamin D.

I carry a few minis in my purse; they come in handy when I need a quick pick-me-up between meals, and they’ve come to the rescue on more than one occasion with friends who need the same!

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I’m especially thankful that BabyH made it through his/her first 10k with flying colors. And I’m also looking forward to easing back into some casual racing for as long as this rekindled love affair with running-while-pregnant lasts!

For more information on the Bridge of the Goddess half marathon and 10k, visit RunwithPaula.com.

Race Report: Portland Trail Series Race No. 5

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And with that, our five-week adventure with the Portland Trail Series through the nooks and crannies of lovely Forest Park has come to an end! I’m not gonna lie; it’ll be nice to have our Wednesday nights back — but I’m so appreciative for this having gotten us back into the habit of hitting the trails weekly.

Admittedly, since my go-to route is a pancake-flat waterfront loop through downtown Portland, I need to get my butt back on the trails, so this series was the perfect antidote to city running. Read about our previous week’s race here.

You know what else is cool? Nike came out to several of the races to let runners test drive their new Air Zoom Wildhorse 3 trail shoe. As you can see, we all took them up on the offer, and I was pleasantly surprised — particularly with the rock plate, which provides stability and protection from rough terrain.

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Shoe excitement aside, I made a rookie mistake and forgot to eat a snack after lunch to give me that extra boost for the dinnertime race. We were hanging around the start, chatting, when I noticed those all-too-familiar hunger pangs.

Trail Butter to the rescue! I had enjoyed some samples post-race at several of the other events, but there was no time like the present to see how this stuff worked as pre-race fuel.

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Luckily, they’re incredibly generous, too! I went over to the table to ask for a sample and mentioned that I had forgotten to eat, so before I knew it I had a whole chunk of tortilla spread with the Expedition Espresso flavor in hand. Thanks, guys!

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With comfy feet and a full belly, it was time to focus on the task at hand — our out-and-back course of 4.32 miles. We’d start on Leif Erikson and go up Leif to Dogwood, up Dogwood to Wildwood, then up Wildwood to Birch, and up to the top of Birch. Then we’d turn around and return the same way to the finish.

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Also exciting was the post-race party to cap off the summer series. After completing our run, we were all invited back to Lucky Labrador Brewing Company for celebratory beers, along with the awards ceremony and a raffle.

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But first things first — the race. Ben and I decided to run with each other, just as we did in the first race of the series.

Mostly this consisted of me trying to keep up with Ben, so my view looked like this for the better part of race. We got passed by a few people on the hills as I alternated from jogging and hiking up the inclines, but made up some time on the descent and managed to pass a few people on the second half of the course.

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Final time? 44:03, which I’ll take! Especially since my GPS read that the distance we covered was more like 4.6 miles, so I called it an even 4.5 miles for the evening.

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Final verdict on the Trail Butter, Nike shoes and post-race party? Well, I had a few nut butter burps along the way (which I attribute to eating too close to the start) but otherwise it worked like a dream. Same goes for the shoes; not only did they keep me from rolling my ankles (which usually happens once or twice a run on uneven trails), but they were so comfy I forgot all about ’em.

As for the party, we had the best intentions…but since we had neither dry clothing nor wallets with us, our “quick pit stop” home turned into permanently planting ourselves on the couch with dinner and a movie. We watched Wild, of course, to commemorate our time on the trails!

For more information on the Portland Trail Series or to sign up for next season’s series, click here. The Fall series is already sold out, however they will take day-of-race registrations in place of no shows. So bring $20 and run!

Race Report: Portland Trail Series Race No. 4

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You know what’s tough? Gearing up for a race on a Wednesday night when all you want to do is eat dinner. On the couch. In your sweatpants. And the only kind of ‘marathon’ you’re thinking about is on Netflix.

But you know what makes it easier? Meeting up with friends, passing the time telling stories while on the trails and the feeling of crossing the finish line. The post-race chips, salsa and burrito-fest doesn’t hurt either.

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Last Wednesday marked our fourth of five races in the Portland Trail Series, a super-mellow series held weekly in Forest Park in Portland. Read about the previous week’s race here.

The plan for the evening was 5.60 miles. A little longer than the third race in the series, but a welcome change in scenery and a little less elevation.

We’d start on Leif Erikson and go up Leif to Wild Cherry, up Wild Cherry to Wildwood, then down Wildwood to Alder, down Alder to Leif, down Leif to Dogwood, up Dogwood to Wildwood, down Wildwood to Wild Cherry, down Wild Cherry to Leif and Leif to the finish.

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Two of our buddies got stuck in traffic, so the plan was for me to pace Ashly again, this time to her second trail race finish. I waited until after our Wild Cherry ascent to tell her that my not-so-secret goal for the evening would be for her to finish this race in the same amount of time that we completed the previous week’s race (which was almost a mile shorter).

Even though she was leery of my plan for her to race more aggressively this time, she was a trooper! The course was in our favor, too; it leveled out quickly after Wild Cherry, and aside from a half-mile climb about two miles from the finish it felt like we had a lot of rolling flats and downhills to work with.

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Ashly’s hubby Sean met up with us with about a mile and a half to go, and his extra encouragement gave her just the boost she needed to bring it in strong to the finish. I tried to capture a shot of us in action; I’ll attribute the blurriness to our blazingly-flast pace back down Wild Cherry 😉

Our final time? It was 1:12:07, just about a minute more than our time from the previous week!

I’m already looking forward to the next race. Not only will we get to spend another evening on the (hilly) trails, but there’s also a post-race party celebrating the completion of the series at a local brewery.

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Stay tuned for my report from the fifth — and final — race of the series next week. Same place, same time, new route, plus party pics!

For more information on the Portland Trail Series or to sign up for next season’s series, click here.

Race Report: Portland Trail Series Race No. 3

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And, with that, I am an official pacer for hire! Well, I’m free…but I do accept smiles, kind words and the occasional food-based bribe in exchange for getting you across the finish line in one piece.

Last Wednesday was the third of five races in the Portland Trail Series, a low-key (but highly fun!) series held weekly in Forest Park in Portland. Read about the previous week’s race here.

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Syreeta and I had such a blast on the trails last week that she came back for even more hill-ish torture this week — as a seasoned pro now, I might add. And at last week’s practice we even managed to talk one of our fellow Team LUNA Chix Portland Run members, Ashly, into joining us for her first-ever trail race.

Ashly’s done her fair share of road racing, but this was her first off-road foray, so she was understandably nervous — not only is the terrain challenging, but the temperature also spiked back up to near 100 here in Portland. Our friend Tiffany joined in on the fun, too, to round out our LUNA Chix crew!

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On the menu? An evening route of 4.78 miles. It’s the shortest of the courses so far in the series, but we didn’t let the distance fool us — there were bound to be some good hills in there.

We’d start on Leif Erikson and go up Leif to Wild Cherry, up Wild Cherry to Keil, down Keil to Wildwood, then down Wildwood to Alder, down Alder to Leif, up Leif to Dogwood, up Dogwood to Wildwood, down Wildwood to Wild Cherry, down Wild Cherry to Leif and Leif to the finish.

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We lined up near the back of the pack to let the faster runners go ahead. I wanted to make sure Ashly started conservatively, which meant staying out of the fray and listening to her body so she could go at a comfortable, sustainable pace.

For the third week in a row, we started off by scrambling up Wild Cherry (aka my nemesis). We made it most of the way up at a slow jog but slowed to a walk near the top so we could catch our breaths and allow our heart rates to come down.

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Tiffany and Syreeta went on ahead while Ashly and I deployed a walk-jog strategy: We’d walk up the steeper hills and jog the flats and downhills to help conserve energy and keep the focus on moving forward.

We were about a mile in when all of the sudden Syreeta came doubling back along the path to join us. Ashly led the way, and we followed her lead.

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Of course, we also fell easily into a great conversation, so when we weren’t gasping for breath up the hills we were laughing over stories, and the miles quickly flew by.

Before we knew it, we ran into Yassine from Animal Athletics, who said that not only did we only have a mile and a half to go, but also that is was mostly downhill. We picked up the pace and about a half mile later, we ran into Ashly’s husband, Sean, who had already finished and was coming back to provide some moral support for Ashly in the final mile.

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As we cruised back down Leif Erikson, we rounded the final corner and Ashly kicked it into high gear for the last 100 yards or so to the finish line. Our final time was 1:10:51.

I’m so proud of her for pushing through and dominating a hilly course like that in the heat. And you know what? She’s already contemplating coming back next week and making the step up to a longer distance trail race this fall. Mission accomplished; we’ve got a new trail runner in our midst!

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And, as always, we’re excited to do it all over again next week! Same place, same time, different route — so stay tuned for my report from race number four.

And for more information on the Portland Trail Series in the meantime, click here.

Are you a fan of trail races?