Running and Walking the USATF Trail Marathon Championship
“Do I really want to do this marathon?” I asked myself just 24 hrs before it was to begin. The idea of running up and down hills on a muddy trail in the forecasted rainstorm and strong wind just did not seem that appealing (and my marathon training had been spotty, at best). But, oh well, I decided to show up and see what happens.
Thank goodness I did. It turned out that mother nature had a different weather plan in mind. When race day began, the skies were clear and it was comfortably cool – a perfect day for running in my first Lithia Loop marathon, the 2009 USATF Trail Marathon Championship being held in Ashland, Oregon. At 8 am sharp, at the command of ultramarathoner and Race Director Hal Koerner to start running, off we went, 155 runners headed for the hills.
Given the fact that this course had over 9,000+ ft of altitude change including uphill running for the first 10 miles, it wasn’t long before I was alternating between uphill running and walking, as I drew upon the techniques of ChiWalking to ascend the steep hills as quickly as possible; after all, on steep uphills, I knew that focused walking was much more efficient than running. In fact, I easily passed several runners who had stopped running but did not know how to do uphill walking as they carried their arms at their sides like dead weights, with no sense of what role the upper body could play to assist them. “Take a ChiRunning or ChiWalking class” I thought to myself.
After mile 10, the trail leveled off, so I returned to traditional ChiRunning form. The beauty of long distance running on such trails could now be appreciated; cascading trees, enormous pine cones, rippling streams, wide vistas and clear, refreshing air. This was what it was all about – the joy of running, not only “with nature” as is basic to ChiRunning, but running “in nature”, embraced by nature, as a part of a bigger and awe inspiring whole.
Before I knew it, there was the 20 mile aid station with its cheering helpers, nourishing drinks and high energy goodies, a clear sign that the beginning of the downhill running stage of the marathon was upon us. Oh how I love downhill running and to think I was about to get a full six miles of it to close out this race. Fantastic!
Well, mostly fantastic. Drawing upon my downhill running form, sometimes shifting back a few inches from a mid-foot strike, I immediately accelerated and began to fly; picking off runners ahead of me was just a matter of time and within minutes I had passed several individuals I hadn’t seen since early in the race. The sense of freedom and flow was empowering and exhilarating. What I hadn’t counted on, however, was a 2-mile stretch of so called “downhill” running that was essentially a narrow, mountain bike trail of switch- backs, with ruts and ridges daring me to keep up my speedy pace. We compromised and soon I was safely running on a paved city road for the final mile to the finish line.
All in all, a well organized and very challenging race, a perfect course for the Trail Marathon Championship which will be held there again next year. As for my performance, I didn’t mind taking almost twice as long as the winner, Max King’s 2:40 – after all, he’s only a third my age and he almost made the Olympic team last year. I was just happy to have completed the marathon, done my best, and survived to be running another day.