If you’re catching up, read Part 1 of the Haulin Aspen Race Report first. It’s so funny and so well written and so insightful and I should’ve shut the blog down after that post…but here we are.
To give the ever-most slightest of recaps: the night before the actual Haulin Aspen Trail Marathon, and as I mentioned in part 1, I was a mess, man. Frantic and anxious, nervous and obnoxious, abbreviated and self-deprecating. The crux of all this anxiety, really, wasn’t whether or not I could finish the race. Rather, the anxiety came from:
- Not knowing what to expect from the course (outside of studying the map like a topo-goon)
- The caliber of the other runners (am I gonna be up against elite peeps and why are they already pointing at me and laughing?)
- Do I have the right/enough fuel?
- Is that 2-mile hill for real?
- I hate these socks but I didn’t pack another pair. Good call, Will.
- Is the altitude gonna fuck with me? I train in Forest Park. And, despite growing up in Colorado, I haven’t run at a mile-high in ages.
- What if I miss my alarm?
Anyway – The normal litany of thoughts that seem to plague me before a race were abundant. But something about this being my first trail race really got in my head.
Race Day / Lessons Learned
Finally. After however many months since initially registering, all the Forest Park runabouts, SW PDX hill climbing, and fuel deprivation, my alarm went off the morning of the race (safely, 3 hours before the gun.)
The obligatory “kit shot” doubled as a visual preparedness checklist, so that part of “feelin ready” was done. Now it was literally just driving to Wanoga Sno-Park and getting my bearings. It could be the dad in me, but getting to really any destination earlier than anyone else is not merely a point of pride, it’s a must. Plus, raceday anxiety goes out the window when I focus on only things I can control. This brings me to the first lesson learned:
LESSON 1: Focus on one thing you can control, and forget about the rest.
Getting to the starting line early (maybe too early) to take in the crisp Bend morning air, talk to the volunteers, watch the competition roll in, use the bathroom 45 times, and, primarily have a moment to center and relax. One of the biggest hurdles to the race was already over: Showing up. I think it was Gretzky who said, “You miss 99% of the butterflies that sting like a candle in the wind.” (I’m paraphrasing of course.) But in all honesty, just getting to the start line and having a few seconds to myself settled my blood and brain down enough to the point of me feeling like I was just about to go for a long trail run like I did any other day.
That little thing… that “getting there early” bit, was something I knew I could control. And it made a world of difference.
I planned poorly for the race, despite all best efforts. I mean, I checked the weather report, and even the race site said, “be prepared for HOT conditions.” So, naturally I show up in my Sonic Youth singlet (and shorts, shoes, etc etc) ready to roll… It was 39 degrees. That’s on me. It’s still the mountains, and it’s still cold in the morning despite the season. (You’re from CO, Will, you know this.) This is something I could have controlled, but it was a little late now. Roll with it and forget about it.
As more and more people rolled in and the parking lot filled up, the announcers began the time checks:
- 45 minutes to start.
- 35 minutes.
- 10 minutes people! Marathoners line up please.
- 5 minutes! Starting line now!
- YALL ARE CRAZY 🤪
- 1 minute!
The first 1/4 mile was a brief hill (brief being as relative and as cocky as you want it to sound.) And it proved the place setter for the race, at least for the front-of-pack runners. I didn’t honestly know where to be when the gun sounded and the first mile or two dropped. I stuck with the three people in the lead, which quickly became 2 (me and two others).
Feeling good, confident, cold (but warming up fast), and, honestly, a bit slow, I checked my watch to check my pace. I was about two minutes slower than I was used to, at which point I audibly said, “fuck it, let’s rock.” (Which I hope the dude in front of me didn’t hear me because GOD HOW OBNOXIOUS.) I passed the current second place guy and that was it. I never saw the lead guy again (save for a glimpse at that two-mile uphill later in the course), and I stayed solo for the next >3 hours. This was when I realized the second lesson of the race:
LESSON 2: Run YOUR Race.
In a recent chat with a new friend, Steven Mortinson, he mentions this phenomenon (of sorts) of “MY pace.” Paraphrasing a bit, he states, “…by going MY pace, I feel so much better, even if it feels like I’m falling behind, most of the time I end up naturally catching up and feeling better… [On this run,] I wasn’t racing anyone… it was all about ‘how can I be the most efficient in my body.’”
While I was in fact racing a bunch of other people, it occurred to me right as I was going to pass that current second placer: “This is MY race. Not his, not anyone else’s.” I realized that part of my anxiety was stemming from not knowing how to pace myself for this particular race. At mile 3, though, I let it all go. All that shit. I knew I had a faster pace in me, and I wasn’t here to draft anyone and cross the finish line with any question if I could have done better.
Everything became a fluid motion in a relaxed body when I realized and released this. My race, my rules.
My rules also meant literally seeing no one else, outside of the aid station volunteers, for the next 2-3 hours. There were times, like I said, where I saw the lead guy, and I had delusions of grandeur in catching up to him. Alas, that was not to be. But I let that go as well, and continued on with my race.
The next few hours were the most relaxed and focused I’ve felt on a run in ages. Training and non-race race runs have their moments of clarity, but the cocktail of knowing I was leading in a race, seeing the sunrise from the trail, and just appreciating what my legs and body were doing put me into a euphoric state. This remained uninterrupted until mile 22 when, on the 2-mile hill climb, I stepped into some deep sand/dirt and caught a root. Down. Surprisingly this doesn’t lead to a trope-lesson about perseverance and “getting back up and FINISHING THE RACE RAWR.” (Though that is what you need to do and is exactly what I did.)
No, no. While I did get up, do a quick pass for anything bleeding, dusted myself off, and continued on, the last few miles of the race were a blur. The Haulin Aspen full marathon catches up to the half-marathon course with about 2-3 miles left. The forest opens up into the exposed high desert, and you get the unique opportunity to yell ON YOUR LEFT / LEFT / LEFT LEFT LEFT / OTHER LEFT / OKAY RIGHT a million times. This brings me to a HALF-lesson learned, and one which I have staked many-a-claim on:
LESSON .5: DO NOT WEAR HEADPHONES ON TRAIL RUNS
This comes off as sermon or lecture versus lesson learned, and I am not sorry about it. On the very off-chance the person wearing AirPod Max Overears on the course is reading this, let me first say I am sorry for startling you as I had to duck into the woods slightly and out again to get around you. But maybe let’s not wear noise-cancelling headphones on a singletrack course during a race with a finish line that close in sight. Adrenaline will spike and people will be passing you (and you, them.) But stop the tunes and enjoy the last few miles in silence or turn em down, or leave em at home.
This also could be jealousy talking. I wish I had A pair, let alone a pair I would run in…
A couple miles later, the finish line came and went. I feel like maybe I heard one or two cowbells and a distinct cheer from my wife, but then, kablammo, it was over. I do remember the announcer saying something like, “THAT’S THE SECOND MARATHON RUNNER IN,” or something letting me know I never passed the leader. Dammit. But also, there was a little “HOLY SHIT WHAT” tone in the announcement which was a nice little ego boost.
There was a nice little celebration area well-equipped with CBD drinks, beer, nuts, chips, bagels, lotions, and Fjallraven gear. The best part was my wife, daughter, and in-laws and their signs. “Hurry up! Your kid wants ice cream!” “Run fast. Your in-laws are watching.” “Old Guys Rule!” No one else had a sign. So I can only assume I was the most loved person there.
And this, sorta brings me to the final lesson.
LESSON 3: Be Grateful.
This sounds a little gemstoney/instagram influencery/manifesty but, truth be told, I took a moment, again to just stop for a moment, look around, and be grateful that everything came together as it did. I think about everything that could have gone wrong:
- Being paralyzed by anxiety
- A mishap on the drive from Portland
- Sprained ankle on the tree root on the trail
- A medical emergency in my family preventing me from racing at all
- Heat stroke
- Car didn’t start the morning of
But none of that happened. And every time I think back to this race, I just wonder how it all came together so perfectly.
All the pre-race jitters: the worry, the gear selection, me being annoyed…. It all was necessary. It made for a sweeter end result.
That said, and with a reminder that this is supposed to be fun, I try to remember that each run, each opportunity to put my shoes on and run even one mile is something to be grateful for.
Speaking of grateful: Massive thank you to my wife for being such an amazingly grounded sounding board for me to complain to, only to respond with purposeful wisdoms that snap me back to reality in a heartbeat. “If it’s not fun, why are you doing it?” So good.
Thank you to my in-laws for coming out, making the most insanely delicious spaghetti the night prior, and for being the best damn cheering section any son-in-law could ask for.
Thank you to my daughter, who got all the ice cream she could handle, and who continues to inspire every single step of every single run.
And thank you, for reading, and for being a good person.