The day began with an extra, unexpected jolt of adrenaline when my parents and I inadvertently arrived just minutes before the start. Knowing the series was based in southern Idaho, in the Mountain time zone, I had carefully checked the website to make sure of the start time. “9:00am local time”, it said. “Ah, local time”, I thought, assuming that meant Pacific time. But a chunk of eastern Oregon is indeed in the Mountain time zone, which I suddenly remembered as I got out of the car and saw people already gathering at the starting line!
Luckily, I had allowed more than an hour to get registered and warm up, but “over an hour” in Joe time translated to less than 15 minutes in actual Mountain time, and I scrambled to sign up, get my warm ups off, and lace up my trail shoes.
Unfortunately my “back to the future” time management also meant I had eaten my breakfast an hour closer to the start than intended. The race was 8.5 miles, and on rolling dirt trails, so a rare pre-race meal had been called for, but not one than was still settling as I fumbled with my laces and trotted toward the start.
I got a slight reprieve due to the kids’ mountain bike race starting at the same time as the trail run, which meant an extended pre-race briefing. In addition to the standard instructions and course info, the race director also made a point of providing detailed safety warnings to the kids.
The young competitors were raring to go, but still listened with respect as the race director told them to heed all warning signs at the jumps and tight corners. “Why should you slow down when you come to a steep drop?” he asked. “So we don’t ‘helicopter’!” they replied in unison, repeating his warning about flying out of control over an edge.
With instructions and warnings out of the way and my stomach still gurgling, it was time to start. Peddling furiously, the young cyclists took off ahead in a cloud of dust, soon peeling off on their own course. We runners continued along a big loop on a dirt ATV road through the wide open high desert countryside.
I settled in, enjoying the surrounding scenery, but soon began to notice the extra effort the 4000 foot elevation was asking of my lungs. The course headed north back toward the highway, then looped east and south, the road eventually narrowing to a trail and dropping into a deep trench, dug out over the years by ATVs and mountain bikes.
Running along the uneven and slender trail was tiring work, and took quite a bit of concentration. Down in the trench, it was also a little airless and sheltered from the breeze, and the temperature began to creep up. A few miles into the race I emerged from the ditch and headed down a short steep hill (trying not to helicopter!) toward a wide open area with several trails leading in all directions.
I couldn’t immediately tell where the course went, and had to stop to find the markers. It proved to be a unfortunate pause, because my over-taxed stomach began to protest at the change of rhythm, the thin air, and the heat, and a great deal of my all-too-recent breakfast reemerged and dampened the dusty ground in front of me.
I soon relocated the course and set off again, a little lighter than before, and feeling strangely relieved. The rest of the race felt much better, as the breeze returned on the more open trails, and I could see more of the surrounding countryside, as well as other runners and bikers at various points around the course.
Before too long, I was heading down the final stretch toward the finish, where my parents and the crowd of young bikers were waiting, the cyclists having finished their race some time earlier. I was never more ready for something to drink and some oranges, and just the simple pleasure of having a hard effort behind me. Later, as I accepted my award, one of the young cyclists said “You smoked it!” My parents were very amused, and I congratulated him on his good race and his lack of helicoptering.
Part of my prize was a gift certificate to a Mexican Restaurant in Baker City, and when we took advantage of it for dinner that night, a group of people from the race were there, and we exchanged more friendly greetings and congratulations. Once again, my county race quest resulted in a great trip and lots of fun memories.