The race offers three different distances: marathon, half marathon, and half-as (6.55miles). Since a 10k is currently my favorite race distance, I chose the half-as, which ended up coming in around 6.7 miles. All races started at the western end of the Wanoga Sno-Park on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway half way between Bend and Mt Bachelor. I had allowed plenty of time to get there from our campsite at Tumalo State Park, allowing me to get lost in Bend for a while along the way. An additional benefit of the shorter distance was the later start time; our group of 183 “half-as”ers were scheduled to take off at 8:30am, after the Marathon started at 7am and the Half Marathon at 8am.
Day-of-race check-in and packet pickup was quick and painless, and the person staffing the table was making sure to put as soft “s” at the end of “half-as”! When I arrived, there had still been plenty of parking in the sno-park, and I was parked close enough to the start that I was able to hang out at my car while still being able to listen to the start line announcer. My thermometer said 45* so I was torn on what to wear, but finally settled on short sleeves (and I’m glad I did!).
I watched the Half Marathon start at 8am, took advantage of the short lines at the porta-potty, then joined the growing group of runners warming up near the start. We were sent off promptly at 8:30am. The first half mile of any run is me finding my groove, and I was struggling a little to find it, since the dust in the air and sandy, uneven path made it difficult to settle into any kind of rhythm. Right at the half-mile mark, the course turned onto a double track trail with a grassy strip in the center (overall wide enough for one car), so it felt less like running on a beach and easier to find some firmer ground, even though it was still rather uneven. The course was very well marked with colored streamers clipped onto overhead branches, A-frame signs at all turns, and volunteers at the trickier corners where the different distances headed different directions.
The first aid station was just after the 2 mile marker and offered water, Gatorade, and Gu packets. After the aid station, the trail became smoother and easier to run on, and before too long we turned left onto a gravelly “paved” two lane forest service road. On this 1.5 mile long straightaway I started getting passed by half-marathon runners, who were very cheerful and encouraging.
Coasting downhill, coming up on the second aid station, I was just thinking that it could have been placed somewhere where it wouldn’t break people’s stride, but then I realized that the water tables were set up as a road block! Friendly volunteers pointed to my left into the trees where a trash can was marking the entrance to the Tiddlywinks (love that name!) single track trail, which all three race distances took towards the finish. These final 2.5 miles of the race were certainly the most fun! The field was very stretched out and I wasn’t running the same pace with anybody, but periodically I stepped to the side to let faster half-marathon runners get past (and to catch my breath). After a mile of shaded trail in old growth Ponderosa forest, it opened up to an area of small, new growth trees, and a view of Mt Bachelor. I had to watch my step bouncing over sandy/rocky parts of the trail, and had the thought that the tire drills that football players do during conditioning would come in handy in preparation for this kind of race.
After the 6 mile mark, I started hearing the cheering and announcements from the finish line. The course markings directed me back into a forest, and after another quick up and down there were spectators lining the trail cheering, and then I saw the finish arch and heard my name announced as I crossed the finish line. Volunteers handed me my medal and pointed me towards food and drink. The berry crumble bars, tofu Pad Thai, and Sunriver Brewing Hefeweizen were perfect post-race refreshment. After the Half-As awards ceremony I started the half-mile walk back to my car at the other end of the sno-park.
Overall it was a lovely and fun event! The course layout was such that after the first half mile it was never very crowded, even where the courses merged into one. I was not prepared for how dusty it was and was wishing I had known to bring a bandana along to cover or at least clean my face along the way. If you enjoy trail runs, or would like to branch out to try one, I would definitely recommend Haulin Aspen to you.