This year the goal was to run smarter so that the last big climb at mile 8 wouldn’t break me down. I was looking forward to being strong on the final 3 miles, an almost constant downhill back into town and the riverfront. The weather was definitely on our side as the cool temperatures and minimal wind (for the Gorge), made it a pleasant fall morning.
In a rare case of restraint, I actually started off easy as planned. There were about 15 of us in the first wave, designated for those running in the 5-7 minute pace range. As we crossed the parking lot and entered a pathway, I ended up in the lead I would hold for the remainder of the race. Running through downtown Hood River was a quiet affair, and had a few small but steep hills. The real fun began as the course left town and wound its way up a large hill. The three mile mark was literally at the peak.
By that time we were in the forest, and enjoying the calm air and shelter from the wind. A coworker of mine had come out to bike and joined me for conversation. We chatted and enjoyed the views as the miles passed by. There was literally no way to get off course as we enjoyed the old Columbia Gorge Highway winding along through the forest. We passed a couple aid stations, staffed by friendly volunteers. The long downhill at mile 6 was a relief that was sure to be a curse on the return journey. My favorite part is the tunnel just before the turnaround, a dark and unique experience. I was still feeling comfortable, but planned on running negative splits, so that was soon to change.
The best part about an out and back courses is sharing cheers with the other participants and this race was no exception. The second place man was running strong, followed closely by a formidable pack and the leading woman. I put that out of my mind as I mentally changed gears for the ordeal that was to come. Trying a hold the 9 mph uphill pace I had on the way out, I determinedly attacked the large hill. It was definitely a relief to crest it, but not time to scale back. The next step was to take advantage of gravity with long strides and an aggressive pace that would carry me along at a pace far quicker than my average half.
The constant cheering and clapping from the participants was a huge boost as I gave a thumbs up to most in return. Holding pace and form was essential but tough as fatigue began to kick in. My friend let me know I came through 10 miles in 55 minutes and that exhilarated and scared me at the same time. My breathing was labored but I felt strong. In the back of my mind I knew if the wheels fell off I would have little to no warning. Paying no heed to caution I continued pushing and took advantage of the last long downhill through the curves. The real test was holding pace through the two one block uphill sections in town. After that it was a short trip under the highway and along the parking lot to the finish. As I tried to summon up the energy for a kick, my body finally felt the toll of what I had just put it through.
Not until seeing the finishing clock showing what time it was did I realize I had just run a little over 72 minutes for a half, pulling another 30 seconds off a pr I had just set a couple weeks prior. After gathering my wits I enjoyed relaxing under the big tent as the runners came in just before the rain, and during it. Food was plentiful, with fruit, cinnamon rolls, soup and tacos to help counter the hunger pains brought on by running such a distance. It was great to see so many people coming in happy, in spite of how tough the course was. It seemed everyone knew at least a handful of others, as cheers and greetings were thrown around the tent. Results were available at a kiosk relatively quickly and the awards ceremony was entertaining. This race remains on my must-do list, and I look forward to returning next year.