Timberline Half Marathon

I must be slightly crazy because three weeks after finishing a painful 1/2 marathon, I ran another one. In early May I ran the Volcano Half, a straightaway course on backcountry roads that left nothing to the imagination. The after-party was “meh” and I had to tend to my newly gained 3 blisters on my left foot (my fault, can’t blame the race for that one!). The next day, a friend asked if I wanted to run the Timberline Half Marathon, a trail run that circled Lake Timothy. Oh, and it’s not your normal 1/2, it tacks on an additional 1.3 miles. Why the heck not?

The Quick and Dirty:
Registration process: easy, online
Cost: On average for half marathons ($55 earlybird, up to $75 late registration)
Communication regarding event: Basic, no communication per say but website had all the info needed
Course: Beautiful, runs around Timothy Lake
Race “Goodie Bag: N/A
Race Shirt: Okay – tech-long sleeve (win), white (fail)
After-Race Event: Minimal, but then again, no expectations were given
Would I do this race again? Yes

For the three weeks in-between races, I could really only muster about 5 miles. My left foot needed some TLC and a week later, I rolled my right ankle which left a lingering pain in the back of my knee. As the Timberline Half approached, I prepped my running mates with the expectation that this may be a “long hike with some running”. We were in it to catch up (cause this is what 30-somethings do to “catch-up”) and have a bit of fun. Besides, the weather’s been fantastic and the lake is beautiful, why not take our time?

Timothy Lake was built in 1956 with a dam to help regulate water flow to Harriet Lake further down. The lake itself is just over 2 square miles at an elevation of around 3200 feet. It’s a good 2 hour drive from Portland and has a wide view of Mt Hood in the distance. It also has a very nice wooded trail that circumnavigates the lake.

The Half marathon is just one part of the series. A half and full marathon occur on Saturday – a popular option for those wanting to then camp at the lake for the weekend, and a half on Sunday. I did the Sunday half and am happier for it – I can’t imagine running with 3x as many people on the trails.

Pulling up to the race, I watched folks warm up confidently in knee-high socks and running gaiters equipped with water packs and belts strapped expertly to their backs and hips. Yes, I was feeling underprepared for my first trail run. I didn’t want to carry a water bottle and decided to leave it in the car. I packed a few shot blocks in my back pocket and was thankful the organizers left out some bug spray to use. I strapped the chip to my shoe, hit the port-a-potties and geared up for what was going to be a long run.

There was no pomp and circumstance at the start – just basic safety and course instructions before sending runners on their way. No big party with music or sponsored tents – just some bathrooms, water and packet pick up.

The organizers did their best to pace out runners – since trails tend to be narrow, bottlenecks are frequent towards the start. By spacing out runners, they are giving a bit more time and room for people to adjust to their paces. Yet despite their efforts, trains of 10-20 people still formed until space opened up to pass. Till then, we just all keep pace with each other. I learned that eventually, folks get tired and move to the side or make room for passing. I also learned that when you catch up to a train of people, it’s quite easy to fall into their pace.

The trail was blissful to start, a series of downhills from the Clackamas Ranger Station before leveling off for the route along the lake. The path was fantastic for trail running – rocks, roots, occasional mud and fallen trees yet super soft (think pine needles and gentle dirt). Trail running is the complete opposite of road running – it requires constant attention to where your foot is going to land, meaning not only are not you looking up too often, but you are so distracted you practically forget you’re running. It’s amazing.

I managed to glance up a few times to catch beautiful views of the lake or of Mt Hood in the distance. I measured our distance and pace by where the sun was casting shadows and the three water stations along the course. This half is actually 14.4 miles (the marathon consequently is 2 miles short of a full marathon), so a bit longer than your normal half. As the trail winds around the lake, you are surrounded by nothing but forest (oh, and all those other runners, but they’re okay) until you get to the southern part of the lake by the dam. From here, you start to wind through the many campgrounds on the south-eastern side of the lake before hitting the hill back up to the Ranger Station.

Before I knew it (2 hours and 45 minutes later), we were crossing the finish line. There isn’t really an “after-event” – it’s all very simple and minimalistic. There were snacks to quickly get some food in the stomach and water / gatorade, but other than that, the folks who do this race do it for the sake of running in a beautiful place and to be honest, it was just perfect. We left with snacks and headed down to the lake for a picnic and post-run dip.

If you like trail running, this one is definitely one to try out. From serious runners to beginners, this course was not too shabby, great support with amazing volunteers, a well marked route and some seriously friendly people.

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