Todd Callaghan flew out to Bend, OR for the 2015 USATF National Mountain Running Championships at Mt Bachelor. Todd represented the East Coast quite well and finished 35th overall with a 56:41 for the challenging 12k course. This also made Todd the national champion in the 45-49 AG, as well as the 2nd masters runner overall. Here’s Todd’s account of how it all unfolded.
The course began at the bottom of the Mt Bachelor Marshmallow ski slope. However, this course had very little similarity to the ski hills we run in New England. First of all, there was the altitude. The course ran between 6478’ and 7386’: 1.1 miles up and then 1.6 miles down. We did this three times (women’s race 2 laps, community race 1 lap) so that this national championship course, which is a qualifier for the USA team to compete at the World Championship, would mimic the up/down course that will be in Wales for Worlds. Secondly, the uphill part of the course was dry and dusty and peppered with small volcanic ball bearings (more on that below). Luckily, the descent was not as steep as something like Cranmore, which my legs appreciated, though I’m still pretty banged up a week later. The race didn’t go all the way to the summit, which is 9065’ (but I did run up to the summit on Monday morning).
116 guys took off upslope when Max King rang the cowbell. My friend Eric Litvin, who had come up with his wife from Sebastopol, CA to hang out with me and my family in Bend, had run the 1-lap race earlier in the morning and recommended staying left to start the race, which I did, because the slope was less steep and there was more grass than rock to run on. Within seconds there was no more grass and instead a huge train of people in one line and a dust stampede that would make a wildebeest herd proud. We were all coughing and wondering how the dust in our lungs would affect our climbing. Soon, several people in front of me were powerhiking (one guy was puking) and the wagon train slowed down substantially. So, I got a little testy and pushed my way through a few people to try to keep my stride open and maybe my elbow found its way into someone’s ribs. The course was narrow like a snowshoe race, so when you stepped out to get around someone, it was a significant effort, with substantial slipping and sliding. I did that too, but burned precious calories and got into oxygen debt quickly.
To give folks a better idea of what the texture of the course was like, from the first 0.1 to 0.9 it was a nonstop (no switchbacks) climb on a dusty singletrack interspersed with marble to golf ball sized basalt scree. There was 900’ elevation gain in the 1.1 miles uphill. For comparison, the Upper Walking boss on Loon has about 780’ of gain in about 0.7 mile. But on the Boss, you can get purchase with your toes before pushing off. I didn’t get good purchase on the Mt Bachelor climbs, it felt more like snowshoeing.
Just before the first mile split, we finally hit a dirt road and the pitch let up a little. But, like that flat spot at the top of Mt. Washington, I tried to move my legs faster and they just didn’t respond well. If you’ve run The Rockpile, you know what I mean. The road then turned up steeply again to get around the top of the ski lift and we turned onto a tight, singletrack, wending its way through white bark pines. On the singletrack there was about two inches of loose dust that obscured any roots or rocks. One root in particular in a drop chute worried me each time around, but luckily I didn’t trip over it. The singletrack dropped out onto a dirt road and then it was a track meet down to the bottom.
In terms of racing, I had noticed that Chris Grauch (last year’s #2 master at Loon and multi-time top 10 finisher at Pikes Peak) and Jason Bryant (multiple national masters championships) were both entered. Chris was in front of me for most of the first lap and put some time on me on the downhill but I caught back up on the second uphill. Jason was about 10 seconds behind me on the first lap (I heard his name called by the announcer), so I ran in fear of him throughout the race (though he had to drop out unfortunately because of back issues). On the second uphill, Chris and others who most likely do not live at sea level as I do, pulled away. I’ll be honest, it was tough to keep focused on the race at that altitude. I was a little flat and maybe still feeling the effects of 12 races in 14 weeks. But a few guys kept me motivated. I was able to pass two guys on the second downhill but one of them quickly passed me on the subsequent uphill. I had a little back and forth with one guy but he pulled away on the last down and beat me by 23 seconds. I finished strong though (43rd place overall, 1st in 45+) and when the announcer called my name and said that I was from Somerville (USATF still has my former address, I guess) a young woman came over to say that she ran for Tufts and her dad said that his brother lives in Beverly. All I could muster was a smile while I was catching my breath.
I saw some familiar faces out there in Bend: Bob Mulvaney, former teammate of mine on Gate City Striders and one of the top 60+ mountain runners in New England, ran his heart out for a second place finish; I talked with Edward Breen (55th), formerly of Greater Boston Track Club and now living in San Fran; Matt Lipsey from PA, who ran at Sleepy Hollow and Loon, had a great race (30th); Eli and Casey Enman ran well (53rd and 2nd, respectively) and of course Richard Bolt and Paul Kirsch were there doing the USATF thing.
I also need to mention Joe Viger, who was out there in Bend and took some great photos. He and i talked for a while so i have to give him a shout out. Bryon Powell from irunfar.com was also there doing interviews. It was great to see the cross pollination between the mountain racing and ultra racing scene.
Perhaps just as important as racing out there was that Bend is an awesome town for outdoor recreation. While we were there, there was a 100-mile mountain bike race, a triathlon, a 5K road race, and a road cycling race, as well as the mountain champs. Everywhere there were trails: running, biking, horseback riding, and fly-fishing(!). The reward for work well done was the great beer made with Deschutes River water and local hops. A Massachusetts town might have one or two microbreweries, but Bend has over two dozen (http://beermebend.com/)! My favorite was the Worthy IPA—with its “Salmon Safe” certification on the label.
The above images are all courtesy of Joe Viger, who was out there in Bend capturing all of the action. Be sure to check out the rest of Joe’s photos from the races! Here’s an album of shots from Todd himself: