Quick Thoughts: Lake Padden USATF Trail Half-Marathon Championship

First off, the most important thing that happened yesterday was my brother got engaged!!! Woo hoo!! And Ben proposed atop Cold Mountain

Congrats Ben and Maxine!!

So, Bellingham! What a well-managed race. The course was beautiful and infinitely complex with dozens of turns, multiple loops, and dual directions run on single trails. Yet there was great work from the volunteers who kept multiple directions of foot traffic on course and heading in the right way. No easy task! Bellingham is gorgeous and reminds me of that town in the first Rambo movie. Actually we were not far away from Hope, BC where the movie was filmed. Thanks so much to Al Coyle and Tad Davis for a fantastic experience.

We started in a pleasant Northwest mist before heading out to damp and leafy trails. The course was a pleasant reprieve from the dusty California trails with their vinegar smell of fermented dog urine (one of the side effects when it does not rain for two years). I love dogs. But in a world that is increasingly urban, where more people are living in ever-closer proximity to one another, we need to have a serious conversation about pet ownership.

This now makes two races where I have had the pleasure of watching Pat Smyth fly up a trail for about 1.5 miles. One of my goals for the future is to keep him in sight for more than ten minutes. I’m not holding my breath on this one. Pat is a really nice guy. Leading wire-to-wire yesterday, he was a league above. But you would never know it from his gracious attitude and comments before and after the race. A true professional.

So, I went out in 5:08 for the first mile. You would think that having done this now for 16 years I would know better. But honestly, this race felt more like a Euro-style cross country race than a ‘trail’ run. Such categorical distinctions are arbitrary, but here’s evidence that I actually finished 9th at the ‘USATF Über-Long Course XC Champs’

1)   We started in a wet grassy field.

2)   There were American flags everywhere and a baritone sang the national anthem.

3)   After the gun went off I caught myself jockeying for position to catch the first corner. I fell into an old habit of whipping my head around to see how everyone was settling in after 75 meters. This is a terrible habit. I’m going to crash into a pole some day.

4)   I got mud in my nose. Mud-nose is no laughing matter.

5)   Everyone was wearing Nikes.

6)   There was that kid who went out too fast and dropped out two miles in, looking like someone stole his lunch money.

7)   What aid stations?
a.     Actually there was an aid station. But who stops? This is cross country! 

8)   I had absolutely no clue I was near the finish line and… oh, and now I’m done. 

 Seriously, bro? Just finish the race before you stop your watch.
Photo credit Richard Bolt.

Caitlin Smith is a bad-ass. Despite transitioning toward the faster stuff for this Olympic Trials cycle, she threw down a fantastic off-road effort. And a big congratulations to Maria Dalzot for a splendid win for the home team.  

Even Google Glass can't keep up. 
Photo credit Richard Bolt.

Flying back to Oakland I looked out the plane window and watched the big peaks drift by: Rainier, Hood, Bachelor, Shasta. The northwestern pines faded into Oregon scrub and then into California desert. Dried lakes pocked the land like rashes on ashen skin. Endless lines of freeway headlights stretched to the horizon in neon veins of highway. It looked as if they were pumping some alchemical concoction into the sprawl. We looped around Diablo, killing time on our flight path before we descended back into the desiccated heart of California.


  1. My running days are long past but I enjoy everything you and Caitlin share. I relive my running days and imagine the territory you are covering, though never at your pace, even without the lovely accompanying photos. My favorites were trail and cross-country, in that order. I was better able to pace myself (I was never going to win!) and enjoy the scenery. I got into trouble on road races when I lost my head and forgot everything I ever learned about self-pacing. (-:

  2. Nothing like the smell of dog urine on the trails to make you want to go for a trail run... Oh wait never mind scratch that it sounds like Oakland may not be the place for me. Good luck with your Doctorate and hopefully once you are done you can find an abode to inhabit in a less desiccated place.


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