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Pounding the Dirt

Taking running off-road



There are certain climbs in marathons reportedly so tough that they take on monikers, like Boston's famed "Heartbreak Hill," a steady climb that gains roughly 100 feet over a mile. It is a spot legendary for stopping runners in their tracks.

But taken in context, that climb seems a lot like the same east coast bravado that has the gall to call the hills with 2,000-foot peaks "mountains," as the entire Boston Marathon run has a total 480-foot elevation loss, including steady declines over the first 10 miles and then again over the last five.

Or, consider "Heartbreak Hill" in comparison to this weekend's 10th annual Haulin' Aspen in Bend: The half marathon alone cumulates 1,000 feet of climbing, just eclipsing the elevation gains for the hilly San Francisco Marathon, and the full marathon rears up a grueling 2,700 feet of climbing.

The course begins—and ends—at Wanoga Sno-Park on Saturday.

"It is all downhill both ways," jokes race organizer Cynthia Engels with Lay It Out Events (and the Source's sibling organization). Unlike most marathons which pound away at street pavement, the Haulin' Aspen largely rolls on dirt trails through Ponderosa forests. While Eugene, with its storied history of Steve Prefontaine and Bill Bowerman, may be Track Town, USA, Bend has laid claim to the bragging rights as the go-to place for trail running, backed up by Trail Runner Magazine naming Bend the "Top trail town" last year and reinforced by a few high-quality summertime trail races.

"Why would you ever road run when you can trail run, and get to be with trees and plants and fresh air, instead of pavement and exhaust fumes?" quips Engels.

And Bend is not just home to miles of top quality, off-road running trails, but also to some of the nation's top trail runners, including thirty-four-year-old Max King, a national champion for multiple trail races over the past few years and a fourth place finisher at the Western States 100 a month ago.

To keep your feet pounding the dirt, King provides a few suggestions for trail running:

* Keep your head up and look where you're going. It's important to know where you're placing your feet but also to keep good running form. Looking at your toes causes poor form and bad posture. 

* Don't charge the hills, especially in longer races. Just find a good sustainable pace and slow down. Once you're back on top it will be easier to speed back up to your normal pace if your muscles aren't screaming for oxygen. 

* Trail shoes are important. You can get away with a road shoe, but a real trail shoe will perform better, feel better, and keep the dirt out better. And shoes don't go bad when you aren't using them, so if you have a pair of road shoes and a pair of trail shoes they'll last for just as many miles. 

* Keep in mind that your running pace on trails will usually be slower than on the road. A trail marathon may take twice as long as the road; plan accordingly with gear, food, and water. 

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