Crater Lake Half Marathon: Race Report

OH HEY, BLOG, IT’S BEEN A WHILE.

I’m coming back from a long hiatus with a very happy report – this past weekend, I ran the Crater Lake Half Marathon down in Southern Oregon at Crater Lake National Park. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, let me go ahead and blow your minds:

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Yep. It is stunning. Completely breathtaking. This is an embarrassingly long race report for an amazing race, so I’ll get right to it:

Getting There:

Crater Lake is a good 5 hours south of where we currently live in Portland, so Dave and I decided to make a weekend trip out of it. I took that Friday off of work, and we set out around 9 am, grabbing some bagels from Bowery and loading up our collection of freshly made mix CDs. We passed through Eugene and University of Oregon, fueled up, and then headed down scenic Highway 58. We followed a lazily winding river for more of the drive, passing evergreens and bits of brush along the sides of the road. It’s been a dry summer in Oregon, and the fire hazard signs reflected that – Smokey the Bear appeared in the foliage every two miles, warning us that the fire danger for this area was “Orange – High”.

About 4 hours of driving and lot of CDs later, we finally turned into the North Entrance of Crater Lake National Park… and were immediately greeted with a sprawling dusty desert.

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See that peak the distance? What you’re looking at is just the edge of the caldera that holds the whole lake.

For those who don’t know the history of Crater Lake – I didn’t – and for those who are interested in history and volcanoes – I was – Crater Lake was created when the once 12,000 ft Mt. Mazama erupted in 5,677 BC. It continued with a series of small eruptions for the next approximately 200 years, before one massive explosion finally caused the entire mountain top to collapse in on itself and spread over a mile of ash, lava, and sediment in all directions around it. While old growth forests now surround most of the caldera, the Pumice Desert – that barren area in the north pictured above – still hasn’t completely recovered from the devastation after thousands of years.

Extremely impressed by our first glances, we got back in the car and kept driving another 10 minutes – straight uphill – before finally reaching the base of the caldera around 2 pm. This is what we saw:

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The water was completely clear, and the brightest blue I’ve ever seen. At just over 7,000 ft in elevation, the sky was pale and cloudless. It was complete nature porn – Dave, our outdoors aficionado, was on cloud nine.

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We drove a bit south on the Rim Drive, ending up at “The Watchman” overlook. Off to the side of the overlook was a short one mile trail up to what had once been a lookout post for fire rangers – the top of the lookout stood at over 8,000 feet, giving you a wide view of the lake and surrounding forest. So, of course, we had to climb it. Dave had been cracking jokes all afternoon about how “both the altitude and view took my breath away”, but that climb was the first time the altitude really hit us hard. We hike 5 miles together fairly routinely each weekend, but we were still huffing and puffing by the time we got to the top.

Watchman's Overlook

Admire my ponytail, hanging out on the side there.

After coming down from Watchman’s Tower, we continued our slow cruise around the rim, and finally made our way to the hotel, a bed and breakfast 45 minutes away in the town (and I use that term loosely) of Prospect.

I had tried to book us a hotel closer to the actual lake, but by the time I got around to making my bookings (in early June, a good two months before the event) every lodge close to the lake was full. I finally settled on a place called the Historic Prospect Hotel. It was a good 45 minutes from the lakeside proper, in a tiny town of 500 people, tops. We drove up the single street that makes up the town of Prospect, passing it’s 5 churches and single pizza shop, ready for a Redneck Wonderland. We were very pleasantly surprised.

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The Historic Prospect Hotel is adorable. Recently renovated, it was once a way-post for travelers coming up the Pacific Trail, hosting an impressive guest list. We stayed in the “Jack London” room, named after the famous author who once stayed there. Judging from the plaque on our neighbor’s door, Teddy Roosevelt had once stayed in the neighboring room. The room was full of Jack London books – “Call of the Wild”, “Grey Wind” – and had some very pink decor.

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I had brought my own tupperware container of Lazy Spaghetti a la Dave, fully prepared to carbo-load even if the hotel only offered gourmet salads and fruit platters. It was never opened – we had salad, garlic bread, and a big plate of lasagna that night, which Dave was kind enough to pick up the tab for. The hotel even offered to pack us a breakfast-to-go bag, as we had to leave at 5:30 am to make it to the starting line on time.

The morning of the race, three things became immediately apparent:

  1. That pink quilted bedspread, while goofy, made for a very cozy night.
  2. Crater Lake was going to be cold as hell, so I’d better pack a pullover.
  3. Our neighbors in the Teddy Roosevelt Room were total asholes.

#3 was the first to pop up, and pop up it did, at the very reasonable hour of 3:30 am, when someone next door decided that it was completely acceptable to slam their door each time they entered or exited the room. Slam it they did, with increasing gusto, until Dave and I both rolled over and yelled through the wall at them. Then they did it again ten minutes later anyway, because WHAT DO OTHER PEOPLE MATTER?

We had both slept as much as we were going to, so we got up, got dressed, and lumbered over to the common room to pick up our to-go breakfasts before heading over to the park. There we got our second surprise of the morning – Douchebags McGee has taken our breakfasts with them, leaving us only two yogurts. Fortunately, I had a contingency plan – English muffins and peanut butter in the car. Dave, never a peanut butter fan, got to eat both of our yogurts while swearing at everything and everyone.

We arrived at the starting line around 6:30 am, a good hour before the start of the race, and Dave took off toward the half marathon finish line before the roads closed at 7:00 am. I used the portajohns, stretched, chatted with a bunch of people, tried not to imagine how the high altitude – 7,600 ft compared to Portland’s relative sea level – would rip my lungs out of my chest and play bongos with them… and then we were off!

The Race:

I’ve publicly posted my race data here, but if you’re too lazy to click the link, here’s all you need to know in two charts:

The elevation change during the race was 1,532 ft. We started at 7,600 ft, went all the way down to just under 6,700 ft, and then climbed back up to 7,650 ft.  Oh, and that almost 1,000 ft climb? Happened during the last three miles of the race.

I actually felt surprisingly good for the majority of the race – I certainly trained harder and smarter for this race than I had for my first half marathon last year, going for longer runs more often and on a consistent basis. I ran strong during the first 7 miles, even chugging up the steep uphills, never once stopping to walk. The volunteers were great – I was allowed to fill my handheld bottle at each of the water stations, which were positioned roughly every twice miles for the thirsty runners. I had a full pack of strawberry ShotBlocs and a strawberry GU pack, and consumed all of it. I had some niggling pain in my right knee, ankle, and the underside of my foot at various points in the early miles, but straightened my stride, and they soon went away. An occasional side stitch came up my right side after water breaks, and a few long breaths in and out made it fade away. And really, when you have views like this, how can you not be motivated?

Then Mile 10 happened.

Midway through Mile 8 and 9, I could feel myself starting to get tired. The muscles in my legs had warmed and tightened to that point where running becomes less painful than walking, and I had to concentrate to keep my breathing steady. The altitude was starting to affect my breathing, and had made me thirsty as hell – I had gone through 3 handheld bottles’ worth of water at this point, hoping to fill up at the next water station. The winding course was also beginning to take it’s toll on my legs. The constant uphills and downhills were accompanied by a slowly twisting road, so my feet were rarely landing on a surface that wasn’t slightly uneven. A hot tightness was beginning to spread in my right ankle as a result.

But I was 2/3rd of the way through the race, and according to my Garmin, might actually PR if I managed to hold my current pace! This was not something I’d anticipated at all – I thought the course would chew me up and spit me back out, and here I was, in some pain but really doing okay! So when Mile 10 started on a nasty slow-climbing uphill, I took a short walk break, telling myself I’d start running again in 1 minute or when the hill crested, whichever came first.

The minute came first.

It took a conversation with a passing biker for me to realize what was coming – Joke’s on you, Keeley! There’s no downhill after this! The last three miles of the race were a slow uphill of 1,000 ft before leveling out at the finish line. The poor marathon runners had it even worse – they had to continue past the half marathon finish line and continue climbing to over 8,000 ft, and only then would they start heading back down. The biker and I started laughing – how much did it suck to be us right now? I slowed down for another walk break and she pedaled ahead of me.

I did end up running across the finish line at 2:30:53, according to the gun start – my Garmin watch feel asleep at Mile 11.67, much to my rage, and that time sounds like a good one to me. I finished in 97th place. Watermelon and water bottles and orange slices everywhere, oh my. Dave took me down the mountain for a victory burger and lemonade that tasted unbelievably good, and then took a very unflattering photo of me in the race t-shirt and medal:

Dat baggy shirt.

It was a really great experience overall, and if anyone’s looking to run a half marathon at altitude on a ridiculously painful course, I highly recommend it. I got a runner’s high from it that still hasn’t faded 4 days later. At the very least, check it out for some absolutely beautiful nature porn and the chance to take a auto-timed couples photo in front of some moutains:

(All photos on this race report are courtesy of Mr. David Rappoccio. You can check his stuff out here.)

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One thought on “Crater Lake Half Marathon: Race Report

  1. Great race report! After reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, I have the urge to go to Crater Lake. I’m slightly tempted by the Crater Lake Marathon, but I think the elevation might be too much for me for a full marathon. But maybe the half. Or I could just go stay at the lodge and take a boat tour on the lake….

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