Thursday, April 14, 2016

Conquering The Grimm Reaper

One of the cruel realities of life is that in order to truly grow in any area, you must first overcome challenges to accomplish whatever goals you have laid out before you.

Last year, as we neared spring, some friends of mine told me they had signed up for the Volcano Half Marathon, and wondered if I wanted to join them. At the time, I had just conquered the 6-7 mile range, and felt 13.1 miles was just too far for me; so I declined. But in the weeks that followed, I was inspired by their determination to train for the race, so I continued to mull it over. In early March, after a brief rest from running, I went back at it full bore, and quickly pushed myself into the 10-11 mile range. With that, and the encouragement of my running friends, I accepted the challenge to run my first half marathon, and the end result was what I consider to be a life changing experience.

Fast forward to spring of 2016, and I was still running religiously every week, but I really didn't foresee any challenge to get motivated for. I signed up for the upcoming Volcano half (now called Volcano Valley) because of my great experience last year, but after running two other half marathons at the end of last year, I didn't really consider running a flat course to be much of a challenge.

Then, one week in late February, I decided to join the Molalla Running Club for a group run. Part of the group ran a route with hills as part of their training for the Goat Mountain Gallop, a race that I didn't want any part of because I had heard of how grueling the uphills and downhills were. But after running with the MRC gang, I again found myself inspired by this group of runners dedicated to training for a race, so I accepted the challenge -- not really knowing what I had gotten myself into. 

One of the many undulations of the Goat Mountain course.
One of the things that lured me in was the Run Molalla Series, which included three races -- Goat Mountain, Freedom 5K (4th of July), and Molalla River Trail Race -- all for $89 (I'm doing a 10K for the trail race, since I've never done a trail race before). I am a big fan of local races, and I knew that these were all put on by good people, and that much of the proceeds would go to good causes (Goat Mountain benefits the Molalla HS track team). Not only did I have a roller coaster half on my schedule, but also my first trail race! 

After signing up for Goat Mountain, I had the bright idea of driving the course from Colton to Molalla -- NOT a good idea! The drive started out rather mundane, but after the first turn, the road quickly began to undulate like a roller coaster track -- some of the dips were so large that you couldn't see the bottom as you approached, and the ascent on the other side seemed to extend forever... and then we got to the Grimm Reaper, a mile-long steep uphill section of Grimm Road that climbs close to 300 feet in one shot. What had I gotten myself into?!

Molalla Running Club at the start line for Goat Mountain Gallop

Well, thanks to a month of hill training in Silverton, I was able to conquer Goat Mountain and the Grimm Reaper this past Saturday. It was a grueling course, but luckily the majority of the bad hills are done by mile 6, and then it's mostly downhill from there. The one exception is the last hill on Feyrer Park Road, just coming up out of Molalla River basin toward the Coleman ranch -- a hill which I have dubbed, "Coleman Hell". Coleman Hell only rises 100 feet above the bridge below, but the accent is steep, and the hill's placement at mile 11 makes it especially difficult. Through it all, I had a great experience, and hope to run this race again next year. The feeling of accomplishment from meeting a big challenge is really hard to describe with words.

This was my first race where I was actually part of a running "club", and I have to say that I rather enjoyed the experience. It was nice having others there that you knew, both at the start when we were all nervous, and at the end when we could congratulate each other for finishing the race.

Technically speaking, I was very pleased with my time. I knew coming in that this was not a course to expect a PR (personal record) on, so my goal was to at least stay under 10 min/mile pace, and I finished at 9:50 per mile. In comparison, my previous best pace for this distance was a training run completed two weeks prior, which was done at 9:37 per mile -- not too far off. My best in-race half was last September's Oktoberfest run in Mt. Angel, and I completed that at 9:40 per mile -- and as you can see below, there is a big difference in the elevation profiles of the two courses.

Goat Mountain Gallop
Oktoberfest Road Race
Based on that, it's not hard to see why the Goat Mountain Gallop has remained such a small race despite this being its 33rd year. Many runners prefer flatter courses and bigger races -- races which offer more fun stuff at the end like beer, big fancy medals, and after parties; which is truly a shame, because with the natural beauty of the Goat Mountain course, combined with the challenging hills, I would think it would draw more of a running following. I was thrilled to get a nice tech shirt, a small medal, and a pancake feed at the end. I will be back next year. I'll be up for a good challenge by then, I'm sure.