Lithia Loop Trail Marathon -- 10 years later

The start of the race


The first trail race we ever ran was the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon in 2011. We were such trail running noobs, we didn't have running vests and thought that 3700 feet over 26 miles was a lot of vert. Despite our inexperience I have fond memories of the race. I do remember the race feeling hard since you covered most of the elevation gain in the first 8 miles and that it snowed for 22 of the 26.2 miles. And when I say snow, I mean snow not just a dusting, my eyelashes had snow sticking to them. I also remember fun aid stations and a glorious downhill single track at the end. And of course Hal gave everyone high-fives as we crossed the finish line.
Because we had such an amazing time running Lithia Loop we decided to run all of Wildwood for our birthdays a few weeks later, which is something we have done every year since.We have done a lot of races and adventures in the last 10 years and are a lot more experienced but we are also 10 years older and maybe a wee bit slower. Regardless we thought it would be fun to sign up for the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon and rerun it 10 years later. 
John and I headed down to Ashland early on Friday so I would have enough time to pick up our race stuff and have dinner at a decent time. I picked up our race shirts and numbers at Rogue Valley Runners but did not spot anyone I knew. We had dinner at the Brickroom and despite being vaccinated for months and traveling it still feels weird to eat indoors, but the Brickroom did a great job distancing folks. We had a decent dinner and some fun drinks, it felt nice to hangout at a bar like the before times. 

Look we are running a race!


I met Susan race morning at the start line. I did not sleep very well the night before but I was still excited about the race. Come to find out she didn't sleep that well either. The forecast called for rain all day, but Hal (RD) promised us all that it wasn't going to rain and right after that we were off. The race was a lot smaller than when we ran it 10 years ago, I think there were around 60 folks signed up. I am not sure if it has to do with covid or the fact that there are so many more races now. 

As we started running uphill for the next 8 miles we weren't talking a lot. The one thing that I was wondering was if we really ran the whole 8 miles uphill 10 years ago and I am pretty sure we did. We have gotten a little soft since then and walk more hills than we should, this probably has a lot to do with our slower race times. I did say to Susan we could walk if she wanted, she replied that we had to run if we wanted to make the 6 hour cut off. I wasn't that worried about the cutoff but she was right. 

Around mile 2 Susan said she needed to walk a little to catch her breath. We walked and chatted a bit but not for too long and started running again, we kept this routine up for the next 4 miles. Around mile 6 the dirt road we had been running on intersected with a trail that had blue and orange ribbons on the ground, which were the colors for the race but no other indication that it was the turn off and there were no other runners in view. We both looked at our Strava routes and the trail was the part of the race course. We were probably only a couple yards down the trail when we saw a runner coming down the road telling us we were going the wrong way. 

views of trees


Very confused, we ran back to the road to show her that we were on the route according to Strava. She said that a woman at the aid station 2 miles back told her and other runners to stay on the road. She said that she ran these trails all the time and that the road did meet up with the race course. She took off and Susan and I debated what to do. We didn't stop at the aid station and didn't really pay attention to what the volunteer was saying. We also both wondered if there had been a change in the route Hal (RD) had said something at the start. But the lack of markings and the confidence in the other runner made us doubt our instinct to keep following the Strava race route. So we continued to follow the road, probably 20 minutes later 15-20 running came running towards us saying that they had gone the wrong way and that the road was a dead end. 
We both stopped and were like WTAF? Everyone said that they were told to stay on the road, a few folks were pretty pissed, other runners were laughing off the mishap saying well I guess we are running an ultra now. After they passed us Susan just stopped and almost started to cry. She was upset and didn't want to run back just to run back up the trail we turned away from. I told her it would be ok, we would make it even if we didn't make the cut off. I gave her a moment and she said she was fine. We probably ran for 5ish minutes and then I stopped and I said I was pissed too and didn't want to finish the race, that I was pissed with myself for not going with my gut and staying on the course. I think the breakdowns had a lot to do with both of us being tired. But we continued back to the turn off to the course discussing our options. 
Our options were to run back to the start the way we came, to finish the race which would be a 50k at this point or to drop and run the trails DIY style. We were conflicted between the last 2 options. This was our 10 year anniversary of the race but at the same time I am not sure either of us mentally had it in us to run 30 miles. I also forgot to mention that I had just gotten over a 2.5 week cold and was still coughing a bit, so that didn't help either. We did decide that we should run to the next aid station and decide there, so at least we could let the race know we were dropping. Luckily the next aid station was only 2 miles up the trail from the junction with the road, it is also almost the top of the 8 mile climb. 

Views of Ashland

As we made our way to the aid station we passed another runner who looked like he was struggling. He said he had also gone the wrong way and was thinking of dropping. Normally I would have tried to encourage him to not drop and just make it to the aid station, but I was feeling the exact same way and could only commiserate. 
When we got to the aid station the 2 volunteers asked if we had gone the wrong way and we said we had, they apologized. We said it wasn't their fault and it was ok, shit happens. We both grabbed some snacks and chatted about what we wanted to do. One of the volunteers was talking to another runner and said there was another route down that was about 10 miles. Once we heard that we decided we were going to drop and just run on some (new to us) trails. 


The woman who was sweeping the race tried to encourage us not to drop and told us we didn't have to worry about the cut off times. We let her know that it's ok, we run a lot of races and were ok to drop and just do our own thing. Ironically the aid station volunteer for the first aid station that had told everyone to stay on the road was with her. She said that Hal had told her to tell everyone to stay on the road, she didn't know the trails around Ashland and felt really bad. We reassured her it wasn't her fault, we hadn't even heard her and we turned around because of a very confident local runner. 


Lynn the volunteer from the first aid station was running back to her car and was heading in the same direction as us. We had a very pleasant ~3 mile run with her chatting about running, races, camper vans, etc. After she turned off we continued to weave our back through trails and forest roads to Lithia Park where the race ended. We had a ton of fun because at the end of the day we only run these crazy distances so we can spend time together. 



It wasn't the 10 year anniversary race we had planned but honestly I think it turned out better this way and really reflected more on how our running has evolved over the last 10 years.  And we did get to run a Lithia Loop, just a 20 mile Lithia Loop
Maybe we will be back next year to try it again, or maybe Lithia Loop is better left as a pleasant memory as our first trail run and really the race that started it all for us.



PS - Thanks Hal, you were right the weather was great and it didn't rain.

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