I know I have been very inactive here on the blog lately, but there is a very good (and exciting) reason for this that I will be revealing in an upcoming post. Thank goodness I have friends who are doing fun things and having running adventures who are willing to write guest posts.
The race report here is for one of my friends and Playmakers Racing Team teammates, Donna Swanson. Donna is amazing!! She is a marathoner who is a member of the Fifty States Marathon Club and who is closing in on completing the amazing accomplishment of running a marathon in each of the fifty states!! (She is also my hero and role model for another reason, which you will be hearing about in that upcoming post I promised above.)
Recently she and a group of other Michigan runners traveled to Umatilla, Oregon to run the Columbia River Power Marathon. Being a very civilized group and well-rounded group (one cannot live by running alone), they extended their trip to include some wine-tasting in Walla Walla, Washington. An alert reader, Ruth Thelen, heard of their adventures and thought others might like to hear the story. Donna agreed, and here it is. So slip off your running shoes, grab a glass of wine, and enjoy!
The trip to Walla Walla, Washington (one hour away from Umatilla) was GREAT! We flew to Pasco, WA Thursday before the marathon and easily met up with Karen and Jon Lewis at the tiny Tri-Cities Airport (they flew in on an earlier flight) and shared a rental car. It was about an hour drive to Walla Walla from the airport, so, of course, we stopped at two wineries on route. John and I had been to Walla Walla a couple times when we lived in Montana and discovered that we loved their wines!
After our winetasting stops, we checked into the Hampton Inn and Suites. The CharlesSmith Winery had live music that night, so we sat outside enjoying the music and the food truck there that served bbq food. As we were leaving to head back to the Hampton, we ran into an optometrist friend from Billings who was in Walla Walla with his wife and friends to do some tasting! Small world!
Friday we did a 5 mile walk to check out downtown Walla Walla. We visited wineries on “Southside” Walla Walla that day and John and I shared a tasting at each, as did Karen and Jon. All the wineries we visited were beautiful and all very different from each other. Grace and Tony Gilmore met up with us at Sleightof Hand Winery (they flew in Friday). The six of us then visited a few more wineries. Basel Cellars was the most beautiful one…all log and stone structure, pretty grounds. We bought some cheeses, olives, hummus there and enjoyed snacks out on their patio. That night we ate in downtown Walla Walla at T. Maccarone’s which was excellent!
Saturday we were up early for the hour drive to Umatilla. We picked up our race packets (no expo) at the Desert River Inn motel and met up with Gary Haf and Brad Behrman, who along with Grace were running the half marathon. Karen, Jon, John and I all ran the full marathon. There were also relay teams, an 8K race and a 50K race. All races began at the same time, and it was a very small field even with all of us starting together. The race director announced that they had runners from all over and specifically mentioned “Michigan” which brought cheers from our Northville Road Runners group!
Fairly early in the race, we crossed the Columbia River via the McNary Dam (normally not open to the public) into Washington and ran about 4 miles in Washington. Race shirts have “I ran the dam race” on the back! The Washington section was mostly along fairly busy roads. We saw (and smelled!) a truck filled with onions…Walla Walla is known for its Walla Walla onions!
We crossed back into Oregon around mile 6 on a bridge over a busy interstate with cars and truck roaring alongside us. The first 10 miles of the course were on pavement and quite hilly. Grace and I ran together for those 10 miles; Brad was with us for a short time and Jon Lewis just slightly ahead of us. We spotted a mule deer trotting alongside the river. Grace peeled off around the 10 mile mark to head for the finish of the half and totally missed the section of the marathon course that Karen, John and I didn’t care for at all!
We got on the Lewis and Clark trail along the Columbia River which is billed as “very scenic”. It is neat seeing the river and there were rocky bluffs to the other side of us. The trail was covered with fairly large and loose gravel as well as some sandy parts, which made it difficult to find decent footing. In a couple sections, they had recently dumped fresh gravel over old, so those sections were particularly difficult to traverse. I enjoy hard packed dirt trails, but that’s not what this was! I had held a decent pace for the first 12 miles, then watched my pace get slower and slower as I weaved back and forth trying to find the best footing.
Runners got very spread out on the trail, as there were only 31 total finishers in the marathon! “Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” came to mind! There were hardly any spectators. The aid stations were enthusiastic, but we could have used a couple more as it got warm during the second half. The worst part about the gravel trail section was its length! We entered the gravel just beyond the 10 mile mark and the turnaround for the marathon was just beyond the 17 mile mark, then we went back on this same trail for about 13 miles total. Before the turnaround I had already started alternating walking and jogging. The walking spans started to last longer than the running spans after the 17 mile mark. Avid trail runners or ultra-marathoners may have enjoyed this part of the course, but not me!
Shortly after I made the turnaround, I saw Karen and we stopped to give each other a hug. She said “I hate this gravel!” and I echoed her sentiments! A few minutes later I saw John and he said the same thing. Other marathoners I talked to also complained about the footing and gravel.
Just before the 23 mile mark, Karen caught up to me. I handed off the rental car key to her as I know she is a much faster walker than I am and that’s all I was doing by that point…walking. I was thrilled to finally get off the gravel, only to encounter the longest, steepest hill on the course…about a mile of continuous uphill. The last two miles of the course were pretty flat, but I still walked most of it. I did pass two women walking together at about mile 25 complaining that the gravel had totally done them in! I asked if they were as ready for this to be done as I was and they said “YES!” As I passed them, one said “Please don’t tell me that this is your first marathon!” I told her that it wasn’t, but left it at that!
There were a handful of people at the finish line and I was given my medal which has a beer bottle opener attached to it! They did no age group awards (which I guess is understandable given the tiny number of finishers) – awards went to places first through third overall only. They had touted a “baked potato bar” as post-race refreshments, but there was nothing left by the time I finished!
Jon Lewis, however, was my hero of the day! Not only did he run pretty darn well (4:37), he negotiated with the motel to pay for a room for two hours so that the four of us could take much needed showers after the race! Karen had finished in 5:11, me in 5:19 and John in 5:57. My slowest in MANY years! Despite our pitiful finishing times, John and I both finished first in our age groups (out of two finishers in each!). Karen and Jon both took 2nd in their age groups, so we viewed ourselves as age group winners even though there were no age group awards! We enjoyed hitting 3 more wineries after the race on the way back to our hotel in Walla Walla! The Gilmores provided an appetizer spread in their suite, and we ordered pizzas from Sweet Basil’s for dinner! Took group photos in our race t-shirts!
Sunday brought a walk on nice trails at Lake Bennington, then MORE wineries! Canoe Ridge was probably my favorite that day. Gary and Brad joined us for winetasting, then later in the day Bill Moran and Rhonda Emery met up with us (they had run a race in Washington the day we ran Oregon). We finished off Sunday with a stop at ThreeRivers Winery (beautiful!) and sat on their patio. They had a FREE 3-hole golf course that John, Jon, Brad and Gary enjoyed! The group of 10 of us had dinner Sunday night at Whitehouse Crawford – excellent restaurant!
Monday Grace, Karen and I did some yoga while the guys went for a walk. Hit a couple wineries in Oregon that day as Walla Walla is very close to the WA/OR border. I loved Zerba – in a charming LOG tasting room! (Wonder why I liked that one…because we live in a log home??) We ended up doing a “marathon” of wineries over the 5 days…26 different wineries to match the 26 miles we ran! We ordered Asian carry outs for dinner and shared them in the Hampton dining room. Celebrated Karen’s birthday that day too!
We flew home on Tuesday with Karen and Jon. Marathon #86 and state #47 finished! John is now at 64 total marathons and 40 states. It was a really fun trip with great friends!