Portland man, Sisters woman win inaugural half marathon
From race organizer Trevor Groves' perspective, the first Canyon Rumble Frozen Half Marathon trail run wasn't just a success, it was a pleasant surprise.
"We were expecting around 40 runners or so, and we ended up with almost 60," Groves said.
All told, 54 runners - 29 male and 25 female - finished the 13.1-mile trek across the west side of Madras and Willow Creek canyon, and for the first time in the town's history a race like this was staged, things ran smoothly.
The run benefitted the local conservation group, Friends of Willow Creek, a group dedicated to preserving the Willow Creek canyon area, and was the brainchild of Groves and Madras resident Jamie Hurd while Hurd was in Groves' physical therapy office getting an injury treated.
Hurd said after expenses, the race raised $1,000 for the group. And while the race raised quite a bit of money (the main intent), there were some pretty good runners that attacked a variety of terrain the course offered.
Whether it was starting on the Madras city streets, then the smooth pavement and nasty switchbacks going up a hill, to transferring to a muddy single-track trail through sagebrush and other high desert vegetation, the field of competitors handled it all well under a pristine mix of clouds and sun.
The men's division winner, and first overall finisher, was Robert Thayer from Portland. The 28-year-old blazed through the course in 1 hour, 25 minutes, 29 seconds, but thought it was one of the most scenic and challenging courses he's been on.
"It wasn't too technical, but there were some pretty good hills in there," he said. "It's beautiful once you get down into the trail and into the canyon."
Thayer described himself as somewhere in the middle of being an avid runner and someone who just does it recreationally.
"Certain times of the year I kind of back off," he said. "But the winter time I like to pick it back up and do more races."
Typically, trail runners prefer the colder weather to run in because it's easier to control body temperature, which makes the date for this race perfect, another reason why Thayer decided to make the trip out.
The women's top finisher was Ashley Nordell from Sisters; the 32-year-old finished the race in 1:36:27, and was eighth overall.
Nordell had seen a glimpse of the canyon earlier in the year when she came to Madras for a race, but was still taken aback by the beauty of the course.
"It's just so gorgeous," she said.
To start the race, runners didn't even make it a mile before they were asked to climb the hill west of town with the big "M" on the side of it. According to race organizers, it's about a 200-foot climb, and Nordell said while she didn't really mind it coming out of the chute with fresh legs, the return trip on the out-and-back course wasn't real pleasant.
"I felt good for about 10 or 11 miles, then the hill came into play and it was kind of nasty," she said.
Along the trail, however, there were some interesting ambient noises, which were placed to "give the event a uniqueness," Groves said.
Unique may be an understatement, though.
After runners barreled off a steep hill west of town, where a new walking/running trail was paved and the race was the first event to give it heavy traffic, they dropped down into the upper part of the canyon to the sweet sounds of "Dueling Banjos" played on a loop from a boombox hidden in some bushes.
To keep runners on their toes even more, there were various wildlife calls and sounds coming from the bushes, it looked like. Numerous runners going through the section would hear a coyote scream or an elk bugle, and be a little more delibrate with their pace and look around with a confused and puzzled demeanor.
There were also bongo drums being played along the course, along with a male voice just yelling random jibberish.
It offered the runners some comedy and a little morale boost, especially on the return trip where their muscles might have sounded like one of those coyote calls.
The wry sense of humor was appreciated by the runners, at least Thayer and Nordell. They thought it was great.
Groves said there will definitely be another "Frozen Half," and he expects the race to grow quite a bit between now and next time.