Looking for a trail race to go the distance?
If you're in the mood for a little mud, rain and fun, try the Timberline Marathon at Timothy Lake in Oregon.
Runner Evan Jensen got his first view of Timothy Lake about 34 years ago on a summer camping trip.
And you know what happened?
Ever since then the words "Timothy Lake" have been a trigger for feeling cold, wet, muddy and miserable.
Sounds like fun, right?
More than three decades later, Evan showed up to run the Timberline Marathon at Timothy Lake., and it lived up to its reputation.
Here's what happened...
If you're thinking about running a trail race, marathon or ultra, it's a good idea to run on trails.
Treadmill, concrete and paved trail miles might be convenient, but running on trails is a different experience.
So I decided to run the Timberline Marathon route at Timothy Lake.
It's about a 13-mile loop around the lake with a short leg down and back to the historic Clackamas Ranger Station.
The trail borders Timothy Lake, and along the way you'll see:
Two weeks out: Here's what I found on the trail...
🌲 30 downed trees
❄Lots of sections with snow
I asked a friend who works for the U.S. Forest Service about this and she said: "We worked a ton to get the campgrounds ready for Memorial Day. But our crew isn't planning to clear the trail on the southside of the lake."
A couple days before the Timberline Marathon, race director Chuck Neely confirmed the course was cleared, marked for the race and ready to run.
I was doubtful. So I had to confirm this.
With that minor detail out of the way, here's how my pre-race planning went...
Pre-race jitters? Not here.
I've ran the Timberline Marathon multiple times over a 10-year period.
It's also part of the Mountain Lakes 100 course hosted by Go Beyond Racing in late September.
This race hosts a 26.2-mile trail marathon and a 14.4-mile half marathon on Saturday.
It's so popular, there's even a second half marathon on Sunday.
Here's how the countdown to go-time went...
After an excellent year of cross country and distance events in track, 16-year-old Davis Jensen decided to run the Timothy Lake Half Marathon. So did his Sandy High School teammate Jack Nickila.
Fun fact: I started pushing Davis Jensen in a jogging stroller on runs when he was about 6 months old.
After some pre-race announcements, Race director Chuck Neely encouraged the faster runners to go through the start-finish first.
There's no way I'm the fastest.
But I didn't want to wait around. So I crossed the starting line second and headed down the trail to the lake.
The last weather report I saw said rain...rain...and more rain. That's the Pacific Northwest.
But it wasn't raining. There was even some blue sky on the horizon.
I settled into a comfortable pace.
A few runners passed, then runner Elise Lagerstrom flew by.
After just a couple miles, I traded the raincoat for a short-sleeve T-shirt
Ever run a race slogging through mud and puddles?
The first few miles of the Timberline Marathon were relatively dry.
But eventually the course follows section of trail near the shoreline.
And it was muddy.
Most runners looked for ways around the puddles and thick mud. But some just plowed right through.
I chose the latter. But still ended with mud splatter and wet socks.
When I rolled into the aid station near Little Crater Lake, a volunteer under a Why Racing Events tent said:
"Dude, it looks like we shop at the same place."
"Topos are the only way to go," he said.
Ever need a boost of motivation during a race?
You know...something that gets your mind off any negative energy you might be feeling.
Some campers on the Timberline Marathon course served up a good dose of that during this race...
They hung out near a campfire watching the race go by.
And every time a runner reached up to high-five the "Power Boost" they cheered.
After marathon runners complete the first loop around Timothy Lake, they cross a wooden bridge and run the second lap.
There's no big surprises on the second loop around the lake in this race.
But the trail conditions were...different.
I ran the second loop around the lake, got lazy about nutrition and hydration and started to feel the effects.
Minor muscle cramps and an upset stomach.
But enough to serve as a reminder that nutrition and hydration are just as important as training to run longer distances like the Mountain Lakes 100-miler in September.
The sign crew cheered as I passed their camp for the second time.
A few miles later, I headed up the hill to the finish.
By the time I reached the hill climb back to the historic Clackamas Ranger Station and finish line, I slowed to a run-walk.
Walk the uphill section. Run the flats as much as possible. When you reach the meadow, run all out to the finish...
Once you make the climb up from the Timothy Lake shoreline, it's not far to the finish.
There's a couple turns that expose a green meadow.
And from there, you're within ear-shot of the finish line.
I ran down the trail, passed rows of tents used by wildland firefighters a couple summers ago, popped out of the forest on to gravel, and crossed the finish line.
Another Timberline Marathon in the books, and my official kickoff to training for the Mountain Lakes 100.