A marathon, finally

Rogue Valley marathoners will soon have a hometown race.

It'll be a tough race. And it may be a dirty race, because there could be mud on the course of the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon when it debuts in Ashland Nov. 8.

The finish line at the duck ponds in Lithia Park is 300 feet in elevation below the starting line, but between those two points lie 4,700 feet of climbing in the Ashland watershed.

The course follows 21 miles of dirt roads, 3.5 miles of single-track trail, and 1.7 miles of paved road. Five aid stations will supply runners with food and beverages.

"We wanted to get some more trail races in the Rogue Valley and thought a trail marathon was the way to start rather than an ultra (marathon)," says Ian Torrence, store manager of Rogue Valley Runners in Ashland, who is race co-director along with store owner Hal Koerner.

"We need to prove to the U.S. Forest Service and ourselves that we can do these. Lithia Loop is the logical first step," Torrence says.

If all goes according to plan, this race could add to the prestige of the local running community. Torrence and Koerner have submitted the Lithia Loop Marathon as a candidate for USA Track & Field's 2009 national trail marathon championship, one that would draw top runners from around the country.

For this inaugural race, 80 runners had signed up as of Tuesday. They hail from all over Oregon, as well as five other states.

The women's favorite could be Susannah Beck of Eugene, who won the 2008 national 50-mile ultramarathon championship and ran her personal best marathon time of 2:34:44 in the 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials. But, says Beck, "I am planning to run it very easy as a training run and won't be in contention."

Depending on her definition of a training run, the win could go to local contenders Jenn Shelton of Ashland, the Crater Lake Marathon record holder, or 2008 Pear Blossom fourth-place finisher Ali Miles of Jacksonville.

On the men's side, Josh Brimhall of Nevada brings sub-2:30 marathon credentials and an impressive ultramarathon resume.

A limit of 100 runners has been set by the Forest Service for the first-year event.

"It's a number we thought was manageable," says Steve Johnson, special uses permit manager for the Forest Service. "We've had other big events here, including the Spring Thaw mountain bike race, which covers a lot of the same route."

The event also will help develop the next generation of runners.

"It's a benefit for Ruch School," says Koerner. "It will provide scholarship funds for the running program there."

Start time is 8 a.m. Packet pickup is Nov. 7 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Rogue Valley Runners, or at Pioneer Hall on Winburn Way in Lithia Park on race morning from 6:30-7:45. The entry fee is $60 before Nov. 1 or $75 after. Lithia Motors will provide a shuttle to transport runners to the starting line.

For more information or to volunteer at the race, contact Rogue Valley Runners at 201-0014.

Daniel Newberry is a runner and freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at dnewberry@jeffnet.org

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