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Uphill

It&

s just one hill, they say.

Once, the line served to goad a Marine into entering the 13.3-mile Mount Ashland Hillclimb Run, but usually the thought just helps runners conquer the 5,600 vertical feet they must cruise up to reach the finish line.

They&

re right, though. It is just one hill. One hill that begins on a trail in Lithia Park and up and up and up on trails and Forest Service roads as it passes by landmarks like White Rabbit, Four Corners and Bull Gap.

The path loops up lackadaisically toward the runners&

eventual destination: the peak of Mount Ashland, elevation 7,533 feet.

Of course, sometimes the trail comes across long switchbacks that seem to carry the runner the opposite direction of the goal, and that next curve of the path never seems to be the last.

&

It&

s all these little turns,&

Ashland resident and runner Chuck Taubner said. &

There are bends everywhere. Psychologically, you&

re thinking &

145;I must be at the final bend,&

but you&

re not.&

Taubner chuckled. Talking about the run makes him laugh and smile, though he acknowledges the race is too difficult for most. But Taubner long ago earned his right to make light of the half-marathon-long race he helped organize in 1980.

&

It&

s a phenomenal run,&

Taubner said. &

One thing that&

s always gotten to me about it ... when you finally get to the top, the panoramic view, it lasts.&

He ran the race 15 times in a row, capping his streak of consecutive finishes in 1994 with what he considers one of his better hillclimb performances. Taubner took a decade off and, now 58 years old with his running days behind him, has started walking the event last year. To prepare for this year&

s hillclimb, Taubner&

s been out on daily 10-mile hikes on the trails in the watershed.

In bold print, the race entry form warns competitors: &

This is a demanding event. It is recommended that you do not attempt it unless you are in excellent physical condition.&

Some prepare for the race by doing hill work on the same trails the course covers; others consider the event a training run.

For 51-year-old Bob Cain, an Ashland builder, Saturday&

s race will count as his daily run.

Six weeks ago, Cain finished the Western States Ultra Marathon, a 100-mile race between Squaw Valley and Auburn, in under 24 hours. It will be Cain&

s third Mount Ashland Hillclimb Run and the shortest of the five or six races he enters each year.

&

You don&

t need to be that great of a runner to complete it,&

Cain said. &

You just need to have it in your head that you&

re going to continually move forward.&

Betty Heycke, a retired runner and triathlete, walked and ran the race in 2002 at the age of 67. She keeps the &

wonderful ceramic medal&

she earned three years ago in her living room to remember her accomplishment. When Heycke is out hiking on the trails near her Ashland home, she often looks up to Mount Ashland and recalls the hillclimb she completed.

&

It&

s a wonderful thing to do, to look up there and see the very tip-top of that and know I ran up there,&

Heycke said, adding she plans to do the Mount Ashland Hillclimb again one day. &

I don&

t think it takes a super athlete to do it.&

Every year since her trek up the mountain, Heycke volunteers to support the recreational runners and super athletes who participate in the race. This year, she will staff the aid station at Bull Gap, about 10.5 miles into the race and 2,000 feet below the summit of Mount Ashland. Four aid stations are set up along the course to offer racers water, Gatorade, fruit and, if necessary, medical care. Volunteers at each station will have a list of all the participants so runners can be accounted for throughout the race and, for safety, stragglers may be asked to accept a ride to the finish line.

But most runners finish under their own power, walking or crawling up the final one-third mile and 1,000-foot elevation gain from the Mount Ashland ski lodge to the summit.

&

It&

s a very personal race,&

Taubner said. &

It&

s just pushing yourself.&

Over most of the course, trees cover the hill and shade 70 to 80 athletes in the race from the August morning sun. Close to the end of mile 13, the trail breaks from the trees and runners head toward the Mount Ashland ski lodge. The distance from the lodge to the finish circle on the peak of the mountain is just three-tenths of a mile, but requires competitors to ascend 1,000 vertical feet.

&

You&

re not at the top yet because you have to scramble up to the summit,&

Heycke said. &

The scramble is really challenging because there&

s not a true path.&

Veterans of the run argue over which ski run is the fastest route to the summit and, in 26 years, a consensus has not been reached. They know they must save some energy just to walk to the peak &

running the final leg is considered impossible by most hillclimb finishers.

&

At some point you&

re almost on all fours,&

said Ric Sayre, who&

s run the hillclimb a half-dozen times and holds the course record. &

You&

re using your hands to help climb &

it&

s so steep.&

But the top brings many rewards. The peak offers views of Mount Shasta and Mount McLoughlin, the Marble Mountains, the Cascades and the Siskiyous. Race organizers bring snacks, water and Gatorade to the top for the exhausted athletes and, down in the ski lodge, a keg of Standing Stone Brewing Co. ale awaits.

&

The great thing about that run is you get up to the top and you look back &

you can see where you started, where you ran,&

Sayre said. &

It&

s just amazing.&

The best part, though, may be the finish on the top of the mountain &

no jarring knees and skidding out on loose granitic soil while careening out of control back down the steep portions of the hill.

&

This one&

s a good one because, quite frankly, a lot of people don&

t like to run downhill,&

Cain said.

It really is just one hill.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x 3019 or jsquires@dailytidings.com.