Escaping Prison Hill
The first challenge of Saturdays Escape From Prison Hill Trail Half Marathon in Carson City was making it to the 7 a.m. start, and it didnt stop there. The early start time meant cool temperatures when the race began at Silver Saddle Ranch at the base of Prison Hill, which I discovered should really be called a mountain.The 4-year-old race attracts a mix of athletes from beginners to experienced ultra runners starting their summer season. Its also the Road Runners Club of America Nevada State Half Marathon Championships. Ironically, its held on trails and is one of the hardest 13.1-mile races around, netting 4,000 feet of climbing and descending. As fellow racer Julie Young put it, It gives you the feel of an ultra without going the distance.A group more than 180 racers lined up where we ran three-quarters of a mile on a dirt road before heading directly up Dead Truck Hill on a sandy, loose single track. I could keep my eye on a few runners in front of me, including Truckee runners Gia Mandy and Peter Fain, but they were gradually escaping into the distance. After a mile of climbing we got to our first feed station, where we turned right and up another steep hill and onto North Loop. The morning light was just hitting the hillside and I was beginning to warm up. It was quiet with no wind and I was running by myself on top of a mountain.The course was marked with yellow, red and blue ribbons tied to the sagebrush and big white arrows, but I still had to pay close attention to make sure I was going the right way. I was now running on a harder packed but rocky trail. As I ran down from the top of a rocky peak and around a switchback, I thought about how easy it would be to sprain an ankle.Snap!My left ankle twisted under my body enough to hear a pop, and I was unable to put my weight on my left leg. Hopping down the hill, disappointed that I would not be able to finish the race, I then realized I was at the top of a mountain and had to get down somehow. Eventually the pain subsided and adrenaline allowed me to keep going, although I was slightly more cautious on the downhills.After a few miles of ups and downs we headed downhill with a great view of the Carson Range covered in snow. Around my feet spring was in bloom with mule ear and sagebrush. I never knew sagebrush flowered. Running this race really gives you an appreciation for the desert landscape, complete with dead cars and refrigerators. Once we reached the base of the mountain we were supposed to run on a relatively flat section for a few miles, but unfortunately some of the ribbons and arrows had been wrongly moved, leading us uphill again. I could see Gia and another runner in front of me stopped and yelling down the trail.Was someone injured? Was there a mountain lion on the trail and they are turning around? I thought. No, they were lost. Luckily, a runner in front of me knew how to get back on track, and we followed. A few runners after me kindly moved the arrows back to their original directions, saving the rest of the pack an unnecessary climb. Soon we reached the hill that was dreaded by those who knew the course up Snyder Climb to the top of the hill known as USGS. It started in a dry and sandy canyon where I could hear dirt bikes revving up behind me. Running up the hill, I could here Phil Collins being blasted from the feed station at the top. I had to smile. As I looked up I could see the other competitors starting to hike as the hill steepened.If Gias hiking, I can hike too, I thought.At nine miles I had reached the top of the course at around 5,675 feet and now had a 1,000-foot descent in less than a mile. The downhill was also loose and sandy, giving my throbbing ankle a little more padding as I pounded downhill. There were still some very steep ups and downs over gullies before the course dropped down to the Carson River, where I was told I had two miles of flat to the finish. I was skeptical. Surely they could squeeze in one more hill. And there it was, one more climb through sagebrush, along the side of Prison Hill and down a dirt road to the finish. I looked back up the hill or mountain I had ran up not once, but twice. I finished second in the womens race with a time of 1:55.54 and eight overall.As soon as I stopped, the pain presided. After finding some ice and Ibuprofen, I sat next to the finish and cheered on racers, many of whom were competing in their first half marathon, and most likely their hardest.Emma Garrard is a photographer at the Sierra Sun. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.