The 21K championship course along the Deschutes River is considered "moderate" by trail run standards, according to some of the elite runners in the field. Therefore, a fast pace is expected, and the first finishers should complete the course in a little over one hour.
Stephanie Howe, one of the top contenders in the women's field, described the course as "fast, flat, very runnable. It is a course that will favor a true runner with foot speed."
Howe resides in Bend and is familiar with the trails near the Deschutes River.
"I would say on a scale of 1 to 10, the technical difficulty of the course is a 5," said Howe, who finished eighth overall among the women last year. "The race is on trails, but they are pretty tame compared to many of the other trails around here. There are not a lot of twists and turns."
The field is expected to include more than 500 runners from across the nation, many of them racing in Bend for the first time. For those newcomers, the twists and turns could come in different forms.
Bend is situated approximately 3,600 feet above sea level. The air might not be as thin in Bend as it is in Colorado, but it could still have an effect on out-of-state runners from lower altitudes.
Sean Kievning of Manhattan Beach, Calif., said the thin air affected his performance at his first try at the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship in 2008.
"The colder, thinner air made the start of the race a little hard to adjust to," Kievning said. "When I ran this event for the first time, I felt like I was sipping air through a straw right from the freezer."
What's more, Kievning said the fine dirt in Bend may also feel different to runners from out of state. He said some areas of the trail are "like sand, or powder." During the 2008 race, he said he had to adjust his running style to prevent his feet from sinking too deep in the soft dirt.
Kievning placed 49th overall at the 2008 XTERRA Nationals, when he was unaccustomed to the conditions. Last year, he improved to 10th overall.
He agreed with Howe, though, that the trail is fast and flat. Kievning participated in XTERRA Trail Run races in both Northern California and Southern California in 2010, and he said the championship race in Bend is
almost a different type of race.
"Out of all the races I have run in California, this race is the flattest course, but also a much higher pace," said Kievning, 25.
The pace-setter the past two years has been another Bend local, Max King. He is the two-time defending champion of the XTERRA National Championship race, and has basically pulled away from the field both years. King has described the course as a unique "urban to wild" system because the course starts in Downtown Bend at the Old Mill District before transitioning to the actual trails.
King is again considered the overwhelming favorite, and Kievning is expecting King to once again set a blazing pace.
"This race is just flat-out fast from the start, and it doesn't show any sign of slowing down the further in you go," Kievning said.
XTERRA Trail Run National Championship
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 18, 9 a.m. start; first finishers expected around 10 a.m.
WHERE: Bend, Ore. Start/finish will be at Old Mill District, and course will traverse along the Deschutes River.
WHO: More than 500 runners from around the world, ranging in age groups from 9-younger to 80-older.
COURSES: A 21K course will serve as the national championship race, but there are also separate 10K and 5K races.
ENTRY INFORMATION: http://www.xterraplanet.com/xduro/nationals.html