Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Attack of the Abominable Snowman - Little River Trail Race - 7K

It's January. It's cold. I'll run a trail race! Sure, it's been snowing a lot (for NC) the past two weeks, but I need to somehow counteract all the sitting on my arse I do at work. Not to mention, I didn't hold back over the holidays when it came to eating and drinking.

Little River Park is a great place for hiking. I've taken the kids there several times, so I knew what I was in for when I signed up for the race last Fall. What I didn't expect was to be running in the snow. In fact, I was totally caught off guard since all the snow around my house (just 20 miles away) had been gone for over a week.

Race day, I arrived early. One and half hours early. I hate to be late - for anything. Turns out this compulsiveness was a good thing, since parking was very limited and there were nearly 500 people racing in this event. I checked in, got my shirt and racing bib and wandered over to the coffee. They had damn good coffee, so I loaded up a cup with half-n-half and lots of sugar, and headed back to my car to keep warm. Did I mention it was 27 degrees?

The 10 mile race was scheduled to start at 9:00AM and I wanted to meet one of the minimalist runners from the Huaraches Google group, Sean Butler, who also happens to run ultra marathons. So, I hop out of my cozy warm car, grab a banana from the food table, and head to the start line to see if I can spot Sean. I had never met Sean, and I couldn't spot him based on his Facebook profile picture, so I watched the 10 mile race start, then sat in the warm sun for the next 20 minutes waiting for the 7K race to start at 9:30AM. Sean actually found me after the race and introduced himself. Maybe one day I'll be able to run an ultra marathon. Ha! Who am I kidding....

About 5 minutes before the start of my race, I ran into John Tullo, an old friend from my days at Nortel. John and I have been running a lot of the same races lately (Tobacco Trail 10 miler, City of Oaks Half Marathon), and I thought he had mentioned that he would be at Little River, so I wasn't too surprised to see him there. We chatted for a bit, but the race was about to start, so I headed to the front. I hate to be stuck in the middle of the pack at the start. Too much shuffling, and too many speed changes. Starting from the front, I get mostly clean lines and don't have to worry about passing people. Yeah, people have to pass me, but that happens all the time, so I don't sweat it.

The 7K race starts on the far edge of the parking lot, so we have about 100 yards to run before we hit the trail entrance. I still hadn't seen any snow in the parking area, so when we rounded the first corner on the trail and ran right into packed snow, I was surprised, to say the least. I was moving at a good clip since I was in with the leaders, but as soon as I hit snow, I had to slow down. I had worn my Mizuno Wave Universe 3 racing flats, which work decently on semi-dry trails, but they were a hazard in this snow. I skidded. I slipped. I bobbled. I almost bought it several times in the space of a few steps before I put on the brakes. John caught up with me pretty quickly (he was wearing much more sensible shoes) but even he commented on how surprising the snowy conditions were. I hung with John the next half mile or so, but had to let him go since I was a danger to myself and others wearing my slick racing flats.

So, I kept going, slowly, trying not to bust my arse at random icy and snowy spots. I made it about 2 miles. Then suddenly I was horizontal. One second my feet were below me in a little icy turn on the trail, the next second I was staring up at tree tops. Folks passing asked if I was OK. I picked myself up and replied that I thought I was fine. Took quick stock of my body and noticed that my left knee felt a bit strained. Not good. That knee has been through the ringer in the past 20 some years (5 surgeries, with 3 ACL replacements). I started slowly running again, paying attention to my knee. It seemed alright, until I hit the next up hill portion of the trail. Then I felt the sickening wobbly feeling that tells me I have sprained something. And then, to add insult to my injury, the abominable snowman jumped out from behind a tree and stuck a knife into the back of my knee. Honest. Pain that bad had to be knife wound, and I didn't see any other racers around.

I had two miles to get back to the finish line. I walked some. I ran some. I am passed by what looks to be a 10 year old kid. I passed him back. No little kid was gonna beat me, knee or no knee! A few minutes later the abominable snowman stabbed me in the knee again with his Swiss Army knife. I (had to) let the kid pass me and never see him again until the finish.

Somehow, I managed to hobble my way to a 40 minute finish, running a 9:40min/mile pace. I have no idea how. I must have been skiing some of the downhill portions of the first half in my slick shoes, because I certainly didn't feel that fast, especially in the second half.

Next year, I'll wear better shoes. And bring a ham sandwich for the abominable snowman. I hear that's his favorite.