Sunday, December 18, 2011

Monadnock Madness - Pilot Mountain Challenge 5K

See the steeper left side? We ran up that
and then around the "Knob". 
From wikipedia: A monadnock, or an inselberg is an isolated rock hill, knob, ridge or small mountain that rise abruptly from a gently sloping or virtually level surrounding plane.

The key word there is "abruptly", especially for Pilot Mountain.

I spent a good portion of my childhood living within sight of Pilot. I've hiked there probably a hundred times. I've rock climbed there several times, and was nearly killed on my last climbing trip (another blog post for another day). But in all this time, I've never, ever thought about running there.

The trails are steep, and when they go beyond steep, as they often do, they switch to staircases. Lots of staircases.

So, when Iris posted a teaser link about a 5K race up Pilot Mountain on the 12athon Facebook page, I had to sign up. I love down home nostalgic pain.

Escape to Pilot Mountain
Being a good husband, it was my sworn duty to convince my wife, Sherri, to share in the anticipated madness. We were up at 5:00AM, yanking the kids out of bed and shoving them into the cold, pre-dawn air for the short ride to the sitter's house. The kids just roll with it - another day with Dad's craziness is just another day. A few hours later, we pulled into the camp ground at the base of the mountain where the race would begin.

It was cold. Not exactly bone chilling, but somewhere in the 30's. Too cold for me, but at least survivable. I parked the car on the side of the road, and promptly got it stuck in the mud. Oh yeah, it rained almost an inch the night before. Sigh... After spinning the wheels for a few minutes, I managed to rock the car out of the mud hole and found a drier, rockier parking spot further up the hill. Should have driven the Subaru.

12athoner Invasion
Seven or eight 12athoners showed for the race (great meeting everyone!). This is amazing considering the 12athon has yet to actually begin (January 12, 2012 is the first real 12athon run. Sign up for fabulous prizes people!). Organizer Iris must be goading world champion.

Sherri expressing the misery of being married
to me. Iris commiserating. Bob, wisely keeping
his mouth shut.
I have goals for every race. Some are soft, some are hard, but all are usually nonsense. This race was no different.

  1. Run the race. Seriously. I've been on the Grindstone Trail, and simply not walking would be a stratospheric goal.
  2. Finish in under 40 minutes. Seriously. I know, it's only a 5K, but this is a kick-ass 5K! I wanted to get to the finish while they still had hot chili and Krispy Kreme donuts.
  3. Don't fall off the mountain. Seriously, it's possible.
Grinding up Grindstone
I need to pay more attention to the time. We walked out to the starting area, and while I was busy looking at Iris' spiffy new NB WT110 trail shoes (not yet released to the peons of the running world), the race started. I had wanted to be closer to the front. Not that I'm fast, but I figured I should at least be in front of the runners wearing the Santa hats. I think we were standing around the 100th position in the pack when the race started.

As a result, I spent the first 1.5 miles passing people, simply to get to the spot in the pack where my pace should have placed me to begin with. I suck at racing.

I stole this from Josh's race report. Thanks, Josh!
As you can see from this contraband race course profile, the hard stuff starts around mile 1.6 and continues to about mile 2.2. I can't tell you how extremely difficult this section was in mere words, so I'll use pictures too. The trail was a seemingly never ending series of steep switchbacks, littered with rock and timber staircases (hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of steps). 
Stupid steep.
To give you an idea of the terrain, this is the trail that rock climbers go down to access the Pilot Mountain climbing area.
This is just plain wrong. Runners going up. Rock climbers going down.
I'll say it again - stupid steep.
Needless to say, but Goal 1 (not walking) died an agonizing death on Grindstone Trail. I buried it in an unmarked grave next to a rotting log around mile 2 of the race. Rest in peace little buddy...

Jomeokee Jubilee
Having "successfully" slogged my way up Grindstone, I entered the final mile of the race on Jomeokee Trail. Don't tell anyone, but this is one of the best (and my favorite) trails in all of North Carolina. It's staggeringly beautiful - when you have the time to actually enjoy it. 

Other parts of the Sauratown Mountain Range in the distance.

I found my third wind on Jomeokee Trail and started to fly (my second wind was buried on Grindstone Trail along with Goal 1). I passed a lot of people, even though I was snapping pictures and trying to enjoy the trail and the views. Somehow, Jomeokee brought out the best in my running. I forgot about the agony of Grindstone and simply flew around The Knob. I think I smiled constantly during the entire final mile.

How many finishing lines have a
view like this?!
Challenge Completed
I sprinted across the line in a PPR (Pilot Personal Record) of 36 minutes in 44th position (out of 141). Goal number 3 - smashed! 

I also never fell off the mountain, so Goal number 2 achieved!

The chili was hot and fantastically delicious. I had two full bowls. And 4 Krispy Kreme donuts. And an irritable bowel for the rest of the day. But, it was worth it! Just like the rest of this crazy race. 

I'll be back next year.