Saturday, December 3, 2011

Return To The Rock - Run At The Rock Trail Race

When I put together my race schedule for this year, I decided that I would repeat all of my favorite races from last season. Run At The Rock was a favorite for several reasons. It was my first trail race, which was memorable enough, but it was also just a fantastic experience in and of itself. It was the race where I truly fell in love with trail racing.

So, going back this year, I wanted to recapture a bit of that magic from last year, and focus on it even more. To truly appreciate it. Last year I ran hard in the 7 miler. By the end of the race I was blasted, but I had paid enough attention to at least appreciate the beauty of the trail and the overwhelming friendliness of the volunteers and the other racers. It was enough to switch me to trail racing almost completely. For that, I'm very thankful.

Well, enough pastel colored memories from me. On to the race report...

Pre-pre-race - I Like Worms
The early bird gets the worm, but this is ridiculous. I was up at 4:30AM, but not for my race. My wife Sherri was running the Mistletoe Half Marathon in Winston-Salem, which is an hour and half away from my house by car. So we were both up early, frantically loading coffee, running gear, the kids and my wife into the car for a 5:30AM departure (Sherri ran her half and did fantastic!). Once they were on their way, I managed to get my bag packed in time for my carpool with Bob Sites (See! Trail racers are awesome!) to the race.

Yeah, we were early enough to
see the sunrise.
Pre-race - Damn, It's Cold!
Ok, so I'm not acclimatized to cold yet. Bob's car thermometer said 30F when we arrived at Cedar Rock Park, but I swear it felt like 30 below. Luckily, I  was wearing shorts, insulated track pants, two shirts, gloves, AND a coat, so I somehow managed to make it to the registration table to retrieve my bib and race (sweat!)shirt without freezing solid. But just barely...
AC doing his best grifter impersonation.
Amy (see below) doesn't look convinced.
While walking down to the race registration table, who do I run into but the periodically run down AC, of the most excellent Running Down blog. He told me some shifty sob story about forgetting his wallet and desperately needing some "gas" money. Sure thing AC. I can spot you some bucks, and at very reasonable (hourly) interest rates (but don't short me, cause I know a guy with big guns who can crack your head like a walnut).

Back in the car, pinning on my bib, I made two mistakes at once. First I decided to wear both shirts and my track pants during the race. Second, and unbeknownst to me, I accidentally pinned the bib through both shirts with one of the safety pins (this becomes semi-important later, I promise).

Amy before her first official
trail race. She was probably even
happier afterwards...
Trail Running Borg - You Will Be Assimilated
Since I love trail racing so much (even though I stink at it!), I've been trying to convince my running coworkers to give it a try. I've had a couple of them tag along on Umstead Company Mill Trail runs during lunchtime, and finally suckered convinced one of them to sign up for an actual trail race. 

Amy Davis, whether she admits it or not, is one of those naturally gifted runners. The runner who can not run any serious distance for months, then run one 8 mile warm up, then run a (very) sub-2 hour half marathon race. Ridiculous! She managed to finish in 1:16. Stupid fast for her first (but hopefully not last) official trail race. Congrats, Amy!

The Race
Ok, enough fooling around. Let's get to the race! As usual, I had a few goals and metrics in my head for the race. Not the normal sort of goals or metrics mind you, but my goals and metrics none the less. Hey, I'll never win my age group, so I have to chase something...

  • Meet as many of my on line trail running friends in person as possible.
  • Run a smart(er) race: Don't blow up in the first 3 miles or bonk at 12 miles.
  • Enjoy the scenery (I don't come to this park, except to race).
  • Have a great time! Trail racing is a gift!
  • Trip less than 3 times.
  • Do not fall down.
  • Puke less than 1 time.
  • Finish in under 2:20
Lap One - Relax And Enjoy The Ride
I decided that I would run the first lap without worrying about time. I just wanted to enjoy the course and snap a few pictures along the way (like Shannon, but without the talent part). 

Cedar Rock Park is really a beautiful place. Even more beautiful than I remember from my last oxygen starved loop around the place. I'm glad I lugged my camera along during the first loop to snap a few pictures.

The single track course is really fantastic. There are sections that are extremely technical (rocky, muddy, wet), but there are also sections that are simply joyous to run - flat, smooth, wide, gorgeous.

At points, I actually let out small "Woo hoo!" calls, mostly because I was having such a good time, but also because I wanted to appreciate the beauty of the place and the joy of the experience. I apologize to those who thought I was just some woo-hooing kook running through woods. Unfortunately, this is only going to get worse as I run more trail races.... 

Last year, I got a brief glance of the dam and the waterfall. This year, I actually stopped to enjoy the view. 
Come on! How could you not want to run here?!
Finishing lap 1, I was faster than last year (by 2 minutes) when I ran hard for the entire 7 mile race. I'm not sure if I'm a faster runner, or if I was simply more relaxed. Either way, I'm pleased with that improvement.
Last year in the 7 miler, 1:06. This year in the 14 miler, 1:04. 

Lap Two - Where Is Everyone?
As I had previously mentioned, I was wearing two shirts, shorts, track pants, and gloves when I started the race. Well, the gloves came off in under a mile due to sweaty hands, but I couldn't take off the pants or the second shirt until I made it back to the start/finish line. So, I sweated, a lot, during the first lap. I couldn't have been much wetter if I had fallen in the river.

As I crossed the line completing the first lap, I was super happy to be able to stop and peel out of all the extra clothing. I was soaked in sweat. I peeled off the track pants - easy enough. But when I attempted to take off my outer shirt, I discovered that I had pinned the race bib straight through to the undershirt as well. I wanted to remove the under shirt, so I stripped down to my shorts and worked on unpinning the the bib from the two shirts. All in all, I must have wasted about 2 or 3 minutes goofing off with safety pins and clothing, but eventually, I managed to get myself sorted out and took off for the second lap.

I was slower during the second lap (1:09). I'm not sure if I was more tired (likely) or if I simply had no reference  (other runners) to maintain a decent pace. Either way, I was slower. At times, I was utterly alone on the trail. No one ahead of me or behind me as far as I could see. I actually liked this. It was peaceful. Almost like a training run in Umstead. I had left the camera behind (dead battery - yeah, I'm an idiot!) in my track pants, but that's probably a good thing as I think I would have spent about half an hour taking pictures. I only saw 4 other runners during the entirety of the second lap (I passed two, and was passed by two, who I kept in sight until the very end).

Just briefly, I'll mention the volunteers at the aid stations, but only to say THANKS! You people were awesome! Thanks for cheering me on and laughing at my stupid, anaerobic jokes.

Finish - Hot Soup, Here I Come!
I finished in 2:13, much better than my desired metric, so "Woo Hoo" for me! I started reasonably and I never bonked. In the last 4 miles or so, all I could think about was that awesome hot soup in the finisher's tent. I ran across the finish line feeling really good about the race. My time was faster than I had anticipated. I never fell down. I tripped only once, somewhere around mile 11. I snapped a number of decent pictures. All in all, I really enjoyed myself.

I managed to meet a couple of on line running friends at this race. Shout outs to Dave (winner yet again!!), Andrew and Jeff ! And meeting that goal, more than any of my others, is the most satisfying.

I also discovered that I would be a terrible loan shark. I just can't let go of a dollar, especially to a grifter like AC...
"I want my two dollars! Two dollars!!!"
(photo courtesy of Shannon Johnstone)