Thursday, May 26, 2011

Nothing Like the Sun - Inside-Out Sports Classic Half Marathon

There's nothing like an alarm going off at 5:30AM to make me second guess my running decisions. Especially after a night spent soothing my sick, young son. But, I can't let parenthood get in the way of my running stupidity, so I stagger from bed with a strange, nostalgic feeling - the feeling I used to get after pulling all-nighters in college to finish some huge project I had procrastinated into an emergency - the feeling like my internal organs had been burned to cinders, and I was powered only by smoke and glowing embers.

Stumbling to my car in the darkness, I wondered how a zombie might perform in endurance sports (yes, my brain actually works this way). Pain would be irrelevant of course, and as long as limbs didn't fall off, running a half marathon should be no problem for the undead. Suddenly, I had my motivation for the day's race.

Photo by Jim M.
Pre Race - Zombie Running
Zombie running made perfect sense to me. I had foresworn my pre-race coffee due to the many unfortunate pre-race port-o-potty incidents of the past  8 months, and that alone had pushed me into the physiological realm of the undead. All I had to do was to embrace the idea of running like a dead man.

I knew the race would be tough due to the expected heat (I'm not acclimatized to heat yet, especially after a winter full of trail races), so I had filled my newly purchased Amphipod handheld with the preferred zombie fluid of choice, brain juice (yes, ask any zombie!).

Race Venue
The race was to be run (mostly) as an out and back course in Umstead State Park on the Reedy Creek bridal trail (essentially a dirt road, not really a trail). The first and last mile or so was to be run on streets and Black Creek Greenway (paved).

I love Umstead. I wished I lived near enough to run through it every day, however working at SAS allows me to skip over to the park during the work week for a quick trail run whenever I feel the need.

I knew the course very well, and thought, even in my zombie state, I should be able to pull off a sub 2 hour time. Apparently, I've learned nothing during the past 8 months of running races...

The Stats
Before I get to the race details, here are the brilliant stats:

  • Hours of sleep before the race - 3 (maybe), but zombies don't need no stinking sleep!
  • Pre-race snacks - None! The zombie colon must not be awakened!
  • Time at the half way point - 50(ish) minutes
  • Brains consumed during the race - Only 1 (my own)
The Race 
Sub 2 hour for a half marathon on Reedy Creek Bridal Trail in Umstead - I could do it! Heck, I've done it on training runs. This should be a zombie walk in the park. I had my handheld bottle full of brain juice, so I didn't need to stop at any of the aid stations, so right there, I am already 30 seconds ahead of the game.

Miles 1 - 7 : Hey Look, I'm Doing It!
Honestly, I don't remember much about the first 7 miles, except that I enjoyed them. Easy, fun, brainless (brain-dead) running at about a 8:30 minute per mile pace. I arrived at the half way point around the 50 minute mark, so felt very confident of finishing in under 2 hours.

Miles 7 - 9 : Adding Insult to Injury
Instant death - Injury Hill; $200 Fine - Insult Hill
I knew miles 7 through 9 would be tough since I had to climb some of the steepest hills in Umstead. When I "ran" the Umstead Marathon, these hills were named Corkscrew Hill and Cemetary Hill. After running them repeatedly during the past year, I would personally rename them Insult Hill and Injury Hill. 

My only goal was to NOT WALK during this segment. When the pain set in, I retreated into zombie mode. Run.. Run... Run... Brains... Run... Run... Don't walk... Run... Run... Brains...

After slogging up Injury Hill, I took a swig of my brain juice and nearly hurled into the nearest ditch. Turns out that warm coconut water is not even palatable for a zombie. Now I know why zombies alway appear to have a pale greenish complexion. You have been warned!

Happily, I made it up Insult Hill without walking, however, one guy did pass me while I was "running", even though he appeared to be walking. Damn you, Insult Hill!

Miles 9 - 11 : Arise from your Grave!
Passing through the aid station at mile 9, I was unexpectedly greeted by Shannon, the photographic uber-talent behind the most excellent Running Down blog. I was in such a zombie stupor, that I could barely cobble together a coherent greeting before I realized that I had stopped running and was standing still at the aid station table like.... well, like a zombie. 

My internal hall monitor screamed "Run Fool! RUN!!!!"

In what seemed to be slow motion, I turned and continued my zombie rambling towards the finish line. A mile or so after that encounter, I realize that AC, the author of the Running Down blog,  was behind the aid station table. Sorry for not saying hello, AC. Insult and Injury Hills had taken their toll on my already rotting brain.

After the hills and the aid station, I got my second wind and picked up the pace again. I passed many people before exiting Umstead and was absolutely sure I would finish in under 2 hours.

Miles 11-13.1 : The Metamorphosis
I emerged from Umstead and entered Black Creek Greenway near Crabtree Lake. The entire race to this point had been mostly in comfortable shade, but now, next to the lake, there was no place to hide. A solid mile of open space lay ahead of me. 

No problem, I thought, just keep cranking away. However, within seconds of entering the sunlight, I felt a weight descend on my shoulders. The sun's rays seems to be hammering me into the pavement of the trail. The air became thick. I struggled to push through, but my legs refused. I felt dizzy and the top of my head began to tingle. A horrific realization dawned upon my addled brain. I wasn't a zombie after all. I was Nosferatu!
Not the sun!!
As the Sun roasted my vampire flesh, I slowed. Eventually, I slowed to a walk - closer to a crawl actually. I had overheated and was well on my way towards heat stroke. I don't know how long it took to crawl through that sunny mile, but it seemed like hours.

The last mile of the course was back in the trees on the greenway. I recovered somewhat and began running again, but was still feeling very sick. I trudged into a very disappointing finish of 2 hours and 3 minutes. 

I alway strive to learn something each race. I want to learn something about myself, about life, about racing, about running, or simply about the world in general. This race was no exception.

So, what did I learn? Nothing specific really. I reinforced a feeling that's been building in my mind for the past few months. Road racing isn't for me, even when the road is nearly a trail. What I love is the shadowy solitude of running single track trails. I need to be enveloped within the arms of the forest - wrapped in the the shady comfort of the trees. The trail is my mistress, and my mistress' eyes are nothing like the Sun.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

None Shall Pass - Philosopher's Way 15K Trail Race

I'm feeling a bit run down. Literally. I would change the name of my blog, but Running Down is already taken by some shirtless douche-bag who happens to win the master's category in almost every race I enter these days. Damn that guy! ;-)

Before I delve into the specifics for Philosopher's Way, let me just say this - never run a race when you are already sick. Unless, you like being even sicker. Or are a masochist. Or are stupid, like me. The temporary fun (ha!) of the race will in no way compensate for the major ass kicking that the little virus hitchhiking along in your sinus will administer the week following the race. Enough said.

Pre Race
This was a local race for me. The trail is less than 10 miles from my house, but I decided not to preview the course. That was probably a mistake - the first of many.

I woke up the morning of the race with a pounding headache. The same headache I had been suffering with all week, only cranked up to 11.

"Screw you, headache!" I thought. "I've paid for this race. I'm doing it!"

Little did I know that I had not even begun paying for this race.

1000mg of Tylenol later, and I was headed to the race.

Race Venue
I gave this guy my post race bagel
After parking, I staggered through the parking lot towards the dirt road that led to the race headquarters. After losing every single battle with my pre-race coffee for the past 6 months, I had finally admitted defeat and had drunk only water that morning. This made walking... difficult.

I walked a long way. Then I walked a long way, again. How far away was the race headquarters?! Didn't they know that sick people would be running in this event and that we... err... they didn't need to be needlessly expending energy with a walk through the country side?

Turns out the race headquarters were tucked into a small field about a third of a mile away. Along the dirt road to the race site, there were friendly signs warning you not to stray into the forest. It seems that the race site is situated next to a former landfill, and the water, plants, soil, and the air itself is potentially hazardous if you step off the dirt road. I had been wondering why that first stream I passed was full of what appeared to be nasty looking red algae. Having been attacked by semi-mythical beasts during other races, I was now worried about a potential new nemesis - Swamp Thing.

The Stats
Before I get to the race itself, here are the illustrious stats!

  • Pre race coffee consumed - Zero! (pardon me while I wipe away the tears from my keyboarrrrrddddgggggffggghhhff)
  • Pre race ibuprofen consumed - Zero! That stuff is like anti-matter to my colon. 1000mg of Tylenol will do just fine thanks.
  • Swamp Thing sightings - Only one.
  • Trips - Only one! New tripping PR for me! Woot!
  • Falls - Zero. Yeah, that's right, none! Look out, I'm on a two race non-falling streak!
  • Time - 1:43:13, 11:04 pace. I think I finished after the guy riding the mountain unicycle.
I'm slower than even this guy

The Race
I did one smart thing this race. I started near the back of the pack. Of course, I can't really claim that this was intelligence on my part, since I didn't actually see the starting line marks on the dirt road and had just accidentally staggered a bit too far past the start. But none the less, I started near the back.

After a short trot down the dirt road, we entered the single track trail. And stopped. And I mean dead stopped. There was a line of traffic funneling onto the trail which was moving about the same speed as the line for a race port-o-potty (HA! I got my crapper reference into this post - coffee or no coffee!!).

The first couple of miles was one giant conga line of back-of-the-packers. Except for feeling very heavy legged, I was having a great time. It's funny how even physical sickness can melt away during a run. I guess that's why I continue with this self abuse. By the time we hit the first aid station, I was feeling really good and decided to move up in the pack.

None shall pass!
Unfortunately, this race was run on a single track mountain bike trail. A very twisty and tight mountain bike trail. Passing was difficult at best. Every time I attempted to pass someone, I would end up dancing through the trees beside the trail. Sometimes I would make the pass, other times I would nearly decapitate myself on low hanging branches and end up two spots further back. Of course, everyone who attempted to pass me had the same problems. After one woman attempted to pass me and failed on 3 different occasions (not due to me.. I even full stopped and let her pass the fourth time), I started feeling like the Black Knight in Monty Python's Holy Grail.

This comedy of passing errors would continue at the back of the pack for the rest of the race. I think I passed some people 4 or 5 times.

The trail was so twisty and convoluted, I became totally disoriented towards the end of the race. I think I ran some sections of trail 3 or 4 times in different directions. I blame Swamp Thing. I saw him licking up the flour trail markings near the scummy pond in the last 3 miles of the race. Or, maybe I was tripping on Tylenol.

I didn't even realize that I was running the same stretch of trail that I started on until I saw the crazy banked wooden mountain bike bridge less than a mile from the end. Even then, I still couldn't get my bearings. I kept hearing the finish line noise but since the trail had so many switchbacks, the noise seemed to be coming from all directions. By the time I knew the finish was right in front of me, it was too late to sprint. And to think, I could have finished in 1:43:13 1:43:10 if I had timed my sprint just right. I should have previewed the course...

Post Race
Sick. Sick as a dog (I've never been exactly sure what this means, but it sounds right)! Rotten, nasty, miserable, sinus-cold sick! Tylenol and running endorphin speedballs are great, but you come down hard off that stuff. Real hard...

This was a confusing race for me. I enjoyed it, but was miserable at the same time. I ran very poorly, but would run it again tomorrow if I could. I'll just blame my own Epicurean philosophical nature. Pain is acceptable as long as it ends in greater pleasure.

Who's got no thumbs and is the
founding philosopher of one of my
core belief systems? This guy!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Long, Strange Trip - Owl's Roost Rumble Trail Half Marathon

Something is terribly wrong with me. I'm swilling strong coffee in my car at 70mph, heading West, before sunrise. It's 5:30AM and my head cold says I should be still be in bed. I smile anyway. Get in line cold virus. You are behind my sprained ankle, my crap left knee (but surgery number 5 went well!), and my aching right hip. You are the least of my ailments. Learn your place!

Having an hour drive to a race gives me time to think about my life. And that's not always a good thing. I'm brutal when it comes to self analysis. Why am I signing up for every trail race I can find? Do I have a problem? Yes, I think I do. Am I addicted? Only an addict would continue to abuse himself for such small jolts of pleasure.

My name is Scott, and I am a trail running addict. Never again will I pound pavement, unless it is to run to a trail. Never.

Luckily, I bore easily, so the self doubt session recedes as the sun rises behind me. On to the point of this post - the race report.

About The Race
I knew nothing about this race. Just that it was single track (mostly), half marathon distance, and had an odd name - Owl's Roost Rumble. After running the race, I've decided that the odd name is a secret anagram describing the actual nature of the race.

Owl's - Slow
Roost - Roots
Rumble - Lumber

The true name of this race should be:
Slow, Roots! Lumber!

This name perfectly describes the race for me. 
Run slow, there are lots of roots! Look out, there's a fallen tree over the trail!

Pre Race
I arrive early, check in and get my shirt and race bib, and then head back to the warmth of my car for some pre-race fueling. Nothing like strong coffee and a banana for breakfast!

30 minutes later, my colon says otherwise, so I dance in the port-o-potty line for 5 minutes before yet again, creating a passable miniature model of Mount Doom.

By the time I finish, the elite men were starting. I wandered over to cheer them off.

The Stats
I really wanted to finish in under 2 hours. I'm more than capable of this in road races, but it wouldn't happen in this race. Here are the glorious stats:

  • Pre-race coffee consumed - 1 travel mug. Wanted more, but me and coffee are now friendly adversaries on race day...
  • Pre-race existential thoughts - 2. Another post for another day perhaps...
  • Number of trips during the race - I stopped counting after 5.
  • Number of falls during the race - ZERO. Yeah, baby! Stayed on my feet the entire race. New falling PR for me!
  • Gun time - 2:11:34, 10:03 pace per mile.
The Race
I thought I had chosen a sensible position in the starting corral for my wave start. Unfortunately, what I think is sensible, just isn't accurate when it comes to my abilities. 

Once again, I burn through the first 4 miles or so in a ridiculous (for me!) sub-8 minute/mile pace. I crash hard at mile 5. This is one area (among many!) that I definitely need to improve upon. I just can't seem to pace properly on trails. Too much adrenaline? Too many distractions (trail traffic, race banter, etc.)? Stupidity? Yes, on all counts I think.

Slow, Roots! Lumber!
I've never had to actually hurdle over a fallen tree on a trail run. Maybe it's just my inexperience with trails, but I wasn't expecting the two or three trees I had to scramble over during this race. Of course, I attempted to truly hurdle the highest tree, and suffered the consequences of a tweaked hip flexor for the remainder of the race. That's about a 9 on my stupid scale.

There was an insane amount of roots on this trail. Not many rocks, but the roots more than made up for the lack of rocks. I don't know exactly how many times I tripped, but it was a lot! On the bright side, I did get a lot of "Great save!" comments from the runners behind me. I'll take my compliments where I can get them...

I was even tripped by the ghosts of roots. I nearly wiped out when I tripped on a raised board on the new foot bridge around mile 10. I'm pretty sure that this was about the time when the woman behind me decided that it was in her best interests to pass me, so she wouldn't have to hurdle over my sprawled body later. I'm sure she she was thinking that eventually I just wouldn't be able to save myself from taking a dirt break. 

But the joke is on her! I saved myself on every one of the dozens of exhaustion and root induced trips during the last 3 miles of the race. Ha!

I claim victory in my rumble with the roots!

Post Race
Although I didn't make my time goal, I do consider this one of my better races. No stomach issues. No injuries (other than one blister). No real drama. Just a very fun run on a beautiful Spring morning. It doesn't get much better than that... 

I'll be back next year for another slow rumble with the roots and lumber.