Monday, March 19, 2012

Domestic Abuse - Hanging Rock Trail Race 12K

Trail running is hard. Beautifully, wonderfully, difficult. Fortunately, it can also be immediately and immensely gratifying. All it takes is that one small stretch of trail where everything just clicks, where your entire body feels like it's dancing with the forest, and you are hooked.

From that point on, you become an addict. Roads become boring. Pavement becomes the price you pay for the reward of the trail.

My name is Scott, and I've been a trail addict for about one and a half years. Like all addicts, I love to share my high with others. My goal is to pull my lovely wife, Sherri, deeply into my addiction. Hanging Rock Trail 12K was her first real hit.

Being a running family can be difficult, especially if both parents are running a race on the same day. When the alarm goes off at 4:15AM, and you have to shuffle sleepy kids into the car by 5:30AM for the long ride to the grandparent's house, you begin second guessing all of the madness. But massive doses of coffee help.

Hanging Rock State Park is familiar ground. Sherri and I have hiked there many times. I also spent about half of my childhood in a house not more than 25 miles away. I've camped, hiked, swam in the mountain top lake, and climbed (legal and otherwise) all over Hanging Rock State Park. But I've never really ran there. Time for Sherri and I to change that.

Sherri's only previous trail racing experience was the Pilot Mountain Challenge 5K. Not a big enough hit to induce the cherry high. The Pilot Mountain Challenge suffering to sweetness ratio is simply tilted too far toward misery to form any lasting addiction. I thought Hanging Rock might be a bit sweeter. I was right. And wrong.

Good Drugs
It's been several years since I last hiked the Moore's Knob Trail. I had vague memories of a really nasty, steep trail going up the mountain, followed by a steep, nasty ditch going down the other side.

We're off! But where the heck are we going?

Turns out  the part I remember was only about the last half of the race. The first half was on Wolf Rock Trail. Maybe I should have actually taken a look at the course map and elevation profile before we ran this monster.

The route is shaped like a foot kicking a big rock.
Totally appropriate.

The race winds around the park, all the way to the far side of the lake.
But we have to go up and down that big mountain in the distance.

We finally hit the gravel path leading to the Wolf Rock trailhead. Steep!

I spent a lot of time playing paparazzi for Sherri (left) and Iris.
Sprinting ahead to take pictures was tough.
Good thing they had these convenient benches
where I could grab a quick nap. Just kidding.
It was either sit down or fall down after
sprinting up the big gravel hill.

After a bit of pavement and groomed trail to get to the actual trailhead, the next few miles of Wolf Rock Trail were fun single track. Sherri is a quick study and generally pretty light on her feet, so she cruised along Wolf Rock Trail without any difficulty.

Rocks, roots, and fun! Josh ran through this stuff barefoot!

Bad Drugs
Coming to the end of Wolf Rock Trail, Sherri began to feel the familiar patellar femoral (runner's knee) pain that she's been battling for the past month or so. I think the steepness of some of the descents really took a toll on her knees.

Sherri's knees go kaput around mile 2. Profile courtesy of Iris.

By the time we made it to the creek crossing to head up the endless stone staircase to Moore's Knob, she was in some serious pain. Both knees were stiffening and running down hill was misery.

Fortunately, there would be no downhill running for the next 1.5 miles or so. Actually, there would be very little running at all.

Perfect place for a trail race!

These never seemed to end.

Unsafe! Someone inform the park rangers!

After what seemed like an hour, and about two dozen false summits, we finally made it to the top. But after a short run through some nice rocks, trees, and briar patches, we headed down the long steep trail back to the lake, and the finish. The trail seemed even safer on the way down.

New Addictions
The trail down off Moore's Knob wasn't kind to Sherri's aching knees, but Hanging Rock had one more hard lesson to teach before the finish. Running along a flat stretch of trail back near the lake, the fatigue and pain finally blinded her to the small root that sent her slamming into the ground with a thud.

But did that stop Sherri? Hell no! She was up and running again in 10 seconds. Smiling and laughing about it even though I think it was a really hard fall.

Sherri crossed the line, in pain, but smiling. She even won 2nd place in her age group!

I'll never tell her there were only 3 women
in her age group.

The next day, Sherri was hobbling around the house on very stiff legs. Strangely, she's already asked me to sign her up for Owl's Roost Rumble. Addiction is an ugly thing.