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.


  1. Good job to you both. I can't imagine Mr. and Mrs. Runner in a a family. I have to work hard to squeeze in runs with family and all.
    Good job, Sherri!
    Josh has the elevation profile on his report, OUCH!

    1. Thanks Chris! It is indeed difficult to manage the family and running. Sometimes I don't do that very well at all.

      That elevation profile is comically difficult. I've added it to my report.

  2. Sherri sure picked some hard ones to start out with.
    In two years you will be crewing for her at Western States. You and I can commiserate.

    1. Yep, I'm a bad, bad influence. Of course, I'm afraid she'll beat me at Owl's Roost. Gotta hold off the defeat(s) until at least next season.

      I got dibs on managing the beer supply at Western States!

  3. Hey Scott,

    Sorry I did not get to see you there. We met briefly last year at the MST 12 miler (where I remember showing you how my MT101s cause nasty blisters on my little toes because they just don't quite fit right, but I love them just the same). I was hoping I would be able to recognize you at Hanging Rock since I saw you were going, but it didn't happen :-(

    Anyway, congrats to Sherri! How did she like those cards? I did not know what they had given me until I got home, but I thought that was a really nice idea for an award.

    1. Hey Garth, I do remember you and your MT101 blisters, although I would have totally failed to remember your name (I really stink at remembering names). Congrats on the age group award! I don't think Sherri has even opened hers yet (probably today).

      I'm easy to spot at races these days. Just look for the black and red moccasins. I wear them to pretty much every race. Hope to catch you at another race sometime soon!

  4. That's awesome, Scott! Kudos to you for running such a fantastic trail race after just 2 weeks past Umstead. And yay for Sherri! I hope to see you both at some other trail race this year.

  5. Thanks, Ash! I'm pretty much back to my normal state (semi-broken down) now. This past weekend was the first time I actually felt a bit of spring in my legs again.

    Sign up for Owl's Roost! Sherri and I will both be there.

    1. Yes, Ash, sign up for Owl's Roost! Quick! Only 50 spots left as of yesterday, I hear. /goad

  6. I can't believe you took (and published!) a picture of your wife wiping out on the trail. The profile looks very blue ridge relay-esque except from the pictures it looks way more difficult. Was there actually any running going on? And you love it?

    I plan to get on the trails once my miles get longer. This type of trail looks scary though. :)

    1. I *had* to take a picture! For posterity!

      It is a tough trail and not one for beginners, unless you want to go really slow, which we did. Funny, but the lady giving the pre-race briefing actually told the crowd that if this was your first trail run, "Don't do it!"


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