Saturday, October 27, 2012

Son of Uwharrie - Eno River Run 11 Miler

Everyone has that one odd cousin that you loved to hang out with as a kid. You know the one. He was not quite right in the head, full of shifty ideas. But you were fascinated by his devil may care way of life. Spending a warm Fall day with that cousin guaranteed an adventure of one sort or another. Or possibly a trip to jail. But it was worth the possible penal time to see just what he had in mind for an afternoon of fun.

Eno River Run is that cousin. He's the son of old uncle Uwharrie, and it shows. Uncle Uwharrie has raised a son nearly as tough and gritty as his father, but with a wicked sense of humor born of years of trying to live up to the old man's expectations, but never quite making it.

Cousin Eno taunts you with the easy start, but then jumps out from behind a tree and kicks you square in the guts with a nasty, rooty, rocky hill. And when you've recovered from that, he pushes you into a an icy stream and laughs maniacally at the squishing noises coming from your shoes as you stumble over the countless roots and rocks of the next mile of the trail. But then, he laughs with you as you fly down steep hills and along the easy flat trail sections by the river. Cousin Eno isn't really cruel. Just slightly different. And FUN!

The Race
This is the first year of the Eno River Run trail races (there is a 6 miler and an 11 miler). I signed up as part of the Tough as Trails race series, mostly because I got a guaranteed entry into the Uwharrie Mountain Run 40 Mile Ultra (my number one goal for the entire Winter race season), but also because I had planned to run this race as well. Bull City Running really know how to put on a great race, so I knew this race would be good. What I didn't expect, was exactly how tough the course would turn out to be, and how much I loved the race when I finished.

Few's Ford. Crossed twice during the
11 mile race.

Goals
I intentionally avoided setting any sort of time goal for this race. I just wanted to enjoy the experience and have as much fun as possible. With that in mind, I set a few simple goals for the race.

  • Don't look at my watch. My watch is possessed by a small demon that taunts me mercilessly when I check my time. He's the cruelest, most evil little minion of self doubt and despair ever created in the bowels of Hell. Once he starts dancing around in my brain, I can't get him out. So, best not to even open the door for him.
  • Take as many pictures as possible. Not only will that slow me down and keep my pace sane, but I might actually get a handful of decent shots out of the several hundred that I snap along the way. (full, public album is here on Facebook)
Good Lies
I hadn't hiked the trails of the Eno River Run race course in several years, so my memory of them was foggy, to say the least. Reading the course description on the race web site led me to believe that there were two water crossings (at Few's Ford on the Eno River) in the 11 miler and none in the shorter 6 mile race. Well, that was a LIE! Within the first mile or so, we had to cross a stream. You could try to keep your feet dry by hopping across wet, algae covered stones, or you could just splash through the stream. Guess which route I took. Luckily, I was wearing my Altra Superior trail running shoes (review coming soon!) and they drained in no time flat. A few miles later, we had to splash back through that same stream crossing before heading down the trail to the "bouldering" area of the race.

The start.

You *could* try those rocks on the left, if you
want to get blood in the stream. ;-)


Good Truths
I did remember the bouldering section of the trail from a previous hike, so I knew that it was not runnable AT ALL. It was however very fun to clamber over giant boulders by the Eno River during a race. I did slip once on a rock that was wet and slightly muddy from the racers who had passed through before me, but I recovered without any serious problems. Overall, this was my absolute favorite section of the course. 


Yeah, we "ran" through here.
Ok, we did "run" through some of the bouldering area.


Good Times
The final big challenge of the 11 mile race was the crossing of the Eno River itself. I've been to Few's Ford many times with my kids so I knew this was a fairly easy, albeit longish crossing. The water was crisp, but not frigid and the crossing itself was made even more fun by all the people on the river bank cheering on the racers. Few's Ford is immediately next to the race start finish area, so spectators have an easy walk down to the river to cheer on the racers. Brilliant!

There were stair cases.
And then there were STAIR cases.
Too fun!

Great Race
I finished somewhere in the neighborhood of 1:47. I only know that because it was the first time I actually looked at my watch during the entire race (goal achieved!). Overall, I had a wonderful time. I got the chance to talk to another Scott during the race, who happened to be one of the organizers of the Medoc Trail Races (perhaps my favorite race in the entire state). I climbed big rocky, rooty, nasty hills. I crossed streams 4 times during the race. I never fell down. I finished happy. You can't ask for more than that!

Eno River State Park is simply gorgeous!


A stainless steel beer delivery device as a
finisher's award. Again, brilliant!


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Better Half - Medoc Trail Marathon 2012

I've been one upped by my better half. Again! It's been all I could do to stay ahead of my wife in terms of speed and endurance since she started running again last year, but now she's closing in, fast. Sherri just ran her first marathon. A trail marathon at that!

While I was leaving chunks of my left nipple on the trail at Medoc Mountain State park, Sherri was somewhere on the same course not falling down. Not even tripping. Not even once! There are no trail gods. They are all goddesses. And they enjoy laughing at me. And unlike when I finished my first marathon, barely dodging the scythe of the grim reaper himself as I stumbled across the finish line, Sherri finished with a smile on her face.





Then to really rub it in, she took a whole week off and ran another half marathon! I could barely walk for a month after my first marathon.

Well, this post isn't really about me (yes, it is!). I just wanted to take the opportunity to publicly congratulate my beautiful wife on running her first (cough!) trail marathon with style and class. I was wondering who took all my style and class suppositories from the medicine cabinet. And then, to prove you could be even more stubborn than me, you ran a half marathon a week later with an aching knee. And now you are injured (although only slightly). I couldn't be prouder. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Shirtless and Shiftless - Medoc Trail Marathon 2012

I haven't had the wind knocked out of me since I was 10, following a failed attempt to jump my Huffy bicycle over a dodgy ramp my older brother and I had constructed from some rotting boards and a couple of cinder blocks. I remember the crack of the board as my bike hit the ramp at something approaching mach 3, and the strange sensation of my bike suddenly stopping, while my body continued the jump across the handle bars and on out into open space. I actually had a moment to ponder my situation then, but all I could mentally muster was  the 10 year old equivalent of "Oh SH*T!!". It's funny how memories like that come back to you 30 odd years later, in the split second that you are airborne, just before thumping the trail at Medoc Mountain State Park with your bare chest. Really funny.

But, I'm getting way ahead of myself. Let's back up a bit and talk about Medoc Trail Races.

Twice As Nice
This was my second year running the marathon at Medoc. I had a great experience last year, and promised myself that I would return this year. Medoc is fast becoming one of my very favorite races. It has just the right mixture of challenging hills, fun twisty, bumpy sections, and lots of wicked fast riverside trail. I also love that the race is comprised of three long loops. Covering the same ground might sound monotonous, but there's something comforting about knowing exactly what's ahead of you when you start that last loop. Knowing where and when you can push just a bit harder or slow down just a skosh really helps to manage the mental demons that invariably make the charge through my oxygen starved brain late in a race.

And then there are the organizers and volunteers who make the race happen. Top notch! From the fully stocked aid stations to the post race finisher "surprises"and the excellent red beans and rice at the finish, I was never disappointed. The aid stations were especially fantastic this year, with potato chips, sugary sodas, gummy bears, various cookies, boiled potatoes (that's real race fuel folks!) along with the normal gels, water, and Gatorade. I might have actually gained weight during this race.

If you haven't run this race before, you should put it on your list. It's a winner.

Another perfect weather start at Medoc.


Doubling Down
Last year, I had one serious, time-based stretch goal for the race - to finish in under 5 hours. Somehow, I managed to put everything together and made that goal, but only by about 10 minutes. Never one to shy away from the (nearly) impossible, and (mostly) insane stretch goal, this year, I set the bar a bit higher. I would try to finish in under 4 hours. Stupid - it's what I do.

Goals

  • Finish in under 4 hours. Yeah, stupid.
  • Run shirtless. Hey, Medoc Man is a shirtless monster, so I figured he might mistake me for one of his mutant spawn and leave me alone during the race. Besides, blinding other racers with my pasty, pale, puny pectorals is just good race strategy.
  • Don't fall down. Well, you already know how that goal turned out.

Pre-Race
There seems to be a very bad trend of me catching some random virus the week before all of my big races. I think the viruses read this blog and only like the stories of defeat, failure, humiliation and injury. Personally, I agree with them, but that's beside the point. 

Right on cue, 3 days before the race, I got sick. Nasty head pounding, sinus pressure sick that put me in bed for a couple of days. In fact, I told myself the day before the race that if I woke up still feeling rotten, that I would just not run. The viruses must have caught wind of this, because I woke up feeling almost well. No headache and sinus mess, but very weak and tired. I decided I would run. I thought I could almost hear the tiny cheers of millions of viruses. Or maybe that was only the fluid draining from my sinuses.

Two Laps of Perfection
Weapon of Mass Distraction.
Yes, I run like that all the time.
(Photo courtesy of Jade Wei)
Well, the race didn't actually start perfectly. I was busying goofing off and talking to several friends in the starting corral and totally forgot to double knot my shoe laces (which *always* come untied if they aren't double knotted). So, 3 minutes into the race, I had to pull over and retie both shoes. In that minute I was passed by about 60 people, all of which I spent the next 20 miles passing to get back to the position from which I had started. Have I mentioned that I suck at racing?

But other than the shoe tying debacle at the start, the first two laps went very well. I ate a lot of boiled potatoes and drank a lot of flat soda and my stomach was very content. I ran what I thought was a solid 9 minute pace, only to find out it was really a solid 9:30-9:45 pace when I did the mental math. Unfortunately, that's all I could muster, but I'm used to disappointment. I think the sickness had really drained me the prior few days. I just didn't have that springy feeling in my legs. Once I realized that I wasn't (and more importantly, couldn't) make my ridiculous 4 hour goal, I decided to keep pushing as hard as I could just to see how close I could get. I was on course to finish in under 4:20 and that would still give me a big PR (previous PR of 4:31 if you care, which you shouldn't). So I slogged into the last lap determined to at least keep running and not start walking.

A Pair of Pummeled Pectorals
By mile 22 I knew I could make my time goal if I just stayed on my feet and dealt with the muscle pain that comes in that stage of a marathon. Easier said than done though. I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that running more quickly means dealing with more pain, especially in longer races. And I really hate pain. I like to enjoy my running, and pain makes that so much more difficult. Unfortunately, I'm also a very stubborn person, and when I'm denied something, even by my own body, I just push that much harder to get it (DON'T be me! This has been the cause of all of my injuries!).

So it was that I found myself stumbling along around mile 23, pushing hard and not paying full attention to what appeared to be a smooth, pine straw covered section of flat trail, when something grabbed my right foot and stopped it dead. Well the rest of me was still moving at 9:45 pace, and since my foot seemed to have been mugged by an invisible tree root, I headed through the air on a steep trajectory towards ground. I barely had time for the "OH SH*T!!" childhood flashback before I pounded Medoc Mountain State Park with my mighty, meatless, shirtless chest. Luckily, I didn't have enough time to get my wrists fully extended, and so avoided snapping them like overcooked chicken bones.

I was back on my feet and running in a split second. Isn't adrenaline amazing? And then my field of vision began to narrow, and darken. Adrenaline was pushing me forward, but my spasming diaphragm was not allowing my lungs to bellow. I stopped and sat down on the trail. It was sit down or fall down really. To say that this scared me would be an understatement. A 170+ bpm heart rate and nonfunctioning lungs is a bad combination. But in a handful of seconds, I finally managed to take a shallow breath. And then a deeper one. And in a few more seconds I was breathing normally again. 

I got back up and continued my run, with the mad banjos and lyrics of Mumford and Sons "I Will Wait" running through my head. I have no idea why. It must have made sense to my shaken brain at that moment. And somehow it helped. I ran really strong and free after that, finishing in 4:18:46.

Epilogue
I learned a few things about myself during this race. First, I'm capable of more than I think. I am able to run hard for long stretches without completely falling apart. Knowing the line between hard and stupid-hard is something I've been trying to learn since I started running. Medoc has helped me get one step closer to that realization. And for that, more than anything, I am grateful.

I've also learned that nipples make very poor landing gear for the human plane.