Sunday, November 23, 2014

Revival with CCR

Camp Chestnut Ridge Trail Runs is one of those small, local races that I have grown to love so much over the past few years. It's a race packed with good cheer, good people, great food, great trails, and an awesome atmosphere. And yet in its fifth year, it is still sort of a well kept secret among the local trail running community. It shouldn't be a secret at all. It's a gem of a little race.

I've been trying to get to CCR Trail Runs for the past 2 years. Both previous years were derailed with illness or injury. This year, I finally managed to make it to the starting line in decent health, having perhaps bitten off a bit more than I could chew with an 8 mile race registration. Having just run a 5 mile trail race the previous weekend which felt like a Goldilocks distance, I didn't quite have the confidence that I could sustain good form for 8+ miles of single track. But when it comes to races, what I lack in confidence I more than make up for with stupidity. Never underestimate the power of stupidity.

Bad Moon Rising
Of course, the night before the race I felt the distinct sinus pressure that tells me I am about to fall off the cliff of good health onto the jagged rocks of sinusitis. Harnessing the power of stupidity, I shot some saline up my nostrils, took some pain meds and went to bed chanting the "I am NOT sick" mantra.

The next morning, I woke up feeling pretty good. Stupid good, even.

Down on the Corner
One excellent benefit of this year's race that other runners with small children will appreciate is childcare. As in FREE childcare, provided by the race. This race benefits a kids camp, so this is a very shrewd move on the part of the race organizers. Knowing that my 8 and 10 year old would at least be monitored by an adult during the race and that my wife and I wouldn't have to arrange for a sitter was a very big deal. Childcare alone might even bring us back for the race in coming years, but that's not where the race goodness ended, by any means.

Arriving at the race, which is a really easy 20 minute drive from southern Durham, parking was a breeze. Checking in, we were given the normal race shirt, but also a very nice pair of custom running socks! I love gear swag like this from races.

Oh, but the socks were nothing compared to the food spread at the start-finish area. For a small race, the goodies were excellent and reminded me of the food at an ultra marathon, rather than a small 4 or 8 mile trail race.

Very good coffee.

Look at that spread!

Enough about the amenities, how was the actual race? Glad you asked. The course is a mixture of technical single track and broad bridle trail. Both the 4 mile race and the 8 mile race (which simply adds on to the 4 mile race) seemed to be about 80% single track and 20% bridle trail. This was a great mixture for the fast folks, as the bridle trails provided a half dozen or so sections to hit full stride, offering a nice break from the slower single track. For a turtle like me, it was good to hit some stretches where I didn't have to concentrate so hard on foot placement.

The 4 milers and 8 milers all start together, so there were a lot of fast 4 milers out front (and passing me constantly), but once I started the second 4 mile loops, it was nice and quiet. In fact, I only saw about 3 people during the entire second half, but that's fine with me. I like a peaceful run.

"I will smash that camera" says 431.
Beautiful bridle trails.
Some tough single track, even with the
leaf cover blown off.

8 milers get to run around this lake twice. Gorgeous both times.

Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
Luckily, I'm heading back into good times, even if my running isn't "good" just yet. I'm just glad there are still a few happy little local race surprises out there. Races like these remind of those Summer days when it rains while the sun is shining - a pleasant, refreshing surprise.

I've seen bad times and bad races. CCR Trail Races are neither. Do yourself a favor and check out this race next year.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Ravens and Writing Desks

"Why is a raven like a writing desk?" asked the Mad Hatter in the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Much like the Mad Hatter, I have no idea. Why that question floated through my mind as I stumbled down the trail during the Raven Rock Trail Races is an even greater mystery since I haven't read Carroll's books since I was child.

I'm not one to totally zone out during a trail run. My mind percolates with insanities and inanities, which spontaneously bubble to the forefront of my consciousness as I struggle to traverse the rocky, rooty ground during a trail run. That may be the reason I still stumble and fall so much, even after all these years of trail running. That, or the fact that trail running is just ridiculously difficult. Still, the pertinent part of the Mad Hatter's question remains: Why?

Why run trails, even after knee surgery number 6? Why run trails, even after spending nearly a year recovering from plantar fasciitis? Like the Mad Hatter, "I haven't the slightest idea."

Raven Rock Trail Races
I have wanted to run Raven Rock for several years, but it always seemed to fall on a weekend with a conflict. This year, as part of my Cackalack Attack adventure, I set everything else aside and finally made it down to the sand hills area for the race.

Let me tell you, for mid November in NC, it was freezing! My car registered 26F when I left for the race. After a leisurely hour long ride, it had crept up to a balmy 31F as I pulled into the parking field by Raven Rock State Park. Not that 31F is extremely cold, but 3 days before the race it was over 70F. It seems Winter had been turned on with a flick of the Canada switch. (Note to Canada: keep your arctic air to yourself, hoser!).


Warning to anyone considering Raven Rock Trail Races for the first time: the parking area is a LONG walk (0.65 miles by some folks measurements) to the registration and check-in area. Don't cut your arrival time too close! Luckily, I'm a habitually early arriver, so I had plenty of time to make the journey to check-in and then hang out with the usual suspects from Raleigh-Durham who had made the trip down for the race.

All the way to the end of this road, then
right and down another long stretch to
the start-finish area.

Kudos to the race organizers for having both hot coffee and hot water for cocoa mix at the start-finish aid station. I took advantage of the hot beverage after the race once my sweaty race gear turned into a salty, stinky, chill suit. Actually, the main start-finish aid station was really quite nice, with a good mixture of snacks, including donuts, breakfast trail mix, and the usual assortment of bananas, pretzels, and the like. A food truck even showed up with various options (sorry, I didn't have my wallet, so skipped it totally).

More like an ultra marathon aid station.

Golf Balls, Leaf Blowers and Luxury Trails
The trail itself (at least the 5 mile section I ran) was fairly technical. Lots of roots, and a long section with golf ball sized rocks, which made running downhill seem even more out of control that usual for me. I've always jokingly complained at other races that the organizers should have blown all the leaves off the trail before the race. Well damned if the Raven Rock organizers hadn't done that! Not that it made the race any less difficult (there were plenty of roots and rocks to contend with), but it was sort of like luxury trail running. I felt like trail running royalty! Well, at least like the royal court jester of trail running anyway.

Luxury, I tell you!

The 5 mile race starts going downhill, and continues going downhill with only a few upward bumps, for a couple of miles. Then there is a decent ascent followed by an indecent decent before arriving at the Cape Fear River. Which is where I made my only mistake of the race: I missed the turn. Unfortunately, I was following several other people who also missed the turn. Only when we had entered a non-luxury, leaf covered trail did I begin to question our route. By that time, I heard several other trail runners yelling from the luxury trail, calling us all back (aren't trail runners great people?!). All in all, I'd say we lost only a few minutes and a handful of positions in the race before we made our way back.

Wrong way!

Right way!

The last couple of miles of the race is uphill, following Camel Creek for a while, then crossing it and heading up a 0.75 mile meat grinder of a hill to the finish. It's been a long while since I thought my heart would burst from my chest and flop away into the underbrush, but I got to experience that pleasure again on the way up that hill.

Beautiful day.

Great trail.

Once you cross this bridge, it's heart attack hill time.

Just before the finish. Blow your nose,
wipe your face, and finish with pride.

There is just enough flat ground near the top to get your heart under control and your snotty face cleaned up for a respectable sprint across the finish line. All in all, my finish was pretty good. I ran the entire course and finished in a respectable 52 minutes. Very few fast people showed up for the 5 miler this year, so I managed to sneak in at 25th position out of 122 starters. Not too shabby, for me anyway.

The Riddle
No, I still don't know why a raven is like a writing desk. I also don't know why I continue to stagger to the starting line of trail races on gorgeous, frigid NC mornings when I could be home tucked into my oh so warm and comfy bed. It's certainly not because I enjoy the near freezing heart attacks that seem to be guaranteed at every race. Well, maybe just a little.

Legs? Is that the answer to the riddle?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Miserable Failures

As a runner, I'm a miserable failure. I'm slow, I'm injury prone, and I never know when to back off. And no, this isn't some sort of pity party. Those are just the facts of my running life, and I'm perfectly fine with that reality. Well, as fine as I can be given my self loathing nature (You suck, Der Scott! You're right, Der Scott, I do. Wanna go for a run on our bum knee? Hell yeah! Let's do it!).
I'm pretty sure this wouldn't keep me from running.

On the other hand, I LOVE to run trails. I can be slow on trails and never consider it a shortcoming. Moving slowly through the forest on even the roughest trail is as close as I can come to a religious experience. I know that sounds a bit kooky, but it's honest. However, what I love most about trail running is the trail running community. I've stopped counting the number of interesting, intelligent, impressive people I've met through trail running. If the trail running community is a slice of humanity, it's the best slice I've experienced. (For what it's worth, jury duty served up the worse slice).

So I'm terrible at running, but I love it.  If you've read any of my posts here, you already knew that. What's new then? Well, after 9 months and one knee surgery I "raced" again, at the perfect comeback event - The Misery Run.

Wonderful Misery
This was my third year racing the Misery Run (race report from 2011). It's the granddaddy of "mudder" and "obstacle" events in this area, with 2014 being its 19th year. It's also the purest of these sorts of events. Where most events have devolved into bad-ass-warrior-spartan-crotchfit extravaganzas sporting smoke machines, blaring rock music and machine gun crossfire, the Misery Run maintains the simple purity of a cross country race "with flavor".  It's the perfect mix of trails, fields, logs, hay bales, and "mud" puddles. It's family friendly, and seriously competitive at the same time. And chock full of cool, interesting people!

If you are local, do yourself a favor and check it out. In fact for pure cross country fun, check out the entire Carolina Godiva Winter Series. You won't find better race value for your $5. And no, I did NOT omit a zero in that price.

And the best part: kids under 12 run for FREE!

Miserable Comebacks
Alex, the apple from my tree.
How did it go? Miserably, but in a good way. I'm still a bit frightened to run on trails after the recent surgery. My plantar fasciitis (partial rupture) from October of last year is also still hanging around in my left foot like a drunk brother-in-law after a wild New Year's party. Not much of a bother, unless it wakes up screaming and threatening to kill me with a busted beer bottle.

This year, I ran most of a lap with my youngest son, Alex, while my oldest son Ryan and his school buddy, Jonathan, scampered through the woods ahead of us. I tried to let go of the worry and just relax and laugh with the kids. For the most part, everything went very well. The surgery knee didn't bark very much, but did clear its throat a time or two during mysterious foot landings. The PF stayed mostly in a beer coma. The freezing, anthrax-laced cow pasture puddle crossings may have helped with that as well.

Want to experience something magical? Run with kids. It doesn't even matter if they are YOUR kids, just try it. Kids will level you, but in a good way. They run for fun the way I truly desire to run for fun. Unfortunately, most of the kid has been beaten out of me by life, so I find it difficult to experience the pure joy that they get for free. But that doesn't keep me from trying.

Spray me with a hose, will you?!

Take that!