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?