Thursday, January 17, 2013

Where Do Those Hills Go? They Go Up.

Dateline Saturday, January 12th 2013.  The Morrow Mountain Trail Race.

I went.

I raced.

Now you'll read about it.  Just keep both hands on the keyboard.  I don't ask for much, so at least give me that.

I had a plan going into this event.  The plan was really quite simple.  Toe the line and take a deep breath.  When the starter turns everyone loose, DON'T PANIC.  All I needed was a nice easy pace to get my legs warmed up.  A couple miles at a comfortable tempo would help me settle into my stride and gradually pick up speed as I chipped away at the ten mile course.  Such a simple plan.  So beautiful in its lack of complexity.  How closely did I stick to this plan?  What plan?  I don't remember a plan.

As we were unleashed from the hell that is the start line I saw some very fast looking runners jump into the lead.  My first inclination was to stick to the plan.  The simple, sensible plan.  My second thought was "ooh, they look fun!".  On second thought, screw the plan.  I left the majority of the pack behind me as I sprinted up toward the leaders.  I ran at a leg busting pace for the first mile and half.  That is when I saw the first of three hills to be conquered during the event.  It was brutally steep.  The runners ahead of me were all walking, some with their hands on their knees.  This is the point where I was fairly certain I was in trouble.  My lungs were already in my throat as I began the ascent.  I pushed to maintain what I felt was a respectable pace but simply couldn't hold it.  As I slowed to catch my breath I crossed the two mile mark.  I panicked again and tried to lift my pace once more.  That didn't work.  I reached the top of the hill physically spent with the majority of the course still in front of me.  The descent was a meandering affair with gentle gradients and a seemingly endless series of turns.  I kept my pace reasonable as my heart rate returned to a sustainable level and I recaptured my breath.  It was at this moment that my day got much, much better.

Half way down the first descent I was caught by Matt, the amazing one-handed runner who has two hands.  It's a long story but trust me, it's an interesting one.  I have run with Matt before both on local trails and at my first competitive event back in November.  I have no experience being in front of him, or even close behind him for that matter.  Rather than over think the scenario I welcomed the familiar face and graciously stepped aside to let him do a little pacing.  Matt paced me through the rest of the descent and into the next stretch of flat trail.  My legs were starting to feel good as we lifted the pace a bit.  I was in my happy place and then we hit the second ascent of the day.  It went up.  Straight up.  My merciful pacer raised a finger to point at the runners ahead of us near the top of the hill.  He remarked at the vertical distance we had to cover as I started to question leaving my bike at home.  Another slow grind to the top.  Another descent.  This time the descent was much more aggressive.  I haven't quite figured out how to run downhill yet so I decided the best approach would be to simply lean forward and get my feet out of the way.  I didn't say anything about descending in a controlled fashion.  Nope, I flew down the hill with my arms flailing wildly to help me maintain my balance.  At the bottom I encountered a sharp turn where I nearly took out a course marshal.  She was cute.  So am I.  She'll forgive me.

On to one more flat section and the final climb.  This is where I started to relax and enjoy not only the feeling of my legs turning over but visual aesthetic of my surroundings as well.  A large fog bank had settled over the area so as we climbed the hills I watched as the runners ahead of me appeared to disappear into the clouds.  The final hill was a shallower climb than the earlier ascents so I was able to keep the pace higher.  When Matt and I hit the top together I was ecstatic.  A long descent, and less than two miles of flat land were all that separated us from the finish line.  Matt crushed me on the descent aided by his superior experience and surely his greater body mass.  I lost him heading into the last section of trail but caught up to another old friend.  The devil himself from the Humbug Buster 7k was kicking just ahead of me.  We exchanged pleasantries and ran together past the trail marker indicating we only one mile left.  Matt could be seen up ahead so with a little over half a mile to go I bid farewell and asked my legs for just a little more.  

As I caught Matt for the final time he told to me to enjoy the final few hundred yards on my own.  I crossed the finish line and quickly turned to congratulate the two men finishing just behind me.  At the time I was uncertain where I had finished overall.  I knew I was in the top 20 based a few kind course marshals providing details throughout the race.  My final position was the least of my concern at the finish line.  I turned back on the trail and ran to where I could stand on a stump and cheer on the rest of the finishers.  That is where I stayed until the very last runner came in.  I whistled and clapped and cheered as if each runner had just finished first.  Then I fell off the stump.  If there are pictures of that incident you'll certainly never see them here.

So where did I end up in the final standings?  I came in 19th out of 57 men overall and 4th out of six in my age class.  Not bad for a mountain biker with a running problem.  The times were much slower than I expected due to the difficulty of the course.  The overall winner finished in 1:11 and trailed well behind at 1:38.  

Onward to the next one.  On February 9th I'll be rolling out of the Queen City before dawn to take on Expedition Paris Mountain in Greenville, SC.  I can assure you of two things.  First, no matter the overall theme of my race report, I will be making fun of SC.  Second, did I mention I'll be making fun of SC?  

Friday, January 11, 2013

Consistently Inconsistent

If there is one truly predictable feature about this blog it is that you never really know when new material might appear.  A predictable lack of predictability.  I tend to like it that way.  I'm just here to keep you on your toes.  Trust me, the anticipation of a new post is always far better than the actual content.  Unless I start posting more ice bath pictures.  Then the content will win.

It has been a while since I clicked away on my keyboard in pursuit of somewhat amusing blog fodder.  Inspired by my lack of motivation to do my real job I find myself locked in a back office with some time to kill while I stare out at a foggy image of the Queen City.  The weather does not need to be good today so I'm not upset.  The weather does need to be good tomorrow.  Why?  Tomorrow is race day.  Unlike so many race days in the past, Stumpy will be staying at home.  As noted some time ago, I am not currently planning to attend any mountain bike races in 2013.  So what type of race will I be participating in tomorrow?  Go-cart?  Wheel chair?  Hot air balloon?  No sir.  Tomorrow I will be joining 200 skinny folks in tiny shorts for the first event in the Search for the Mountain Goat trail run series.  10 miles in the woods on foot.  The wheel chair race concept is looking better every minute.

This will be my second competitive running event.  Ever.  That's not very many.  The hope is that I may have learned a great deal from the first one.  If you are scratching your head wondering if you missed the race report from my first event let me assure you that are not losing your mind.  I'm just lazy.  It has been over a month since my first event and this is the first attempt I have made at recapping that experience.  So here we go....

It was a dark and stormy night...

Wait, that's not it.

It was a cold yet sunny  morning....

Now we're talking!

November in the south tends to bring cool temperatures but certainly nothing compared with the barren north-land.  The day started with temps in the low 40s so I spent the hour or so after registration running around trying to keep my skinny butt warm.  The race itself was a 7k jaunt through the woods.  150 people toed the line and with this being my first foray into running with a purpose I chose to set up camp mid-pack.  I like it there.  The people are friendly, the mood is light and it is just far enough forward to not feel like sandbagging.  How long did I stay there?  For about two seconds after the gun went off.  As soon as I saw the lead group dart toward the first turn I just couldn't help myself.  I sprinted to the front and remained in 6th position for the first mile.  That mile was not so good.  We covered that mile in under 7 minutes which would have been fine on any other occasion but we still had three miles to go.  Just as quickly as I joined the front runners I started to fall off that group.  The second and third mile were spent sucking wind and wishing I had my bike.  But I didn't have my bike.  What I did have was a man dressed all in black sitting 3 feet behind me and matching me kick for kick.  I feared the devil himself may be chasing me so I inquired as to his intentions.  When I heard a friendly greeting passed through labored breath I figured I was safe.  Unless he was lying.  The devil can be sneaky like that.

As I fumbled through the middle of the course I managed to keep track of my position without much difficulty. Heading into the final mile I knew I was sitting in 13th place.  Bad luck.  With my legs and lungs both feeling a bit better I picked up the pace until I saw a runner ahead of me through the trees.  Having a rabbit to chase was all I needed to lift the pace a bit more.  It took about 800 meters for me to bring myself to his shoulder.  Apparently he didn't like that very much.  As I attempted to pass he took off like a shot.  I found that to be most unpleasant so I picked up the pace and brought myself to his side once again.  That was all I had to do get my competitive fire burning.  With the finish line in sight I kicked away and put more distance between the two of us with every stride.  I crossed the line alone and quickly turned to cheer on my two closest chasers.  And that is where I stayed for quite some time.  I knew where I finished and didn't need the specifics.  I spent the next thirty minutes at the finish line cheering on those who were rolling in.  High fives were extended.  Good chats were had.

So how did the official numbers look for my first trail race?  I finished 12th out of 149.  My official time was 32:59 which put me 3 minutes behind the winner.  3 minutes is an eternity over such a short distance but I am confident that I could have run a little bit faster had I run a whole lot smarter.  I raise my glass to lessons learned.

When I stand at the start tomorrow morning I will have ten miles ahead of me.  The race announcement bills this event as the promoter's toughest yet.  That sounds nice.  10 miles, three big hills and one happy little dude in his running shoes.  There will definitely be a race report.  There may even be some photos.  How soon will it be posted?  Could be an hour, could be a week.  Isn't that what you love most about me?  A promise to provide you with literary pleasure on a timeline that has no boundaries.  See you soon.  Maybe.