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?  




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