Thursday, March 31, 2011

River Gorge 6.5 mile race

Of all the Rock Creek races, the river gorge seems to be the one where weather is always a major factor, and this year was no different. I woke up early Saturday morning to the sound of thunder so loud it shook my apartment and rain coming down hard. "This could be interesting," I thought and battled with myself about whether or not to even get out of bed. I stared at the coffee pot for a few moments before ultimately pushing the start button and getting ready for what was sure to be a wet race. I really had no right to complain considering that the volunteers were already out in the cold, dark rain preparing for all the runners. When I arrived at Prentice Cooper, it seemed as if the rain had let up a bit, but a few minutes before the start, it picked right back up. I couldn't decide what to run in and knew that if I wore my rain jacket I would probably get hot, but I was not able to make myself shed it before the start because it was so cold. The race begins with about 1/4 mile of dirt road to spread racers out before making a left turn onto single track. I knew I needed to start off pretty hard to get ahead of the crowd and was ablet to avoid any major congestion. The trail descends for about a half a mile before a short climb and another long downhill. Surprisingly, the trail was in pretty good shape except for some puddles here and there. I fully expected to fall at some point and just kind of threw caution out the window and tried to run this downhill part as fast as I could because I knew the second half of the course was mostly uphill. About 3 miles in, runners come out to a dirt road where the aid station is located. It was here that I quickly yanked off my jacket with the help of volunteer Jim Johnson who helped pull it off of me. After turning right on the road, you climb...and climb...and climb some more. I dont know how many hills there are but it is relentless. The last one is the longest and steepest, but once at the top, runners cut back on to single track for the most technical descent of the day. This part of the trail was more like a river. Chris Gentry was just ahead of me and I did everything I could to keep him in sight. When you get to the bottom of the hill, the trail connects back in with the first part of the course and runners retrace their steps back to the finish, about a mile of steady climbing. I was hurting pretty bad at this point and just kept trying to tell myself it was almost over. After maybe ten or so "It's almost overs" I saw the parking lot and finish line. My goal was to break an hour, which I did by the skin of my teeth. Soaking wet, I walked over to chat with some other runners about how much fun we had running and getting absolutely covered in mud from the waist down. It didn't take long for me to get chilled, so I rushed to my car, turned the heat on full blast, and into some dry clothes. Thanks so much to Rock Creek for putting on a fabulous race despite less than stellar conditions. The volunteers really deserve a ton of credit for spending hours and hours in the cold rain to take care of all the runners' needs. Maybe next year it will be dry, but then again there is something cool about running in a thunderstorm :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

3 days of syllamo stage race

The 3 Days of Syllamo stage race is both an awesome experience and, as I soon found out a very painful one at times. It takes place in the Ozark Ntl Forest in Arkansas. The race is over 3 days with Friday being a 50k, Saturday a 50 mile, and Sunday a 20k (at least they claim it's a 20k but more on that later). My dad was kind enough to drive the 8 long hours with me to the start on Thursday morning which gave us plenty of time to pick up packets and get a nice dinner.

Day 1-50k
One of my favorite things about this race is the start times. The race director obviously knows that runners will want all the sleep they can get, so the 50k didn't start until 9AM. By this time, the sun was out and warming things up nicely. It was still cool but temps were supposed to get in to the upper 60s. When Steve, the RD, said go, we all set out on the first part of what promised to be a long 3 days. Because the start is in a valley of sorts, each day begins with a pretty hefty climb of about 2 miles. I was feeling pretty good early on and ran most of it to avoid the congestion. Once at the top, the trail rolls along some ridgelines with spectacular views. The theme of the day and the weekend for that matter was rocks. Big rocks, little rocks. loose rocks, and any other type of rocks you could possibly imagine. It made for some very technical running, but the awesome views and weather more than made up for it. The course for the day was an out and back, so I was able to get an idea of what the second half would be like. There were several steep climbs along bluffs which abruptly descended right back down to the river in addition to a lot of very runnable sections. As far as strategy goes, I felt like I should just run how I felt the first day and not worry about taking it easy because I figured going slower just meant more time on my feet and more soreness. Therefore, I ran pretty hard throughout the day and made it to the turn around point in about 2.5 hours. In order to prove that you actually went all the way out, Steve put a hole punch at the turn around for runners to punch a hole in their number. The only problem was that it wasn't a normal hole punch. I don't really know how to describe it except to say that I had a very hard time making it work and was afraid they wouldn't believe that I went the full distance :). I did the best I could and started making my way back, looking forward to seeing everyone still making their way out.

Very shortly after turning around, I saw the next female, a super nice lady named cassie from Colorado followed by Jill Perry who I knew was very strong. I tried to just stay relaxed and run as best I could keeping in mind that this was a 3 day race. I also got to see Abigail, Susan, Rob, and several other familiar faces on the way back. The good part about climbing at the beginning is getting to descend at the end, and when I finally hit the last downhill, I was really smelling the barn. My dad was there to meet me and I finished the first day in something like 5:06.

Day 2-50 Miles
No 9AM start time for this day but rather a cold, dark 6AM. I felt a little sore before the start but nothing too bad. However, I knew that it was going to be a LONG day. My goal was to try to keep a positive mindset and focus on running the best I could, whatever my body would allow. My body wasn't too thrilled about the idea of running 50 miles, at least not at first but I did fortunately loosen up after a few miles. The theme of today's race, according to the RD, is "this is where the fun starts" . I would love to know his definition of fun! The course for this day was like a clover leaf that followed a lot of mountain biking trails. Don't let this fool you into thinking it's easy by any means. The rock were still present and I blame them for all 3 of my falls during the day. After climbing at the start to get to the top of the ridge, the trail constantly rolls with only one really nasty climb about half way through. Although we were on bike trails, there were times when it was so technical or steep that I thought to myself "there is no way I would even attempt to ride my bike on this!" Like Friday, the sun heated things up quickly, so I ran in my Patagonia singlet and shorts for most of the day. There were several creek crossings where you had to get about shin deep. I had a love hate relationship with these. It felt good to cool off a bit but it also made my shoes feel 10 pounds heavier for a mile or so until they drained. I was thankful to be wearing the North Face Singletracks which drain really well and kept my feet as dry as possible. By about the 50k point, I was feeling very fatigued and struggling to keep a good attitude. The aid station with home made brownies did wonders for this however as well as picking up my Ipod from my dad. I made it to the 45 mile aid station where they told me it was a fast finish from there and mostly downhill. Although I really hesitated to believe them, they were telling the truth, and before I knew it, I was seeing tents and smelling campfires which told me I was close to the finish. Day 2 was coming to an end, and I think I finished the 50 miles in 8:59.

Day 3-20k (yeah right)
Thankfully, the 20k started at 9AM which allowed me to get a decent night's sleep. However, I soon realized just how sore I was when I had to walk down the set of stairs to the car. I just laughed at myself and found the idea of trying to go run a 20k comical. On the one hand, you tell yourself it's no big deal after running so much the past two days but on the other hand the idea of running at all is just not very appealing. To make matters worse, there are quite a few people running today who were not in the stage, so they have fresh legs and are ready to bust out a speedy 20k. I was just hoping to manage some sort of a run. Perhaps a "wog" is the more appropriate term (combination of a walk and a jog). When Steve said go, we all made our way to the single track which would be a loop following a lot of the 50 mile course but in the opposite direction. It took me a good 2 miles to loosen up but when I did I actually felt a lot better than I thought I would. My pace was by no meanst fast, but it felt like I was running pretty well. That's what I told myself anyway. There was just one unmanned aid station at mile 7 but because it was still pretty cool, I didn't take the time to top off my handheld. I did find it odd that Steve told runners at the start that the water stop was "at mile 7, almost half way throught the race". If you do the math here, a 20k is 12.4ish miles so if 7 miles marks the half way point, this course was actually more like 14-15 miles. In the big picture, who really cares, and I figured if we had run 81 over the last 2 days what's an extra 2 or 3? Well my legs would beg to differ but they didn't have much say in the matter. After the aid station, the course weaves along the ridge before taking you up a nasty climb to a gorgeous overlook. Another mile or two later, and I found myself on the last descent to the finish. I tried to reflect on the weekend and my experience, wanting to take it all in. When I crossed the finish line, Steve was there to give everyone who ran the stage their finisher award and shake their hand. I had an awesome experience at Syllamo, met some really cool people, and learned a lot about you can almost always do more than you think you can. I am truly blessed to have the opportunity to run and look forward to going back to this race next year if possible.