Just minutes before the start of the trail marathon and half marathon on Raccoon Mountain, a helicopter landed in the field at Laurel Point. I had no idea what was going on until someone told me it was there to take pictures of the 500 plus runners participating in the race. Although temperatures were a bit warm for most people’s liking, I love hot weather and was glad that the sun was out and heating things up. Shortly after 8 everyone lined up at the start, and Randy sounded the start. I knew that I would need to go out fairly hard on the 1.5ish miles of pavement before hitting the trail in order to avoid congestion when we got to singletrack. Although a lot of trailrunners don’t like running on the road, I was thankful to have this section to spread everyone out, and the crowd was really not a factor by the time runners reached the entrance to the trail.
I continued to run at a fairly hard pace in the first few miles because the segment from Laurel Point to the East Overlook is pretty flat, and I wanted to take advantage of this while my legs were fresh. I could barely see Lance up ahead and did my best to keep him in sight, fully expecting him to drop me before long. As runners approach the East Overlook and first aid station, there are a few decent hills that mysteriously increase in difficulty on the second loop, but aren’t so bad the first time around. I ran through the aid station without stopping because it was a little crowded and this was only mile 4, so I still had plenty of fluid in my hand held. The trail gradually ascends for about a mile before a long gradual downhill to the switchyard. I love this section and made an effort to run pretty hard on the descent. Unfortunately, what goes down must come back up, and once at the switchyard, runners reach the biggest climb on the course. Raccoon Mountain is advertised as a flat and forgiving course, which is true compared to other trails in the area. However, if you go into the race expecting there to be no hills, you are rudely mistaken. My plan was to take the climb moderately hard the first time around the loop and not push too much early on. It’s not very steep except for a few spots and is maybe .5 to .75 miles long. The good part is that once at the top, you get a nice downhill to the visitor center and aid station #2.
The volunteers at this aid station were awesome. Everyone was so encouraging and I swear they refilled my bottle so fast I barely had to slow down. From here, the trail goes down a few steep hills on what is by far the most technical section of the course. Something about these next few miles always gets to me. It’s like the Bermuda Triangle or something, and I always seem to have a low point here. I don’t know if it’s because of the 3 or 4 stinger hills that are fairly steep or totally mental but whatever it is, I always struggle on this part. Thankfully, I managed to come out of my funk before too long focused on reaching the point where marathoners and half marathoners split. Those doing the half take a right to the finish, and marathoners go left up a nasty hill to the third aid station. I could still see Lance every once in a while which was a mental boost, and I was happy to see my dad and Dawson at the aid station. I quickly refilled and crossed the road to re-enter the trail. This marks the start of the second and final loop. I was still feeling pretty good and hoped to be able maintain a decent pace on the second time around.
It was definitely starting to heat up by now, but the breeze helped a lot, and I never got too hot. I did make a concerted effort to drink as much as I could. Getting dehydrated really impairs your ability to run and leads to more soreness the day after a race, so I knew that it was important to constantly sip on the HEED from my handheld. I went through the East Overlook aid station for the second time where Sam and Leigh Linhoss were volunteering. It’s great to see familiar faces, and their encouragement was much appreciated. At this point, I broke the remaining sections up into 3 parts, the one big climb, the dreaded visitor center section, and the hill leading up to the last aid station. I did my best to only focus on the section just ahead rather than the total number of miles remaining. The climb up to the visitor center was definitely much slower this time than before, and I was glad to get to the top and start the downhill. I didn’t stop at the aid station this time as I was anxious to put these next few miles behind me. To be honest, I was just hoping not to totally bonk on this part, and thankfully, it didn’t seem as bad as it had on the first loop. Before too long, I reached the split and again took a left up the hill to the final aid station. I said hi to Dawson and crossed the road for the final 3ish miles of the race. Ironically, I was thinking to myself about how I hadn’t fallen yet when I tripped and did a full superman before nailing the ground. At that point, all I could do was laugh at myself and be thankful that I hadn’t hit any rocks on the way down. I glanced at my watch for the first time all day and made it my goal to get to the finish in less than 24 minutes if at all possible.
This last bit of trail is rolling with a few little hills. I was starting to smell the barn but also knew that I still had a fair amount of running to do before I was done. Once you reach Laurel Point, runners pop out of the woods on to pavement and make a lap around the parking lot before crossing the finish line. Randy Whorton was doing and awesome job announcing names of runners on the microphone as they were coming in, not to mention adding some additional funny dialogue J. As I crossed the finish, I was happy to see so many friends hanging out and cheering on all the runners. I am so blessed to be a part of such a great running community and have the opportunity to run with some awesome folks. Rock Creek and Wild Trails did a great job organizing this event and making it a great experience for everyone. After getting an ice cold wet cloth and something to drink, I hung out and watched as other runners finished. Huge congrats to all that ran and a big thanks to all the volunteers who worked just as hard!