Monday, April 11, 2011

2011 MST 12 Miler

And they're off!
Poor Ronnie got his head stuck in
a gate and missed the race.

Race:  Mountains-to-Sea Trail 12-Mile Challenge.

Shannon's pictures, of course:

Other Race Reports:

This race is on the trails that trace the many fingers of Falls Lake, which now make up part of the Mountains to Sea trail.

Personally, there is something special about these trails. So before the usual race report, allow me to take this sappy digression...

Trail Love
When I first found these trails ten years ago, I was in a bad place.
Both figuratively (miserable) and literally (Youngsville, NC).
Running provided a slight relief, but I was limited by a persistent case of "runner's knee". I drove out here seeking a softer surface, but I found much more.

9 foot tall Harold Hill is a tower of positive vibes
There was something about these winding and rolling trails that made me forget about time and distance. They pulled me forward, past my previous limits of 3 miles and 30 minutes.

I charged up the short hills and then flew down the other side barely in control, trying to maintain momentum around the switchbacks and up the next hill.

When I ran on the roads my thoughts would drift to my job, or my marriage, or how much my knees hurt.
But not here. This required a complete focus on every root and rock and where my next three steps would be. Otherwise I would be face first into a tree.

I would push as hard as I could, because the faster I went, the more focused I became. My heart raced and adrenaline pumped. My nagging past and future was overwhelmed by the present, and I was just alive in the moment.
It was here, for the first time in my life, that I found a place of peace and pure joy.
Rooty, but not too rocky
Ten Years Gone
So ten years and many miles later, life is a hell of a lot better.
Mostly because now I have Shannon as an antidote to my usual dour disposition.

However, this past month the running hasn't been going well. Hard races in Uwharrie and the Umstead Marathon pushed me past the breaking point, and I have been struggling to recover.

My knee issues have resurfaced with a vengeance, so bad that I dread bending down to pick something off the floor. There have been several times in the past few weeks that two miles into a run I have stopped and walked home.

I have been racing pretty much non-stop the past 3 years, and obviously it is time to take a few months off.

However, before this sudden onset of decrepitude, we had signed up for a full spring schedule of races, including this one. And while my body needed a rest, my mood desperately needed a good run.

Shuttles to the start ran like clockwork, and we had plenty of time to catch up with a whole mess of Godiva friends.

Normally I wouldn't warm up much for such a long race, but I was worried that sudden movement might cause my legs to snap in half. So I took a few jogs down to the lake and back, slowly working out the rust and stiffness.

Race director Kim rang the cowbell and the front of the pack sprinted around the road loop in a hurry to get onto the trail.  The pack thinned out very quickly, and I found myself behind a group of very thoughtful trail runners.
"Log!", I would hear from the front, and passed down the line "Log!",  "Log!",  "Log!".
"Stump!", "Stump!", "Stump!"
The course was very well marked, with every stump and tripping hazard marked with orange paint.
Thanks, volunteers!

New kid in town Kilgore Blowfish
(aka David Roche) sets another course record
After about a mile or two, I found myself breathing really hard tying to stay with the pack. So I backed off on the uphills and most of them vanished out of sight.
That left me following a guy in a blue shirt until about mile 4.

Despite the heavy storms the night before the trail was in great condition, with almost no mud. The many short bridges were slick however, and the blue shirt guy lost his footing and hit the dirt really hard.

He was OK, but shaken up a little, so I went on ahead.

Alone, Talking to Myself
This left me running alone. With no one else to focus on, my legs immediately commanded my attention.
"Ping! Crunch!", my left knee said.
"Ow! Fuck!", I replied.
My left hamstring and calf was tightening up and creaking like a rope about to snap. I tried to stretch my stride out a little.

I dropped down into a tiny, but deep gully.
"Pop! Clunk!", my right knee said.
"Shut up!"

Kim (above) and Jason at Bull City Running put on another fantastic race. 
Amy Scott, who came in
5th place in the Umstead Marathon,
 scores a full pint glass for
 second in her age group here. 
In the Moment
With the sharp pangs of pain, the prudent thing to do would be to back off and take it easy, lest I hurt myself further.
But in that moment, I didn't care about the next day or next month. Just like ten years ago, I needed a good run.

So instead I pushed harder. Driving up the short hills, and riding the roller coaster down and around the turns. There was no one else around and no mile markers; it almost didn't seem like a race anymore. By mile 6 the all pains melted away, and I let out a "whoooop!".

 It was just the roots, rocks, and me gasping for air. Pure joy...

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