|Lots of fast guys up front. Who would win? None of them.|
|The incredible legs of Joyce Hodges-Hite.|
Yes, that's her age.
The Continental Divide Trail 10K is held on a brutally technical course in Laurel Springs, NC. The name refers to the Eastern Continental Divide in case you're wondering. This tiny race attracts big talent because it serves as the USATF National 10K Trail Championship.
For those not familiar, USATF is a charity program where mediocre runners like myself donate $30 each to help disadvantaged runners who are burdened with unnatural speed. On the men's side, the needy runners at the race included trail prodigy David Roche, mountain goat Ryan Woods, La Sportiva Mountain Cup winner Jared Scott, and Olympic hopeful Bobby Mack.
But the most incredible athlete present was easily Joyce Hodges-Hite, returning for her third year in a row. She ran the same course that left elite athletes stumbling and gasping for air. She is 74 years old. The next time I complain about some knee pain, just say "Joyce Hodges-Hite" and I'll shut up.
New to the race this year was a truck doling out free post race smoothies. More on that later.
|Race co-director Jason Bryant gets|
upset with incompetent photographers
Race Day Jitters
The men's race came first, and as I lined up at the start, I was nervous.
Mostly about what I had to do after I was done running. Shannon had volunteered us to be the "official" race photographers, and I was on the hook for capturing the women's event.
I had practiced using Shannon's Canon 5D Mark II during the week, and had discovered that I had no idea what I was doing.
The camera is really complicated and gives you 1000 different options for producing dark and blurry pictures.
Race directors Jason and Alison Bryant had comped our race fee, so I did not want to disappoint.
First I had to get through the race without hurting myself too much, which would be a challenge. My runners knee rehab was still incomplete, and I had run a grand total of 60 miles in the previous 3 months. Most of it very slow and painful.
Fortunately for me, the race actually did not involve much running.
Here is the breakdown:
- Running : 20%
- Trudging/climbing up steep slopes: 40%
- Plummeting out of control: 40%
The race began at the top of a grassy hill. At the word "go", I was swept up with the pack as we flew across the field and descended down a gravel path. I had not run a 6 minute mile in many months and my legs were not ready for it.
My right hamstring was screaming at me, "What the hell are you doing?". After a quarter mile, in an effort to protect itself, it curled up like a retracting tape measure. I tried to adjust my stride, but then my arthritic knees began to buckle. Suddenly it became impossible to control my descent down the path.
The grade became more and more severe and I was literary falling down the hill, unable to stop myself. I was passing guys right and left, trying not to crash into them. Later, I would receive complements about my impressive downhill running ability, and I failed to confess that it was completely involuntary.
|My contribution to the team was my incredible skill of dropping like a rock.|
|Shannon captures my good running form|
Finally I hit the road at the bottom of the 300 foot drop and managed to remain on my feet. The course immediately does a U-turn and heads straight back up. This was a huge relief to my legs, as I shifted to a nice slow power hike. The guys in front of me were actually running up the slope, but strangely I was able to keep up with them.
By the top, I was warmed up and my legs felt better. Which was good, because next we hit the single track and some more semi-controlled falling down a 400 foot drop in a quarter mile.
On the next climb, I was hunched over with my hands on my knees for a good quarter mile. It seemed like it helped, and I thought about finishing the race like that.
Hitting the Wall
The race continued up and down a few more times, all the while I was expecting to completely tank. It didn't really know how far my legs would carry me, or how to pace myself, so I was just going all out. "You are going to regret this later", entered my head. But it felt so great to be racing again, I decided to just enjoy the moment.
I had been following teammate Craig Heinly for the last half of the race, just trying to keep up with him. As we made the final climb up "The Rock Wall", I think we were both delirious from exhaustion. Craig went right, and I stopped and stared at the orange flags on the left for few seconds, trying to comprehend what they meant.
"I think it's this way". I turned left and ended up ahead of him. Next I saw Shannon taking photos at the top of the rock wall and made a deliberate effort not make the maniacal primal scream face I did last year at the same spot.
I stumbled my way out of the trail and up to the finish. I stopped my watch, and the time was 51:43.
"What?" This was over a minute faster than last year, when I was running 200 miles a month instead of 20.
But, of course, you really don't need much training to drop down a hill out of control.
I saw someone with a smoothie and it looked wonderful. I was hot, hungry and thirsty.
"Where did you get that?"
"They are handing them out down there."
I started to head down to get one, when Shannon appeared. "Quick, take the camera! My race starts in 5 minutes". I helped her pin her bib on, and went over to capture women's start.
I was happy that my legs still functioned, as I was able to run to a few different spots to get shots. All the while still thinking of that smoothie. After 45 minutes I went headed back down to "The Rock Wall" to get the leaders coming up.
I had managed to run the race without tripping, but here, with the camera, is where I fell. It was a slow motion crash, with my knees, then elbows, then face hitting the dirt. But when I came to a stop, the ludicrously expensive camera remained perched in my hand an inch off the ground.
I sat on the rocks for an hour and tried to get a shot of each of the women. Out of 800 pictures I ended up with 8 good ones, including the one above. [ see here for links to all the photos ]. Finally I had to leave without getting the last 3 women, because I was starving and lure of the smoothie was too great.
I headed down to the Sheets truck, and as I walked up, the woman inside waved her hand at me. "Sorry! That was the last one!" And slammed the window shut in my face.
I was too stunned and exhausted to complain, and instead collapsed into a heap on the ground.
"Do you want mine?", asked my teammate Barbara, who had received the last one. She graciously gave it to me. And thus my day was finally complete, and it had exceeded all expectations.
|Godiva women's team took 2nd place Open and 1st place Master's.|
Shannon also had a very good day, taking an astounding 6:30 off her time from last year. Though she was a little disappointed that she had got passed at the very end, dropping her from 10th to 11th place.
As they handed out the medals for the women's race, they called up 10th place, then 9th, then 8th...
"Oh! If I just could have ran a little harder at the end, I could have been in the top 10!", she winced.
But then, in the middle of calling out the awards, Molly Nunn, the USATF representative, said "Wait, there seems to be some discrepancy." After a few minutes of consulting and reviewing the results, they made a change. It seems one of the top 10 was not registered USATF.
"In 10th place is Shannon Johnstone!"
That's right! Shannon placed in the top ten in a national trail race (*among those USATF registered). How cool is that?
Back at school she bragged to her students, who were not so easily impressed: