Monday, October 20, 2014

Medoc Marathon

Carol Rigsbee and Sherri Lynch enjoy a smooth section of trail in Medoc
[photo by Scott Lynch]

Another Trail Marathon?
I have always believed that the best trail marathon in NC is the Umstead Marathon. By any objective measurement,  Umstead is clearly the best marathon in NC, if not the entire world. The course, the tradition, the mascots, the shirts, the finishers pints, the volunteers, etc. It really is the perfect race.

However, for the past few years I have had people tell me there is another race that rivals Umstead in it's awesomeness: Medoc.

How could you possibly have a bad race
 when you are "Skippy the Trail Turtle"?

I was highly skeptical. Another trail marathon in NC? One as great as Umstead? Doubtful.
October is prime racing season, so there was always other things we were signed up for.
But finally this year, Shannon and I decided to finally take the hour drive out to Medoc State park and see for ourselves.

To call this "swag" would be an insult. This is premium merchandise.
That's a nice fitting hoody sweatshirt, a high quality "finisher's surprise" hat,
and medals that you could kill someone with.

Happy Hoody
Initial impressions of the race were good.
The drive was quicker than Google Maps had predicted and we got to Medoc Mountain State Park from Raleigh in about an hour.

It was a cool morning, and I was shivering a bit waiting at packet pickup. So it was a happy surprise to receive a warm, nicely fitting hoody instead of the usual  running shirt. I immediately put it to good use.

Next, Shannon, Brandy and I debated the placement of the "Medoc Man" trail tattoos, used the genuine bathroom facilities several times, and then hobnobbed among the many familiar faces waiting for the race to start.

"Medoc is a really great race!"
Brandy Burns, current president of the Godiva Track Club, which puts on the Umstead Marathon.
[photo by Scott Lynch]
Race Strategy
My racing strategy has always been to run like it is my last day on earth, and to get to the finish as fast as possible regardless of bodily harm. But at the ripe old age of 44, my days of setting PRs are behind me, so trying to run fast has lost its appeal.

So my goal for this race to was to finish it actually running, instead of  miserably limping across the line as I have in 3 of my past 4 marathons.

The plan was to run/walk the first 2 loops at a 10 min pace, and hopefully I would have enough left to run the last loop strong.

Before the start, everyone seemed afraid to stand at the start line next to Brandon Carter, who we all knew would be running a sub-3. But I have no shame, so I lined up right in front even though I did not belong there. Off we went with a short out-n-back on the road and within a mile we hit the trails.

"Sasquatch" is excited to hit the the trails.
[photo by M.S.J]

Single Track!
I absolutely love running on single track trails. However, I am not some hardcore trail runner who seeks out a challenge, like running 100 miles in Uwharrie (that's just fricking nuts). I prefer easy, runnable single track, and Medoc has plenty.

The Umstead Marathon regrettably features a meager 6 miles of single track. Medoc, in contrast, is mostly beautiful runnable single track. There is enough roots and rocks and twists and turns to keep it interesting, but not so much to make it miserable.

So with the awesomeness of the trails, I was having a little too much fun to stick to my 10 min/mile plan. "Well, maybe I can get away with a 9...".
Another thing prodding me along was the sound of my ultra-running-superstar wife Shannon chatting comfortably directly behind me. I am, of course, insanely jealous of her running exploits, and I just couldn't let her eclipse me yet again. Especially at the one and only modicum of skill I have, which is trail running.

So I risked yet another marathon bonk and pushed ahead.
The incredible Lorraine Young led the 10 miler most of the way at an incredible 6:46/mi pace.
But being the nice person that she is, she let the youngster (42% her age) behind her win.
[photo by Scott Lynch]

While the trails were mostly pretty runnable, I was getting inexplicably beat up.
Something reached out from the bushes took a swipe at me, leaving a big scratch on my thigh. Going through a rocky section, something grabbed my ankle and twisted it. Then at a muddy part along the creek I got pushed in the back and almost slid into the water. I never saw him, but it may have been the legendary "Medoc" man that lives in these woods.

Bob Sites, another victim of the legendary "Medoc Man"

Kicking it in
The course consists of three ~8.5 mile loops. At first, I thought  a looped course was a fault, but I found it to be very helpful. Each time around became a little easier knowing what was coming up, and which way to turn, etc.

I had managed to maintain an "easy" 9 min/mile average through the first 2 loops (according to my GPS watch). At the start of the third, I ditched my fuel belt and really put the hammer down!
This incredible burst of speed ended about 3 minutes later when I hit the "Medoc Mountain". It is really just a short hill, but it was enough to reduce me to a brisk walk.

The stairs... how they will haunt my dreams.

Old Friends
The accelerator was pushed to floor, but the wheels were not turning any faster. Instead the legs were creaking and groaning. Just about every injury in the last 4 years came back to visit me.
"Hey! I'm your calf you lost in Umstead, remember?"
"I'm back too!" shouted my left achilles strain from 2013"
"Don't forget about us old knees, buddy!"
"Hi, plantar fasciitis from this summer, letting you know I'm still here"
Then suddenly a knife was repeatedly jabbed into my hip
"DOES! THIS! FEEL! FAMILIAR!?". Oh, Uwharrie 2012, you'll be with me forever.

Around mile 24, I was about to give in to the pain and walk it in, when I saw 2 runners ahead of me.
One was Dave, who had beat me in the last two Umstead Marathons, and had passed me earlier in the race. A little competition is like a handful of ibuprofen.
I managed to inch closer and closer to them until I passed them around the campground, a half mile from the finish. I could hear them just behind me, so I ran like it was my last day on earth, flailing my way to the finish.

Brandy Burns scores a coveted age group award pint glass.
OK, so maybe Medoc is as great as the Umstead Marathon.
Like Umstead, Medoc is more than just a race. It is like a family reunion (assuming you like your family). It is major event that you mark on your calendar a year in advance, and you plan on being there regardless of what shape you are in. It is put on by a community of runners who just want to see other runners be happy, and succeed greatly.

If you missed Medoc Trail Races this year, you can a get a taste of it at the Medoc Spring Races next year.

I don't recall how Shannon did. Didn't hear about it. Nope. All I know is that she didn't pass me.