Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mile Run (Tiadaghton) Trail Half Marathon

I've been looking forward to this one since last fall when I ran it in the snow. It is the first local trail race of the year and there was a good turnout of close to 300 runners, despite the dreary weather. The temperature was in the lower 40s and there was a fine drizzle and fog the whole time. I made a wardrobe change at the last minute to a thicker long sleeve shirt and gloves. The gloves came off a few miles in but the shirt was perfect.

This race has a 10am start which is a nice change from starting early. This course has lots of rocks and they were wet and treacherous. We started out with a 1/4 mile dash up a dirt road before hurtling into the woods on some rocky singletrack. One guy behind me apparently hurtled a little too much and went down with loud cursing and crashing. He probably slipped on a wet rock and for the next 13 miles I was very careful with where I stepped when there were rocks around.

I started out in about 10th place but felt good and started to work my way up during the first climb. About five miles in Pat Singletary caught up to me on an uphill stretch and I figured that would be the last I would see of him. He is a much better runner than I am and can really crank on the uphills. His only weakness is the technical stuff, which is how I was able to get ahead of him in the first place. The middle part of this course is not too technical but the beginning and end are tough.

I hit the last aid station at about mile 9 and still felt good. Unfortunately there is a steep, but not too long ascent, right after the aid station. As I got close to the top, I could see a lone figure in front of me. When I reached the top I started pushing to see if I could catch him. I gradually caught up to him and then on a long straight stretch I could see Pat and another runner up ahead. I passed the first guy and then we reached the long  3 mile descent to the finish. I knew it was technical but I just started flying. I flew past Pat and the other guy and danced through the rocks.

I finally got down to where the trail was supposed to cut back out to the road and to my horror saw that they had changed the finish. The course now went straight up the mountain over large boulders with no trail, just orange ribbons marking the way. I started climbing and this part was really treacherous. After climbing part way up the mountain, the course turned and took me horizontally along the mountain and then eventually dropped back down. Finally I was back on real trail.

After the obligatory dash underneath Route 80 in a tunnel where the stream ran, I hit the road and ran the last 1/4 mile uphill to the finish. I still felt strong, much more so than the last two times I have run this race. I finished in 4th place in 1:46.

It was a lot of fun again but I wouldn't mind running it in dry conditions some time. The course features a good mix of single-track and ATV trail with some steep ascents and descents to make it interesting. This is one race I plan on doing whenever I can.

The only downside this year was that I missed running the Garden Spot Marathon, which was also today. Some of my family ran it and my daughter ran the half marathon. I've got to say, though, that this was much more fun than pounding the pavement for 26 or 13 miles. Next up is Boston. I feel like I am in some of the best shape of my life, but of course there is no guarantee that will translate to a fast time on any given day. The weather that day and any number of other things can make a marathon turn ugly.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Seneca Creek 50K

Meira, Pat and I at the first stream
crossing, when I still had legs.

Pat Singletary, Meira Minard and I traveled down to Maryland to run the Seneca Creek Trail Marathon/50K, which took place this morning, and those two sure know how to crush the last 10 miles. The advertised distances in this race are just wrong: the marathon is about 30 miles and the 50K is almost 34 miles. The Race Director knows this, of course, but that is part of the charm. We set out to do the "50K" but you don't really have to decide until mile 16, when the "50K" people take an extra 3.5-4 mile loop around a lake. Of course while you are doing this, some of the marathoners are getting in front of you on the main trail and you have to get around them later on.

You've got to love a race where the Race Director starts the race by saying "Is everyone here? Okay get out of here!" The three of us started out together and they took the smart/conservative route for those who have never gone that distance and didn't push the early pace. I got around a few runners a mile in and thought I'd try to push it a little to see what would happen. I was hoping to run a similar early pace to what I had run last year, but not bonk in the end like I did last year. My legs, however, started to feel heavy early, around 6 miles in, and I soon discovered I probably wasn't going to be able to hold as good a pace as I had last year. A little more tapering probably would have taken care of that, but this wasn't necessarily one of my goal races (those would be Boston and Massanutten) this spring so I hadn't done a proper taper.

Meira coming out of the stream.
Meira, Pat and I actually ended up running a similar pace after the first few miles and around mile 17 or so I saw them in the distance through the woods and it seemed that they were starting to catch up to me. I tried to pick it up a little because I was afraid if they caught me I would not be able to hang on to their pace. By mile 23, however, I figured it was inevitable and I would rather run with them and waited for them to catch up and let them lead so I wouldn't be in their way. The next 10/11 miles were quite a ride. 

They were running a great pace for the end of a trail ultra and looked good while my legs were feeling a bit beat. I believe their strategy of holding off a bit at the beginning was paying off for them. I just tried to hang on to the back of the train and not let go. What happened next was kind of fun. I got to watch while they took turns in the lead and went on the hunt. We'd see some unsuspecting runner in the distance and I would say to myself, "Oh shoot, here we go again." The pace would quicken, I would struggle to keep up, and soon we would blow by that runner and head for the next. Finally one older gentleman refused to let us pass. He tried to stay in front and block our attempts to pass, but he had to eventually give up. Meira and Pat were on fire. They would drop me going up hills and then I would struggle to get back in contact going down the hills. I kept telling myself to just hold on for another 1/4 mile and then repeated that.

Another stream crossing.
Finally we made it to the finish line in 4:42 and ran across together (okay, Meira beat us by 1/2 a second), in 3rd, 4th and 5th place, beaten only by nipple-ring man and some other guy. As we were sitting around eating the race food afterward, it was admittedly fun to hear a number of guys say something to the effect of "I thought I was doing okay and then these three blew by me." This year the trail was about 2.5 miles longer than last year but Meira even beat the women's course record for that shorter course (and was close to beating the marathon course record when it was only 27.5 miles long).

And then there is Pat. Someone please explain to me how a guy who has never run farther than 16 miles at once in his life can more than double that distance in a race and crush the ending. It defies conventional wisdom. After today, I wonder why I'm doing longer training runs (oh yeah, I do kind of enjoy them). I understand that he normally runs a faster pace than me so the pace was easier for him, but still, it was twice as far!

It was truly a pleasure to run with these two, although I'm going to feel it for a few days. I wouldn't have finished nearly as well without them pulling me. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the shoe-sucking mud. It had stormed the week and night before and the trail was a mess. It kind of added to the fun.

Pat and Meira.
Mud on the back of Pat's legs.