Sunday, March 28, 2010

trail race...

It's been awhile, let me get that out of the way first. Not much cycling done over this past winter with all the snow Virginia experienced. And this post isn't about cycling either, it's going to be a post on "other things..."

I laced up my Inov-8 trail shoes and clad myself in The North Face running garb for the Bel Monte Endurance Run at Sherando yesterday. The 25k trail race was my choice considering I've never raced anything over 10k in distance. The course began atop the upper dam in the Sherando Recreation Area, a few minutes after 6:30 am in frosty temperatures. Off the dam and the course followed the White Rock Trail up through the watershed. I started very conservative and just shuffled along with everyone else on the singletrack. At the water crossings, I jumped ahead of the groups and soon found myself alone. I reeled in a few people before the Slacks Trail intersection and followed their lead up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We crossed the Parkway and descended the White Rock Falls Trail.

The WRFT was beautiful, a smooth brown ribbon flowing down the mountain. We crossed the stream and began the climb out of the ravine. I had never been on this trail, but this wasn't the moment to sightsee. I followed the lead of my fellow runners and walked the steep sections, heeding the advice I had received earlier in the week from my friend Woody. I did start moving past my companions, and they gave me encouragement as I moved up the trail. The WRFT soon ended and I was back across the Parkway and on the Slacks Trail, a trail I know well. I moved past another runner and was soon at the Torrey Ridge intersection. A quick left turn and a smile for the photographer, I was climbing again. And the Rocks began on the climb up to Bald Mountain turnaround. I didn't see anyone as I scrambled over the rocks, moving steadily up the mountain.

As I moved up the mountain I took note of the dusting of snow blanketing the ground beneath the mountain laurel. Did I mention it was cold? Thankfully the gear I received from my buddy Jonathan worked great at regulating my temperature and comfort. A runner passed me coming back down the mountain, okay I'm on the right trail and Damn he's fast, were the two thoughts I had seeing him. He was moving down the trail like a freight train and was quickly gone. Time to count... 1.

I saw a few racers ahead of me on the final climb up to the summit of Bald Mountain. As I neared the top I looked back and saw some behind me. I turned right onto the forest road descent and let the legs go down towards the turnaround. Nearing the turnaround I saw another yellow bibbed runner coming up the hill. 2. I was then at Camp Marty, the first aid station. I drank two small cups of slushy gatorade and popped a couple of peanut M&Ms, and was moving back up the hill in third place.

As I neared the second summit of Bald, runner 2 was just in front of me. We were both passing runners moving down the hill to Camp Marty, and received wonderful words of encouragement. One woman told me, get him. "Damn right I'm going to get him", was my response. Motivation. This trail was pretty tight and it was two-way traffic. Everyone I passed seemed to have an encouraging word as I followed 2 down the hill. I saw a friend making her way up the mountain and gave her words of encouragement as she did I. Thanks. Back down the trail, across the rocks, runner 2 was moving well, opening a slight gap on me. When the trail flattened or turned up, I quickly made my way back on to his heels. The trail turned down and I saw another friend moving up the hill. Pointed to him and said some words of encouragement and I turned my attention back to runner 2. After the Slacks Trail intersection and on to Torrey Ridge Trail, the course flattened out atop the ridge.

I ran for a while with runner 2, we chatted and found out this was his first long trail race as well. He asked if I wanted around him to which I replied that I was good. I knew I needed to get past him well before the descent off the mountain as he was rolling down the hill faster than me. After a few minutes, I told him I wanted to get around him and I pushed it on a short incline. Soon I didn't hear anything behind. A lot of thoughts coursed through my mind. I had had a tough couple of weeks, training and otherwise, even battling insomnia in the week before the race. But here I was in second place on top of Torrey Ridge in my first long trail race, the euphoria was intense. But I still had a lot of miles ahead of me, time to focus.

I took a few quick glances to my right to see the Sherando lakes below me. Very quick glances as the trail is littered with a multitude of rocks of all sizes, and shapes, some fixed firmly in the ground and some just laying on top of others waiting to slide out from under a shoe. I found out after the race that the runner I passed on Torrey rolled his ankle shortly after I moved ahead. My mind began my technical trail chant, "light feet, light feet", over and over again and then it was time to descend.

The blue loop trail down the mountain was the other trail I never been on, but I had been warned of its severeness. Light Feet. Light Feet. I kept my mind engaged and focused on this descent and I soon found myself at the second aid station at the base of the mountain. This was the first of two sections of pavement and in short time I was at the lower dam and back on trail. This trail had one short switchback climb which was the last time I would walk (as quickly as my legs would allow). I moved around the lake and took a short glance at the water, thinking about summer and time I will spend swimming there.

Up the road to the finish line, I afforded myself a few glances over my shoulder, thankful for clear pavement and no need to stress my legs with a sprint. I soon saw the parking lot that was dark the last time I had been there. One last right turn and I found myself in the chute and finishing in 2nd place in my first endurance trail race. No emotion, that would come later.

Changed into dry clothes, drank a coke and warmed up in my car. I chatted with a friend who came out with her kids to support her husband. I hung out for a while and heard "awards ceremony." I walked gingerly to the pavillion and heard my name called. My time wasn't what I wanted, but thinking back at the effort I put into this race, I'm happy with it.

Jonathan with The North Face for making sure I was outfitted well with the best trail gear.
Niki and David for the wonderful words of encouragement before and during the race.
All the other racers who smiled and said something nice as I chased the podium.

The emotion came later in the day, I needed that race, that effort, that feeling of accomplishment.

I live for that feeling.

thanks for reading...