March 2011
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Month March 2011

River Gorge – a race from two perspectives

river gorge finish

A lot of hands and a lot of time goes into making each race in the Rock/Creek Trail Series a success. First there’s the behind the scenes work – permitting, registration, sponsors, shirts, race bags, trail work, and more. Then comes race weekend, which begins early Friday with set-up, course marking, and registration. Saturday morning, volunteers are at the race site when runners are still rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. It is these volunteers that forego sleeping in to stand in the elements, get sticky from mixing buckets of Heed and Powerade, point delirious runners in the right direction, sweep the course following the last runner (including picking up all flagging and trash), then taking down everything that was set up in the last 2 days. Phew! Sometimes I wonder who has it harder – the Volunteers or the Racers?

On days like this past Saturday, the answer is clear: the Volunteers, hands down.

I awoke Saturday in the role of Racer, to bright flashes of lightning and roars of thunder, rain soaking the ground. I wanted to press snooze and cuddle up some more – there’ll always be another race, on a sunnier day. But the old adventure racer part of me sort of likes those inclement days, where perseverance plays just as much of a role as speed. (well, I could do without the lightning…) At the start line deep in Prentice Cooper WMA, racers were trying to find dry space under pop-up tents, while volunteers registered , double-checked timing systems, and made piping hot coffee (big thanks to Blue Smoke Coffee!!).

Just prior to the start of the 6.5 mile race, I peeled off rain gear and sucked it up for a quick warmup (I use that term loosely, as I was anything but warm). Then, we were off! Inside I was thinking, I can handle anything for an hour… just deal with it. I found a comfortable, fast(ish) pace and stuck with it through the first few miles of singletrack. While I saw the bright rain shell of our eventual winner (teammate Sarah) disappear into turns far ahead, the last thing I wanted to do was push it a bit too much, slip on a rock, and take myself out. So, steady as she goes was my mantra.

Snoopers Rock marked the halfway point of the race, (a fantastic aid station with smiling, soaked volunteers), and the start of a fire road section that seemingly turned into a slip-&-slide with the mud. Unfortunately for us, we were going uphill the whole time (7 of them actually), so there were no time gains to be had. Just when you’re mentally beaten up and ready to throw in the towel, back to trail we go – except this time, it’s perhaps the toughest section: a steep spur that lead us from the top of the road back to the main trail at the bottom by the creek. With all the storms and water runoff lately, this was not an easy task, as I was so ungently reminded when I lost my footing and slid down a muddy spot on my rear.

Once at the bottom, we retraced the trail back to the start, seemingly all uphill again. Even though I was running just over an hour (1:06 to be exact – good enough for 3rd overall female!), the finish line was a welcome sight. Time for dry clothes! And to transition to my next role… Volunteer.

Due to the nasty weather (made all the more chilling after last weekend’s sunfest), it wasn’t our typical post-race celebration. After quickly recapping their race experience with friends and comparing battle wounds, most people traded their soaked, muddy singlets for cozy dry fleeces and warm cars. As soon as our fantastic sweeps of the 10 mile course finished (it’s one thing to do this in sunshine, but on a day like this they deserved a medal!) and the last  racer departed in search of a hot shower, the rest of us started clean up: packing up shirts, emptying drink containers, consolidating food, popping down tents, and loading up the uhaul. I am thankful that so many people stuck around to help things move quickly – although I had dry clothes, I apparently didn’t bring enough and was shaking, fingers frozen.

A huge thank you goes out to all of the race volunteers! Without you, these events simply wouldn’t happen. If you haven’t had the opportunity to volunteer at a race yet (whether it’s a Rock/Creek Trail Series event or another one near you), please do. Even if you can’t bear to miss running in the event, there are always plenty of pre- & post-race duties where you could lend a hand.

More thanks to the race sponsors, including Greenlife & Blue Smoke Coffee for food & fuel, The North Face and Montrail for prizes, Lucas George Photography, and Wild Trails & Rock/Creek Outfitters for race organization.

Another big thanks to Rock/Creek Outfitters for their continued support throughout the year. Check out the next event (register before it sells out, like River/Gorge did!) on May 21 – the Scenic City Trail Marathon & Half Marathon.

women's podium

© Lucas George Photography

Jenny Smith (2nd), Sarah Woerner (1st), me! (3rd)

Race day gear:
Vasque Mindbenders, Smartwool socks, Patagonia Capilene short sleeve shirt, Patagonia Nine Trails Vest, Mountain Hardwear powerstretch gloves, Headsweats hat, Lululemon Run Inspire crop tights, Ultimate Directions handheld filled with nuun. And I can’t leave off The North Face rain gear that kept me dry at the end!


 

 

Mount Mitchell race report: a diff kind of success…

mount mitchell challenge

This Race and I have history.

I first attempted the Mount Mitchell Challenge (40 whopping miles, to the summit of Mt Mitchell and back) in 2007. A winter ankle injury messed up my training, so I switched to the marathon distance (aka the Black Mountain Marathon, which follows the same route to the Blue Ridge Parkway, where marathoners turn around and challengers proceed). The following year I again jumped at the Challenge. But oh… a groin pull but my training behind schedule, so I played it smart and again marathon’d it. Being frustrated with “settling for the marathon”, I went ahead and registered for the marathon in 2009. However my bad winter luck continued – can’t remember what, but I didn’t even run. (This happened to be the super-epic year at the race too. Weather so bad, people had to be rescued off the mtn.)

MMC 2010Then came 2010. Surely the weather would be better this year. Well, it kind of was… but the summit was like a frozen tundra – wind chills dipping well below zero, rime ice covering everything. I signed up for – and actually ran! – the full monty FINALLY. Well, sort of… the park service closed several trails, so we were on a modified course of only 36ish miles. I crossed the finish line in 1 piece, smiling, and as the 5th female.

So, this year. The race bumped things up a notch, with online registration only. A note was sent out morning of… I logged on right at 9am (waaay back in Sept 2010), registered, and got sucked into work meetings. Then at lunch I hear the race has already sold out. whoa. A few other friends got in; many did not. Knowing my history with this event.. was my success a blessing? or, a curse? Time would tell!

Training through the winter went well. Perfect. I was dialed in for this distance (big thanks to my coach Matt for always keeping me on track). I woke up to a weather forecast that was nothing short of perfect…  & a cough. The tickle that I had in my throat earlier in the week was not willed away, no matter how much I had tried. The chilly morning air did no favor to my lungs either. Still, I remained optimistic – bidding good luck to friends and team mates.

The race started at 7am. I had not yet made it to the stone arches of Montreat when I was already sidelined coughing. This was not good. These fits would happen periodically – good, because getting rid of stuff in my lungs made it easier to breathe; bad because coughing so hard twisted up my stomach so I wasn’t eating or drinking much. In the 3 other times I’ve done this race, I’ve never struggled so much to get to the parkway. I walked a ton. I had all kinds of scenarios going through my mind. Part of me still wanted to go to the top. I mean, come on! It was a blue skies day! My training had been spot on! I was ready! Other parts of me wondered if I could even make it to the turnaround (let alone under the designated cut-off time for challengers to proceed). Would one of the ATV med staff take me on a ride to the finish line instead of my own two feet?

Well, I made it there with 12 minutes to spare, although it was definitely my slowest split. Monica greeted me with a “Girl, I’ve been wondering where you were!”, to which I groaned “I don’t think I can do it.”  I was dizzy, nauseous, and had a bit of a headache – all signs of dehydration (not unexpected with my lack of nutrition/hydration to this point). Plus, the cough. I guess I was also looking bad, as several racers & aid station volunteers tended to me, making sure I got some liquids down. Eight minutes passed and I started getting ancy. (I also saw a few girls come and go; despite feeling bad, the competitiveness was still inside!) I made the hard, but smart decision to call it a marathon day, turning around and heading downhill 11 miles to the finish. I was determined to get there on my own.

About 30 minutes later I felt an energy burst. The miracles of nutrition :) I was happy to have some pep back in my body. I picked up the pace and actually had a great run back. I’ve never really liked the last part of the race  (after the Old Toll Road, there’s a nasty paved downhill at Appalachian Way, a bit more road until a trail alongside a creek, then a final paved road stretch that is seemingly never-ending before we hit Lake Tomahawk where we are forced 3/4 of the way around before reaching the finish line); today, however, it didn’t bother me. In fact, it was my fastest 2nd half ever. Go figure. (My final time was 4:55, not my fastest but not my slowest marathon time there. And remember, we have over 3000′ of elevation gain during this thing!)

The finish line was a welcome site. Jay welcomed me with a curious look, as he didn’t expect me for a few more hours. I hung out in the sun for the next 1.5 hrs while Elizabeth (2nd female!), Hunter & Daniel all conquered the Challenge – each looking deliriously surprised to see me hanging out.

The following day, still coughing, I stopped by the doctor on the way home. Diagnosis: sinus infection and acute bronchitis. Well, if I wasn’t sick before the race, I certainly was after.

So, another year passes with the full Challenge eluding me once again (although no one can discount my 2010 success to the summit, I really want to conquer the full 40.) Will I try again next year? I’m not sure. There’s a few other races in late Feb/early March that I’ve wanted to check out, so I might take a break to try something new. We shall see!

Big thanks to friend & teammate Jay Curwen for all the work organizing this event – it is truly top notch and should be on everyone’s bucket list of races. Also a shout out to Rock/Creek for their support throughout the year.

Race day gear:
Vasque Mindbenders, Smartwool socks, Patagonia Capilene short sleeve shirt, Icebreaker 200 long sleeve wool shirt, Patagonia beanie, Buff, Patagonia Nine Trails Jacket, Mountain Hardwear powerstretch gloves, Lululemon Run Inspire crop tights, Nathan running vest. Nutrition included nuun and an assortment of gluten-free fuel (mostly Larabars!)



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