About a month ago, the cool folks at the Medoc Trail Races announced that they were making special prizes for the top three men’s and women’s, and the top master’s man and woman. The pottery plaques were so gorgeous that I actually checked past race results to see what kinds of times were placing. In a small trail race, I can sometimes squeak into an age-group or master’s win. I quickly determined that I had no real chance of getting a plaque and promptly forgot about it.
I was really, really looking forward to the race, though. Friends have raved about how well-organized, fun, and friendly the race is, plus all the great stuff that runners receive. In addition, it was my first trail race of the season, and a chance to take a break from marathon training. With 13 miles on my training plan, I figured I’d race the 10 miler, which I’d heard was not too technical, and do an easy 3-4 on Sunday for recovery.
Eight Peeps and Friends of Peeps departed early from the coffee shop. Janine drove her Suburban so we would blend in once we left city limits. Picked up our race packets, said hello to some friends doing the marathon, and cheered them as they took off. Then, we got ready. In the pre-race excitement, Becky changed from “cheering” to “walking” and Steve was debating whether to go short or long sleeves. I suggested that he might want long sleeves since he was planning to walk. “Wellll…I might run a bit…” he said. I shot him a look. “Don’t be an idiot!” And Becky hadn’t even brought running shorts. Clearly this group is all about pre-race planning.
Our race started with a 1.5 mi out-and-back on the park road before running through a field and into the woods. I felt a little uneasy when I realized I was toward the front, but my trusty Timex said I was running a reasonable pace; no sub-8s of foolish exuberance here. Jumped onto the trails and felt the joy of cutting loose and flying through the woods. As I’d heard, the trails were extremely runnable–mostly gentle grades, many flat sections, and only a few places with lots of rocks and roots. Mostly I like being pokey on the trails, running a longer distance while looking at flowers and trees (I can’t help it) and spending time with friends. But it’s also fun to race. So I did.
I realized, though, when I hit mile 3, that gasping for breath while running is a poor strategy when you have 7 miles to go, so I slowed a bit and chatted with my fellow trail runners, who are always fun. Beautiful trails meandered along the creeks and went past pretty large trees for the logged-over Piedmont. I wondered about leaves obscuring the trails but the paths were mostly clear. Sometimes, they were narrow single-track but more often they were wide enough for chatting and easy passing. Perfect trails and perfectly cool, overcast running weather.
It’s easy to get complacent while trail racing. Often, I’ll fall in behind someone and ride there comfortably, catching my breath, chatting a bit, and realizing somewhat later that I’ve significantly dropped my pace. This happened a few times, most notably in miles 3 and 4 where I posted >9 minute pace. Time to bust a move.
It was around mile 7 where a woman I’d traded places with twice turned off on a spur with another guy, screeched to a halt next to the river, and turned around just as I came by. She jumped back on the trail behind me but slipped and fell. I slowed and turned around. The other guy was with her and she said she was fine, so I motored on, sure she’d come flying past any minute. I felt bad because I know first-hand how much momentum a fall can take out of your race. Miraculously, I didn’t fall at this race–having fallen at Uwharrie, MST 50K, Running of the Bulls and the Blue Ridge Relay, ALL IN 2013, I was glad to end that particular streak.
We started catching the marathoners still out on their first loop and in for a beautiful morning on the trails. As I passed one man, he said “third female.” I looked around to see who he was talking to, then said something suave like “Who, me?! HOLY SH*T!”
At mile 8 my legs suddenly got that cement-like feeling, and I realized that I probably should have eaten something before the start. I had a good breakfast of steel-cut oatmeal, milk and coffee, but that was at 5:15 am and I was now running out of fuel. As we neared the finish, I hoped there was not much of a field/road final sprint, because I didn’t think I could win one if someone came up behind me. I couldn’t really believe that I was as close to the top as the man had suggested, but thought I might have a shot at Master’s and didn’t want to chance it.
As I ran across the field, my vision started closing in on the sides, a direct precursor to passing out. Fortunately, I made it across the line and spent a few minutes trying to shake off some dizziness. I sat down for a bit and talked with John from Greenville, who I’d run with for awhile. Then somebody (? I was still woozy) came over and told me that I really had won third female! I couldn’t believe it! Woo HOO!
Shortly thereafter I went over to the finish and was having a friendly conversation with Scott of Tar River Timing, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a long-sleeved gold shirt approaching. “Excuse me, I know this guy,” I said. “RUN, YOU LOSER!!!” People stared. Scott said, “Did you just call him a loser?” “Of course I called him a loser!”
“Well done. How did you do?” “1:26.” “Booo, you went too easy. You could have gone faster.” “Says who? You should have gone slower. You weren’t even supposed to be running! How’s your eyeball?” “The bubble broke into a million small ones.” “Cool, so now you see like a bug.” We grabbed cameras and sweatshirts out of the car and found a good vantage point to watch for our friends.
Everyone finished strong and smiling. I heard my name called and went to get my award. I had won one of the beautiful pottery finisher’s plaques, a sweet pint glass, and a $40 gift certificate to Raleigh Running Outfitters. Wow! I was so surprised and thrilled. I still am.
We took some pics, chatted with other racers, chowed down on some delicious red beans and rice, and cheered in the first and second marathon finishers, who posted amazing times. [Lorraine Young was 1st female and 2nd overall, with a faster pace for the marathon than all but the top-five finishers in the 10 mile run! Holy smokes!]
I learn things at every race, and this one was no exception:
1. Pay attention and make sure you’re running your pace, not someone else’s.
2. Oatmeal lasts for 4 hours or 8 miles, whichever comes first. Eat something before the start.
Another new favorite race! Huge thanks to the race organizers (Rocky Mountain Endurance Club), park staff, and the great volunteers. It was an exceptional race and I hope to be back–maybe for the marathon next time.
Thanks for reading. And, special thanks to my speedier female running buddies. For staying home!