Run at the Rock: A Tale of Two Loops

I see myself as a trail running evangelist. I want everyone to love running single-track as much as I do. The 7-mile Run at the Rock race at Cedarock Park in Burlington, NC, is a great place to do a first-ever trail race, and I recommended it to friends like Jean, who won a slot in the Uwharrie 8 and thought she’d warm up on something a little easier. Additionally, my 12 year old son Stephen signed on for the adventure. Thus, three carloads of Peeps headed west in the rain for the 7 and 14 mile race.

It was muddy.

It was muddy.

Jon predicted that the rain would stop just before we got there, and it did, though he was not so prescient to realize that insisting on driving his new car and wearing his new shoes after said rain would result in trashing both.

The past two years, I came tantalizingly close to breaking 2 hours. But when I considered how many chances I’ll have to run races with Stephen (before he starts kicking my butt), I set the 2 hour goal aside for another time. I knew I’d finish last among the Peeps, so I decided to see if I could break an hour on the second loop. It was the perfect dual goal–enjoy lap 1 with Stephen and bust a move on lap 2.

The course was slightly different, and I liked it. It seemed easier, with a longer stretch up the road at the beginning and a longer run through fields, and it skips the ugly mountain bike sections toward the end (with short, steep hills that I don’t like–does anyone enjoy these? I know, I’m a trail running evangelist and I’m supposed to love all of it. I don’t.). Because part of the course goes in the opposite direction as prior years, it’s even easier to run past the waterfall without seeing it.

We assembled and took off. I had told Stephen that we needed to start out fast so that we weren’t stuck at the trailhead, but with the new course, this was not an issue. At one point I told him he was running great and he said “I’m not running 7 miles at this pace, MOMMM!!!” I felt a little bad when I saw we were 8:30 at the first mile mark, but kept it to myself and slowed down. After our initial sprint, we settled down into a great pace, averaging a 10:51 for 7 miles, the second-longest distance he’s ever run. He needs to work on trail-running etiquette a bit (Pass. With. Authority.), but he is on his way loving trails and I’m hopeful that he’ll run cross-country in high school.

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Fist bump as Stephen crosses the 7 mi finish line. Proud mom.

We had a great time–pulled up the last hill and crossed the finish line around 1:15 to cheers from our friends. Time to start lap 2–which has always been my favorite part of this race. Most choose the 7 miler so the back half of the 14 is pretty empty and the pace is dictated by how fast you can push yourself, not other racers. It was time to throw down and go. Why? Just for fun. To see what I had for 7 miles of single-track. Just because you don’t finish at the top doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun to race.

Running with scissors is awesome on muddy trails.

Running with scissors is awesome on muddy trails.

I didn’t look at my watch (can’t do math in my head), but focused on covering ground and staying upright–I did need to be careful, with Joanna’s and my stage ultra run the following weekend, so I was ever-so-slightly cautious. The trail was muddy and wet, which just added to the off-roading experience.

I pulled up the last hill and crossed the finish, panting hard. 59 minutes and change! BOOYAH! I felt like I’d won the race, even though my overall time was the slowest I’ve ever run for the 14 miler. People, if you are not fast, run trails. You will feel like you are flying. Half our Peeps were there waiting  for me to finish in rapidly dropping temperatures. Peeps rock!

Best of all was seeing Stephen’s face at the front of the chute and hearing him cheer me in. I can’t wait to be on the other side one day, watching him give it his all just for the joy of it.

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I wore a special shirt today for the first time–lap 2 was for you, Suz.

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