Yesterday morning, I headed north for the USA 10k Trail Championship in Laurel Springs, NC which also doubled as the USAT&F NC Champion. From hear-say and video off of YouTube, I knew this was not one of your run of the mill trail races. Based on what I gathered; it was tough. How tough? Well, that is what I was about to find out.
Since I heard a lot about the course, I wanted to view some of the trails beforehand. Often, it is better to know what is coming and then be surprised. During my warm up miles, I turned off on the first trail and before I went 200 meters, I was sliding on my "but" down the hill. From that point on the rest trails was nothing less than an adventure. Before my Garmin read 1 mile, I was been running on the trail for 17 minutes.
With about 30 minutes to go to the start, I circled back by the car and picked up my trail racing flats. Yes, I have a pair trail racing flat. Racing flats are like ties. A pair is needed for every occasion.
Then, it was up hill to the starting line. In fact, everything is up hill. Just making my way to registration table was a ¾ mile walk up hill.
Before the race, they called out the fast guys: Bobby Mack, Ryan Woods, some 13 minute 5k guy with white race shoes, and Chad Newton. My first thought was this a trail race or track meet.
We got a few last minute instructions on the marking of course and location of the course marshals.
Then, the gun sounded. Man, these guys took it out hard for a trail race. We ran across a ¼ mile of a grassy field before hitting an old rooty fire road and by the mile point were on a single tract trail. I noticed that everyone was walking and I passed a bunch of guys going uphill. We must have climbed for what seemed like forever. My quads were burning and breathing was labored. My arms were tingling.
Then, we turn down hill onto the 2nd trail. I realize here and now that I am not a trail runner. These guys were sprinting through the woods like they had just stolen something. I don't even remember how many guys passed me. Then, we hit the next hill and they started walking again. I passed a few more but not quite as many this time.
By time we hit the 3rd hill which I have no idea how long it was I finally joined everyone else. Surprisingly, walking up the hill in this case was just as fast as running. My breathing became less labored and my quad didn't burn quite as bad but my nose was running and my eyes watering. I could have even been slobbering for all that I know. But back to the walking, I call this type of walking "monkey walking" because the hill is so steep that my hands literally touched the ground in front of me.
Then, we hit another downhill and they were off sprinting away from me again. There was one little section of asphalt road just after the 4 mile point. This was the only point during the entire race where I felt pretty decent.
We turn onto the last trail section just before the 5 mile point. My Garmin said that I had been running for 44 minutes. This section had a number of switchbacks as the trail descended steeply. Making matters worse, the trail was no more than 6 to 8 inches wide.
Then, we turned uphill for a final time. This is where we hit maybe the toughest section of all. The trail simply disappeared and there was long section of flat rocks that we had to climb up. The only way to climb it was on all 4s. At one point, I glanced at my watch while climbing and my heart rate was 174 bpm. Just imagine barely moving on all 4s and having a heart rate that high – simply incredible.
After the rock crossing, we had pulled ourselves from tree to tree through the next section. We had to pass between this huge rock and large tree with maybe a 12 to 20 inch gap. I guess they expect most runners to be skinny and this was their way of testing them. Finally, approaching the top we could break into a walk and coming off the trail there was still a quarter mile up hill on grass to run before getting to the finish.
Through the course, I counted at least 3 and possibly 4 stream crossings. I don't remember how many trees that I jumped over, climbed over, climb under, or hug in order to circumvent. On some turns, I grabbed the trees so I didn't end up going off the side. Other places I was not even sure there was a trail because it looked like they had just cut the ferns down and raked the moss to the side.
Crossing the finish in oxygen debt and tired, a 10 year little girl politely asked me if I wanted a 32 oz. Polar Bottle. Sure I said with a smile.
A lot of credit needs to go to the race crew. Never once did I feel that I was off the course. Even thou, I heard some runners complain about it. Almost the entire course was marked with blaze orange ribbons which were no more than 25 meters apart. If some runners got lost, they were not paying attention.
Oh, yeah, my time was 57 minutes with a 13 to 14 minute last mile which placed me in the middle of the pack at 33 overall. 7 minutes slower than my goal but then that goal was set without a real understanding of this course.
Was I happy with it; most definitely. I am not a great trail racer and I never will be. I don't run enough trails and based on off of yesterday's experience, I definitely don't run enough technical trails.
From my perspective, I like running trail with the key word being running. Racing on trails takes on a whole new meaning to these guys and I give them their due. They are absolutely great at it.
For me, my future plans are to stick to the asphalt jungle and to never again say cross word about the trails at OBX again. They should be considered asphalt after what I experienced yesterday.
On a side note, normally my legs might start to feel sore 24 hours after a hard effort. By yesterday afternoon I was already feeling sore and today walking down steps really hurts.
Thoughts from the Cool Down Runner