Sunday, December 27, 2015

Drop Zone Trail Marathon Recap

When I want to step outside the box for a race, there is no better place to do it than with one of the Magnum Track Club races. Their races test a runner like none other.

Courtesy of Stan

Case in point is their Drop Zone Trail Marathon near Hoffman, NC. This is a no frills race. The course covers a 2.8 mile loop with a portion run over what most would consider trail. Roots didn’t seem to be an issue for me, but the number of pine needles and oh, yeah, pine cones make running oh so much more difficult. My ankle flexion was tested well and often. That’s the first 3rd of the race course. The other 2/3rd of the course is run on a loose sandy rolling hills fire road. Like I said, it pushes you outside your normal box.

Possibly the clincher is the start time. This races starts at 4PM on a Saturday afternoon. The real question is how many laps you can get in before it gets too dark. Once it is dark, it is really dark. No street lights or lamps exist on the course.

If your night vision isn't that great, then you had better have a good bright headlamp. Luckily for me, I was using my Blackdiamond Head Lamp which produces about 200 lm.
Courtesy of Stan

Getting there can be a bit of a chore, but I had the good fortune to catch a ride with Stan. I was super appreciatived because this race couldn’t have been more isolated. The location is only known to God, the locals, and Stan. My only recollection from the trip over was the side view of Rockingham Speedway, NC.

Doug organizes this race, and he made this thoughts clear right from the start. He is a no nonsense straight at you race director. I took an immediate liken to him.

Heck, even getting to the start, I had to jump over a ditch. In fact, I jumped over this same ditch on each of my 10 loops around the course.

In previous years, runners had done a short out and back to make the distance a marathon. Doug wasn’t having any of it this year. He told us that we were going to do 10 laps. Meaning more running for us and less hassle for him. The distance would be some where around 27 miles.
Courtesy of Stan

After just a few instructions, we were off and running. Stan and I ran most of the 1st lap together. Then, he dropped off saying the pace was too fast.

The first 5 laps were not bad at all. By 3rd lap I was catching other runners and was settling into the flow of the course. I was also pushing hard to run as far as I could through the race before the sun went down. I knew once the sun headed over the horizon that it would get colder but it would also get very hard to see.

I had set out my lawn chair to hold my water, Gatorade chews, and any extra clothes that I might need. Then, if I needed something, I could simply grab it as I passed by each lap.

I picked up my head lamp at the start of the 5th lap. And, after fumbling with it to get the lights working, I used it starting with the 6th lap through the rest of the race.

The 6th lap taught me a bunch about running at night. Mainly, it taught me that I needed to slow down. Better to pick my way through it slowly than risk a face plant.

Lap 7 was tough. On 8, I pulled up behind Stan. He was having a solid race but not quite as good as last year, but he still looked strong to me.

Once lap 8 was in the books, I focused on getting through laps 9 and 10. Unlike road races where zoning out is a possibility nothing like this could be done here. Every second, I had to pay close attention. So when I finished up the trail section on the 10th lap, I couldn’t have been happier. I felt like I was home free to the end. Just a few sandy hills layed between me and the finishline.

Under the brilliant stars of a NC night, I called out my bib number one last time - #26. I finished 1st overall in 3:34:33 which considering the course and my Garmin saying that I had run 27.68 miles, I was pretty happy.
Courtesy of Stan

Stan finished second about 30 minutes or so later.

Some of my best memories included talking running with Stan on the trip, smelling the warm smoke as we made away toward the end of each lap, seeing the stars clearer than ever before, meeting some new people, setting by a warm camp fire after the race, and getting to do a very different race.

Big congrats to Doug and his entire crew for making this an awesome experience, I loved it.
An especially big THANK YOU to Stan for letting me tag along with him to and from the race.

The Cool Down Runner









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