Sunday, November 13, 2011

RACE REPORT: Camp Croft Half Marathon (Trail)

Training - See previous post for last week's training.
Sleep - Best ever.  6-8 hours per night.  After months and months of lots of work, I can now ease off the gas pedal a bit for a few months now.
Attitude - Maybe a little burnt out from 2 HMs in a single month (with 2 weeks of a business trip in between).  Hard to tell if it was being burnt out from running mentally or physically, or just being burnt out in general.  I was really looking forward to trying my first trail race, though.  It's a nice way to end this season (before my marathon build-up, which officially starts tomorrow, according to the schedule), because you don't expect to PR at a trail race.  It would be fun, I could try something new, and I could enjoy running out in nature like we were meant to enjoy it.  No pressure, since I already did my hard road races and this was the last long race for a while.  I've heard of many people "discovering" trail running after gong on the roads for a while.  I've always loved running on grass as much as possible on all of my training runs, to protect my knees, and running outside is always mentally refreshing, so I could see myself liking it a lot.
There are different skills you need to do well in a trail race, so I tried to glean as much as I could from last year's inaugural run's race report.  Lindsay from offered some good advice and encouragement (and also told me about the race to begin with).  I was also impressed by how quickly the race director Seth Novak responded with my quesitons about the course, within minutes of emailing him!  Checking the race's facebook page for updates periodically was also a nice way to stay pumped up.  I like how many races are doing that nowadays.  It keeps you motivated to hear everyone getting excited, and to hear about swag and predicted course conditions and stuff.

Race Morning:
I had a granola bar.  That's what I was in the mood for, and it was good and light.  I also had my usual cocoa+ decaf coffee.  My bathroom run went very well in the morning, so I was ready to race.  I did my warm-up shower, but without washing my hair, since it was cold, and I did't want to have to worry about drying it completely by race time and staying warm enough. 

I got there early, went through a nice packet pickup in a cabin close to the field where we parked.  We got mini clif bars and powerbar gels to fuel us, and the RoadID sponsored race bibs also looked cool.  For swag, we got a nice drawstring bag with the camp croft star logo on one side and the race course map on the other - it was nice.  There was also a short sleeve tech shirt.  I may cut the sleeves off, and it'll be a nice shirt to bike or lounge in.  It's orange, my favorite.  Oh yeah, since we were in a state park, there were real restrooms in another building close to the cabin - sweet.  I went 3x.

Even though it was in the upper thirties, it was comfortable enough in my car (without having to run it), where I studied the course map some more and got my number and shoes ready.  I had drawn a mini map on a post-it note the previous day to tape to my race number.  But the act of drawing it burned it into my memory well enough, so I didn't need to reference it.  I also wrote down the times and paces of the previous year's overall women and 20-29 women winners, to keep the goals in mind.  On the map, I marked landmarks, aid stations, and course descriptions (hills, difficulty level).

With 15 min left, I did a super-quick warmup... maybe 100m of runnng, then dynamic strething.  I went to the bathroom one more time, and then I did some quick range of motion moves and went to the start.  Oh yeah, with 1 hr to go, I had a mini-clif bar, and with 20 min to go, I had 2 choco covered expresso beans.

The race was capped at 150.  The numbers are typically like that for trail races, since singletracks can't handle that many people, and we we want to keep the trail itself healthy.  I noticed that everyone at the race looked really, really fit.  I guess it happens when you have a trail race described as a challenging course. 

(photo credit - Seth Novak's album)

(photo credit - Seth Novak's album)

The Race:
The race started off on a dirt road.  Next, it turned onto a double-track road.  It was still pretty packed, and I was just getting into it.  It was new to me to have to pay extra attention to footing and to try to find the most efficient way of cruising over uneven ground while being prepared to leap extra distance or shorten a step as needed to avoid obstacles.  It was a good mental/neuromuscular warm-up for what was to come.

The first few miles were supposed to be the toughest.  They were tough, alright.  On the map,it was windy, which suggested elevation changes that required switchbacks.  The far end of this section of the course was a radio tower, too, which suggests a net uphill.  The course soon changed into single-track.  I didn't know the convention for passing, so what I went with was waiting for a wider section and annoucing "passing", and that seemed to work well.  I passed maybe two clusters of people during this section, so it wasn't too bad. But after you pass, you feel obligated to make sure that you really are ready for a faster pace, since you don't want to be the one slowing down the line, so I put in some extra distance.  While I was doing so, one of the people I passed asked if I had gotten a late start and said I was like a squirrel because I was leaping over ditches and roots, haha.  I was just wanting to put in a decent lead and to burn off some pent-up energy.  That was the second pass, and after that, my placement was comfortable.  Over the rest of the course, there would be occassional passing and occassional getting passed, but the path would be generally wider later on. 

So... the difficult first few miles.  Up and down.  Looking back, the last section of the course was hard, too.  Maybe less up and down later on, but it definitely felt hard at the end as well, maybe because your legs were so tired by then.  So I'd say that yes, the first part of the course is hard... probably harder than the last section, but the last section is no joke, either.  You still had energy at the beginning.  The climbs were all tame enough for me to still run up them, although I was grunting with the effort even in the first few miles.  What I was most concerned about was not turning my ankle, and that was fine.  That course tested me mentally, though.  In a road race, you manage your pace.  If it's a flat course, you know what to expect and can manage your effort.  You know when it's going to get hard, which normally doesn't come until the end of the race.  With hills, even if they are steep, you just take small steps with the same, even effort.  ith the hills here, they come frequently, and you never know how long it'll last.  You also have to contantly pay attention to getting the safest and most efficient footing.  It takes as much mental effort as it does physical effort.  By the time we got to the first aid station at mile 4.75, I was zonked.  Not totally spent, but those first few miles were tough and had beaten me down. 

I stopped for 15s at the aid station to drink delicious Gatorade.  There were only 3 aid stations during the entire course, but I go without water for 7+ miles all the time, and it's even easier in the winter.  Of course, ideally, more would be better, but what they had was just fine.  I didn't want to carry any water because when you're climbing, it's importnt to be light. 

The next couple of miles were bliss.  It was beautiful, flat, super-wide road.  There were many leaves on the ground and trees on either side.  It was so flat.  And wide.  And pretty.  For the first time, you could see people ahead of you, since there weren't any turns in the road.  I really picked it up here and started cruising.  It was awesome.  Ironically, it's during the pancake section that I rolled my ankle twice - they were ok because I've rolled them so many times by now.  But it's ironic that it's the only time during the whole race that I rolled it, and that I managed all of the much more technicall, windy uphill and downhill sections safely.  God's grace - I was praying most of all that I'd stay safe during the race and not roll my ankle or fall.  Then, a really small climb, where there were people cheering... and probably someone taking a picture... at least I think it's here. 

(photo credit - Seth Novak's album)

Yup... it's me, in a shirt.  It was comfy at the start.  I figured that since it was going to be in the upper thirties to lower forties and most likely shady, that a shirt may be ok.  It did get hot in the second half, and I wished that I could've been cooler then, but it's alright.  This wasn't a PR attempt.

Right after was the radio tower at about mile 6.  Then, some downhill to the lake at mile 7.  It was pretty.  I liked that this course had lots of diverse features... radio tower, single track, double track, windy hills, pancake-flat straights, a fallen tree to climb over, and later, a stream crossing, which I'll get to later.  A fun course and a nice intro to trail running, really.

At about this time, the occassional uphills and downhills started again.  I started power-walking up the uphills.  I don't know whether these were truly steeper than the ones from the first few miles, or if I was just tired by now, but I had to walk up them.  I learned that it was easier to go up via small steps, not long, lunging steps.  I'll need to remember that next time.

We hit the second aid station at mile 8.1.  Then, a water crossing at around mile 9.5, which was different.  There was a rock you could use to get over without stepping in the water, which was nice. 

I passed my first girl in the entire race a little after that (so did the two boys behind me).  Then, there was a place where the course wasn't very clear.  There were many foot marks up this steep, muddy wall (I'd call it a slope, but it was so steep that it was more like a wall), but once I climbed up, there was no clear trail.  Another guy came, but he couldn't see the trail, either.  We went back down to look around some more.  A third guy came, and he thought it should be up the wall, too.  So we went up again, but we still didn't see a trail.  Then, the girl came and pointed out a course on the bottom that went left.  And that was it.  I was naturally a bit frustrated that I had wasted about 2 minutes being off-track, so I was ready to get rolling again.  Thank goodness that girl came by to get us back on track, otherwise, the three of us would've still been lost.  There was more climbing, and we were all still kind of neck and neck for a while.  Losing time being off-track sucks, but I guess it's part of trail running.  It's not just physically being able to run, but it's also being mentally able to focus for long periods of times and to have good visual perception to see trails and mental quickness to find the trails quickly.  Oh man, it's tough.  You make a turn, and the trail seems to disappear, and you have to quickly find it again as your feet are still moving under you. 

At the next aid station at 11.5, there was another aid station... the signal that it was time to start pushing.  I was still right on the tail of the girl in front of me, so neither of us stopped for water - just grab and go.  Chasing a position.  At some point, the girl might've gotten too tired of having to look for the trail (it's so much easier to follow) or maybe was just being nice and let me pass, so I went and tried to build and keep a lead.  Since we had already passed the aid station, it would only be another 1.5 mi at most.  Oh man, that was the longest 1.5 miles ever.  I kept wondering if the next turn would be the last.  But there was another, and another, and another.  And I kept hoping to see pink ribbons to know that I was still on the right course.  I was paranoid after the lost incident from before. 

At last, a guy was there to cheer us on (must be close!) but moreso to make sure we took the sharp left fork.  It was uphill.  I asked him how much farther, but he wouldn't say... just said that it was one last hill. So I kept going as best as I could.  I was so tired by now.  A guy passed me.  We got to the top of the hill, and it was flat after that, but it kept going.  How much farther!?!  Finally, we could see buildings and cars through the trees, and the finish line was close.  Final push, and at last, the race/ordeal was over.

Oh man, that was tough.  After crossing the line, I let myself crumble to the ground a bit just to catch my breath and rest.  I really wanted water.  I guess I finished more dehydrated than usual... fine, but thirsty.  Delicious oranges at the finish.  I was tired.  I put on more clothes and watched the other intense runners finish.  I kind of wanted someone to just hug me, since I was so drained.  Haha... I bet boys don't feel like that after races.  I don't know why.  Must've been tough.  Maybe it's some evolutionary thing... like after a girl gives birth, she wants to be hugged.  I don't know, since I haven't given birth before.  But I've heard that child-bearing is far harder than a marathon, according to even the elites.

Post-race:Afterwards, there were raffles and age group awards.  There was a really fun group of ladies that had travelled from Chapel Hill, and they were really enthusiastic anytime any one of them won something.  There was also some nice music.  I finished 5th overall and 1st in the 20-29 AG.  I might've been able to shave off 3 min if I knew the course better and didn't get lost.  Oh yeah, it was muddy in some parts with deep footprints, but I survived that okay. 

(photo credit - Seth Novak's album)

// 11.15.2011 update - FYI, the AG award was a visor with the Camp Croft logo.  That's nice b/c I was looking into getting another visor anyway, and now I have one.  The one I've had since HS, I still really love, but it's just been through a lot (including getting run over by my car).  The one I'm wearing is my racing one.  I could use another to wear to non-sweaty events. 

25/109 Overall
5/48 F
1/9 20-29F

1:55:54, 8:51 ave.
Splits> 38:16 @ 4.75 (8:03... oh man, maybe I went out too fast), 1:05:23 @ 8.1 (8:05 pace for this leg), 11:55:54 @ 13.1 (10:07 for this leg, where I got lost)... so maybe I didn't go out too fast.  Maybe I lost more time than I thought... 2 min/mi, with 5 mi... I didn't lose 10 min there.  So maybe I must've faded as well, especially as I had to powerwalk up the hills at the end.  But I'll know better next year, and maybe they'll do a little more with the course markings next year.

Even though it was hard, I had a lot of fun.  Last night, as I was falling asleep, my legs felt like I was still running uphill.  I really have an urge to run and climb on uneven terrain and leap over roots right now.  It was envigorating.  It was a great race.  Even though it's only the 2nd annual, the people who put it on were very organized and put on a fantastic event.  It's a fun and varied course.  If there's anyone out there who's run road HMs before, I'd encourage you to give trail running a try, too.  I look forward to doing this again next year!


lindsay said...

you did great!!! wow! sounds like trail running is easier for you than it is for me - lol. for some reason it is ridiculously hard to me!

great photos! i wonder if he has some up from last year... i'll have to stalk. i wish i could have come to volunteer / cheer for you / hang out but i was most certainly sleeping... until 1pm. i don't sleep well so on saturdays i let myself sleep in as long as i need to (except i think 1pm is a little excessive).

anyway. i take it there wasn't any memorable piles of horse poo this year. for some reason that was the main thing i remember. congrats on the AG win and an excellent time - i'm glad you had fun!

what is the white thing you're carrying back from the awards?

imtheguz said...

Great job, and great write-up. I've heard the course was closer to 13.5 miles...that makes a little difference in the last leg pacing.!