So this is late...surprise!
A couple of weeks ago, I ran the Salem Lake 30k for the third time. I want to say upfront that there are some legitimate issues with this race (they unfailingly run out of food and gatorade and sometimes water at the finish line, and they make the winners wait over 2 hrs for the awards ceremony while they wait for the last person to finish), but it is generally a very well-coordinated race with great volunteers. It's a mostly flat, 2/3 unpaved course with aid stations - seemingly perfect for a good long run before a fall marathon. This is where I begin to vent (with apologies to the race director). I detest this race. I detest it way more than is warranted by the relatively minor issues noted above. Why do I detest this race, you might ask? Let me count the ways:
The first year I ran, it was fine. No major complaints except for the part where you start being able to see the finish line about 5 miles before you get to the finish line. Oh look! I can see it! I must be getting close! No wait - I have to run around this crazy finger-shaped piece of lake... Okay. I see it again! Oh wait - another little finger-shaped piece of lake. There are approximately 1500 little finger-shaped pieces of lake that turn what appears to be a short run along the banks of the lake to the finish into a colossal mind f*&k. Did I mention that the course takes you all the way around this crazy paramecium-shaped lake, to within approximately 400 yards of the finish line, where you then do a random out and back on a paved bike path, get within approximately 400 yards of the finish line AGAIN, only to run BACK around the god-forsaken lake? That was fine, though - it was still a nice, flat course in preparation for my second ever marathon. Good times.
The next time I ran, a year or two later, I was in MUCH better shape - I was training for Chicago with the aim of qualifying for Boston. I had scouted the finishing results for the past several years and, with the pace I had been training at, I was pretty sure an age group award would be mine. SO I ran and had a great race. Surpassed all my expectations pace-wise. "Awesome," I thought "I'm in great shape AND I bet I age grouped." SO I hung out for the approximately 2 hrs till the awards ceremony (growing increasingly hungry and thirsty because of the perennial lack of food and drink) only to discover that a local college XC team or alumni team or something had been out and had won all the awards for my age group. In fact, despite the fact that I had taken approximately 20 min off my time, I actually finished one place WORSE in my age group than the previous year! Not the race directors' fault, per se, but it would have been nice to post results so I didn't have to wait around 2 hrs to find this out. ...and did I mention I completely fell apart at Chicago? I can't say for sure whether this was a result of running too fast at Salem Lake, but I can't help but think it may have played a role... Oh - and the course still made me want to stab myself in the eyeball over and over again.
So here we are, something like 5 years later and I'm training for the Des Moines marathon with some vague hope of perhaps semi-accidentally earning a spot in Boston (despite running exactly ZERO road marathons in the past 4 years and being completely and utterly inept at pacing - more to come on both of these things later). I had been dutifully training on the track and doing all my long runs on the single track at Umstead, when a well-meaning owner of a local running store suggested that this may not be the ideal training program for a flat-ish road marathon. What? I showed him my grumpy face at the idea of doing some flat training miles on the ATT instead of my friendly group run at Umstead. He seemed unconvinced of the brilliance of my plan. I continued to to project grumpiness in response to his seemingly logical arguments. I left the store seemingly resolute with the brilliance of my training program, but he had planted a seed. Ronnie later nourished the seed when he noted that Salem Lake was a flat course and was exactly 3 weeks out from the marathon - great for pacing! Stupid seed. Stupid Ronnie. SO we registered. The night before the race, we stayed up late, me working, him installing a ceiling fan. In fact, we were so busy with our respective tasks that we didn't eat dinner till 10PM. What great pre-race dinner did we select? Spaghetti with meatballs? Macaroni and cheese? Pizza? Hamburgers? No? A bowl of Lucky Charms. One bowl of cereal. Hm. We then got ourselves put together and headed off to bed... around midnight. The cats got up at 3. I moved to the other bedroom. The alarm went off at 4:30. Oh dear.
SO we arrived at the race, got our numbers, greeted the people we knew, and I yawned my way to the starting line, feeling like I had been not only awake for 86 consecutive hours, but also like I had been hit by a school bus. Neat.
After a few minutes of the race director thanking people and whatnot, we set off and I have to admit the first mile went great. Despite some jostling for position and some slower folks up front as we made our way onto the trail, I was on pace. Ditto for the second mile. Same for the third, though I was still yawning uncontrollably and not really enjoying myself. I tried to play that off as my having a bad attitude, though. By the fourth mile, I knew that whatever the reason, I was not going to be able to run all 18.6 at pace and began to bargain with myself about how far I had to make it before I could just turn this mess into a long run. I also began to be very irritated at getting talked into doing this stupid race. Regardless, 10 miles was the goal. So I did it. At pace. But it hurt. A lot. ...and I apparently got a bit dehydrated in the process. ...and it was unseasonably hot and humid that day (which was normal for this year, but my physiology still staged a protest). So then I walked a mile and drained my water bottle. After that, I felt much better and began jogging back toward the start/finish, thinking about various things like "is this a bad sign for Des Moines? Why did I bonk? Is this the result of bad pre-race preparation or is it indicative of a distinct lack of training/ability? Can I rebound in three weeks? How might I do that? How far should I run next weekend? Did I forget to grade something at work? What should I add to next Wednesday's lecture? What's for dinner? Why am I now lying on the ground? Why does my elbow really hurt?" Yes, somewhere around mile 12, my thoughts were interrupted by a visit between my toe and a root, followed almost immediately by a visit between some rocks and various other parts of my body. This was one of those falls that you thought you could save, which probably only made the situation worse. In the end, I think it looked like I was sliding into third, but the basepath was paved with pointy rocks. A brief survey of my situation revealed a nice gash on my elbow that was bleeding not profusely, but had unleashed a pretty healthy trickle of blood down my arm, a pretty solid raspberry on my calf, a good bruise on my hip and a hole in the heel of my left hand (not as bad as the elbow, though). "Well hell," I thought, "nobody's going to come get me, so I guess I have to truck myself the remaining 6.5 miles back." This triggered a minor and short-lived internal temper tantrum and a sense of righteous indignation (I KNEW we shouldn't have done this stupid race! This PROVES it!). As I jogged back, I came across the official race emergency gator broken down across the path and thought "At least I'm not the only one having a bad day...." From there, the story ends about like you'd figure - I shuffled in at 50k pace and got some help rinsing my elbow, which, as it turns out, had suffered what appeared to be severe tire damage in the fall (two rather deep parallel gashes). I knew I was going to catch some serious ridicule from my usual Monday buddies, so I hammed it up a bit for the camera before running into my friend Tom, who had managed to not only also fall, but to hit his chin in the process. In fact, there was a rather sizeable amount of trail carnage walking around when I looked at it. Despite this, I knew I would be catching some serious ridicule from my usual Monday running buddies for falling at what can barely be called a trail race (though, as I reminded them, I have also tripped over a speed bump, so the rigor of the trail is no predictor of my potential for injury. I figure it's really only a matter of time before I trip over the bump in lane 1 of the UNC track). So, in the end, I did NOT age group (though this go-round, preliminary results were actually posted before the ceremony), but I did finish within a minute of my first Salem Lake time, so that was amusing.
When I got home, I dug the remaining rocks out of my elbow (amused because all I could think was 'my descending pain modulation system is active right now'), updated my facebook status, and vowed never to do this stupid race again....again.
As an afterword, I would like to note that not everyone hates this race - plenty of people really like it. Shannon and Anthony had great runs out there and seemed to enjoy themselves, and there are plenty of people who do the race every year. My hatred of this race is totally undeserved and I will freely admit it. But that doesn't mean I have to run it again.