Monday, November 07, 2011


SO.  Once again, I was lured into signing up for the Shut-in Ridge Trail Run with the promise of a lovely weekend in Asheville in early November (which sounds absolutely outstanding when one is sweltering in Durham in August).  I wasn't sure at the time how ready I would be given that I had really just started running again after my body made it absolutely clear that I should NEVER sign up for a road marathon again (for the full story see and ).  That, however, would not deter me, as due to various injuries and/or hard races run just weeks before, I have turned this race into a nice hike on more than one occasion before (like 3 out of the 5 times I've signed up).  A lovely hike in Asheville in early November is also very nice (actually, probably nicer than the grueling grind up Mt. Pisgah that comes with "racing").  That being said, training this early fall had been going well, and I was feeling pretty good about my running, so I entered the weekend thinking a PR was plausible (note foreshadowing here - with a sense of foreboding).  I tried to temper my high hopes with the realism that I hadn't raced a step since the road/toe incident above, and I thus had no real idea where I was fitness-wise aside from making through 8x"hundreds of doom" on the track and some random back-to-back long runs that felt surprisingly good.  I was not terribly successful in this tempering.  I'll admit I had some pretty lofty visions going into the starting line.  I also had a touch of caffeine-induced mania/invincibility, as I also discovered in the past couple months how much awesomer one feels running after a nice coffee filled with sugar and french vanilla.
Don't I look invincible here?

In hindsight, this may not have been the ideal venue to test how well that coffee effect transfers to races.  Now lest you think this is going to unravel into a story about GI distress and "roughing it" in the truest sense of the phrase, let me assure you it is not.  Instead, it will be a story about discovering one's own mortality at inopportune times.  So let me set the stage for you:  for those unfamiliar with the race, Shut-in is a lovely 18-mile jaunt up Mt. Pisgah with something on the order of 6000 feet of elevation gain (and 3000 of elevation loss).  Also, the aid stations only have water.  Lots of people combat this by having crews to bring them goodies, take their clothes, talk nice to them, etc., but unfortunately, my most likely crew candidate tends to be about an hour ahead of me on the trail, so as a couple, we have learned to be self-sufficient on trail. This is usually not a problem, as I'm no stranger to the 20+ mile long run with nothing but Gu, water, and the occasional deer to cheer me on, but at the ~9.5 mile mark on Saturday, I sure could have used a coffee refill.  But I digress. 

Still feeling bionic
Let's talk about the first half of the race first, because let me tell you: it was AWESOME.  I felt light, lithe, and lively (I don't know if that's exactly true, but I liked the alliteration, so I'm keeping it).  Alliteration, aside, I did feel something bordering on invincibility, which was great fun and led me to stupidly scamper up the first couple of hills ahead of my much smarter buddy, Nancy.  The invincibility continued for the next several miles, and I actually continued to feel pretty darned awesome through the nice flat area leading up to the 9.5-mile aid station. During this stretch, I also found a very nice lady to run/talk with, and we chatted about common running acquaintances and what it was like for her to be raising two children while living on a small college campus (the short story - it's awesome).  Unfortunately, as we chatted and marveled about the weather and the views, I think we sped up a wee bit, and about a mile short of the aid station, I started to get that nagging "um...I'm getting a little tired..." feeling. If I was smart, I would have let the nice lady go and downshifted just a wee bit to keep the energy outflow in check.  Unfortunately, "smart" is not something I'm often called with respect to running, and I was socially invested with this woman, so I pushed on, reasoning that I would stop at the aid station, collect myself, and bid her adieu as I throttled back on the wee climb that is Ferrin Knob (about 800 vertical feet over ~1 mile). 

This is what I felt like... a sad, powered off robot
...made from cardboard boxes.
Unfortunately, it turns out that my new friend was also socially invested and wanted to climb with me, so I probably (or obviously, depending on your perspective) didn't throttle back as much as I should have... and by this point, all traces of coffee-induced superhumanity had worn off, so I was feeling like movie robots sound when someone unplugs them.  Thankfully, I think my new friend sensed the imminent unraveling (or perhaps she actually heard the wheels fall off as they bounced down the mountain?) and moved on ahead as I dragged myself up to the crest of the hill and more or less spilled down the other side.  During this time, the smarter friend Nancy from earlier in the story caught me and scooted on by, reminding me that she is really just an excellent runner and climber, and also much much smarter than me. Fortunately, she's also a lovely human being and did not actually call me a dumbass out loud as she passed by. The other positive thing I can say here is I did succeed in taking it easy through this section, and did find a second wind after the next aid station, meaning I was able to catch back up to and hang in there in Nancy's general proximity for the next 5 or so miles. The only other interesting note during the grind that was this section was that I tripped at one point and very nearly fell off the mountain (one leg went over the edge of a rather cliff-like dropoff, but thankfully, the rest of me fell toward the mountain and I lived to run another day). 

Unfortunately, one more challenge remained, and my earlier dip into energy reserves meant I didn't have much in the tank for the final 2 miles, which involve another 1000-foot gain over ~1.5 miles and then a lovely, quad-busting descent down leaf-covered rocks the size of medium-sized rottweilers.  From previous hiking years, I knew going in that you could pretty much walk the entire section in 42 minutes.  This was both comforting and soul-crushing as I pulled out of the last aid station, but I soldiered on with four-inch strides for the next 40-ish minutes (see??  I ran enough to finish TWO WHOLE MINUTES faster than I would have if I had just walked the whole thing!). 

Remember I *didn't* walk the whole thing...

All in all, I'm not terribly happy with my time, and I'm definitely not happy with my strategy/pacing, but it was a lovely weekend to be out and about in Asheville, and at least I have some idea where I am fitness-wise (oh THAT's what tempo runs are all about...).  Up next: Run at the Rock, where I seem to excel in years where there is ankle-deep mud (fingers crossed).  Until then, happy trails, all!

2011 Godiva Shut-in Runners