Sunday, January 13, 2013

Neusiok Trail Race

Only one week late! *High Five*

So sometime last fall Ronnie started talking about something called the Neusiok Trail Race. I mostly ignored it because really? Like I really wanted to spend ANOTHER weekend traveling over the holidays? But he persisted and eventually I figured that if it was so important to him, I would survive another weekend of travel. Also, I needed a long run that weekend anyway, so why not do one with aid stations?

SO with the stars thus aligned, I signed up for the 21.5-mile and Ronnie, in a fit of I-don't-know-what decided that the 43-miler would be fun. Let's recap that conversation:

Me: You know you're doing a 40 a month later, right?
Him: Yup! This will be a good warmup!
Me: Um. Exactly what training plan suggests that?
Him: The one in my head.
Me: Okey doke - suit yourself, crazy! (I know which battles to pick)

And so it went.

A quick look at the entry list suggested that Ronnie would be spending a lot of time alone out there (only 11 people in his race) and the trail would be super crowded for mine (~70 in mine). No big deal, though - it was a training run. In fact, I planned to run an extra 6+ at the end to a) pass the time while I waited for Ronnie, and b) get me a little closer to the 30 I was supposed to run that day. Take that race!

So the race began. Whoever said the ocean moderates temperature (so it isn't as cold on the coast) forgot about lovely ocean breezes. When it's below freezing, that lovely breeze is called a wind chill and it is brutal. The universal sentiment at the start was that racing was kind of out the window for a bit and we would all be running to warm up for the foreseeable future. This was facilitated by the handful of beach running segments in the first couple of miles. Kind of unexpected, but I don't know why. I was glad I had decided to wear my awesome gaiters here as the sand content of my shoes remained at 0 the whole time. Woohoo!

Also during this time, we heard periodic activity from the firing range at Cherry Point. The guys in front of me said something about it maybe being duck hunters, and I tried to be funny, saying "I think the ducks are returning fire." I thought it was funny, but nobody laughed. I'm hoping maybe some of you will find it amusing...

Around that time, the girl behind me decided she didn't want to be behind me anymore and dodged around. She pulled a bit ahead and kept looking back, which I thought was a little odd 4 miles into a 21.5 mile race, but didn't worry too much about it. Also around that time, we started catching and passing the 43-milers, which was kind of fun. I tried to be encouraging without seeming like a jerk as I trotted by in my little weenie short race. Somewhere in here, we were supposed to see unmanned aid station #1, but I never saw it. It wasn't a big deal, though, as I had plenty of water in my handheld and it's not like the temperature was rising particularly rapidly. The final exciting event of the first 6 miles was the first of many MANY skinny boardwalk-style bridges. Which were covered in moss. And frost. Having spent some quality time sliding on bridges at Uwharrie, I took these pretty carefully and while I slid a bit, nothing too exciting happened. Let's call this foreshadowing.

No.  Not First Aid Station.
First. Aid Station.  Silly!

The theme of section two was bridges. MORE BRIDGES. Someone at the start said that one of these was 1/2 mile long. I'm not sure if that was true, but it was pretty fricking long. There were also a few of these that had been moved around by hurricanes and were thus a little less than level when they were put back where they had started. I hit one of these a little faster than I should have and SURPRISE! I slid off. And tweaked an adductor muscle in the process. Luckily, I apparently don't use those much on long runs, so it wasn't a big deal (until the following week). That was the first of four bridges I slid off. One of them I didn't have a prayer. I was actually walking at the time, but the combination of whatever my soles are made of and the angle of the tilt was just too much to be hindered by friction. Luckily, I was pretty good at falling off bridges by that point, so I took it in stride (almost literally).

It was kind of like this.  But the puddles were bigger.
And I was wearing running clothes
As I came out of the second aid station, I saw a flash of pink about 200 yards up ahead and had to contend with a bit of a mental battle: did I rally the troops (by "troops" I mean Sam the fast twitch muscle and any of my slower muscles that he could coerce into working too hard) and reel her in, hoping I could hang on, but likely eliminating the chances I would be able to add on at the end, or did I stick to the plan? Stick to the plan was the answer. Always stick to the plan. (I'm actually really bad at sticking to the plan most of the time). I tried to stick to the plan, but I think I sped up a little because by the time we got to the woods again ~2 miles later, I had cut the lead to maybe 125 yards. Even worse for the plan, this section involved about 3 miles of trail-consuming, 20- to 40-yard long puddles ranging in depth from ankle deep to well over my knees. They were awesome! I had so much fun plowing in and discovering that some spots were deeper than others and generally splashing around. About halfway through this, I caught up to the pink lady, who looked like a deer in headlights and took off when I came around the corner. Unfortunately for her, she did not share my love of puddles, and at the next puddle I passed her as she picked her way through the bushes on the side of the trail. I yelled something encouraging, but again, not wanting to seem like a patronizing asshole, I kind of just got out of the way as quickly as possible.

At this point, I knew I was in first, and I also knew the nice lady I just passed wasn't very happy about it, so I had to throw the plan out the window and push the pace if I wanted to hold my position (I'm all for being nice, but come on - who doesn't want to win?). I made a deal with my plan that if I did manage to win, I would be okay with dropping the add-on miles and pushed on ahead, metering my energy such that I was pushing hard, but not so hard that I couldn't make it the final 3.5 miles. Which was unfortunate because as we got closer to the finish, the scenery was absolutely beautiful. I considered still adding on as I went through just so I could actually enjoy the view, but pressed on to the finish.

When I did finish, I discovered that not only did I win, but I was 5th overall, only 4 min behind 2nd overall! Wow! That was unexpected! After I picked up my finishers award (a neato handmade wooden bluebird house) and consumed a cup of my favorite long race food (ramen), I started getting cold and got up with the aim of heading back out for a couple miles. Unfortunately, while I was sitting my knee/IT band tightened up and I decided to bail on the scenic out-and-back. Instead, I opted to put on approximately 14 layers of clothing and huddled around the fire with a nice group of gentlemen from Fort Bragg while we cheered for finishers and waited for the (warm) van ride back to the start.

Pretend this is a finisher's picture.  Also, I think our
houses were slightly wider, but you get the idea

When we had enough people to mostly fill the van huddled around the fire, Race Director Brandon held an informal award ceremony where the winners received what he described as "a very large wood duck house" and second place finishers received screech owl houses, also hand made by members of the Carteret County Wildlife club. I was a little unsure about fitting my new giant award in my Elantra, but my new friends from Bragg at least helped me get it into the van back to the start. In the end, it did fit in my trunk, and, as Ronnie also won the 43, HIS giant wood duck house fit in the back seat. As an added bonus, because this was the first year the race ran these distances, Ronnie and I also hold the course records! I fully expect that to end next year, but it'll be awesome for the next 51 weeks :)

Watch out - some of these guys are a little tilty
and covered in frost

Overall, I really enjoyed this race. Brandon and his army of volunteers were all great, the trail really is quite lovely, and my fellow runners were all very friendly and encouraging (except the guys who didn't think my duck joke was funny - they are not my friends). I would very much recommend the race to anyone looking for a relatively flat winter trail race. It probably isn't great training for Uwharrie, but it was definitely a nice change of pace from the usual weekend venues.

Until next time, happy trails all!


Scott Lynch said...

Actually, I think a surprise win is better than a regular win. Too cool!

I also love that you named your fast twitch muscle, Sam.

Karen said...

Scott, if you only have one, may as well name him!

...and I've never had a regular win, but this surprise win was pretty awesome indeed!