Saturday March 26th 9am White Water Center, Charlotte, NC - 13.1 miles
i tell you the force field that keeps you from coming to the pad to sit and write is awfully strong when you have been away for so long, but i had to jump in and dive headfirst real quick and not stay on the edge, because i have known after letting that trail race marinate on my brain, and seeing it not drift away without demanding recollection, to know that this was a special experience for many reasons, and so, i had to put some letters down on screen.
i'm writing this 48 hours from when i was traversing mile 5 or 6 at the New South Trail Half Marathon at the White Water Center, wondering if these trails were going to remain so arduous, if my pace was too quick to last the 13.1 miles, and how close i was going to stay with my competitive challengers. The aches and dull soreness felt from hips down has lessened, as has the tightness of calves and fee by this point, but i'm still acutely aware of the full body grinder that was my first real trail course, that eased me in and spit me out a destroyed heap of something other. while my body has started to heal, the weather has basically stayed the same over the last couple of days-with this Easter Weekend of perfect running temperatures.
10 miles was the longest i have run going into this race, but i wasn't too concerned about finishing 13. I did have fair reason to wonder how much of a decent pace i could maintain going the extra 3 miles tho, and then especially on a trail course. Being a non stranger to running off the roads, i have ran my share of different surfaces and difficulty levels, but for me the more difficult, technical, and single file a trail that i've run has coupled with it's brevity of length. Basically, green-ways and more accommodating trail ways that stretch long are typically the type i would expect for 13 miles (think moses cone, trout lake, boone nc) - still, i did expect some more tight and curvaceous trails given that i've run just a little bit at the White Water Center and remember them being no easy picnic.
the best comparison i have for the course was the trails in my old neighborhood of madison park/montclaire and that also are a part of Marion dehl across the street of tyvola...except put that on steroids and blow it up 30 fold - both in terms of length and exaggerated hill climbs and drop off after drop off. basically, it was the most fun and interesting of a trail that i have ever run----especially with it being almost 13 miles long in this one giant incredible loop. switchbacks, bridges of wooden beams, 60 degree banked turns, 3 foot drop offs, 150 foot hill climbs, winding, rocky, rooty, dirty, clear, and the best well markings of any course i have been too.
as I've been doing now for about 7 or 8 months, i haven't been wearing a watch, which was good because any distraction could have easily resulted in a fall from tripping on the course from not paying attention. this of course also meant that your mind didn't have time to wander and find those negative thoughts that come with boredom which seem to be more available on the open road. but that's really about as far as i'll go in comparing this with most races. It was such a different animal because of the spectacular course that you have to travail, requiring utmost awareness and toughness that i was only able to contemplate my path and getting to the next mile marker. Going out with Josh Brewer, the first two miles we realized our total running time, from his watch, put us at a pace that wouldn't seem too aggressive, but for me i still felt that if the course didn't relent, this pace was plenty eager enough. My legs felt good and able to put in a quality race, as you can asses in that first half mile of if your legs are ready or not. Mine were. My stomach was pretty good - wasn't hungry and wasn't full - just right from the pasta the night before, and the bread and peanut butter a couple hours earlier was telling me that i was good off that. I had a few Sport Beans for energy in my pocket i would dissolve and chew in my mouth during the second half of the run.
so i felt good, except by mile 3 i knew that i was going to have to stop and pee during this race. The coffee and water i had before had broken the seal and i was off to the urinary races as i typically am after such morning routine beverages. when i realized that having to stop and pee was consuming more thought that i had available, with trying to concentrate on the course and needing to also have a level and encouraing mindset, i knew i twas time to pull over. I waited until a great spot, at the 1st water station 4 miles in, grabbed a cup, pulled over and balanced fluids. i was quickly off, and now my pack of runners was ahead and i was behind some new bodies wondering how i would get back, and if they would fall back to me.
so here i don't know any kind of pace times, but i was feeling much better having had the bathroom break and remained through out the race. after being slingshot from the downhills- using my long legs to propel me down the hills and gain ground, i realized that I was surrounded by quality trail runners for the most part. People were able to hold paces, so my catch ups were slow, and i had to work a lot by myself. the first 4 miles with Josh Brewer in conversational ear shot were great to knock out the early miles and get things started, but now being alone i enjoyed where i was because i was allowed to get and stay in my own head. i felt like i was the most aware, present, and totally engrossed and absorbed in the race as i have ever been for that long in my life. I won't say as intense - i think the middle distance track races are the most intense present experiences, but for long term- yes. i found my rhythm of fast down hills, steady slow hill climbs and surges during the straights and flats. my energy stayed constant, but my legs started to feel the toll of the ups and downs around mile 9. I look back now and realize that the mileage i was covering seemed so long in coming because of the pace i was going - but that never occurred how slow total i was going because i knew my effort was maximum and regulated to get through evenly this tough course for 13 miles.
I was able to never get passed back after the bathroom stop, and continually was able to pass competitors over the last 9 miles, perhaps 7 or 8 people in total. On some of the switchbacks i would pass Josh and knew he was maintaining and increasing and that i just needed to stay committed and see how close i could keep the gap and try and get anyone between us.
The course was designed smartly by a clearly veteran designer in putting the last mile mostly flat, so any lasts race within a race could occur, whereby the runners would be able to open their legs up and see what was left after coming out of the gauntlet. At least for the most part. They diabolically threw in one last large down and windy descent complete with a last climb, before entering back out around the water in front of the facility in fan view for the last 3rd of a mile to finish. Incredible lay out, and i was alone and could see another in front about 20 secs up and also Josh at the finish line. I spotted my wife and girls on the hill with about 150 meters to go and waved and came in so happy and delighted.
i knew what i just went through on my first real black diamond trail race for 13.1 miles was something unique that i had never done and how I would have a big appreciation for the experience. And when i saw 2 hours as i came through, for the first time seeing a total time, even though it was about 15 mins slower than what i predicted i would finish - obviously not knowing the nature of the course - i wasn't upset, but just smiled and knew that that bear of a trail was nothing i could do but appreciate.