After last week's pacing duties at Lumberjack Endurance 100 miler my right leg had a very sore spot behind the knee. If I straightened the leg too quickly, ouch! If I touched the leg in the right spot, ouch! By Tuesday, I began to begin to write off my ability to race Northwest Trail Runs' Soaring Eagle Half-Marathon. I took two days off in a row, which is exactly what I said I don't do, and it seemed to help. Stiff and sore, but not horribly bad. Put in two easy runs (Friday and Saturday), and on Sunday morning the alarm went off and I was up quickly making my pre-race (a.k.a. every morning) meal: instant oatmeal and coffee.
I have some great friends. Posted this right before I left and came home from a not really "Cake"-walk trail race to read these comments. #smile
Northwest Trail Runs' course description is pretty spot on, "...a twisty course that will keep those looking for a more technical course on their toes...The route has rolling hills that are mostly short or moderate in grade, and none of the course is very hilly by trail running standards.", but a few adjectives need to be added to describe this Sunday's course: muddy, wet, muddy, lots of turns, a few roots, and one great mid-course aid station that changed positions mid-race. Confused the hell out of me. It's surreal how tunnel-visioned I get when I'm racing. Probably not a bad thing, but it does paint a pretty picture for the reason why during training you need to slow down and taken in the scenery.
Take a good look at that first picture. Looks like a promising vision of the trail to come, right? The next two pictures are taken in the same general area (about a 1/4 mile from the starting line). When I pulled up to the start line about an hour before the race, the early starters were getting their final briefing and getting ready to take off. My friend Jamey B., was hauling around a wheelbarrow with aid station supplies and I asked him what the course looked liked. With confidence, "Just like this." I looked down, the matted, compacted gravel looked too dry and hard-pack for trail shoes. "Good thing I brought my trusted Saucony Kinvaras," I thought. After wandering around for a good 15 minutes, Jamey B., had taken off down the trail with supplies, I chatted with a few other folks about the trail. I had seen the course map, but that was the extent of my knowledge. Race Director Herb Head, had this to say about the trail, "It's muddy." Glancing down at the cuffs of his jeans it was easy to believe him. "Uh oh. Guess I should the trail shoes back out." Slid off the Kinvaras and put on the New Balance 101's. No more changes, now, five minutes until the race start. I put in a quick 3/4 mile jog, shook the legs out, lined up and I was off with everyone else in my wake. After the race Jamey B., asked me, "Did you get my text? <Text: It's Muddy> After walking a bit further down the trail I realized it wasn't dry." Good lookin' out, friend.
The start of the free mud bath
A muddy trail race is a great way to exfoliate - words of advice from my mother after the race.
How did I managed a sub-6 mile?
One word of sound advice, in my opinion, "Run through the mud, not around the mud." Running around the mud will do nothing but extend the erosion, and slow you down. Running straight through is not only fun, but much shorter. Take short quick steps, and at all cost keep moving. Don't stop to enjoy the squishy mud slithering into your shoes. Momentum lost in deep mud is gone forever. If you don't like mud, rain, roots, rocks, hills, or the outdoors trail races may not be for you. There are risk, however. I paid my dues when I felt a wood chip, I believe, became lodged between my little toe and the inside of my left shoe:
A very fresh bloody blister
Soaring Eagle Half-Marathon
After sloshing through the mud at sub-6 minute mile pace, the course took a sharp turn, I slowed down, and the next mile was either a right turn or a left turn with minimal straights. My hips were on fire. The inside of every turn was slick and the outside was usually filled with a puddle. It felt more like an interval workout. After the slalom course, the a short uphill felt so much better than the twisty turns. The back loop of the figure-8 course was much drier and faster. My first lap was good, my second lap was much harder. The fatigue set in, but having a substantial lead, I wasn't worried, so I eased up a bit caving into the pain with confidence. Not too much, but enough that I wasn't digging deep during the back loop. Finishing first never gets old, the joy is always simple, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to get out there with everyone else. Not sure if I'd run this course any different, unless the course was much much drier. Finished up the afternoon by volunteering at the aid station until about 2 PM. Such a good idea. Good people, good racers, and a good Sunday morning. Thanks, Northwest Trail Runs. Official Results: