Posts Tagged ‘trail’

Instant Classic Trail Half Marathon 2013

I have a single regret about Saturday morning. All that time I was typing to post here, I was sipping coffee. Three cups in total, and they did come back to haunt me later.

Otherwise, for my purposes, I call the IC 13.1 a rousing success. We got there a bit early, a good thing since the line for the women’s room was out into the park, and the plumbing was giving up as I finished my business. I got to greet Kerry, an attorney I once worked with, meet an old friend of Byram’s, and in general, get my bearings before the race.

As the National Anthem was sung, the skies opened up and a cold hard rain started falling. I couldn’t wait to get underway just to warm up. The marathon took off to cheers and we meandered our way into the area just vacated by those hardy souls (soles?). Unlike last year, we were not lined up in waves according to our anticipated finish times. We were gathered like a massive amoeba behind the start line. I had a couple of minutes to chat with the two people I knew, shake hands with the race director for the Powhatan Christmas Tree 10k, whose orange and green tech shirt I was wearing, and then we were off only about 5 minutes after the marathon got started.

Exactly as I remembered from last year, the earliest miles of the race were pretty unmemorable for me; the only bright spot was that Byram was pulling out of the parking lot onto State Park Road just as we were coming to the road, so he and I got one last parting “moment” before I turned right onto the trail and he veered left off to the park exit. Nothing else about the first 3 miles is all that memorable to me; the rain stopped somewhere in the first couple of miles, but I couldn’t tell you exactly when.

We hit the 3 mile point and the first water stop, and then suddenly, it becomes very memorable as the hills get serious and the road becomes a trail. I turned my right ankle at some point in that area, but mercifully, it didn’t become a problem. I also had my only near-fall as headed straight down a hill to a wooden bridge across the swamp. Bryan said he also nearly went down on that hill too. I would bet a five dollar bill that at least one person went down on that spot; roots, mud, and the steep hill made tripping easier than staying upright.

Unlike last year, I was still feeling really sure of myself as I approached Beaver Lake. I wasn’t feeling tired yet, the hills were what they were last year, but I wasn’t as daunted by them, and I knew exactly where I was and had a realistic perception of how far I still had to go (a long way!).

The best part of my day was that time was passing imperceptibly. I wore no watch and could only guess how much time was passing based on how many songs had played and where I was on the route. I was actually very surprised when I got to the top of a hill and found myself back at the parking area very near to the start of the race. That was where I took my first energy gels and where my 3 cups of coffee came back to haunt me. I needed to…well, no way to say it too delicately, I needed to pee.

I knew the route would take us right past the line of porto-lets near the boat ramp so I made my way there. I lost 60 to 90 seconds in the little gray house and even more time as I got myself back underway. After you cross the bridge over Swift Creek, you head straight up an incline for a while as you move away from the low point at the park. Just that short stop had slowed me down and I lost some momentum heading into the “second half” (which it isn’t; you haven’t quite hit 5 miles at that point, but it feels like half way). It took 5 or so minutes but the energy gel kicked in, the terrain got really hard again and my brain kicked out while my legs went to work.

I remember mile 5 being pretty hard but not much else specifically about it; I do know that after mile 5, things began to level out for most of the rest of the race. The next point that stands out in my mind is the sharp right turn you take right after the 7 mile point and the nice downhill you get for what feels like at least a quarter of a mile. I was in a place mentally; no watch to mock me, not many people around me, no one was passing me (nor was I passing anyone at that point either), and in general, it was a peaceful time in my run.

It was all smiles and fond memories as I passed the “Swift Creek Parking Are” where I had been rescued back in January after getting myself misplaced in the park. At that point, it was somewhere in between 9 and 10 miles in the race and I was still going strong. Tired, but good, you know?

It was a stark contrast for me for that same point last year when I was mentally losing the race, mentally losing my pace, mentally defeating myself, mentally beating myself. It was such a better place to be. The territory was familiar, I had no clue about my pace or time, my music was upbeat and good, and so was life.

Just as I remembered mile 12 from last year, it was some of the craziest terrain of the race. I splashed through the stream that was overtopping the trail by a good bit, passing a couple of other runners between that stream and up the hill, and all I could think at that point was how close I was to the finish and yet how long a half mile seems to take when you are just ready to be done.

I hit the bridge, tired and without enough left in the tank for a end-of-race sprint, but waved to Byram and his friend Mary and then set my sights on the finish and making sure I didn’t wipe out in the very muddy chute.

I could see it was 2:48 on the clock as I went under it and I was over the moon because no matter what, I knew I had been faster than last year; I just wasn’t sure by how much. Last year, my time was 2:47:30. If I was going under the clock at 2:48 (which started when the 26.2 mile runners went out before us) then I had to be faster than last year. Even if not by a whole lot (it turned out to be 5 minutes faster at 2:42).

Collecting my medal, I spotted the two attorneys chatting not too far away, chowing down on some of the post-race food, which held NO interest for me at that point. I waited for Byram and Grace to find me and grabbed Grace up into a sweaty bear hug. It was a good end to a good race.


I Feel It In My Bones

I guess there isn’t much a run and a couple of mugs of peppermint tea can’t cure.

It was a rough morning. I felt like I was being crushed to death under paperwork and bullshit. I felt stressed, tired, and borderlining on hopeless. I didn’t want to go run, I didn’t want to put in the 4 miles I had promised myself. I didn’t have time, I had stuff I needed to do here in the office, I had attorneys who needed me.

The attorney here in the office running the IC on Saturday asked me if I was going out for my last run today around 1130 and assured me he would be going out even though he was in a similar boat as me. Well, if he could get out and go do it, then I’d best man up and get to it, right?

You can’t hone a knife on butter.

I went out, took my familiar long route around Brown and Belle Islands, and by the last half mile of those 4 miles, I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. This was it, my last run until Saturday morning. The end of months and months of planning and training and thinking and running and and and and ….

I went out stressed, frustrated, anxious, drowning in my cares, and I came back and, embarrassingly enough, did a little happy dance (looked more like a touchdown celebration by an NFL quarterback, I guess) in the lobby of my building as the security guards and Capitol police watched in amusement.

I haven’t had much to say this week, which is unusual for me on the week of a major race. Truthfully, I don’t have anything new to say. I’ve been here, done this before. I am vastly less anxious than I was for my previous two half marathon distances. Not that I don’t have a checklist of to-do’s between now and Saturday, but none of it feels scary anymore.

Wash my fuel belt bottles, pick up 3 GUs from Lucky Foot when I pick my packet up on Friday, shave my damn legs so no one thinks they spotted a yeti running in Pocahontas State Park (they would have to nickname it Pokey, and really, no one wants to be responsible for that atrocity!), figure out whether it is ACTUALLY going to rain or just toy at rain on Saturday morning and decide what to wear, change out the battery in my MP3 player, pack a post-race bag with a sweatshirt and energy bar. Oh yeah, sleep should go on that list, too.

I have lots to do, but none of it is onerous; in fact, all of it (aside from shaving my legs) are enjoyable activities that bubble with the promise of an adventure. Which is exactly what I consider this race to be. An adventure.

I am in a really good place, mentally. This is the most prepared, most excited I have been for a race yet. I am not giving any space to the negative voices in my head that love to remind me of my pace, where I fall as a “competitor,” and all kinds of other unworthy thoughts. I worked hard for this and I know I will do well; I am making myself no promises about how well, nor am I setting any limits on what is possible. I know what I am getting into, that it is a hard thing, but a worthy thing. Unlike November, I don’t have to “Press on, regardless”; I’m not injured this time around. Unlike last March, I know explicitly what I have gotten myself into and have no unrealistic (or even realistic) expectations. I am going to have fun and do something a large portion of the people I know consider to be *just* on this side of Crazy.

Maybe I will think of something interesting to say before Saturday morning, but I expect to go radio silent between now and then.

See you on the other side of my third half marathon.


Close enough now to the race that I can see it on the 10 day forecast. I don’t want to get my hopes up too much, but the weather is forecast currently to be cool (30s to 60s for the day) and cloudy. Now, it’s Virginia, and as I like to say, the weather around here can change so fast it’ll give you whiplash, but I am really hoping for this forecast to stick.

I have talked to a few first-timers for this race this year, giving them what I can recall of my experience last year, and things I learned.

One thing I am going to do differently this year is I will wear my fuel belt. I didn’t last year and it was so warm last year (last year was Summer In March when we were having 80s and 90s in March) that I had to stop at every single water stop because of the warmth. Whatever the temps this year, I won’t lose as much time stopping for as much water.

I am probably going to leave my watch behind this time too. I was really hung up on my 2:30 half marathon goal time last year, and when I found myself at 10 miles at 2:10, I was devastated and the mental hit was as hard on me as all those hills were. This year, I recognize that even as hard and as well as I have been training, there is no comparison between training on the streets of Richmond and running in Pocahontas, and that 2:30 is an unreasonable goal. That said, my brain can’t let go of that magic number and so it would probably be to my benefit to have no clue what time it is at any point along the way. Just worry about the trail ahead of me and let the clock do its thing while I do mine.

I will take my music with me, aware that I will probably not want it the entire distance.

Obviously I will be watching the weather closely and make my clothing decisions based on that. I have a full spectrum wardrobe now and I have clothing appropriate for the 90s all the way down to the 20s.

I plan to wear my trail shoes and not my road shoes. They are the same make/model (Brooks Adrenalines), just different for trail/road. With all the rain/snow we’ve had this year, I expect damp/muddy conditions on some parts of the route (more rain is scheduled for mid-week next week), and the trail shoes provide better traction and protection from wet toes.

I can’t remember if I mentioned it here or not, but I chopped off 2 feet of my hair last week. No more running in a braid/in braids for me. This has proven to be a double edged sword. Actually, not even that: it has come out for a net-loss for running. I tend to sweat the heaviest from my head and all that hair used to do an excellent job of soaking it up; with so much hair, it was easy to hide the wet mess under a relatively dry top layer. Now, sweat just runs off the short curls and down my back, and I come back from a run looking like I took a bath. Worse, I have to actually style my hair too; not easily done after a lunch run with no shower options. I am sure it will be cooler in the summer, but for now, as far as running goes, the new ‘do is a pain in the butt.

I have no post-race festivity planned this time. Last year it was reservations for brunch at Can Can, which was nice but mostly wasted on me. I was done after a lovely cup of coffee and a croissant. The duck and mushroom omelet was completely wasted on my surgically-altered guts. Last year, we also celebrated with a fire bowl and beer in the backyard. Same as after the Richmond Half. This year, I am running stone sober, so no post-race beer, and the weather looks too chilly for sitting around the fire bowl. We will be attending an SCA event immediately after the race, so that will probably be sufficient post-race festivities for me.

There isn’t much training time left now. I ran Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, and took Tuesday and Wednesday off due to work (court on Tuesday) and weather (snow/rain/wind yesterday). I may or may not get a run in this evening depending on whether or not we have gotten power back at home. I don’t like going 3 days in a row without a run, though. We’ll see. I intend to run tomorrow (Friday) and then 8 miles on Sunday.

My schedule for next week should work out to 3 miles on Monday, 4 miles on Tuesday, and 3 miles on Wednesday or maybe Thursday, instead. After that, I will rest until Saturday. No speed work next week, no hill training, no double digit runs. No funny or risky foods after Wednesday (nuts, dried fruits, other roughage, etc.).

If I follow my usual pattern, I tend to get very thoughtful, chatty, and ready to share the week of the race; posts will probably pick up even though I won’t have anything really new to say. I am already in my regular pattern of easily irritated, aggressive, and agitated in the 14 days before the race. At least the fights that have broken out have been minor and easily dialed back. My family has shown a lot of patience with me and I am enormously appreciative their forbearance.

Is it more than a little weird that I kind of wish I could get into some kind of MMA style activity after this race?

Sure it’s more than a little weird.

That’s just how aggressive and pent up I’ve been feeling.

Look out, World. It’s been all short skirts, short hair, and picking fights from me lately.

Rescued Runner

Saturday morning was scheduled for a 10 mile training run with the Half Marathon training team. That said, it had snowed on Thursday night and temperatures were in the 20s on Saturday morning. The cold was not the deterrent to running with the team but the location we were running in (icy sidewalks in downtown Richmond) plus a depressingly familiar and dull route (downtown towards my work and then 3 miles west on dull-as-rain Broad Street) combined to make me choose a route more adventurous. I drove over to Pocahontas State Park without much of a plan or a route, and decided to just wing it in the woods.

I had anticipated finding a park ranger on duty at the gate and scoring a trail map, but no one was on duty yet at 8:30 a.m. The Instant Classic runs in a sort of figure-eight route around the park, converging at a central point near the pool parking lot so I figured I would take the southern loop and get about 7 to 8 miles in. It wouldn’t be the 10 miles I was scheduled to run, but on a trail, the difficulty level should even it all out, right?

I parked, crossed the bridge and turned right to follow the trail Fendley Station Trail, which I recalled figured in large part into the route the IC followed. I was just positive it would loop back around to the parking area if I just stayed on it long enough.

Faith. I was running on pure, blind faith.

It *has* to loop back around to where I started. It just has too.

I saw that the direction to the Swift Creek dam matched the same directions that Fendley went so I figured the dam must be close to where I started; I was just sure of that. When I reached the dam, I realized I had no idea where I was, but I was at the water, which is where I started, so I would just keep going.

Fortunately, everything in the area is flooded and Swift Creek was topping the dam and there was no physical way to cross Swift Creek there. This is how God looks out for fools, drunks, and runners. If the conditions had been normal, I would have crossed the creek (getting only a little wet) and kept on in my faith that I was almost back to my truck and I would have run a distance LONGER than a half marathon, on a trail, which I was keenly not prepared to do.

Instead, I was forced to turn around and take stock of where I was and how would I get back. For the first time, I noticed signs on the trail for “Swift Creek Parking area” and I was less than 2 miles distant from it.

“I’m SAVED!” I declared. Two more miles and the run would be over and I guestimated I would have done about 6 miles. Perfect.

So I followed those blazes for the Swift Creek parking area, only to discover that was NOT where I was parked. It was an egress into the park from Courthouse Road, the OPPOSITE side of the park from where I started. It was also kind enough to provide trail maps, and I could identify where I was, what route I had taken, and what my options for getting back were.

I was at that point probably 5 miles distant from my truck. I was physically closer to the front door of my house than I was from my vehicle. I could have run home in less time than it would have taken to get back to the truck. I was stricken. What could I do except press on, regardless, and head back to where I started? I was 80 minutes into the run at that point, and it would easily be another hour getting back, so I best get started, right?

I turned myself back in the direction of the truck and started onward, but the distance I still had to go started to get to my brain. Holy cow, at least 5 more miles? At least? And I wasn’t sure if that was really accurate or not. I went about a mile before I stopped dead in my tracks, utterly defeated. At this point, I had gone about 7 miles total, and had 4 to 5 more to go. I was cold, getting sore, and mentally defeated.

I stood there utterly alone for a good 3 or 4 minutes, my right hand reaching into and then back out of the pocket where my phone was stashed. I have never felt such indecision in my life over something that really did matter. I didn’t want to have to admit what had happened; that my lack of proper planning had led me on a half-marathon distance boondoggle. But no matter what choice I made, I *would* have to offer an explanation as to why I had been gone for 3 hours on a run.

In the end, I pressed #2 on my phone and humbly begged for a pick up. I had gone about a mile from the “parking area”, so I logged one last trudging mile back to the Swift Creek parking lot on the side of Courthouse road, which was almost perfectly timed for Byram’s arrival. He joked that he knew he was close when he saw all the buzzards circling overhead. I laughed because it was funny.

I was embarrassed but in good spirits. It had been such a great run. I LOVED the trees, the untouched snow on the ground, the silence of the woods, the clean scented air. It was everything my spirit had needed that morning. He dropped me back off at the truck and I arrived safely at home.

For the boondoggle it became, it sure was fun. It makes me less inclined to go join the Shamrock HMTT guys again this Saturday, especially since they are running in Bryant Park and Brook Road (I have written of my hatred for those areas before). We’ll see, as they are calling for more icky white stuff on the ground late this week, and I seriously dislike the idea of running on icy pavement. I will take an ice-covered trail over pavement any day.

And when I do go back to Pocahontas, whenever that may be, you can bet I will be better armed with a map and a plan!