Saturday, March 8, 2014

Snowpocalypse: Land Between the Lakes Trail 23K Race Report

Six days before the LBL trail 23K, marathon, 60K and 50-miler, the Land Between the Lakes area in Kentucky received 3 inches of ice topped by 4 inches of snow.  Some melting had occurred on Thursday and Friday in areas that receive sun, leaving behind a MESS of some hard-packed snowy areas with about 4 inches of snow and ice, some soft snowy/slushy areas, and lots of runoff and mud from the melted snow. However, I hadn't previewed the trail prior to the race to see how much snow remained, so I didn't really know what awaited me!

I spent the night before the race in Grand Rivers and had a wonderful dinner with some very cool trail runners from all over.  I only knew two of the people at our table of nine, but we were all quickly friends. It is funny--meet a runner for the very first time and immediately have a thousand things to talk about.  I love the running community so much.  One gentleman at our table was one I had passed some miles with at my last trail race two weeks ago.  The trail-running community is fairly small!

I tossed and turned for maybe 3 hours in my very own queen-sized bed and then gave up at 3:55 a.m., an hour before my alarm was set to go off.  I rarely sleep well before races!   Our hotel was super race-friendly, and they started serving breakfast at 4:30 a.m.   I started with coffee.  Of course.  4:30 a.m. selfie:

I only had to drive five minutes to the race start.  As I parked my car at 6:00 in the morning in downtown Grand Rivers, I should have had an inkling of what was to come.  Walking the quarter-mile from the parking area to the start, I had to skate across solid sheets of ice and step across mounds of plowed snow.

The first mile or so was on a main road, so it was clear.  Then we turned onto a side road that was solid ice!  From there we turned onto the 11-mile Canal Loop Trail, and I was surprised it looked like this:

The hard-packed snow was runnable, but it was treacherous.  It would be very easy to slide off down that embankment!

Throughout the race, there were 10 stream crossings!   We'd slip and slide down a snowy embankment, wade through 4-5 inches of mud, attempt to jump across the stream (with varying degrees of success!), and then hike up the slippery, snowy other side in our now muddy and possibly wet shoes.  There was certainly no danger of getting lost.  Just follow the dirty snow!

I was pretty happy that my stream crossings were successful and my shoes stayed dry through mile 7.   However, after that, my left shoe and sock were soaked during a stream crossing.  Then a few minutes later, both were soaked.  Icy melted snow water is pretty darn COLD on your feet!

Somewhere after the 10K point, I ran into my friend Dawn and we ran most of the rest of the race together. She is from Toronto, and running in the snow wasn't foreign to her.  We chatted and made the best of a tough situation!  Somewhere around mile 9, I turned to say something to her, then when I turned back around, I lost my footing on an uneven snowbank and fell right over.  It wasn't a graceful or an epically cool fall.  I just fell over onto the snow.  It was my only fall of the day, shockingly!

Also about mile 9, the temp started heating up and the hard-packed snow was no more.  It was a soft, slushy kind of snow that your shoes sink deeply into with every step.

It was also around this point that I realized how tired I was from fighting the snow.  If you've ever run in sand, it was like that at times---except the sand was slippery and made your feet cold!   Dawn and I started hiking the uphills at this point.  I couldn't get any traction at all!

At mile 11, I realized something startling:  my feet were numb.  Both of them.  Completely.  I could not feel my toes.  Of course, they'd been wet and immersed in snow and mud for many miles at this point!  Getting pretty sloppy:

 I kept plugging along though, numb feet and all.  I knew we were almost done with the trail and waited expectantly to see pavement as the last 1.7 miles were on the road back into town.

PAVEMENT NEVER LOOKED SO GOOD!   I exited the trail and turned down the still ice-covered side road, then I was back on the main road.   We had to go up two long, gradual hills.  Last year, those hills disheartened me.  I had run a terrible race and felt awful at that point.  I basically walked the whole 1.7 miles.  This year, I EMBRACED those hills and made a deal with myself:  I will NOT walk on this home stretch.  And I didn't.  I also "chicked" four guys (passed them), but a girl also chicked me.   It does feel good to pass four men on the home stretch, I'm not going to lie!  

It took a while for me to get my road legs back, but finally by the end, I was able to get down almost to normal half-marathon pace.  My legs had taken a beating though!

Last year in my terrible race on the same DRY trail, I finished in 3:07, head down, spirit broken.  This year, I finished in 3:06:55 with a happy and determined smile on my face. That is a WIN in my book!

As it turned out, it was probably the toughest 14 miles I've ever run.  The Canal Loop at LBL is fairly challenging anyway, but fighting with snow, mud and ice certainly added to the challenge.  I will definitely remember my snowy run!

Post race with my friend Dawn and new friend Rob:

Saturday, March 1, 2014

26.4 Miles of Blue Sky: Dry Creek Trail Marathon Race Report

Last Sunday, I ran the Nashville Running Company's inaugural Dry Creek Trail Marathon at the Cheatham County Wildlife Management Area.  It is a hunting area, primarily, but it is open to hikers at various times of the year.

It was a GORGEOUS day.  The course was a mixture of dirt/gravel roads (about 21 miles) and technical steep hills covered in about a foot of leaves.  Some runners called it a "hybrid."   The course looked fairly flat on the elevation profile, but in reality, it was hill after hill after hill.  (And one mountain.)

I started the race with my friend Andrea.  We had trained together and hoped to stay together for most of the first half.  We started off down a long gravel road with large, loose gravel, then turned off onto a rutted dirt road.   Is this the BLUEST sky or what?  I really enjoyed the scenery.

Part of the fun of this course was avoiding all the giant mud puddles that were sprinkled all over the course.  We settled into a nice pace and chatted as we ran.  Around mile 3.5 or so, we turned onto the real trail portion and started going immediately downhill.  It was the steepest downhill I've ever attempted to run.  I used the "Ryan" (Ploeckelman) technique as I ran down the hill--arms out, airplane style.  He had showed me this technique once at Rotary Park.  I only slipped in the leaves once.  They were a little damp!  It got much steeper than this.  Here is one of the two trees down that we had to hurdle.

At the bottom of this steep, leafy hill was a creek and some feeder streams.  We had to hop across two tiny streams and the larger creek.  There was a small log on the edge in the creek, so we stood on it and jumped. Of course, it rolled on lift off, but that made it fun.  Dry shoes prevailed!  

After that, we ran across a large, open field.  See that hill in the distance??   Yeah....

Then it was time to go up, up, and up.  For what seemed like the next three miles, we climbed out of the creek bottom.  I power hiked the hill above.   Finally, we arrived at mile 7, which also happened to be race headquarters.  From there, it was just a 3-ish mile out and back down a gravel road.  This section was definitely the hardest for me.  It was a little boring, and I felt like I was fighting the rocks and loose gravel. This was a rare flat portion on the home stretch.  

Andrea and I stayed together for 12 of the 13.1 miles.  It made the first half so pleasant.  I finished the first half around 2:38 or so, but stopped to refuel at headquarters and drop some unneeded gear and hit the one bathroom.  I headed out SOLO for loop two at around 2:40 on the clock.  There was one runner way in front of me whose shirt I could see occasionally.

The first time around, I hadn't been paying attention and that first segment down the long gravel road made me sure I had missed the first turn.  (I hadn't.)  Just before panic officially set in, I saw the sign marking the right turn onto the dirt road.  Whew!   At that point, I knew I just followed the road to the trail.  During that stretch, a guy and a girl both passed me.  It made me feel relieved that I wasn't out there totally alone like in my first trail marathon last April, but I didn't try to strike up a conversation with either of them.  I was enjoying being alone.   

It was at that point, around mile 15 or so, that I noticed how BLUE the sky was and really began to appreciate the beauty of the day.  That first picture up above was taken then.  I just felt happy (though tired) and blessed to be out there in the country doing something I enjoy so much.  I enjoyed the leafy downhill once again (tripped twice but didn't fall!) and had fun crossing the creek and streams the second time around.  I passed one of the more cautious (smarter??) runners on the downhill.   At one point flying down the hill, I said, "I'm running like Ryan" and then realized I was talking to myself. OUT LOUD.  It happens.

I climbed out of the creek bed again--a little faster the second time-- and finally got to mile 20, which was headquarters.  I quickly refilled my two water bottles and headed out for that last portion.  I was still smiling though.  As I entered the aid station, someone said, "I love to see a runner still smiling at mile 20!"  I had on my Run Happy shirt, so I couldn't very well frown.  

However, soon after that, it hit.  THE WALL.  About mile 21, I just had a sudden loss of energy.  My legs felt heavy and wanted to walk, not run.  I was already power-walking all the hills, and I had to make myself run the flats and the downhills.  I always say, "Downhills are a gift from God!  Never walk them."   So, in 21-23, I had to dig fairly deep.  I caught up to one of the runners who had passed me earlier.  We chatted a little and he was struggling a little more than I was, so I went on ahead.   I got to the turnaround and knew there was just a bit over 3 miles back to the finish.   I was feeling very DONE.  I was tired of fighting the gravel.  My right shin hurt.  My lower back was tight.  I could tell that the longest training run I'd done on similar terrain was 10 miles.  I had outrun my trail fitness.  It was just up to mind over body.  But, honestly, when does it not feel like that at mile 23??   I was determined to get to the finish as quickly as possible.  

At mile 25.5 or so, I saw someone coming toward me on the trail, and it was my friend and neighbor Jeff, who had come out to run me in.  I appreciated that so much!   Jeff and I ran/walked that last uphill mile, and I finished at 5:26:50 officially for about 26.4 Garmin distance.   

I was proud of that time.  It got difficult (they always do), but I never got discouraged.   I made my time goal.  I enjoyed the day.

Overall, I'd say it was in my top 5 marathons.   It was my 3rd trail marathon, 11th marathon overall, and 13th marathon or ultra.  It is hard to beat the PERFECT day I had at the Kentucky Derby Marathon in 2012 and the perfect night I had at Run Under the Stars ultramarathon last June.  Might be 3rd though!