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Monday, January 12, 2015

Race Recap: Rocks and Roots #1

Sunrise over the lake
The Rocks and Roots Trail Series includes two races over two months. Race #1 took place Sunday, January 11 at Alum Creek State Park. I ran the 10k. [Race Information]

Pre Race
Alex and I left the house around 7:15 and arrived at sunrise. We found a parking spot by the marina and joined a half dozen folks taking photos from the shore. It was super cold, so we took advantage of our pre race downtime by wearing our coats and sitting in the car. Unfortunately, I had to go to the bathroom really bad, so around 8:00 we began the almost half mile walk to the starting line.

The starting area included a place for gear, packet pickup, the starting arch and clock, potties, AND a firepit to gather around. That was a nice touch. If the February race is as cold, they should get one or two more... By the way, my Garmin says it was 23 degrees ("felt like 17") while we were running. I know it was 18 or so when we arrived, so I wore two long sleeve shirts, a t-shirt over to keep my core warm, two pairs of pants, gloves, and a bunch of Buffs. I had a Buff around my neck and put it over my face as we stood at the starting line. I kept it on for the first mile or so.

The 50k runners had the option to start at 7am or 8am. The 40k and 30k folks started at 8:00 and at 8:15 the 20k wave rolled out. The final group, 10k, started at 8:30. We had plenty of time to make our bathroom pit stop and warm ourselves by the fire. Alex was pretty grouchy, but that might be because I made him get out of the car earlier than he wanted to.

Typical trail condition. Photo by Rocks and Roots Trail Runners Association

Trail Conditions
I ran almost the exact same course in my first trail run last September. Alex and I scoped it out last weekend when it was 40 degrees. The trail was horrible–very wet, very muddy, and huge water crossings. We made it about a mile in before the sixth water crossing stopped me in my tracks. I was pretty nervous. When we picked up our race packets on Saturday the race director told us all crossing were completely frozen and covered (minus one, but it had a rock path). That eased my mind, but I still had no idea what to expect. Deep down, I wanted to beat my summer time, but wasn't sure if it was possible.

The Run 
The line up for the race was informal and I stuck to the middle / back while Alex headed for the front. The first 3/4 mile crossed a relatively flat prairie with the single water crossing. The group went single file at the crossing, but once cleared it was smooth sailing. I tried to stick with folks running a steady pace. I knew I needed to save my energy for the woods and hills. Even though the entire trail was covered in snow (sometimes slick, sometimes grippy), the conditions were way better than the week before. I felt so much better by the time we reached the woods than I had when running with Alex.

My first mile clocked in at 12:17, which was in line with my overall pace from the summer race (12:35), albeit a minute or two slower than my first mile in the summer. I figured I'd see how mile 2 and 3 went before deciding if I would try to beat my previous time. By this point, I was hanging steady with another runner and gearing up for the first big "I have to hold on to trees to get down this" hill.

Somewhere around mile 4 or 5
If you've ever run a trail race you probably know not concentrating on the trail is a big no-no. As my focus shifted to the hill ahead, I missed a root and lost my balance. It felt like a cartoon. I wibble-wobbled as time slowed down and my arms flailed around. I really thought I'd made it through without falling, but then I bit it. Luckily, the snowy trail didn't hurt. I remembered a girl falling at the beginning of the Summer Squatch shooting back up with her hands in the air and yelling "woooooo!" So when the ladies behind me started the, "Oh gosh, are you OK"s and looking like they wanted to stop (but not really), I shot up and woooo!ed, made a stupid joke, and kept running. So yeah, that was a little after mile 1...

It was more difficult in the woods. The elevation was up and down. Made me kind of happy I haven't signed up for Run the Bluegrass yet. Maybe I'm not ready for the hills... I ran through the aid station at 2.5, but decided to eat my gel soon after. As a result, I may have run/walked a teeny tiny bit around 2.8. I was already pretty tired and I think the gel helped. At mile 3 I was happy to be halfway finished. I felt pretty good between 3 and 4 as that section of the trail was the flattest. It wasn't without hills, but they weren't as terrible as those between 2 and 3.

Wooden medal
Man, in mile 4 I was ready to be done. I think I walked and let some people pass me. I didn't walk for long. I looked at my Garmin and would see I was near a milestone: 4.5, 5, 5.5, whatever, and I'd make myself keep going. It wasn't pretty, but I told myself I'd be done faster if I just kept running. Even if I went really slow, it was better than walking. I heard a photographer up ahead and made myself keep running. Somewhere in there I tripped on a root (again) and my gels fell out of my water bottle pocket. I had to stop and collect them. Maybe around mile 5 I was starting to feel drunk (my legs were unstable) and I tripped on a rut with a dude behind me. I yelled the F-word, but didn't fall over. Whoops. He was nice and concerned, but I just said something like, "I'll be ok. I'll make it to the finish." But mannnnnn my ankle killed.

Around this point I just kept telling myself the end was near. I looked at my Garmin a lot. I was expecting to come out of the woods, cross the road, and finish in the FLAT prairie like last time, but we took a different turn and the race ended differently. Ohmigod it was so terrible. At mile marker 6 there was another steep downhill to uphill. The last three tenths were really tough. I wanted to walk (I may have walked for two steps then started trotting), but I could hear the finish line. It felt like it took forever to get there. I remember glancing at my watch around 1:15:00 thinking I may not beat my previous time of 1:18:17.

There was one last hill before the finish line and a photographer. I didn't let myself walk and even smiled. He said, "look at her, this hill is so easy she's smiling!" I said, "ha!" or something, but man I really appreciated his words. It was one of those I can do this moments. Like, I just ran on a snowy, hilly trail and I wanted to die, but I didn't. (Unfortunately, that photo isn't online.) Anyway, the finish line was in sight and I saw Alex hopping up and down cheering for me. In fact, a lot of folks cheered when I crossed. How lovely for such a small race.

Sweet swag
Post race and swag
My legs felt like jello. My joints hurt from all of the right turns. I tried to stand still but found I needed to keep walking for a while. Alex finished about 20 minutes before so he was really cold. He stood by the fire pit as I collected some goodies: M&Ms, peanut butter cups, Gatorade, chili, Clif shot blocks...etc It was an amazing spread. Standing around the fire we chatted with some of the other runners. A few 20k folks crossed the line. It was such a nice group of people. As other 10k-ers finished, the cheers continued. We hung out for at least 30 or 40 minutes post race, but Alex was turning into an icicle, so we grabbed some coffee and hot chocolate and headed back to the car.

I like this photo and my outfit.
Stats and feelings 
Well, I walked a little bit near the end which is a first for me since last September. The course conditions were much more difficult than September, but overall I think I did better. I am not in peak shape, my longest run post-Hot Chocolate 15k was a slow 5 mile training run, and I did not run at all last week due to the negative temperatures. Despite all of that, my clumsy footing on the slick trail, and the new, more difficult last half mile, I beat my previous trail time. Barely. But I did it!

Final time: 1:16:51 (12:24/mile)
My previous time on a similar course was 1:18:17.

Overall 76/189 (40%)
Division 31/112 (27%)

I'm really hoping the February Rocks and Roots isn't wet or muddy. I could handle snow again, but feel like I could cut off a few minutes from my time on dry land. Especially if I'm in better shape.

As an aside, my legs are sore today, but it's not debilitating. Directly after the race I had a lot of energy. Alex, on the other hand, finished in third place and was wrecked (he hasn't run 6 miles since high school and still did that well!). He was pooped after and already feeling the burn, so he took a nap and went to bed around 9pm. He works outside so he'll probably work out his kinks faster than I do.

The next Rocks and Roots is February 8! I'm sticking with the 10k. I cannot imagine an almost half marathon (20k) on this trail!

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