Monday, May 30, 2011

I'm no Bear Grylls

Paris Mountain Trail 11K Race Report

As you'll remember from my post on "Impulse Racing" earlier this month, I signed up for my first "real" trail run on a bit of a whim. It has crossed my mind often to race these trail runs (our Track Club holds three annually a 7K, 11K and 15K) but I'd always chicken out because I was afraid of getting hurt. Let's be honest here...I do a pretty good job of injuring myself without ever stepping on a trail ever, so why not, right?

My goal for Saturday's race was to survive the mountain. Now let me say, I know I do not have a large readership, but just in case someone from the Rockies, Andes, Alps or Himalayas happens to be reading this, please indulge the word "mountain". It is (I think) the second highest point in Greenville County, and a topographical feature that is a major part of Greenville's skyline.

Paris Mountain is in the upper left corner.
Paris Mountain's peak is around 2000 ft. while most of the city of Greenville is around 1000 feet. So, lets just say altitude sickness probably didn't factor into my performance on Saturday. With that said, I still didn't want to take a wrong step and wind up with a sprain going into my marathon training.

When we arrived at the state park, I could already tell that these were going to be the most hilly conditions that I had ever ran in. Awesome.

We had perhaps about two months of dry weather here recently. The 24 hours leading up to the race, we had about 20 of it featuring rain or drizzle. In fact, for most of the drive to the state park, we had our windshield wipers on. When we arrived, it was warm, and VERY humid. Double Awesome.

So in case you're keeping score, that's hills, that are now rain soaked...oh and I don't own trail shoes. I am going to die today.

As we checked in, I started sizing up the other competitors (as if it even matters), I could tell right away that this group was different than road-runners. These folks looked like they knew what they were doing. Many of them looked like they walked out of a REI or North Face advertisement. Earth-toned Trail Shoes, handheld water bottles, camelbacks, bandanas...the whole thing...these folks looked rugged. I didn't see many of the casual runners/walker/just out for a fun morning type folks. I felt out of place.

I tried to shake off any pre-race nerves by jogging a bit...when my Garmin had my heart rate around 165 (going up a hill) I figured that I was warmed up enough and just tried to look inconspicuous.

When the race director got on the bullhorn, you could hear everything he said. Everyone just stopped talking, and it was so quiet. I don't think I've ever heard a race director's comments before on a road race (of any size). Apparently if you don't listen to the race director on a trail run you could actually die.

When the siren went off, I was in a good mindset of having fun and just saving energy for later. That lasted approximately 500 feet. I got tired of running behind people and accelerated to get out of the crowd as quickly as possible. We didn't stay on the main road for long before we all converged into the trail.

Tip for next time..pass as many people as you can BEFORE you hit the trailhead...you will be with these people for a while. They are now your friends. You will become intimately familiar with each step the person in front of you takes. For me, this meant being behind a particularly tall man, and it was difficult to see what was coming up. I had someone breathing down my neck (almost literally) for the first 2-3 miles. By not being able to see around people, I didn't see (until too late) a small creek. Great..now the "delicate flower" has waterlogged shoes...this does not feel good.

For the first 2.5 miles, I really thought that everyone had just built this thing up waaaay too much. I was feeling great, and if the slow-pokes would get out from in front of me I would totally own this trail running thing. Until about 2.75 miles in.

Interesting huh? My pace completely dies on the uphill, and it doesn't really tell the story. I have auto-pause on my Garmin at 16.00 Minutes per mile. While slogging up the mountain with wet, muddy shoes, it kept pausing my progress, so I think I lost probably two or more minutes of data...but you get the picture. Uphill was not fun.

How "not fun" was it? Here's a picture of me at the top of the ascent...
Photo courtesy Flemming Josephsen
I was actually trying to make a "funny" face...but I think he got me a millisecond before to capture this priceless moment, and I think captures on film the true feeling as I neared mile three.

Only knowing a small amount about the course, I knew that we should be heading downhill soon, and I could really start cruising. Holy moly. The uphills were just a prologue of pain that would soon be the downhill. I could feel my internal organs moving inside of me....I was barely in control of my arms and legs flailing down the mountain. One wrong move and I would be rolling down the mountain...oh a nice uphill, then a flat rock face downhill, up and down, up and down. By this time, I am now alone on the trail. I can see no one in front of me, and no one behind me. Panic sets in...have I gone off track? If I start hearing banjo music, I might set a world land speed record off this hill....


I caught up to some others around mile 4 where the real downhill started, and I told myself..."Forget everything competitive, WALK down this ridiculous decline"...so I did. After the most technical part of the course was over, I started feeling some hot spots on my feet. "Are you kidding me right now? Blisters?" I have never...ever had a blister while running. I am five miles into a race and I've got blisters...that stupid creek.

After mile five-ish the trails started to even out a bit, and my body felt more normal. I started to accelerate and pass some people who passed me walking down the mountain. I probably picked up 10-12 spots in the last mile of the race. I was surprised at how much I had left in the tank, once the landscape evened out, and despite my troubles on the trail, I finished really strong.

I've had a couple of days with the Memorial Day activities to process the race a bit. My first impression was that trail running is just not for me...I'm honest enough with myself to know that I'm no avid outdoorsman. Since then I've warmed to the idea..in fact the more time that passes from the end of the race, the more I'd like to do trail running. Funny how the mind works, and lets you forget the bad parts, and remember the sprint at the end.

The second thing I thought about was my level of fitness. I only thought I was fit before taking on the trail. This 7 miles took as much out of me as a half-marathon or more. I used muscles I never thought I had. If you are not familiar with DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) I suggest you google it before you sign up for a trail race.


Lastly, I was surprised at the amount of focus I had on my footing. I felt in control, and didn't feel like I was any real danger of falling/slipping even with my road shoes. In fact, this is a conversation my wife and I had after the race:


Her: Did you see that big amphitheater on the course? I wonder what kind of concerts/events they have out here?


Me: What amphitheater?


Her: The huge stage, the seating for like 300 people? We ran right through it?


Me: No.


Her: You can NOT be serious.


Me: I'm serious I didn't see it, I was focused on the runners ahead of me.


Actual photo of the Paris Mountain Amphitheater
I'm still not seeing it are you?

So either I am very focused, very blind or just not interested in the sights. Either way,  whenever I looked up this photo, I nearly died laughing.


All in all, a great race and a great time. My wife had a MUCH better perspective on the race and on life on her blog...give it a read here. Be sure to let her know that you didn't see the amphitheater either.


P.S. There is no Eiffel tower on top of Paris Mountain

P.P.S There could be an Eiffel Tower on top of Paris Mountain for all I know.