Sunday, July 13, 2014

Xterra Trail Racing Series - Harbison Half Marathon

Well I am now officially a trail runner!  The Xterra Trail series made another stop on Sunday, July 13 in Columbia as the series came to Harbison State Forrest for is second stop of the year.

I was excited for this race, as I have planned to do three other Xterra races at Harbison but have either been a week out from the Disney Marathon trip or have been sick.

A beautiful morning greeted all runners with sunny skies and a wonderful, but very humid 71 degrees.  Having no idea for what I was in for, I elected to wear my Camelbak hydration pack as although there were five aid stations on the course, I was concerned with just how much room and water was carried deep into the woods.  It turned out to be a good decision!

The second big question was concerning footwear.  While I am an ardent Saucony Kinvara 4 fan and I do have a pair of Saucony Kinvara 2 trail shoes, I was torn what to wear today.  Unfortunately I was not able to practice on the trails so I had to make a decision based on friend’s advice and gut feeling.

With a 62-mile week in the books, my left foot was a bit tender and my Kinvara 2 trail shoes, while flexible were still a bit stiff and I was worried the stiffness would affect my foot.  After changing shoes twice, I opted for my Kinvara 4 minimal road shoes and off to the starting line I went.  That turned out to work but I will need to find a good trail show that has some support and cushioning but still a minimal feel.  I think the Saucony Kinvara 2 Trail Shoe will work, I just need to practice in them.

It was good to see Elliott and Lish Dominick, Ann and Scott Prince, Cindy Long, Betty Best and Dr. David Hale at the event.  Elliott and Lish’s 15 son Avery was also running the event. Avery is an avid and talented runner and ended up winning today’s event with a time of 1:21 and beat the second place person by 3:06, an amazing time and an even better young man. (the triathlon bug has also bitten him and he has a ton of potential in both running and triathlon)

The race was a total blast!  As I thought, the course was very technical and it took a lot of concentration to watch the ground and the runners ahead of you.  While I saw several people meet the ground in a less than graceful fashion, I also saw many “award winning” near misses and great saves that would make a ballerina proud.  One goal was to stay on my two feet the entire race and good, clean hands at the end of the race would mean goal number one was complete –and it was.

Another goal was to run this race as a training run and not get swept up in the moment and overrun my ability on a trail course, seeing as I don’t have any experience and didn’t want to end up injured.

The races stated with a “spirited” pace but soon settled in to a nice run.  The first two miles of the course were relatively benign and relatively flat which made for some fast running. I always get a kick out of the start of races as a lot of folks get caught up in the moment and go out in a flurry of speed, only to blow up or tire considerably before half way.  Although I’m not fast, I am a decent runner and its always a good feeling knowing I settled into the race and am able to catch a lot of these folks as the race continues.  Today was no exception.

Miles 3-7 were very technical and hilly as we entered the “Spider Woman” trail. While never one to walk in a race, the boulders and rocks, coupled with the intense elevation called for brief bits of walking to make sure I had secure footing and didn’t do my best Humpty Dumpty impersonation.  Goal accomplished.

While making a HUGE mistake in not eating when I got up (while do I always do that) I had a good plan and stuck to it. I let the race come to me, controlled my pace and watched my footing.  I was very pleased with my conditioning as I figured I was moving faster than I had anticipated or planned for but due to the dense forest, my GPS watch was less than accurate so I had to run by feel.

I had 62 miles of running this week and 60 miles on my bike, which I realized before the end of mile one was a “bit much” for what this course was going to dish up. No time to think about that or burning thighs so on with the race.  My GPS told me I was running at a 10:37 pace but I felt it closer to 9:30 I did my best Forrest Gump impersonation and just kept running.

While learning the technical aspects of the race while on the run, literally, my plan was to take advantage of my hill running ability and crest each hill strong, take a controlled down hill approach to save my thighs and once on the flats let my heart rate settle down and settle into a manageable pace.  I had to laugh at mile three as I had one person behind me breathing so hard I was praying he did not drop over from heart or respiratory failure.

I am sure Harbison State Forrest is beautiful but with very narrow trails and a lot of sharp climbs and descents I only saw about 10% of it. Once through the elevation and rocks of Spider Woman we were rewarded with a nice stretch of wide trails and a mile of flat, beautiful trail.  I did learn that the trail was so narrow in spots it was literally impossible to pass so a little advance recon was in order and I had to pick my spots and make a move.

Once clear of Spider Woman, the trail thinned out and I had a lot of space to work in.  I was able to regain my race pace and cruised relatively easy to the finish. While there will still some hills to work, I shortened my stride and was able to climb the long, mild grades much easier than some of the other racers.

I was very happy to see the finish line and see May and Elli, the best support team anyone could ask for!  Elli was ringing her cowbell and I was especially happy for the ice-cold towel and the ability to sit enjoy the moment.

I ended up with at time of 2:01:27 and a 9:17 pace, much faster than I thought.  I was 55 out of 177 men and was 76th overall out of 309 entrants. My foot was also in good shape. While tired and my thighs were extremely sore, I was in good shape and my IRONMAN training along with my strength training definitely paid off.  I was surprised to see a lot of fellow triathletes competing in this race and we all shared some good conversation.

I was happy with my first trail race and based on some of the mistakes I made (no food prior to race and high mileage week) coupled with a cautious approach to the race, I think I can shape 10-12 minutes off the next event on that course.

It was a great event and great morning for a quiet romp through nature. Elli had a great time playing with other children, looking for rocks and doing a little running herself.  As you can see, she was pooped on the way home.

Elli’s favorite place is Moe’s Southwestern Grill so off we went (after a great show) for tons of veggies in The Homewrecker Burrito and then off for some errands and a fund Sunday.  I am definitely hooked and the experience codified my desire to head to the mountains and take on a long ultra race next year.

Happy training and racing everyone!