Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wildwood trail Half marathon

It is the evening before the race. I am with my family and we drive to a small cabin in the mountains. Before I go to bed I remember to get up early tomorrow for the race.
In the morning I leave the cabin and start walking over some hills to the car. Snow appears. More and more snow around me on the ground. I start worrying. When I get to the car it is buried half way under the snow. There is a couple of feet of snow on the mountain road. I start panicking. There is no way I can get to the race in the next half an hour left to the start.
- - -
I open my eyes. Check the clock. 5:30 AM. Big relief.
Just a bad dream.

Yes, I am really excited about this race so it is probably I can hardly sleep. It is my very first Half Marathon and it is on a Trail. On a trail I know very well. My favorite trail.

I feel really good today. Well rested and strong. My last training run was just two days ago on the same trail, I did 6 miles and felt pretty comfortable going more.

There is only one thing that worries me a little. For the past 4 weeks there has been a sensitive spot on my lower left fibula. Just above the ankle. I can run with it, there is no pain. It only hurts when I push directly on it. I have no idea what it is but if it does not get worse after today's run I guess I will just forget about it.

6:30 AM
I have a banana as a main course and for an appetizer I pick a granola bar with Chia seeds and leave the quiet house with my wife and son still sleeping.

Excited before the race

I meet my friend Travis at the park where the race starts. He is running the 10k route today.
The two of us are the only barefoot runners here.
"You are going to win the half marathon barefoot division today" he is joking.
As if there were such a thing :-D

The little Macleay park is packed. There are about 360 runners, 170 for the half, 80 doing the full marathon and the rest for the 10k. Everyone stretching, tuning MP3 players, filling water bottles and camel bags.
I have decided to run this one very light so I am taking nothing with me. No water, no food, no emergency shoes.

8 AM
I start somewhere towards the end of a huge pack of runners in no hurry.

Full and half marathon runners start together

Mile 1
Familiar rocky trail along Balch creek.
The group is still dense and the pace is slow. Warming up.

Mile 2
First climb up. Most runners in front of me slow down. I can finally start passing and move forward.
I can feel my spot on the left fibula but there is no pain.

Mile 3
Steeper and longer uphill. My strong point. I feel like my feet are on springs. I pass a bunch of runners.

Mile 4
Still climbing but more gently on rolling terrain. Running alone for a while, then I catch up with a small group of four runners and stick to them. The discomfort on my fibula is gone. I feel relaxed and in a great shape.

Running at mile 4

Mile 5
Still at the tail of the group. The trail changes to a wider firelane forest road. When uphill I pass all four runners and take the lead.

Mile 6
Aid station and the turn around. I only grab a cup of water and keep running. The uphill part is behind us. Now it is only going to be downhill.

Running on Firelane road

Mile 7
I am being closely followed by one guy from the previous group. I am trying to shake him off but he is still glued to me. I am running really fast right now. Reaching my limit.

Mile 8
It is just two of us running fast down through the forest. I am running completely silent with high cadence but I keep hearing the slow slapping from behind. Slap, slap, slap...
I sure feel sorry for his knees.

Mile 9
We catch up with a group of two girls and stay behind for a while. Slower pace refreshes my energy so I accelerate again and shoot forward.

Mile 10
My legs start feeling heavy. I am running too fast. I concentrate on the form trying to relax with bent knees even more.
I think about what Jason Robillard says in his Barefoot running book:
"A necklace around your neck should not bounce up and down when running barefoot."
It is helping. I slow down a little. The guy from behind finally passes me.

Mile 11
I am running alone again. Long and fast downhill. Some 5 weeks ago running a training 12 miler my knees started to lock up right at this spot to the point I had to stop and walk for a short time. Since then I have learned a lot about running downhills. I am flying down this time.

Mile 12
Back down on the rocky Balch creek trail. Two girls close in from behind.
How can you handle all these rocks ? Your feet are probably used to it.” the closer one starts a conversation.
I convince her it is not as bad as it looks. They both pass me some 500 feet before the finish. I stay right behind them. The end is not yet.

Mile 13
Last 150 feet to the finish line. The trail changes to a nice paved path through the park. Now or never.
I start sprinting. A surge of energy. For a second all three of us running next to each other. I do not feel my feet touching the ground anymore. I feel like flying. Then I see no one next to me and hit the finish line at exactly 1 hour 57 minutes. Adrenaline rush. High, intoxicating feeling.

When I check later my Garmin reports 4:50 pace for the last 150 feet.

I grab some water and start walking. Calves are quickly becoming really tight. Almost to the point of cramping. I roll them out on a water bottle and go get some more goodies from the tent.


Awesome race.
The discomfort on my left fibula is gone.
Feet all in one piece, no scrapes, no cuts. The front pads are quite tender but amazingly that tenderness goes away in the next two hours.
Just 5 sticky spots from smashed slugs. Sorry guys.

Happy after the race (the brown on the feet is not tan but dust from the trail)

Race stats:

Length: 13.1 miles
Elevation change: 925 ft.
Time: 1:57:33 (Pace 08:31)
Placed: 20th from 170 overall

Race course

Aerial map

Course profile