Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Roanoke Canal Half Marathon - Trail Race

Friday night I loaded my car with sleeping bag, pillow, race gear and a change of clothes and headed south to Roanoke Rapids. I left home about 8:30pm. It was rainy, and the farther south I went, the heavier the rain was. I also have to confess that my snacking wasn’t the healthiest in the world, probably had some effect on my performance the next day. Finally, at about 12:30, I pull into the RV campground near the race site. Their website mentioned $15 overnight sites. It was a self-register thing, and soon I was snuggled in the back of my Honda Element. Well, as snuggled as you can get sleeping in a car. With all the seats down, there really was plenty of room, it was just a little lumpy. I knew I should have brought my backpacking sleeping pad, it might have evened things out a bit. It rained off and on all night long, and at 5:30 when the alarm went off it was grey and drizzly with a slight coolness in the air. I was not ready to get up and tempted fate by resetting the alarm to 6:00am. Fortunately, the race was not too far away and I was dressed and at the site before 7. I got my race packet, and did a small run to loosen up my stiff joints. Bonus! I found a bathroom with no line! Now I realized I was way overdressed. The temperature was rising and it was humid, so I ran back to my car and changed into a t-shirt (already had long shorts on).

The race started in waves. Some people were confused because when the first wave left, it was more than just the fast people. With that surge gone, I somehow was right on the starting line. He said “Go!” and I took off like a rabbit out of a hole. Where is everybody, I wondered, not used to being out in front. And hey, I don’t know where I’m going! Oh yea, this isn’t a 5k, I better slow down if I want to last the whole race. Fortunately, the race was very well marked and pretty much a straight shot and as I settled into my pace, some people passed me and I caught up to and passed some from the first wave. My goal was to do just under 9 minute miles for the first half, which would give a little leeway for the return trip.
Mile 1: 8:23
Mile 2: 8:45
After mile 2 is when we hit our first slick spot of mud. The path was on a rise and sloped down on both sides. The middle was the muddiest, but if you got to one side or the other, you started slipping off the trail! So it felt like for every two steps forward, you slid one step back. When you finally got off the mud, it clung to your shoes and they felt about a pound heavier. A woman had fallen and was in pain. But she had people helping her so I kept moving on.
Mile 3: 9:08
Mile 4: 9:15
Mile 5: 9:28
The trail went in and out of the muddy spots, and then it went into this series of ups and downs and around bends. Down 10 feet, back up 20, around the corner and down again. Some of these were gravel, some were pure mud. At one point I tried to run up a slippery muddy bank. I slid back down. I tried it again, down I go. Finally, hands and feet, I crawled up the bank and made it to the top.
Mile 6: 10:02 (the muddy bank)
I reach the turn around point right at the hour mark. I could still make my 2 hr goal!
Mile 7: 9:10
My joy was short-lived. The muddy spots were now even worse since over 200 people had run on them. I had to do a little negotiating in my head. After all, I had a 100 miler in 2 weeks. It would be really stupid to hurt myself in a race that was just supposed to be for fun. So I pulled back and let myself enjoy the trails without pushing the pace as much.
Mile 8: 10:11
Mile 9: 9:42
Mile 10: 10:14
Mile 11: 10:05
Mile 12: 10:13
Mile 13: 10:11
For a course that was supposed to be flat and fast, it had a lot of dips and rolls. My garmin says that from mile 11 to mile 13, we were climbing. The sun came out at this point and warmed things up even more. With about ½ mile to go, this lady passes me on the climb. I keep her in sight, knowing that the last 2/10 of a mile is downhill. As we crest the hill and head towards the finish line I start to close the gap. The trail makes a sharp right turn, a full switchback and she makes the tactical error of swinging wide to make the turn. I slip by her on the inside and then it’s the sprint to the finish! Don’t look back, she’s breathing down your neck, don’t let her pass you! Got her (by ½ second)! She says “Thanks for pulling me in.” My pleasure. Final time: 2:05:54. 5th out of 32 in my age group, 18th woman (out of 100) and 80th overall (out of 231).
After a quick change of clothes, I jumped in the car and headed back to VA. It started raining again half way back, but I only had to ford one flooded creek to get home. Next up – the Umstead100!